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Small Garden, Big Laugh: The unglamorous release from 2020

"I realised I wasn’t a product, so I shouldn’t be obsessed with being productive"

Remember when we all thought we’d be in lockdown for two weeks when COVID-19 just surfaced? In retrospect, the naivety of the situation is laughable but not in a way that it’s funny, but more like when it’s the last straw. You’ve cried, been depressed, eaten your weight in snacks, and done everything you can to disassociate, but there you are back at things seeming like they aren’t going to work out yet again, so you laugh, laugh open-heartedly. It may come across as maniacal because it very well may feel and even be maniacal.


I encountered this kind of laughter at some point in the lockdown. I believe we only start laughing at bad situations when we’ve just run out of other things to do about our misfortunes. It’s as if your body can no longer cope with disappointment or sadness, so it does only what it knows. It shocks your system into producing dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins to swap out all the cortisol in your bloodstream, and so you laugh. Laugh at the state of the world and everything around you, so the feeling of helplessness fades away just momentarily. A factory reset for your brain’s chemical makeup. 


During the lockdown, my panic and bad mental health were placated by taking up gardening. Having time to plant a seed, watch it sprout, and nurture it on a day-to-day basis kept me grounded. It made me feel like I was learning a valuable life skill and finding meaning in my interactions with my immediate surroundings. Lockdowns, however, are over in most places. Having gone through one of the longest and strictest lockdowns in the world, Melbourne is back to being out and about in full swing. Shows, parties, events, working at the office — it’s all back! I remember going to the pub on the first night the lockdown ended. I approached the evening with such energy. It felt like the whole city was holding its breath up until this very moment, and now we could all let out a collective sigh of relief. I felt good. Mask mandates were in place, and people were mostly good at following health protocols. For a moment, it felt like we’d gotten ahead of the pandemic or found a way to whatever a ‘new normal’ was.


Ultimately, that’s all it really was: a moment. A moment of feeling like this may all be fine; of course, it wasn’t. Omicron and all the other variants that followed continued ravaging cities worldwide, and we naturally couldn't go into another lockdown again. Most people were vaccinated; how long could they keep us home? Also, almost everyone I know, myself included, only got COVID post-lockdown. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think we should go back to being stuck at home. It isn’t sustainable for most people’s emotional, mental, fiscal, and social well-being, though I do know a lot of us wouldn’t mind a week off from the world from time to time.


The first time I realised I wasn’t ready for a post-lockdown world was in May 2022. I have always prided myself on being able to hustle, work, and get things done. A millennial creative with many jobs is now a tired stereotype. Being busy is a part of so many people’s identities. I took part in the grind and glorification of labour too. Always having worked multiple jobs while studying and doing internships to get ahead in the professional world. Then two years of lockdown stopped all that. I was working just my one job and doing my one little art project but for fun. Gardening became my new passion. Growing things from seed, building structures for my plants to grow on, reaping the fruit — all of it was amazing. I started to notice stillness in moments and appreciate it. My mentality towards work and productivity started to shift, and I think it's simply because I realised I wasn’t a product, so maybe I shouldn’t be obsessed with being productive.


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The lockdown ended on October 21st 2021. This was followed by drinks, throwing caution cautiously to the wind, seeing people and Christmas plans. My first sign of not being ready for the world should have been my post-Christmas panic attack. I hadn’t had one in years. This wasn’t even a result of too much work but just being around too many people. The familiar chest tightening, inability to breathe and nausea swept over me when eight people were in my home. I pulled one of my closest friends aside and asked them to get everyone, including themselves, OUT. Again, I shouldn’t have ignored this and kept doing big social things. It felt like I needed to be grateful that I could be around and meet people. Like if I complained about the world being open and it being too dangerous or too much, it might all be taken away from me, and I’d be stuck indoors – as we should just be happy that we are allowed out of our houses and suck it up and jump back into life like the last two years didn’t happen.


By the time I got to May, I had travelled overseas to see my family, somehow brought back into the grind of work and side hustles, and my garden had been neglected. Somehow, the end of the garden — the feeling of it becoming a chore and no longer pleasurable broke me a little bit. I wasn’t even working the hardest I’d ever worked, yet I was constantly exhausted, always feeling like I was about to fall sick. Before an event in May, I was crying to my partner as my voice was slowly fading away (I was losing my voice literally), hoping for a positive RAT test so I could just have a week off from everyone, rest, and avoid my responsibilities.


I know that’s a horrible thing to say, but my mental health was so bad and being alive within a capitalist system was so hard that the only excuse that felt valid to shirk some of my responsibilities was getting the plague that was ravaging our world. Taking time off didn’t feel justified because I should be happy that I have work, that I am allowed out of my home, and just take advantage of all the things we couldn’t do over the last two years. Why, then, do our ‘new normal’ feel awful? And why aren’t so many systems around us considering that we can’t live like it’s pre-2020?


My garden was withering away; I was so tired. Something that brought me so much fulfilment during one of the wildest times in history was somehow no longer given any value by me because it couldn’t make me money or give exposure or whatever it is I strive for. Though, in a time of crisis, it could feed the community and me. Still, not important because I can’t pay my rent with it, or network or whatever it is we do when we are out hustling and grinding.


Shortly after the lockdown ended, I noticed that conversations around mental health and COVID also started to fizzle out. People were always talking about COVID, and on my social media, infographics were flooded with mental health content - and now, barely anything. Did the last two years not happen? Mental health care is still just as important. We are all trying to navigate the world being open after trying to stay sane and alive when it was shut down. Those patterns and coping mechanisms that helped you during lockdown don’t just stop being important. My body still feels like I need to do certain things I did in lockdown to cope even now. Burnout and general mental health distress after the last two years don’t just go away because we can party or see our friends now. Just because the crash doesn’t come all at once doesn’t mean you aren’t slowly crumbling.


I made it through my panic attack in December 2021 without it spiralling much more beyond that day for a long time. I didn’t pay attention to the smaller signs my body and mind were giving me. If you’re someone that isn’t sure about how you’re feeling either, I hope you give yourself time and grace. We all need it. My creative work suffered, my garden suffered, and so I suffered. And now, I think it’s time I reframe the narrative I choose to take with me. This new narrative will be kinder, more creative, more empathetic, and less driven by my need to be valued by a system that doesn’t value me. Also, let’s not forget the home-grown produce.

Editor-at-large: Dilpreet Kaur Taggar

Co-Editor: Yohaan Prem Sharma

Graphic Designer: Jess Harwood


'Coping with COVID' is a multimedia series funded by the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing. Through this project, we aim to highlight the mental, physical, social and financial recovery of South Asians in Australia post-lockdowns. Follow the hashtag #CopingWithCovid below for more.

About the author

Kanika is a writer, reader and all-around curious person, who is a settler on Wurundjeri land, and hails from Mumbai. They love to edit stories as well as write them. She is the founder and editor of More than Melanin which is a collaborative literary zine and creative writing mentor to kids. In her free time, she loves to cook, eat, and feed those around her. Instagram: @morethnmelanin



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