This is the story that begins from before the word COVID-19 existed to writing in what seems to be a particularly sick episode of Black Mirror that someone seems to has forgotten to switch off. You may question why I’ve titled this post “From London with Love”. That is a) because for now, my travels, my adventure, my life so to speak is in a bit of a disarray what with everything happening and I got stuck in London and b) I’m inspired by James Bond being a superhero, and I feel like we all need an ounce of superhero strength in these challenging times.
I’ve not written properly in a long time, but I’m back and I feel like now is a good time to speak about where I’ve been and what the future potentially holds. So let’s do it – let’s rewind and go back two months.
Two months ago I arrived in Australia, and my only thoughts right then were of amazement I’d made it this far, excitement for the next few months, but obviously a little fear – for me, my travel trip was over. I haven’t a clue how I’d done it but after a WHIRLWIND time, I’d ended up in my penultimate destination. Spain, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Brazil, India, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia with all the weird and wonderful people I’d met throughout and for me, backpacking was now done. I wanted to focus on where I wanted to live, create a home, and find a job in Australia.
I visited my friend Chelsea in Sydney, enjoyed how not seeing eachother in years made no difference picking up where we left off and battled the jet lag on her comfortable sofa. She took me on the famous Bondi Coastal walk and the coffee I had in those first few days BLASTED MY MIND (in a great way).
At this point? COVID19 was not personally bothering any of us. I’d started to read about it affecting citizens in China, and it was awful to hear but it is very hard to relate when people seem so far away right? I know it’s terrible to say, but it wasn’t causing me the immense panic it is now. When you’re personally removed you can’t feel the pain as much as you can now. It wasn’t until the numbers started to increase, and then suddenly there were occasional international cases popping up that I started to feel a sense of unease. Then Coles (Australia’s version of Sainsbury’s) suddenly one day had a huge aisle clear out of toilet paper .. and soap and, strangely, plastic plates and cutlery. Not sure what kind of party the Aussies were throwing that day but it certainly was strange. I very much feel like Australia were the first in doing this, and the world thought “well this is a GENIUS IDEA” let’s totally buy the entire aisle of toilet paper in case there is an apocalypse and our asses don’t get wiped.
I spent two months in Melbourne exploring the city and catching up with old friends but something felt a little off. It was odd because I’m one of VERY few that hasn’t raved about Melbourne.. but I just didn’t like it. The feel of the city made me feel trapped, the looming buildings and the strange people at night made me feel anxious and I preferred staying in the small suburb of Mooney Ponds, having a coffee or going shopping in the charity shop then being social and having mad nights out. Melbourne is a HAPPENING place and like everyone says, there’s loads to do to keep you occupied but I guess now, I don’t really care for doing new things all the time. Drinking gives me really bad headaches now so looking for new bars doesn’t induce the same excitement it once did and I honestly prefer relaxing in bed after a nice cooked meal, or reading in a café with a “Long Black” then waking up exhausted after a night at town. It IS busy and the majority of people love it but I just didn’t – it was another London and I’ve realised now I do better in smaller, more quaint places.
With that said, I was determined to not get low about realising my entire dream about “LOVING AND LIVING IN MELBOURNE” was being flushed down the toilet. But that was easier said that done. With a lack of job, a frustration about how expensive everything was compared to Asia and a now sinking feeling that everything I had planned wasn’t going right I started to feel very sad. I was also feeling the strong pangs of homesickness. The majority of people I had met had gone home to their families, their lives and I had this strong feeling I was just going through the days with no drive. I missed my family, I missed my friends, I just wanted to have a tea and biscuit with my Grandma and do nothing. I had already booked tickets with China Southern Airlines, surprising my mum in March for her birthday but that was still weeks away and now the very worrying threat of Coronavirus meant I had to try and contact the airline at all costs for a refund – this meant after failing to get through over the phone, having to go into town, go to their office and then phoning my travel agent. During this time, I decided to visit Brisbane to see if perhaps THAT could be a place to settle and work. Let’s remind ourselves (and MYSELF here) that I am 26 years old. Australia is a big place. The WORLD is a big place. I have no responsibilities. I have no family to support, no kids to look after, and I want to pursue a new career so I have the ability to do ANYTHING – in WHATEVER place I want. Rather than feel hopeless, I tried to get into that headspace, and ventured across The Sunshine Coast, Brisbane and Byron Bay. I really liked Brisbane, I stayed in a hostel where I met two really cool girls from the UK, and I loved how the weather was warm – and there was a man made beach to cool off in the city. Did I fall in love with it? No, I still didn’t. I haven’t figured out why that is. Maybe I’ve been used to not having a routine and it’s more centred around that, then it is location? Maybe I prefer a place, a city, a country where I feel challenged with language barriers and culture differences. Maybe I don’t actually like easy – maybe I like difficult, who knows? My heart lies with Spain, so it would be nice to end up there – but we’ll see.
