Lockdown through lens of culture change

Covid-19 is making us all anxious and grieve. One of the paradoxes I’ve been asking myself is: Why am I grieving so much when I don’t know anyone who has died, and my life isn’t so negatively affected by all of this?

Then I remember, changes big and small make us grieve.

Because of my life in different countries, and living away from family, I’m familiar with grief and its effects on me. One thing that I have found helpful is using the grief cycle and culture change curve to identify what step or stage I’m at and why I’m feeling the way that I am. (If you’re interested in these things – see the further reading links below). So I created my own grief/culture change curve for lockdown – recognising that lockdown is a MASSIVE change to lifestyle – in a similar way that moving to a new country and experiencing a new culture is a massive change.

This is my Lockdown transition curve:

A closer look into each step and what I’ve learned about myself:

Stage 1 Shock – the flight or fight mode – I’m a fighter in this stage. Given a past life of living on compounds – my compound living/managing risk part of my brain switched on overnight. I was up at 7am starting the day, preparing for next disaster – setting a routine that resembled normality; or, in my case, mirrored my home-schooling, compound and isolation life as a 13-year-old. I was in preparation mode – going through our kitchen cupboards to see what we had/didn’t have or were low on, and then going to the shops – not to panic buy, but to be prepared. I was reaching out to family and friends to see if they were okay, although most calls we were just staring into our computer screens, vaguely looking at each other, saying f*** what the hell is happening now? At this stage, I also use my pent-up energy and anxiety to go full throttle into helping people by running a webinar on leading online meetings – this is something that I’m good at and I know the change to remote working made a lot of people anxious, but I knew that I could help with that. And I wanted to feel as though I was contributing in a positive way to the crisis that was quickly rolling through our news cycle.

Stage 2 Denialthis can’t be happening, can it? This is the stage that I want to hide from the world. I make a conscious effort not to look at the news – the body count is too distressing. I want to do things that make me happy and help me forget about what’s going on. This can look like binge watching tv shows, afternoons in the garden reading my books, withdrawing from my friends – less texting and calling on these days.

Stage 3 Anger/frustration – Nothing works/everything is all wrong! I’m extremely grumpy in this stage. I find it hard to concentrate. Little things become big things and they bother me. It’s also the time when I’m most likely to go into a cleaning spree – the flat must not have any clutter; the kitchen must be spotless. These activities are about having control over something (because I feel the world is so out of control). I feel angry with how the crisis has been handled in the UK, angry about how many people are really suffering & dying. I’m frustrated that it takes me so long to do things that I used to be able to do in a fraction of the time (like writing blogs). I’m frustrated that my flat is never quite clean or sorted enough. I’ve also noticed that this stage is when I’m most likely to do really extensive exercise.

Stage 4 Depression – I miss the way it was before. These are my weepy days; I cry at nothing and everything. There are times that I get so sad for the way things used to be that I can’t move. I sit in my comfy chair and just stare out the window remembering. I miss my family and I worry about when I’ll see them again (most don’t live in the UK and it might be a very long time). I miss going for walks with friends. I’m so tired in this stage. In culture change this would be the homesickness phase, I’ve decided to call it ‘normal-sickness’ a deep longing for the time before lockdown when we weren’t living with all this uncertainty, fear, anxiety, isolation. A longing for a life when I could go into a café, order a coffee, and meet a friend. A longing for what used to be ordinary.

Stage 5 Experimenting – I can try that and see if it helps/works. This is when I’ve got some energy and I’m up for trying new things or I’m settling into something new. A new sleeping routine. Going to zoom pub quizzes, or church services, large family gatherings. Cooking new recipes (with mixed results which may make me swing back to stage 3 frustration!!). Having a new routine – which involves getting up promptly in the morning, working for a few hours, using the afternoon for creative spaces, working on my crochet blanket in the evening. Starting my consultancy business and putting energy into that. Arranging coffees with friends. This stage is when I’m likely to engage with my social calendar/creative side, be more expressive and positive.

As I alluded to above, the stages are not linear – I can go through all 5 twice in a day. It’s really like one of the rollercoasters where you go forward through the loops and then backwards through the same loops, and then feel sick afterwards.

That’s really as far as I’ve got on the curve because everything else is still to come. New Normal A is after this initial lockdown but before a vaccine, which is likely to involve a period of trying to ease things followed by a period of tightening until we get the right balance. It is also going to involve social distancing and we have no idea when that we’ll lift. New Normal B is life after a vaccine has been found and the majority of the population has been vaccinated. That’s a long way off. In between New Normal A and B is a lot more sadness, frustration, depression, experimenting, making new decisions, and accepting, that we will all have to work through.

Lockdown itself is a survival tactic. Our governments, hospitals, care homes, essential services are all at that survival stage. And arguably so is wider society and our communities.

There’s still a lot of individual and collective grieving to be done. I honestly find that overwhelming.


Further reading on culture change:

Change, transition and why it’s hard, by Tanya Crossman

On grief:

The Five Stages of Grief, Christina Gregory

28 days later, by Matthew d’Ancona

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