One of those people is Eimear O’Dwyer, a 20-year-old from Durrus in West Cork, who on a year out from studying commerce in UCC, has discovered her true talents in a project that was also designed to lift the spirits of others.
Creating an online journal called Lockdown Experiences, she reached out to others, inviting them to also share their photos, drawings, poems, thoughts and stories.
In her first edition, she explained her motivation: “Like everybody else, I found myself with a lot of extra time these past few months. It has been at times incredibly frightening and isolating.
“However, I have really enjoyed having the time to find gratitude for the simple yet remarkable things in my life that bring me so much joy. Walks in nature, indulging in a good book and writing have become the activities that I look forward to most in my days. With this journal, I hope to connect people; to give people the opportunity to share their experiences of life during lockdown. I truly hope it serves to bring people together and brings an air of hope and appreciation into our lives.”
Her eureka moment came when she was out in nature one day.
“I was on a walk with my dog and I was sitting on the pier and there were a few people walking past and we were just chatting about lockdown, and I thought, I don’t actually know what’s going on with people anymore. We don’t get to have long conversations. What’s getting people through? What have they learned? I just wanted to know what people were up to and what they were feeling.
“And if other people could hear those stories as well, it might make them feel more connected or normal; maybe give them ideas of what might help them get through the days when they’re struggling.”
Eimear is very open about her own mental health struggles which pre-date the pandemic.
“Since lockdown, there definitely are a lot more challenges, but I already have tools to deal with it. I’ve definitely learned over my own few years dealing with my mental health, different things that help me, like writing, meditation and walks.
“This year has been a massive awakening. I had to do something about it, not just run from it. I was able to do so much more of what I wanted to do and make a positive impact — however small — on other people; maybe inspire others to learn more about their minds as well. You’re stuck with your mind forever to be friends with, you know,” she says.
Among the contributors to the Lockdown Experiences journal was 21-year-old Sarah Crowley, who, along with her sister Emma and mum, Christine, ordered painting by numbers kits, which turned out to be their favourite lockdown activity.
Creativity was a source of joy for many, including Patricia Tomlinson from Drimoleague, who stitched her way through lockdown. Belonging to a textile group called Wild Threads West Cork, she was unable to meet her fellow members in over a year but she outlined how embracing solo stitching projects kept her sane.
It was a similar story for Eileen Kiely Dwer from Skibbereen, who made everything from patchwork quilts and handmade rugs to knitted baby clothing. Some of her creations were a useful response to the pandemic, such as the six sets of scrubs she made for Kinsale hospital, blankets of hope for those undergoing chemotherapy, and over 100 facemasks, many of which went to direct provision centres. Still, the thing she is personally most proud of is that she cleaned the attic, “a promise of eight years”!
Grace Bateman, from Riverstick, discovered a whole new meaning to the much used phrase ‘click and collect’. For her, the click was the sound of her camera while collect referred to the photographic memories she was compiling for a new Instagram page.
Geraldine Flynn, also from Durrus, sent in a short piece entitled ‘Heartfelt Thanks’, expressing her gratitude to health professionals after she “came out the other side smiling” following major heart surgery during lockdown. Enjoying her new lease of life, she wrote: “Covid has shown us that we need a lot less in our lives. We can walk out the front door and listen to the birds, walk in the countryside and observe what is going on all around us; for that I am so grateful”.
For another, the lockdown brought an unexpected entrepreneurial opportunity. Caroline Downey, a 21-year-old college student from Bantry, found herself back home when colleges closed last year and she used the time to explore new hobbies and interests she hadn’t had time for previously.
In April, 2020, she rediscovered the joy of letter writing and reached out to special people in her life to let them know she was missing them, hoping to unexpectedly brighten their day. She also bought some wire and a plier set and set about making earrings to include with her letters. The feedback was so positive that she started her own small business, DewDrop Designs, selling her first order in May, 2020, and officially opening her online store last October. In the journal, she wrote: “This hobby-turned business not only afforded me a mental escape during lockdown, but also allowed me to express my creativity in a way I never thought of before.”
Lockdown had a similar life-altering effect on the journal’s creator, Eimear, who has made the decision to drop out of commerce after two years of study, in order to follow her heart and pursue Arts instead this autumn. She admits now that a creative person such as she should never have taken on commerce in the first place.
“This year, I learned a lot about what I actually like. I was 15 in 5th year when we started having meetings about college; I filled out my CAO at 16, so I was very young. I come from a family of six children, so I looked up to what my siblings said, which was ‘commerce is a good, stable course; you’ll get a job’.”
It was the slowed-down pace of life during lockdown that helped her arrive at that decision.
“Over lockdown, I just got to sit down and think about what I actually want from life. Just having the time to sit down and think was something that I didn’t have before. I would have just been so busy the whole time. This has been a very peaceful kind of life — and simple; a lot more simple than I’m used of. There was not as much pressure to get loads achieved.”
In a way, the creative direction she should take in life was always there staring her in the face.
“I’ve always had a gratitude journal at night. Even when I was young I always had poem books and little diaries. I found a lot of them over lockdown. It’s funny to look back on them! I always have a few different sketch books going at the same time. I’m always creating things. That’s what I love to do.”
Beyond her own journal, she has also used her lockdown time to write articles for Stand.ie, a not-for-profit initiative by Suas Educational Development, with a focus on justice and equality issues.
“I found writing to be my absolute comfort during lockdown”, she says.
As restrictions are lifting this month, the Lockdown Experiences journal has also come to its natural conclusion, with the fifth and final edition published last Saturday. It’s time for Eimear to move on (ultimately to a career in writing, she hopes) but not before reflecting on the journal as she bids it farewell.
“It was a safe space to share. There was no judgement. It was a relaxed, small project; there was a small community feel, almost like writing to a friend about something you did that day. I want to keep this as a memory of what lockdown was. People can come back to it and see how bizarre it was that this actually happened.”