We’ve all come up with coping mechanisms this year. But having avoided them all my life, who knew mine would be taking up hobbies?

I Give It A Year

I Give It A Year

‘How’s your lockdown been?’ is the new ‘How was your weekend?’, the sort of small talk you reply to with a self-conscious ‘fine, thanks’ that in no way reflects how you <really> feel. Not least because lockdown(s) might not actually be over, and after nine months you don’t see anyone in real life often enough to work through the cumulative stress of ‘all this’.

This year has been difficult for everyone, but in unique ways. There’s the slow ache of WFH burnout versus the anxious sting of redundancy versus the constant pressure of key working. Single person households contend with lengthy isolations, while parents juggle work and childcare, their nerves shredding with every online home-schooling link that fails to load.

On furlough and with a preschooler to look after, my spring lockdown ‘journey’ was one of 24/7 entertaining rather than educating, but that didn’t mean no guilt or worry about the things my son was missing out on with a lack of peer contact and an excess of screen time. While my husband worked upstairs, we baked (when we could get hold of some flour), we Joe Wicksed, and we played <a lot> of pretending games where I had to be a shopkeeper and not seem bored (I failed). It was nowhere near as hard for us as it was for many others, but it wasn’t easy either. Our world shrank. I worried about the death toll, my family and my job on a magazine, and my usual ways of balancing mumming with me time (mainly meals with friends involving too much wine) were no longer possible.

It was quickly clear that days of fashioning robots from cardboard boxes was no substitute for my 4-year-old’s primary interest of hurtling around playgrounds with other children. But our attempts at crafting did ignite something in me. A vague desire to learn how to knit morphed into the realisation that I could simultaneously occupy my hands and my jittery mind, preventing both from doom-scrolling on my phone. So I looked up YouTube tutorials on how to knit hats and set about making them for everyone I know. Then came the garden. The idea to clean our filthy decking was borne of desperation (it worked; 4-year-olds love chucking water around), but it was followed by pots, seeds, watering and the famed feeling of wellbeing that comes with being outside, watching something that we planted grow.

Meanwhile, Pilates was something I’d tried before, but when my friend qualified as a teacher during lockdown and started an online class, it was a way to see her as well as stay active, both things that I knew would give my mental health a boost. Suddenly, after swerving them all my life (one gymnastics class and two goes at Brownies as a child were as far as I got), I had three hobbies, and they stuck even when the country reopened – and then shut down again.

I’m not saying I’ve nailed the whole wellbeing thing (twice this week I’ve woken up with neck pain because I’m tensing my shoulders even in my sleep) and I’m 99.9% sure that preschool reopening did more for lowering my stress levels than all the sweet peas and squats in the world, but as coping mechanisms they’ve definitely brought me more joy than I could have predicted. As well as a surplus of woolly hats.

Which isn’t to say I’m not more than ready for the vaccine. It’s time for me to re-enter society if only to find someone to teach me how to knit something else.

I Give it a Year (Trapeze) by Helen Whitaker is out on 7 Jan.

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Two great pieces have been doing the social media rounds. One was by the author of Overwhelmed, Brigid Schulte, in The Guardian about the discovery she made when looking into the daily habits of famous writers (summary: male writers spent their days being waited on while working on their art; female writers crammed their writing into whatever tiny pockets of time they had around their chores). She concluded that even today, when labour in the home and outside of it are supposed to be more equal, women are less likely to feel as though they ‘deserve’ time to themselves... to read more click HERE