• Tiger Lily Raphael

Sanctuary In The Self #2: Falling In Love During Lockdown

Updated: Dec 10, 2020

A piece for the Balance Garden blog adapted for these strange times, with a spin on the regular 'Sanctuary in the City' column, about coming home and falling in love in the time of Covid-19.

Before the Covid crisis took over our collective life, I was having a kind of a crisis of my own, purely existential of course. Maybe this was just a case of being 29-nearly-30, either way, it seemed like a storm that had been a lifetime brewing and was bursting into more than the odd rainy day.

For about 9 months I’d felt almost constantly overwhelmed, on edge and unsure of the point of me. Except for the 7 days that I spent in the Himalayas, where my mind felt as clear as the mountain air, it was well-clouded by a cocktail of (well-founded) eco-despair, the scratchy stuck record of my relationship history and frequent companionship of a loud lack of belonging. An incessant inner commentary was covering a losing game, in which all the things I should’ve done by now were savagely winning against all those I had.

There is something in turning 30… a higher measure on the pressure metre perhaps. Everyone always says it’s much better once you’re there, it’s the bit just before. Maybe it becomes harder to distract from the mess; those tricks are worn out, it’s time to tidy up.

I got dumped a few weeks before Christmas for the 3rd year in a row, after 15 years of largely implosive relationships. I’d looked at love as something you earn and have to prove you deserve. And try as I might to prove it to others, usually by being useful or entertaining, I didn’t honestly believe that I did.

I was well informed of the cliché tarot conclusion that you have to love yourself before you can love another - I got it and I’d do a good job of convincing myself that I did so I could go on loving someone else. Don’t get me wrong, I liked things about myself; I was pretty and had a good bod. I was loveable, so people told me.

Meanwhile, I handed in my notice for my desk job at the end of February, just before the entire global economy collapsed. My plan was to return to freelancing, work the festivals as usual, before deciding my next ‘career’ step. But really, I’d stopped caring. I couldn’t see a future.

I planned to take some time out before summer and work on an organic farm in the South of France (classic) after volunteering at the Refugee Community Kitchen on the way - get some perspective, speak another language, use my hands. I didn’t really want to come back for my birthday in June or the festivals if I was honest. But the borders closed before I could leave.

Everything stopped, the world went into lockdown. This was what I’d wanted to do but doubted my ability not to say yes to working and going out… I liked seeing people and having fun, maybe too much, maybe that was one of those tricks that were starting to feel worn. Hence the escape plan.

Now nobody was asking me what I was going to do next (always their first question when I told them I was leaving my job), because nobody knew what was going to happen next. I’d already resolved myself with the pride-crushing, identity-dissolving, anxiety-inducing, total uncertainty of the unknown, and felt much better when I had. I just knew I wanted to do something else, and be allowed not to know what that was yet. Now I could.

The thing about this lockdown though, is that you needed a home to stay at. I’m lucky enough to have always had somewhere to live, but I’ve not known where home is for a long time. I lived in maybe 20 different houses over the last 10 years. No place felt like home, so I kept moving.

Before lockdown I’d been living in a beautiful big shared house which I then had to leave. After a quick stint in a tent in my Dad’s attic, I landed in my fairy Godmother’s garden. She built a studio on the spot where the bouncy castle sat at my 2nd birthday party, which I refused to get off for a second that day. I’m just as at home in that spot now. Being back in Brixton where I grew up and my heart first broke, aged 9, when I was told we were moving, has been a great healer.

But starting lockdown as a single, nearly-30-year-old woman sent me into a total panic. For the first couple of weeks, I literally couldn’t bear the idea that I was going it solo. This was the ultimate biological failure and I had only myself to blame. So, this time, I accepted responsibility, and forgave myself; there was no other choice.

Then, at home, alone, I started to fall in love.

Everyday I woke up and went to sleep with more appreciation, respect, compassion and affection for myself, glad to be alone. I created a routine that gave my mind, body and spirit enough time and space in equal measures. I started to find myself truly attractive - in my frumpiest clothes, wearing my glasses, no make-up and whatever hair.

I took myself on a date every day to Brockwell Park or Clapham Common, where I looked at the flowers, found hidden woods, foraged for nettles and marvelled at trees, birds, and my body’s ability to run for ages, quite fast! No longer needing to prove myself to others, I had a chance to prove myself to me, and it turned out I didn’t really need to try… the opposite.

My fairy Godmother helped me break the Disney spell (I lost my virginity dressed up as Princess Jasmine so it ran pretty deep). We’ve shared stories, debated, gardened, cooked and baked, cried a lot but more often howled with laughter. She’s reminded me of all the things to like about myself, and I her.

I’d been searching for home in someone and somewhere else. I thought that’s what finding love would feel like, so I never found it. But then there was only here, only now, no one or where else to look for. So, finally, I could come home.

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