Surviving in the closet during lockdown

Image description: a person at the window of dark room

“I’m going to make sure that your wedding is nearby so I can visit you lots.” The acrid taste of my dinner after my mother said these words was not due to the food going off in those few moments. When saying this, I imagine she pictured me living with my husband after our traditional wedding, close to my childhood home so that my mother could visit as frequently as desired.

Giving a forced smile in response, I struggled to eat the rest of my suddenly bland meal and was glad to retreat to the safety of my bedroom as soon as I was finished. As a queer woman who has not disclosed her sexuality to her family to ensure her own safety, the concept of being quarantined in this household for the foreseeable future is a daunting one. 

To have even this fragmented illusion of freedom taken away from me is harrowing

I have never enjoyed coming home from Oxford, but I have always tried to seek solace in the fact that I can see home friends as often as possible, in order to be in an environment where my identity does not cause disownment or danger.

To have even this fragmented illusion of freedom taken away from me is harrowing. It is even worse to have no idea when I’ll next see my friends again, given that they are fast approaching their final year while I will be on my oh-so-wonderful year abroad.

After all these weeks, I am still struggling to reconcile myself with these new facts. With nothing much to do, my mind has found itself noticing physical manifestations of my unease around my parents; the way I tense up when my father simply walks past me eating my afternoon snack at the table, the way my heart rate increases and I am no longer able to concentrate on what I am reading when he is in the same room, the way my mind races faster than ever when my parents attempt to engage in simple small talk.

I am not sure what this classifies as; I feel foolish for labelling these responses as traumatic ones rather than me just being unnecessarily anxious as usual, like I am just playing victim since no one has forced my mouth open to place this lump in my throat.

If the passage of time is currently marked by you lying in bed as the sun rises and sets each day, there is nothing wrong with you. I saw the term ‘hypo-arousal’ recently, and it resonated with my lockdown self, after some help from Dr Google. Through the parasympathetic nervous system, this reaction to trauma causes you to feel disconnected from yourself, both in body and mind.

While I am definitely not awarding myself a neuroscience degree, these descriptions feel akin to the response I have had over the past few weeks to my situation in lockdown, seemingly frozen and unable to do anything regardless of whether it is a cumbersome task or something more pleasurable.

You would think that society would have anticipated the current situation enough to have preconceptions about what is right or wrong to do in a global pandemic, but my guilt concerning productivity and the exponential rise in my screen time says otherwise. However, there is no such thing as the right way to spend this time.

You’re not spending it any less wisely if you have not become the country’s next Michelin star chef, or if you’re not yet halfway through your decade’s creative writing goals. At a time where our waking hours are no longer governed by a demand of our labour for capital, perhaps it is only natural that we feel a shift in our circadian rhythm.

This being said, I can attest to the fact that these hobbies do help on the days where I have felt motivated enough to bake something new, or perhaps exercise my atrophying muscles. In a warped way, this situation has also given me a newfound love for reading, something which should never have left someone whose childhood identity was centred around books until the glut of reading in higher education sapped this love.

I have also begun more consciously immersing myself in LGBTQ+ arts, whether that’s books, films, or general social media consumption. At a time where many websites and organisations are offering creative media for free, these all seem doubly attractive. Staying in contact with friends with whom I associate my safe space has also been a vital lifeline if only to reaffirm and validate my own identity.

Conditional love is hard to come to terms with, especially from the people who are meant to love you more than anyone else

There is a balance between using these means and self-preservation though; too much of the former media consumption creates the possibility of escapism to an unhealthy extent, while socialising can be draining even without the augmented exhaustion caused by social media. Therefore, whether as a supplement or antidote to this, as banal as it sounds, spending time in the fresh air in order to reconnect with nature is always something I will appreciate, even if I set out reluctantly.

I recognise that I am incredibly lucky to have the space to do this alongside having my own space within the house where I can decompress. The ability to self isolate comfortably is a privilege.

They say ‘family over everything’, that blood is thicker than water. Perhaps it just so happens that the blood running through my veins is more diluted than most. Conditional love is hard to come to terms with, especially from the people who are meant to love you more than anyone else. It is like a transaction, in return for an unfulfilled promise, and if the demands are not met then this love can be revoked. Maybe I am doing just fine, given the circumstances.

Image credit: Diego San via Unsplash