Going the Social Distance. An essay/blog from Byddi Lee

I woke up at 7 am on the 15th March 2020, sneezed twice, and convinced myself that I had COVID-19 again. Not that I’ve ever had COVID-19 (at least not that I know of), but every ache/pain/cough/splutter over the last couple of weeks has ratcheted my heart rate something shocking. It will be a miracle if I get through this without giving myself a heart attack.

Two nights ago, I took my temperature after a hot flush! I’m 51 – hot flushes are the norm these days…but worrying about carrying a virus to my mother that will potentially kill her is not the norm. I don’t consider myself to be a high risk. I work from home, and I’m already a bit ‘Sheldon’ on germ transfer, so I’d be surprised to catch the virus – but then again, aren’t we all thinking this? Isn’t this a classic “it will never happen to me” situation?

Anyway, there I was half awake at 7 am on a Sunday when the world was cancelled – even Mass. (I mean, if that’s not a signpost to the end of the world, what is?) So I rolled over and went back to sleep, only to lapse into a dream about My Husband panic-buying food that he doesn’t like. (He’s an infuriatingly picky eater.) He was preparing to cook turkeys (food neither of us enjoys) in commercial deep fat fryers that, in real life, we don’t own. In this dream, a beautiful white husky arrived at the back door with a tiny puppy in her mouth. As I was trying to find some turkey to feed to the dog, family members arrived at our door with red eyes and streaming noses. And we let them into our house… While the husky ran away! Was this some sort of fever-induced nightmare?

Actually no. It’s a fairly normal dream for me. I recently got a Garmin fitness tracker, which tells you how much sleep you get and what kind of sleep. Out of 8 hours of sleep, the average person gets one-and-a-half hours of deep sleep and one-and-a-half hours of REM sleep. Me? Well, typically, I get half an hour of deep sleep and about three hours of REM! One night I got five hours of REM. I don’t just dream feature-length movies; I dream entire box sets, get up to go to the loo, and resume where I left off when I get back to sleep.

I read that high amounts of REM sleep was a sign of anxiety, but I wouldn’t say I’m anymore anxious than the next person. Sometimes I’m even considered quite chilled about things other people freak out about. I think it’s just me. I dream a lot, in the same way I talk a lot… It’s just one of those things.

So I awoke at 9.30 am and clambered from the dream about my family being sick, into a morning of blue skies and sunlight. I realized my sneezing fit was over and that possibly I was not coming down with the dreaded virus.
Nonetheless, I think for the next while, I’ll employ social distancing and hit ‘pause’ where possible to give space and isolation to those who can’t stay at home because their work commitments call upon them to be out and about.

Bless you and thank you:

To the medical professionals – oh my goodness, where would we be without you at any time nevermind now in this crisis?
To the people restocking shelves in supermarkets and keeping shops and pharmacies open
To the truck drivers delivering those supplies
To the postal delivery people bringing parcels to our doors
To the cleaning staff in public buildings – you are the first line in the defense against disease at any time, but especially now. Be proud of your work.
To the caterers who are sending food out to the vulnerable
To anyone who helps the rest of us social distance in any shape or form.

We can’t all be ICU nurses – but if you’re writing funny or uplifting poetry (my friends, you know who you are) or stories to distract us and bring us to a different reality, it helps. If you are tutoring kids via video link; picking up the telephone to check in with the immune-compromised or the elderly; singing from your balcony – I haven’t yet reached the stage where I’m going to belt out “The Boys From The County Armagh” from the front doorstep – but it might happen. If you’re thinking, how can you help and staying at home while you figure it out, you’re part of the team. Let’s go the distance – the social distance!

For my part, I decided to get back to blogging in an attempt to say, “You are not alone, and together (at a safe distance), we can get through this.”


Byddi Lee is an Irish writer living back in her hometown, Armagh, after having lived abroad for many years. Before she wrote “Rejuvenation”, a speculative fiction trilogy, published by Castrum Press, she had success publishing flash fiction, short stories and her novel, “March to November”. Byddi co-founded and manages Flash Fiction Armagh, shortlisted as Best Regular Spoken Word Night in the Saboteur Awards. She co-edits “The Bramley – An Anthology of Flash Fiction Armagh”. Along with two other members of the Armagh Theatre Group, Byddi wrote “IMPACT – Armagh’s Train Disaster” which was staged for the anniversary of the tragedy in June 2019 in the Abbey Lane Theatre in Armagh. In October 2019, Byddi received an Arts Council Northern Ireland grant for her writing.

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