The New World

As we approach a year locked into a pandemic, and as I give thanks for the safety of those closest to me, I think about how the changed world has affected me and what I can learn from my reactions.

As I said in my last post, I haven’t felt disoriented or puzzled or even helpless. An unwanted situation has happened, as they do, and I am not powerless because I can take sensible precautions by choice, take calculated small risks by choice when they seem worthwhile, and although my government is unlikely to listen to me or mine, I can help expose its mistakes and dishonesties. Compared to the experience of a world war starting, with your country a combatant, this dislocation is quite small. Moreover, it’s never seemed to me the most important thing happening – that’s the climate emergency and our inadequate response.

There are things I miss a lot: drinking, chatting and just watching the world go by in the pub (a bottle of beer at home is not a complete substitute, not by a long chalk); cancelled holidays; some birding day trips when (as now) lockdown is intense. There are even gains: the cats and I share one another’s company more, which suits us all. Most of these things can be replaced. What can’t – and what effect does it have?

I’m still in regular contact with friends, political allies and relatives. But we don’t meet face to face. That matters after a while, particularly in the political field. Meetings happen by Zoom. The business gets done, but all the informal contact, the taking someone aside after the meeting, the chat, much of which is also useful to the campaigning effort, is lost. You learn less about the people you’re working with. Human experience is narrowed.

I’ve got out birdwatching and on long walks as much as before, even if that involved a little rebellion in the first lockdown when police were making up the rules including some very silly ones. The birding is more local, but that’s OK. For a long time, though, out of caution and because other people were abstaining, I wasn’t delivering leaflets. Can you believe how glad I was when I felt I could go back to that? Why was this? I was doing something useful, yes, but also, I was getting out, seeing different sights, going to different places. The meetings, too: I might dislike driving to a meeting in heavy rain after dark, but it meant being in different places. Not being in different places so much, however much I visited places on the net, had a bigger effect than I expected and eventually, I did feel, not quite depressed, but unfulfilled, unchallenged.

So what does that mean for people who for reasons of health or anything else, in or out of pandemic, can’t get out? How much does that do to fuel mental decline?