I had a great day out last week and felt quite inspired by the end of it to write about how fortunate we are in WA at present. We go about our business in a rather laissez-faire fashion, visiting friends, attending events/workshops, enjoying meals out and about and travelling within our borders. We (mostly) maintain the 1.5m social distancing, use hand sanitizer liberally and flinch if anyone coughs or sneezes, but we’re largeley behaving as though everything is pretty much as normal.

I was going to elaborate on some of these happy-making thing… then I read a social media post a friend in Melbourne shared and felt a strong surge of what I can only describe as survivor guilt. Here I was being upbeat and positive, using public transport without a mask, going to an art workshop and a live jazz event, back at the indoor pool exercising – and all whilst many, many other Australians are struggling to just get through the day.  In that moment it felt it inappropriate – wrong, even – to be enjoying myself and feeling so fortunate when, just on the other side of the country, things are anything but rosy. This is rather how I felt during the bushfires earlier this year, but then I could fundraise and send some tangible assistance across to Gippsland. Now I somehow just feel guiltily helpless.

Melbourne has been in lockdown or partial lockdown for so long that people are all out of spoons, the capacity to cope and get through each day stretched wafer thin. Melbourne friends confess that they get irritated when people say ‘we’re all in this together,’ because the Melbourne ‘this’ is a very different kettle of fish to ours. There they’ve run out of enthusiasm for baking bread, home decorating, zoom and face-time, revisiting random old hobbies and even cat videos (!). As for friends/family elsewhere urging them to keep their spirits up, saying it’ll all be over soon – that really takes the cake!

Don’t get me wrong: they’re not complaining about complying with the regulations – they’re just tired. So very, very tired.

And it’s not just Victorians. This applies to people in every region and country where movement and activities have been put on hold in the interest of public health and the greater good.

Yes, isolating definitely works. If people aren’t shuttling all over the place it’s easier for authorities to track pockets of infections and to manage treatment and quarantine. WA has shown this to be the case over the past many months of no community transmission. But it’s not easy and it hinges on is for people to have a clear understanding what Covid-19 actually is, what their rights and responsibilities are, and for those in charge to have a coherent (but flexible) plan to manage the situation and disseminate accurate and up to date information to the public.

On that note, hats off to our local (WA) pollies for coping remarkably well under sustained pressure both from the Federal Government and from some elements of the business sector. (Add congratulatory emojis of your choice here).

However, as at 24 September, Victoria was home to 20,105 of the 26,983 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 773 of the 861 associated deaths reported in Australia since 22 January. On the upside, only 14 new cases (and 8 deaths) have been reported there in the last 24 hours – so the current quarantine lockdown strategy is definitely improving. The Victorian Premier continues to urge residents to go and get tested if they have any symptoms at all, no matter how minor. About 90% of results are made available within 24 hours, which is a remarkably fast turnaround.

So back to my friend in Melbourne: she too is tired – and more sleep is not the answer! A saving grace through lockdown(s) has definitely been her cat, which has provided companionship, non-judgemental affection and lots of amusement. But there are only so many conversations you can have with a cat – even a really cute one! Luckily she’s recently been able to have some sustained in-person contact with another human – and the joy she felt at just that interaction was enormous. These so-called ‘social bubbles’ were initiated on 14 September, allowing people living on their own to visit one another at home. Although a night-time curfew was still in place, it’s made life more bearable for many who have spent wayyyy too much time on alone of late. **Household bubbles are next on the agenda.

Writing about this made me realise that the survivor guilt that washed over me was uncalled for. What’s needed from all of us is a better understanding of what people elsewhere are going through, more sensitivity from us all in how we respond, and a real appreciation of how fortunate we are in our Fortress WA bubble – for now, at least.

I therefore reserve the right to make the most of glorious WA while we can and am very grateful to all Sandgropers for being diligent in complying with the Health Dept’s suggestions. Long may our little bit of Pollyanna-land last!

Beautiful WA

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**More on Victoria’s roadmap to recovery here. Some insights on living with Covid-19 lockdown for extended periods, here. And a short video to get the message across regarding how easily the virus spreads – in case it’s not already abundantly apparent!

Notice the red t-shirts!

The cinemas reopened in WA a couple of weeks ago and, after a somewhat draining week, an afternoon at the movies sounded like a particularly fine way to recover. So, last Friday I headed off to the Windsor Cinema to hide out from the rain and restock the spoon drawer.

The venue choice was partly because the cinemas, although quite small, have generous spacing between the rows of seats and the candy bar stocks the most delicious choc top ice-creams. But it was also because they were screening The Personal History of David Copperfield, starring the perfectly lovely Dev Patel in the lead role.

The odd thing was that, even though I was keen on the idea of going to see a film – the first in many months – and anticipated enjoying it, I simultaneously encountered an all-pervasive sense of disquiet as I took my seat. I couldn’t figure it out at first. Why was I feeling so disproportionately anxious? What was it that was making me so unexpectedly uncomfortable?

As I sat there munching away on my choc top and looking around, it finally dawned on me. It was people. Too many people in too small a space. Too many people too close to me!

