Flight or fight is a concept that explains two extreme reactions to any form of danger that mammals experience. They can choose to run away, or they can choose to stay put and fight through.
But there’s a third “f” that feels a lot more relevant at the moment: freeze.
Freezing is the animals way to pause and prepare for their next move. To immobilize themselves before making a decision. Freeze isn’t a long term solution, it’s just meant to buy more time to make an informed choice. A moment to gather and prepare.
So why does so much of life feel frozen still?
In March borders locked down, flights were cancelled, and schooling went remote. And whilst this wasn’t ideal, I feel like it’s something most people accepted. We need to freeze, to buy us more time to prepare. Only travel if essential. Don’t go outside your household bubble. Postpone non-urgent treatments.
Four months on and there’s no sign of unfreezing in so many areas.
I, admittedly, have a stake in the matter. When March 2020 happened I was living over 3000 miles away from my family and support network, about to undertake a visa application that was notoriously long winded at the best of times ahead of my current visa expiring later in the year. If I did not apply for this visa by September I would have to leave my country. If I did not get this paperwork by July, I would have to leave my life. If the department that issues my paperwork doesn’t open until next year, what will I do?
To be told that processes are on hold and departments are shut down for the foreseeable is endlessly frustrating when you’re acutely aware of a ticking clock that will not make an exception for you.
The expat world has been a weird one throughout this. Snobbery from settled expats has permeated even the most friendly of Facebook communities. “Shelter in place” and “only essential travel” become a little more difficult when your life is split over international borders. Those who are mid visa application receive little sympathy and even fewer answers. Those who got stuck in their home country are attacked for trying to return to their adopted home.
And for travellers who are more free spirited with no fixed location, hostility from locals is frequent. It seems silly to have to say; but when you leave the country you grew up in, you often don’t have a place to shelter there for an indefinite amount of time anymore. To commit to a lifestyle of travel requires an openness from the communities you temporarily join.
But the freeze has been more universal than just immigration and travel. Relationships, career progression, spending time with loved ones.
I wonder if we’ll ever make up lost time.
To live in 2020 is to live in an alternate world where the experiences we expected are just slightly out of grasp, and you’re made to feel entitled for wondering if you’ll ever get the chance to see things through.
Being locked down in our small apartments has been a great force of focus as to what is important on an individual level. Do I want to start a family? Do I want to travel more? Do I want a garden, an office, a dog?
But it is endlessly frustrating to not be able to act on those decisions in any meaningful way.
To realize through lockdown that you want to live a smaller more sustainable life is difficult when the charity shops aren’t open for your decluttering.
To realize you want a family is difficult when you’re single and living alone, unable to meet anybody in person.
To change a career in a depression, to move house ahead of a crash. To plan for a future that is built on a fault line is less than advisable.
To be told that life is on hold for the foreseeable is endlessly frustrating when you’re acutely aware of a ticking clock that will not make an exception for you.
So many of the decisions we individually made in March were made under the understanding this was a pause. We would find a way to adapt, improvise, and overcome later. But for now we were just buying more time.
But the time keeps going and the temporary decisions we made are becoming permanent. If this is the new normal, will we have a chance to try again?
As people in Europe flock off on holiday, and the Canadian border remains closed I feel a tear down my middle about two lives that I could be living. I don’t know when I’ll see my family next, I always took it for granted. And I don’t know when my visa will be approved. And I don’t know how I can plan for anything more than continued existence in this suspended state.
Everything remains on hold.