The pandemic and the lockdown are bringing pre-existing problems and anxieties into sharp, unrelenting focus, and I am weakened by them.

Hope’s #MadCovidDiary 7.4.2020

Things are starting to get worse for me.

Yesterday was only the third time I left my flat since mid-March, and the first time for daily exercise. I am lucky to have an exercise bike in my flat which I have been using. Myself and my partner— who is being wonderful— have started to develop anxiety regarding going outside. It was lovely to be outside in the sun but that did not negate the anxiety. As I discussed in my last diary post, a great part of what distresses me is that people seem to be viewing each other as threats (and possibly this is the correct way to be, which makes it a lot worse). I try to smile at people, to ease the potential discomfort of stepping far away from them, and they are confused. We walked in the middle of the empty roads to reassure those who passed us on the pavement. One man was in the middle of the road, shouting to a friend who was in a house’s front garden opposite. We waited down the road until the pavement was clear.

This morning I cried for a while. I’d felt sort of alright before, but I think an accumulation of several things has become wearying. I’ve started taking my iron tablets that I picked up last week; the bleeding has thankfully stopped but I’m experiencing severe stomach pain from the tablets. I can’t decide if this is more or less frustrating than falling asleep all the time. The letter for the ultrasound appointment to look at my organs still hasn’t arrived, that’s sort of fine by me because I don’t want to take up any hospital space at the moment. But I am a bit worried about it. This small experience of illness during the Covid-19 crisis is having a significant impact on my anxiety levels. I am reading reports of people who have acknowledged they will die if they contract coronavirus, of mental health support and care for those with chronic illnesses being withdrawn.[1] I am privileged to complain about anaemia.

Being a PhD student is difficult. In the last few days I have worried about my thesis. This is primarily because I am unable to concentrate on the reading I had hoped to be getting through by this point in the year. Luckily I had taken out a lot of library books after Christmas, so I have a long while before I run out of things to read at home, but I haven’t been able to read much at all, let alone plan or write. I feel crushed by guilt that I’m not able to concentrate and work efficiently. Additionally, the space that this inability to concentrate is giving me to question my place in university in general, is proving challenging.

Having Asperger’s often causes me to write in an over-dense way. Advisors have told me that I often leave out information that I assume is trivial, but which actually provides the vital argumentative links in my academic writing, leading to whole pages where my meaning is lost. My Asperger’s also accounts for the way in which I am quick to make links and associations between ideas that are not always easy to prove or argue; working with historical material means I need to monitor this tendency extremely closely, otherwise I will produce ahistorical and useless scholarship. I’m also working on medieval anti-Semitism, and while I feel I am doing important work exploring how religious and racial exclusion is built into medieval Christianity, I also worry that I will convince myself of erroneous connections or implications which will do injustice to the complex history of Jewish-Christian relations in the Middle Ages. Because of these things, I am concerned that I am not qualified or suited to work on my own project, and possibly that I do not belong at university anymore in general. This is what it is, but no one is available to talk to me about it— and rightly so, this is a pandemic and there are far more important things than university— yet my days are filled with worrying over it.

I am also worried about my students. I don’t want them to have to send any essays to me or to have to do online exams (which my university is implementing for next term). I have the power to set my own deadlines and be as flexible as I like with them— an ability I am aware not all teaching staff have, and am grateful for— but I cannot override the departmental decisions about the work they are set, nor am I able to write off essays which are either very late or have become unfeasible depending on individual circumstances. I am told to ‘make them [the students] do the essay’. So I have to prepare and support my students as best I can, remotely, for their essays and exams they are having to work towards under these appalling circumstances. This also doesn’t acknowledge the fact that online tuition is going to disadvantage those who are in home environments in which work is difficult, those with caring responsibilities, and those who have been unable to return home and who are consequently isolated in college accommodation (I had to stay at my college as an undergrad over Christmas, and there was no one around, and it was terrible).

But being a PhD student is a fortunate position. I can afford to live in a flat near town with my partner. I am paid a stipend to do my own research. Academia is facing a crisis, and I had spent weeks on the picket lines with UCU shortly before the lockdown began, but this doesn’t preclude an admission that my own position feels relatively privileged. And yet things are difficult. I feel guilt for taking up space with these complaints. I write them in the hope they will help someone, having read other diarists feel similarly about accessing services and expressing their experiences. It seems that the pandemic and the lockdown are bringing pre-existing problems and anxieties into sharp, unrelenting focus, and I am weakened by them.


[1] Eg. ‘Coronavirus: ‘I know my life will not be saved in this pandemic’’, edited by Beth Rose, BBC News article, 6 April 2020, <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/disability-52149219>.

Pictures: Durham

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