So I got my refund from China Southern Airlines, flew with Etihad and from the moment we left the tarmac… things were going to change for the foreseeable future.
So who wants to know what my original plan was? No one? Good, I’ll proceed.
What actually happened: Upon arriving in The Netherlands, I started to get news that Europe were now following in Australia’s footsteps and going nuts with the loo roll. Despite this, I loved seeing my friend Hiske and we enjoyed reminiscing on times that we enjoyed in South America together. A few days later, whilst having a coffee and some food with my friend Lola (who I met in Asia) and we heard that all restaurants, school and coffee shops were to shut in an hour. People were RUNNING to get to supermarkets to stock up on food, and the lines outside the coffee shops were insane, stretching across the square. London at this point, was still encouraging people to sing Happy Birthday whilst cleaning your hands, rather than shutting everything so I was stuck not knowing whether to continue spending time with friends or swap my flight. I decided to change my flight and fly a bit earlier, having to start staying in with friends rather than go out, watching the world go by in the window. I started to worry about whether it was even beneficial going back? What if I carried something to my Dad? To my Mum? To QUEEN JOAN?! What if I get home and all the feelings of claustrophobia come back? Where can I go? What do I do if I Dad gets it? What if my family die? What if it’s all because of me, because I caught it from the plane and passed it on? The list of “what ifs” continue into oblivion.
After arriving at my final destination in Amsterdam, I caught up with my friend Eva who I met over a year ago in Colombia. She told me about how she was actually a bit nervous to meet, considering how we haven’t met with eachother for a very long time, and don’t speak everyday, but we just automatically slipped back into how we were and we laughed about how it easy it was. I loved catching up with her and we discussed the best option would be to cut my trip in The Netherlands short and get back as soon as possible. With schools now being shut across Holland, and the Dutch cities essentially becoming ghost towns, there was no guarantee the borders wouldn’t follow as well. I agreed, and moved my flight to the following day, catching up with my friend Robin in Vondelpark and letting my parents know that they’d be seeing me soon. Surprise pretty much killed. I found out that I’d been in brief contact with someone who suspected he had COVID19 and decided to rent an Air BNB when I returned to London. This would mean if god forbid I had it, I wouldn’t pass it onto my family. It was also a safe space for me to be to get used to being in England. I found out that slowly the UK were increasing their restrictions, with all care homes now closed to the visitors. I was sad to know that not only was I now going to be alone for nearly two weeks without seeing family, I would also not be able to visit my Grandma, one of the main reasons I’d returned – but I’m glad because at least she’s safe.
So, I fly back to London, not in a flurry of anticipation and excitement about seeing friends and family, but in a flurry of dread and anxiety. This was not what I was planning, and not what anyone was planning, and I’m NOT GOOD WITHOUT A PLAN.
I get collected by a family friend, dropped at my lovely bedsit and am thrilled to have a Sainsburys right next door that I can do some shopping out. I still had antibacterial wipes from Australia and decided to spend the evening cleaning the flat from top to toe. The following day, I bought a range of shopping and decided that I would have to make some form of routine, otherwise I’d go crazy. What things did I love doing when travelling? Languages. I know Spanish pretty well now, but I needed to practise my tenses. What do I do to feel better about myself? Eating well and exercise. What do I do to relax? Reading, Writing and Netflix. What do I do when I can’t see my Grandma in person? Video call. BOOM. So what was my self isolation regime? Wake up, eat a nice healthy breakfast and people watch from my window, spend an hour on Youtube with Spanishland learning things I had never studied before, write in my diary, complete 30 minutes of HIIT with the Body Project and read Matt Haig’s “Notes on a Nervous Planet” – useful for these times. I also decided to cook – which on my first night was not wise. I’m not a good cook, in fact, I think I could be, if I wasn’t so scared of things like fire, and gas and anything that could potentially cause an explosion and immediate death. I don’t have the creativity to cook and nor the patience but I thought HEY this is my exciting new regime, perhaps I can exercise and become a linguistic genius WHILST BEING GORDON RAMSAY (or Nigella).
