Why I hate Saturday now: the toll of Melbourne lockdown life

But there is hope, even in the hardship

I am not accustomed to emotions. I am someone others describe as calm, even tempered, who can see both sides of the argument.

So what’s wrong with me? I mean I know the answer, but I find it disturbing. How dare I feel this way when I really have nothing to complain about. And yet … I do.

Perhaps I should explain. It needs just four words. I live in Melbourne.

It is my city. I love it. But right now it is hurting. Its people are hurting. Thankfully, some restrictions have just been eased – such as the nightly curfew – while nature is doing its spring thing, which brings hope and reminds us all of the dependable rhythm of life.

Let me give you a really concrete example. Friday evening in most cities is chaos. People trying to get home. Peak hour is worse. Often bumper to bumper down main thoroughfares and freeways. Last Friday, about 5.15pm, I stood in the middle of Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, normally a thriving energetic thoroughfare filled with noisy pubs, bars, retail outlets, bicycles, cars, trucks, pedestrians. There was not a single moving vehicle on the road in either direction from Johnston St to Victoria Parade. And almost no people. And this remained unchanged for at least one whole minute.

Brunswick Street, Melbourne

The normally chockers Brunswick Street was empty last Friday at 5:15pm.


Rates of change

There is a daily ritual that unites all Melburnians – the daily count. While its time varies, its impact on our lives and moods is immense.

When we found ourselves in Stage 4 lockdown in August, the daily rate of new COVID-19 infections had climbed to more than 700! We were the diseased city. No one wanted to be us. We were declared persona non grata by the rest of the nation.

Yesterday (September 28), that new infection figure was five.

Our Premier is proud of us. We all quickly ‘pivoted’ to face masks; for those in hospitals and in essential retail and other work spaces, where one intersects with other human beings, the face masks are permanent fixtures. We continued social distancing, and you know the other details: only allowed to be outside for exercise one hour a day. Only two people exercising together. 8pm-5am curfew (no more!).

No visitors. Mandatory working from home. More businesses, especially retail outlets, shut down. Parents were already home schooling. Playgrounds shut. Many more people lost their jobs.

Locked in our apartments, houses, bedrooms, either alone or filled with people, we had to find things to fill our time. One answer – 24 hour AFL. Well, it certainly seemed like that.

I am grateful for The Age writers who continue to find stories of people doing wonderful creative and generous acts of service. Human beings at their best! And yes, there are also people behaving badly. But mostly, we are all just trying to get by.

Why I hate Saturdays now

I am an optimist, but right now I don’t feel quite as optimistic. How can this be? My workplace is strongly connected with people in places such as Iraq and Syria. Our little dramas are a walk in the park compared to years and years of war, sanctions, poverty, and now the pandemic. And they talk of hope and joy in the midst of their daily struggles of feeding their family, finding work, ensuring their home is safe.

And yet … these emotions still catch me by surprise.

We can’t plan. Every special event in the diary has been cancelled. Next week my calendar tells me that I am attending the Shakespeare play, As You Like It, at the Melbourne Theatre Company, with my son Josh. Not happening. A family wedding in Brisbane in October. Not happening. A 100th birthday celebration in December, also in Brisbane. Almost certainly not happening.

I have realised that it is the anticipation of occasions, holidays, outings to come that, in life before lockdown, kept me grounded, focused and functioning well.

Yes, it is also prayer, church community, God’s abiding love, the reassurance of grace. And, thankfully, God’s presence is eternal. But that does not mean there are days when I just feel miserable. It comes on like an unexpected black cloud. Or the tears spring up uninvited.

Last Saturday I announced to my husband that I hate Saturdays. Why? I have had purposeful work all week. I have participated in multiple zoom calls. I have worked at my desk in my living area, just near two other people also beavering away, a few steps from the kitchen and behind the television. And this same area is my weekend space.

I am exhausted. I can zone out mid conversation. Somehow working from home is so much more taxing. I miss the more informal conversations. The laughter. The chats over coffee. The shared stories of children, of struggles, of celebration.

Over the nearly seven months of some kind of lockdown it is interesting to observe the different cycles. At the beginning lots of clever new ideas and opportunities. We thought this pesky pandemic was a passing phase. How foolish we were.

Lockdown lessons

I do have some lessons learned in lockdown (I love alliteration). Projects are good, but when everything seems too hard, that’s okay. If the bed seems inviting on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, no problem. Playing cards with the family is a great way of connecting. Cat hair all over my work station is worth the constant presence of a cat on my lap. Walking around the local gardens is great for my mental health. Zoom and phone chats with friends are wonderful, but try to limit conversations about lockdown, and please don’t discuss politics. We Melburnians are barely surviving and political conversations about the merits of different state and federal leaders are too distressing. Keep ordering take away. The local businesses are hugely appreciative and it is one less thing to think about! And most of all, be kind. To everyone. Including yourself.

I just read that paragraph over. It’s no War and Peace. It’s not profound, but it is my imperfect recipe to getting through today and tomorrow and hopefully next week. Perhaps the most important and hardest lesson of all – the best way to manage is to be present – to myself, to God, to my colleagues, to the local barista and to my family and friends. Why? Because God is fully present with me, loving me, holding me, whether I am in the depths of despair or full of hope.

He is with me whether I know it or not. And he is with you. That is a promise that nourishes no matter what the circumstances.

Penny Mulvey is Chief Communications Officer of Bible Society Australia