It’s Day 47 of the South African lockdown, and I think I’m suffering from third-quarter isolation.

Gay Pride 2011 float
Lockdown photo 47: An angry queen at Gay Pride 2011 (from the archives). This photo has absolutely nothing to do with what I’m writing about. I just came across it this morning and remembered I like it. Also I didn’t take any pictures today.

Albert Vorster, a longtime reader with a knack for sending me articles that perfectly encapsulate feelings I didn’t realize I had, sent me this Australian story about “the dreaded third quarter of isolation” this morning. The article, written two weeks ago by James Purtill, explains:

“Researchers have found there appears to be an inflection point where the frustration and hardship of being cooped up inside gets suddenly harder to bear. According to the clinical psychologist who assesses the mental health of Australians in Antarctica, we’re entering this phase now.”

The author goes on:

“Australians have broadly been through two periods of isolation: an initial point where there was panic buying and confusion, and then a ‘honeymoon period’ when it felt novel and different to stay at home…That phase — which we can call the sourdough starter moment, or the time when we all downloaded Houseparty — is passing.”

Wow, this really hit the nail on the head for me.

I remember that first phase so clearly — the last couple of days before lockdown, when I tossed and turned all night and jumped out of bed at the crack of dawn, running around in a panic trying to accomplish everything I thought I needed to do before that metaphorical door slammed shut. That frenetic, panicky feeling continued for the first few days of lockdown, when I struggled to accept the things I’d lost (mainly trips I’d been looking forward to) and adjust to my new reality.

Then came the honeymoon phase, when an eerie sense of peace descended. I developed exciting new habits: new exercise routine, new eating routine, new blogging routine. I cooked enthusiastically and froze the leftovers. I drank wine. Zoom calls were still a novelty. My calendar was free of social commitments so my time belonged solely to me. I felt sad and apprehensive for the world, but totally — almost blissfully, at least in hindsight — in control of my own life.

Now I’m in the third phase — the “third quarter”. Again, in the words of James Purtill:

We may now be entering the dreaded third quarter of hollow-eyed stares, odd fixations and brooding resentment. Time grows sludgy. The days blur into the nights, and the weekdays into the weekends. You’ve hidden the notifications from a recently downloaded exercise app and you’re no longer telling people you’ll learn Italian. You begin to suspect that your friends have their own Messenger group.

I have no idea who you are, James Purtill, but you’re speaking my language. The odd fixations, the brooding resentments, the sludgy time and day blurring into night…All of that. All of that and more.

I’ve attended many American football games, and the third quarter of the game is always the hardest. If your team is winning, even by a wide margin, you worry they won’t hang onto the lead. If your team is losing narrowly, you fight a persistent sense of impending doom. If your team is getting killed then you’ve already lost hope. You try to convince yourself you don’t care, that it’s only a game and you’re fine with the outcome either way. The truth is, you do care and you’re not fine.

I’m fighting that sense of impending doom. My team is losing and I don’t feel terribly optimistic.

The article doesn’t go on to explain how people usually feel during the fourth quarter. I’m not sure I want to know.

I had a skype session with my therapist a couple of hours ago and cried for nearly the whole hour. I feel hopeless, I told her. I feel unproductive and useless and worried about the future. I don’t know where I belong anymore, or what my life will look like whenever this…situation…ends.

I’ve become acutely aware of my dearth of commitments: no full-time job, no kids, no partner, no house (at least not one I own), no permanent residency in South Africa. Before the pandemic I enjoyed being free — not tied down, able to go anywhere and do whatever I want, whenever I want. Now, since I’m stuck anyway, I’m wishing for a slightly heavier anchor to hold me in place.

In case you hadn’t noticed, my motivation to write these lockdown journal posts in the morning has officially dissolved. It’s almost 6:30 p.m. Oh well.

Today’s Worthy Cause

This is more of a fun activity than a worthy cause. My friend Julia, a geography lecturer at the University of Mpumalanga, is conducting a survey about attitudes toward travel in these new, weird times. It would help Julia immensely if the Americans and South Africans among you participate in the survey.

If you’d like to take the survey, please click here. I did it myself and had fun — it takes about ten minutes and is totally anonymous.

Talk to you again tomorrow (probably in the evening).

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