The things that got me through the Melbourne Lockdown

My home town is emerging from a long hibernation none of us had experienced before.

Photo Credit: Jason South

For the last 16 weeks the government had enforced ‘strict’ lockdown provisions to stave off rising COVID-19 infections. I say strict but it’s not like we had the military outside our doors. Fines were the only means of enforcement, and by-in large we were trusted to do the right thing within the rules. But it was still a lockdown.

All non-essential activities were banned. You were not allowed to travel more than 5 kilometers from your home. An hour outside. A curfew between the hours of 9pm and 5am for all non-essential workers.

It was weird and strange and kind of novel at the start but it became clear pretty quickly, shit was fucked up.

A rising second-wave, or third, or fourth, I don’t know, across the rest of the world are seeing many countries look at solutions. Victoria's lockdown is being praised and while its true Victoria is one of the few places in the world to bring cases back to zero it has come at a huge cost.

Not much yet is being discussed at what we, the citizens, did to get through it. What tools and strategies we used to persevere through it.

Just a caveat before I begin. I was incredibly privileged with work. My workplace saw the benefit of working from home early and we had a jump start on prepping our spaces and mobilising our roles. I cannot express how vital working through lockdown was so if you are not in a place where you can’t separate your quite valid despair at employment from my strategies you might want to skip this article.

I am profoundly sympathetic to those who have lost or will lose their jobs.

It. Sucks. I think of you a lot.

The things below are what got me through 16 weeks of lockdown and they might not work for you, but the purpose of this article is to try and tell you what you might experience if you are forced in to lockdown.

The key point I want to get across is that you must seek out happiness because it will not find you. In fact, it will actively fight you.

These are the things that bought me supreme joy and priceless distraction from the awful reality outside.

Running

I’m a moderately active guy. When lockdown started I was about to begin what I thought might be my final season of amateur club soccer. The kids are too fast these days. Too skilled. I’m the old man now with a knee reco. But I still froth playing soccer competitively on the park. I love the routine of going to training, waking up early on Saturdays, getting muddy and hurt and usually getting smashed 0–8 cause our club sucks.

We played one practice match in April and the season was essentially called off afterwards.

Suddenly we weren’t allowed outside for more than an hour to exercise.

Alone.

Where was I going to expel all that winter energy? I’m 35! Times running out for me to look good, but worse I’d miss the stability it provided, and seeing the people I played with.

And I run, you know… A few kilometers every week or so. I run, but I don’t run.

I run in the sense that I’ve tracked it on various apps for over ten years and prior to 2018 the most I had run in a year was 75 kilometers. Most years are like 10 kilometers but shut up alright.

This year I’ve run over 350 kilometers.

A very satisfying graph.

I’ve run every… single… week.

I froth running.

I think about running all the time. I think about my next run. I think about my last run… and smile. I think about my running gear. What I felt on my runs. How grateful I am I can run. That my knee doesn’t hurt. That my pace is pretty good, not that it matters. That I hit the pavement step after step and keep going and going even when it hurts.

I think about how meditative it is.

Transformative.

It’s true what they say.

The world fades away when you run.

Happy place along the Merri Creek

To get started: I used Nike Running Club at the beginning. It’s free. It changed how I thought about running. Coach Bennet, or Carter, what ever his name is, filled with corny You’re-a-star’s and You-deserve-to-feel-good’s actually worked for me. I strongly, strongly recommend the After Work one with Headspace.

Learning to Cook

Again, I cook… but I don’t cook.

You know… frozen Steggles Chicken Tenders in the oven, some rice and some frozen veggies. Dinner’s served! Maybe sometimes I’ll drizzle soy sauce on the tenders. What the fuck am I doing?

My Nonna, she’d feel such horrible despair over my dinners past. ‘Mama Mia. Malepetitto figio mio.’ ‘My son!’ palms pressed together rocking back and forth looking up to heaven.

I needed to fix this.

My best dish was Bolognese where I have perfected the sauce over a decade. So I had that going for me on dates where cooking was just an excuse to have my date come over. I was never good at the Netflix and chill thing.

I spent so much time in the kitchen through lockdown. Initially because I am grossly off-put by the use of UberEats. Its business model is offensive to me and after reading Abolish Silicon Valley (A clue to a later tip) I swore off food delivery forever.

The pushing of tip culture.

The shystie way they employ people on contracts to ensure they get underpaid and have no rights.

