It’s been sunny. I have stuff to do. The restrictions are being relaxed. I feel a lot better now. Almost good in fact. But things did get quite grim for a while.

I was listening to a radio show back in January, and the DJ spoke about not having been particularly productive during this last lockdown. I felt the same, and have heard a similar sentiment from numerous people. I would even say that I slightly lost my mind. Again, other people have said the same.

The first lockdown, in many ways, was a good time for me. Not all the time. Some days I would wake up and feel a strong sense of uncertainty and despair. I would question the whole situation and wonder if this was it – would life maybe be like this forever? Silly really, but at the time it was all so new, and Covid hadn’t really hit me or anyone I knew yet. Friends in the medical profession told me the hospitals were empty, and I didn’t know anyone who had been really sick or who had died. All sorts of wild theories were floating around, some of them from fairly sensible people.

Of course, time passed and this passed. It was obviously a real thing and a serious matter. The only people entertaining the thought that it may be otherwise were outrageous cranks. But in those early few months, the whole thing was like a strange fog. I was ok though. On the days when I didn’t wake up and wonder if I now lived in a restricted world forever, I was either extremely productive or I just had loads of fun. I worked on music, wrote, painted, revisited old projects that I had long abandoned and had no time to pick back up. I re-read and edited a piece of writing – well basically a novel – that I wrote when I was 18 (parts of it were actually quite good and parts of it were terrible). I cut out reams of unnecessary description and long conversations that were completely superfluous. I wasn’t entirely sure what the point of this was, but it was an odd and interesting exercise to hear my own voice from then now. A friend embarked on something similar, reading his diaries from a few years ago. You would just never do this stuff if it wasn’t lockdown.

When I wasn’t busy with creative stuff, I went for long walks, took photos, our house all cooked meals for each other, and, of course, we partied. Not ill-advised ‘Covid Raves’, just I was in a house with four other people, we all liked tunes and the sesh, everyone was either furloughed from work or self-employed with little to do and still comfortably well off. It was like a long weird party. My friend joked every day ‘Oh! It’s Saturday again!”

Obviously, you can’t carry on like this forever. By the time things were relaxed in the summer, I was ready for normal life again. I hoped that, gradually, things would resume and that I could resume work on the projects I’d left behind in that other life, before Covid.

At the very start of all this I realised that my living situation at the time would not be great in a lockdown and I decided I was going to live in the warehouse I and some friends were converting into an art and music studio. It would be cold at night, but I could be productive. I had jumpers and coats and a minus 18 sleeping bag. I’d be alright. I asked my friend Ben if I could ping his household some money to use their washing machine and shower a couple of times a week. They lived a short walk away. He told me not to be so silly. We had all signed for another house together for July anyway. If I didn’t mind sleeping on a sofa, I could live in their front room. It was done. There began the odd and interesting time when I realised I was, in general, happier than I’d been in ages and also I lived on my friends’ sofa. I found this amusing. I was able to go to my studio most days too (it was legitimately a place of work).

I had also had an offer from another friend to go and stay at his while we were locked down. I explained that I’d already had the sofa offer, I’d be with good people, and besides I said to him ‘You don’t have a production studio in your house.’ I wanted to be close to the studio space.

It later struck me that I’d possibly made an odd choice; turning down an extended stay with somebody who would be very hospitable and great company, in a comfortable and beautiful house with a big garden, to stay with people who would also be wonderful, but I’d be sleeping on a sofa in Burley. It was the right choice though. Ultimately, I needed to be in Leeds and near my studio, and it was good to live with the close friends I’d signed for a house with a few months early.

If it wasn’t for all this, it’s also possible that a lot of things that I am working on now wouldn’t have happened. On one of the days of questioning and mild despair something brilliant happened. (I’d say at the time I’d have two excellent days and on the third, I’d wake up and be like ‘Fuuuuck! What is this?’) My friend Nigel had recently done a new mix for Deeprhythms and an accompanying interview. When he is interviewed, it is always a joy to read. He talks well about a lot of excellent stuff. Reading that and listening to the mix would set my head straight. I started reading the interview and then got to the bit where he was asked ‘Can you name a few DJ’s/artists/collectives that you think should be on people’s radar? And why?’ and there it was – my name and a fairly long spiel about various projects I’m involved in. I was touched. What a lovely thing. I messaged him with my heartfelt thanks and then we got into a conversation. Then he called me: ‘I thought I may as well phone, instead of chatting on messenger’, and we got to discussing the studio space and my plans. Nigel suggested that what I had, essentially was the idea for a Community Interest Company and that we should register as one and not as a usual limited company. This would lead to various opportunities and the possibility of seeing through some projects I liked the idea of, but wasn’t sure if we’d be able to put into practice. I have often wondered if that conversation would have happened if circumstances were different.

