How I’ve Kept Myself Busy During Lockdown

A tale of Animal Crossing, diet, exercise and conscious procrastination!

DISCLAIMER: This post contains discussion of COVID-19, mental health struggles, dieting, exercising and body image struggles

Oh, lockdown. Social distancing. 2 metres apart. Something tells me that these phrases will never quite ring the same after the past few months we’ve had.

-“Grandma Leyla, where were you during the Great Coronavirus Pandemic of 2019-2020?”
-My heart stops. My eyes widen. In the distance, sirens.

Throughout this entire catastrophe (yes, it is precisely that), we’ve been lectured, advised, encouraged and downright scared into doing what our lovely (cough!) government willed in order to control the spread of disease. Needless to say, going into a national quarantine when Boris Johnson announced the lockdown was a pretty strange experience. Call me dramatic but his news briefing brought me back to those days in Year 3 when our class teachers made us listen to Neville Chamberlain’s famous radio declaration that “we were at war with Germany”. We may not have been going into a World War ourselves, but the sentiment of looming danger, the preventable loss of life and the necessity for a collective national effort felt eerily similar, and I thought about what was to come. However, this will not be a didactic post summarising the science behind COVID-19- I don’t have the mental capacity nor educational knowledge to bestow upon you all. Rather, I’m going to put my own lockdown experience into writing, for it has been a period of self-reflection for many.

But before I talk about myself, I want to take a moment to praise and give my utmost gratitude to EVERY essential worker, whether nurse, doctor, supermarket worker, delivery driver, teacher…the list goes on. Many of us, myself included, are privileged enough to have been able to live out the lockdown with our families, not having to risk our lives every day at work or worry about whether we have a place to sleep at night. It is so vitally important to remember how lucky those of us are who have basically been on a glorified school holiday in our own homes since March. This is not to say that our own feelings are invalid or we haven’t endured our struggles, whether personal or regarding health, but we must remember to bestow kindness on those we come across because we don’t know the journeys that they have taken these past months. We’re all human, after all.

So- What Have I Been Up To?

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

The first thing which I just knew that I HAD to write about in this post was Animal Crossing: New Horizons. A global sensation, this Nintendo Switch feature was released in March 2020 as the franchise’s fifth main game when everything was kicking off with COVID. Excellent timing, I might add. Prior to the game’s release, I had no real interest in AC. A few friends of mine were die-hard fans since the very beginning and had eagerly awaited every E3 expo hoping for even just a crumb of news, while I sat shrugging my shoulders and continued to Super Mario Kart my way through the week. My sister keeps telling me now that she doesn’t understand why I love this game so much when I apparently “hated it” my whole life (I is confused -__-) and cussed people who played it. I have zero memory of carrying this sentiment BUT I do remember loving the Animal Crossing-themed track on Mario Kart 8 so the joke’s on you, Maia! 😉

So, what I’m trying to say is that I was in no way anticipating the release of ACNH, but now that I’m now on my fourth month of gameplay, I cannot imagine my summer without it. I’ll be honest and admit that because I’m super original, my decision to purchase and download the instalment stemmed from a mixture of good old-fashioned conformity and FOMO. When I first began playing I was sitting in my family’s living room and I’ll never forget the look on my mum’s face when she glanced up at my yellow tent in the wilderness of my island and said disapprovingly: “is that it?”. Being a complete AC noob I wasn’t really sure where to go from there as I’d had enough of a melodrama trying to pick the name and layout of my island, let alone build an entire civilisation over the span of six months. To be honest, even though I defended the game to her because my friends loved it so much, at that point I shared my mum’s disappointment. For some stupid reason I didn’t realise that my island would literally be a barren wasteland when I first began the game, and it would only develop as I put effort into it. My virtual work ethic is probably a 1/10, would you agree?

Yet, it only took a mere week or two for the ACNH bug to fully inject its poison into my body and suddenly, I was HOOKED. Expanding my house, searching for new villagers, crafting DIY recipes and collecting cool items became a genuine pleasure. As the world stood still outside my house and I lamented the loss of my final term at uni, as well as my separation from my friends, the gradual growth of Tropicana (yes, I was thinking of Wham!’s Club Tropicana, please don’t judge me) provided me the escapism I needed to keep my mental demons at bay. The game itself is beautifully designed and the most wholesome feature I have ever come across. Moreover, during the coursework-writing period it served as the perfect relaxation tonic after a laborious day of research. The ability to expand and customise our homes and island terrain provided me with the perfect creative outlet in which I could project my architectural fantasies onto this land that I had strangely become quite attached to.

