For the past 15 months, I’ve pretty much been fixated on the covid restrictions. I obsessively comb the news looking for any signs of when they might change or disappear. I panic over even the vaguest suggestion that they might be around for longer than another few months. I alternate between feeling “this isn’t so bad, I can deal with it a while longer”, feeling “this is intolerable, I can’t cope”, and just sheer disbelief that this can even be happening at all.
I don’t think this is good for me. I don’t like that I’ve become so self-centered. Or maybe I was always self-centered but it wasn’t so obvious until these weird circumstances brought it into sharp focus. There’s no point in pretending… ever since the start, the restrictions have occupied my thoughts and feelings far more than the virus itself has. Maybe that’s natural given that the restrictions have shaped almost every aspect of my life for over a year now, whilst I’ve been very little impacted by the virus. Hardly anyone I know has actually had covid, and most of them have had it pretty mildly. Intellectually I know that covid is (or at least was prior to the vaccination of the most at risk) a huge threat and has killed an almost unimaginable number of people, but emotionally? I just find it impossible to get my head around. I feel numb to it. It’s just numbers that get read out on the news. I’m disappointed in myself for feeling this way but there’s no point denying that I do.
I also don’t like that this has made me feel more distant from many of my friends and colleagues. Not just in the obvious sense that I haven’t seen very much of them for a while, but also in that I no longer feel the same understanding with them that I used to. They all seem so noble and so good about the whole thing, and I’m failing to live up to that. They make the best of things, using the time in lockdown to enjoy different aspects of life, adapting to it as best they can. I do try, but even so I seem to spend half my time simmering with resentment that my life is different now from how it was in 2019. Whenever there’s talk of restrictions being eased, most of my friends are concerned in case it’s too soon and it causes another wave of suffering, while I find myself quietly praying that they get eased anyway because I just want my old life back. I don’t know how I’m going to feel if and when we do get back to normal. I worry I may struggle to trust people who’ve whole-heartedly supported policies that I’ve found so hard to deal with, even if it was for the best of reasons, and I expect the feeling will be mutual.
I’ve even found myself sympathising more with people I normally disagree strongly with and previously felt I had little in common with, because often they’ve been the only ones not expressing full-throated support for the restrictions that I struggle with so much. I guess when you feel lost and like your life’s been completely turned upside down and you don’t understand half of your friends anymore, finding out that someone else thinks you should be allowed to have your old life back, or at least understands why you’re upset that it’s gone, suddenly feels very important and makes it surprisingly easy to overlook any other differences. Maybe they are just offering easy, comforting false hope… but when that’s the only hope that seems to be on offer, it’s very tempting to cling to it anyway.
In My Defence…
Before I go any further, I feel like I should say a few words in my own defence here. What I’ve written above probably makes me sound like I’m just whining childishly about minor inconveniences and not making any effort to see the bigger picture, but I don’t think that’s entirely a fair assessment.
First of all, much as I dislike them, I have reluctantly supported the restrictions up til now. I don’t think the government had any choice but to bring them in. The alternative would have been catastrophic. I’ve complied with them about as well as I think most people have, probably better than most during the first lockdown. But I am conflicted. I also hate what those same restrictions have done to my life and to other people’s, and sometimes I find that hatred too strong to brush aside, much as I feel I should be able to.
Secondly, I have a history of mental health problems that I feel has made all this particularly difficult. I suffered pretty badly from depression for the first 15 or so years of my adult life, and only really started to get better and enjoy life again during the period from around 2013 to 2019. During that time I built a life that wasn’t perfect, but it worked for me far better than anything I’d had before. It contained a balance of work, play, family, friends, and so on. I found that the crucial element, the thing that really relieved the depression in a way nothing else could, was to always have some fun activities lined up to look forward to, things that I felt genuinely excited and passionate about.
Then covid came along, and smashed it all into a million pieces. Literally all of the “fun activities” I’d carefully built up over the years were banned overnight. Most of them haven’t been allowed at all since March 2020, and some still won’t be allowed even when Scotland moves down to Level 0. So when people say stuff like “Oh, it’s not such a big deal, it’s really just large events and foreign travel that’s not allowed now”, it makes me very angry. For me it is a big deal, because although stuff like that might not be a big part of life to most people (certainly not most people of my age), I was relying on it to keep me out of the soul destroying depression that blighted most of my adult life. And if anyone suggests I need to find alternative ways to do that, I just want to dig my heels in and tell them to fuck off. I’ve done all this once already. It was a hell of a struggle, it took years and years, but I did it. Why should I accept my hard won progress being taken away against my will? Why should I have to start from square one again?
Thirdly, I lost my dad towards the end of last year (to cancer, not to covid). I think I’m entitled to feel at least a little aggrieved that during the last 8 months of his life I hardly got to see him, he couldn’t go out except to hospital, and he didn’t see his only grandchild at all, thanks to the restrictions. This is the problem with platitudes like “Oh, it doesn’t matter that you can’t do stuff now, because you can just do it next year instead”. Sometimes there is no next year.
Lately, though, something else has been on my mind. I’ve been so preoccupied with wanting rid of the restrictions that I’ve barely thought about what’s going to happen, what life will be like, if they finally do go.
For a while it just felt as if that was never going to happen. But it’s starting to feel a bit more likely now. Israel has just lifted the last of their covid restrictions, as have some US states. We know for sure now that getting back to normal (the proper old normal, none of this “new normal” pish) through vaccination is feasible. Barring some major unforeseen setback, it’s likely only a matter of time now until Scotland follows suit. But what then?
I worry that I’ve become too invested in the end of restrictions without really thinking about what life will actually be like on the other side. Sure, it’ll be fantastic to get back to everything that I’ve missed… but if I’m brutally honest, is that really all I need? Is that really what I should be focusing on to the exclusion of all else? I’m in danger of looking back at 2019 through rose coloured spectacles and forgetting that actually, life was far from perfect even then. The way I’ve reacted to the restrictions has worried me. The stuff I’m still missing now (big events, adventurous holidays, nights out and so on) should be the icing on the cake, but it probably shouldn’t be as essential as it is to me. I shouldn’t be feeling as if I can’t live without it, to the point where I find myself more concerned with getting it back than I am about whether people are safe from a deadly virus. I should be able to be content with the basics, at least for a while… but I’m not, and I don’t know how to be.