Lockdown Reflection

Hello blog. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Last time I posted, I hinted that I was going to do a 2020 Resolutions with basically all of my intentions for this year. Boy, am I very glad I never got around to making that post.

Today, I want to talk about lockdown and how that felt like, and write my own personal reflection on it and a few other things connected to it — mainly motivation, purpose, burnout, routines and mental health.

Before the UK announced the lockdown, I had already made the decision to stop going to college classes. I had still been going to college as usual, as per government and college guidelines, but I had started to feel unsafe and I didn’t trust the “guidelines” as I felt they were coming from very incompetent people. I am still very angry at the way the UK handled (or rather, mishandled) the pandemic, but that’s only one piece of the amalgamation of sentiments I felt during quarantine.

Lockdown happened towards the end of March, which in terms of college timeline, was right before Graded Unit was introduced (if you don’t know, Graded Unit is basically the final project of the year that your entire grade is based on, so it’s a big deal). There was still coursework to finish, quite a lot of it in fact, and some of it was very chunky too — there was an 8-minute video project to edit, there was a 20-minute radio programme to record and put together, and I still had to finish editing my 15-minute radio drama, which I had recently gotten an extension on; and, on top of all of this, there was “normal” coursework like essays and such. Basically, it was a lot.

Under normal circumstances, I would have been able to deal with it. Under lockdown circumstances, I definitely couldn’t.

I had an incredibly hard time being a good student during lockdown, and that was because of a few factors: a complete and utter lack of motivation to do anything that wasn’t playing video games, or distracting myself in some way from the stress of the situation; a lack of purpose when it came to my coursework linked to my lack of motivation; a burnout I had been harbouring since late January finally peaking during quarantine; and a lack of routine to my days, which threw me off, making time lose all meaning.

Before I go into depth and analyse each of these states of mind, I want to reassure you first: I passed the year with flying colours! In the end Graded Unit didn’t happen, but we received our grades based on the quality of all the coursework we’d submitted before that. And honestly, I think I got my A on the strength of Life After Z alone. (Life After Z is a short film my boyfriend and I co-created about a post-zombie apocalypse world where all the zombies turned back into humans. It’s the project I’m most proud of so far. ❤️)

So let’s address what was going on in my head.

Lack of motivation. There are two sides to this: firstly, the lockdown itself, coupled with the lack of routine and purpose kind of all fed into each other and into my demotivation. My mind was finding it really hard to reconcile the fact that my daily life had been thrown upside-down, and so had the whole country (the whole world) for that matter; and yet I was still expected to go about doing pre-lockdown things as usual, like coursework.

Now, I want to make it clear that my lecturers were extremely supportive and patient through all of this, to the point that they negotiated custom deadlines for me, and I was reassured many, many times that coursework didn’t matter as much as my health did, and that I should do “what I could, when I could, if I could”. Getting told that and having such a supportive lecturing team while I was dealing with these feelings was really a blessing (as I was also battling feelings of guilt over not being the “model student” I had been up to that point, and I felt I was disappointing them. Obviously this wasn’t true, and I am glad I got that reassurance).

However, this was only one piece of the demotivation. The second piece had to do with my creativity, and more specifically, how I felt it had been taken away from me by the pandemic. Before the pandemic hit the UK, I was in the midst of organising the filming of my very own short film for video production class (yes, the second short film of the year, as my boyfriend had directed Life After Z, we were now switching roles and it was my turn to direct). I had been working on this film much earlier than I had “officially” — although the official start of the project wasn’t until late January, I had been thinking about it, refining the idea, thinking of locations and props and written a first draft of the script all the way back in November (when we filmed Life After Z, before it was even finished). This had been in the works for a while.

And then the pandemic happened; lockdown happened; and my short film never came to fruition.

And not just this; for my Graded Unit, I had planned to make another film. (Yes, I know a third film in 9 months sounds crazy, but I honestly couldn’t see myself doing anything else, or putting much passion into a non-film.) In fact, before lockdown, I had been toying with two ideas and just needed to decide which one to stick with and develop fully.

Needless to say, none of these creative projects were completed or even filmed. Which had a huge impact on my mood and my resolution to do anything. These weren’t just films I was making to pass the year; I wanted to try new cinematic techniques, I wanted to step out of my comfort zone, I wanted to try new styles and new genres (one of them was meant to be very Lynchian) — I wanted to learn new things through them and develop myself further. It wasn’t just about adding more things to my portfolio and more experience/skills under my belt; it was about getting to know myself better and growing more.

