Sharing a birthday cake after someone has blown out the candles. Giving your friend a taste of your cocktail at a bar. Hugging a relative after not seeing them for a long time. Getting with someone you’ve just met in a night-club.
Eating something that has essentially been spat on. Using the same straw? Coming closer than two metres to someone! Not to mention, sharing saliva with a perfect stranger?!
All usually normal things turned completely abnormal in the alien world that we’ve lived in this past year. What will the world be like post-COVID, I wonder? I can’t wait to never hear the phrase “in this unprecedented time” again. Because COVID-19 was unprecedented, heart-breaking, soul-destroying and probably one of the most difficult things that our generation will face in our lifetimes.
When the first lockdown was announced in March 2020, we worried about the health of our loved ones, ourselves, our jobs and society as a whole. A supposed two-week national lockdown turned into a painful year-and-a-half process of constant anxiety. Now in March 2021, the third UK lockdown is getting the best of us all and we’re sick of waiting for something.
But, with the “end” of the pandemic in sight, I’m not feeling as hopeful as I think I should be. As someone who is definitely a bit of an introvert, I enjoy my own space and relish cancelled plans. Aside from loneliness and sheer boredom, self-isolation and lockdown initially didn’t bother me. In fact, like others, I viewed it as “free-time”, suspended from all responsibilities due to cancelled work, just having to exist while the world seemingly stood still. However, the novelty of this experience quickly disappeared, leaving everyone in a limbo-like state. Now, everything is looking hopeful. Vaccinations are rolling out and we have a roadmap out of lockdown – for good. Whilst most who were suffering from being cooped up inside are rejoicing at the prospect of normality, I’m now suffering from the anxiety of being violently burst from this bubble I find myself in.
As much as I’m looking forward to experiencing a life free from restrictions, I, like many others, have become detached from my previous “normal” lifestyle. Due to this altered state of reality, there’s now a hyper-focus on “going back to the way things were” without ever wondering what the consequences of that will be for our mental health. As “normality” beckons, I suddenly can’t imagine wanting to be on packed public transport or shoulder-to-shoulder with a bunch of randoms in a sweaty nightclub ever again without worrying about it. As much as I’m desperate to get back to normal, a huge part of me is crippled with the anxiety of re-entering the world, and I know I’m not alone in feeling like this.
Being isolated is unnatural for humans – we’re inherently social creatures after all! Being forced to stay away from loved ones, and having to get used to a whole new way of life was mentally challenging for everyone, in different ways. Before, I could freely choose when I wanted to socialise; seeing people was a conscious decision and a pleasure. Lockdown made even seeing one other person outside of your household a privilege, which had to be earned through good behaviour: social-distancing and mask-wearing. Because of this I genuinely believe that my social skills have slowly regressed over time. It now feels wrong or even criminal to arrange a coffee-date, even when we’re fully entitled to it. While I may be a pro at Zoom seminars and drinks over FaceTime, it’s face-to-face contact that now bothers me. I haven’t seen my friends in so long, I worry if we’ll still have things in common when this is all over!
As someone who suffers from social anxiety, the comfort of simply covering my face during interactions gave me some unexpected respite from my usual jitters. Walking into a shop while wearing a mask, knowing that while I’m protecting myself and others from passing on or catching the virus, my identity is also kept a complete mystery from others, gave me a new-found confidence. The thought of physically being in a seminar room now makes me nervous; it’s hard speaking to strangers for the first time! Now, with the cover of a poor-quality laptop camera, I find myself piping up during class more than ever. Is it the luxury of being at home in my pyjamas? Am I hiding behind a screen, with the comfort of knowing I can just switch off if a breakout room becomes too awkward? In some twisted sense of reality, we’ve had to become accustomed to living our lives online, as a desperate measure of staying connected, to the extent of being wholly dependent on it. Doing a whole half of my university degree online has been a transformation; the memory of being lost on campus as a fresher, trying to find my lecture friends, seems very distant now.
We’ve forgotten that this situation is only temporary. It felt like it would go on forever. Even envisioning a future post-pandemic is hard; how much will have changed for good? Post-lockdown number one, COVID-19 was still lingering, and there was a constant threat of shutting down society again. We didn’t have time to absorb the world, we were too busy trying to have a good summer before the inevitable second wave came. At the moment we can’t prepare, make long-term plans or structure our lives to fit our ever-changing circumstances. Eventually, we’ll have to wean ourselves off them and face normality again. To anyone that may be feeling the same, I’ve come to realise that it’s completely normal to experience post-lockdown anxiety and there are definitely some ways to ease it, listed below:
- Go slow. Over the past year and a half, it’s been ingrained in our minds that our usual day-to-day and social activities are somehow dangerous to ourselves and others’ health. Because these messages are anchored so deeply in our minds it’ll take time to build up confidence again. Just the thought of the physical and emotional energy required to get back to my bustling “normal” life is constantly clouding my relief of lockdown ending. Because of this, it’s important to go at a pace that feels comfortable for you. Many others my age are buzzing to get into a night-club the very first day that they are legally allowed to again, and while I feel a certain pressure to do the same, I won’t be doing this for some time. Because of the prolonged restrictions of social activities, there comes an added pressure that as soon as we’re able to we should all be throwing parties, however, this doesn’t have to be the case. Stay compassionate, and don’t get swept up by other people’s timelines.
- Carry on looking after yourself: adjusting to “normality” will be yet another big change, so stay mindful during this next period of upheaval. Take time to adjust to your new routine. For me, a big thing is the anxiety about a sudden “switch”, which isn’t eased by Boris’ specific dates, as if COVID could just disappear because it realises it’s June 21st. I personally hope the change will be gradual rather than all at once. I’m definitely going to need an adjustment period. At the same time, I can’t help thinking that everyone’s been spending their lockdowns practising self-care, achieving goals and bettering themselves while I’ve just been struggling to even brush my hair some days. However, I quickly realised that the social media depictions of a “hot-girl summer” and the TikToks of home studying that started at 4 am were just false and unrealistic, and I needed to set my expectations to my own standards, not to anyone else’s.
Going into lockdown, and coming out of it, was and will be an experience that no one else has faced (in our lifetimes anyway). There’s no right or wrong on how to go about re-entering the world, we just have to see how it goes. Hopefully, the fear of being immersed in big crowds quickly disappears as we reconfigure our lives again. It’s time for ‘Corona’ to be just a beer brand again.
Words By: Dasha Pitts-Yushchenko
Edited By: Nina Bitkowska