I HAVEN’T felt like this since Barbara McMaster dumped me in 1985. Do you remember the first time your heart was broken? When every song seemed to speak directly to you and your sadness?

   That’s how I feel about coronavirus. It creeps into my thoughts, intrudes into my interior world, sucks the joy out of everything I love.
I hate it. I hate the feeling. I hate the virus. I hate myself for allowing what’s happening to manipulate me in ways I thought I was strong enough, smart enough, to prevent.
   So far, I’ve seen my role as one of reassuring loved ones. Don’t worry over what you can’t control, I’d say, panic is the enemy. All we can do is take sensible precautions and listen to advice. We’re all here for each other. There’s good folk out there – the country will hold together. Science will rise to the challenge, though it might take a while. Just be sensible, ask for help if you need it, and we’ll get out the other side safely. And who knows, once it’s over, we might find there’s a new will in the world to make this planet a better place – fairer, safer, kinder. Good days will return.
   But over the weekend, I noticed my mood change. My confidence slip. Words of reassurance sounded clichéd. Everything seemed to echo with the paranoia of coronavirus.
   Nobody in my family wanted to venture out on Friday night. The idea of a final drink in a pub felt dangerous, frivolous, even slightly hysterical. 
So we sat in, drank some wine and played board games. Choosing The Game of Life may have been a mistake. My oldest daughter, who’s 23, failed to land on any squares which say “You’ve had a baby!”. I remember that interior voice in my head saying: “God, I hope she has babies”. Then I started thinking about becoming a grandfather, and while folk laughed and joked around the table, I had to suppress a sob behind a smile.
   In the board game, you come to a fork in the road and chose either the “safe route” or the “risky route”. I always take the risky route. But the interior voice said: “Don’t”. I obeyed.
   My wife landed on a square which read “Hospital fees, Pay £10,000”. Everyone laughed and shouted “coronavirus!”. She joked, grimly, that the bill should be higher given she’s asthmatic. Then one by one everyone else landed on the same square. 
“What are the chances of that?” someone asked. In my head, the interior voice shouted: “It’s the universe sending us a message.”
   Folk went to bed. I stayed up watching foreign news. I wanted to see what was happening in Italy. I stumbled on a data service which gives graphs and charts of infections. It has a ticker in the corner showing deaths as they happen. It started to click up as I watched. I went to bed.
   On Saturday, my oldest daughter and I went out shopping for Mother’s Day dinner. Of course, many shelves have been bare for days, but on Saturday shops seemed stripped by locusts. I’ve come to hate the sight of panic-buyers – dangerous, shameful, greedy people – but I was determined to find one joint of meat for Mother’s Day. That’s all I wanted.
   We schlepped to four supermarkets. Nothing. I told my daughter it reminded me of pictures from the Soviet Union in the early 80s – shelves with one onion or a few ounces of meat.
  Finally, in the last store, we found a butcher’s counter with two chops, some sad rashers of bacon, and a small beef joint. I felt guilty as hell, as this was all the meat in the shop, but I bought the beef. I wanted a dinner that brought us together.
   That night we watched Judy, the biopic of Judy Garland. I cry pretty easily at movies, anyway, but when Renée Zellweger sang Somewhere Over the Rainbow, the song had so much longing for happiness, such resilient hope, that it just broke me up a wee bit.
   On Sunday afternoon, we made a little parcel for our elderly neighbour for Mother’s Day – some fresh fruit, chocolates, sweeties. She’s not well, lives alone, no kids. She came to the door, looking frail. We kept a safe distance. She saw the gift and said: “You’re going to make me greet.”
   I had to turn away and not look at her – I thought I’d burst into tears on her doorstep. It makes me tearful even writing about it now.
  My youngest daughter, who’s 22 and lives away from home, came for dinner. I’ve never felt such happy relief to see her in my life. I went to kiss her. My wife said: “Guys, be careful.” We didn’t kiss, and it still breaks my heart today. 
   “This thing is robbing us of what it means to be human,” my other daughter said.
   Me and the girls made dinner together, and every song we played seemed to have some message about this bloody illness. Who knew the cast of Glee singing Don’t Stop Believin’ could be so emotionally overwhelming?
   “It’s like a break-up,” I said to the girls as we cooked. “When every song speaks to you.” Then – and I’m not joking – REM’s It’s the End of the World As We Know It came on, and a household of people shouted “f*** off” at Spotify in unison. 
   We all have our moments of doubt and pain – when our mettle shakes a little. It’s only human. It’s only natural. It’s nothing to ashamed of – in fact, it’s better to talk about it. Conversation is catharsis.
   I’m finding solace in books – apart from my family, books are the one constant love of my life. I’ve been rereading David Copperfield off and on for a while. This morning, I finished a chapter which ends: “We must meet reverses boldly and not suffer them to frighten us, my dear. We must learn to act the play out. We must live misfortune down.”
   The words silenced that interior voice in my head. And I passed the rest of the day as normally and happily as I possibly could. Whatever gets you through each day is good enough. It seems, for me, it’s Charles Dickens.

Neil Mackay is Scotland’s Columnist of the Year