pandemic-lost-youth
Life

“It’s OK to be pissed off at the pandemic stealing so much of our lives – I am”

As lockdowns, months and birthdays passed by, writer Alex Sims began to question whether the pandemic had robbed her of the last years of her 20s.

Back in the sweet salad days of 2020, I had a plan. I was 27 and it was my aim to pack as much fun into the twilight years of my 20s as physically possible before ‘real life’ (whatever it entailed) hit me in my 30s.

Circumstances in my early 20s meant I missed out on a lot of the so-called ‘normal’ things people my age all seemed to be doing. So, this felt like my chance to leap into hedonism whole-heartedly; to travel, go to music festivals and stay out until the early morning with no obligations the next day.

I spent January and February in a haze of pub trips and parties, all while frantically booking trips abroad online. Then, of course, all our lives were upended in the UK in March when the devastating reality of the Covid pandemic hit and the country was confined indoors.

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I was one of tens of thousands of office workers who started packing up their desks as fears of a ‘lockdown’ began to loom. “See you in a few weeks,” my co-workers and I all said to one another as we marched out the door, thinking we’d be working from home for a month or so before our lives went back to normal.

Little did I know that my 28th birthday would pass in the throes of lockdown, that my 29th would hit just as Prime Minister Boris Johnson relaxed the 2m social distancing rules, and now, nearly two years on from the start of the pandemic, I’m staring down the barrel of 30 with lockdowns and social restrictions still on the agenda.

The past two years have been devastating and horrific for so many of us in myriad ways. Lots of us got through by processing things day to day, dealing with each catastrophe or period of unease as it came. It’s not until we sit and reflect on just how much time has gone by that the weight of what we’ve been through and the length of time we’ve had to (rightfully) make huge sacrifices for really packs its full gut-wrenching punch.

Reflecting on our mortality or feeling like the sands of time are slipping through our fingers has been a facet of the human condition since time immemorial. But there is something about this natural existential crisis as milestone birthdays approach or big life events happen that is even harder to bear when mixed with the pandemic.

I sit here in the winter of my third decade, looking back with bitter nostalgia at all the things that could have been: the friends I could have been making on sticky dancefloors while I was sitting on my sofa waiting for my government-mandated daily walk. The memory-making holidays I might have been on while I was trudging around another circuit of the local park. The moments with loved ones outside of our bubbles that have been stolen from us and we can never get back.

I may be naïve for placing so much hope on the last three years of my 20s, for putting my youth on a pedestal, or for investing so much importance in a birthday with ‘0’ at the end, but I’m not the only one who feels this way.

pandemic-lost-youth
A Reddit feed titled, ‘Is anyone else worried that Coronavirus is going to rob them of the last years of their youth?’, has amassed hundreds of responses.

Countless Twitter posts echo my feelings. Dr Christienna Fryar tweets: “The first month or so of the first lockdown, I just knew very deeply that there went the rest of my 30s […] of course I wondered whether I was being hysterical. I’m a year and a bit away from 40, so yeah, there went the rest of my 30s.”

Dr Dani Rabaiotti tweets: “This pandemic robbed me of the opportunity to do 20s things in the last year of my 20s and I am *not* happy about it.”

A Reddit feed titled, ‘Is anyone else worried that Coronavirus is going to rob them of the last years of their youth?’, has amassed hundreds of responses from people of all different ages. “I’m in my late twenties and I was hoping to travel to more countries and cross things off my bucket list before I hit 30, but nope. This pandemic just had to hit,” reads one comment. “All I do is go to work and go back home.”

“I’m fast approaching 76 and I get the feeling that this virus will entirely rob me of the enjoyment of the last few years of my life,” reads another. “I’m still reasonably fit and love to travel. Pre-virus there was rarely a month went by without a trip or planning for one, short or long. Now my ‘next trip’ folder is empty.”

But, the comments are also interspersed with messages of hope and optimism. Some are reminders that there is no arbitrary age you reach when you suddenly stop enjoying life. Others implore us to ditch social conventions about how we’re ‘supposed’ to live in certain decades of our lives.

Another reads: “You’re allowed to grieve the opportunities you lost, the years you’ll never get back and the life you had before the pandemic, but always be open for the rest of life that’s yet to come.”

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I welcome this. It’s a reminder that things don’t always go to plan and we can mourn that. But it doesn’t mean we should write off our futures. The pandemic has been harsh and cruel, but it has taught us many lessons. It’s confirmed our priorities in life and what we value.

When I do reach my 30s and I start making plans again, I know that this time around they’ll be things that will make me happy, not what I think I should be doing at a certain point in my life. Time can’t rob me of that. 

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