Today’s Lockdown piece: Words of reflection from Phnom Penh and the magic keyboard of Steven W. Palmer.

“I felt a tremendous distance between myself and everything real.”

― Hunter S. Thompson.

Self-imposed lockdown, Day…what is it again, Priti? Oh yes. Day Thirteenty fortytweleven.

To borrow another quote (and why not, it saves me writing), Philip K. Dick said: “It is sometimes an appropriate response to reality to go insane.” 

I think between Hunter and Phil, they have nailed this weird alternate reality we have not only plunged into, but plunged into willingly in most cases. Take a single Scottish exile with Cyclothymia (that’s Bipolar III to you lucky laypeople) and lock him away – voluntarily of course – in a large house with an equally large but fenced yard and watch the adherence to carefully constructed cycles of up and down slowly crumble.

For the most part, my view of the outside world is half-seen bodies passing my gate. For the other part, my link to reality is a slowly crumbling interaction with the rest of the world via social media.

Ah, the sword with two edges. On one hand, it provides a link to people you know and love. It can even offer respite in the guise of ever-darkening memes (at what point does it become acceptable to laugh at death?). But on the other hand, you are also subjected to a never-ending downward spiral of conspiracy theories whose madness, for a moment, make you feel totally sane. 

From that fairly predictable cycle of up and down, the world has shifted this cyclothymic writer into a chaotic unpattern (sorry, George) of morning “guess the mood” gameshows. If I can avoid social media long enough to not see the increasingly orange face of the Trumpoon or yet another 5G rant, then I might manage to make it to the coffee machine and allow that first caffeine – and obligatory accompanying nicotine – hit nurse me into either mild mania or mild depression.

Either version is preferable to a full-blown episode. I can try and find a point of focus – increasingly more difficult as paying work has disappeared – and coax my damaged psyche to deal with the day ahead. 

Then there are treat days. “What are treat days?” I hear you cry enthusiastically. Those are one of the two days I deign to leave the house as a hunter-gatherer. Well, more of the gatherer since mammoths went extinct, to be fair.

Fully masked and goggled, I mount my trusty steed and ride through the village, ignoring the occasional suspicious glance from fearful natives. Enter supermarket, use hand sanitiser, wipe trolley handle with wet wipes, use hand sanitiser again, then off for a trolley dash – at respectable social distance of course – that Dale Winton would have been proud of (for our American viewers, think David Ruprecht, for Aussies, think Ian Turpie). List ticked off, fellow shoppers swerved past, non-mask wearing people scowled at, I make for the checkout, replete with flexiglass screen to protect the staff…or is it to protect the customers? 

Despite the actual, real, truly tangible insanity of the supermarket, those little excursions represent a brief toe-dipping back into reality and sanity. As you ride in the – lighter than usual – traffic of Phnom Penh, you can, just for a brief 5 or 10 minutes, pretend that we are not all trapped in a maelstrom of fear and uncertainty.

You can pretend that you are going out for some beers tonight, maybe a game of pool, go for some nice food, flirt with the waitress, joke with the motodop drivers, gaze at the intricacies of social intercourse on the riverside, all those stupid little things that we took for granted…

I want those stupid things back.

“To complain is always non-acceptance of what is. It invariably carries an unconscious negative charge. When you complain, you make yourself into a victim. When you speak out, you are in your power. So change the situation by taking action or by speaking out if necessary or possible; leave the situation or accept it. All else is madness.”  Eckhart Tolle