How Lockdown Taught Me Not To Turn My Pain Into Amusing Anecdotes

Before lockdown, I was an expert at turning uncomfortable memories into dinner party fodder. But now I have a new way of communicating.

Photo courtesy of author / AleksandarNakic/Getty

While being able to remain at home and having a home to remain in during the coronavirus outbreak is a privilege, it's hard to deny that lockdown has been a challenge. It tore us away from the comforts of everyday life — the joy of sharing a pint with friends or celebrating a birthday with family. Yet for many of us, the experience has also given us the chance to pause and reflect, to take stock of what matters most. In What I Learnt In Lockdown, writers share what this period has meant for them and what lessons they'll take away as we all begin to emerge from our COVID-19 cocoons.

What’s the perfect accompaniment for Friday night dinner at a friend's house? Some people bring a homemade dessert, others bring a bottle of wine. Well I can't bake and all wine tastes pretty much the same to me. But what I lack those departments I more than make up for in storytelling. A shocking tale is my ticket in and being the perpetually single one in my friendship group means I always have an awful dating mishap or two up my sleeve. “Do it for the story” is usually how all disasters start for me but it wasn’t until lockdown hit, when suddenly the anecdotal pool dried up, that I began to think: who was I beyond the stories?

It was writer and filmmaker Nora Ephron who once said “everything is copy.” As someone who considers Ephron's word to be gospel, I understood what she meant immediately. What I didn't understand is that it directly applied to my life. Turns out I needed a government-implemented sanction to teach me that.

About three weeks into lockdown, I was sitting on a Zoom call with some friends. After we’d discussed one of their “interesting” haircuts (think Claire from Fleabag), someone turned to me: “Go on then Alice, what’s new with you?”

My mind went blank.

"Do it for the story" is usually how all disasters start for me.

It's hard to drum up anecdotes about a date peeing himself on my front doorstep (true story) or a wild evening spent with relative strangers when all you've been doing is sitting inside trying to acclimatise to instant coffee. Suddenly I had nothing to say and it felt... confusing.

I crave the ability shock people because it makes me feel needed. I like to be relied on for something, anything, even if means putting myself in harm's way to repackage the incident later and hand it out like an after-dinner mint.

I’ll stay in the bar with the person my friends have run a mile from, I'll go on holiday with a partner I should have broken up with months ago, I'll often drink more than I know I should – because think of the story.

I crave the ability shock people because it makes me feel needed.

Even though some part of me knows these experiences weren't all good, or funny, or even safe, I don't stop. Because who lets self care get in the way of a good anecdote?

I don't want people to know I feel hurt, and I figure as long as people are laughing, I'm in control of the way they perceive me. I’m no longer the sad girl who fell for someone who treated her terribly, I’m the hilarious one who everyone wants to be around at a party. "Do you remember the time that guy peed himself on my front doorstep at the end of the date?" "Or what about when my ex made me cry on Valentines Day?" "Or that night in a foreign city when I was assaulted but brushed it off with a joke about heavy petting and too many Jägerbombs?" The more stories I collected, the more sinister they became – each one having to trump the last. The boundaries between fun and performance blurring into one.

Now, instead of regaling my friends with outlandish tales, I'll chat about what is really going on with me.

So although I was sad not to have a story to tell that day on Zoom, I was oddly thankful. Since then, I have started to feel my relationships shift and my connections with people deepen despite the distance between us. Suddenly we've realised how precious talking – not performing – is. Now, instead of regaling my friends with outlandish tales, I'll chat about what is really going on with me. If something is painful or uncomfortable, I won't dress it up as something else. I'll tell them when I'm worried about my family’s health or my job security. I'll tell jokes where I'm not the punchline.

Lockdown has taught me that I no longer need to trade heartache and pain in exchange for social acceptance. The only downside is I'll now have to think of something else to bring to dinner parties. I hear banana bread is good.