In a year that has dived headfirst into unchartered waters, a way of life that nobody in our generation or our parents’ generation has ever truly experienced, there were many things lurking beneath the depths. Lockdown brought feelings of isolation, loneliness, and alienation mixed in with a suddenly elevated sense of hyper-local camaraderie as borders closed, and states hunkered down to protect themselves and their people from something we have never lived through. But what I wasn’t ready for was the overwhelming feelings that would smack me in the head when we re-entered society after a long, bitterly cold and quiet winter in Melbourne.

This is what it’s like to come out of months of lockdown, from someone who’s living it right now.

My second year of living in Melbourne – the furthest away I’ve ever lived from my immediate family – has been a stark opposite to the first. I’ve gone from being busy with things every night – gigs, events, dinners,  football training, boxing sessions, the works – to being in my house 23 hours a day, almost seven days a week.

One minute, I was pulling on my boots and having a kick of the footy with mates after work, the next I was given one hour a day to walk around a park.

And it was hard – there was lots of downtime that allowed existential thoughts (and dread) to bubble up to the surface. Not being able to go anywhere outside a 5km radius while my interstate friends were posting about their COVID-normal life? That sucked.

Coming out the other side feels like those videos of animals being released from captivity for the first time – the hesitancy of not believing it’s absolutely safe to do it, gingerly nosing my way out the door, and then suddenly being overcome with emotions as I feel the grass under my hooves again. Well, not hooves, but you get what I mean.

This. It’s exactly this.

The pub isn’t quite the same just yet – you have to stay seated, everything is table service, and you have to put your mask on to duck to the loo – but the sentiment is there. The beer’s coming out of a tap, someone else has made me dinner, and I can leave without worrying about the dishes.

What I didn’t expect was that a casual trip to the beach would lay me out flat.

Bliss. BLISS.

Melbourne isn’t really well known for its beaches, let’s be honest. But the first 30+ day after the strict lockdowns eased landing on a state public holiday was like a perfect storm. What I would have imagined the Area 51 Storm was imagined to be like if it didn’t fizzle like the end of a sparkler on New Years.

I made a point to get there early and “beat the crowds”, which meant still parking a couple of blocks away and being like “oh fuck” as I saw a good few hundred people already spaced out across the sand.

As time went on and we had a couple of refreshing dips (oh God it was like replenishing my entire soul), I realised I was completely surrounded by thousands of people I didn’t know from a bar of soap. Something I hadn’t dealt with since I went to a festival in March, and then again during the BLM protest in June. MONTHS.

Okay, that’s enough of that.

Once I was back home and had a chance to process that whole experience of suddenly being in a crowd of randoms again, it was like an emotional release. After months and months of being reduced to seeing the same small group of people, being wary of my interactions with others, suddenly being surrounded by people was equal parts rejuvenating but entirely staggering.

I don’t know if I can do it again in the near future, at least not on a short space of beach where everyone is just trying to find a patch of sand to stretch out. Not until the regional border is removed and we have more coastline to choose from. It’s too much too soon.

There’s lots of talk out there about how nobody will truly understand what Melbourne went through this year, and I do believe it. There’s no real way to explain how this year has felt, but I’m thankful it happened to a city that already feels like a big community. After living for five years in Sydney, I legitimately don’t know how that place would have coped.

So as the state hits a full week of zero cases, be gentle with your Melbourne friends for a while – it’s been a fucked year and we’re only just learning how to be outside again after lockdown.

Image: Getty Images / Darrian Traynor