“We’re all in the same ocean, but we’re riding different waves.”

I was listening to a lecture one evening this week and this quote really resonated with me.  We keep hearing phrases like “we’re all in this together” or “we’re all in the same boat.” Heck, I’ve even said them both too.  But actually those sayings are far from the truth.  “This” – whatever this is right now – is a unique experience for all of us.  We’re weathering the same storm, perhaps, but not in the same boat.  Or, as I opened with, “we’re all in the same ocean, but we’re riding different waves.”

I need to start by saying that this isn’t intended as a rant. It’s merely a stream of consciousness!  And if having a brief insight into my experience of lockdown helps even one person, then this was worth writing…

I confess that I’ve definitely suffered from a severe case of comparisonitis during lockdown.  You know, that pointless habit of looking at everyone else’s lives and feeling like they’ve got it right somehow, while you’ve got it oh so wrong.  Sometimes I hear snippets on the radio in the morning (my only dose of daily news), sometimes I get drawn into social media when I go on to post for my business (even though I really try to limit scrolling).  I see photos of big, beautiful gardens. I see baking / craft projects / phonics games / nature walks / home workouts.  I read articles about how we’ve been forced to slow down.  I hear people saying that they’re bored.  I watch adverts about how we’re emerging from a life of screen time and disconnect, and finally noticing nature.

And yet none of this rings true for me on a personal level.

In fact it’s quite the opposite:  We have not slowed down at all.  We’ve not been forced into a calmer pace.  It hasn’t bought us more family time.  It is busy busy in our household, with both my husband and I working full time, and a very energetic five year old who won’t entertain himself.  Whilst we are both grateful (SO grateful!) to have our jobs, and know we are very much not alone, it isn’t easy:  My “studio” is one wall of the sitting room, and my husband’s desk is the kitchen table.  We have this ironic situation of being physically together more than ever before, but spending almost no actual time together.  My husband and I are passing ships; handing the childcare baton back and forth at regular intervals, but both sort-of-still-working-while-allegedly-parenting.  The absence of a dishwasher means we are constantly washing up from the constant cooking and eating (you’re with me on that one, right)?!  We’re spending far less time outdoors because we have no garden at the house we’re currently renting, and there’s no longer the school run / my cycle commute to the gym / trips to the playground / outdoor classes to teach.  I’ve gone from having a job where half my time is spent on my laptop and half is face to face with real people, often outside (a real perk)… to spending 100% of my time behind a screen indoors.  My son who normally would get 30 minutes of TV a few times a week after school and then a film or computer game on the weekend, is now being plonked daily in front of the TV / ipad / phone to play games or watch shows, and watching his teacher on YouTube because that is literally the only schooling he’s getting right now. And – as is the way for everyone – any social life is on Zoom.  Although I’m even limiting that because, well, screens all the time!

I’d like to add that I don’t feel guilty about any of the above.  I have made my peace with it.  It’s not ideal,  but it’s also unavoidable.  I’m not proud of having so little quality time with my family during this period that we’re being told to cherish.  Unfortunately the reality is that this is a very busy time of year for my husband’s work, and I am hanging on to whatever work I have.  There is no government support for my situation – despite 12 years of running my business, as a director of a Ltd Company, I’m not eligible for any of the benefits I would receive were I a self-employed sole trader, or employed by somebody else.  That being said, I totally wouldn’t have stopped working even if financial help were available to me, because I’d be lost without my work.  I’m thankful to have a job that (surprisingly) can be adapted to online.  So aside from wanting to make sure I have a business the other side of this thing, more importantly I truly believe that people need their slice of normal. Exercise is helping a lot of people stay sane.  It’s also part of my connection to the outside world and I genuinely love seeing everyone! (I confess I would rather be seeing your actual faces, though, as my eyes are not enjoying the constant staring at the Macbook).

Having chatted to a lot of people over the past 7 weeks, my belief is that every single person is finding this time difficult in one way or another.  And while my little family hasn’t found this easy, we definitely don’t have it too bad either.  We know that.  Some friends of ours have received the worst possible news a fortnight ago, clients have lost loved ones to Covid-19, other friends are frontline workers in the NHS and spend their days kitted up in full PPE.  And that’s just it… That person with the gorgeous garden might be up all night with crippling anxiety.  That person who has been furloughed and appears to have endless free time might be mourning a loss.  That person sharing all their amazing nature pictures might be using the daily walk to escape an abusive relationship.  You never really know what anyone is experiencing.  One thing that is certain, however, is that this is not the time for judging others.  Everyone is going about their business in the way that works for them.  There is no right or wrong way to navigate these turbulent seas.

Maybe this comes easy to you, maybe it doesn’t, but here are some things I am working on and would encourage you to do the same:

  • Try not to compare yourself to anybody else.
  • Take time daily to be grateful for the things that make you happy, but…
  • Also acknowledge what’s hard for you.  Your hard is your hard.  It doesn’t matter if other people have it (perceivably) harder.

So be kind: To others, and definitely to yourself.