Listening to writer Rosita Boland speak candidly on the radio recently about the loneliness of the past year, I felt like giving her a call to share the secret to a tolerable solo lockdown: tear off your clothes and jump in the sea. Seriously! It’s that simple.
High tide and a brisk wind at lunchtime Wednesday combined to create optimal conditions for a dip. I didn’t so much wade in as get swept away. Bobbing on the swell of the waves was nothing short of exhilarating. It was not the day for exchanging pleasantries with fellow swimmers unless you wanted a mouthful of salt water, and even that had a payoff. On an interminable Teams call later, a salty knuckle to the lips was all it took to revisit the thrill. I have no idea why swimming in the sea makes for instant lightness and glee, but believe me when I say it does.
Boland spoke of finding the latest lockdown most challenging of all, but for me, the first one took the biscuit. The shutters hadn’t even gone down when I found myself in the throes of a Covid infection in early March. Being ill while living alone wasn’t particularly lonely – general wretchedness tends to leave little room for specifics – but I certainly considered the logistics of not making it through the night.
Boland wondered how long it would take for someone to find her if she died in her sleep, whereas at peak sickness, I was more concerned about whether I should leave the front door unlocked as I didn’t fancy someone kicking it in.
My birthday, which fell on Easter Sunday, brought no resurrection. Although five weeks had passed since I’d first woken up feeling awful, my experience of Covid wasn’t the straightforward two-week ailment of news reports. It was rather a trickier beast with myriad symptoms that seemed to wallop me at intervals of two weeks. No sooner would I begin to celebrate my recovery than I would be hurled back to bed.
By the time restrictions were eased, I was well and truly weary. When a friend arrived over for a socially distant visit outside, he was a wonder to behold. Waving him goodbye was probably the loneliest moment of the entire year.
Subsequent lockdowns have been a walk in the park. The effects of Covid lingered, so days were either spent feeling sick or glad that I wasn’t. Through it all, swimming never failed to give me a lift. It also provided structure to the day and afforded social contact without flouting the rules.
No one had told me how convivial swimming could be. I’ve had some great chats with complete strangers in a state of undress. People of all ages, from all walks of life, congregate along the wall to peel off wet togs and set the world to rights. Faces became familiar and before long, you’re getting recommendations on everything from books to heart surgeons. Eilis McGovern has magic hands apparently, should your ticker ever act up.
Every day is different in the sea. I look forward to rounding the corner of the hill on the drive down to see if I can gauge its mood. Is it grey and belligerent or hazy and calm? The temperature fluctuates too, but the colder the better I find. Looking like a lobster is the closest I’ll get to a colour without the spectre of melanoma looming, and that tingling sensation in every cell reminds me I’m still here.
Another thing that has helped immensely to ward off feelings of isolation has been forming a support bubble for the duration of lockdown three. It may not be feasible for everyone, but being able to break bread with friends at Sunday lunch makes the world of difference. As with proximity to the sea, I appreciate my good fortune in this. Being roundly beaten by my 11-year-old godson at chess prompted me to start playing online, so that’s another gift from Covid, thank you very much.
Of the estimated 400,000 people who live alone in Ireland, chances are most of us felt lonely at some point during the pandemic. Actually, that probably goes for the rest of the population too. We all need companionship to one extent or another and while technology has helped, it’s no substitute for the flesh-and-blood presence of others. Boland rejects the trope that suggests what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but I feel there’s some comfort in knowing we can prevail.
As freedom beckons and restrictions are set to lift, here’s hoping we can fling ourselves back into the maddening crowd any day now. Until then, there’s still time to answer the call of the sea.
As the old-timers are fond of saying, you’ll never regret a swim.
Grace Garvey is a Communications and Content Marketing Strategist. Grace can be reached at email@example.com