Why I headed for the Highlands just after Covid restrictions were lifted
On 17th May, some Covid lockdown restrictions lifted in England, and it felt like a weight lifting off all our shoulders (I know that many, many countries still aren’t there yet). After months of tedium and anxiety, the whole country breathed a sigh of relief. We could meet our friends and family outside in groups larger than six, we could stay overnight at each other’s houses again. Cinemas, theatres, museums all reopened – and we could eat indoors at a restaurant. Of course, things weren’t completely back to normal. But it felt like the world was opening up again.
I was off!
I was cautious for the first week, but after that I was off. I trialled a new escape room, I went to friends’ houses for lunches and dinners and coffees, I hosted people at mine. I went to a kids’ indoor soft play with my friend and her son, I met a friend and her daughter for a long hike in the countryside. I got a haircut, got my nails done in a noisy nail bar, ate out, and spent an evening in a gorgeous gin bar. I even had an overnight break away from home.
It was wonderful. But by the time the last restrictions lifted a month later on 19th July, I was absolutely exhausted. Not just ‘I need a good night’s sleep’ tired. Absolutely earth-shatteringly, bone-achingly tired. I felt like I wanted to sleep for a million years. When I was awake, I felt grouchy and irritable. When I was asleep, I slept through absolutely everything. I pigged out on coffee and comfort food to give me the boost I needed to stay awake, and kept falling asleep on the sofa – too tired even to drag myself up the stairs to bed.
I realised my entire system was overloaded. I’ve always had a busy social diary – before Covid I was out more than I was at home. But Covid forced a lifestyle shift. A change of pace, a slowing down. An appreciation of the smaller, gentler moments. With no-one else’s diaries to work around, life strangely became more spontaneous rather than less – I could stop when I wanted to (work permitting), I could go for a walk, jump in the car to see my mum, or to drive to the seaside. With limited options, I also had more time to read, write, create and dream.
Lockdown had had a dramatic effect on me, and ramping back up to pre-Covid speed was proving challenging. I needed to stop pushing myself, so I did two things.
First, I blocked out four days in my diary and refused to make any plans in advance. It didn’t mean that nothing happened. I spent some gorgeous time reading, writing, and doing work on this project. My mum came over for lunch, I got energised about some unfinished house projects, and my lockdown housemate and I went shopping and had pancake stacks at a gorgeous American café. The dog got lots of lovely runs, and I got loads of exercise as a result! But the difference was that I got to decide what happened, and when. And if I needed to rest, to sleep, to shut out the world again, then I could do it without having to cancel plans.
Second, I booked a trip with this amazing company and flew to Inverness in the Scottish Highlands for a week. It was a real ‘back to basics’ adventure – we were getting away from absolutely everything! Having taken a bus a couple of hours to a remote piece of coastline, we packed everything we needed for a week into ten kayaks, then struck out – paddling by day, setting up camp in the evenings, then packing everything away again the next day. My muscles complaining after the first day, I wondered why I’d ever thought this was a good idea. But as I swam in sheltered coves with golden sand with eagles flying overhead, and paddled through a sea full of seals, otters, crabs and jellyfish, I finally felt calm. I was running at my own pace again.
Post-Covid lifestyle changes
At the end of my Scottish trip, I realised something important. I couldn’t keep living at my pre-Covid pace, then running away to recuperate. I needed to make some more fundamental lifestyle changes. I realised that I’ve changed a lot in the last year – and I can’t go back! As an introvert, I’ve always had a lot of capacity for spending time alone – but this is different. I now have a deep-seated longing for absolute peace, with no distractions. I need ages to organise myself, and eons more time to process and make sense of what’s happened in my day. I need to get out into nature every single day. Ultimately, I need my life to run at a slower pace.
So what does that mean? I guess I’m trying to build a life that is gentler and that looks and feels very different to the one I left behind. I still feel like I’m juggling quite a few things at the moment, and I’m not there yet – saying ‘no’ to offers to meet up and socialise is actually the hardest part. It’s about other changes too – agreeing to meet a friend in six weeks’ time rather than two weeks. Not finishing absolutely everything in my inbox, if that means having an hour more to myself in the evenings. Leaving my desk and walking every day at lunchtime.
I know I’m not alone in wanting to hold on to some of the changes we were forced into through the response to Covid. So much of it is about recognising how I’m feeling in the moment, and trying to keep some sort of equilibrium. Ultimately, it’s about having the resolve and the conviction to make choices I know are right for me. Even if the world sometimes seems like it’s heading in the opposite direction!
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