I’m glad that we had no idea, at the start, just how long this thing would play out for. When the first lockdown was announced, over a year ago now, I was terrified. Not by the virus, but by how on earth I would cope with just myself for company as I worked full time from home. My mental health was shaky enough at the best of times following a relapse the year before, but working in an office or with a friend made things bearable, providing a distraction from the monotonous barrage of thoughts.
I finished NHS therapy as lockdown began, completing my sessions over Teams before being chucked back into this bizarre new world to stand, shakily, ‘on my own two feet’.
That lockdown was surreal, unnerving and at times lonely, but I was fortunate to be shielded from the horrors of the frontline, or the death of loved ones. We lived in a leafy part of south-east London, with ready access to green space. We snapped polaroids of stunning blossom trees outside our church, and wondered how long it would be until we’d get to step inside again.
It seemed cruelly unfair to be enjoying weekly Zoom quizzes with our friends, or learning to fly kites on the heath, while others fought in our hospitals and lost their parents. Some of us have been making quarantinis and enjoying birdsong whilst others buried multiple family members.
And in the midst of all of this, we were met with the news that we would be moving. Upping sticks to the Midlands, somewhat nearer to family but a complete wrench from the London life which had been the backdrop to my twenties. It felt unreal, and almost cruel, that we were having to say goodbyes to people who’d been a massive part of our lives over Zoom. We left Greenwich in July and I haven’t been back since. It’s suspended in polaroids of evening summer sunshine, ‘bubble’ picnics, and goodbyes at a two-metre distance.
Perhaps, like most other things in my life, Covid has played second-fiddle to more immediate concerns – like living with a mental illness. From the outset, I was less immediately concerned about this very real, very present virus, and more consumed by the just-as-real (but hypothetical) terrors dreamt up by my own mind. Maybe there just wasn’t enough space in there to encompass any more fear.
The impact of restrictions, however, were all too real. Working solo was more bearable than anticipated, but we were not immune from the isolation of Covid, especially once we’d moved away from the London support network which had been cultivated over so many years. We found a new church, but we weren’t allowed to talk to anyone, so we left as disconnected as we had arrived. The November lockdown had little impact on our lives: it’s not like we’d socialised with anyone since we moved! I forced myself into the small garden of our new place, planting bulbs in October and waiting for something to grow.
A year on from lockdown, I find myself in a different city, too many miles away from family and friends. We’ve begun to make tentative connections, but eight months after moving we can’t yet call anyone ‘friends’. I emailed colleagues to say how bizarre it felt to not have seen them in person for over a year. “Any of you could have grown a third leg or three inches taller,” I lamented, “and I’d be none the wiser”.
In many ways, the pandemic has enabled me to avoid situations which turbo-charge my anxiety; I finally had a legitimate excuse for keeping my distance in social situations. In some ways Covid has kept me ‘comfortable’, but I know that true recovery will only be achieved by embracing my discomfort. Yet it still feels scary to think I won’t have the excuse of Covid to hide behind.
Despite this, everything looks more hopeful as spring erupts around us. My daffodils and crocuses bloomed defiantly, without warning and impervious to how I might be feeling on any given day. Clutching onto that hope, I pray that 2021 might bring not only a collective recovery from Covid, but another step towards a life without fear.