Ruby’s been holed up in her apartment alone during Sydney’s current lockdown and it’s made her question, ‘What’s it like outside again?’.
The park across the road is always full of screeching cockatoos. Sometimes they fill the sky, flying in formation, moving like ripples on a lake while I make my way under the Norfolk Island pines. The black cormorants gather in the coastal waters parallel, diving and disappearing. Sometimes it feels like we’re walking together.
I live alone, and in normal circumstances I enjoy the peace and quiet. I enjoy coming home to empty rooms, to my own couch, to books on the shelves and last night’s dishes in the sink. I enjoy the fact that I have an overflowing shelf full of outdoor gear and that it takes up a whole corner in the apartment.
First shelf: thermals, waterproof clothes, gloves, and beanies.
Second shelf: dehydrated food, camping stove, gas canisters, maps.
Third shelf: boxing gloves, soccer boots, motorbike jacket.
Fourth shelf: tents, sleeping bags, mats, hammock.
Floor: backpacks and boots.
But in lockdown, working from home, running a business with a remote team, I have lost sight of the joy of this privilege and of the world that exists outside my dark, 1970s unit.
I received a text from my friend Chloe one afternoon in July, when I was flopped on my bed deep in the Scroll Hole.
‘How beautiful is the day! Look at that sun!’
When was the last time I went outside?
Three days. I hadn’t seen the sun in a while.
It’s funny how easily we forget the things that make us feel joy.
In a pre-lockdown world, I was camping or bushwalking every weekend. I was jumping in the ocean for winter swims and laying in the park with the Saturday paper and a bag full of hot chips (plain salt) with friends. The sunshine, the trees, it’s like they seep into my damn core and fill my body with these weird joy vibrations. How had I not stepped a foot outside my front door, a foot onto my balcony, in three days?
We know that sunshine is said to increase the brain’s release of serotonin. Sunlight literally cues special areas in our retina to release the hormone. It’s also a great source of vitamin D, which promotes reduced inflammation and modulates cell growth. Exposure to nature also reduces blood pressure and heart rate and muscle tension. Look at all these things that we know! Look how easy it is to forget them!
I didn’t reply to Chloe. I rolled out of bed and stumbled to the bathroom. I needed a shower. I needed to brush my teeth. I glanced in the mirror as I walked past. My skin looked pale, my face dry from pumping the heater all day, the folds around my hips getting deeper.
In four weeks, I had barely been outside at all, let alone in the past three days.
In the shower I sat down on the tiles, leant against the wall while the hot water beat down on my stomach, and wrote a mental list of all of the things I know that make me feel happy: a brisk walk in winter by the ocean, listening to music when I’m lying under a tree (triumphant classical music with big build ups mostly, thank me later), watching the cormorants and the cockatoos, swimming in a freezing body of water.
All of those things I could do right then and there. They didn’t cost money. They didn’t require planning. They weren’t even restricted by lockdown laws. They just required me to pull on a pair of shoes, throw on a jumper and walk out the damn door.
I hauled myself off the shower floor, dried my body and pulled on a baggy tee and a pair of shorts. I tied my hair back, grabbed my phone but thought better of it, and I opened the door and went outside.
I took big gulps of air in the park. I visited the cormorants. I watched the birds. I walked to the light post that I’d mentally marked as 2.5km and walked back. I jumped into the ocean in my sports bra and daggy underwear. It was cold, but boy did I feel alive!
Back in my apartment, my head felt clearer. My body felt stronger. I pulled out a tube of black paint, a paintbrush, and a big piece of paper. I wrote in big, black letters:
GO OUTSIDE TODAY, YOU WILL LOVE YOURSELF FOR IT
and stuck it on the back of my front door.
Getting out of the slump is hard, and we mustn’t beat ourselves up about it when we find it difficult. I know I’ll be back there, Sydney lockdown doesn’t look like it’ll be easing all that soon. But these reminders to spend time in the sun, from friends, or tacky posters on the back of the front door, have helped to remind me that joy is possible. Sometimes I just need to walk outside.