I dropped my phone for the upteenth time and watched the glass screen crack as it hit the kitchen tile. I didn’t have insurance; I didn’t have a screen protector or a silicone sleeve; apparently I still had over twelve months of contract left to pay off my i-phone, the man apologetically informed me, I couldn’t get an upgrade yet, he said. Not till next November. I wasn’t quite sure what to do apart from cuss myself for my negligence so I carried around the little Nokia brick I had from years ago. It fits in my pocket and I can’t get my emails or browse on it. The predictive text is infuriating and I can barely be bothered to message anyone. There is no camera. The screen is microscopic. The urge to see if there are any updates just goes. There is really no point in touching my phone unless I need to call someone and that is rare and soon my phone started staying in my pocket and I didn’t miss the impulse to check it. Soon I was reading on the bus again and taking an A-Z with me when I needed a map. ‘Can I just opt out of a smart phone,’ I asked my therapist. I know it sounds stupid but I needed permission even though I felt saner and happier.
I have endured 2020 white-knuckled and furious. The flat is tiny. I have barely seen my friends. I hate zoom. I have grappled with some PTSD and wept and when I haven’t been able to cry I have wished for the capacity to weep. This has been the year I have reckoned with how I pay attention and I have hated every second of it. It used to be, when I was a kid, I could just climb up onto the top bunk, open a book and instantly blur all the sounds and smells and mess. Everything receded into a painterly blob of lillypads and pastels when I got absorbed. I would like to have done that with most of 2020. I am good at daydreaming; while other teenagers were studying and submitting essays and writing exam dates in their diaries and being on time to lessons and afterschool clubs I was daydreaming on buses in the jungle or daydreaming on my horse. I would like to have had that option during the pandemic but there was no privacy to lose myself in my own thoughts.
Nobody tells you how gorgeous dissociation is. The jargon just says, ‘defense,’ but really I wish the mental health professionals called it a ‘duvet,’ like, ‘Diana is highly duveted’ or ‘Diana, you have gone under the duvet again,’ and then I could be like, ‘yes, of course I have, I’m stressed out of my mind and it is so delicious under here, there is no time or space or pull or push, I feel like I’m all wrapped up and floating and eating wodges of mashed potatoes with butter, please could you give me one reason I might want to come out from under here?’
The only good reason to come out, lockdown has taught me, is because you have to come out sometime and when you go that far under the duvet- and for me it is so easy to get there- every interruption feels like an intrusion:
Someone knocking at the door
Someone offering me tea
Someone asking me a question
Someone making a casual remark
Someone whistling/coughing/tapping/clearing their throat
Someone standing to close to me
Someone touching me
… the list is endless and the sense of intrusion is excruciating. My skin crawls; the hair on my neck bristles. I jaggedly see-saw between feelings of grievance and guilt. And when you are stuck in a tiny flat with two other human beings and one of them is five years old, there are many interruptions. I needed to understand what this was about; I felt torn. I did what I do best and buried my head in some psychoanalytic essays, I drank them in like a mug of warm milk before bed. It seemed like I might re-frame my claustrophobia as a question of attention, how do I keep from going under the duvet?
The answer is simple and annoying and maybe impossible. You make a life that is worth paying attention to, with the people you live with, and then you live there instead of trying to duvet your way out of it. ‘What are days for,’ Phillip Larkin’s question echoes in my mind often. ‘Days are where we live,’ I reply, call-and-response style, in my head, and then I whimper his plaintitive line, ‘where can we live but days?’ I feel coy when I quote that line because really I know exactly where I live when I am not living in days. But I want to know how to live in days, in these days, pandemic or no. Family film nights? Some dull, funny, boundary-making in purple crayon, stuck to the fridge so that any of us can gesture to the rules in a fit of pique and say, ‘NO BOSSING, remember?!’ Trying to wield my attention, not just let it be eroded by my now smashed smart phone? Family game nights? Ice skating back in tier-3? Therapy where he gives me some of his attention and tops up my own supply? Making an effort with one another? Nicer furniture in the flat? A new house? More walls? More walks, time in the garden, more eye contact and trying to stay attuned? I used to know what days were for before the pandemic: they were for seeing friends in and walking the city in and doing reasonable amounts of childcare and being needed and wanted just enough but not too much. But days are for something different in 2021 and I am not quite sure how to be in this new life I find myself living in: No i-phone, as little Zoom as possible but a new landline; David Bowie’s mural in Brixton is easier to walk to than Blake’s grave so I pray there now on my lunchbreak; the kitchen is getting new worktops; we eat dinner together most nights; we play dominoes often; family film night is Sunday at 5’oclock; I roller skate when the walls close in on me.
Copyright 2021 Diana Smith
Linda Cundy’s blog article on being avoidantly attached during the pandemic https://www.pesi.co.uk/Blog/2020/April/Working-with-Avoidant-Attachment-Attachment-Patter
As well as her books: Attachment and the defense against intimacy/Anxiously Attached
Stan Tatkin’s compassionate articles helped me re-frame my claustrophobia in terms of a question about attention and helped me understand why I experience interruptions as intrusions. These two are my favourites.
And of course, Larkin’s magnificent poem, Days