Melbourne winters are notoriously depressing. The days are short and often gray, the rain is cold and persistent. For those of us who live here, coping mechanisms are important. We sit in front of blazing fireplaces at neighborhood pubs, we take trips to the countryside or plan our annual holidays abroad during these long dark months. We gather for family dinners and make sure our exercise routines are uninterrupted.
As of this week, with almost all of those coping strategies taken away thanks to a new six week lockdown order, the mood among family and friends and strangers on the internet is defeated and dark. We are now allowed to leave our homes only for work, to exercise, to shop for essential items or to give or receive care.
People are quick to say that they’re grateful for a government and society willing to take quick and decisive action to keep us safe, and the ever-more-horrifying situation in the U.S. is a constant reminder of how lucky we are to be in Australia. But we are struggling.
In my small circle of family and friends, we’re struggling to get out of bed, struggling to pay our bills, struggling with parenting, struggling with a sense of self when our careers are on hold.
There are many things I was planning in order to make it through this winter. We have begun a tradition of an extended family celebration and midwinter feast — I call it “fake Christmas” — which was scheduled for August 8th. Much of my own mental health is bolstered by swimming laps, which acts as exercise but also meditation. I had a few sweet weeks of swimming in June before the pools shut down again. Fake Christmas is on hold indefinitely.
My son is spending a huge chunk of his 16th year as if he were grounded. Friends who are lucky to still have work are grappling with how to care for young children who will be learning from home again. Loved ones who live alone are anticipating the next lonely six weeks with a dread that wasn’t nearly as oppressive during the first lockdown.
Next week marks a major anniversary for me and my husband, and we had plans to go somewhere sunny for a couple of days. Those ambitions shrank when it became clear that travel was impossible so we booked into a nice hotel here in Melbourne. Now we’ll spend it at home, and try to differentiate between this special day and all the others with champagne and oysters ordered directly from suppliers who have excess product that usually would be sold to restaurants.
We are lucky! Champagne and oysters in a warm house with a man I love is not exactly a punishment. But everywhere I look I see disappointment and anxiety, and guilt because we should feel lucky. We are safe.
There are bright spots — the two family members who are here on visas that make them ineligible for government assistance are also spending their free time volunteering to make and deliver food to those who have no other means of sustenance. The outpouring of support and anxiety for the residents of the public housing towers on hard lockdown reminds me of the intensely communal nature of Australian culture. I would not want to be anywhere else.
I am so grateful that the physical health of my city is being protected. But I have a deep pit of worry for our collective mental health.
We will make it through. And when we do, it will almost be spring.
How are you keeping positive during lockdown? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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And Over to You …
Last week we wrote about Australia’s reckoning with diversity in media, and asked for your feedback on the issue. Here is one reader’s response:
In the middle ’80s we (Aboriginal media) organized a symposium in Melbourne to address the issues you have mentioned. Mainstream media attended along with people like Stan Grant and other prominent Indigenous media representatives, and the mood of the room was encouraging — the outcomes not so much. I am one of the few Aboriginal photographers that travels Australia and overseas documenting culture and presenting exhibitions and can tell you first hand that we had two major shows at the United Nations in New York and Geneva on Indigenous women’s’ rights and had more than half a million people visit the shows. In Australia we are unable to get a byline in the local newspaper.
— Professor Wayne Quilliam