Walking my dog down Ordnance Street on a sunny 22-degree day during the latest lockdown order, a young guy in a souped-up car stopped and yelled out his window, “I like your shirt.” I was taken aback. First, I had to actually look down to see what the hell I was wearing, while simultaneously thinking ‘Oh god, did I change out of my pajamas?’ It was, after all, only 2:00 in the afternoon. I yelled out ‘Thank you’ because it was, after all. a compliment. I think. I noted no sarcasm in his tone. No creepiness. And, it was a brightly coloured shirt that is quite nice.
Welcome to the third wave of a pandemic lockdown, when you immediately assume the worst in everyone and everything.
It’s been one year since Kingstonist was kind enough to publish It Could Be Worse, and my hope for a soon-to-be-universal-re-set-button was apparently beyond idealistic. That said, my mother still allows me to do her online banking, Copper Penny re-opened with its #1 burgers (and legendary fries) returning as a staple in my diet, and I’ve sat in movie theatres with popcorn. Glimpses – albeit brief – of normalcy.
Unfortunately, most of this past year has played out like the worst ever version of a country music song. Widespread depression… anxiety… isolation… exhaustion… heartbreaks… heartaches. Our emotional resilience is toast. A three-year-old presumed dead in the woods north of Kingston is miraculously found alive and well after nearly four days, and we weep. We’ve become far too accustomed to the worst-case scenario that when good news happens, our brains shut down and our bodies collapse.
This latest lockdown is freaking me out. I have every confidence that Kingston will rebound once again and show the rest of Canada how to contain a nasty virus. But it’s going to take a lot more miracles to mend our mental health. The anger and bitterness of the past year is boiling over (again) and there’s an overwhelming need to lash out, blame, and shame. I get it, but this degree of nastiness is exhausting. We’re reaching a point of no return.
How do we scale it back? How do we turn our attitudes around? How do we replace glasses-half-empty with glasses-half-full? As a collective, I have no idea. As an individual, I’m doing everything I can to re-introduce peace into my life by becoming more oblivious to the world around me.
January 20, 2021 was the turning point for me and my mental wellness. When the orange dude left the big house south of the border, the overwhelming feelings of desperation and hopelessness lifted. Despite living in another lockdown, despite COVID-19 continuing to ravage the world, despite there being few signs of our world returning to normal any time soon. That was the shift for my psyche.
I replaced international news agencies on my Twitter feed with cleansers like @buitengebieden_ and @orbisculate and @Calvinn_Hobbes. Essentially, I shut out the crazy, the angry, and the ludicrous. I snoozed a bunch of unpleasant ‘friends’ on Facebook. I limit my Instagram to ensure I see nothing but dogs and food. In the latest move, my cell phone is now muted 24/7. What a concept never thought possible!
Anything and everything can wait. There is no urgency in knowing absolutely everything that is going on the world. There is no need to be tuned in at every moment of every day. Obliviousness can be blissful. Isn’t it more helpful for your mental health to watch panda bears rolling down a hill than commenting on a vile thread started by a crazy person who feeds off vitriol?
The entire concept of ‘not caring’ is truly a new personal attribute. Sure, I care about my family and friends and world peace and ending this damn pandemic. It’s more like not sweating the small stuff. The stuff that, in the scheme of things, really don’t matter.
I haven’t had a hair cut in over 15 months. My bottle blond pixie cut is a thing of the past, as is the once-every-six-weeks ritual of dye-cut-style. I wholeheartedly trust my hairdresser to follow all the safety protocols. It’s not about that. It’s all about a no muss, no fuss attitude on what I look like. With the awkward and annoying grow out stage behind me from the first lockdown, my chin length totally grey covid-coif is up in a clip. Maybe I’ll wash or brush it before, maybe not.
Planning meals is tiresome and troublesome considering I’m hungry ALL THE TIME. I could seriously live on cheese bread and chocolate and Diet Coke. Thankfully, local restaurants serve up tasty options and we’ve discovered the genius of meals in a box. These ready-to-prep-and-cook meals with easy-to-follow recipes have been a tiny miracle in our household. You don’t have to plan anything. You don’t have to think. These boxes of joy are the epitome of my ‘I don’t care’ attitude.
I buy nearly everything online – lockdown or not. 90 per cent local. Curbside pick-up or delivery depending on my mood and willingness to leave my house. Groceries. Every day and office supplies. Clothes. I feel no need to shop in person. It’s truly liberating.
I’ve been able to get a lot more done work-wise in my home office since the first wave shuttered my brain. The routine is simple. With no distractions of kids at home and a husband that goes out to work, I can get stuff done. I turn off the computer at a reasonable time and don’t get bogged down by checking news feeds every few minutes.
Pre-current lockdown, I got out of the house and escaped the everyday by aquafitting a couple of times a week at Artillery Park. It turns out that I’m as uncoordinated in the water as I am on land, but nobody can tell because you’re up to your neck in pool water. You’re spaced apart from others, you get your muscles moving, and you get to listen to classic music. Kudos to the instructors who play 70s and 80s music to motivate people to exercise in water.
My other source of sanity is volunteering. I’ve been a Rotarian for years, but the last year has been especially powerful for my belief in the importance of service to the community. Working in community gardens, packing and delivering food boxes for children and their families in need, and most recently, screening and masking at the KFLA Public Health immunization clinic.
Spending time at the Invista Centre this past number of weeks has brought me hope, something I haven’t felt in a very long time. The majority of people coming in so far have been in their 80s. They are so excited to receive the shot and they haven’t slept in days in anticipation. They arrive super early and sit in their cars in the parking lot for ages to make sure they’re not late for their appointments. They are nervous and thankful.
And proud. Too many arrive without their necessary canes or walkers… perhaps wanting to walk on their own in recognition of this historic occasion. Masks get caught on hearing aids. Glasses are fogged up. Arthritic hands are sanitized repeatedly. Screening questions need to be asked as clearly and loudly as possible through layer upon layer of PPE. All of it has truly been the most satisfying of my volunteer experiences.
Many of the people whom I’ve met over the weeks have been chatty. First time out of their house or apartment in weeks. First time they’ve had in person conversations with anyone in too long. I hear jokes. I see eyes light up from smiles. There are endless thank-yous as they leave the centre. One lady came in dressed to the nines… beautiful suit – not a hair out of place – perfect makeup. I told her she looked fabulous and she beamed… she hadn’t been out in four months, so it was worth dressing up.
When you need something to hang on to for your own peace of mind, this is it. Helping the overworked health care workers get needles in the arms of everyone. Giving people hope that they’ll be able to soon escape the confines of their solitary existence. Having a conversation with someone who is in desperate need of human contact. Offering a smile and a helping hand. This is the stuff to care about. Everything else – the negativity and anger – is simply too much work.
Lindsey Foster is a relative newbie to Kingston having only lived here for 28 years. She has worked in radio and television news, fundraising, event management, communications, and rental property management. She also volunteers with several organizations, including Rotary. Lindsey and her husband, Lawrence, live in downtown Kingston.