I sympathised with the look of confusion on his face. I don’t think either of us anticipated that a simple question about falafels would be the catalyst for weeks of bottled up emotions to come bursting out of me.
Obviously it had nothing at all to do with lunch, but entirely to do with the overwhelming need to regain some sort of agency in my life. There was nothing I wanted more in that moment than to make my meal, start to finish, completely and utterly by myself - the exact way I wanted to with no external input. I craved total control.
It wasn’t until I’d retreated to the bedroom to avoid any further falafel friction that this realisation fully dawned on me. Since the first cases of the current COVID outbreak started seeding in the community, so much of my autonomy has been pried from my control-hungry hands.
See, I’m employed casually at a fine-dining restaurant in Newtown. So as the cases rose and lockdown started, my income plummeted. Then came the extra blow - I wasn’t eligible for the pandemic relief payment. My modest savings were going to take a substantial hit. I fought to contain the outrage at the injustice that my financial future had been damaged, yet again, because of someone else’s missteps.
Losing my job for as long as lockdown lasts was obviously a huge factor in my meltdown, but I’d also thrown in a cheeky life-changing move, just to really amp up the challenge.
When we decided on my move-in timeline, my boyfriend was pretty much back to working from the office full time and I usually work nights, so we figured we’d only see each other a little more often than we already did. We didn’t anticipate that he would be working from the bedroom full-time, and I wouldn’t be working at all.
While it’s definitely not been the adjustment period we were anticipating, squeezing all of my belongings into an established house and negotiating shared space twenty-four hours a day has not been as difficult as I anticipated. It’s the combination of the totally mundane and hugely existential moments in lockdown that have worn me down the most.
The pressure to plan ahead, even by only a couple of meals, brings up a surprising amount of anxiety for me - which then flows out and affects my partner. With so many plans derailed by COVID, from career growth to savings targets, missed birthdays and lost time, my knee jerk reaction when I think about the future is now panic and anticipated disappointment. It’s happening even down to the small stuff, like struggling to set my heart on tomorrow’s dinner because there’s now a voice in my head pointing out that it’ll probably go wrong somehow. Irrational I know, because we make the same three meals on rotation anyway, but painful nonetheless.
The worst is the loss of control over my own emotions. In the last twenty minutes for example, I’ve swung drastically from excited to go for a walk and enjoy some sunshine, to tears because the weird, not-short-enough-to-look-intentional-but-not-long-enough-to-fit-in-the-ponytail pieces of hair around my face keep falling out into two unfortunate strands, circa 2003. I know it’s not really the hair that’s upsetting me. It’s the weight of so much missed time with my interstate family, particularly the youngest and the oldest. It’s the fear of prolonged career stagnation and the fear of channeling all of this anger and anxiety towards my partner.
But it’s easier to just cry about the hair than to actually confront those feelings.
When my mood unpredictably nose-dives like this I’ve started to brace myself for a wave of guilt. I pull up short of properly processing my emotions because another voice in my head reprimands me for thinking I’ve got it bad when so many people have it worse. I have my health, as do all my family and friends, I have a job to go back to after lockdown, and I have a comfortable house to live in. I know all of this makes me extremely fortunate, but I still think it’s okay to give myself a break and grieve for all of the things I’ve lost control over.
I was doom scrolling through Facebook this morning (desperate times), when I spotted a post from an acquaintance who has been living in the UK for the last few years. The post was reprimanding Australians for complaining about our lockdowns when Brits have been in lockdown for the better part of eighteen months. An increasingly familiar bubble of irritation ran through me, chasing out the wave of guilt that had started to ripple.
Surely this acquaintance should be directing their anger towards the decision makers responsible for the prolonged lockdowns, not towards people like me, whose lives have also been disrupted in different, but significant, ways?
In the same heartbeat I realised I’ve been placing the blame for my erratic emotions in the wrong place, too. With so much of my autonomy snatched away in so many ways since lockdown began, there has been no tangible person or place to hang the blame, so I’ve hung it on myself.
I can’t just shrug that blame off as easily as the dressing gown I’ve been wearing with exceeding regularity. But, now that I am willing to admit that it’s fear and feelings, not falafel, that are the problem, I can start to take back a little bit of control.
Caitlin Booth is a freelance writer. You can find her on Instagram here.