Mask your face, not your emotions.

The anxiety woke me. My heart had signed up to run a marathon I hadn’t registered for. I reached for my bedside glass of water, which was now lukewarm. I gulped it down. Perhaps my body just needed a little hydration after a long night’s sleep. These days boredom drives me to bed early (really hoping the ‘beauty sleep’ theory is legit). However, the thunk-thunk of my heart persisted with no sight of a finish line. I scooped up my phone: 4h17 am. The screen was intrusively bright in the dark, and my eyes scrunched in response. I imagined my vision had been blinded by an alien’s laser beams. We are, after all, living in an alien world, and my imagination is as bizarre as it is relentless. Lockdown isn’t helping.

A glance at the curtains reaffirmed the streetlights hadn’t yet completed their night shift, and that the sun was still making its way to work. Lockdown days are long, this one was going to be even longer if sleep eluded me. I gave an audible sigh as I checked my WhatsApp messages in case of anything urgent. All was fine, save for the short, sharp breaths that begged to differ. I snuggled deeper into the duvet and draped my arm over a sound asleep husband. Ten minutes later, I was up. Sleep was done with me, and my heart kept sounding its alarm. I padded towards the kitchen and the promise of morning coffee.

I know the tools that calm anxiety. I have taken the time to learn and understand them because I have always been an over-thinker. It’s a writer’s necessary evil, but it must be managed. So, I learned how. I do exercise, I do yoga, I meditate, I count blessings, and have identified nature as my nurturer. So, I took a deep, mindful breath in. I took another and another. It helped a little, but the sound of my heart was so loud that it drowned out our overly bubbly kettle. Something was up, my conscious mind just wasn’t sure what. So, with fresh coffee in hand, I sat on our veranda and allowed my thoughts to swirl in the stillness of a new day. It was the eve of the move from Level-5 Lockdown to Level-4.

Anxiety is a familiar emotion. Most of us are run ragged in the pursuit of happiness, of more-ness, of newness. So, when South Africa (and consequently, our little worlds) curtly closed on 27 March, a sense of calm came over me. Lockdown insisted I ‘let go’ for 3 weeks. The tight deadlines and changes I was furiously pursuing were now a job for the Universe. As such, I embraced Lockdown with gun-ho positivity and prepared for 21-Days to Lockdown New Habits.

Our president then announced a 2-week extension. That was tough psychologically, and my heart bled for small businesses (we subsequently began the initiative www.newnorm.online to help – please feel free to send in an application). However, still, I trusted in the process. However, the next move from Level-5 to Level-4 Lockdown proved to be my catalyst. The tummy-twisting anxiety was my feelings begging for a nod in their direction. Whenever I missed my old life, guilt would remind me that I don’t have a right to feel loss when I have comparatively so much.

As I sat on the verandah with the distant calls of a Red-capped robin-chat, I let go of my new world of Eco-bricks and home exercise mats and allowed my thoughts to travel back…

My daughter and I the day before Lockdown – our gorgeous coastal forest.

I miss sleepy-eyed beach mornings and leaving car keys with Bheki, the big-grin car-guard as we head to the water. I miss troubles being washed away by the peaceful solitude of backline (I had just taken up bodyboarding again). I even miss the all-too-often washing machine churn and embarrassment of being dumped by a rogue wave. I yearn for the itch of dry salt on skin and the taste of it on my lips. I miss seeing friends arrive at the beach, balancing piles of towels, kids, and tantrums. I miss eating the Haloumi Veg Wrap with my husband at Surfriders Café. I miss tangled beach hair and sand-encrusted feet on steamy carpark tarmac.

I want to dust off our dinged-up, old-faithful blue cooler box that we take to every braai. I want to kiss my friends’ cheeks and compliment them on how gorgeous they are. I don’t want them to be all chin and nose on our Houseparty APP  ‘get-togethers’. I wish to snort-laugh at their jokes in person. Then I want to snort-laugh at the snort-laugh. I want us to drink too many beers and unconvincingly decline a second Tequila shot. I want to get home much later than planned and have a headache from a memory-packed night. I miss my feet being sore from dancing.

I miss my school ‘lift club girls’ that I have watched transform from 6-year-old chubby-cheeked cherubs into high-cheek-boned teens. I want to know who likes which boy, and delight at their high-pitched laughter when one of them rats the other out. I don’t want to see them skip to the car two metres apart with masked smiles. I want them to be free, with arms interlinked and smiles visible to the world.

I yearn for early evening beach walks with my Great Dane. I’d even be happy to land face-first in the sand again when he races off. True story. I want to trundle through our doorstep coastal forest and swat at mosquitos that intrude on our family picnic.

I miss freedom.

Eddy and Layla – early beach strolls before Lockdown.

Three days on, and my anxiety has decreased. Level-4 has come with changes that require a magnifying glass, but being ‘allowed out’ between 6am, and 9am feels like we’ve won the Rugby World Cup again. It’s tightly regulated freedom, but it’s more than we’ve had. I am finding masks challenging to accept because visually, they yell farewell to the old world. I don’t want masks to be our children’s new reality. However, there is an unprecedented unity amongst humankind. Our neighbourhood is a buzz of handwaving friendliness and the crinkle of smiling eyes above cloth masks. I’ve made contacts from around the world and even had a new friend from Portugal send me a video of the Cape Town Boulder’s penguins exploring the streets. Our eyes have opened to each other because we’re on common ground despite geographical distances. And that’s connected people of the world like never before.

So, as the planet breathes more easily and the animals, flora, and fauna flourish, I have returned to counting my many blessings. I’m clearing my muddied emotions so that I don’t trip on this path of new acceptance. Allow yourself to feel. Allow yourself to have not-so-good days. Be positive wherever possible but know that it’s ok to be human. You won’t have it together every day. Cut yourself some slack and if you have guilt at feeling loss, drop that useless emotion – you’ve gone through a lot. Allow yourself time to heal, so that you can help others with your energy tank full. The world may have morphed into a new normal, but you are still you.

It’s even ok if you still hate baking. I know I do.

Let’s just coddiwomple

x Keryn