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'I've been patient throughout Melbourne's lockdown. But this weekend broke me.'

I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror today. I didn’t recognise the face staring back at me. New lines had emerged. With hairdressers still closed my hair is now a completely different colour. My face is slightly rounder as I haven’t been exercising or caring what food enters my body. My skin is a paler tone than usual. 

The cracks are beginning to appear. I was finally able to drop the cheery mum mask I applied every morning because I was finally alone. I stood alone in my house. I tried and failed to remember the last time this had occurred. 

I had just dropped my children off at school for the first time in over seven months.

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The house seemed eerily quiet. It was strange. I thought I would feel elated. I imagined myself cartwheeling away from the drop off and showering myself in champagne. I had counted down to this day for months. A small step in the return to normal. 

But it wasn’t normal. Nothing is normal anymore. I couldn’t enter the school grounds. I waited outside in a mask and watched as they had their temperatures checked.

My daughter cried as she was terrified to pop the bubble we had been living in these past seven months. I took her arm and carefully drew a texta heart in the crook of her elbow. I used to do this in her hand when she was little but I knew in the new normal it would quickly be washed and sanitised away. 

“When you miss me, press on the heart and you’ll feel closer to me. And I’ll do the same. It’s like a virtual hug.”

New versions of hugs. New rules. New routines. New everything. This year has brought so much new. So much change. 

I have never yearned more for the old. 

I was never a hugger. An introvert to my core, I found phone calls aggressive and confronting. I cheered when self serve checkouts arrived and more drive thru options became available. “Yes!” I thought.

“Less awkward small talk with strangers!”

More and more communication was done via text, email. 

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But this lockdown has made it abundantly clear that as humans we are not supposed to be solitary creatures. That we need real connections. Not through a screen or a glove or a mask.

Everything feels as though it has a shield. A barrier.

Please don’t tell me to stay positive. I have tried. Oh god, have I tried. We have done the craft. We have done the teddy bears in the windows. We have taken the walks. The spoons. The virtual tours. The zoom meets. We have endured. For months I have tried to remain grateful. To keep the glass half full.

I have so much pride in being a Melbournian. For the care we place for each and every vulnerable life. But we cannot ignore that it has come at a cost. 

The resolve is weakening. You can smell the desperation in the air. The anger and frustration. “Please just hold on” I would think. We are so close.

Because I was always looking to the finish line. In order to endure it all there had to be a finish line. An ending. 

It’s incredible what you can endure when you see an end in sight. I remember each time I was in labour. There came a point when I wanted to give up. The pain was too much. The weight of the exhaustion was simply too heavy. Each time I thought. “It’s nearly over. You are so close. You have worked so hard, push through it. Walk through the pain. It’s nearly over. 

That’s what I chanted. You can do this. It’s nearly over.” 

I have been chanting internally for months. 

“Push through. Continue. It’s nearly over.”

There are moments of joy. Parks reopening, schools returning. Little familiar landmarks on the road back home.

Until I heard the announcement this weekend. We weren’t going home. The endless road continues. The call of “are we there yet?” is a resounding no. 

Lockdown is extended. Again. 

It broke me. I am broken.

I suddenly felt a deep empathy for my four-year-old who throws himself on the floor when I tell him “just five more minutes”. 

Because it’s not nearly over. The finish line has simply become a mirage. A blurry line.

I swear I could see that line. It was so close I could taste it.

I was exhausted and depleted and so bored of the sameness and repetitiveness of this daily existence. To live life only in a five kilometre radius. 

But it was all okay because it was nearly over. We were staggering towards it. Now that line has been moved.

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The line just keeps on moving. Further and further away. I know why. I know it’s for the greater good. But that knowledge does very little to cushion the blow.

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You can see the strain in people’s eyes. The anger. The hurt. The fear. 

How much longer? How many days? How many weeks? 

How much more must we sacrifice?

We are continually told to stay the course.

But with each rise and fall in daily numbers and with each headline we are pulled further from the lives we once knew.

The words “together” and “us” are no longer uttered because we know what a slap in the face that truly is. So we wait. We pay the toll. The price we are paying is a hefty one. We are saving human lives but at the same time losing our humanity. Continually trying to focus on the many while forgetting what human connectedness with a stranger feels like. What “together” actually feels like. The warmth of it. The noise. A collective laugh in a crowded room. The cheer of a crowd. Life is so quiet now.

I feel guilty for wishing the days away. For this year to be over. When I should just be cherishing the little moments I have in the privileged life I live. I should just be grateful to be healthy.

But today that gratitude is laced in bitterness and resentment. I can only hope when we look back on this time we remember the price Melbourne paid to keep the rest of Australia safe. To acknowledge the sacrifice. 

So here I stand in my house alone. Allowing myself to feel shattered. To let the heavy fact sink in, there is no end in sight. Until a vaccine is discovered, there is no end. It’s ok to feel broken by that fact. To lie amongst the pieces. To grieve the lives we once had and how blindly we lived them.

I no longer look to the finish line. Because in reality what good will that do? To live life on a tightrope of false hope.

I vow to no longer count down the days or weeks. I just simply put one foot in front of the other. I only allow myself to live in the small moments. 

At this moment I stand alone in my house. I close my eyes and briefly press my hand to the texta heart in the crease of my elbow. It almost feels like a hug. Almost. 

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you're based in Australia, please contact Lifeline 13 11 14 for support or beyondblue 1300 22 4636.

Feature Image: Getty.

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