“We meet no stranger but ourself.”

This quote from Emily Dickinson feels like it could sum up aspects of my experience of the lockdown life here in the UK over the past three months.

We were mostly avoiding others all day every day, and therefore I did not meet many strangers. I shopped less than usual, and only for food, going out when strictly necessary and thinking carefully when I did. I walked for exercise, scrupulously avoiding others. My conversations were therefore limited to the people that live in this house with me, the shop assistants and those I have had online.

But the quote also describes the experience of getting to know oneself, perhaps for the first time. Lockdown life was a lot of just being with oneself, getting to know who we are when we are grounded in our homes, no longer distracted by visits with friends or days out to places new or all the other ways we participate in human “doing” rather than human “being”. It threw us into our own company, all day every day, forcing us to see ourselves, our lives, our strengths and weaknesses. That is not always easy, but it can be rewarding.

In some ways it is easier for us to get to know others, to look and listen outwardly. To turn inwards and listen to oneself is a much more difficult task. And it is a life long task, because we are constantly evolving, just as the world around us is also constantly shifting and changing, so truly knowing ourselves is a never ending journey.

One thing I personally found really helpful through this time was journaling.  This was a practice that had fallen to the wayside for me in recent years but I intentionally took it up again at the very beginning of lockdown. I thought my “pandemic journal” would be interesting for me to look back on in years to come. I also thought it would help me release my feelings in a safe way – I don’t live alone and I anticipated there would be difficulties adjusting to being in the house together all day long.

And it was all those things and more. As the weeks went on, I began to see how connected to myself I was becoming through keeping a journal this year. Perhaps it is the circumstances under which I’ve kept this particular one – a friend of mine referred to this time as a crucible. I have certainly felt myself changing, facing so much uncertainty and unknown, I find I have become more resilient.

My journal is a record of that – it shows my daily struggles, the way I wrestle with particular issues and find my own answers, the way life settles back down again. It is the pages I rested in some days. It is the pages that lifted me up on others. It is a series of words and squiggles, drawings, colours, things I stuck in so I wouldn’t lose. It probably makes no sense to anyone but me. But in the end, it does make sense to me because it is me. The me that I have got to know during this pandemic and who I want to walk forward with now, better friends than we were before.

Why not try it for yourself? There’s never been a better time. You could start by asking yourself some questions:

  • How have I changed as a person during this time?
  • What has it meant to be me in lockdown?
  • What lessons have I learnt?
  • What sorts of things helped me get through the difficult stuff?
  • How do I want to live now?

Then just sit down and write whatever comes.

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