Tell you what I’d forgotten about normal life: it just keeps going. It never stops, does it?
When there is not a killer virus on the loose and restrictions put in place to keep said virus in check, life is relentless. There is a day, and then another one, and then another one. There is work and drinks and sleep, for a little while, if you can manage it, and then you wake up and start again. There is no end in sight, apart from, you know, The End, which is not necessarily something we want to think about. For the most part, life just keeps going.
This is the conclusion I reached the other day at around 11am, when I received five emails in short succession and burst into tears. It was a very embarrassing thing to do; I have been in full-time work for nearly a decade. If there is one thing I should be used to, it is emails.
Still I sat there, on my couch, looking at my screen, and I wept. I thought about the emails I had just received, and the emails I had received before that and had still not replied to, and the emails I would receive in the hours and days to come. I thought about the drinks I had been to the night before and the drinks I was going to have that night.
I thought about the good things and the bad things in my life and what they had in common: they would always keep coming. It felt like being 15 and smoking a joint and contemplating the vastness of the universe and suddenly being very overwhelmed. I was very overwhelmed. Then I remembered the worst people in the world.
Well, they’re not the worst people in the world; I just thought they were for a while. They are the people who said things like: “Oh but deep down, we’ll miss the quiet of the lockdown, won’t we?” and, “You know, I did actually enjoy reading in silence and making banana bread.” I hated them with every fibre of my being.
I hated them because I hated being in lockdown, being stuck in my little flat by myself with nothing to do. I hated the feeling of missing out on life, which is why I rushed out into the world every time we were allowed to. I went shopping on the first day shops reopened and to the park the first day we were allowed to go to parks again.
In those two and a bit weeks towards the end of 2021, when everything reopened but only for a short while, I went out every single night. It didn’t matter that we could only be outside and we could only socialise while eating; I wore a million layers and spent every penny I had on bar snacks I didn’t eat.
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This time a year ago, Freedom Day – the date when the majority of Covid restrictions ended in England – was so close we could taste it. By 19 July we would be free; normal life would return for good and nothing could stop us. The worst people in the world warned that some of us may not cope very well after 18 months of enforced isolation, but I didn’t listen to them. They weren’t talking about me. I wanted nothing more than to throw myself back into the world.
That is exactly what I have been doing over the past 12 months. I’ve gone on holiday, gone out with my friends, made new ones, dated people, stopped working from home, tried new sports, gone shopping, gone dancing, and everything else I could think of doing. It’s been brilliant, I loathed the forced inertia of lockdowns. I never want to go back.
Well, not exactly. I do not miss lockdowns, but I miss the summer of two years ago, when everything reopened but we knew it would be temporary. I spent that summer going on holiday, going out with my friends, making new ones, the whole lot, but there was an urgency to it which made it feel exhilarating. It felt like being a kid again, making the most of summer holidays because we knew they couldn’t last.
It is an odd thing to miss, fun on a deadline. It is not something adults are meant to ever experience; the summer holidays end, you go to university, you get a job, life goes on. There are brief breaks but, for the most part, life keeps happening. It is odd that our lives were taken away from us for a while then handed back, hopefully for good. Of course it changed the way we experience the world.
It reminds me of the time I accidentally didn’t leave London for nearly a year. When I eventually skipped town, I got struck by the amount of sky you can see if you are not always surrounded by tall buildings. I stared upwards for a while, neither happy nor sad, merely finding all that blank space a bit daunting.
That is what my life feels like now, a year after the end of the pandemic restrictions. It isn’t especially happy or especially sad, mostly overwhelming. I suppose I just have to take a deep breath and keep going. It’s all we can do, isn’t it?
[See also: Polio in London: is the virus discovery linked to Covid?]