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Behind The Bars

Happiness comes in many forms. It might be watching the sun come up over the horizon or stepping out of a subway onto the unchartered sunlit streets of a new city. It might be something as simple as holding a loved one in your arms or sharing a passionate embrace. But then again it might just be having a hair cut.

As the UK entered lockdown, literally overnight everything that once filled my sails full of joy and purpose was cruelly snatched away from me.

Within hours those thoughtful and well meaning friends, family and fellow freelancers (including some presumptuous people I have never met) began to impart 'solicited' advice on what one should do to safeguard one's business and livelihood. As they flapped their wings, frantically like frightened turkeys on Christmas eve, I became inundated with request after request to join Lockdown 'entertainer' groups. As the door slammed closed, the bolts clanged into place, the bars went down, I could hear the keys jangling as the herd began to charge. I have sadly discovered my arms are too short to throw a punch from 2 metres away.

I guess in the haste for you to not get left behind they forgot to ask how you were.

I've spent my adult life playing all of the grass roots music venues expose my art out into the universe, it may come as a surprise to Joe public that no amount of Skype and Zoom 'gigs' with a nice lamp in the background can ever truly satisfy a performer's insatiable hunger to entertain a crowd. Even taking into account the hours spent travelling, the odd unwelcome grope, having the microphone grabbed out of your hand, being asked repeatedly if you 'know any Thin Lizzy' for the umpteenth time by some pi**ed random.

There is nothing more fulfilling than reading the joy of the punters faces at pub or wedding reception: gazing on with joy as the happy couple take to the dance floor to celebrate their first dance, helping people to escape from their worries and woes for a few precious hours.

One week prior to lockdown I was still in shock. I made hasty preparations for the inevitable lockdown that would follow by purchasing gardening paraphernalia and music production hardware. I found an abandoned dusty pair of Nike trainers nestled at the back of my wardrobe.

I often read that in times of adversity military personnel on the frontline are trained to still their mind and curb the racing adrenaline through their veins, in order to think clearly.

The first thing that needed to go was social media apps.. Even after removing the Facebook app, link after unsolicited link would follow via Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger - so off went the notifications.

I decided I would follow my body and mind and reset back to the natural rhythms of daylight and darkness.

Then following day the news became unbearable and at one point I even switched my phone onto aeroplane mode to stop the texts coming through. Next on the cutting room floor became time itself.

Each morning I would wake up dazed and lie for a few moments (probably having the inevitable FML moment and praying it was all a horrific nightmare). I would manage to scrape myself unceremoniously out of bed, brew a strong coffee and sit listening to music through headphones that reminded me of my bands and travels As a child doing this would made me feel invincible I also get the same sensation from running.

This became the first of many rituals I undertook in an attempt to regain what little control I could. My daily self employed sales hustle was replaced with an hour run, cooking, yoga, learning music production and tending to my indoor garden. In many ways these mindful activities were a cunning disguise to secretly tend to my own mental health.

There is a common misconception that artists should be in their element during lockdown. Art and freedom are lovers that walk hand in hand. And art without freedom is meaningless.

About two and half weeks in I moved onto the next stage of the grieving process and began to mourn for my old existence. I picked up the phone to a friend and even before they had a chance to answer I broke down and sobbed down the phone. The following day I took down my cherished vision board with all of the flags of the countries I was due to visit and replaced them with pictures about fitness, motivation, learning to preparing myself for life post lockdown.

The biggest revelation over time became the significant improvement of my mental health. Prior to lockdown what was previously a daily struggle with anxiety became the odd hour here and there and obligatory random outburst of emotion from nowhere.

The irony is there is nothing tangible to fear or take flight form when your worst nightmare is playing out before your eyes.

Of course I could attribute my new healthy mind to the new exercise and healthy living regime, the purging of social media toxicity or even the lack of assholes to deal with on a daily basis. Maybe it's because people have stopped talking about Brexit and are focussing their energies on keeping themselves and their loved ones alive.

The truth is I can and will NEVER accept anything other than my 'old' life as normal. I spent the last 8 years of my life undoing a mindset of fear and fostering my sense of curiosity and adventure.

There is sometimes something utterly divine and comforting in accepting that you cannot and will not accept your circumstances. Rather than choosing to accept my my new confinement I've chosen to focus my attention on preparing my mind, body and spirit to truly appreciate the freedom and liberty that are waiting on the other side of it.

To be perfectly frank as someone who lives alone, if I were forced to spend the rest of the prime years of my life stuck in my flat in the UK, spending 2 metres away from the rest of the world for the foreseeable future I would honestly rather be dead.

I live for the day I can sit on a flower laden balcony sipping coffee in some distant city overlooking the world scurrying along like tiny ants again.

Each day the little green shoots on my windowsill remind me that my seeds of hope have already been sewn. Some of the positive rituals I have mastered will travel with me into my 'new normal' (it's just the old normal but with added calcium).

In the meantime I'll wrap those leaves and shoots of hope around the prison bars I call my kitchen window to help me remain razor focussed on that dim yet unblinkered light at the end of the tunnel.


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