Humans have a unique capacity for adaptability. This is often seen as a trait, something you either have or you don’t, an asset to put on your CV that hopefully not everyone believes themselves capable of, giving you that extra edge. If anything though, this past year has proven just how quickly we are able to become used to something and how easily we are able to adapt to a new definition of ‘normal’.
If I think about how I was feeling a year ago, I can identify that things are very different now. The early months of 2020 filled me with anxiety; I was particularly fearful of the discovery of this new form of Coronavirus in the world. I diligently read the news, falsely believing that if I had all the information then I was being provided with some kind of assurance or security. As the news broke about the effects this disease was having across world, I became more and more anxious. I saw no way that the UK could be prepared for its arrival.
I was baffled by the lack of action from authority figures, exasperated by the fact that it seemed for several years they had been trying to find any excuse to close the borders and now, when we could finally use our island status to our advantage, this was negated. So, come March when we finally entered into national lockdown – although we were thrown into a scenario that seemed entirely alien and completely dystopian – it did not take long for me to feel a great sense of relief and ultimately joy at not being asked to do anything that may pose a risk to my own, or my loved ones’ health.
April 2021 brings to the fore a very different set of feelings. The vaccine rollout is going well, although I worry about the effectiveness of something that hasn’t yet undergone long term testing. I don’t think this is unusual, and it hasn’t stopped me from getting my first jab. If there’s even the slightest chance that this will make us safer, I’m happy to oblige. News about potential blood-clots frightened me, but the risks involved with taking the contraceptive pill are far greater, yet that’s never been a national conversation, but that’s a piece for another time.
I had quite an extreme reaction to my first vaccine, but this doesn’t appear unusual amongst young people and in the weeks following I have thankfully been fine. It was strange though, getting my first vaccine; I didn’t feel excited and in turn, that made me feel guilty. Getting my vaccination hasn’t posed a change in any of my behaviour. Those with vaccinations are still susceptible to getting the virus and passing it on to others, but hopefully the risk of its effects is minimized. I’m scared that having had the vaccine I could still pick it up and be asymptomatic, posing more of a threat to people I love.
Similarly, I’m struggling to summon any excitement for the roadmap out of lockdown. The self-critical voice in my mind is inclined to call me cynical but the rational part of me thinks its realism. We have been here before. It feels like over the last year the country has been plunged in and out of different forms of lockdown. The rules have been unclear, the use of the word guidance is vague, and I would argue that the North is one of those areas that has suffered disproportionately.
Some have decided to make their own rules and others have diligently stuck to what has been suggested. Within all of this it hasn’t felt like decisions at a governmental level have been sensibly made. This apparent insistence to get the economy going again has consistently harmed the defence against the virus on numerous fronts. I’m reminded of one of the definitions of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. For a large part of the past year this seems to be what has been happening, the same tactics over and over again with the expectation of different outcomes.
I’m to be forgiven for not being too excited about large swathes of the economy reopening on Monday. I will not be visiting a food and drink outlet to sit outside and endure a meal. I will not be clambering to get myself onto public transport in order to meet six friends outside for a long overdue catch-up. I will not be traipsing round retail outlets just because I can. I’ve never been to and do not intend to start going to a gym. I’m not even that upset about the fact I haven’t been able to get my hair cut for nine months. Lockdown has helped me to learn what it is I really need in my life and a lot of what was considered part of my ‘normal’, I don’t necessarily miss. I’ve become extremely attuned to the world we now live in.
However, as with everyone, there are some things I ache to do. I want to see my grandparents, having not seen them for over a year, even if our regular FaceTimes do provide me with a level of entertainment I didn’t think possible. I would love to go to a gig. I miss live music and the rituals surrounding it. My boyfriend and I miss being able to go out for food – that was one of our regular treats. And I know there’s the opportunity to do that now, however the anxiety I feel is high.
I don’t think I’m alone, but particularly for my age group (mid-twenties) I feel there’s pressure to be raring to go again, like there’s this insistence that we can’t wait to get back in pubs, see our friends and travel to the workplace. I feel the media have created a narrative where it is young people who are most likely to break lockdown rules and that we’re the age group who are the most fed up with restrictions. But if I look honestly at my own feelings, and if I listen to my peers, then this doesn’t seem to be the case. Yes, there are things we all rightly miss but actually the anxiety around getting the virus is real. And most of the time I don’t think my age group are worrying about what would happen to them should they contract it (although it seems that nobody knows just how different peoples’ bodies will react), but are more concerned with contracting it and passing it onto a loved one.