There was purpose; my creativity and its expression is my purpose.

And it was all taken away from me.

It felt like all the stress, all the organising, all the developing was for nothing; and, subsequently, that this year was for nothing, because I wouldn’t have anything else to show for it. And while I still am absolutely proud of Life After Z, I know there was more I could have shown, I could have achieved, more skills and projects I could have developed had the pandemic not happened. And the question that followed came automatically: “What’s the point of stressing myself out doing all this coursework if the true things I wanted to work on are not happening?”

And there it was: what’s the point.

I have asked myself these three words so many times during my life, in different periods, that I feel acquainted with them, like we’re sort of old friends.

Not being able to satisfy that creative drive that had been a big part of my life up until the pandemic was a huge blow, and really the biggest blow. What was the incentive for getting the boring essays out of the way? Why keep to my commitments when I just wanted to distract myself from the reality of my beloved projects not seeing the light of day? Why do things now — why do anything? The point had been lost. Purpose was gone.

Burnout. I mentioned that I had been working on my own short film since November. Life After Z was completed in the middle of January. It took me two weeks to edit it together, which means I started the edit on the second and last week of Christmas break (the break itself hadn’t felt like a break and I didn’t really feel rested from it). After finishing cutting it together, it was time to start working on my directing paperwork.

While video production class was probably the biggest cause of my burnout, it wasn’t the only reason. I had been so busy that year with so much stuff that happened: Connected was screened at the GMAC in Glasgow in November; I landed a work placement with a production company in Glasgow in December, which meant commuting every day on the train and then the subway, in and out; I was constantly keeping an eye out for internships, jobs, other work placements, networking events; I managed to land a mentor through a mentorship scheme, but meeting them also meant having to set a day aside to travel into the city; I was hosting a radio show on the college radio semi regularly, every two weeks. I had all of this going on, on top of the short films, on top of the coursework.

I had been working so hard, and lockdown was stressing me so much, that I honestly think I experienced burnout, too. The thought of doing coursework was mentally exhausting. There was a point where I just didn’t want to do anything. I just didn’t. My aversion to all was very, very strong. It feels weird to say this without feeling or sounding lazy, but I assure you, it wasn’t procrastination or laziness; it was downright hostility to the action of touching anything that was coursework or anything I “should” do. And it wouldn’t budge, no matter what I tried.

My body had made up its mind; it wouldn’t let me take another step deeper into burnout. It realised what it was before I did (it took me a few good weeks of doing nothing but reading, writing, and other hobbies and feeling better to realise what was going on) and it seemed to protect me from any further, more substantial damage. I don’t know if this is because I’ve experienced a really deep, soul-crushing burnout before, if it’s just coincidence, or magic. But I’m thankful I listened to what my inner self was telling me, because ultimately she knew what was going on while I didn’t, and she knew what I needed to do, so she forced me to do just that.

I didn’t know then, but I had to let it run its course.

Lack of routine. At first, this didn’t impact me much. I still woke up early without needing an alarm. I was glad that I could save money and time by not having to physically get to college and back. I wanted to put all this extra time towards coursework instead, and for a little while, I did. I could do coursework quickly and use the time I saved from that for my hobbies.

But after a week or so, the lack of routine backfired.

I realised that actually, going to class wakes up the “I want to do stuff and get coursework out of the way” feeling in me. It wakes up my creativity, by also being around other creative classmates and lecturers. It differentiates my days, makes time more real.

Without that, time quite literally became meaningless.

And, worse, I lost all the benefits that came with going to class every day — the “let’s get work done” feelings, the creative flow. I missed being surrounded by other creatives. It’s just the sort of environment that helps me in many ways, and most importantly, helps me stay on track with my projects. Something about it makes me more motivated by just being there. And I had realised this before, during the summer. (In fact, lockdown felt a lot like last year’s summer.)

So — you can see how all of these things mixed together basically spell out a lockdown disaster.

The stress of all these feelings, which I was painfully aware I was feeling but didn’t have the energy necessary to fully fight in any capacity, meant that lockdown was a wild emotional ride. This experience has taught me not to underestimate stress. Stress is extremely powerful. And that doesn’t get said nearly enough.

