If you’d have told me at the start of this year that by May, I’d have been locked up in my house alone for so long that the prospect of leaving it scared me, there’s no way I’d have believed you. And yet here we are.
For some, lockdown has thrown life as they once knew it into perilous insecurity, producing crippling anxiety. For others, the monotony of seemingly endless days melting into one another is manifesting in physical and emotional exhaustion, and a deep sense of listlessness.
The trouble is that as the conversation starts to pivot towards when and how lockdown will end, we’ve only, really just started getting used to it all.
As someone who has spent years battling anxiety and panic attacks, the first few weeks felt so hard to grasp that I walked around in an almost permanent state of disassociation.
But this new normal (for want of a better phrase) has become just normal, and quickly. Concepts that were once considered foreign — like going on a first date on a video-conferencing platform, or exercising in our living rooms via Youtube — are now familiar. We now queue to go to the supermarket, move to distance ourselves as people encroach on our 2m radius of safety, and play a lot of quizzes with our mates online.
As someone who thrives when there is at least some semblance of routine in my life, things have started to feel almost predictable again – and there’s a safety in that.
I don’t want to downplay the huge emotional, economic and situational impact that this virus has had on individuals and families in the UK, and all across the world.
But for those fortunate enough not to have been dramatically impacted either financially, or by losing loved ones, the changes haven’t been all that bad. In fact some have been positive. And the prospect of losing them is scary.
Opportunity is often borne out of chaos. And the indefinite suspension of life as we once knew it has allowed us time and space to think about the things we’d like back when this all ends. And those we wouldn’t.
For example, the crisis has exacerbated widespread inequality and forced the current government to adapt its thinking in a way it may not have otherwise. It’s precipitated investment in public services of the kind that hasn’t been seen in over a decade, which can only be a good thing — if maintained. It has proven that big business can adapt quickly and at scale if it wants to — throwing old excuses for inertia in the battle to fight climate change out of the window, too. Companies that have resisted flexible working practices that could galvanise efforts towards reaching gender parity at work have been forced to adapt.
On a personal level, friends and strangers on Twitter tell me they’re far more aware of what — and who — they hold dear, more conscious of what’s important to them, and how to achieve it. A widespread slowing down has also created space for kindness to flourish — encouraging a society of people that has so often been pitted against one another in the pursuit of wealth accumulation to feel a desire to share. It has seen love dominate over hatred in many corners of the world and, to a certain degree, sewn back together the fractured edges of our communities.
And so, is it really any surprise that I, along with many others, are scared about the prospect of life returning to “normal”? It seems perfectly natural — and human — to be fearful of another big change to our day-to-day existence when many of us are only just starting to get used to the current one. So too, does cynicism about the idea of returning to the rabid selfishness promoted by consumer capitalism. Or to the relentless slog of the 9-5, sandwiched between visits to the gym and pub. Or the unrelenting social pressure created by calendar tetris — trying to fit everyone and everything in — that leaves little time to just be still.
And I think it’s right that we question — and keep questioning — this as we move forwards into the next unknown. As the prospect of lockdown being lifted looms, it’s more important than ever that we hold on to the lessons and positive progress we’ve made as a society over the past few months.
The abject trauma suffered by many at the hands of this cruel virus must end. I hope with every part of my being that it does soon.
But it’s also OK to hope that the switch back to normal life isn’t binary — and more like a dial that moves in grades rather than two “on” and “off” buttons. It’s understandable to be fearful of losing green shoots of hope that have appeared amongst the wall of grey. It’s our responsibility as a society to cling onto these and take them with us as we move forward. As we all know, it’s so easy for things to move and change quickly.
Now more than ever, we must remember that we can never go backwards. I hope for our sake, we can use some of the lessons we’ve learned to create a happier, more equitable future for all.
Rose Stokes is a freelance journalist who writes about women’s rights, sex, mental health, lifestyle, politics and the environment.