Right? WRONG. My first night in the little Air BNB, I was on the phone, cooking salmon on an electric cooker – something I’ve never used before. I assumed the light on the cooker was meant to stay on and couldn’t understand why it kept going out? My poor salmon – unaware of the fate it was soon to experience – started to get hotter and hotter, everytime I turned the switch back onto the light and I DIDN’T UNDERSTAND WHY. The dials were inaccurate, it was still on the lowest setting despite me turning it on (and on again, and then back on some more).There had also been a spark underneath the cooker, so whether that had something to do with it I don’t know. So there I am, blabbering on the phone, starting to notice the pan now smoking and then saying to my phone friend “ermm… is this normal??”. And then I turn behind me, and the ENTIRE FLAT is engulfed in smoke, I’m starting to cough and then the fire alarm goes off.
My entire premonition of the flat catching fire when I’m cooking now is clearly coming true. Screaming on the phone, shaking, I open the door and start yelling for help whilst people come running past me, my smoking salmon frying pan in the other hand. A woman runs in and I gasp, “do you know where the Air BNB host is?” She responds hurriedly that she IS the Air BNB host and helps me open the ONE window (the others are fixed shut), whilst I cough wildly, trying to apologise for only being there a night and nearly blowing her lovely apartment up – over a salmon. Upon looking at the cooker, we determine it’s probably because with an electric cooker it gets hot – and then lowers/raises the heat of its own accord. How incredibly embarrassing that there is now another person (to add to you guys now) who now knows that there’s “bad” at cooking and then there’s “don’t know how to cook a salmon, create a fire in the process” Emily bad. Bless my Mum for continuing to have my back and saying “No, don’t you remember that time you cooked for Rosh Hashana (Jewish New Year) for your vegetarian cousins and you made SUCH a nice vegetable stew when you were 17?” Thanks Mum. That involved boiling vegetables, so if I had messed that up, there would SERIOUSLY be a problem.
After the host left, I cried. I just cried and cried. If I can’t cook a salmon, how can I look after myself? Regardless of the fact I’d done alright for the last 1.5 years, this experience now had not only ruined my confidence, but I could also add “fear of electrical stoves” to my list of anxieties. Like I didn’t have ENOUGH already. What if the whole flat exploded whilst I slept because even though I’d watch myself disconnect it from the power, it somehow might just set alight? Just like when I had a car accident, and my Dad made me drive the following day in the car so I didn’t develop a fear of driving, I decided I had to MAKE myself use the cooker. I had bought lots of frozen items to cook in my I’m going to be Gordon Ramsay moment, and they would all go to waste. So, I slept on it, and the following day, geared myself up for my Me VS Electric Cooker bitch dinner-off. Keeping the window WIDE open, heart beating, and salmon phone a friend from yesterday in my ear, I slowly started to cook the meat, deciding I would be intelligent enough (THIS time around) to know if I was going to blow the flat up again. Everytime it bubbled and got hot I freaked out, but slowly, on the lowest heat, my meat simmered and went brown and I stuffed my peppers with glee and melted them with Lacto Free cheese in the microwave. And so begun my 10 days in isolation.
The day I return home for the first time since November arrives. With the help of a family friend, I jumped out the box to an unsuspecting Mum – and it was GREAT. When I’d returned in November, it was to see my Grandma for her birthday and ten days later I was in Asia. This time around, I spent my first day home, cleaning the house from top to bottom with Dettol wipes and talking about my adventures down under. My home in London has now been my base for nearly a month. So…. what’s been happening?
