This pandemic has cast an indelible mark on our present. We are supposedly out of the worst that the past year and a half has had to offer, and media companies like Vice are trying to steer clear from even mentioning that it ever happened. In fact, it seems, we all are. No one wants to talk about it anymore. We’ve settled into an apathy that is spreading across all channels. Life is going on; we’ve hit play on the remote again. Except that even when normality was on pause, we weren’t.
Life didn’t magically stop, and we didn’t enter a global dream-state for a while, only to get back to reality as COVID ceased to be an issue. The global pandemic changed the course of our individual lives. This thing altered the future in ways that seemed unimaginable just two years ago. What were you doing before you knew about COVID-19 as we know it now? I was entering my second year of university. I was going out to Pulse a lot, because I’d found my queer community. I was enjoying no longer being one of the freshers of the hockey team again. I went out to town with my friends after lectures, because we could, and we’d go and wander the arcades aimlessly. I’d go to the gym on a whim, because I could. I was meeting strangers at parties, going on dates, and attempting to mosh at gigs with men hell-bent on proving their masculinity via body slam. In my year and a half at university before the pandemic, I got my assignments in on time and knew that I could celebrate after, confident in putting each one behind me.
When the pandemic came, we were expected to drop everything fairly quickly. Boris Johnson finally decided to act, but it was to the detriment of a country incredibly ill-prepared for such a dramatic change. Suddenly I was at home again, having to do my assignments in my childhood room which I share with my sister. Zoom was the main means of socialising, but that quickly became the most tiring part of my day: screen fatigue was no joke. Still, some good did come from that time. I met my girlfriend; we got a dog (his name is Louie); and the extra time spent walking the dog meant I tanned slightly more than I normally do (not much, but I could feasibly no longer be compared to a sheet of white A4). But I wish that I could have experienced the early stages of my relationship outside the confines of room dates and park walks, and Louie was too cute to be kept hidden away from friends and family. In the year since that initial lockdown, companies, universities, hospitals and the entertainment industry had to change. Humankind showed off our adaptability, albeit unwillingly, and adjusted to the new normal eventually. With the pandemic resting on my back, my assignments, social life, and mental health all took a hit. I channelled that impending sense of doom that the pandemic had gifted us into low self-esteem and inconsequential anxiety. Even with that fact, though, I refused to let the trauma of the change affect me noticeably in life outside my head during the lockdowns, instead pushing it away until I could deal with it later.
Then of course, came the vaccine, and now the UK seems as though it is getting back to pre-pandemic life. Except that now, when I walk down the streets, I look on the ground at trampled, lost facemasks. I show my vaccine pass when I go on nights out, and I promise people that no, I don’t have COVID, with an awkward laugh whenever I cough. Now I’m so exhausted, all the time. Going to town to wander aimlessly feels stupid, because I don’t have a proper reason, and social interactions leave me feeling more drained than ever before. I felt ambitious before and even during the pandemic but now I have no motivation for the things I used to really love. It’s a familiar feeling to me, having struggled with my mental health at times, but this time I’m not sure how I can help myself. How do we get back to ourselves when that period of growth we had was a nightmare entirely out of our individual control? Throughout this term, I have felt helpless in how I can attribute my personal development to the real world, when my third year at university was lost to zoom calls, online internships and bedroom dates. There is a global mourning for loved ones lost in and to this pandemic, and yet it feels as though we are being shunted on, back to normal, stiff upper lip and all. And as we jolt uncomfortably back into place, that pent up trauma has come to the surface, just when I feel I have no excuse to be struggling from the effects of the pandemic. It’s this aspect I find hardest: the latent after-effects of the lockdowns and divides that the pandemic has caused.
There’s no self-help or guide book to getting out of this pandemic that I know of (yet?) because we are living through it now. I don’t think we should pretend it’s over, slap on some anti-bacteria gel, and try to reach for normal, because if it took us almost a year to come to terms with restrictions and lockdowns, then how can we possibly spring back so quickly afterwards? Our lives are now punctuated by “pre-lockdown” and “post-lockdown” – even as I write I can hear someone outside using it as a marker of time passed. Even with the return of restrictions, the constant whiplash between normal and pandemic mode adds to the sense of lost optimism. I have no solution to this feeling that I know so many others feel too. This isn’t, I’m afraid, the beginning of a bestselling self-help book promising to get your life back on track. All I can offer is the knowledge that you, and I, are not alone in this feeling, and that may be of some small comfort.