3 food delivery riders died in Australia last week. Imagine dying cause someone's too fucking lazy to go get some fries.

I recognise some people are mobility challenged, and in a pandemic avoiding going outside is about as valid as it can be, but if you aren’t you pretty much have no excuse for using UberEats apart from being a lazy asshole. Sorry to my introvert pals but it is helpful to go outside.

I’ve clearly become too outspoken in this lockdown.

Cook… and bake. It’s fun. It’s sexy. It’s rewarding as hell and the food does taste better.

Nonna wouldn’t eat any of this

Pasta Ala Gricia. Japanese Curry. Butter Chicken. Nikujaga. Chicken Parma. BBQ Hot Wings. Shakshouka. Quiches. Bacon and Eggs new ways. New York Cheese Cake. Pancakes. Nachos.

I tried them all.. and more. I cook pretty much most nights now. I even made my own hot sauce and pickles. I think about cooking like I do running.

Even my chicken tenders cheat meals are a little fancier these days with fresh veggies and flavoured rice.

To get started: I discovered Not Another Cooking Show on YouTube. His 3-piece on Classic Italian Pastas set me on a journey of discovery of my Italian food heritage. Find a chef you like, follow the recipes and experiment. Delete UberEats.

Alcohol

This one is a bit sketchy but I think we’d be doing a disservice to the reality of lockdown if I didn’t acknowledge vices. The even worse reality is that those with addictions are likely to revert to them in a crisis. If you are recovering from addiction your support systems are still there.

But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit alcohol helped.

I limited myself to Friday and Saturdays, but eventually it turned into Thursdays, and Wednesdays, and Tuesdays… Mondays too. Sure, sometimes Sundays.

Mostly I was good but some days were harder than others. Especially amongst the apocalyptic reporting we were subjected too.

I have a lot of thoughts on how destructive to the fabric of our community a lot of the media was through this period (I’ll touch on this later). Sometimes, when I heard another past their use-by pseudo-celeb whinge about being locked in their multi-million dollar house or seeing an elected politician with a room temperature IQ do a raspberry in parliament, I wanted to cry and reached for the bottle of Stolichnaya.

Modern politics

Alcohol was always there.

In most cases, thankfully, I was able to enjoy alcohol in a harmless setting. Playing video games with friends or while watching a movie or with my dinner.

To get started: Probably don’t… but if you do, pick a nice wine. I recommend Little Giant cause the bottles are different and cute.

Star Trek: The Next Generation

Not a Trekky.

Never watched Star Trek in my life. I was a Star Wars kid and coming of age during the prequels formulated an identity of mass cynicism of TV and Movies and Pop-culture. What is Disney even doing with Mulan and The Lion King?

But I watched a few series and movies during lockdown. Ozark was decent until it became too depressing when they started using politics and I stopped watching. Bojack Horseman was an insane ride of self-sabotage and despair unlike anything I’d ever watched. TNG though was something else.

The first season is a trip. It’s unfathomably dated with hilarious sets and costumes and sci-fi plot lines better suited for the 1950s. In one episode all the characters act drunk after a virus invades the ship and they begin to have PG sex with each other. There’s breathtakingly comical acting combined with cheesy special effects and Commander Riker without a beard.

Picard and Riker blow up a Star Fleet Officers head.
Picard and Riker blow up a Star Fleet Officers head.
Set phasers to LOL

But if you make it through that you’re blessed with a camp and charmingly optimistic vision of the future of man-kind for 7 seasons. It’s quaint to witness what was considered ‘progressive’ by 90s standards and just how far we’ve come. It tackles genderless societies, even if there’s a stupid traditional romantic subplot. Forced executions of the elderly. Terrorism as an effective technique pre 9/11. Yeh, really.

A show that shows the value of diplomatic resolutions through understanding and communication (hard to imagine I know) with a unique philosophical or moral conundrum in every episode and at the end of an hour its over. No one is worse off and there are barely any intertwined, multi-layered plot lines to keep track of that won’t let you down with such disappointment you swear of TV for months.

Come on. Bran has the best story? Seriously, fuck Game of Thrones.

Star Trek TNG is the show for me that got me through hours of boredom. You might find another, but good TV is out there. Dive into the past. It’s often better than TV today.

You even get to witness what someone thought would be the ultimate evolution in Martial Arts

‘YAPANCHI ONAGATCHOMAS’ — Yes. Perfect pronunciation.

