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Queeries: what’s with all this post-lockdown anxiety?

Despite the pandemic, breakups, job losses, moving house and losing touch with friends, you still have control, says our fagony aunt.

23 Apr 2021

Dear Fagony Aunt,

During the pandemic, I broke up with my boyfriend, lost my job, moved house and lost touch with friends. I felt like I was forgotten about and so I kept to myself even more so not to bother anyone. Lockdown has consisted of me getting up, smoking, maybe having lunch and then going back to bed. It’s like that thing about insanity when you do the same thing over and over again with hopes of a different result, but I’m not even hoping for something new. 

Years ago I ran away from home so I could be my best queer, drag queen self, and the last thing I want is people from my past to see me as a crossdressing wreck still picking myself up. I want them to one day see me as a successful beacon to solidify their acceptance of not just me but of LGBTQ people as a whole. Wallah time is a bitch and I’ve had little gems of joy but without family or friends, my calendar makes me feel like I’m stuck in purgatory. 

I know soon everyone will be going out and having fun but my anxieties have got me really backed up. So far in 2021 I have yet to see anyone socially, and the idea of things returning back to normal scares me because I don’t have much to come back to. Besides a few people, I don’t think I would go out even if anyone asked. The fact I ain’t got laid since 2019 is a bitch too. With all this anxiety, how do I bounce back to the best version of myself?

Thanks, Anxious Ayaan

Dear Anxious Ayaan,

Thank you for sharing your heart with me and please believe me when I say I felt this in every cell of my dehydrated body. Recently, when I was talking with my girlfriend about our anxieties around lockdown ending, she reminded me of one of the pillars of queer survival: that you can always leave a party. While I recognise that this question is more of a ‘how will I ever get my arse to a party again’, it’s still relevant, I think, to remember that to some extent we do continue to have control of our movement and decisions regardless of the way the world is turning around us. 

You have clearly been through so much over the last year and as a performer have not had your usual outlets available to help you process, connect and heal. It seems like you may also be estranged from your family. Oof, sweet AA, this pandemic was hard enough for people with robust support systems – it doesn’t surprise me a bit that you may be feeling all types of fucked up. You’ve endured and are enduring something so, so hard and I just wish I could reach into my screen, feel around for you on the other side, and, with your consent give you a massive, squishy hug and whisper thanks and it’s going to be ok to the precious body that has kept you going through it all. 

“When it comes to anxiety I think there’s real power in naming and making physical those things that cause discomfort so deep in our bodies”

There are sooo many reasons to feel anxious about lockdown ending including as you said, the fear and disappointment that there isn’t all that much waiting for you on the other side of it. You might also be feeling anxious about going back to or having to find work, about using the tube again, navigating crowds, loud noises, energy levels, bodies (yours and other people’s), living with grief, feeling overwhelmed, having to engage in (small) talk, experiencing FOMO, seeing people you don’t want to see, racial/gendered/transphobic hate, not being invited places, nothing systemic having actually changed, the unknown and of course, health concerns. And if you weren’t, you probably are after reading through that list! But listen, it’s ok. I list them because they’re all so valid, and because when it comes to anxiety I think there’s real power in naming and making physical those things that cause discomfort so deep in our bodies. Perhaps you can write a list of yours.

Whether people enjoyed aspects of lockdown or not, my calculations have shown that only 17 people have no anxiety about it ending and I reserve the right to be deeply suspicious of each one of them. Most people are feeling some kind of anxiety, and that’s on top of the raging anxiety that was already prevalent among QTIBPOC before a whole pandemic hit. I know you’re feeling understandably gloomy about your prospects out of lockdown, but remember that the landscape will have changed for many around you too. Yes, some people will be out on the town as soon as they can, but many won’t and can’t. Your story is yours and doesn’t have to conform to some arbitrary government-enforced timeline. 

Take it slow, please. And then take it slower than that. Every day that you wake up, smoke, eat and then go back to bed is a victory, a little gift. I know it doesn’t feel like that, I know it feels like pain and heaviness and shame, but if that’s what you’re giving right now, we’re gonna make her feel welcome. Remember that this is a moment, and it won’t be like this forever. When you feel ready perhaps you will encourage yourself to make whatever changes would feel good for you. Smoking less, eating more, staying awake longer, listening to music, doing your hair, trying to reach out to a couple people a week, IDK, whatever you want! You can also listen to this playlist I made with some friends as a soundtrack to and celebration of slowness

“Every day that you wake up, smoke, eat and go back to bed is a victory, a little gift”

Do me a favour though habibi and stop putting so much pressure on yourself. And I know that’s kinda like asking someone to stop overachieving or looking over their shoulder when they walk home at night, in that it’s less a choice and more a product of the way the world situates you, but what I mean is you have the power to be more gentle with yourself than that. You do not need to be the best version of yourself, especially not now. That part of yourself will come and go throughout your life but all the other parts are just as valuable.

As for bouncing back, in my experience, we don’t usually bounce – it’s more of a crawl or a drag and that’s ok. You are a single gay human my love, not a bouncy ball. You alone should not have to carry the burden of correcting your whole family’s homophobia or representing every young person that should have been loved better. All that pressure isn’t fair on you. It’s stifling and paralysing and releasing yourself from it will only help you to breathe easier and reach your own goals in your own way. You are already a beacon, in all of the messy, vulnerable and real ways you exist. Truly.

When you’re ready and done extending your own personal lockdown, there are things you can do to start making those steps towards feeling more confident about re-entering the world however you want that to look like for you. You mentioned there’s a couple of people you would consider going out with. Start with reaching out to them and if it doesn’t sound like hell, make a group chat to test out social dynamics. Maybe you could plan some slow, easy, low stakes hangs with plenty of rest time between them.

When you do start going out, think about how best you can accommodate any anxiety you may have. Would it help to have a buddy, or to travel off-peak? Would it feel better to get places early and acclimatise or to get there late and slip in the back? Easing lockdown doesn’t mean easing your boundaries. Know what you want and need, and practise saying no so when the yes comes it feels extra good. Remember that anxious, nervous and excited feelings are physiologically similar and you may also be experiencing a mix of them all. 

“Easing lockdown doesn’t mean easing your boundaries”

During lockdown, I became a proud plant dad and as life speeds up again to the terrible, belligerent clank that we came to tolerate as ‘normal’ ‘life’, I know I will be looking to them for guidance. One thing I love about plants is that they only do the things they can do when their needs are met and they are ready. For example, through the winter many plants will experience ‘die back’ where everything you see above the soil dies. This can look drastic, but it’s done so that all energy can be redirected to the roots underground that get juicy in preparation for spring when the plant will pop out above the earth again in a display of trust, patience and absolutely humble queenery.

We live in a very fast and showy culture, always wanting to be seen as having the most fun, doing and saying the right thing and looking and feeling our best. Fuck – and I can’t stress this enough – that. It’s not honest and it’s not healthy. Approach the world on your terms, with the wisdoms you have gathered from this year. Until then, trust yourself, take it slow and keep those roots moist.