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Dear Diary: Three Melburnians’ journeys out of lockdown

WORDS BY FASHION JOURNAL

Lockdown might be over, but the return to ‘normal’ isn’t as straightforward as it seems.

Melbourne has endured one of the lengthiest and strictest lockdowns in the world. It was necessary (and it worked) but the mental, physical and financial toll it’s taken on the people of Melbourne has been huge. But amidst the doom and gloom, we all found new routines – new rituals and practices that helped us navigate this strange, disconcerting time.

Now that lockdown has ended, how are people finding their newfound freedom? Is it anxiety-inducing or unbearably exciting? Are people packing their weeks with socialising or gingerly dipping their toes in the social waters? To get a feel for how it’s going, we spoke to three Melburnians about their pre and post-lockdown experiences.

Lara Fisher, founder of Melbourne-based interiors brand P0ly

How did you feel before stepping out of lockdown?

112 days of lockdown… that’s a lot of feelings. There was rejection after losing a job I really liked, the loneliness of being away from friends and family, failure of making another questionable focaccia, disappointment at not being able to celebrate birthdays, panic after becoming completely obsessed with reading the news and of course fatigue with the sheer monotony of it all. But in a time when the world has felt like it’s tipping (flying) off its axis, sometimes you just have to lean into the unprecedented times (yes, I said it).

Enjoyed isn’t exactly the word, but with little option, I have learnt to savour the time sheltering in place. Not to minimise the seriousness of the pandemic, I have sometimes been surprised by the contentment, peace and surge of creativity this forced time at home has brought on. Luckily for me, it’s a lot easier to be enthusiastic about sheltering in place if you actually like the people you’re sheltering with.

The last few months have been bizarro. But with the help of my housemates, boyfriend and a million phone calls to my mum and dad (well outside my five km boundary) I have picked myself off the floor, and now sit perched on a new and exciting lockdown-born furniture business. I get to work with my hands every day and see our pieces in people’s homes around Australia.

Tell us about your first official day out of lockdown.

We get to leave the house but now I don’t know if I want to. Whilst collectively celebrating the win of surviving lockdown in Melbourne, even my most social friends are feeling scared of what comes next. Finding a way to survive lockdown took a lot of emotional energy (remember all the feelings and puzzles) and we’ve come up with routines at home to help us cope, and we’re not ready to leave them behind just yet.

I haven’t booked any dinners, been to a cafe or rushed out for a manicure. I have less of a desire for these things that were such a big part of my regular life pre-lockdown. That may be because we haven’t done it in a while, and we’ve simply forgotten how it feels – but just knowing we have the option feels pretty darn sweet. Honestly, the first few days of post-lockdown freedom looked much the same for me. Working on our P0ly pieces from home and hanging out with my housemates (thought I was sick of them but turns out I’m not). I did see my family after so many months of distance, and it felt like a real victory.

Now you’ve settled into the newfound freedom, how are you feeling?

A few days into our newfound freedom and the scene looks optimistic. I have been to a cafe (Napier Quarter, my all-time favourite), swam some laps at Northcote pool and I’m slowly catching up with my friends and family. The streets are full of happy masked faces emerging from our long hibernation feeling proud and maybe a little bit cautious. For me, yes I am slowly embracing our new freedoms.

I’m also trying my best to maintain the routines which have been so comforting in the depths of lockdown – like my daily at-home yoga practice, the long walks around the neighbourhood with my boyfriend and spending more time in my own company. We don’t know what the next few months will bring our way, but I’m feeling excited about the little things for now. That first well-deserved ocean swim as restrictions continue to ease in Victoria next week or sitting at a wine bar without making a booking four days prior  – remember spontaneity?!

@larafisher

@p0ly_designs

Maggie Zhou, FJ contributor, writer and sustainability advocate

How did you feel before stepping out of lockdown?

Throughout Melbourne’s many months of lockdown, my answer to how I was would change daily. I’d sometimes feel genuinely good, thriving in my element as an introverted workaholic. Other times I’d lapse into an existential crisis about the meaninglessness of it all. One time I started sobbing because I missed creamy pasta. As the months progressed, I found that having things to look forward to during the week made all the difference.

