I hate LockD.own! Part 1

I started off with the intention of this being one post, but barely halfway through getting down what I want to say and it is already an essay my law-student-past-self would have been proud of….

So I’ll post the second half in a week or so and give you all some time to pick your way through my verbal vomit or vaguely coherent ideas. Tomaeto, tomato…

Also, Matrix references abound in this piece. If the image above does not immediately conjure up a chuckle as you think of the meme or an unyielding urge to rewatch the trilogy, hit up google first if you want the full experience.

For those that just lol’d, read on my friend!!

If you know anyone that has sailed through lockdown with no dark night of the soul or no micro (or major) mental breakdown, please put me in touch with them. I want to know their secret.

The reality for most people is that lockdown has been excruciatingly hard. Some have been more open about the mental difficulties than others, but a consistent theme within my network is that lockdown has been a grind.

I for one am sick of it. I’m fed up. I’m just a little bit angry too.

I’m frustrated that I can’t travel. I want to see my friends. I want to go on a walk without mentally calculating the 2m rule. I want to go for my morning row at the gym. I want to be able to travel. I want to be able to work from a coffee shop in the afternoon if I feel like it. In a phrase: I hate lockdown…CAPITAL H!

Of course whilst I can rationally understand the reasons for lockdown including protecting the NHS here in the UK, and the need to ‘flatten the curve’, it doesn’t make the actual experience of what amounts government mandated incarceration on a scale never before seen since the last world war, any more palatable.

I’ve had a lot of time in my own head during lockdown. Being honest, most of it has been positive, but a portion was not.

I want to share some of the positive reflections with you. But the internet is awash with positive corona reflection puff pieces. I also want to reveal and comment on some of the negative ones, in the hope that it might help you navigate the carnage that coronavirus has caused mentally.

Respect your routine

Outward observers of my life might be forgiven for thinking that I am some super-carefree, happy go lucky type that flits and floats from country to country visiting friends and forever laughing, doing whatever I feel like doing that day.

Whilst I can see where that perception can come from, and it is true you can usually find me laughing somewhere about something, underneath the exterior of my very free and self-determined life full of options, lies a very structured routine.

I wake up. I drink some water. I read something that feeds my soul. I reflect. I get out of bed and start working for an hour or two. I go to the gym. I spend up to 30 minutes chatting with whoever is on reception. I row for 30 minutes. I do another hour of work. I have breakfast at lunch (I’m an intermittent faster). I do some more work for 3-4 hours. I run errands. I prepare my dinner. I got to the sauna. I read something that feeds my mind, or some more work. I jump on the phone. I reflect on my day. I go to bed.

This is what my Monday’s, Tuesday’s, Wednesday’s, Thursday’s and Friday’s look like, give or take a few minor variations for mood or meetings. The only exceptions are when I am travelling orrrr a global pandemic…

Which brings me to the point of this point. Lockdown has nuked a routine that I spent years fine tuning for who and how I am. I didn’t have any agency in that decision, it was simply imposed on me in one fateful address to the nation.

Your routine may not be as fixed as mine, or it might even be more fixed…

…You poor thing…

In any case, we all have one. It might based around work or family or sport, but each of us has a familiar routine that we wear like our favourite pair of shoes.

…Speaking of shoes, if you have not watched “The last dance”
on Netflix, I highly recommend it…

When that is taken away, not so great things can happen. Sticking with the imprisonment idea for a moment, it is well known that inmates who have served long sentences can struggle to adjust back into mainstream society.

They spend years in a highly regimented routine, and then all of a sudden that routine is gone. For some, when faced with the reality of life without the routine they have come to know like an old friend, death seems more bearable.

I think many people are experiencing a bizarro version of this during lockdown and it is not pretty.

What helped me through my own dark night of the soul, was to first acknowledge how much my routine means to me. Once I appreciated how important it was, my feeling of loss and discomfort during lockdown suddenly made more sense and I could deal with those emotions properly.

We were not meant to be caged

…This one may seem pretty obvious but stay with me…

Freedom of movement is right deemed so fundamental to human existence it has been enshrined into law almost ubiquitously.

However, what we have seen over the past 3/4 months globally has been a suspension of that right for the greater good.

I can’t help but thinking the world has taken its first step down a very slippery slope to an extremely dark place. Due to the global outcry, most of us have done our part and sucked it up for the greater good.

