We’ve had more than six months of coronavirus news, death tolls and U-turns in government policy. At best it’s been frustrating and at worst it’s been unbearably overwhelming. But we can take some comfort in knowing we’re all disorientated by our emotions right now. We just have to remember that even this will pass eventually.
It’s getting darker earlier. The weeks seem to be getting longer. It’s almost impossible to switch off, and if you do, it’s very likely you would have missed an evening announcement about a new phase of lockdown rules. You’ve lost count of how many articles you’ve read and how much time you’ve spent on Twitter. The days are starting to feel very overwhelming.
Sound familiar? You’re not alone in feeling this way.
The tiredness that was once transient is now constant; the familiar “Sunday-night anxiety” is now “insert-any-day-of-the-week anxiety”. The sense of community and solidarity enkindled at the beginning of lockdown in March has given way to frustration and division as we say goodbye to the banana bread days of early spring and hello to a long winter, ever-decreasing interaction and a no-deal Brexit in December. There’s irony in the government asking a country divided by these very things to pull together…
The seemingly simple act of visiting the supermarket feels like an achievement for me. The one-way system I felt comfortable relying on to feel safe is no longer in place (or at least followed by other people) and panic-buying is starting to set in again, even though we learned the hard way that we genuinely do not need to buy that much toilet roll at once.
Dodging the people who have no concept of social distancing is not only a feat but a harsh, sad reminder that complacency has become comfortable for some, while the rest of us try to keep distance to protect strangers from the virus that is still present.
I can’t help but feel that lessons have not been learned from what we went through earlier in the year as the unnerving parallels between now and March become notable.
Cases are soaring, deaths are increasing, the testing system cannot cope with demand, and the absence of leadership is staggering. I’m scared that I’m becoming desensitised to the number of cases. “14,000? Should I be glad it’s not 25,000?” I wonder.
More and more people now seem to consider themselves as scientists, though. “Have you not looked at Sweden?” people ask, citing their lack of coronavirus-related restrictions, but not their high death rate. “Think about the flu!”, “No, but there’s more testing. Our system is world-beating!” others claim. And yet, to those who have lost loved ones to Covid-19, the situation isn’t quite so easy to brush off with a flippant claim about things none of us are really sure about any more
My chest fills with dread every time I think of winter, press briefings and the potential for a growing number of cases. Every new bit of news seems to be a deflection from something else; don’t talk about Brexit, talk about testing instead. Don’t talk about tests, talk about migrants. Don’t talk about schools, talk about Christmas. I’m lost. It’s harder to laugh about rules that are no longer comically paradoxical (because coronavirus clearly hibernates until the 10 pm curfew, right?), but painfully paradoxical. We’re not craving a pint in a pub, we want to see our loved ones again. The key difference seems to be that one is viewed by the government as more economically productive than the other.
We are all struggling. It has been a long six months, and the emotional load of giving and giving, of playing your part when the government doesn’t, is beginning to take its toll. A recent poll by BritainThinks found two-thirds of the public feel bleak about the future, as anxiety and despondency take precedence.
But the failings are systemic, not merely individual: the woeful test-and-trace system is just one catastrophic example. We are now wary of hollow promises, with the grandiose “Operation Moonshot” being one that comes to mind, and the inevitable blame-game which doesn’t seem to show any sign of letting up.
Despite all of this, we have to remember that we are not alone in our loneliness, nor our frustration at the position we’re in right now.
When it all feels inescapable, I try to find small moments of respite. Toast doesn’t fix everything, but I can tell you from experience it makes things feel less rubbish. It’s through recognising these sorts of things that we can hang on to the fleeting moments of normality, where laughing is a little easier, smiling less forced and life is less overwhelming. Smiling at a stranger, telling somebody you were thinking of them, messaging, well, anybody, all add up to invaluable little moments of kindness.
We need to remember that one day, this weird, overwhelming period will be over. Things will inevitably be different, which can seem scary on the surface but I’m sure our previous “normal” was far from a mental health utopia.
All the world requires of us now is that we keep breathing and keep going when and where we can. We need to keep a social distance. We need to keep wearing masks. We need to keep washing our hands - with or without the accompanying reprise of “Happy Birthday” playing in your head. We’ll continue to be grateful for the teachers who head into schools every day, the key workers who are still going, and listen to the government’s various U-turns with both scepticism and hope that together we’ll muddle through this.
I know it is unnerving, lonely, and hard, even if you’re one of the lucky ones who remains relatively unscathed when others are struggling to make ends meet. Finding ways of bridging the feeling of isolation, of constant uncertainty and finding little distractions away from the ceaseless news will help numb the pain a little. Look after yourself and those you love. There is power in helping others. This too will pass.