If you’ve started reading this it means you’re either appalled by the title of this blog and want to know what kind of cruel and cold hearted bastard I am, or you too share similar feelings. Let’s begin by placating those in the first camp. At the time of writing this, COVID19 has taken a little over 100k lives globally. Businesses have suffered and thousands of people have lost their jobs. Children’s education has been compromised, and families have not been able to see each for over two months. This cruel and cold hearted bastard you seek, it’s not me. It’s the virus. And, in case there’s any loss in translation, I too am appalled and saddened by what it’s done to the world. However…
Confession first; since as far back as I remember, I have suffered with anxiety. As a child, it manifested mostly as fear; a fear of people, of socialising, of having friends, of not having friends, of being dependent on others, of shadows, or strangers, ghosts, large animals, of not getting a joke, of being beaten for not getting the joke, of being beaten for nothing, of experiencing pain in any guise, of knowing I would die, of knowing that I had so much life to live before I die, of girls, of being considered ugly by girls, of being weak, of trying too hard to be accepted, of not being clever, of knowing there were killers out there, of knowing there were no angels to protect me, of having no money, of maybe one day having too much money and not doing the right thing with it, of not liking things my friends liked, for liking the things no one else liked, but most of all, the biggest fear I had was living in a world where I could not be myself. Save for my fear of girls, which has been diluted due to marriage, nothing much as changed over the years.
I awake most days feeling scared, anxious, fearful. I struggle with social gatherings, especially in the workplace. People don’t really see it. I hide it well is. Most of us do. My defence mechanism, the shield I hide behind, is humour. As a child I adopted the position in the group as the clown. As an adult, I still lean toward being funny, cracking jokes, hiding behind the smile. The truth of it is, only one person as seen me for who I truly am, the person beyond the greasepaint and the amour. My wife is that angel I thought never existed, the one I searched for as a child. She has seen me stripped of all hilarity and feigned cheerfulness. She knows I am not the person she met that night in a club in 1996, and yet she still wants to hold my hand when I’m scared, and listen to me when I’m fretting. She allows me to be quiet, to be alone. She understands. But these moments of being myself are short-lived, for the next day I return back to work and continue being the person I need to be. COVID19 changed that.
It may be strange for people to understand, or grasp my reasons for saying this, but I have never felt so free as I have in isolation. In my home I am around those I truly feel comfortable with; my wife and two beautiful children. They accept every part of me, warts and all. In the two months of our lockdown period, I have enjoyed not having to interact with “other people”, of not having to expend energy being “sociable”. To a person who suffers with anxiety, life is mostly an act, of being a version of yourself that functions around others without them knowing how you truly feel. We get good at it. Sometimes it feels like there should be an award ceremony held each year where an academy board awards us the equivalent of an Oscar. If anyone is reading this with the power to make this happen, don’t. If the genesis for such an occasion is to celebrate the achievements of those struggling in social situations, putting them in a room among other people and getting them to stand on a stage and speak is probably the cruelest thing you could do. But yes, we are the Benedict Cumberbatches. We are the Meryl Streeps. And when the day is done, we go home and shed our skins and become once again the people we truly are.
In a rare moment of wild abandon late last year, I agreed to go to the city with my friends to catch up. It was a little after midnight, our tongues loosened by alcohol, and my friend pulled me to one side and asked why I’m so scared of doing anything. At the time, I couldn’t really articulate the answer he sought. I probably said something lame like, it’s none of your business, and that I’m fine and why don’t we have another drink before ringing an Uber. But now, on reflection, I realise I’m not scared to do something, it’s that I just don’t want to do anything. I am a much happier version of myself when I’m at home. My heart rate is less agitated. My stomach is free of butterflies. For my own health and wellbeing, I am complete when among my family. In truth, COVID19 allowed me to relax. It gave me a moment to coast and appreciate my children practicing dance routines, watching them learn, seeing them grow, (for more about this, see the letter I wrote to my children). I have walked with my angel and watched scary movies with her. I have wrote many words, and lost myself in the pages of books. For the longest duration in my whole life, during lockdown I have been the person I always wanted to be.
But now it’s coming to an end. I will soon return back to work, socialising and engaging in conversation. But my hope is that for all the shit it’s called, and the deaths and the heartaches and damage to the world economy, COVID19 taught me how to be who I want to be. It allowed me time to get to know myself and feel comfortable in my skin. And whether it takes me a week, or ten years, I know I’ll learn from these days and remember when I was myself.