Why did a visit to Cork city leave me overwhelmed?

EIMEAR HUTCHINSON recalls a visit to the city in the past week which resulted in her feeling overwhelmed... something many of us may identify with as we re-emerge out of lockdown into the world
Why did a visit to Cork city leave me overwhelmed?

Navigating this new normal is tricky — you try to keep your distance from people, try to read signs and make sure you are queuing safely. Picture: Stock

I WOULD have always considered myself a fairly confident person. I never minded walking into a pub alone to wait for friends and I enjoyed eating by myself if I was lucky enough to escape for a few hours’ peace from the house. I rarely got flustered in social settings, but lately I have to admit I feel a bit overwhelmed at the thoughts of doing regular things again.

It is a strange thing to live in a small village during a pandemic — don’t get me wrong, it was an absolute dream, it felt safe, cocooned away and within our 5km we had a shop that was always welcoming and a forest big enough that even after a year of near daily visits it had the capacity to still surprise us. 

But when you live in a small village, you understand the simple workings of daily life during a pandemic, therefore re-emerging into the wider world has come as a bit of a shock to me this time round.

Perhaps it is because the last few months in lockdown felt more intense — the fear felt more real with the cases so high, the home schooling was more intense and the isolation more severe because, after a year of this, people had lost the will for zoom quizzes and conversations were starting to run dry.

I think we are also more aware yet still totally unaware of how this new world works. I was in the city last week and the whole experience, which ordinarily wouldn’t have caused me a second thought, seemed to take more of a toll on my mind than it previously would have.

I was flustered driving in traffic and trying to change lanes (I am driving for nearly 20 years and now that I write that I can’t believe it, where does time go?!). 

I have barely driven my car over the last few months and if I did it was on rural roads with little traffic. I had to fill out a Covid declaration like you do most places you go for an appointment now, and honestly, I was so rattled I gave decent consideration to the question ‘have you left the country in the last 14 days?’, I haven’t left in over 14 months so that will show you where my mind was at.

I went to the market in Wilton and my mind was dizzy with all the chalk markings for queues this way and that, and wondering was I waiting in the right area while I was waiting for food. It is tricky trying to keep your distance from people in a crowded space in case they get annoyed that you have come to close to them.

And maybe I was the only person in the market who perceived the situation like that, others took it in their stride, but I hadn’t been to a farmers’ market in over a year so I felt like a fish out of water.

I used to love nothing more than an afternoon in the city by myself having a wander, I’m sure many of us did, but now the very idea of it overwhelms me. 

I get so anxious even simply going in a door to a shop, wondering if it is the right one. Am I following the arrows like I should? Waiting awkwardly behind people until they move on so you can reach things. Queues into shops and queues in shops.

I stopped doing the weekly shop last year and I genuinely haven’t had the nerve to go back to it yet, I am more than happy to let my husband tackle that minefield.

Even communication with people you know well has an added layer of complexity lately. Our natural instinct is to gather together in hard times, to lean on each other physically and metaphorically, but now we have to try and train out brains to work differently. Many of us would hug our friends to greet them but now those first few moments feel peculiar.

There is the tricky social dance of trying to figure out will someone be left feeling uncomfortable because you have suggested doing something, like go for a walk, but they may have their own personal reasons why they can’t and need to refuse your invitation.

The masks, obviously necessary, do add a layer of complexity to communication now; missing the punchline of a joke because you just can’t hear it or having to repeat yourself until the conversation peeters out.

I know this time will pass, we will adjust like we always do as humans, the awkward social dance we now partake in will become either a familiar gait in years to come or a distant memory. And maybe you read this and don’t understand where I am coming from or perhaps you completely identify.

Either way, it might be a reminder that we all need to be patient with each other as we navigate this new world we live in!

I used to love nothing more than an afternoon in the city by myself having a wander, I’m sure many of us did, but now the very idea of it overwhelms me.

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