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There’s an edge in the air, a general unease, rather than the happy relief we’d all anticipated.
“Freedom Day” in the United Kingdom was six weeks ago; normal life resumed, compulsory COVID-19 restrictions were lifted.
I’ve always worked in theatre as a performer, and when not performing I’m working front of house. The industry has been hit hard during this pandemic, so I’ve been happy to see that my beloved theatres have reopened, and the industry is starting to get back on its feet again.
I had been so looking forward to just being inside a beautiful theatre again, and couldn’t wait to see an actual live performance after such a long time. But as the last six weeks have unfolded, I’ve actually found myself dreading going in each day.
It’s been a bit of a baptism by fire.
I’d forgotten how much sheer energy (physical and mental) it takes just commuting to and from a big city centre. The minor train delays, the constant dodging of other commuters in an attempt to stay socially distant (many not wearing masks or following one-way systems), the rush to make it to work on time. Then once there, I have to deal with hundreds of people—something I used to thrive on, as I have an outgoing personality—but suddenly am finding mentally exhausting and totally draining.
I had thought that returning to theatre work would be a positive experience, as people would feel so glad to be able to come out and see a show again. And yes, there are people who are literally jumping with excitement like kids waiting for a story when they walk through the big gilded doorway and into the darkened auditorium to take their seats. It’s lovely to be part of their experience.
But most of the time, being back at work, back to normal, is causing my anxiety to skyrocket.
Obviously in order for these places to reopen, rules need to be in place right now to keep everyone safe. I had assumed that people would be happy and cooperative in doing their bit to ensure that these places can stay open by following the guidelines.
But I was wrong.
People are being rude and brattish about being encouraged to keep their masks on, citing defensively that it’s a “personal choice,” so why should they? One very entitled person even went so far as to yell at me, “Oh for God’s sake, it’s like living in North Korea!” I mean, really? Others just blatantly refuse to follow our one-way systems.
Many people then complain that they don’t feel safe because of these people’s “personal choices,” and I have to say, I’m one of them. After all, we’re talking about 500 people sitting in close proximity in a large space with no ventilation.
Of course, it’s always been challenging dealing with the general public. But this time it feels way different.
There’s a new kind of energy about people now and it goes beyond trivial complaints and general rudeness. There is a tension, like you get between two opposing sides: anxiety and fear amongst some people, and a large sense of entitlement being brandished like a weapon in others. People are not looking out for one another or respecting other people’s concerns.
We’re all in this together, but it does not feel like it at all.
After months of living calmly and peacefully in lockdown, this return to “freedom,” the very thing all of us craved, has hit me like a ton of bricks.
I’m finding myself absorbing other people’s agitation, getting upset really easily, feeling constantly irritated and frazzled, even when I’m at home. My breathing is often shallow, and my heart is pounding a lot of the time.
Suddenly, I’m not able to find time for myself. Not doing proper food shopping, skipping my meditation, not feeling motivated to exercise. All my creative pursuits that were thriving during lockdown have taken a back seat. And the reason for this is that I’ve allowed the actions of others to consume me, leaving me emotionally drained. There’s no room for anything else right now.
No room for me.
My mental health has really been affected by people’s complacency about Covid-19, and their lack of concern and respect for others, as well as their own safety.
I need to check in with myself again.
Here’s how I’m trying to turn this around and improve my mental health at this time:
1. Stop skipping my meditation. When I meditate, I give my mind space and subsequently am able to feel calmer and more rational throughout my day.
2. Less time on my phone. The constant checking and scrolling, especially whilst eating or watching TV, is exacerbating my state of feeling frazzled.
3. Yoga before bedtime. If I start to talk myself out of it, I tell myself, “just 10 minutes.” Even a short practice calms my mind and helps me sleep better.
4. Remembering that I cannot control the actions of others, but that I can control my own. I’m taking my own measures to stay safe and that’s all I can do.
5. Letting go of unnecessary stress and not constantly replaying tough situations from work in my mind all night long. Breathing deeply really helps, as it brings me right back to the present moment, setting me free from my negative self-talk.
It’s funny how quickly the lessons I thought I had learned were forgotten as soon as a big change occurred.
Maybe, by returning to mindfulness, “freedom” can be the gift I can give to myself.