Comfort Choices: Surviving lockdown by Jessica Murdoch

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I’ve been thinking a lot about the way nostalgia has been getting me through lockdown. I wanted to reflect on the ways many childhood faves have been helping me cope – and I thought it may be interesting to see if others are noticing similar behaviours in themselves.

Now, I may older than many of you reading – I’m an actual millennial, as opposed to the constantly lazy short-hand way that it’s misused as a synonym for ‘young person I have a preconceived prejudice against’. So, my nostalgic throwbacks are probably going to seem ancient to some. Feel free to sub in whatever books/movies/music you were enjoying through your teens or childhood, and consider whether you’ve been using them in the same way.

Comfort Reading

I’ve been doing a lot of childhood rereads. Throwing myself back into the melodrama of Sweet Valley High and the mysteries of Nancy Drew. I’ve even been thinking about pulling out my old Babysitters Club collection. But the Anne of Green Gables series is one in particular that has been such a wholesome throwback kind of comfort.

There’s always a risk that when you go back to a childhood fave, you’ll discover just how problematic they were in ways your naïve kid-self failed to notice. Now, the Anne series is not perfect, but I have to say overall that they do surprisingly well for writing published in the early 1900s. There isn’t glaring overt racism, aside from the overwhelming whiteness (yikes the bar is low). There’s plenty of heteronormative expectations being celebrated and some icky ideas about beauty norms but overall, Anne as a character is so interesting and complex and sweet, and there is plenty we can still find relatable in her stories today. The vocabulary in this book is not oversimplified for children – and for a kid who loved learning (and mispronouncing, because she’d only ever seen them in print) new ‘big’ words, as Anne herself did, relishing this was a joy in itself. 

As an adult, I found myself feeling much more emotional about her horrible start in life, but it also makes her growth, and the growth and growing love of those around her, that much more effecting. The thing about this series, is that it really does feel like it was written to be read as a serial – each chapter often feels very complete – which is perfect for a child to read with a parent. And I’ve been spacing them out to read just a chapter a day – reminiscent of the way I had to read when I wasn’t in charge of my own bedtime.

Comfort Listening

I have a pre-adulting play list already set up on Spotify – I usually listen to it when I have to do the shittier kind of adulting like cleaning the bathroom or vacuuming – but I have never listened so regularly to so many of my high school faves. Spotify has started suggesting 90s focused playlists and it’s been fun rediscovering some oldies that I haven’t heard in a while. Vanessa Amorosi’s Have a Look came on at one point and I was instantly transported back to my high school bedroom, where I sang all those desperate break-up tunes so passionately, having never even been kissed.

It’s not surprising that we are so often attached to our high school hits. The music that we love in our puberty years – when all of our emotions are often experienced in extremes – will always have a powerful place for so many of us. 

Writing for Slate.com, Mark Joseph Stern says, “between the ages of 12 and 22, our brains undergo rapid neurological development—and the music we love during that decade seems to get wired into our lobes for good. When we make neural connections to a song, we also create a strong memory trace that becomes laden with heightened emotion, thanks partly to a surfeit of pubertal growth hormones. These hormones tell our brains that everything is incredibly important—especially the songs that form the soundtrack to our teenage dreams (and embarrassments).”

Comfort Cooking

Don’t worry, this subheading is not about making bread (although more power to you if you have found that comforting). In fact, a little content warning for this paragraph: like so many of us living in a society where diet culture is constantly being thrown at us, I haven’t always had the healthiest relationship with food. And at times when my mental health has been at its lowest, the effort of making food is often the first to go. Luckily, I’m in a place of my recovery where I’ve learned to notice early warning signs. 

For me to make healthy (and by that, I mean, not disordered) food choices, it’s important to remove as many barriers to cooking as possible. That might mean buying precut vegies for example, or ready-made sauces. While I’ve been working to be more mindful of environmental impact and reduce my meat/animal product consumption for the last five or so years, for my own mental health, I can never place completely rigid rules around my food consumption. With the added stressors popping up currently, I’ve had to loosen those restriction even more and simply give myself permission to accept that I’m doing the best I can. 

The easy, familiar meals of my childhood are the best way I can take care of myself right now. The constant jokes and memes about people’s fear of weight gain is damaging enough, putting restrictions on the way I keep my body alive in a global pandemic is something I can’t afford to do.

So those are a few of the ways that nostalgia is translating into comfort for me at the moment. Did you notice any similarities for yourself?