“The blitz spirit of lockdown 1 has vanished. We’re no longer all in this together; we’re pitted against each other.”

@lucywriter’s #MadCovidDiaries 22.12.2020

Back in March, when we first locked down, I couldn’t even countenance that we’d still be in the grips of the pandemic by Christmas. I fully expected the virus to burn itself out by the summer, and the headlines saying social distancing could be needed for the rest of the year seemed like pure scaremongering.

By August, life had returned to near-enough normal that I was pretty sure Christmas would happen largely as usual. We were allowed friends in the house, to go swimming and to the theatre, and were actively encouraged to Eat Out to Help Out. There were still a few restrictions – not being able to hug being the one that hurt, and still hurts, the most – but those long weeks of lockdown seemed to be behind us.

There was talk of a second wave, of the need to be careful, hands-face-space, but the unvoiced opinion was that it wouldn’t be as bad as the first, with the increase in testing, track and trace, and an NHS more equipped to cope.

Yet here we are. Four days before Christmas, and back in what is, to all intents and purposes, lockdown – at least for those of us in tier 4. That glimmer of light, the promise of a five-day window in which we could bubble with those we love, has been snatched away: hopes dashed in yet another display of staggering government incompetence.

Our plans are cancelled. I’ve deleted all the ingredients for entertaining from my Tesco order and replaced them with cheese, chocolate and booze. I have presents under my tree that I can’t now deliver in person, nor post in time for Christmas. Our Christmas Eve trip to the theatre is off. And it’s horrible.

In the days since the Christmas U-turn was announced, there’s been an outbreak of pious judgementalism on social media to rival the pandemic itself.

Stop whining. Get a grip. Others have it worse. Think of those of us who have been shielding all year. If it saves one life, it’s worth it. Christmas isn’t ruined. Count your blessings. Anyone moaning about the rules needs to take a look at themselves. Think of the positives. Look at the stars/sunrise/sunset. Read your Bible. At least you have food/heat/family. I’m sick of hearing woe is me from those in tier 4.’

Some of these quotes are verbatim, others approximations. And to all of them, I say SHUT UP! Please, just for a little while, shut up!

Right now, I don’t want to think positive or give myself a guilt trip about those who have it worse. Selfish? You bet. But I needed those Christmas plans. I’d hung my hope on the two evenings we were going to have with our temporary bubbles of friends: two evenings of relative normality, nice food, games, wine, laughter.

Losing it at the last minute: well, I’m sad, angry, disappointed, crushed.

As a Mad person, I’ve ridden out the pandemic pretty well overall, but being suddenly thrust into tier 4 days before Christmas is heartbreaking. I’m so angry at the government for doing this to us, waving promises under our noses then snatching them away. They say they’ve had to change the Christmas relaxation of rules in response to how the virus has changed, but the scientists have been warning of this for weeks.

How dare the Conservative cronies dress this up as the ‘responsible’ course of action, when they knew how irresponsible it was.

How dare they set this whole car crash situation up by paying us to eat out, ending the furlough scheme so people had to go back to work (and backtracking on that, too), protecting Big Business at the expense of human lives.

How dare they then spin it so people start blaming each other for this new Covid crisis, when the actual blame lies squarely in their farcical handling of the pandemic.

I am angry, but I’m also mentally okay, perhaps surprisingly, given my long history of mentalness. But plenty aren’t. I know there are many Mad people who are thankful for a low-key, low-pressure Christmas, but there are equally many (or maybe more; who’s counting?) who are at risk of becoming very, very ill.

It’s not just about Christmas. It’s also about the endless, ongoing isolation, whether we’re truly on our own, or longing for human contact outside our immediate family. It’s heading into another year without having mental health appointments in person, and having to navigate them on the phone or over Zoom. Now, we also have the fear of not being able to get our medication thanks to the two-headed beast of pandemic plus Brexit.

It’s also about being offered hope and having it dashed: something that parallels what happens to many of us when we ‘reach out’ to mental health services, as we’ve been told to, and then let down.

The blitz spirit of lockdown 1 has vanished, and instead, set up this culture of blame, one-upmanship and whatabouttery. We’re no longer all in this together; we’re pitted against each other, the ‘put up and shut up’ brigade versus those of us who are hurting, struggling, let down. It’s what the government wants; it draws attention away from its incompetence.

Others do have it worse. I have many blessings to count, and I’ll follow the new tier 4 rules. But it’s hard and it hurts, and being told that I shouldn’t complain is too much right now.

I’ve sat on my hands on Facebook and Twitter over the past few days, not always successfully. But this is me saying it’s not okay. It’s not okay to judge and sneer at us ‘whingers’ who are actually really bloody struggling right now.

I shy away from twee memes, but there’s one going around that says it all: ‘We’re all in the same storm, but we’re not all in the same boat.’ Some people are sailing through this on cruise liners, cocktail in hand, but some of us are in rickety canoes and are being battered from all sides, at risk of going under completely.

So I defend my right to moan, whine, cry and stamp my feet. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have compassion for people in worse situations, such as those who have lost loved ones, or that I’m not taking the pandemic seriously, or planning to break the rules.

But 2020 has taken so much away from us, and this last-minute reneging of Christmas promise, plus the prospect of weeks, if not months, more lockdown is a lot to handle. I’m allowed to feel sad, angry and betrayed – and if that makes me selfish, that’s just something I have to live with.

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