Nostalgia, Regret and the Coronavirus Lockdown
1 May 2020
As I write, it’s day fifty-one of not seeing any other humans. And, just in case you’re reading from the future, I should stress that that’s not purely by choice. We’re in lockdown to avoid spreading a deadly disease.
During lockdown, I’ve experienced many feelings. I’ve been through the ups and downs, the spurts of energy, the inexplicable tiredness, the loneliness, the boredom, and the anxiety. Even more often than any of those, I’ve felt extreme numbness… which I suppose is also a feeling, of sorts.
Many people have explored these feelings, but I haven’t seen anybody talk about the powerful waves of nostalgia I’ve noticed myself experiencing, so I thought I’d share some thoughts about that.
At first, this nostalgia was a subconscious process. It popped up in odd moments. For example, I was picking out something to read, and I found myself settling on a well-thumbed copy of Sourcery, a comforting novel I’d not read since I was a teenager. I spent an evening on YouTube watching old 90s TV Themes. I looked through old diaries and photos, and I contacted friends I hadn’t spoken to for years.
Eventually it became obvious that I was constantly returning to the past, and it was immediately clear why. It doesn’t take a genius to recognise that the future was immensely uncertain—at the time of writing, it still is!—and that the present is monotonous, at best.
When there’s no future, and barely any present, all that’s left is the past.
I’ve often noticed that my brain shies away from uncertainty, so it makes sense that I haven’t dwelled too much on what might happen. I have basically zero ability to influence a global pandemic, so thinking about the future is only likely to stress me out.
Luckily, the present was diverting enough, at least at first. There were plenty of distractions: the queues at supermarkets, the race for toilet roll, the novel lockdown content, and settling down to enjoy a nice long series/book/game/movie franchise. But it wasn’t long before the abnormal became normal… particularly since ‘the abnormal’ was mostly made up of me staying at home, in the most mundane plague imaginable.
Boredom sends the brain wandering, and it’s only natural it would meander back into the past. Totally insignificant memories began to surface which I haven’t considered for years—jokes people made, meals I’ve shared, places I’ve been.
Like with all nostalgia, sometimes these memories made me feel sad, sometimes happy. It just felt as if my mind wanted to feel some stronger emotions for a while. (Although “yay lunchtime” is a pretty powerful daily emotion that hasn’t lost its power yet.)
I don’t have any deep words of wisdom about this outbreak of nostalgia. I just wanted to share it. And I’d be interested to hear if anyone else is experiencing the same thing. (Maybe not exactly the same thing… I doubt many have cried to the theme tune of Big Break during the last seven weeks.)
Whatever you’re going through, I hope you’re well and safe. See you in the future.
Once it actually starts.
Neil Hughes is the author of Walking on Custard & the Meaning of Life, a comical and useful guide to life with anxiety, and The Shop Before Life, a tale about a magical shop which sells human personality traits.
Along with writing more books, he spends his time on standup comedy, speaking about mental health, computer programming, public speaking and everything from music to video games to languages. He struggles to answer the question "so, what do you do?" and is worried that the honest answer is probably "procrastinate."
He would like it if you said hello.