Caricatures and containers

“I’m glad to be back in New Zealand but it’s definitely not the homecoming I’d envisaged,’ laughs Abi.

She arrived in New Zealand on 1st January, returning after years living away in the UK, Switzerland and France. She was just getting settled and had some job offers on the table when lockdown hit.

‘Lockdown was horrible. Now, a couple of months on, I can’t think exactly why it was so horrible, but it was something I really struggled with. That period of being stuck inside was really tough. I usually take positives from every negative thing that happens in my life, and all it did is reinforce the fact that I need to move. I know I can get through pretty much anything, if I can just move and do stuff.’

Abi lives with her two children in a townhouse in Auckland. She says: ‘Living with children is like living with caricatures of yourself, right? Basically they take all of your worst qualities, blow them up and then throw them back in your face. All the things that are so difficult to deal with in my children are actually me! It was tough on all of us, because it was just the three of us, day in, day out, with no other parties to diffuse that.’

They didn’t have any of their belongings, everything they owned was in a container on a ship from the UK during lockdown, unable to be delivered. So the toys and books that would normally keep the children entertained had to be swapped for devices. ‘It meant it was always a fight to get them to go out; they’d rather be at home playing games. Then once we were out, they never wanted to come back, so that was another fight. It was just one constant fight.’

The boys spent more time in lockdown than they had spent at school in New Zealand. Abi says: ‘We hadn’t really had a chance to get into a routine, or get a rhythm in place before it just stopped. They’d just started to make friends and get invited to things, and are likely to have to start over again.’

‘It doesn’t even seem real now. It was just like someone hit a pause button for eight weeks. We’ve switched back into normal life quite quickly but there are some friendships and relationships that it’s definitely taken its toll on. It’s also made me realise just how ubiquitous the devices had become, so we’re doing a bit of a detox.”

Abi’s not working, the job offers that were on the table having disappeared due to a hiring freeze in the financial services industry. She says: ‘The primary focus of moving back to New Zealand was getting my career back on track after having kids. Not knowing when I’ll be working again is something that I’ve had to come to terms with during lockdown, which I found very difficult. I have to have confidence that it will ramp up at some point. I’m still so glad I came home though.”

Abi’s found that lockdown gave her a validation that she’s found a way of living life that she appreciates and that keeps her physically and mentally healthy. She says: ‘Lockdown gave me so much time to think, but I got to the point where I was thinking but not doing, and so I ended up in a loop in my head. It’s hard to step outside of that when you’re sitting inside with the same people, doing the same thing each day. I need to be able to go and sit on top of a mountain or stare out at the sea.’

She turned to running for some time alone, and as a way to think about something else; the fact that she hated running. She laughs, ‘for half an hour each day I’d run, repeating in my head I hate running, I hate running.’

She realised she’s a really social person, albeit on her own terms. She says: ‘I’ve never been so lonely. I like having my routines in my life, and in between all these routines I like having adventures and plans and seeing people.’

We talk about the New Zealand’s Government response to COVID-19 and lockdown, and Abi says: ‘I really struggled and I shouldn’t have, because it was actually really simple. What we were asked to do wasn’t that difficult, yet I found it SO hard. I did not overcome lockdown, I was crap at lockdown,’ she laughs, ‘and that really annoyed me, the fact I can’t even identify why it was so difficult. It seems like such a waste; of time, mental effort, emotional reaction and that I don’t seem to have taken anything positive from it.’

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