Letters from Cardiff in lockdown: Lee Marshall

Today’s instalment for the Letters from Cardiff in lockdown series comes from musician and producer Lee Marshall. We’re looking for your stories, so please contribute to Letters from Cardiff in Lockdown

I’ve always been someone with a sense of inherent contrariness hard wired inside me, something I think is common to most. The moment I sit down in a plane seat, is the moment I desperately want a cigarette, when the lights dim in the cinema is the time I suddenly need the toilet. When you are told you can’t do something, suddenly you are far more interested in it than you conceivably would have been at any other time. I’ve found myself wondering, how much of missing the outside world is my genuine desire to sit in a coffee shop with my kindle, just letting myself exist in a space with people around me, or be in a club, dancing and letting myself go, is just a factor of knowing these are things I can’t currently do, as lockdown has put out the lights in the communal spaces we shared.

I have a fragmentary relationship with the outside world at the best of times. As someone who lives with bi-polar disorder, and anxiety, I can go through extended periods where being in an outside space, or being in a social situation is something that seems overwhelmingly difficult.

Not just in it giving me a sense of terror from no real source, just rushing adrenalin and your heart struggling in your chest,
constantly expecting some disaster that has no basis in reality, but also living with the fear that you are presenting as manic, speaking out of turn, or coming across as “weird”.

You start planting judgements on yourself, whether or not they have any basis in the responses of those around you. The trouble for me with anxiety and social phobia, is that it feeds on itself.

The more you avoid the situations that cause you that fear, the worse they get, until just making it to the local shop to pick up basics seems like a herculean task.

I sincerely hope that those who live with mental health problems have been finding ways to put joy into their days, getting out, even just for a walk, finding ways to chat digitally, play games with friends, just to not let that connection to the outside slip away. You’re not wrong for hurting, and you’re not ever the only one.

Being under lockdown has taken any decision making about going outside or socialising out of my hands, and when you live with generalised fear anyway, the idea of a killer virus taking lives is easy to turn into something that occupies half your waking thoughts. The minutia of daily life has a soothing quality. Keeping busy, or just travelling to work, grabbing some food, meeting a friend, all of the things that we never give a second thought normally, take up space in our heads. Locked up at home, staring at the walls, it’s easy to let your thoughts turn completely inward, especially if you are prone to introspection and self analysis. I’ve found myself turning back to events from years ago, wishing I’d made different decisions, said different things. I’ve watched my usual level of self criticism soar.

The silence of your own thoughts can be a terrible place, and it’s been photos or videos from friends, webcam calls, a card in the post or an email that have kept me holding on.

Bikes have always been a lifeline for me, even as a kid, just heading out the front gate and riding as far as I could, sitting in sun drenched fields far away from everything that left me upset or confused.
I’ve always felt so grateful to live in a city where we have so much green space, Whether it’s Castle Grounds and Pontcanna Fields giving us a swathe of nature that allows you to walk or ride across a lot of the city without ever having to see a road, the Taff Trail winding through the trees, or the fact that you’re never far from the countryside, the woods or the mountains. Where I live in the North of the city, it’s only half an hour walk to be in the hills, and looking down over the city to the bay.

Cycling is one of those private things, where you are in constant motion and it feels like nothing around you can touch you, leaving your thoughts behind, until you just feel like a being of pure movement, where the only thing that matters is going faster and taking turns better. It’s been great to cruise down quiet roads, cars few and far between, idling down the Taff Trail, watching the shadow of your wheels spinning in the seemingly endless sunshine, the sound of the birds seeming so much louder with the usual din of the city dimmed.

I’ve found myself wondering what the lack of planes, the reduced traffic and the limits on industry have been doing to our planet, actually letting the air clear, hoping against hope that perhaps businesses, governments and councils can find ways to keep some of the reduction.

Even simple things like watching the grass verges get overgrown, and nature start to creep in where corners are untended has given me a little internal joy. I know it’s madness to hope that human beings will sacrifice convenience over the long term health of our spherical home, but you can dream when you look down on an empty motorway.

I feel like we all have memories of childhood, of summer days that seemed to never end, holidays from school that went on and on. I wonder if the young people of today will remember this as a time of fear and paranoia, or just the sun drenched days of no school. It’s hard to not fear what the long term affect of closures will be on independent businesses in our fair city. We’ve already seen small shops, restaurants, bars and venues closing, or struggling to remain above water over the last few years, even vital music spaces having to transition to non profit enterprises, and I dearly hope that enforced shutdown doesn’t see us return to a city that has lost vital parts of its creative heart and emotional identity. It’s been heartening to see a lot of small businesses working hard making essential deliveries, and making meals for the vulnerable. Maybe people will think a bit better about where they spend and vote with their wallets in future for the local shops and services that give our home real value and diversity.

If there is one thing I’d like to take from this period, it’s that I don’t want my life to go back to “normal”, or to what it was, but to actually look at what I’d like my life to be going forward, not just in what I choose to do with my time, but in how I treat the people around me, and in my attitude to what I see and how my behaviour affects those around me. I’d like to put more of my time onto learning, and studying. Making my future better than the present, instead of being complacent. More time into making connections to make up for the burnt bridges of the past. I hope that the sense of fragility that covid has lent our lives isn’t completely erased as shops re-open, and bars, clubs and social spaces return. Many of us are so used to the people we have around us, I hope that this time away from loved ones and friends allows us to truly treasure how important those relationships are to us, and maybe we will be a little kinder, a little more patient with people when we need to be, and to maybe think of those friends who we haven’t heard from for a while, who have become left behind and find time for them. It might be that just a text or an email could make a massive difference to their day.

Check out Lee’s new musical release as Falltider on bandcamp

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