For me, that was visiting a local vegan souvlaki joint, purchasing freshly made pasta and searching Asian groceries for the exact chips I had in Japan. Living at home has proved to be a blessing, too. On Sunday nights I’d bake a new dessert while the family were watching The Voice or Junior Masterchef. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was apprehensive about post-lockdown life. I became over-sensitive to sensory stimulus – the sound of children playing in the park or even just a strong gust of wind felt too much for me.

Tell us about your first official day out of lockdown.

On the morning that restrictions lifted, I wasn’t planning on doing anything. I took my usual morning walk and teared up at the sight of people sitting down inside of cafes. The sun was out, and people were smiling. It was simply the embodiment of happiness. My boyfriend and I ended up spontaneously going for brunch. Everything was socially distanced, staff were furiously wiping down tables and we signed in via a QR code. It was far from normal but sipping a coffee from a mug and ordering my usual mushroom dish made me feel right at home.

Now you’ve settled into the newfound freedom, how are you feeling?

Getting my regular morning coffee has become a tad more difficult. Eager table-sitters lengthen the line to pay and my mask distorts my name, so the barista calls me Natalie. I head to a Vinnies op shop and breathe a dusty sigh of relief. It seems like half the neighbourhood is getting their thrift fix – there are gaggles of TikTok teens and older folk rummaging through the racks. I love it. I love the human interaction I didn’t know I missed – the man who complimented my coat, the shy smiles to people my age, the friendly banter with the cashier. With arms full of secondhand finds, I grin at how easily human connection can prevail.

@yemagz

Cait Emma Burke, FJ’s Digital Editor

How did you feel before stepping out of lockdown?

In a word, exhausted. This year has been tough for a number of reasons, but the relentless monotony of it all (being stuck in my room five days a week for work and missing the reprieve that socialising used to provide) has wreaked havoc on my mental health. I’ve been an anxious and depressed wreck for much of the year. It is strangely comforting to know that I’m not alone in this experience; most people I know have struggled in some way over the last few months, and I think that this experience has made us collectively more understanding of how precarious both physical and mental health is. It’s really shown us that we need to look after ourselves more carefully than we did pre-lockdown.

Knowing that the restrictions were easing and that lockdown was essentially coming to an end was a relief, but I didn’t feel as excited or overjoyed as I had anticipated. I mainly felt burnt out and a bit apprehensive about throwing myself back into my usual full-speed life. I’ve discovered that I need more downtime and time spent alone than I would usually provide myself with in my regular life, so I’m struggling to blend my pre-lockdown approach to life with my post-lockdown approach. I also really enjoyed the lack of FOMO lockdown brought with it, and the creative approaches to socialising we had to take (turning our share house into a restaurant was a highlight of lockdown for me).

Tell us about your first official day out of lockdown.

My first official day out of lockdown was both exciting but anxiety-inducing. I had drinks and delicious snacks in the park with a friend – both things I would do during lockdown, but there was a palpable feeling of freedom that was enjoyable to be around. My friend and I discussed how post-lockdown freedom made us feel a bit strange. There’s so much pressure to start socialising when many of us feel overwhelmed and out of practice. I moved to a beautiful new house right near the end of lockdown and the feelings of burnout this experience and the last few months have left me with are a lot to deal with, so I decided to ease into my newfound freedom and didn’t organise any dinners out until later in the week.

Now you’ve settled into the newfound freedom, how are you feeling?

Well, I did the opposite to what I said I would do above and ended up throwing myself into socialising, going for four dinners out in a row, hitting several bars in one night, staying up till the early hours of the morning and just generally really overdoing it. So my advice to any Melburnians also struggling post-lockdown is to do as I say, not as I do. I ended up crying over an Aperol spritz two dinners in, so it’s safe to say my extroverted but anxiety-riddled self is finding this transition challenging to deal with.

The positives? Eating a (delicious) meal not cooked by me or my housemates is a real treat, as was going to the beach and having my first swim in the ocean after months of really missing it. It’s great to see friends in bigger groups and I am enjoying the freedom, it’s just going to take some time for me to figure out what my new socialising capacity is, and to work through the feelings and emotions that this return to ‘normal’ has brought with it.

@caitemmaburke

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