To get started: Just pick a series you’ve always wanted to and never had time to invest. I would suggest TNG but other ones I adore are Breaking Bad, The Wire and The Sopranos.

Fostering a Cat

10 years ago I hated pets and animals. Smelly icky things that just seemed in the way of me wanting to do what I wanted to do. We didn’t really have pets as a kid so I missed the out on the formative experience you get from pet ownership.

Then I crashed on the floor with a friend in Tokyo in 2014 for a few months who had a cat called Ebi-Chan, or Miss Shrimp. I was hyper allergic to her and spent two weeks with eyes so red it looked like I was permanently stoned.

Free travel tip… Japanese cops don’t take too kindly to foreigners with glazed eyes.

Ebi-Chan

One night, while my friend was at work I noticed Ebi hadn’t made any noise in about 2 hours. Wait a second, the balcony door is open. ‘Ebi-chan?’…. ‘EBI???’

Panic set off. Ebi must have jumped off the balcony and is roaming the streets of Asakusa. Saori is going to kill me. She’ll actually kill me. I’m scared of her.

I then spent 45 minutes running around the back streets of Tokyo screaming out ‘SHRIMP! MISS SHRIMP!’ and if you think Japanese cops aren’t kind to foreigners with glazed eyes try screaming out animals at 11:30 at night.

It turned out Ebi had been hiding in the wardrobe that I closed earlier and I hadn’t noticed. Her faint meows beckoning when I came back from the search.

I have never hugged an animal so much. I rubbed Ebi all over my face. Allergies be damned.

Ebi cured my allergies. I now desperately want a dog of my own but am unsure I could keep one. To tell you the truth, I want to make up for my disdain for animals as a child. To repent when all they do is love.

Someone suggested I try fostering a pet. It’s a good way to learn about what it takes and in the middle of a pandemic with shelters impacted, volunteers scarce and stress everywhere the company of a pet helps you and helps always welcoming volunteer organisations.

After a vetting process I was given a stray male cat from Swan Hill. I named him Frank. Then Harry cause he didn’t seem like a Frank.

Harry

I had Harry for 3 weeks and while the experience was foreign and strange for me it didn’t take me long to become accustomed to sharing my place with another life. Harry had his own schedule. He would often do his own thing. He enjoyed playing and head bumps and trying to get out onto the balcony where he was not allowed.

He would climb on the kitchen bench and watch me cook. Welcome me home from my runs. Watch tv with me. Watched me in the shower. Creep. I really appreciated not being alone for a while and I think he did too.

But just as quickly as he arrived he was gone. Adopted by a loving family who can give him all the attention he deserves and I know he’s living the good life now.

I’m teary thinking about Harry. What dog should I get?

To get started: Reach out to your local volunteer pet shelter or pet rescue. They almost always are looking for carers and you don’t have to be an expert. I wasn’t. I didn’t have to pay for anything because the volunteers provided it all, but I did buy him some nice toys cause I wanted too. They went with him to his new home.

Read

Prior to 2019 the only book I read since graduating High-School was The Great Gatsby and that took me about 5 years. You gotta read Gatsby right? An American classic. Man… how naïve.

I hated reading. My mind would wander too easily and I couldn’t ever place myself in the worlds created by their authors.

In 2019 though I read something like 10 books and I was pretty stoked with that.

In 2020 I’ve doubled that count.

These are books

I branched out. Reading widely.

I started and finished The Testaments in about a month.

I read The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis, a detailed dissection of the pathetic transition of the Trump Administration from the Obama one.

My Ex suggested I read How To Do Nothing by Jenny Odell and then found how I was actually able to do nothing.

The BLM movement highlighted African authors so I read Things Fall Apart. I read On Tyranny and Mans Search For Meaning. Religion for Atheists changed how I viewed religion.

I devoured Australian author Jenny Tu’s A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing in three days. Isaac Asimov’s seminal Foundation took me a lot longer but I’m glad I finished it. Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore was of course, lovely.

I’m utterly loving Evaristos’ Girl, Woman, Other at the moment.

It’s hardly surprising to say the book that helped me the most was Albert Camus’ The Plague. A famous book by the Algerian author on a virus outbreak in the fictional town of Oran.

Fancy that?

I think the intention of the book wasn’t a literal interpretation of a pandemic and my own interpretation is the Plague is life itself, but the book is filled with an endless amount of poignant quotes and reflections that provided me with perspective and gratitude for my own experience of living through a pandemic.