The last month
The last month, living at home has had its ups and downs. For one, I was unable to sleep with my Dad’s cough – a symptom of his MS – and had to sleep on the sofa until I was woken up with carers. My lack of sleep and my feelings of claustrophobia at this point spilt into irritability and sadness. The routine I had given myself in the little apartment I’d been renting was not possible to do at home and I started feeling angry. My house is small, and there is a lack of privacy. Now that my brother is working from home, the dining room is out of bounds. In the sitting room, you have carers and my Dad – which leaves my bedroom which is a box room to relax. I’d heard about people we knew passing of COVID19 and I started to feel panicky. With more time to play around with, I started to overthink – and when I overthink, it’s usually more positive than negative. The plans I had, of looking for a house to rent in Brisbane and a job was now not going to happen – and I didn’t and still don’t know when it can. Borders in Australia are shut to working visa holders and I wanted to spend time with my Grandma before I flew off again – we don’t know when that will be. The familiar derogatory comments of “what are you doing with your life” and “you’ll be stuck forever” came to be mixed with “what if Dad or Mum get sick” with a nice dose of “you’ll be alone forever”. Lovely eh? And those are the NICER thoughts.. so for a long few days, I sunk into a hole and cried to my Mum.
With morning arriving and the day disappearing into evening pretty quickly, I started and have continued to lose track of time and dates. I’ve been suffering from really tired episodes since Australia and upon having my bloods tests done at the doctor, was told I was in the all clear for everything and it was likely a Depressive episode. The thing is, when all you’re seeing is horrible news and you’re stuck inside with no distractions, everything seems even worse than it already is. I’ve now noticed that my imagination can get me stuck down a rabbit hole and it’s up to me to be able to shift myself back into reality. I find that I can day dream into a negative dystopia I’m unaware of. I learnt that saying the word “STOP” out aloud during a panic attack can differentiate between what’s real and what isn’t, and actually helps stop the thoughts mounting on top of eachother. I’m now learning to do that when I catch myself in negative thought cycle and yell the word “STOP”. It’s made it a tiny bit better.
Upon feeling more like myself, I was determined to do something a bit different. I changed my time of doing exercise to the afternoon and realised even though I hate exercising outside, the sun does me SO much good. Keeping my mental and physical self healthy with exercising in the sun is beneficial. I remind myself we are in the same boat in the sense that no one knows what’s going to happen. Just like whilst travelling, you can have a certain amount of control but it’s also easier to know that you don’t HAVE any control, so leave it to fate. With this entire pandemic happening, and now no idea who will get through it and who won’t, there’s nothing we can do. We can try our best to be clean, to maintain social distancing but we can’t say we’re NOT going to catch it – so whilst worrying is natural, it’s just not going to help is it. There’s an almost calming feeling in knowing that we can try the hardest we can collectively, we can hope everything goes back to normal, but we don’t know. And whilst we don’t know? We can’t panic.
Another thing I’m realising is about society as a whole. We’re lured into this false sense of life control with dates, times, days, months, years, schedules, meetings, waking up, going to bed, breakfast, lunch, dinner. We take for granted we’re going to wake up, we’re going to get to that meeting, we’re going to see our friends in two weeks. We have a routine, we know what’s going to happen. Well what this virus is really hammering home is that – we don’t. I’ve tried my hardest to control everything since I was young, but really I don’t think we’ve ever had control over anything in life and everything is simply an illusion to make us feel differently. We have our daily, monthly and yearly routine, but ultimately we don’t know what’s going to happen. Being out of control is scary, but perhaps we’ve never had it. Another reason to try and live life day by day, present moment by present moment, spending time with loved ones and appreciating life as it is, slowly.
Right now, I’m in London and I’ll be here for a while until it’s safe to continue what I’ve been doing. Australia have shut their borders, and I’ll be staying at home until whatever happens, happens. I don’t know, just like you when this will be over. I just know, now more than ever, more than when they looked after my Dad time and time again, more than when they looked after my Grandad to the best of their ability, how grateful I am for all key workers, nurses, doctors and the NHS. You are the true heroes, and I hope, when this ceases – and soon it will – we don’t take you, or our lives for granted.
If you’ve got to the end of this article, thank you. I wish you and your family an abundance of health and strength through these tough times.
Live for the moment. #inthistogether