I just have a niggling suspicion that something fundamental has changed in the fabric of society and the social contracts we have with each other and our governments. In my head it is akin to the unintended consequences that the internet, smartphones and social media have had on the global population- awesome leaps forward in many respects, but leading to a corresponding negative impact on us at a physical, mental and emotional level.

…Stepping down from my soapbox now don’t worry…

One thought that came to me when thinking about the above was this: does the fact that we chose our own prison make it any less a prison? What has upset me about lockdown is that I didn’t have a choice in the matter.

What were aspects of my life ~29-0BC (Before Corona) that I imprisoned myself voluntarily?

I’ll keep those to myself for now, but to give you a few nudges towards the line of thinking I took: do you imprison yourself in your job to escape a not so great homelife? Justifying those extra hours in the office as necessary in career progression?

What about your friends? Do you stick with them because they add real value to your life and make you a better human being or is it because they have just put up with you the longest and therefore are worth the negativity they dump on you?

Going a level or so deeper, how does your perception of yourself lock you in firmly in place, when you know you should be seizing an opportunity?

It hit me that we create so many prisons for ourselves voluntarily. One valuable lesson that has come out of this for me is to reduce the number of voluntary prisons I put myself in. Just because I have chosen them, doesn’t make them any better than the current lockdown I loathe.

temet nosce

The Matrix has been heralded as visionary by many, as prescient a societal commentary as it was a groundbreaking movie. One scene flickers in my memory as I exhale my thoughts here.

It is the scene where Neo visits the self titled oracle for the first time.

Instead of the oracle telling Neo about finding his ‘superhero self’ I saw the oracle as that inner version of myself trying desperately to get me to understand that everything was not ok in Sethland during lockdown.

It took me a little while but I got there eventually. I listened to my body trying to tell me that I needed to take a moment and take stock of what was happening, not just the equivalent of stopping life’s bullets with a raise of my hand.

I am not Neo.

Not even remotely close. I have my mental fissures just as we all do and the bullets life shoots at me most certainly do not stop at a raise of my hand.

Kevin Feige has a lot to answer for making me think the superhero narrative could be replicated here in the real world!!!!

…I digress again…

Once I really listened to myself, I stopped trying to just power through. For all my travels I hadn’t taken a mental holiday in years. I have been a slave to the ‘always on’ ’24 hour hustle’ mentality that consciously I thought I was freeing myself of.

…Ok so I hate lockdown a little less for giving me that nugget…

During lockdown I have let myself have lazy days where I don’t do anything airquotes, productive, rather letting my mind put its metaphorical feet up and take a well earned break.

BC Seth would have beat himself up for allowing such abject slackery.

PC Seth is getting to like this mental feet up business.

…In moderation of course!


COVID-19 has got me worrieD.

COVID-19 is shutting down the world

But not for the obvious reason(s).

As global crises go, this is the most serious in terms of global impact since WW2. It’s a crisis that has certainly given us a stark reminder of how fragile life as we know it actually is. 

As a self confessed travelholic, COVID-19 has impacted what I have realised is quite a fundamental part of my life. Trumpian travel bans and Italian lockdowns have scuttled my last two trips, but after the mental dust settled on a (hopefully) temporary wing clip, I reflected on some decidedly more concerning thoughts.

Before I delve into those, some disclaimers:

  • I’m not a scientist
  • This isn’t a COVID-19 digest. I can’t cover every conceivable angle of the global pandemic!
  • You don’t need to agree with me
  • If you disagree strongly then comment! BUT
  • …Do so thoughtfully and without vitriol and hatred- I want to learn too!  

Let me start with my conclusion and work backwards from there. Thinking, true, deep, silent thinking is on the decline and its impact on society is scary, if not much talked about. 

In that vacuum that individual independent thought used to occupy hot takes, talking heads, tik toks, content creators and the mainstream media have conspired to fill the void.  

The fundamental issue I see here is that as information has become more truncated, but also more abundant. We are so overwhelmed by information overload and our busy lives that our brain’s have essentially been DDoS’d

In response, because we can’t think about everything we are bombarded with on a daily basis, we find a few ‘trusted sources’ that resonate with our own worldview and suspend the usual rigour that would usually accompany reviewing ideas and information. 

