Project H: Life on furlough

Today the sun is shining and I’m feeling positive. I got out of bed, I went on a run, I showered, I put some make-up on (I’m mastering the eyeliner flick), I had a fight with the cat as I stripped my bed, I emptied the dishwasher, I made a coffee, and now I’m sat at my laptop with a clear plan of what I’m going to do today. But I don’t feel like this everyday. In fact, most days I’d rather not get out bed. What’s the point if I don’t have any work to do and the only news I’m going to read is the depressing number of deaths that have occurred in the last 24 hours?

When I was furloughed about three (?) weeks ago, I freaked out. As a person who gets busy to distract myself from things I don’t want to think about, suddenly hearing that I was being forced to slow down, or even stop, was not welcome news. I wrote about how being furloughed made me feel here, so I won’t harp on about it, especially as I am so aware that it could be worse. So instead, I’m going to write about what I’ve been doing and learning (don’t worry, it’s not Spanish) over the last three weeks.

(Disclaimer: I’m not writing this blog post to show off, make light of the distress experienced by others during this time, or to prove a point – I’m writing it because I’ve got lots of time on my hands and need to validate my sorry excuse for an existence right now.)

Setting a 15 minute time limit on Instagram is wildly unrealistic 

For the last six months or so I’ve had a 15 minute time limit on my Instagram app, so it tries to lock me out when the time’s up. Instead of motivating me to spend less time on social media, it just makes me feel guilty and inadequate. I click ‘Ignore limit for today’, telling myself that it’s ‘just this once’, but ‘just this once’ turns into a daily occurrence. Since the lockdown and being put on furlough, my iPhone screen time has gone from about 1.5 hours each day (which is still quite a lot) to over 4 hours. Four whole hours on my phone – it seems insane. A lot of this is probably Pinterest, where I get a lot of my artistic inspiration, but Instagram definitely counts for a fair amount. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with Instagram, but I know that mindless scrolling isn’t good for my mental health, especially when I’m drooling over everyone else’s #wfh set-ups…

Lie-ins are not inherently bad

Before all this kicked off, I’d never really mastered the art of lying in. When my alarm went off in the week, I’d feel as though I could stay in bed for hours, but when the weekend came around I’d always be up relatively early, getting on with whatever tasks I’d set myself for the day. Now that I don’t have to get up for work, or for anything really, I find myself struggling to get up when my alarm goes off (when it does go off) and sleeping on until later than I ever have in my life. Yes, it makes me feel lazy, but I’m telling myself that my body needs it after years of early mornings. That’s how it works, right?

GCSE Art wasn’t just an all-consuming waste of time 

I’ve discovered something on Instagram (it does have its uses) that is actually giving me something to get up for in the morning. @artfubox (an art box supplier) is posting a daily drawing challenge on their profile, and if you post a picture of your attempt on your story, tagging them and using the #artfuldailychallenge, they’ll re-post it. It’s been great to feel part of a ‘community’ in this very isolating time, even if it is just something as small as joining others to draw moles/chairs/radishes/puffins. I’ve loved looking at other people’s work and also experimenting with different materials in my own. Maybe posting my art everyday is showing off, but it gives it a bit more purpose, and trust me I need purpose right now.

Studying doesn’t have to take over my life 

I’ve done what I said I wouldn’t do on furlough and have started an Open University course. But it’s okay, it’s only a free, 12-hour course, which I can do whenever I like. It’s in creative writing, which is helping me deal with the fact that I’m not currently writing my best-selling debut novel. I’ve been doing a couple of hours a day and have been playing around with a few character ideas. I’m so used to writing from my own perspective in a journalistic style that it’s hard to start writing in another person’s voice. Hopefully this course will help, and won’t just turn into my excuse to not actually JUST START WRITING.

I like yoga 

It turns out there isn’t much a downward-facing dog can’t solve, especially when you’re stuck indoors 23 hours a day. My mum and I have been doing Yoga with Adriene‘s 30 Day Yoga series called ‘Home’, which is pretty apt. It’s so grounding to spend just half an hour a day focusing on my body and my breathing. Yes, my mind wanders, and I start thinking about what I’m cooking that night or what name I should give my almost non-existent fictional character, but at least I’m trying. At least I’m trying to give myself time to not really ‘do’ anything. I’m not achieving, I’m not ticking anything off the to-do list, I’m not even doing ‘proper’ exercise, I’m just being in the moment.

There are simple pleasures in every day

It’s probably a cliché, but having my life stripped back to the basics has reminded me that it’s possible to find little things to smile at in each day. Whether it’s a morning coffee as the sun streams in, a pretty flower in the garden, seeing Millie (the cat) in a particularly cute position on my bed, or laughing with my family about something no one else would find funny. Of course, for many people, lockdown isn’t all yoga and watercolour painting in the sun. It’s stress, worry, anxiety, fear and grief. It’s so much easier for me to find joy in the simple things and I’m very much aware of that.

If we come out the other side of this having learnt one lesson, I hope it’s that slowing down and stripping back isn’t such a bad thing. Living life at 100 miles an hour might be the norm for your average twenty-something, but maybe it takes a global pandemic to make us realise that it’s okay to live a little differently.

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