I learnt that I was dangerous. That I was a link in a chain which could end in someone’s death. Leaving home was a high-risk activity, and one to be planned meticulously. I would analyse each step of the journey afterwards. I weighed up my behaviour critically. I relived it again and again. Did I walk too close to that person? Did I use the hand gel enough? Did I wear the mask at the right time? I learnt I would always fail at something. I could never get it absolutely right.
I learnt to monitor my body, this structure of living cells which could have been fizzing with lethal germs without my knowledge. I learnt to keep it as far away from others as possible. I constantly scanned it for any possible symptom. Each isolated cough, sneeze or slight sore throat was a sign of doom, a pronouncement of me as a super-spreader.
I learnt not to stray further than a kilometre from home. My husband Dave and I studied a map of Bordeaux one evening. We worked out all the possible walks we could take in every direction from the house, while we tried our best not to open another bottle of wine.
I learnt the best part of the day was the evening, when I didn’t have to go out. But later, lying in bed, I would remember I had to do it all again tomorrow. Which made me want to stay up later the next day, to make more of the evening. This made me more tired the day after that.
As the world shrank and closed down, I learnt to close myself down. But I also opened myself up. I was true to myself. I spoke about my obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) perhaps more honestly than I ever have. I was fortified by the compassion and empathy I was gifted with in return. I learnt that to share my own struggles was to help someone else through theirs.
I learnt what is important to me. On the day I turned 40 – March 26th – I cried tears of happiness, not sadness. I felt so much love from my family, and friends old and new. I felt cared for and understood.
I learnt the importance of laughter. At the definition of success being the purchase of a packet of loo roll. At my friends’ stories of home-schooling their kids. At the words Dave’s uncle would choose during online Scrabble.
I learnt that my experience, while tough for me, was nothing compared to so many other people’s. I am incredibly bloody lucky. I learnt to be thankful.
I was dazzled by the kindness of people. By the gentleness of the woman who served me in the supermarket while my hands shook with anxiety. I dropped my pasta and bananas. She picked them up for me. I learnt a mask could never truly hide a smile. I saw the creases around her eyes deepen, and heard the warmth and generosity in her voice.
I learnt to live more slowly, quietly, peacefully. I could wait patiently, even when it came to seeing people I love.
I learnt that we must be kind to each other. But we must also be kind to ourselves. I’m trying to remember this as I re-learn how to live. How to do mornings, afternoons and evenings. How to see my loved ones, to go for a run, to start making plans again. And on the harder days, to remember to just put one foot in front of the other. To keep going. To just be myself.
By Emma Fielder