2020 sure has been one hell of a year, hasn’t it? Most people begin their year with resolutions, ways they want to be better and do better. Out with the old, in with the new. Dry January and Veganuary trends take over Instagram, gyms are flooded with new sign-ups, people buy brand spanking new yearly planners determined to remake themselves as if, when the clock strikes twelve, we magically become Us.Version.2.0 (when in reality it is just another day like all the others before it – I’m a bit of a cynic if you couldn’t tell).
So how, then, in a matter of just two months did we all go from these rebooted, superior versions of ourselves to sitting in our dressing gowns day after day, eating Nutella out of a jar with a spoon for breakfast (was that just me?) whiling away endless days on Netflix, panicking when we forgot it was our week to host the zoom quiz and scrambling to think of questions at the last minute, and waiting for the dreaded five o’clock BoJo briefings to find out where on earth fate would take us next? Some days it feels as if it were all a dream, other days the magnitude of what we’ve all collectively gone through this year hits me like a bus. And yes, as the world returns to ‘normal’ I’m here to remind you that it is still perfectly okay to feel overwhelmed by it all, even if everyone else seems fine.
I have suffered with anxiety to various extents for several years now which peaked and reached its absolute worst during my second year at drama school (but that’s a blog post for another day). To say that COVID triggered some of the worst feelings of anxiety of my life would be the understatement of the century, and I’m absolutely certain I’m not alone in feeling that. I can only speak from my own experience, but I’d be willing to bet that those first few weeks of lockdown were absolutely terrifying for the vast majority of us, whether we were classed as ‘vulnerable’ or not. But fast-forward a few months past the initial fear and shock: COVID fatigue began to set in and those who weren’t considered ‘at-risk’ ventured out.
And then lockdown measures eased completely. Almost overnight it felt like the world was back to some semblance of normal. We were allowed to see friends again, international travel reopened along with restaurants, bars and gyms. Suddenly every other Instragram story I looked at featured people clubbing in Ibiza, teens tweeted jokingly about parties they’d just sneaked off to. But here I was still sitting in my pyjamas wondering if I was the only person ON EARTH who remembered we were in the middle of a pandemic?! It was infuriating.
COVID gaslighting is a term I’ve seen tossed around all over social media this year and I’m here to tell you that it is extremely real. How many of you were invited somewhere during the summer only to tell your friends that you’re not ready to socialise in a group that big or even see anyone yet? Here are some responses I got when I told my friends the very same thing: ‘you’re being dramatic’, ‘you’re overreacting’, ‘you’re boring’, ‘you’re just using it as an excuse’ – who can relate? Even if these words were meant as a joke, you know as well as I do that they still stung. Why were we suddenly being vilified for taking whatever precautions we could to keep our loved ones safe by the same people preaching kindness on social media?
Maybe the lesson here is that we all need better friends… but I think it’s important to acknowledge the sacrifices all of us have made this year for the people we love. If you’ve made it this far I’d be willing to bet you also felt you were alone in still being terrified all through summer whilst the world barbequed, partied and picnicked.
So as schools reopen and everyone starts to return to work is it really surprising that cases are on the rise again? Are we really shocked that talk of a second lockdown is on the horizon, with millions across the UK already in local lockdowns? As cases continue to spike so will feelings of anxiety and dread within each of us, this pandemic really is beginning to feel like it will never end (maybe it never will) and the fact of the matter is that we are going to have to adjust to the new world around us.
So with that in mind, here’s some things I’ve learnt this year. My words of encouragement for all of you who have made it to the end of this post in the hope that you will feel seen and understood: your feelings of anxiety are absolutely valid, even if people try to tell you they aren’t. If your friends start to distance from you or don’t respect the choices you make to keep yourself or your family safe, they categorically did not care enough about you in the first place. The friends that are worth having will respect your boundaries and do everything they can to make sure you’re comfortable.
Stay safe, keep your distance and cherish your loved ones as we head into our first COVID winter. Please find comfort in the fact that you are not alone.