Nostalgia, Regret and the Coronavirus Lockdown

As I write, it’s day fifty-one of not seeing any other humans. And, just in case you’re reading from the future, I should stress that that’s not purely by choice. We’re in lockdown to avoid spreading a deadly disease.

During lockdown, I’ve experienced many feelings. I’ve been through the ups and downs, the spurts of energy, the inexplicable tiredness, the loneliness, the boredom, and the anxiety. Even more often than any of those, I’ve felt extreme numbness… which I suppose is also a feeling, of sorts.

Many people have explored these feelings, but I haven’t seen anybody talk about the powerful waves of nostalgia I’ve noticed myself experiencing, so I thought I’d share some thoughts about that.

At first, this nostalgia was a subconscious process. It popped up in odd moments. For example, I was picking out something to read, and I found myself settling on a well-thumbed copy of Sourcery, a comforting novel I’d not read since I was a teenager. I spent an evening on YouTube watching old 90s TV Themes. I looked through old diaries and photos, and I contacted friends I hadn’t spoken to for years.

Eventually it became obvious that I was constantly returning to the past, and it was immediately clear why. It doesn’t take a genius to recognise that the future was immensely uncertain—at the time of writing, it still is!—and that the present is monotonous, at best.

When there’s no future, and barely any present, all that’s left is the past.

I’ve often noticed that my brain shies away from uncertainty, so it makes sense that I haven’t dwelled too much on what might happen. I have basically zero ability to influence a global pandemic, so thinking about the future is only likely to stress me out.

Luckily, the present was diverting enough, at least at first. There were plenty of distractions: the queues at supermarkets, the race for toilet roll, the novel lockdown content, and settling down to enjoy a nice long series/book/game/movie franchise. But it wasn’t long before the abnormal became normal… particularly since ‘the abnormal’ was mostly made up of me staying at home, in the most mundane plague imaginable.

Boredom sends the brain wandering, and it’s only natural it would meander back into the past. Totally insignificant memories began to surface which I haven’t considered for years—jokes people made, meals I’ve shared, places I’ve been.

Like with all nostalgia, sometimes these memories made me feel sad, sometimes happy. It just felt as if my mind wanted to feel some stronger emotions for a while. (Although “yay lunchtime” is a pretty powerful daily emotion that hasn’t lost its power yet.)


I don’t have any deep words of wisdom about this outbreak of nostalgia. I just wanted to share it. And I’d be interested to hear if anyone else is experiencing the same thing. (Maybe not exactly the same thing… I doubt many have cried to the theme tune of Big Break during the last seven weeks.)

Whatever you’re going through, I hope you’re well and safe. See you in the future.

Once it actually starts.


Neil Hughes

Neil Hughes is the author of Walking on Custard & the Meaning of Life, a comical and useful guide to life with anxiety, and The Shop Before Life, a tale about a magical shop which sells human personality traits. Along with writing more books, he puts his time into standup comedy, speaking about mental health, computer programming, public speaking and everything from music to video games to languages. He struggles to answer the question “so, what do you do?” and is worried that the honest answer is probably “procrastinate.” He would like it if you said hello.

6 thoughts on “Nostalgia, Regret and the Coronavirus Lockdown

  1. I watched your ted video and followed the link here. I’m lost at the moment the funny thing is I should not be . I watch everything from meditation videos to stoics videos on youtube to make myself try to realize or jump start my brain into normality .I’m tired of been tired I have got myself in spot on bother in work my asking for help and coming clean about my issues. Nobody knows what to say to me and the vast majority are ok with me
    my workmates look at me and l wonder are they doing ok because the ones that know me well know I’m not. Before I was king of hill a messer a joker a doer of anything . Take anybody on now I’m just a mess . A ball of emotions that wont bounce. The root of my problems run deep and I’ve never really dealt with them . The lockdown and been tested gave me the time and space for my demons to catch up with up . I think I have felt every different emotion over the pass eleven weeks . I’m getting counselling now . Its reached the point where it’s getting hard the honesty. The bearing up the time to change the different reflection of myself that I dont really like . I want the old me back and I’m terrified that I wont be able to pull it off . My wife my child are all very much with me. I even experienced a period of suicidal thoughts. That when I really frightened myself and when about getting help . I’m getting better some days it’s two steppes forward and one back but I have to get there for myself . How the fuck did people manage during the spanish flu . I think people where harder there and just excepted their faith put their emotions baggage down and maybe moved on

  2. Hi Paul! That all sounds really familiar from when I was going through my worst anxiety too. And I was lucky not to be handling a global pandemic at the same time! I know it feels like a mess but I’m honestly impressed at how well you’re handling it – it’s good that you’ve told people at work and your family and that they’re all supporting you, even though they don’t really know what to say. My experience was that it took a long time to face those demons and figure out what was at the root of the suicidal thoughts but I did eventually get to the bottom and manage to rebuild. Counselling and support certainly helped. And fingers crossed this pandemic is over soon too as honestly who needs the extra stress… Sending you lots of good wishes, and thanks for sharing how you’re feeling.

  3. Thanks for the reply it means a lot . Hopefully this will be over soon . I’m glad you feel better too . It’s the hardest thing I have ever dealt . Admitting that your not that strong at the moment . Theres support for me but I had to ask many times for help before the crisis . It is getting a bit easier some days are harder then others . Sometimes it’s a hour at a time . But I’m very fortunate to have my wife she is the rock the glue and all those other things that make ye get up in the morning. I sick of feeling selfish when I know I have too take care of myself at this time if I want to get well .

  4. I really didnt mean to sound so bleak in my first message . You I’m sure you understand sometimes I think I have to urge to make this and me sound worst then it really is . To justify the way I’m behaving to myself because the physical side of feeling this way is very real and that aspect to this . Is all new and very disturbing for me

  5. Honestly, no problem! Sometimes it does feel really bleak… I think I had to stop the temptation to judge HOW bleak, because then I got into lots of negative thoughts like “I shouldn’t feel this bad” and then it just made me feel guilty and worse. So I totally get it.

    Really happy to hear you have so much support from your wife. If I may offer some unsolicited advice, try to let go of the judgement about whether you’re being selfish or not. It honestly doesn’t matter whether you label it ‘selfish’ or not – right now you’re going through some shit and you need to take time for yourself to figure it out. Calling that selfish might just be adding to the negative feelings.

    It does sound like you’re dealing with it in healthy ways which is more than many manage, so well done for that and keep going. When I think back to the years of low-level anxiety and then the year or so of absolutely off-the-scale anxiety, I never imagined I could go years and years feeling much more secure but it is possible to get there. Good luck 🙂

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