The end result of this is some weird (to me anyway) situation where we have delegated our great privilege of independent thought to others and have efficiently outsourced our thinking to essentially live by proxy. 

Ask yourself:

  • When did you last finish a ‘long read’ article?
  • Finished a book?
  • Read a newspaper cover to cover?
  • Sat for an hour and thought about one thing without being interrupted by a notification or other distraction?    
  • Wrote in a journal?
  • Learning something new not related to your job?

I’m confident most of the people I know that would read this post could knock off a good number of these. I certainly can’t confess to all of the above and that is sobering for me. 

It’s a scary thought indeed when thinking goes out of fashion, replaced by content-creator-knows-what, because we aren’t really thinking about information as we digest it.

So what happens when we stop thinking, explored through the lens of COVID-19? 

Fear and panic spread like wildfire

Society today is so interconnected you just have to infect a part of it, provide the right growth conditions, and you have yourself global panic on an unprecedented scale. 

Toilet paper suddenly becomes this season’s must-have accessory (part of me is really worried about what the bulk buyers are doing the rest of the time), the shelves are empty, you start fights in crowded supermarkets and all the other little COVID-19 vignettes I’m sure you’ve heard from friends and family (not you obviously, you are the definition of calm!).

I was rescheduling a majority of my flights last week and the lady on the phone came right out and said she was plain scared- I hadn’t even given the answer to my security questions yet!!!

This fear spreads because we are bombarded with sensational headlines on how scary X is by Y trusted experts, but don’t take the time to really dive into it and understand the issue(s) in our own mind. So you get pulled into the orbit of societal fear, parroting the soundbites you read and hear from your ‘trusted sources’. 

Now I’m not saying the talking heads are wrong, a lot of the experts are world leading and very respected. What I am saying is that if you don’t take the time to get to grips with a topic yourself and understand the underlying issues, the summary that said expert provides for the benefit of that news cycle, isn’t the entirety of the picture and you are left in fear because you don’t fully understand.

Even if it is a jolly good summary, it is still that- a summary. The expert has made a decision on what they feel is relevant and important from the data, then was provided a platform or made their own to share their takeaways. 

By all means listen carefully, but don’t just stop there. Think!

What does this mean for me? What are the underlying issues? What should I really be worried about? What do I need to do in response? 

We’re often scared to delve into the data ourselves because we might not understand it and it sounds so complicated or because we don’t feel we have the time. However, that is the exact moment we should! 

An inability for most to think AND ACT for themselves

I’ll confess, two weeks ago I was still planning to travel- BAU. It wasn’t until a very good friend who lived in New York upped and left the city like a bat out of that hot-fiery-place that I woke up a bit. I realised I perhaps wasn’t taking things seriously enough. 

I had a real deep think to myself, took in the best information I could find at the time and decided that I should probably stock up on essentials (responsibly) and go into voluntary home quarantine. At time of writing I am still in said quarantine and the UK government is also mandating this.   

I have many friends that were way ahead of me on the curve. 3 weeks ago as things were kicking off in Italy, they read the tea leaves and made a decision to fly back home. They looked at the world around them, fast forwarded and made a decisive decision.

They have been proved right, and even if in some parallel universe they ended up wrong, it’s the process I know they went through to act decisively that I immensely respect. 

Many of us are waiting for others to tell us what to do for fear of I don’t know what. The same data that the UK government is using to base its decision making on, is available to you. Yes it takes a little bit of time to understand, but once you do there is less fear of the unknown and more decisive decision making. 

You are also able to critically evaluate the data & information for yourself and draw your own (*cough* conspiracy *cough*) conclusions…

Exposing societal isolation and lack of tolerance

YES I KNOW WE NEED TO SELF ISOLATE TO DELAY THE PEAK! I’m not talking about that, I’m thinking a little more abstractly- in terms of our mentality and approach to engaging with others. 

Remember the memes, jokes and gifs flying about the internet at the start of the year when COVID-19 was a ‘China problem’? 

Remember when you felt enabled to silently chuckle at them or not call out the racially charged undertone because it was happening to someone else on the other side of the world? 

Well, you’re likely reading this in some form of isolation, so Wuhan isn’t really so far away now is it? 

I digress. My point being that we seem to be sadly unsympathetic to other’s needs and the issues causing them until it hits us. Then. Oh. My. Word. Buy. ALL. The. Toilet. Paper.

