Whilst some may want to jump back into these opportunities that we are once again afforded, some may want to gently ease themselves back in.
The longer days and warmer weather are symbolic of welcoming change; even more so when it means I’m closer to being offered a vaccine. Seeing the sun again makes the government mandated exercise seem enjoyable - rather than a chore. I have more energy, more optimism, but also more anxiety.
When the rule of six began at the start of April, I already had plans to see friends that I hadn’t seen since last summer. It was, at first, exciting to have human contact again. Especially as so many of my friendships had fizzled out once the fun of zoom quizzes ended, the stockpiled gin had long been consumed, and the conversation became repetitive and stale.
But the night when I had made plans, I was plagued with anxiety. The fear of travelling alone, despite it being during the day; the unease of potentially facing crowds of people after staying exclusively at home for six months, the worry of upholding conversation after having minimal contact outside of online university seminars.
A YouGov poll suggests that my experience is not unique: 49% of Britons expect it will be hard to adjust to pre-pandemic life as restrictions are lifted, with 34% of those stating that being out in public with friends or in crowded areas was the hardest to re-adjust to. Whether this is simply due to the relative isolation that so many have faced, or whether it is more influenced by the fear of catching coronavirus, is not mentioned. However, both are difficult and unique challenges, not only as we have been living with social distancing rules for more than a year, but because we have had to come to terms with living with Covid.
Mental health has been a topic of strong interest during the three lockdowns during the past year. The sudden and forced isolation stopped so many people from having access to the social situations and contact that would be beneficial, and the effects of that are only becoming more apparent.
It has been reported that between April and December 2020 the number of under-18s that were referred for mental health help rose by 28% compared to the same period in 2019 (here). Furthermore, “figures show that as many as 10 million people, including 1.5 million children, are thought to need new or additional mental health support as a direct result of the crisis” (here). The mental health impacts of lockdown and the isolation that comes with it are not easily reversible, it is not a simple bounce-back.
In amongst the focus on and excitement for a return to normality, for a lot of people the impact of the pandemic will be with them for a long time. Whilst some may want to jump back into these opportunities that we are once again afforded, some may want to gently ease themselves back in. I remember that it took a long time for me to be able to cope with the first lockdown, and not to have to carry this, almost suffocating, fear. Which was most likely due to the incomprehensibility of it all. If it took so long to become comfortable with a new way of living more than a year ago, logic dictates that it will take just as much time to feel comfortable again now, even if it is going ‘back to normal’.
At the time of writing this piece, I have been out twice more since my first venture, and each time it becomes slightly easier. Integrating back into society is not something I would have ever thought I would need to learn to do in my lifetime, and for me it is a struggle. After becoming so reliant and comfortable with the distance that technology affords us, the immediacy of face-to-face conversation has been daunting. I don’t think I would have realised just how reliant upon digital technology I have been.
I definitely feel like a stranger in my home city, which feels slightly alien still, but I have found there is almost a beauty in being able to re-discover places that I haven’t frequented in more than a year. I still spend a lot of time having to use google maps to plan my route and calm my nerves, and I have a terrible night’s sleep before going out, but slowly, it is getting better.
Vicky Gill's interest in politics grew after participating in the UK branch of the European Youth Parliament in 2018.
Disclaimer: All views expressed in this piece belong solely to the author and do not reflect the views of Demographica Limited as a company.