On the day I wrote this, for the umpteenth time in a row, I got out of bed at 8.30am, went downstairs to make a coffee, and returned to my room, opening the laptop at my desk. Binka, our cat, jumps onto my lap as I take my first sip, narrowly avoiding a scolding spillage for both he and I.
After a few hours of dissertation or seminar reading – tasks which have become as repetitive as the Microsoft Authenticator app is infuriating – our dog, Dyl, has meandered to my room and sits by my feet expectantly, waiting for the signal that we’re about to go for a walk: the shutting of the laptop lid.
Inevitably, when plastic meets plastic with an audible click, he leaps to attention and does a couple of spins. Downstairs, jacket on, keys in pocket, lead on collar.
Out we go, usually to the beach. There are other dogs there, and for half an hour I’m pulled hither and thither by Dyl in his attempts to befriend as many of them as possible.
Off the beach, back home, back on the laptop. Hours pass; it’s dark now. Dinner. Write this editorial, put together this edition’s pages. Bed, eventually.
Hours pass; it’s dark now.
With some minor variation, that is pretty much how my life has been since last term ended and I returned to the run-down, post-industrial North Yorkshire town which I call home.
On a good day, calls with family and friends, or job applications and interviews, will add a bit of much-needed variety, but I’ll happily admit that I haven’t been inundated with either!
I guess what I’m trying to say in as eloquent and self-deprecating a way that I can is this: the past nine weeks have blurred into one cold, two month-long mush of memorial monotony.
Most of us are in a similar position, stuck at home with pixels on a screen as our only form of non-familial social contact. With housemates and daily walks with friends, those in Durham have it better – though not by much in a city where everything but supermarkets and takeaways are shut. Sweaty nights in Jimmy’s belong to a bygone age, as does any semblance of a normal social life.
Frankly, it’s no wonder that mental health suffers.
Like many blokes, I don’t like talking about my emotions. Conversations with mates about the way we feel have, at best, only ever skimmed the surface, acknowledging the importance of managing thoughts without ever really knowing how to do it.
I’ve always struggled to express my emotions coherently and concisely, and it feels embarrassing not to be able to do so. That’s why it’s so much easier to bottle things up, to push cowardly on while a cacophony of ignored emotion simmers away inside, waiting for the day when it inevitably boils over.
Spending most of my days with Binka and Dyl has helped a lot, not just because they give me fur to stroke and a reason to get outside. The importance of physical, non-digital company cannot be denied, and neither can being around humans you love, like my mum.
Conversations with mates about the way we feel have, at best, only ever skimmed the surface, acknowledging the importance of managing thoughts without ever really knowing how to do it.
Another important thing has been Palatinate. Always having something to do and people to speak with keeps my brain active and the endorphins flowing, whether that’s also true for those on the other end of conversations with me is another matter!
But what has really kept me going is the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel: the faint yet ever-growing hope of a somewhat normal final term.
It’s difficult to put into words how genuinely awful it would be for Easter term to end, just like it did last year, without making the most of this wonderful city and the many people I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know here one last time.
Reminiscing with mates recently – about nights out at Lloyd’s, pints and pool up at college, slogging it out in the Billy B, playing football in glorious summer weather and being called “handsome” by barbers keen for our business – has only fortified those hopes.
Durham has given me the most incredible two-and-a-half years so far. The people I’ve met, the experiences I’ve had, the doors which have opened – nothing I’ve ever done before comes close.
But that tuft of relative paradise which lies distant on the horizon has not been reached yet, and might never be at all.
Between now and then is going to be a tough old slog, especially for those of us who struggle with our mental health.
Reach out to your friends, we’re all in the same boat.
Image: Amana Moore