Worcester-born Jasmine Owens has been living completely alone under Spanish lockdown restrictions in Barcelona for seven weeks. Here, she tells her story of being stuck in the midst of a pandemic far away from home.
I moved to Barcelona last year after eight years of living a typically London (read: fast-paced and often gruelling) lifestyle. It had always been an ambition of mine to live abroad in a thriving, cosmopolitan city and then an opportunity came up at work to open an office in Barcelona. In my eyes, there was nothing to lose.
From the moment I first touched down, last March, I could feel how magical it was. I moved in with a group of new friends, settled into my office and adapted to my new Spanish way of life with great ease (trust me, the city makes it easy to enjoy every moment). I found the perfect balance of working hard during the day, drinking wine in the warm evenings and spending weekends at the beach.
But the mood across the city started to shift 10 months in and, when my flatmates and I reconvened in January after spending time with our families over the festive season, it became obvious why. One of my flatmates, who lives in China, told us about a deadly virus in a small town called Wuhan in her native country. She said it was similar to the SARS virus. I was quite young when the SARS virus happened so at first I didn’t fully understand the severity of it.
From that moment I was getting coronavirus updates through her as she would tell us the latest news from her family living through the nightmare in China.
Then the virus started to spread across the globe.
When Covid-19 was confirmed in Italy, I remember feeling the rising creep of anxiety because, perhaps naïvely, I hadn’t expected the virus to make it to Europe. Pretty soon, it was all anyone was talking about at work. I struggle with speaking Spanish, so although I wasn’t always a huge part of the conversations at work, I could tell that coronavirus was dominating the chat.
I remember thinking, ‘what will actually happen if it really does come to Spain?’ The first case in Barcelona was in February – but there had already been cases confirmed in the capital city, Madrid. When I realised it had really happened I was in shock. Both my flatmates flew home, and suddenly I was completely alone. Before I could come to and practically assess my feelings, the Spanish government flipped into action to protect citizens from further spread of the virus.
Unlike the UK, when our protective lockdown started our exercise “privileges” ended. No-one was allowed out their house – no matter where you lived. I was furloughed from work within the first two weeks, adding to the feeling that everything I knew in Barcelona, my whole way of life, had been taken away from me, albeit to protect me. I was scared and lonely.
I’ve never experienced any mental health issues before but when things in Spain started to get serious I found it incredibly difficult to sleep. My mind wouldn’t stop racing at night. I dreamt of being ill, of family members being ill. I was feeling the first prickles of anxiety.
I found it hard to watch the UK government not respond to the crisis in such a decisive manner. And similarly, my closest friends and family couldn’t relate to my lockdown situation – finding it baffling that no-one was allowed out. I called my sister one evening, and as soon as she picked up the phone and asked me how I was I just burst into tears.
I knew that to stay positive I needed to make an effort to keep in touch with those I love and create structure in my days. I started setting up video chat brunches with my friends at the weekends, logging in for an online boxing class everyday and trying to be the best daughter and sister I could be.
Last weekend on Saturday 2 May, the lockdown rules were relaxed. There’s now a set timetable that everyone in Barcelona must adhere to, it dictates that people of different age groups and vulnerabilities can move freely throughout the city at certain times in the day. For those not at risk like me, we can go outside between 6am and 10am and then again between 8pm and 11pm.
After two months of being inside, completely on my own, I have finally been able to walk the streets of Barcelona, smell the sea air and see other people again. I went to see my friends who have also been on lockdown for seven weeks. I wore my mask, as did they, but it was heaven to see their faces, complete and utter heaven.
On Saturday I set an alarm for 7.30am but I woke up before my alarm – I was excited that I could legally get out. Running along the beach, seeing other people, listening to the sounds of life and observing other people enjoying being free again – I don’t know what was the best part of it all. Of course, everyone maintained social distancing as much as possible, but it was clear we were all beaming.
Days later and it still fills my heart with joy remembering that moment that we were all finally free.
I’m still wearing my mask, still protecting others and being very socially aware and respectful. Looking back at those dark times of fear and loneliness, it feels like there really was that light at the end of the tunnel and I see that now.
There was a gear shift and an energy change on Saturday and since then it’s just been something magic in the air. It’s really changed everything, and I’m elated. I couldn’t be happier to be one step closer to something that resembles normal life. And I’ll never forget those seven solo weeks on lockdown for as long as I live.
Images: Jasmine Owens / Bru Aguiló