I’ve been trying to find a suitable collection of adjectives to describe the current state of our world. Surreal, unbelievable, crazy. Anxiety-inducing, depressing, uncertain. Sad, unstable, unpredictable, stressful. All of those words apply but they’re not sufficient. I feel like I’m living through an episode of Black Mirror (or Fringe, but many of you might not know that show – something to watch in isolation). We are all facing the global crisis of the Coronavirus. As of last Sunday night London has been on lockdown. It is the biggest social restriction since the Second World War and we are now a week in with more to come.
2020 has been a bumpy year for me so far, personally. My boyfriend went through a hard time, which affected me; there were disruptions in my social circle, and overall I felt low. There were also the disruptions and tragedies on a greater scale – the final exit of Britain from the EU, the bushfires in Australia, just to name two. Things were starting to look up for me in February when Matteo and I escaped to Barcelona for a few days to stay with our friend Tash in her flat. It was exactly what we needed. We walked in the sunshine, ate delicious Tapas, played football and drank beer on the beach, danced in VIP clubs. We were reminded of the vast joys of life, something both of us had lost sight of in the previous couple of months.
When I look back at that week now, the memories appear like a haunting daydream. I see an eerie sequence, reminiscent of something out of a sci-fi film, full of sunshine and laughter when everything is at peace, just before the chaos starts. The serenity before the crisis.
Fast forward to now and we are in the midst of an unprecedented storm. The world is in uncharted territory and we are all living through it.
I’d already had a taste of self isolation just before the lockdown. I was sick – not with Coronavirus but with Gastroentiritus, a very nasty stomach bug. I had a taste of the social distancing and quarantine before it became a government directive. The day I got the bug, I was gutted because I was missing our university varsity week. Heavily involved in the uni sports scene, I got major FOMO watching all my friends go to our big sports games and celebrate. By the end of the week, the big finale game of football got cancelled due to the virus. Now it’s not just me and there’s a much bigger picture. The world is on lockdown and my tiny experience, insignificant in the scheme of the crisis the planet faces, gave me a taste of what was to come.
I’ve been glued to my phone watching the people I follow on social media broadcast the crisis through their respective lenses, from empty shelves in supermarkets, brawls over toilet paper to budding Tik Tok careers. Everyone I know has chosen where they want to be and who they want to be with to get through the lockdown. In this time of isolation, who do you call? When the shutters go down, where do you go? Who do you want to be with? It’s fascinating to see where people land. I have an international group of friends and peers and many have fled to their home countries to be with their families.
COVID-19 is going to test more than just our geography and our relationships. It will be a defining moment of our generation. Businesses will go bust, the economy will be catastrophically effected, lives will be lost. Thousands of students will be affected – studies disrupted, exams cancelled, experiences and memories shifted from nights out to weeks in. Our mental health will be put under more pressure than ever before. There may be a baby boom of sorts – look for a higher birth rate in nine months from now. In years to come, I will meet people born in 2021 and I will ask if they were a product of COVID-19 isolation.
There is nothing but uncertainty. People are scared. Some, trying a positive spin on it say we should use this time to read, write, draw, cook. Great advice which may help for a while but I’m not sure if that’s a long term solution should this go on for months rather than weeks. I am a definite victim of cabin fever already, how do I proceed?
In 2016, I wrote a post after the election of Donald Trump, referencing his win in the US election and the UK’s decision to leave the EU. I titled it, ‘The Year the World Went Crazy’. I don’t think any of us could have anticipated subsequent events. I wrote some words at the time:
‘I’m going to remember exactly where I was when the US election result came in. And I\’m going to do the same for the day when the Brexit Referendum was announced. These events and this year, 2016, will be studied in history, by my children, your children and their children. My advice is remember where you were, remember how you felt, because it will be important to hand on those stories to the next generation. It will be a tale of deep divisions, of political classes being challenged by different groups who are united only by their discontent. It will be remembered as a time of setbacks, protests, possibly revolution. And who knows what else?’
With a few adjustments I could write the same for March 2020. Remember where you are, who you are with, what you are feeling, who you are talking to who you are not, who you miss, who doesn’t matter. How you survived. Keep a diary. Because while historians will study the facts, economists will study the economy and medics will study the disease, it is the personal stories which should endure. When I’m 90 and in a nursing home (hopefully a luxurious one with a pool and a bar) I can imagine my great-grandkids studying for their history A-levels and telling me they’re writing about the 2020 pandemic and I can tell them what it was really like to be there.
We don’t know what is coming but we know that it is era defining. Stay in touch with the people you love and value. Take care of your physical and mental health. Try to have fun, as trivial as it sounds.
Write it all down. Live to see the other side. Take your stories with you.