In Lockdown, Time Has No Meaning
Isolation has forced us to re-think our relationship with time.
Today is Monday. I know because I checked my diary and not because it is any different to yesterday, when I had two work meetings on what was apparently a Sunday. People keep asking me how long we’ve been in lockdown now in Melbourne and the answer is truthfully, I don’t know.
I no longer have any sense of time — days blur into nights and back into days. I can’t be sure whether something happened yesterday, last week, or last month. I sleep in the afternoon when I feel like it (most days) and I change out of my pyjamas (or don’t) at whatever time I remember to do so. I feel tired all the time, my energy sapped by seemingly endless Zoom meetings for work, for study, and now for socialising as well.
I’ve worked from home for five years, but this feels completely different. In the “before”, even though I worked from home, my work day ended when I went out in the evenings. On the days that I didn’t, my partner would come home at 6pm and work would stop. Weekends were when he was home all day. Now that is every day.
This is not a complaint: we are both incredibly lucky to have jobs, a dog, and a two-bedroom apartment with an office space. But what we don’t have is any difference between our days since we are both home 24/7. It is difficult making quality time as a couple when ALL your time is together time.
And it is challenging to separate weekends from weekdays or evenings from day times when you can’t leave the house. Hence why I find myself scheduling meetings on Sundays… (and why others agree to them?)
What would a day off even look like? How would I mark it except by going for the allowed one-hour walk and then spending the rest of the day watching movies? The result is that days of the week are fluid — and I seem to be working on all of them.
As someone who has major anxiety around the passage of time, I feel slightly panicked at how quickly the year seems to be racing by, even though the days themselves can feel slow.
According to research, we rely on distinct external cues to recall events — such as physical surroundings, weather, and clothing. But without any significant activities or events to distinguish one week from the next, it is hard to understand where our time has gone. I have no idea what I did in August, because it wasn’t any different to what I did in June or April (even between the lockdowns, life had barely returned to normal in Melbourne).
And so my drive to be productive has gone into overkill. With no control over what is happening outside my house, I start every day with a list of what I need to “achieve” to make sure I’m not wasting the months that are whooshing by.
I hear people talking about slowing down and baking and growing vegetables — meanwhile, I’m taking classes in three languages and working on more film projects than I can keep track of because I’m so desperate for this year to have some sort of outcome before it ticks over into 2021.
Someone asked what I do for fun and when I said “I write”, she pointed out that that is my literal work. I thought about what she said and made myself do a puzzle so I could tick FUN off my to-do list for that day. I think I may be burning out in my own home.
When a friend announced recently that she was pregnant, I was surprised to find myself thinking — for the first time in my life — “Now would be such a great time to be pregnant.” Because at least if I was growing a human inside me, I wouldn’t have to worry so much about what I was doing for the whole of 2020.
This pressure to create something of value is nothing new for child-free women. It is a conversation I have often with other women in their 30s who have chosen not to, or are unable to, have kids. If you can’t point to a child and say “That’s what I did with my 30s”, then you are made to feel you should be able to point to something else to justify your worth to society — or even just to explain how exactly you’ve been spending your time.
The pandemic has exacerbated this feeling, because it has made the sense of growing older while simultaneously stagnating a lot more acute. At the end of this pandemic, my friend will have a baby and what will I have? Certainly not any of the new films that I have been writing which will most likely be un-filmable until this is all over.
But it is not only thinking about how this time — or seeming lack of it — will impact on me personally. My mother turned 70 at the beginning of the lockdown, in what felt like a milestone birthday (even though 65 is when she officially became a senior). We live in different states, borders are closed, and I haven’t seen her since March although we talk several times a week — far more regularly than ever before.
I have an 80-something year old neighbour who I didn’t know before the pandemic but I left a note with my number in her letterbox and now we speak on the phone. I hear her shuffling around her house during these phone calls, living alone except for the chatter of the television, and I think about my mother a thousand kilometres away— still a long way from her 80s but not so far either. By the time I see her again, she will probably be at least a year closer. And I think about time….
The pandemic has made these musings suddenly real and persistent, because of all the time I’ve now spent apart from my Sydney family — and the thought of how much more time will pass until I am able to return.
I see all of them every Saturday on a Zoom call, and this regular group meeting is pretty much the only thing in my life that marks the passing of one week and the beginning of a new one that is exactly the same. If you ask me how long we have spent in lockdown, I would probably have to add up how many family Zoom calls there have been.
However, as I write this, I’m interrupted by a notification on my phone reminding me that my daily language lesson is about to begin. Apparently, time is real — at least for the next 30 minutes I will spend talking to my Turkish teacher on Zoom.