Many people have had massive changes in circumstances due to the pandemic. A lot of young adults have found themselves back in the family home for a variety of reasons; losing work, not wanting to isolate alone, needing support, or finding that they need to offer support themselves to other family members. Many young adults are finding themselves living with people who may be more vulnerable even if they are not.
This narrative of having a carefree attitude and just wanting to be able to get on and do what we want is simply that – a narrative. I currently live with my mother, who has an underlying health condition. The nature of her condition means her immune system can be easily compromised, however there has been little advice from the medical community on how Coronavirus may affect it. As a family we have been meticulously careful about Coronavirus for over a year now. Journeys that would usually require public transport, I have walked. I did not visit a bar or restaurant when they reopened last summer. I have done any non-essential shopping online and found innovative ways to celebrate birthdays and Christmas. We as a family have been so careful, it is nonsensical to change that now.
I sometimes wonder if my response is still disproportionate but if there’s anything my twenties and the last year are teaching me, it’s that it doesn’t matter if anyone believes I’m overreacting, it is only important how I feel. Five years ago, I lost my uncle to seasonal flu and so my response to the pandemic has been different to what it may have been before that happened. I have a real fear of losing someone to an illness like this, as I’ve seen it happen. And I’ve seen it happen extremely quickly. I was abruptly introduced to the world of intensive care units and ventilators and last year’s reporting on the pandemic quickly started to bring up all those feelings again.
My story isn’t unique. There will be many people who have had loved ones suffer from difficult illnesses, those who have lifelong underlying health conditions and those who have lost loved ones in traumatic and unexpected circumstances. It is okay that I feel the way that I do. I wanted to write this because I was feeling isolated. I had a conversation with the job centre on Tuesday in which I came away feeling panicked and pressured. I am genuinely fearful of the consequences of being ‘in’ the world.
I am of the mindset that we should all just try and be that little bit more patient. The reopening of areas like hospitality on Monday is of little consequence to me when I am still unable to travel the length of time I would need to in order to visit my grandparents. It seems like extremely poor compensation. I still have friends who work in that industry (I am lucky in that I left just over a year ago) and I really feel for the levels of anxiety they’re experiencing and the confusion they feel over being asked to do certain things that aren’t expected of everyone.
I’m really fortunate in that my year of practical unemployment has happened to land at this point in everyone’s lives and I’ve been consistently grateful that I haven’t had to put myself in any compromising positions. But I know plenty of people who have. The argument that the economy must be restarted favors some members of society over others. All those employees on minimum wage, often doing the jobs that are the most high-risk, aren’t necessarily going to reap the benefits of that.
If I had it my way, I would wait until every member of the adult population had been offered their first vaccination. As a country, we’ve come such a long way from where we were last year. There has been intense loss, major sacrifices and it does now look like maybe we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I just know I’d be far more comfortable if we were given the opportunity to wait until we were firmly in that light, instead of still tentatively taking our final few steps through that unfamiliar dark.
For everyone, it will take time to adjust to whatever it is the world wants us to do next. Some people may feel naturally inclined to return to previous behaviour and for others, like myself, that transition will be much harder. The simple act of socialising with people I love requires far more energy now than it used to. For some people, the act of being forced to return to work on Monday may be a terrifying prospect.
I don’t know when I will feel safe meeting people in a public place like I used to, maybe it will be a case of when I’m forced to re-enter the world as I get a job then that will be when I have to face it. Maybe the choices that I currently have the privilege of making are keeping me locked in an element of fear. I don’t know. What I do know is that for me the route out of lockdown will be taken with care. I will not be throwing myself into situations I don’t feel are safe. I will be trying to push through this last part having thankfully not experienced this virus in anyone close to me.
I also know there are things I have learned and experienced over the last year that I want to keep. I have found so much joy in the act of simply being without the pressures of what society used to consider ‘normality’. I have spent more time outdoors and more time with myself. Even in amongst all the madness and turmoil that parts of the past year have brought I have actually been the happiest I have ever been. However long it takes me to feel comfortable returning to those elements of ‘normal’ we are destined to keep, the happiness and the sense of calm I have experienced through large parts of the last year are the things I intend to prioritise. If we are being offered the chance to find different ways of living then I want to embrace that, and surely, I’m not the only one.
Saffron Rain lives and writes in Stockport. She was born and raised around Manchester, only moving away to get her degree and subsequent MA in English Lit in Sheffield. During this time she wrote ardently on the North, particularly female writers and filmmakers.
Her preferred form is the personal essay and she enjoys writing about topics that she connects to on a personal level. Some of these have appeared in independent publications and she shares longer pieces on her own blog. She loves to read, particularly women, and will take any opportunity to crowbar Joan Didion into a conversation.