Gillian Harvey: why we’re living in a new, guilt-ridden normal

Read the latest column from freelance writer, author and mum-of-five Gillian Harvey.

I’m going to admit it. I feel a bit bored at the moment. I’m fed up with my hair. I’m sick of cooking meals All The Time. And I’m frustrated – I can’t seem to get anything done. Oh, and really quite pleased that one of my short stories got picked up by a magazine.

Don’t get me wrong. I am horrified each and every day when I wake up and realise that coronavirus isn’t a nightmare but is happening in real life. I feel sick when I watch the news. I worry, all the time, about friends, family and pretty much everyone else.

At the same time, over a month into lockdown, life has kind of settled into a new rhythm. It’s hectic – five kids to entertain, work to complete and seemingly-endless meals to prepare. But with no real end to things on the horizon, it’s become the way we’re living now.

I’ve discovered that however horrifying the news is, it’s impossible to let it consume me all the time. I still worry about household bills, whether the kids are going to forget everything they’ve learnt by September and – if I’m honest – about more trivial things like the state of my hair and how, in the wrong light and at the wrong angle, I can see my grandmother’s face when I look in the mirror.

I’m also desperately sad that the novel that took years to perfect is now being released in the middle of a crisis. That there will be no book launch. That, as things stand, I may never get to see my book on the shelves in real life.

At first, I felt guilty at worrying about anything other than Covid-19. For being preoccupied with problems that pale into insignificance against the backdrop of fear and loss.

But I’ve since given myself permission to feel. I’ve realised am doing everything I can to keep myself and others safe. I am keeping up-to-date with facts and figures. And of course I feel wretched whenever I think about this horrible virus and the way it has impacted on our daily lives.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t moan about being a bit bored sometimes. That I long for a bit of alone-time away from the children once in a while. That if I have to peel another frickin’ carrot I may just lose my mind.

Bottling up our emotions during this time isn’t going to help anyone. And we shouldn’t feel guilty about allowing ourselves to feel. Plus, if I’m honest, having an honest-to-goodness moan about my pathetic little problems is amazingly therapeutic (for me, at least. Not sure my hubby would agree).

It’s okay to feel excited too, about small victories and achievements. Maybe you’re one of the amazing people able to step up their fitness routine at this time. Perhaps you’ve dropped a dress size. Maybe you’ve secured a new client at work. Or nailed it in a zoom meeting. Well done! You’re amazing!

There’s nothing wrong with letting ourselves experience normal emotions. It’s important to keep functioning, keep clocking up small victories, keep allowing ourselves to admit that life is a bit rubbish right now. It’s OK to laugh, to forget about it for a while, to enjoy time with your kids and chat about other things.

Being happy, sad, bored, frustrated or annoyed doesn’t mean we don’t have our eye on the Bigger Picture.

We’re multi-taskers. We can do it all.

Gillian Harvey is a writer and mum-of-five. Her debut novel Everything is Fine is out with Orion in May 2020.