A Time of Reflection, Suspicion and Abnormal Amounts of Tea
They say things can’t change overnight but the era we have found ourselves now in certainly seems to be one which has come about overnight. After-work drinks in pubs, going out for dinner on a Saturday evening or even visiting a friend for a movie night now seem to be experiences of the past and albeit, of another time. Yet that normal was only a couple of months ago. The time when I would cram myself onto a train after work, squashed between some overweight grumbling banker and the closing doors, while the distant noise of pop music played through various headphones across the carriage. The everyday rendition of a game of sardines. Imagine that now. People don’t think of the prospect of that with annoyance or irritation anymore; they think of it with fear. Hand sanitiser and masks are now products as ordinary to buy as tea and coffee and Zoom calling is the new face to face conversation.
On the 23rd of March 2020, Boris Johnson imposed a series of rules, telling the population of the UK to stay at home, leaving only for food, medical supplies and one hour of exercise per day. All non essential shops, places of worship and restaurants were closed in aid of keeping people apart to slow the spread of the Coronavirus. Such regulations appear to be working: the curve is flattening and the spread is slowing. But now, three months later, even hugging someone who you don’t live with, the simplest and most normal way to comfort someone and show affection, is now prohibited in order to protect us from this invisible villain. We would have laughed at anyone suggesting something so bizarre could happen back in January. The definition of socialising itself has now fundamentally changed; the most basic and natural form of human interaction has now been morphed and distorted by rules, restrictions and the suspicion of strangers. Socialising is no longer trying to fit all your friends around a small corner table in Spoons with a pint or having a barbeque with the extended family in your garden, it is now seeing one or two people with a two metre reminder of the virus between you. It might seem like these rules are vital and flattening the curve is pivotal to protecting our NHS and the lives of the nation. And yes, you are right. It is. But to what extent is protecting our physical health jeopardizing our mental health? It might sound silly, but what is the point of having our health and our lives if we are not allowed to live it?
In this new world of rules and restrictions and distancing ourselves from our loved ones, one of my biggest concerns is is this new normal of isolation going to last longer than lockdown? Even if Boris announces tomorrow that lockdown is over and we are free to move how we choose, what if the societal feelings of suspicion and fear don’t go away so quickly? What if these feelings are like the people who never leave the party and prevent you from cleaning up the mess from the night before? I want to be able to go to a park and hug my best friend without some snotty nosed woman judging me from the sidepath, shaking her head and shouting at us that we aren’t two meters apart. I want to be able to get on a train without a passenger looking at me like I am the disease itself. It makes me sad that seeing a friend is now met with so many questions. Questions I never thought I would have to ask myself. Can I hug them? Should I? What if they have the virus? What if I have the virus? If I hug them, am I endangering my entire family? Or theirs? What if I pass it on and someone dies because of me? So many cold thoughts birthed out of the thought of doing something so warm and normal.
A lot of us are now struggling to find reason or purpose in these unprecedented and strange times as we plod on down the treadmill of seemingly endless ‘Groundhog days’. The various components of our lives, our travel, our work, our friends and family and our relaxation have now all been forced into one space: our homes. Although seeing our friends and boyfriends and girlfriends and family is only a green phone call button away, the feelings of isolation don’t necessarily dissipate when all the familiar little faces pop up on our screen in our Facetime calls. We laugh and chat and drink and joke about the mess the world is in right now but when we close down our screens, those feelings of emptiness just crawl back when we realise our loved ones are still miles away from us. It can feel lonely and claustrophobic and desperately frustrating that we have been robbed of the intrinsic enjoyment of basic human interaction. Those reaching milestones in their lives will also feel bereaved of something they cannot prevent – those turning 18 will not be able to feel the excitement as they are first allowed to legally enter the club of their local town, those graduating will not experience the constant need to pull their gowns back up over their shoulders as they stand for photographs or those who have been engaged for five years and are finally ready for their June wedding will have to wait even longer. It might seem silly to mourn these losses when the real loss of life is so much more devastating but these costs are just as real.
But amongst all this loss and separation, maybe this time is an opportunity. With all this time spent at home, it can feel somewhat archaic. Life has slowed down. Our cars, for the most part, are laying dormant on our driveways as we walk and cycle and run past them daily. Weekends, by default, are mostly spent at home. We are becoming fitter, our community spirit is stronger than ever and we are certainly all becoming better cooks. We are finding time to connect and reconnect with our families and discovering music, art, books and even learning how to bake bread. And I think the most comforting thing is that although we are all experiencing so much loss and stress and anxiety, we are all experiencing it together. It is a shared national, no, international, experience. It is ironic, but the understanding of isolation and loneliness is shared on a global scale. When we come out the other end of this (which we will), we will come out better, united and far more grateful for the things in life all of us have taken for granted. It might be a harsh and destructive one, but this is a lesson – one which has a cruel cost but one which is going to ultimately teach us to be kinder, more caring and more appreciative people for each other and what we have.
By Charlotte Crofts-Bolster
Charlotte is 21 years old and has recently graduated from Durham University with a degree in Geography. She writes from her home in the rural village of Hartfield, East Sussex.