The underlying issue that COVID-19 has surfaced to me is how deep that feeling goes. I’m not immune to it and neither are you. I’m pretty sure you were chugging along pretty nicely in life until the last 7-14 days…

See the lack of real leadership globally

I feel lingering too long on this point will open me up to all kinds of accusations of political bias, so i’ll be brief.

I live in the UK and there was an alarming lack of communication and leadership as the UK hit crisis point (11th March onwards). I guess you can attribute a lot of that to the ‘keep calm carry on’ culture fuelling the herd immunity camp if you want to be really kind, and an abject lack of care for the most vulnerable if you don’t. 

These are the same leaders that we are outsourcing our thinking to. They say you really get to know someone in times of crisis and I think COVID-19 is an excellent opportunity for us all to critically evaluate the competence of the people we have voted to lead us in times of unprecedented volatility.

Some leaders will fail the test.

However, I do hope that a few emerge from the rubble of whatever the world looks like in the next 6-12 months with their perception enhanced, if only to provide a clear example for the others to follow! 

I’m also interested to see whether this crisis reveals leaders from unexpected places. Society and it’s associated structures have never been laid so bare, certainly not in my lifetime. COVID-19 has presented a wonderful opportunity for us to rethink these fundamentals.

This is a somewhat articulate monologue, but what are you doing now?

Wonderful question. Let me share 3 neatly packaged takeaways with you. 

Think more about the world and things you are passionate about. 

It’s OK to just think! I assure you it won’t kill anyone and you might be more fulfilled as a result.

We have become addicted to stimulation and allergic to silence. The silence of our own mind when we turn off all the notifications, distractions and interruptions and be alone with ourselves. 

Listen more to people who have demonstrated some level of independent thought.

You don’t necessarily have to agree with them, in fact it’s probably good that you don’t. 

Take a little break from the soundbite media and do a little digging for yourself.  

When you are faced with a view or idea contrary to your own you have 3 basic options:

1- Reject out of hand with no evaluation. 

2- Accept out of hand with no evaluation. 

3- Evaluate critically the idea or perspective objectively against your own worldview and then make a decision on whether to accept or reject.

I have learnt so much by evaluating ideas objectively against my worldview. Regardless of the outcome of acceptance or rejection, the process of evaluation leads to a constant, gradual refining of your perspective on the world, which over time becomes extremely valuable. 

Share more with people whom you can trust to be truly open and honest about your feelings.

This is hard, really hard.

From what I read, social distancing (spin for self isolation) is going to be measured in months not weeks. For someone like me who has remote worked for years, this isn’t a huge change. 

However, for those coming from more traditional work environments, social distancing has some unintended negative consequences and it won’t take too long for people to feel alone in their own homes, with their families.

That’s a shocking thought I know, but let me tell you all is not unicorns and rainbows behind front doors these days.  

It’s therefore extremely important that we intentionally migrate our support systems to digital ASAP. We are social creatures and the isolation will be hard for many to ensure without some semblance of connectedness.

At a practical level my digital support system is simply group messaging, video calls and voice notes with my ‘clan’ where we share our findings, conspiracy theories, concerns, fears, plans and everything else.

We get some feedback, some checks, the occasional nudge that we went too far into the rabbit hole but more often than not just a note that someone is listening and also thinking.

I’m conscious this has been a long read, so if you have gotten this far- Salute! 

I want to reward you with some positive thoughts:

  1. In the midst of this crisis and fear, don’t forget to be human. Just because you are socially distancing doesn’t mean you can’t be kind, thoughtful and considerate
  2. Many people now have at least 2 hours extra per day because they are not commuting. Invest that time wisely! How about you spend more time building relationships with your family, friends & loved ones? Read that book you always wanted to. Learn that language you always dreamed of but was always too ‘busy’.
  3. Reflect on society as a whole and how you can contribute to it in more meaningful ways.
  4. Evaluate the assumptions in your worldview. COVID-19 has exposed some fundamental assumptions about how secure the world is. This should not send us into a spiral of fear, but thankfulness that we are now enlightened as to the reality of things.

Stay safe and keep your eyes open for the amazing opportunities that will present themselves. Seize them, don’t shirk them and I’m pretty sure that whatever happens in the world, you’ll be a little step closer to a fulfilled life. At the very least you’ll be staying occupied during this lockdown social distancing.