I READ a Twitter post recently that said “This time last year was the start of our last normal week, and we didn’t know a thing.”
Imagine had we known! Imagine knowing what was ahead, what we were to be faced with, what we were to struggle with, and what we would be asked to overcome.
There’s a reason we cannot see into the future — to see all of that in one fell swoop would have been beyond overwhelming. But when you’re in it and all you can do is take the next step, you’d be amazed at what you can handle.
So here we are, 12 months of hopping in and out of lockdowns, 52 weeks of social distancing, a year of adapting, floundering, surviving.
Out of curiosity and interest, I posed some questions on social media about people’s experiences of the last year, and opened them up to be answered by anybody who felt the urge. More than 100 responses painted a deep, intricate picture. They were heartwarming, heartbreaking, uplifting and thought-provoking. The same themes emerged over and over again, with nuggets of unique wisdom and truth scattered in amongst the common threads.
The first question was “What have you loved about lockdown?” At first it seems almost like an inappropriate thing to ask. Surely there’s nothing to “love” about lockdown? And yet the answers flooded in. Overwhelmingly, the answers that cropped up again and again were “slowing down” and “quality time”.
Conversations were had that could never otherwise have found a place on the timetable. Relationships with kids, spouses and siblings were nurtured like never before. The ‘rat-race’, as it was referred to, was cut out or at least minimised, leaving room for new endeavours. Respondees reported taking up new hobbies, embracing working from home, paring back the excess and just simplifying life as a whole. What’s not to love about all of that?!
Next, the question “What have you loathed about lockdown?” was posed. It’s presented many challenges, of that we are aware. But I really wanted to know what elicited the greatest pain or stress response. What was it that people found most difficult?
The most common answers here revolved around “missing family” and “lack of spontenaety”. Respondees hated not being able to meet family or friends, and missed the ability to take off wherever and whenever took their fancy.
The things once taken for granted such as employment were now off the cards for some, and a sense of precious moments being stolen was palpable. Babies being born and not meeting grandparents, the “nothingness” of not being free to plan or achieve as we once would have. Being “trapped” and “stuck” was an overarching theme. The phrase “Zoom is Doom” stuck out as being a good synopsis of how people felt!
I then invited people to reflect on the question “what lifted you up during lockdown?” — answers here were centred around “support”. Family, friends, and connections found online with like-minded individuals were the most frequent responses.
The ability to lift ourselves and others out of the rut of lockdown was inspiring to read, and demonstrated such resilience and hope.
And this resilience was all the more obvious when I read the responses to my final question “What have you lost during lockdown?” — I had asked this almost as a final throwaway query, and followed with a little guidance, saying that it could be anything from your temper to your car keys!
I underestimated the depth and breadth of responses I would get back. Overwhelmingly on top of the list was “sanity” or other mental health related references. People have struggled significantly with this past year.
There was evidence of having lost some “sense of self”, and “self confidence”, the “art of conversation” and the “ability to sleep soundly”.
Some to Covid, and others during Covid restrictions when the normal grieving process could not be followed. As if everything wasn’t hard enough!
Scanning through the responses, it struck me that there are so many unique experiences out there. Everybody has been making their way through this past year with their own baggage, their own challenges, their own perspectives. Nothing is clear cut, or simply black or white.
Supporting one another through has been the key, and now, as we begin to see some light ahead, that support will continue to be the game-changer.
Dr Michelle O’Driscoll is a pharmacist, researcher and founder of InTuition, a health and wellness education company. Her research lies in the area of mental health education, and through her company InTuition she delivers health promotion workshops to corporate and academic organisations nationally. See www.intuition.ie and @intuitionhealthandwellness