“A ruffled mind makes a restless pillow” Charlotte Brontë
Good old Charlotte Brontë. She knew a thing or two. Judging from the social media chat, most of us have found our sleep affected by Lockdown, whether it’s strange dreams, or the 3 am heebie-jeebies. Corona has certainly ruffled our minds. But some minds are more susceptible to ruffling than others. Take mine for example – it’s virtually tissue paper and Lockdown left it positively crumpled.
I liked Lockdown at first. The first few weeks was like being in an Edwardian country house party, all card games, quizzes and long constitutionals. But quickly a duller routine settled. Meals took on huge importance as the only congregation points of the day. Otherwise people drifted back to their own rooms.
But I am not an ‘own room’ person. I wasn’t bred to it. As the oldest of four siblings, we three girls shared a room so small you had to walk over the beds to get from one end to the other. It was cosy – squint a bit and you could almost convince yourself you were in the dorm at Malory Towers or Saint Clare’s, even if your dorm mates were younger, snortier and always pinched your clean knickers.
But that tatty old 70’s room, with its wonky, unfinished wardrobes, Brentford Nylons sheets and off-plumb shelves of Puffin paperbacks, took on a different complexion if ever I was obliged to stay in it on my own – a common parental discipline for crimes real or accused. It was a candlewick bed-spreaded ‘cooler’.
The enforced ostracisation was what got to me. Generally I was never happier than skiving off chores or escaping the hubbub by burying my nose in a book. The burbling chaos in the background was a wonderful counterpoint to the Shires or Willoughby Chase.
But all self-containment fled when it was just me, myself and my (guilty) thoughts. Stuck in the bedroom alone, outraged and panicked, I jangled like a stubbed toe. Within ten minutes I’d be banging on the door (unlocked, by the way – they weren’t monsters), begging to be released, usually having worked myself up into a fulsome nose bleed. Frankly I was ready to confess to any crimes, sign any confessions, endure any punishment as long as it was downstairs with everyone else. Thank God I never got recruited for M16.
Figuratively at least, Lockdown also sent me to my room. Without all the usual busy ‘Stuff’ to occupy me, it forced me to visit a place I don’t like to go unaccompanied – my own head. Goodness knows what’s in there, but some of it isn’t pretty. Asleep and awake, in dreams and conscious, anxieties popped up like meerkats. I even experienced one of those tumbling cascades of dread and terror, straight from my childhood bedroom. It was over something that pre-lockdown was way down on my list of worries. When I think back to that time, all I see is The Scream.
Nor did Lockdown disappoint. It gave me plenty of material to angst about: my father died suddenly; my son was evicted; then he was made redundant; I had a qualification to complete. Material that has ruffled many a mind, but in Lockdown? Well, as dear Charlotte suggests, it certainly gave me a very restless pillow.
My theory is that there’s only so much worry and stress we can easily handle. I think of it as a bucket. Usually I can keep that bucket at a manageable level: things get resolved, worries come and go, tra, la, la.
But when worries mount up, that bucket fills faster than I can empty it. When it starts to spill over, all those slopped out anxieties drive you slightly bonkers. In Lockdown with so many Big Things to fill up our buckets, we’re probably all knee deep in surplus worries.
But Lockdown also showed me just how reliant we/I am on other people. Spending time with oneself is a hard skill to master – harder, perhaps, than ever in these superficially connected, networked, social media-ed times. It’s hard to get 100 hours of practice in solitary reflection, let alone Malcolm Gladwell’s famous 10,000. We humans are social creatures and in theory we have never been more connected with each other. But if the cost is to our resilience and self-sufficiency then perhaps some of us (again…I) need to fiddle with the settings on life’s graphic equaliser.
In Lockdown, when the distractions of life disappeared, I realised how accustomed I have become to their capacity to deaden the drumming of my own personal demons. One of the main lessons I’ve gleaned from Lockdown is to learn how to go to my room and enjoy my own company.