Lockdown sucks. And it seems to suck even more than the first one. The weather no doubt has a huge part to play in that – the sun was shining for most of lockdown 1.0 and being outside in the warm generally helps us feel a bit better.
But that is a small part of why we might be feeling differently now. No doubt scientists, academics, and people far smarter than I can explain all the factors playing a part in our collective mood, but there is one thing I am seeing in people time and time again just lately.
I am calling it the ‘March to the Gate’ effect, the basis of which comes from a story…
Royal Marine training is bloody tough. It is 32 weeks of no sleep, no warmth, no comfort, and hard, arduous physical and mental work. So I have been told. Repeatedly by my husband. Usually after I complain that walking from the car to the shops is too far.
And one of the stories he told me about this time really resonated with me.
At some point in their training, they are marched from their base at Lympstone into some woods somewhere (I haven’t listened closely enough thus far to ascertain exactly where.) And they are kept out for days at a time with barely any food, little water, no shelter and not much chance of sleep. Pete describes it as ‘horrendous’ which coming from him, must mean is pretty damn bad.
Once they are suitably freezing, starving and exhausted they are told to pack up their things for the march back to camp. The horrendous ordeal is over, and they are on their way back to hot showers, hot food, and an actual bed.
They approach the gates of camp, buoyed up on the promise of warmth and comfort and once they reach them…
They are turned round and marched back out again.
Where they spend another few days in the cold, hungrier and more exhausted than ever.
Pete says aside from the mental torture of almost making it back to camp, the worst thing about it is not knowing when it is going to be over. How many times do they have to do this before they are allowed to stop?
So, the idea of almost getting to the end of something really hard only to have to do it again, coupled with not knowing when it is going to end is a tried and tested, demonstrable way of pushing resilience and mental fortitude to its absolute limits.
We are now in the third lockdown. Twice before we thought we got our freedom back. Twice before we thought our days of being teacher, chef, parent, colleague, manager, health and safety inspector and operations director were behind us. Twice before we thought we had made it through the gate.
And then we were unceremoniously marched right back out again into the wilderness of a global pandemic with no clear answers as to when it would all be over, and we could get back to normality.
So, no wonder we are struggling. No wonder we are feeling fatigue and overwhelm and a general feeling that this is unsustainable.
The military use this exact kind of strategy to break down some of the most mentally robust people in the world.
So, let us be a bit kinder to ourselves. Let us expect a little less from ourselves and make time to rest a little more. Let us not worry about perfection and strive for ‘good enough’ as a brilliant outcome. Let us take a second to realise the monumental toll the last year has taken on us as workers, parents, colleagues, friends, daughters, and sons.
We are on our way back to the gate. Hot showers and hot food are waiting for us. We just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other for now.