Days passed. Weeks passed. April went by in a huge blur.

Eventually, slowly, I came out of this rut I was in.

I didn’t touch coursework for a whole month. I gave my body and mind what it wanted. I let it rest.

I read lots. I played games. I wrote stories. I watched films, tv shows, anime. I finally started editing a vlog I filmed at the end of March.

I wasn’t doing stuff I “should” have done; I was doing stuff I wanted to do. And that, ultimately, reinvigorated me. It brought me back to who I was before.

I realised that ‘routine’, for me, means reconciling what I had intended to do at the beginning of the day with what I had done by the time the day was over. If what I had wanted to do had been left untouched for the whole day, then I would feel like I had “wasted the day”. This realisation brought me so much closer to “having a routine” than any schedule I made for myself in my bullet journal ever did or could.

I realised that, under this definition, any routine could be a routine. I woke up in the morning and watched Inuyasha with my discord friends, rigorously, every day, for the entirety of lockdown (and we’re still going!), and I did that because I had fun, because spending time with them was important to my wellbeing. In the afternoon, I would read, or write, or do coursework — I would ask myself, “what feels right to do, to me?” and that’s what I did. I made bubble tea — lots of it, because the ritual of making bubble tea was a part of the day, a part of the routine, and it relaxed me. There was no need to feel guilty anymore for the way I spent my days, because there was no “correct” way to spend them; only a way that made me feel good about myself and how I used the time in the day. The routine didn’t have to be “productive” — it just had to be fulfilling.

This meant I spent more time doing stuff I enjoyed, guilt-free. This helped immensely with the burnout. I listened to my body and let the burnout run its course. I didn’t rush it, I didn’t get impatient with it; I realised it was a part of the picture, but that it wouldn’t be there forever, and that it would go away with time. All I had to do was let time pass — without stress, without expectations; just embracing the present and not be bothered by the question marks of the future.

Don’t get me wrong, this stuff was hard. Coming to these realisations took time, energy, lots of internal conversations and understanding myself and my feelings. On some days, I didn’t do any of this — I was too distressed to even try. And afterwards I wasn’t perfect at it, by any means. But some days I was better at it than others; and that was all that was needed.

But positivity and negativity are two sides of the same coin: spiralling down is easy, and fast, and often happens without us noticing it; but, by the same token, climbing back up can be a very similar journey, too. Positivity can snowball, too.

The lack of routine was addressed and somewhat fixed; burnout was addressed and ran its course. I built my way back in reverse, piece by piece. Then, one day, motivation came back. I found myself doing coursework again. It wasn’t painful, as it used to be; the hostility I felt before was gone. I felt ready to focus back on it and had the energy to do so again.

The projects that I worked so hard on and that mean a lot to me haven’t been taken away. They have merely been postponed. They’re not gone; they’re still inside me, flourishing little by little every day. And so am I.

Deep down, I was upset that the pandemic had taken this year away from me; that it had ruined my plans; that it had ruined me. I thought it had stunted my growth, I felt stuck again, not moving, not making progress, not going anywhere. But that isn’t the case at all. For anybody.

It may not feel like it, but we’re growing every day — yes, even (and maybe especially) during lockdown. And I don’t mean that toxic productivity way of “improving” yourself, which I’ve seen some people push on social media — I mean anything at all that you discover about yourself, any progress at all that you make, anything that makes you happy is enriching you and your life, and making you grow, and you should absolutely cherish it. It doesn’t have to be yoga, exercise, (course)work, it doesn’t even need to be anything tangible or “beneficial” in a capitalist sense of the word. It just has to have value to you.

You and your priorities during lockdown are valid. Don’t let anyone else make you think otherwise. If you’re adding value to your life, and you feel that value in any way, then you’re blooming. And that may happen more often than you realise.

In the end, I passed the year. And while a few of my projects didn’t see the light of day this specific year, I am hopeful for the future; and I know that this lockdown has taught me a lot about myself, and that’s just as valuable as growing my filmmaking skills.

I don’t know if lockdown will happen again, though it’s possible. If that’s the case, I know I have the tools to survive it now, and make the most of it, in my own personal way. I hope that, maybe, after reading this post, you feel the same way, or that it helped you get closer to your own realisations about lockdown. Let’s stay hopeful. 💚

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