Lockdown has begun to ease. There are tentative smiles beneath ill-fitting masks, people are starting to make plans again, while London finally smells like summer – and all I can feel is dread.
During the pandemic, my coping mechanism has been to turn inwards. I’ve hidden behind Twitter jokes and Zoom drinks, and cocooned myself in the familiarity of my home.
I’m supposed to be excited to come back outside, but the effort of holding a grin in place while my friends and family plan outings – from barbecues to boozy birthdays – is making my jaw ache.
I don’t know how to tell them that I’m not ready, and that I’m scared.
In the weeks leading up to lockdown, I became increasingly frantic as the UK seemed to put its head in the sand.
Friends, family and colleagues seemed not to grasp, or refused to accept, the seriousness of what was coming: the long-term ramifications of a short-term disaster.
I wasn’t afraid of contracting the virus; I was afraid that I was going crazy, as my loved ones accused me of being too pessimistic – a drama queen making unnecessary fuss.
It feels tone-deaf to say it, but I’ve had a good lockdown. I share a two-bedroom flat with one of my oldest friends, we have two bathrooms, one cat, one bird and no children. We live with a private park outside our door, and we’ve had fresh air and sunshine galore.
We’ve danced drunkenly around the living room and learned to bake. We’ve done burpees (I puked) and cooked salmon (she puked).
I’ve relished the change of pace and the freedom from social obligations and the relentless pace of London life. It’s been – can I say this without getting punched? – a staycation.
In isolation, I have felt less alone, it has been comforting. But as the outside world begins to bang on my door again, I can feel my fear returning.
The truth is, over the past few years, I have become increasingly reclusive. Working nights meant an easy excuse to skip social engagements I couldn’t face, while my growing anxiety made crowds on public transport seem oppressive.
Since last summer, I’ve also been working from home, and have total control over my environment; the music I play, the temperature in my house, the company I keep. My conversation skills withered however, as I talked only to my cat and my housemate.
My flat became a respite from a world that made me feel increasingly powerless: a city where all I saw was pollution, corruption and desperate homelessness every day. And the people I loved seemed to need more than I had the energy to give.
In a horribly ironic twist, lockdown has felt like the ultimate get-out-of-jail-free card.
When we return to ‘normality’, I will come face-to-face with the people in my life that I’ve been avoiding. I don’t want them to see the truth: that I’m not excited at all.
I wish I wasn’t the negative Voice of Doom. I don’t want to bring others down, but going outside means having to face my grief at what the world looks like now.
People are celebrating the freedom they’ve regained with trips out, but I can only see what’s been lost. You see beers in the park, I see pubs that will never recover. You see garden centres, I see grave stones.
The easing of lockdown will also mean a dramatic increase in social conflict. Some people will be fearless and blasé about new restrictions; others will be neurotic and overcautious.
Thanks to a government that has outsourced leading its people by telling us to ‘use our common sense’ – whatever that means – and says one thing to the public while briefing another to the media, nobody knows what to do or how to behave.
I dread the blame and despair when that second wave of death comes.
Between my increasing reluctance to go outside, and how unpleasant the world looks right now, my walls feel less like a cage and more like a safety blanket. It’s easier to hide.