Similarly, a while back, I set up SHSO (Something Happened Somewhere Once) with my friends Joe Haze and Lee Mascall. This is a mixed media blog site where we share content from a variety of artists and writers most weekdays. It’s been a cool project and I don’t think it would have got off the ground if it wasn’t for Covid.

All of these things happened in the first lockdown.

Then there was the limbo time, when places were open, but it was all weird. Gigs where nobody could dance and you had to play your records so quietly they were barely audible. I sort of preferred the lockdown.

Then, a series of unfortunate events, not all Covid-related, led to a very dark time. I would say that began in October and only really ended quite recently. I spent months in my room doing a really hard job and had no time to do any of the things I loved. I didn’t go into our studio space and we did no work on improving it. It was cold and dark and I was pretty skint. I was working all the time. I had previously sorted my life in a way where I could choose my work and enjoyed it. This was no more. I started to hate my room – a place where before all this I could spend three days alone working on all kinds of wonderful things and be perfectly happy. I stopped even having ideas, and any spare time I did have, I didn’t even want to work on any wonderful things. I didn’t know what I did want to do. I would, from time to time, realise that I had been staring into space for an indefinite amount of time, thinking about nothing. There is a good way of doing that. Which I believe is a kind of meditation. This was not that.

Tales from the Covoid by Roya Brehl

The worst thing for me is that I have not generally been an anxious person, and I do not have much of an inner monologue. Things just kind of occur to me and there they are, and I don’t overthink. So although I was anxious and depressed, there wasn’t really any thought process with it, just this weird, general feeling of everything being harrowing. At the time I couldn’t really talk to most people about it either. It’s easy now because it’s gone, but when I was in the middle of it, I wouldn’t have wanted people to know I felt like that. Which I know is silly.

The feeling of everything being the same all the time and never going anywhere got a bit much too. There was one funny moment when my housemate I both caught each other going for a pointless wander around the kitchen. Neither of us actually had anything to do in there, we’d just gone for a change of scenery.

There were a few bright moments. I started doing radio shows on Narr Radio and was invited to play to an empty Sheaf Street and a big virtual crowd on Mixcloud Live for Shelter Me: Beats For Beds. At one point it was the number one Mixcloud stream and over £7000 was raised in total. That was just before Christmas and the first good day (or weekend rather) I’d had in a long time. It was also the first weekend in a long time that had felt like one long day. The night before the mix we had a house Christmas Dinner, followed by various festivities and playing records and I didn’t go to bed.

Mainly though, I didn’t mix, I didn’t paint or draw, and I didn’t write. I just worked and felt grim. Then my workload lessened and I realised I could do things again. But I couldn’t. I, who could never sit a moment without doing SOMETHING, who would draw or mess about making a photomontage because I was waiting for my turn on the decks, who would actually be annoyed by being constantly bombarded by inspiration out of nowhere – I had no ideas and didn’t feel like doing anything. But I hate not doing anything. So I didn’t even feel like not doing anything either. It sounds ridiculous and it was. It was a strange, low place, and I don’t think I was alone in experiencing this. There was one week where my housemates and I all thought we probably had Covid and then we realised that actually we were all just feeling a bit bored and sad.

Things got better. For one thing, I had a serious word with myself and forced myself to start doing things again. That has a knock on effect where you actually start to naturally want to. Also, we started going back into The Imaginarium, our studio space, and with the announcement that things would slowly be resuming, we had work to do. Just going somewhere else, and doing something that isn’t sitting in a chair for a few hours a day, works wonders.

Other plans and projects that had been left aside were picked back up. I started taking an interest in my life again and I realised I was almost better. But for a few months, life was a strange purgatory.

I am hoping that things happen as planned and we have a good summer. This is one of the reasons I get particularly angered by anti-vaxxers and all the scamdemic people. ‘They’ are not doing this to control and imprison us – they’re doing it to avoid us being imprisoned for longer. Something that certainly would be detrimental to most peoples’ mental health.

I had my first Covid vaccine back in February. I was born with a minor heart problem so I flagged up as vulnerable. I dislike medical procedures and will generally avoid anything like that, but I realised that this isn’t just about me.

I think, when I look back on all this, I will remember certain online debates very clearly. A low point was when one friend said it was very unusual for anyone of a similar age to me to have died of covid, and was I sure that’s what had killed the person I knew.

No mate, they fell off a ladder. Fucks sake.

I think also, that when all this is over, this time will seem suddenly very distant, like a weird dream, in the way that the time before the pandemic feels right now. I look forward to that.

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