Nobody has ever called me timid.
Impetuous, headstrong, maybe, a bit of a risk-taker. Many describe me as someone with a lot of energy, always busy with lots of projects, yet on the look out for new adventures.
So it came as no surprise last year when, as a 60th birthday present, my kids gave me a tandem skydive. Apparently I had commented on a brave 80-year old who had done it for charity, and said I didn’t want to wait that long to jump out of a plane. I had asked for it!
Exactly one year ago today, on 1st September 2019, courtesy of the Army Parachute School in Netheravon, I jumped out of a plane.
I had done some homework to prepare. I visited the site in advance, spoke to the instructors, and read the small print on the waiver. IMHO, doing a tandem skydive is the riskiest thing I have ever done but after brief soul-searching I reckoned the chance of a serious accident was lower than the possibility that I would mess up the landing and break an ankle. This would have been embarrassing but not life-changing,( and thankfully it didn’t happen). I survived, ankles intact, and loved every minute. It was an absolute thrill and without doubt the biggest adrenalin rush of my birthday year.
The skydive was one, maybe extreme, expression of my freedom, to mark a big birthday. But since I stopped working full time and have taken time off to fulfil other passions, there have been many other occasions when I have felt a similar thrill. Moments when I have paused for breath and actually appreciated having the time and the spontaneity to try new things, to visit new places. This time last year, I knew I was having the time of my life, and I didn’t expect it to stop.
And, of course, it has. Life, as I knew it, with fun and freedom, has ground to a halt and I, like the rest of the COVID-infected world, have been grounded with it.
In the peak of the crisis I was busy at home with my grown-up family and there was no time to think about what I was missing. I was simply happy and grateful that we were all well and we were all together. But as Lockdown has lifted and some of the freedom I so cherish is returning, I would have expected to be one of the first out of the traps.
But this is not the case. In fact, I have consciously limited my exposure to the outside world. I haven’t been on any public transport, not a train, not a bus, not the Tube, and certainly not a plane. A few of my friends have started travelling abroad again, but I am not even tempted. “This time last year I was preparing to jump out of a plane. Now I’m too scared to get on one.”
There are a few reasons for this, the most obvious being health. Having been in good health for so long, I am loath to put myself at risk from contact with the infection. I think that airports and planes, however well ventilated, will be full of avoidable danger. I am also sufficiently community-minded to want to avoid putting others at risk, particularly as none of my adventures really benefits other people. Travelling the world purely for my own entertainment seems pretty selfish right now, particularly if I, unwittingly, infect someone along the way.
There is also a financial dimension in that, since lockdown began, my paid work has fallen off a cliff. I am partially to blame for that as I told my existing clients I would work pro bono for any of them with staff on furlough. It just didn’t seem right to charge for work that I could afford, for a while, to deliver for free. I was also driven by self-preservation: the work I do just isn’t seen as a priority over delivering to customers and keeping existing employees in jobs. I understand that but I would rather keep on supplying it than risk my clients getting used to doing without. I am confident that my income will pick up eventually, but it means that, for 2020 at least, I am not going to spend any money on non-essential travel.
Speaking of which, I haven’t touched on the logistical minefield of ever-changing FCO regulations. Suffice to say the idea of booking and then cancelling trips (I did that twice already just before lockdown) is too much like hard work, and I don’t want to countenance the potential stress of being on holiday with other people and then facing travel disruption, curtailed visits, frantic races to reach a border in time or unnecessary quarantine on my return.
All this is terribly logical, but it’s not really the whole picture. There are other factors at play that are keeping me at home, and somehow preventing me from taking risks. I have been feeling – and fearing – a worrying emotional shift as a result of lockdown. What I am struggling with is the insularity of staying home. I am immobile and frustrated and I have a feeling of listlessness that I have never experienced before. Yet, and this is the most worrying thing of all, I also seem to have lost my appetite to make an effort to do things.
After years of hyper-activity, juggling deadlines and responsibilities, I have more time to do less and yet I take more time doing it. I have a deep-rooted fear of physical or mental laziness and so I have found or created projects for myself. But none of them really hold my attention as before and I cannot seem to summon the levels of energy that I am used to.
Without even catching the virus, I feel that COVID-19 has sapped my energy.
I believe that the reasons for my staying at home, for not leaving the country, for not going on a new adventure, are much more about my emotional state than the rational considerations, I detect a shift in my personal inclination and waning motivation. The last time I considered a quick trip abroad, I found myself asking the questions, “Is this really the right thing to do now?” “Would I really enjoy it as much as I did before?”. Frankly, I couldn’t come up with positive answers, and for the first time in my life I came to the conclusion that “it’s not worth it”.
For the past few weeks, I have felt quite low about this. I am proactive, an opportunist. I am not normally the sort of person who decides things aren’t worth it. And yet, after some reflection, this realisation has recently led to a positive breakthrough. More than health or money or inconvenience, I have identified the most important risk factor for me: that travelling abroad in these circumstances might ruin something that I love. Exploring new countries has been an expression of my freedom, a source of energy for me and I don’t want it to become a source of stress. So rather than beating myself up about my ennui or lack of ambition or trying to persuade myself to get on a plane, I have come to terms with waiting until I feel the time is right.
Having worked through those emotions, I feel much happier.
With renewed energy, I called the skydiving centre at Netheravon this morning, to check if they are open for business (they are!) and the new operating guidelines they have in place. That overseas trip might be out the window this year for me this year, but there are slots available for tandem jumpers every weekend through October and November.
Now that’s seriously tempting.