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COVID-19 Lockdown: Did We Really Lose Control?

After yet another online chat with a friend, I started to think about the implications that the COVID-19 pandemic has already had on our lives. The 23rd of March 2020 is a day we will never forget. It was the day that society may have felt like it lost all sense of control. Prior to this date, I know that I am not alone in saying that I had taken my freedom for granted. A simple trip to the supermarket for groceries or an impromptu coffee with a friend, had now turned into an extraordinary task of keeping safe from a deadly superbug. We could no longer go out, see family or friends, or go to work. We were in complete lockdown and emotions began to bubble to the surface. This complete loss of control left many feeling like we were spiralling and unable to cope, as our daily routines were suddenly no more.

As I sit here today in July 2020, and the government cautiously starts to allow a level of normality to come back into our lives, I have come to realise that for some, including myself, we haven’t begun to process the magnitude of what we have just endured. For the majority, we are grieving for our old lives, our freedom and spontaneity. We are grieving for the ‘what was’ because now, as we enter an unprecedented time of uncertainty, the ‘what will be’ seems far from our reach. We are supposedly out of the ‘peak’ and meant to be entering a ‘post-pandemic’ way of life. As we slowly adapt and adjust to the new norms, are many of us simply moving on and consciously attempting to forget the trauma that we have all just been through? Are we collectively being ostriches and ‘burying our heads in the sand’ to avoid what we have been experiencing emotionally to keep some form of control?

Let’s look at what we have witnessed over the last 3 months. When did it become the norm to listen to a daily human death count every evening at 5pm, and not process the grief behind the numbers? When did it become the norm not to touch, kiss, or embrace someone you love or be able to offer comfort to them in their hour of need? When did it become the norm not to be able to go to hospital for regular appointments or life-saving treatment? When did it become the norm to have to change career without warning and become self-taught teachers to future generations? When did it become the norm to only talk to people through a virtual lens pretending all is fine, when inside you may be feeling anxious and alone? When did it become the norm to wash your hands 20 times a day and fear the safety of your own home? And finally, when did it become the norm to be uber-vigilant when going out and having to avoid being caught by an invisible viral serial killer?

All of these dramatic changes surely must have had an impact on our mental health, however a glimpse of hope is that even though we have had to change our introjected and cultural habits, we have still managed to stay in control in many ways. When I think about the obstacles, we as a nation have managed to control and conquer whilst restricted by the pandemic, it brings a smile to my face. We have created protective supportive 'lockdown' bubbles for ourselves and loved ones by controlling how long we choose to spend talking and laughing on social media platforms. We have thought of creative ways to work from home and have been in control of how long we spend working versus spending time with our kids having fun. We have witnessed many remarkable members of the public regaining self-control, by raising money for charity, whilst confined to home parameters. We rebuilt our sense of community every Thursday evening, by standing on our doorstep and cheering for our amazing keyworkers, showing that we were fearless despite the anxiety. We have dramatically lowered our carbon footprints by choosing to walk, run or cycle for exercise, which has lifted both our mental and physical wellbeing. We have had control over getting back in touch with nature and wildlife has regained its trust in humanity. And finally, we have became much more money conscious and aware of our spending habits. Toilet paper will never be taken for granted again!

Upon reflection, we must take some accountability for some of the perhaps negative patterns of control, that we individually had put in place in our lives prior to lockdown. For many, the pandemic has given vital time for self-reflection, self-care, and self-evaluation. It has meant that we have been able to refill our wellbeing fuel tanks, which for some, was extremely overdue. No matter what each of us has experienced during the pandemic so far, we hopefully now are much more aware of our need to sustain our autonomous change and growth. Going forward as we leave the old versions of ourselves behind, we must remember that we need to treat each other with patience, empathy, and kindness. Together, as we move towards a more positive and functional 'norm', hopefully looking back, we will come to realise that we were in control, even when we felt like we had lost it.

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