But, that’s not all. Provided you have a decent Internet connection and a Nintendo Online subscription (cheeky buggers -__-), you can visit your friends’ islands or in turn welcome them to your own, sharing DIY recipes, clothes and furniture. So not only have I had the pleasure of developing my own island, I have also gotten to witness the growth of my friends’ islands too, and there is something so heart-warming about this. Every Tuesday since I began playing, myself and my dear friend have shared ‘Animal Crossing dates’ where we give each other presents and take turns to carry out updated island tours to show off our progress, all whilst cackling on the phone about EVERYTHING from people at uni that would grind our gears to how I nearly choked on an almond a couple of months ago…true story! These weekly meetings have provided me with so much fun, laughter and genuine happiness in a time where these things are scarce for a lot of people. I’ve found that the more I play ACNH and share it with my friends, the less time I think my triggering thoughts and therefore am less likely to fall deeper into my depression. It may sound silly to some but because of this, I owe a hell of a lot to Animal Crossing and Nintendo ❤

Diet and Exercise

Now, take a second to think about the sorts of advertising you have been seeing, or sorts of videos that are recommended to you on YouTube. I’d bet a decent amount of money that at SOME POINT in the past four months, you have seen an array of lockdown ‘diet and exercise’ videos. Amidst the global chaos and suffering, there has been a very toxic message flowing through the atmosphere that whilst in quarantine we HAVE to ‘get skinny’ and/or ‘lose weight’ because otherwise we have been unproductive and made no use of our time- a highly problematic belief that completely disregards personal circumstances and mental health struggles, among other things. When we went into lockdown in March, I made the decision to add exercise to my day because I wanted to healthily shed some of my body fat and also become stronger, the latter of which had increasingly become important to me as I realised I couldn’t do a single push-up. Not even one 😦 Considering my past struggles with both anorexia and over-eating, not to mention my mental diagnoses (as detailed in this post), this was a risky and potentially dangerous decision for obvious reasons. I had to remind myself that I was doing this not as an act of self-hatred and conformity, but as a way to finally give my body the respect that it has deserved for so long.

This is where having a former personal trainer for a boyfriend really did come in handy! He helped guide me to what sorts of exercises I should begin with, taking heed of lockdown measures in the process. I knew it would be a tough journey, so I started with no real changes to my diet just yet and a 25-minute walk six days a week. Additionally, I began following a simple arm exercise routine on YouTube to get my muscles warmed up. Dear God, it hurt so bad at first but within a couple of weeks I finally started to get used to it, and after two months I had added extra videos to my repertoire. Another personal victory was the fact that my mum and I could now walk 6km in 45 minutes, which is no easy feat for complete beginners. Needless to say, despite not changing much to my diet at this point (which wasn’t THAT bad but it did still have its problems, as I’ll soon mention), I could already see a slight difference in my calves and shoulders. I was slowly becoming defined and I knew that I just HAD to keep going with these walks every day for my mental and physical health, as well as the opportunity to gossip with my mum. Who doesn’t want that every day?

Well. My experience here serves as a lesson to you all: setbacks are REAL. Despite seeing progress from March to the end of May, almost every single day when I went for my walk, I would suffer. Within 10 minutes my ankles would hurt so badly that the pain spread to my calves and I’d have to stop and disrupt my exercise. Seeing my 52 year-old (sorry for the disclosure, mum!) mother race on ahead of me with such strength made me feel completely pathetic. To tell you the truth, I was angry. I was angry and disgusted with myself because I believed that I, as a then 20 year-old, shouldn’t have been in a position where my mother was coping with exercise better than I. On one occasion we had been walking for a mere 5 minutes only and the pain became so bad that I stopped in the middle of the street and burst into tears, as passers-by took a quick look. I was ashamed at myself, convinced that I could never be fit or truly healthy because my body was broken and I was destined to be weak. This particular issue had actually been with me my whole life and I’ve always had trouble keeping up with friends walking in the street who would tease me for falling behind. In reality, I was embarrassed that walking only from the Strand Building to the VWB (KCL students know 😉 ) would be a challenge for me. But, it was at this moment on the street with my mum, where I finally broke down and felt like I wasn’t worth becoming fit and I deserved to be unhealthy for what I had done to myself when I was younger.

