My husband is 53 today; I will soon join him in the same age. We have been married for 21 years. It is a hot day so we decided against a day out in the country and are lounging around the house and garden, looking forward to dinner a deux tonight as our grown up but resident daughter is out. A few minutes ago, something good happened. As I wandered back into the house to get something, a feeling of serenity washed over me. A voice in my head spoke:
“Is this limbo or is this life?”
My husband as an essential worker has continued to work all the way through the Covid 19 lockdown. I lost all my income, most of my job security, such as it was, and have spent almost six months now in a state of uncertainty. My limbo was not just about work – will I ever work again in this professional, self employed capacity; should I find a local job in a shop; could I live without work, financially, mentally, emotionally? My limbo has also been about whether, at 52, not in the ‘danger zone’ of Covid mortality and morbidity, but not likely, if I were to be infected by the virus, to be a asymptomatic, I should take risks with my freedom? I swung erratically from one position to another. So few people were affected in my area, so of course it was safe to go out; yet if I did become ill, did I want to spend weeks in hospital and months convalescing after one self indulgent trip to the shops?
I have sat by and watched my daughter struggle with her studies, leave them and then enrol again as she saw how very difficult it was to get a job once many businesses were closing or announcing considerable redundancies. I have witnessed my husband’s frustrations with staffing issues when the initial lockdown hysteria occurred. I have worried about both of them and felt increasingly sorry for myself.
But today, in that moment of serenity, in the peace of a warm afternoon, a wood pigeon calling from a distant garden, I realised that maybe this isn’t limbo any more. Maybe this calmer pace of life, which has seen me planting seeds for the first time in the garden and baking biscuits again after 20 years, is how life can be. This is still life, and a life worth living. I don’t have to be rushing around proving myself, travelling here and there and everywhere, scoring points, making enemies, trying to change the world. After 30 years of high level, stressful working for other people’s benefit, maybe it is finally okay to just be.
Life sometimes felt like a game of Jenga to me. I was compelled to keep piling on block after block but I was simultaneously terrified that all the blocks I had amassed would come crashing down with my last action. And yet still I piled them on. Already working five days a week? Yes, I could do that little bit extra, work at the weekends, in the evenings. If I felt like I was doing a reasonable job as a parent, I would turn away again to work. If work was going well, I wouldn’t slacken off, for fear of it all falling down. I was never satisfied with the wooden tower I built – it could always be higher.
Lockdown came at an inconvenient time for me, I thought, in March 2020 and yet, looking back now, six months later, it was rather a fortuitous event, perhaps.
In the late winter of 2018, as the days began to grown longer, but not warmer, I crumbled under the ten year long abuse by an organisation and its employees. A narcissistic, gaslighting bully destroyed what resilience I had built up and I dissolved. Several months of first physical and then mental ill health ensued until I could finally escape the bully and the edifice behind them, on 30th June. But by September I was back into work again, albeit still fragile; I remember telling a much loved and long known colleague the sad tale and crying like a baby. Gradually that Autumn and through 2019 I built up a new way of being, a new circle of colleagues and reduced my workload. I had one of the best years of my life, travelling to new places, working with new people and not forgetting those who had been allies all along.
But still the abuser hovered in the background and still I jumped at shadows.
So when lockdown came, I was furious. I had just rebuilt my career, at a more rewarding, leisurely pace on an international level. It was grossly unfair of the coronavirus pandemic to pull that rug from under my feet.
And yet lockdown has given me what I didn’t – couldn’t give myself in 2018; time and space to really learn about what matters. Where February and March this year were war zone in our house as I raged against the injustices – why couldn’t the selfish skiers see what was coming and cancel their trips; why did the government not lockdown sooner; why did nobody think of the consequences for the poor, the isolated and the mentally ill – by April I had calmed down and entered a new phase of the grief process.
Now in August, I have reached acceptance. Now I live in a far calmer household where all three of us have learned more about life, human nature and one another. In spending more time together we have appreciated why we are indeed, a family. The patience, the love, the understanding and tolerance we have all developed, along with humour, new family customs and greater mutual respect makes me immensely proud: more proud than any work achievement in fact.
Out of the ashes of the world that was, on my darkest days, ruined and at best severely and brutally curtailed, have grown the shoots of something altogether sturdier and more sustaining. The limbo I thought I was in has evolved, magically, into a life that is worth living and is making me, at the time of writing, serenely content.
It’s an ill wind, they say, that blows nobody any good.