I felt compromised, as though I either shouldn’t be there at all or, at the very least, should be wearing a surgical mask. I found myself counting and recounting just how many people were in the cinema. Initially only 10 people, which seemed fine. Then 13 and, finally, a total of 16. That was still less than 50% of the cinema capacity, but each additional person twitched my spidey-sense a bit more.

Despite there being at least one empty seat on each side of me, every sniffle or sniffle-sounding noise, every move made by people on either side of me, hit my hyper-alert button. My monkey-brain kept telling me it wasn’t safe, that I should flee – flee now!

My choc top took the brunt of my anxiety, disappearing in record time. With its help, the rational part of my psyche gradually settled me down. I acknowledged that the relative isolation of the past months and the current spike in Covid-19 cases in Victoria were probably undermining my capacity to just be in the moment and enjoy the outing. Listen, said sensible-me, we’ve had almost 100 days without community transmission of the virus in WA, the borders are still closed and we’re (most likely) quite safe… Just settle down.

So I did. I took a (not too deep) breath, sat back and, once the house lights went down and the show began, allowed the magic of the cinema to take over. The theatre suddenly felt enormous and the landscape infinite. Mostly, anyway.

I was still very conscious of the ‘crowd’ around me, but I loved every moment of the film. The costuming, characters, setting (Victorian England) and dialogue were superb. Some of my favourite moments included the Mr Dick’s crazy kite flying and Mr McCawber’s comment on his current abode being “primarily al fresco at present.

It was delightful and I’m so glad I went – and stayed.

Although WA’s borders remain closed for now, pressure is mounting for them to reopen. The last couple of weeks have seen a veritable Covid-frenzy in Victoria and (increasingly) in New South Wales, leaving many in WA fearful that a second wave of infections will inevitably hit here too, perhaps sooner rather than later.

In the meantime, we may as well make the most of the relative freedom we have. Enjoy the sunshine, do fun things and be in the moment, folks. But don’t get complacent. Stay at home if you feel unwell or have flu-like symptoms, have difficulty breathing or have had a fever without a known source. If so, call your doctor about getting tested, just in case, then self-isolate until you get your results. Be well.

We’re being inundated with covid-clichés, incorporated into daily info dumps and advertising jingles. It almost seems that there’s a cliché-generator in use, providing an assortment of neatly packaged phrase combinations, such as: these unprecedented times, the new normal, and we’re all in this together. Other favourites seem to be: your struggles are shared and understood and we’re all in the same boat.

Yes, we are all in it together, but we’re definitely not all facing this crisis on an equal footing, aka in the same boat. Many of the boats from which these supportive clichés flow are really more reminiscent of yachts. They’re (at least) moderately comfortable, well provisioned (stocked with loo-paper and other essentials), and those at the helm have their employment and superannuation intact. At least at present..

But with over 700,000 Australians losing their jobs between 14 March and 4 April, the boat analogy doesn’t bring yachts to mind. It makes me think of corroded tinnies (small open aluminium boats) that are taking on water at an alarming rate.

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that, in the three weeks after Australia recorded its 100th confirmed COVID-19 case, jobs decreased by 6%, with the greatest impact being on the food/accommodation and arts/recreation industries. This new reality is very much less comfortable than that being experienced by those on the hypothetical yachts.

On top of all this, the clichés go on to exhort us to smile, exercise, work (if we can), carry on carrying on, be patient with our kids… and so much more. Just watching / listening to it all is exhausting! The cheery enthusiasm and encouragement from shiny young – and not so young – actors, all of whom no doubt have their own stuff to contend with when off-screen, leaves me irritated and impatient, rather than enthusiastic and uplifted. I doubt this is the goal.

These are trying times and, not surprisingly, some days things feel hopeless. Sometimes the sky seems to be pressing down and cheerful is the last thing on the average tinnie-skipper’s agenda. But it feels like we’re not allowed to express any part of the negative emotions that we all feel at various times.

Perhaps, in place of the current round of clichés and happy-hype, it’s time to take stock and promote kindness – that quality of being friendly, generous and considerate. Not the #-type of kindness (pre-packaged), or kindness to others (although this is a fine thing), but some encouragement for people to be kind to themselves. And not just on the up-days, when it’s so much easier to do so, but on hump-days and down-days too.

What brought this to mind is that, yesterday, I decided I couldn’t be bothered to get up. It was a first for me. I didn’t feel unwell or tired or have any other particular reason for it. I thought it through, but all I could come ups with was that I just couldn’t be bothered. So I accepted that perhaps I needed some time out – for whatever reason – and put my head under the pillow and went back to sleep, emerging much later feeling more or less back to normal.

Perhaps this small act of self-caring / kindness was what I needed in order to get on with things later on. I did, after all, get up and mow the lawns! But the point is that none of us is perfect and we could all do with a bit of kindness, particularly at the moment. So: don’t blame, shame or judge yourself – or others; just accept, be kind and move on.

Please note that for up to date information on the pandemic – with or without clichés – the WA government info services remains your best source of information at this time.