by Hayley Doyle
Recently I booked a holiday. A couple of years ago, this wouldn’t be much of a conversation starter. But in today’s world, it’s a big deal. I adore travelling. It’s been sorely missed during the pandemic. Except with every form I had to fill in, every added cost, every step I got closer to actually going, I was riddled with worry. Was I doing the right thing? Was I being irresponsible? Should I really be taking my young children on a plane? What if we get stuck there? What if we get sick? All of these thoughts were overtaking my reasons for going on holiday in the first place. To create memories with my family. To experience a much-needed change of scene. To believe that there is still a big wide world out there. Hmm. You shouldn’t go… The anxiety bug bit me again. Actually, something will happen and prevent you from even going…
Covid has taken so much away from us. And in return, many of us have been left with anxiety. It comes in such diverse shapes and forms, and for me, I’d describe it as a constant bubbling. Sometimes it’s just effervescence. Always there. Like underlying jitters from one coffee too many. I ask myself daily, when will it ever go away? The whole crisis has catapulted us all into a variety of disappointing situations time and time again that I’ve become more inclined to worry about an event or a simple day out, rather than look forward to it. This has fundamentally changed me. I’ve always been a glass half full kinda gal. But there have been so many arrangements made and unmade, meetings planned and unplanned, dates in the diary deleted. To make a plan no longer means making a plan. It means hoping it will happen. It’s like being tied to a bungee cord going up and down, up and down, constantly unsure of what’s going on.
I’m no stranger to anxiety. The job that I do, the very essence of it, sparks anxiety. I professionally trained as an actress and have had a career spanning theatre, tv, radio, teaching, public speaking and writing. All of these jobs are freelance, so when one ends, I never know when the next one will begin. I am always out there, vulnerable. I have dealt with much more rejection than wins, and the wins are usually exposed to levels of public judgement. Yet, despite all this, I’ve never really thought of myself as an anxious person. The rejections can be tough. I cry. I rant. And then I move on, believing that something better will come along.
But since Covid, I find anxiety surfaces in areas that hadn’t before. With the arts sector battered by this crisis, I’ve been questioning my life choices. Why didn’t I go into a more secure career? Am I an irresponsible parent? Should I change my path? But am I too old? How can I afford to start all over again? What is the point of what I do? And so, I spiral…
As a community of women, we have started to speak out much more about the mental load, referring to the invisible, non-tangible tasks involved in running a household. Recently, I’ve become even more aware of this load, and I believe it’s because so many simple tasks aren’t able to get done as swiftly, if at all. Just making a necessary call to my GP surgery now adds two hours onto my day, due to staff shortages, cutbacks, and whatever else the pandemic has hurled at health providers. I’m all too familiar with the repetitive (and supposedly tranquil) tune played as I wait on hold…
A few weeks ago, believing myself to be ‘on top of things’, I tried to buy a toy that my son would like for Christmas. I searched every online toy store. All. Out. Of. Stock. Now, this toy is small and inexpensive but it’s exactly what my little boy is hoping to get from Santa. I cried so much. I’d thought this would be easy! It’s a popular little toy! I’m very organised! Yet, I wasn’t quick enough. Like with classes, tickets, restaurant bookings, there is a cap on numbers. My tears weren’t about losing out on that toy. It was a reminder of how likely were are to be disappointed these days. Just before writing this article, I ran into my neighbour at the local shop. He told me how they’ve just had to cancel a trip for his partner’s 50th birthday. He spoke of the whole should-we-shouldn’t-we scenario. As I sympathised, that bubbling inside me rose. We’re all living like this, aren’t we?
The optimist in me continues to make plans. But I no longer tell my kids if we’re going to visit family or take a little trip. We don’t count down the days, six sleeps, five sleeps, four sleeps. I’m too worried that I’ll have to break their hearts because of a positive lateral flow or a new variant playing peek-a-boo.
But! The flip side, is amazing. It’s always, always amazing. It’s like a drug. I’ll never take for granted the face-to-face arrangements, meetings and dates in the diary that do happen. It’s SUCH a joy. Seeing my friends now brings such a rush of excitement that it’s like being a kid again at a sugar-fuelled birthday party dancing to Kylie, Jason and Bros (yeah, I’m showing my age). We are ecstatic. We are relieved. We remember why we are friends in the first place. We love. We love, hard.
Last week, I went to the theatre. The relief to get there, see the curtain go up and enjoy the talent before me was immense. I can’t imagine I’ll ever get bored of seeing people come together to enjoy something. To hear the laughter, the emotion, the applause. Because I felt so lucky. That show could have been cancelled at any given moment leading up to the day I went. All it takes is a small outbreak and down comes the curtain. I honestly think that this enhanced my experience. I was witnessing theatre and all its brilliance through a different lens.
So when it comes to this new anxiety, I try to balance it out with pockets of happiness. Once upon a time, those pockets were on a very different dress; it took a lot more effort to impress me. Come on, we lived in a pre-pandemic world, we were spoilt brats! I used to thrive in a bit of chaos, priding myself on being the queen of spontaneity. The art of being spontaneous doesn’t gel with with a post-pandemic world though and I’ve been thrust into embracing the simplicity of routine. And I never thought I’d say it, but it helps. I find warmth and comfort in routine tasks such as the school run, seeing the same faces every morning and saying, hello. Sometimes, I might share my feelings of being overwhelmed with another parent who happens to be walking my way home. Our chat can be lighthearted, but wow, it lessens the load. I love taking my little boy to his swimming lesson each week, or my toddler to her music class. Going to visit family or friends, just sitting in their house with a cuppa can pop those bubbles. And these things, simple as they are - which were taken away from us in lockdown, and could be taken away again - are now completely precious. Human connection, in all forms, is so precious.
I don’t know if my underlying, bubbling anxiety will ever go away. Even if the world returns closely to its pre-pandemic state, I’m not sure I’ll have the power to forget. But I don’t know if I want to forget. If this anxiety has taught me to love harder and find happiness easier, then maybe I shouldn’t see it as the enemy. Maybe more of an annoying friend. And we all have (more than) one of them, eh?!
Also, the holiday was a success. Oh, I mean, it came with its ups and downs, the rollercoaster that is going abroad with small children; one got sick, both had plenty of tantrums, and we lost Bunny*. I can’t blame poor ol’ Covid for any of that! But as a family, we got from A to B safely and made some truly precious memories together. We even managed a photo of all four of us looking at the camera!
*Thank heavens for Ebay. I found Bunny on there. All I had to do was wash the new one with some other toys so that they all smelt the same and my daughter didn’t know the difference. The original Bunny is having a whale of a time in the Canary Islands, no doubt…