“The truth is that nothing is less sensational than pestilence, and by reason of their very duration great misfortunes are monotonous.”

To get started: As a non-reader my advice is you have no choice but power through your own minds distractions. Read one chapter at a time. If you don’t like a book put it down. The book that got me hooked on reading was The Fall, also by Camus. That book changed me.

Honourable mentions

Shutting down my work computer at 5pm— Vital in separating work from home.

Meeting my neighbours— Found out one had a colourful history as a model through France and Spain in the 70s. Her stories were fascinating and she now suffers from Alzheimer.

The Coffee shop downstairs— Supporting local business, I came to know Tatsu really well. Talking to him every other day. Able to practice my Japanese with him. Visit Taiyo Sun if you’re in Melbourne.

Tabletop Simulator— I made new friends playing Codenames and various other video games.

Sitting in the sun — My balcony was drenched on sunny days in the morning. The sun is life.

My house plants — Grew to new heights in lockdown… literally.

Occasionally breaking the rules — I don’t mean to undermine the health advice, but I do believe the rules were set so harshly knowing people would break them. If you do, practice common sense, do your best, and avoid doing it.

Things that did not get me through

I just want to quickly reflect on the things that did not get me through. Things that made me feel most alone and at my weakest.

16 weeks of solitude is impossible to do alone even for the most intro of introverts. Often I felt desperately lonely. Thinking of old friendships and far away friends that I may not see until 2022 or even ever again. These thoughts did not help… and even though I’d often tell friends ‘You’re not alone.’ to help them I’d forgot to tell it to myself. You try to be strong for others but rarely for yourself.

Do not be afraid to ask for help. It’s there.

I also have a lot to say about the medias role through this crisis. Here in Melbourne it has been utterly toxic. Our Premier live streamed 120 straight days of press conferences and answered every single question posed to him by reporters, unedited. 120 days he worked. And say what you like about politics and megalomania and failures of quarantine programs or health departments but I for one appreciated the filter of politics to media being removed. I valued our Premier talking to me.

Seeing how the sausage of news is made was grotesque. Reporters twisting language, verbal and body, that I didn’t see. The desperation for a ‘Gotcha’ moment. The hyper-hypothetical absurdly specific clarification of the broad health rules. The insatiable baying for blood and accountability. The open contempt they display for their audiences intelligence.

The largest news organisations and the political opposition at no point sowed unity amongst us. They rallied against it.

Neither did our Federal leaders. Not once did the try to stem this poison on our minds. They encouraged it.

None of them helped. Listening to them did not help. Thinking about them did not help. All they did was make me hate the people I could not see. The ones flouting rules and protesting about their freedom who are in reality are a wicked combo of QAnon and Sov-Cit nut jobs, desecrating the Shrine of Remembrance who begged not to use their grounds for protest. 99%, Plandemic and #WWG1WGA signs dominated these protests. It was never mentioned once. It was never condemned. I turned it off.

Look at the literal signs (and convicted wife beater interviewer)

This crisis has shone a light on how insidiously manipulated we all are.

I was at times appalled to be Australian.

Tim Dunlop wrote much better words than I could ever say in a recent essay Journalism Serves Democracy. That’s Us. I strongly encourage you read it as well as sign the petition for a royal commission into Media ownership in this country.

Social Media barely helped. Influencers become a parody in a pandemic. Shopping did not help at all. Sports with empty stands. The guy who threatened me for wearing a mask. The commentators and the celebrities. The urgency to return to the failing approaches of the past.

The ignorance of the new paradigm.

So so much was trying to make me feel bad for listening to scientific and health evidence. It felt like I was swimming against a rip that was trying to drag me down into despair and hatred.

Without the things that got me through who knows where I’d be today.

Make no mistake. The pandemic is not easy. Nor is it enjoyable. Lockdowns sometimes felt like a form of torture, even if of supreme comfort and privilege. Finding coping strategies that work for you is the most important thing you can do to get through it. Whether that’s lashing out at the Government or ignoring the world around you I’m not here to judge.

All I wish to tell you is that for me, the old adage rang true.

Never waste a crisis.

Make the sacrifice mean something positive. Grow. Evolve.

Remind yourself why you’re there. To save peoples lives.

The old ways of doing things are over.

Froth happiness.

‘Yesterday was once tomorrow Harry.’

Good luck from Harry and I.

Carey is an Australian Photographer and hobbyist writer. He enjoys finding solitude and peaceful moments in a loud world. www.careyciuro.com.au

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