It is crazy how much can change in a year… Sorry, I meant in two weeks. I am at a loss of explaining how abrupt this change was but I’ll give you an insight: It was the refreshing season of Spring where the flowers bloom, the coos of birds ring through the evergreen trees, the sun fights for dominance over the light spells of rain, the Earth grapples with an invisible, deadly outbreak of a new virus. Yes, you read that correctly, 2020 is the year of the virus - not the rat. From my understanding, the outbreak of COVID-19 violently stretched around the world, was condemned an epidemic, lockdown of countries, and for the first time in history, exams were cancelled. Did you catch all of that? No, I didn’t either. The overwhelming situation demanded us to drop our everyday lives and quickly adapt to the new “normal” but how did this impact on me?
Before lockdown and the closure of schools were announced, I had just turned seventeen with a French speaking exam the next day. I was prepared, motivated and eager to get it done but little did I know my school life would be pulled to a sharp halt. When the closure of schools and cancellation of exams were announced, I was devastated. I am aware of how odd that sounds, but I felt like my hard-work, devotion and time had been wasted. Furthermore, the routine of school gave me structure to my day so for that to be snatched away was a massive shock. Everything was so sudden, chaotic and surreal. For all I knew, the best was over and the worst was yet to come, and I was terrified. I must admit the first week of lockdown was the toughest, I had zero motivation and found it impossible to adapt to the new normal. After one long week of sulking in my own self-pity, I decided to get a grip and focus on the important things.
One of these important things was my grandpa. With the shielding guidelines in place, I had to ensure my grandpa had his food shop and prescriptions. Fortunately, I have always been close to my grandpa so helping him out has never been a problem (although I was upset that I could not have tea and cake with him). I knew from the beginning of lockdown that he would struggle so I ensured he had plenty of activities to keep him occupied. For example, I taught him how to use FaceTime, I baked cakes for him, I posted wordsearches through his door, phoned him every day, and ordered plants online delivered to his home. The only time I went inside his home (with gloves and a mask) was to unpack his food shop, but I made clear he must stay in the living room with the door closed while I did this. I feared that my grandpa would not follow the rules because like many elderly people, he is stubborn and set in his ways. However, he did stick to these guidelines - until week nine. Like usual, I phoned him for his shopping list but he insisted he was doing his own shopping in Stirling! Explaining the risks and guidelines to him was like fighting a losing battle. Despite the obvious, I was disappointed and frustrated because I felt everything I had done for him was pointless.
As I said earlier, I was responsible for my grandpa’s shopping. I was arrogant to think the shops would be no different and I did not know what to expect, but it certainly was not this… There were barriers separating people with workers in luminous, reflective jackets directing us. Before I was allowed inside, a worker squeezed a stingy amount of hand gel and wiped my trolley with disinfectant. I felt like an alien entering another universe as I stared at her blankly with worried eyes. The shop felt eerie, the bright lights gleamed over the quiet, ghost town aisles. The floors were coated with black and yellow tape, each strip carefully placed two metres apart. The atmosphere scared people out of the shop, no music, no noise, just the silent killer of COVID-19 lurking in the next aisle. This experience was an eye-opener to how much the world had changed, a change I feared.
Unfortunately, like many others, my mum is a keyworker (she is a nursery teacher). This worried me sick with fear because the children’s parents worked in COVID-19 wards, and my mum was not recommended to wear PPE as it would scare the children! This impacted on us because after one week of work, we both had to isolate for two weeks, meaning we could not help my grandpa or meet my baby cousin Oscar. Even when the restrictions of lockdown eased my mum and I were still in isolation so we could not meet Oscar from a distance outside. I was heartbroken but I did not want to take the selfish risk. The one place my mum and I could go was our garden. If anything, lockdown has made me appreciate nature and birdwatching – I even think I have a pet pigeon (I decided to name him Pete). Maybe this pandemic could be the catalyst to a greener environment? With nature wrapping its arms around Earth, wildlife re-emerging and pollution levels dropping, nature is making its comeback and it is beautiful! I have also learnt a lot about my neighbours. For example, “Right Wendy I want a beef curry with chips”, “Well I want a handsome, blue eyed Thor”. Who knew the neighbours would be the new form of entertainment!
In conclusion, from the little information we know about COVID-19, the main solution is a vaccine. Despite the lockdown restrictions easing, I still believe that everyone must stick to the guidelines because it is selfish towards others and it forces lockdown to go backwards. During lockdown, I have observed many people blatantly break the rules which angered me, mostly because I see how difficult it is for my mum who would rather be furloughed than exposed to the virus at work. However, I do believe the government could have been better prepared as it hit other countries first - maybe we would not be at more than 40,000 deaths. Yes, I disagree with the government’s contradicting advice and the “good progress” we are making but we all know the government do not care for the public’s health, they only want the economy working for money. With all my disagreements, I still obey the guidelines. We are not being asked to fight in the war, we are being asked to sit on the couch at home. In the wise words of my neighbour “Just because you’re allowed to meet one other household, doesn’t mean you need to.” Furthermore, reflecting on this experience has been a learning opportunity for me and for all of us – a chance to focus on what matters and to think about living life differently going forward. For example, I am eternally grateful for my guinea pig Steve as I never realised how important the comfort of having a pet was.
Although, there has been a lot of stress during this pandemic like the risk of losing your job, becoming sick, or infecting a loved one, one silver lining of staying at home is that it has forced many of us to find new ways to manage stress. I found song-writing, playing guitar and P.E. with Joe to be the best outlets. Also, I have learnt that focusing your attention on others reduces stress, in my case helping my grandpa – helping others will aid in the recovery of everyone impacted by the pandemic. Another thing I am grateful for is the NHS and keyworkers, like my mum, who have taken on the risks for themselves for the benefit of everyone else. Before the pandemic, most of us probably did not think twice about the workers doing these jobs. Now that they are on everyone’s radar, it has been heart-warming to see grateful people show their appreciation openly. Another positive outcome is living without modern conveniences; now that shopping, hairdressers, or going to the shop for one item has become impossible, I have realised I am surviving just fine. We do not need as much stuff or as many conveniences we have been accustomed to as the basics – food, water, and health – are much more important. Finally, the emotional high and sense of connection we get from the physical presence of others is sacred. Not only will I appreciate that presence after lockdown, doing so will deepen my sense of common humanity – something that when scaled up can build a kinder and connected society. Although COVID-19 is ongoing, I have adapted to change and accepted that life will be different. I hope we can hold onto these positive outcomes because our collective, compassionate action will be the key to a better future for us all.