Lockdown 3 has been the worst one yet.
That's something you've probably heard a lot over these past few weeks.
Everyone is feeling the same: life is grim right now, you're allowed to feel rubbish.
The same advice from March has been repeated to the point of absurdity: go on walks, keep in touch, cook some meals, learn something new. Almost a year on and things are different now; baking banana bread is not going to cure our growing fatigue for the endless bad news cycle - and let's be honest, it wasn't that great of a coping mechanism to begin with. (Boris, if you're reading this, you can't tackle a national mental health crisis by hiring a Love Island contestant to promote walking - we can see it's an empty publicity stunt).
Nonetheless, throughout my darkest moments over the last few weeks, I have found myself turning to articles about lockdown 3. It is my instinctive response to dealing with most problems, so I was certain that I would find some relief from the pandemic panic through other peoples' words. I scoured the internet hoping to find a solution to the mental tax we are paying in isolation, praying that someone - anyone - had shed some light and positivity throughout these dark times. Yet, the articles that I've read have fallen flat, only seeming to add to the heavy doom and gloom that is perpetuating our current discourse.
"How can we be 'glass half full' if the glass keeps getting knocked over?"
Of course, in the first two lockdowns, hope and advice were in abundance; the novelty of excess time in the spring and the festive cheer of Christmas saw us through it (for those not trapped in Tier 4 that is). Now the ordinary January/February blues are whole shades darker than they ever were before. For that reason, I suppose, I shouldn't be surprised that even my favourite writers are feeling the dismal hopelessness of the pandemic, refusing to end their essays and op-eds with more than a "let yourself feel rubbish, we're all doing it". I get it: the days are dark, the weather is cold, we've been stripped of hugs and clubs for far too long, people are ill and dying. Worst of all, none of us know how long this will last, and whenever we've tried to predict it before, we've largely missed the mark. Thus, the disappointment and tragedy of the surge of the second wave has knocked us senseless: over 100,000 deaths was a number we could never have comprehended when this began last March; back then, 30,000 was our signal of a disaster.
I can understand why, then, hope feels scary. We touch it tentatively, past pain scarring us from leaning into it too much; we don't want to be disappointed again, it seems to hurt more and more each time.
Even though there's a vaccine and cases are lowering, there is still a deafening cacophony of 'what ifs' holding us back from feeling optimistic. How can we be 'glass half full' if the glass keeps getting knocked over? It feels naive and insensitive to think this will "get better soon" for all those that have lost loved ones; permanent scars that can take a lifetime to fade. Plus, with the government consistently making wrong decision after wrong decision, how can we trust them to lead us out of this any less bruised than we already are?
As PsychologyToday has defined it: "Hope is the belief that circumstances will get better. It's not a wish for things to get better - it's the actual belief, the knowledge that things will get better, no matter how big or small." Reading that, it is perhaps clear why we are starting to fear the prospect of hope. We are wishing, longing, for this to end, but do we truly believe that it will anymore? This lockdown has tested our limits, and now hope is slipping through our fingertips like sand.
"I want to trust that even when disappointment and pain hits, hope will still be there to pull me through it."
But I don't want to feel hopeless anymore. I don't want to spend every conversation longing for all the things that we miss to return. I want to allow myself to trust hope a little bit more, to honestly believe that one day normality will resume. I want to trust that even when disappointment and pain hits, hope will still be there to pull me through it.
After months of pessimism it is going to take some time to retrain our brains into gratitude and glimmers of positivity, but carrying around some affirmations to psychologically convince ourselves that the pandemic will end, has got to be better than the alternative: allowing the anxiety and sorrow to take hold and suffocate our mental willpower.
I am not suggesting that we make the best of a bad situation - it's a pandemic, there are no silver linings. But after pessimism and negativity has dominated the discourse during this third lockdown, I just wanted to offer a little reminder that while you are allowed to feel like rubbish, and should give yourself time to feel rubbish, sometimes wallowing for too long can hurt even more. Shake off the fear of disappointment, and force yourself to hold onto some hope. Grip it tightly, and don't let go.
After all, hope is powerful; it can give us the courage to keep going.
P.S. For your daily dose of solidarity, follow Charlie Macksey on Instagram. His artwork acts as the perfect reminder that we will ride out this storm together, with hope and kindness as our guiding forces.