In the petri dish of hormones that is a global pandemic, emotions mutate at an alarmingly high rate. On any given day I experience at least 300. During lockdown numbers one and two, I felt OK, happy even, the misery as abstract as the virus once was. But this time around it’s different. It’s crept in slowly and stealthily, colonising the faculties of my brain, shutting them down one by one. First went my enthusiasm, then my patience, passion and concentration. And finally, most despairingly, my creativity. I’ve tried to heed expert advice and follow Instagram accounts that offer light therapy, but to no avail.
It doesn’t help that others around me are seemingly thriving, launching meal boxes, podcasts, virtual comedy series and more. Confirmation bias? I have dug deep into the fissures of my imagination, hoping to find even an ounce of ingenuity, but all that’s there is a pound of existential dread. No ideas for dinner, certainly none for features. I can’t even think of what to watch on the telly, which means I end up watching something I loathe like The Big Bang Theory. I told my friend Murray (also a writer), and he said he was exactly the same. We discussed that yes, while some people are doing some very cool things, the majority of creatives are floundering.
With no novel stimuli, it's no wonder we're experiencing negative and repetitive thoughts and feelings. We are, after all, seeing the same people, eating the same meals, and having the same pandemic-punctuated conversations in the same four walls. Not only is our creativity stifled by a lack of new experiences, but in worrying about our creativity, we're making matters worse. A self-fulfilling prophecy if ever there was one. To try and usher a new perspective, the aforementioned Murray, and Emily, the CEO of an exceedingly imaginative London-based PR firm, share their stories from lockdown number three.
In March 2020, my PR agency Emerge lost £1.5 million in 48 hours. Overnight, clients were cancelling their retainers and asking for prolonged periods of grace. Unsurprisingly, productivity dropped off a cliff as everyone worked out what the hell was going on. I had to get my head around furlough, whilst taking on work I wouldn’t normally have, to try and avoid the inevitable. It was tough, but we fired on all cylinders, launching our Good News Newsletter (an antidote to the deluge of bad news), a podcast and a pay as you go PR service, to counter daunting year-long contracts.
If nothing else, with the world in a constant state of flux, it was a fascinating time to run a business. But it was a matter of survival, rather than growth. I quickly had to adjust my understanding of success. Success during Covid meant losing the least.
Nearly one year on, with no events or activations, not seeing the fruits of your labour in the way we usually would is taking its toll. It's impossible to scream creativity into a void. It’s also frustrating to be reminded of how disposable creative services are deemed, with businesses seeing them as a ‘nice to have,’ rather than a crucial cog of the machine. We’re the first to go! Predictably, as things have worsened, clients have an expectation of extreme flexibility, and candidly, I just have to bend over and take it. Once the market moves, which it’s beginning to, I know that we will be busy again, and that we’ll have to bring our A game, but it’s hard to preserve energy right now.
Lockdown three was the hardest yet. January was grey, miserable and slow. The entire year extended before us, with no hard dates to plan anything around. The summer seemed miles away, and businesses were still recovering from the PTSD of 2020. There was lots of pressure to be robust and resilient, but sometimes, the fragility of the business can be terrifying. The speed with which everything changed, and the need for innovation was difficult to wrangle. A large amount of time that was used for creativity before, my 'down time' was swept away due to exhaustion and burnout. Working the hardest you ever have, for the least amount of money, is a difficult thing to get your head around. The last 12 months have been volatile to say the least, but they've taught me to be brave when things feel most scary.
Lockdown has made me think of a lot of things, like how we’ll survive after the collapse of civilization and grain stores and stuff. But it’s also made me think a lot about fire alarm drills at school. Lockdown feels a bit like that. When it first goes off, everyone is all excited at the prospect of an actual disaster because our brains are sadomasochists. Even if it’s terrifying, like Covid-19 is, there’s an element of exhilaration. You in danger girl, and all that. But after the first 20 minutes, you’re still standing outside and it’s actually getting a bit cold, and the conversation is getting boring. Then you see the big black plumes belching from the science block and you think of shit, this is actually a thing, and then it’s another hour, and then another, and a year later you’re still having chemistry in the mobile classrooms that smell of damp.
That’s where we are right now. I mean, my house is a marginally nicer place than Wolfreton Secondary School but it’s this feeling of entrapment and danger but just without the exhilaration, and it’s really sapping. My job is to write stuff that, hopefully, interests people, but that’s so hard to do when you’re disinterested by everything and anything because nothing is happening. The third lockdown has been the toughest because even the case numbers aren’t a surprise. It’s a part of normal life, and normal life has never been this dull.
It’s been hard to get things together. So, in lieu of actual new things, I’ve thought about the old things that surround us, and try to find stories within it. A Sex and the City revival is obviously going to be one of the most painful, innocuous viewing experiences in living history, but was there something in its roots for men? There was, and that’s a story. Is there something in this ongoing lockdown stress I suffer, and how it’s actually damaging our skin, and hair, and nails in addition to our wellbeing? There was. Am I going to be pitching ideas about all the pretty crap homemade candles everybody seems to be making? I absolutely will be. These ideas haven’t come as fully formed or as quickly as they have in the past, but even finding them is a victory. And during the days when I’ve felt like I’ve hit absolute rock bottom, consumed by really negative thoughts and hopelessness, I’ve spoken to my seniors about it. They’ll let you take some time to get your shit together, because, in all likelihood, they’re feeling exactly the same way.