Social anxiety: Does anyone else feel like they're living a lie?
Mental Health

Post-pandemic anxiety: “Am I the only one that feels like I’m living a lie?”

One writer reflects on the paralysing fear of living post-pandemic and why everything feels like a lie. 

It happened ever so subtly last week, as the adrenaline started coursing through my veins in anticipation of Glastonbury. Yes, there was excitement in spades and, of course, its fizzing counterpart, the sensation of a flight of butterflies fluttering in my stomach, but alongside it was a bumbling sense of what I can only describe as fear.

The thing I realised when I sat down for a moment to think about where this adrenaline was coming from was how quick I had been to forget what I’d just lived through following the rapid whipping back of the curtain between our pandemic lives and our pre-pandemic lives. Two years of stop-and-start lockdowns, losing loved ones to Covid, physical separation from people I love dearly, birthday parties planned with more karaoke, sequins and feathers than you ever imagined was possible, then cancelled; the pandemic was hard, and in that, I forgot how much harder it made life after it.  

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“Our lives have completely changed – things like our sense of freedom have been punctuated by government briefings and rules; the things we could plan and look forward to are still uncertain largely; things are not ‘normal’ – at least not like they were before,” psychologist Audrey Tang tells Stylist

I can date the nebulous sense of bubbling anxiety back to the lifting of the first lockdown, when we could only spend time with one other person from one other household (but apparently the government could host birthday parties with cake). Naturally, there was relief: ‘Hurrah! I’m leaving my house and seeing some of my favourite humans in the flesh!’ But there was also fear that swirled around in my stomach like a small cyclone. As somebody that’s never been particularly anxious, this was anathema. Why did I suddenly feel sick at the thought of living the life I’d lived happily for years?  

That’s how this summer feels. Blissful, because I can plan again, I can travel again (although leaving on an aeroplane from Gatwick airport looks difficult at the time of writing), I can be spontaneous again. Life is, in many ways, back, so why do I feel like I’m living a lie?

“Our responses to trauma and challenge can vary from adapting and growth to compartmentalising and suppression,” adds Tang. “Over the last couple of years, we have experienced grief, sadness and even a lifestyle (we were ‘locked down’ for almost two years) we had not prepared for.” 

I suppose it’s only to be expected: we can’t unsee the things we’ve seen, we can’t unlearn the things we’ve learned or untrain ourselves to revert to the people we were two years ago. There’s hope to be found somewhere within the lie it feels like we’re coasting through as we fumble in the dark for our pre-pandemic selves. 

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I’m leaving my flat with some of my favourite humans on earth tomorrow in a clapped-out old banger to drive to Worthy Farm for four days that I know will be probably the apex of fun, but the rumbling fear still remains, churning away in the background like a broken speaker. I’ll do my best to pierce through the noise and to feel rooted, muddy wellies planted firmly in the ground, and when I get back, the long, hot summer many of us have dreamt of for two years will still be here, ready to beckon us with open arms. Somewhere, in all of that, I hope I’ll find myself again and I hope I’ll find the truth in the murkiness of the lie. 

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