Sunday, October 24, 2021

Dealing with post-pandemic guilt as the world opens up again

When I think back to being in the office at the start of 2020 and hearing the first whispers of a virus, it doesn't feel real. I remember not thinking much of it at the time, until the vibrant buzz of the city centre slowly started to fade with each working day, and I felt the knot in my stomach pull tighter.

The last 18 months have been devastating in so many intricately personal ways for each of us. We lost jobs, we lost lives, and at times, we lost hope. Like most of us, my life took on a new shape entirely. I started taking walks just to get out of the house. The dining room became my office, and I ended up working the majority of my job through a pandemic. I learned what 'furlough' meant. I laughed. I cried (and not just at the Vampire Diaries finale). I read books. I watched some new TV shows. I rewatched some old TV shows. And sometimes, I did absolutely nothing.

What I didn't expect though, in the midst of it all, was to find solace, even only in fleeting moments. There was something oddly comforting to me in how we all went through this together. Not England, not the UK, but the whole world. I'd listen to an American podcast and Covid would come up in the conversation. I'd turn the TV on and it would be a travel documentary in Greece, with people social distancing and wearing face masks. As terrifying and gut-wrenching as it was, it was also comforting, somehow, to know that it wasn't just us, or just me. 

The thing is, we humans aren't very good at taking breaks. We're naturally impatient, hence the rise of the slow living movement over the last few years. Lockdown brought a forced respite that I didn't know I needed. It brought me closer to my family (I guess that's what being cooped up with your parents with nowhere to go does to you), and in a lot of ways, it brought me closer to myself.

I was reading recently about people who had, for lack of a better phrase, 'enjoyed' certain aspects of lockdown, and there was one quote that stuck in my mind:

We can hold grief and carve out moments of happiness for ourselves at the same time.

I think that's the perfect way of putting it. At first, whenever I came close to even remotely suggesting that there could be anything positive to come from the past year, I was flooded with guilt, but then I realised that it's not about disregarding this undeniably horrific series of events. It's because of these events that, if we are able to find even a sliver of hope or contentment in between, then we should embrace it, not feel guilty for it.

Of course, it wasn't the pandemic itself that made me feel this way, but rather the simplicity that came with it. Some of my most meaningful conversations with friends took place outdoors, sat two metres apart. Some of the funniest work moments happened on Zoom, with tears of laughter streaming down my face. And some of my favourite Saturdays were spent wandering to the local lake, watching the ducklings get bigger and bigger each week. Somewhere, among the chaos, I had these tiny, glimmering moments that I can't help but feel thankful for.

That's why, after 18 months of being almost entirely alone with my thoughts, when the world did finally open its doors again, I hesitated at the threshold. All this talk of 'back to normal' had me frantically grasping at frayed memories, trying to remember just what that looked like. And that's when I realised. 'Normal' was different for everyone, even pre-Covid. For some people, going back to normal is going back to cocktail-filled weekends in busy bars, and for others, it's something more quiet, more simple - and is that so wrong? Is it wrong not to do a celebratory head-first dive into crowded clubs and action-packed events if we never really did that before anyway?

Of course not. Because the truth is, there's no right or wrong way to experience a pandemic. You shouldn't feel guilty if you found some unexpected moments of peace in lockdown, but you also shouldn't feel guilty if it ended up being the toughest year of your life. Because the one thing we all have in common? 

We got through it. 


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