Thankfully, a dear family friend of ours is a wonderful chiropractor and after hearing of what happened, he insisted that he carry out an examination on me. One session later and he diagnosed the problem; it turned out that I actually have a couple of abnormalities in my body that I was born with and walking is what unfortunately exacerbates the symptoms. I’m still in treatment now but it will take a while to see if any difference is made or whether it’ll be something I just have to manage with for the rest of my life. Sadly for me, I was told not to walk for more than 5 to 10 minutes at a time whilst I’m being treated, so that meant no walking as exercise for at least a whole year. Again, I was so disappointed because I was finally making progress and I feared that without walking, I would take five steps backwards and revert to my old habits. I discussed my options with my boyfriend who encouraged me to take up skipping (anyone remember “when it’s your birthday, please jump in!” from primary school? 😉 ) for the first time in 10 years. Additionally, I began to follow thigh and ab challenges on YouTube (God bless you, Chloe Ting <3) in tandem with my already-stable arm exercise portfolio. Inspired by my results and finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, I then began to carefully go on a healthy eating spree which basically consisted of me removing all my daily unhealthy snacks from my diet (ice-cream and crisps were the usual suspects) and replacing these with fruit, 0% fat yogurts and nuts. There is obviously much more I can do but even with these little changes in my lifestyle since June, I already feel healthier and stronger and have began to realise that I too am worth it and I CAN get there in the end.

NOTE: If anyone is interested in me writing a full post about this new journey and subject, then please let me know as I’m considering it!

General Procrastination

Apparently, even having several months at home to carry out all those lovely personal tasks isn’t enough of a motivation for some people to just get them done. Yes, I can confirm that I am indeed “some people”. It’s amazing how I have had all the time in the world but I still CAN’T BE BOTHERED to do some things. That’s the COVID effect, right? Right? I’d love to blame my lack of motivation solely on the fact that I’m too tired from exercising or that I was busy Skyping with friends or playing Animal Crossing, but let’s face it, there is only so much blame I can humorously cast away from myself. To prove to you, dear reader, that you are by no means at all alone in this situation and that the list of tasks which you haven’t quite gotten round to completing is pretty much a universal list of tasks, here is a list of things that I really should’ve done…like, five months ago:

1.) Read the entirety of Anna Karenina before I start my MA and have no time for it- as of the 18th August I’m on page 123 and Anna has only just met Vronsky…seems I got a long way to go!

2.) Read, learn and study the Highway Code before I start my MA and have no time- all I have covered is pedestrian rules which accounts for barely anything so well done me ❤

3.) Re-teach myself Turkish. Ironically, I learnt how to say “Türkçe bilmiyorum” and I can remember that phrase easily.

4.) Update my CV and research part-time jobs for alongside my MA- anxiety strikes again, wahey!

5.) Complete my yearly task of de-cluttering my bedroom. LOL.

6.) Get back into Super Mario Kart and begin Time Trialling again- literally have no desire to do this and I’m gonna write a post about it 😦

7.) Update my blog frequently and attempt to grow an online presence- famous last words, right?

Now, by expressing my disappointment in myself and poking fun at my lack of desire to do all the above things, I am NOT saying that I am ashamed of myself or that I haven’t been as productive with my time as other people. Yes, I may not have carried out these arguably important tasks in my current life situation. But, what is so important is that even though I didn’t do these things and it would’ve been helpful if I had, my time during lockdown was by no means poorly spent. I’ve used these past five months to reconnect with my creative side. I’ve used these past five months to respect and worship my body. I’ve used these past five months to spend time with my family and think about what I truly want from my life.

To many people, I may have wasted my time and will live to regret it later; but I don’t think so. How could I regret reaching a crossroads and making decisions that have since made me feel good? For someone who always religiously wrote lists and forced herself to tick off every entry even at the behest of her mental health and own enjoyment, I believe that lockdown has taught me that I don’t have to live like this. I don’t have to always say yes to everyone, even when it hurts me. I don’t have to be shut away from the world and refuse to live for today, or just live at all. There is no denying that I do have a long way to go; that’s completely inevitable. However, the fact that I even have the smallest shred of optimism amidst the dark clouds in my mind proves to me that I have, I can, and I WILL make progress.

Published by Leyla Hasso

I'm an anxious, 23-year-old Modern Literature postgrad and competitive gamer born and bred in London, who is trying to navigate this crazy world while always looking on the bright side!

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