Over the past 12 months, the Coronavirus pandemic has made headlines, captured our imaginations, ignited our fears, and generated, fuelled or amplified a wide range of emotions in ways that – for many of us – were entirely new.
Over the past year, we have lost loved ones and, in experiencing a disruption in most of our “normal” parts of our lives, we have also lost parts of our identity. For some, it has been a year of reflection, growth and introspection. For others, opportunities came up for new habits, innovation, volunteering and kindness. Following a year that will undoubtedly keep a clear chapter in our collective emotional consciousness, here are three personal stories reflecting on loss and gain.
I’m Sam, and I currently work as a Policy and Public Affairs Assistant at the Mental Health Foundation. Although the coronavirus pandemic has taken many things from many people, one thing I was never expecting it to take was my job. In my previous job, I, a zero-hours worker was told that unfortunately there were no more hours for me to work and they were therefore furloughing me.
The phone call eventually came, and in June 2020 we were all told that the company was permanently closing and we were all being made redundant
. Somehow, despite me thinking otherwise, the collective hopelessness of everyone losing their jobs at the same time didn’t seem to help make it feel any less like the universe was targeting me personally.
Over 60 applications in and only one interview to show for it, it became difficult to remember I had lost my job, not my purpose. Now, I am a man of privilege. I am white, well-educated, and with a wealth of financial and emotional support networks surrounding me. This privilege allowed me to re-discover my purpose through volunteering. When the opportunity arose to do a one day a week voluntary placement with the Mental Health Foundation, I took it.
Losing my job was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through, and the constant rejection was mentally and physically exhausting, but it was also an experience that made me extremely humbled and grateful for all the things I’m lucky to have, and even more passionate about helping those not in the same position. I’m grateful for the Mental Health Foundation taking the leap of faith in employing me, and I’m even more grateful for the opportunity to try and help other people every single day.
It’s been a year of things missed, postponed and cancelled - birthdays, weddings, birth, holidays and festivals.
However, what I’ve gained this year, is time with myself.
In the precious windows between work and sleep I used to cram in social time with friends and family, gigs and shows, fitness, housework, and life admin. In a society that glorifies busyness I’ve had a year of stillness, and for that I am grateful.
There’s no Instagram filter that can rose-tint the nothingness that I’ve been up to. In a time of so much uncertainty, I haven’t been able to distract myself to pass the time – I’ve had to show up for myself, take care of myself, and re-learn how to spend quality time with me.
As a child I could content myself for whole days with a pencil and my dad’s scrap paper drawer. With all this time I’ve had on my hands this year, I’ve learned a lot from my childhood self as well as the children and young people around me. Not everyone has had the luxury of more time alone, and not everyone who has been alone during this time has had the privilege to feel it a luxury. But we all have ourselves, and we all sometimes forget how to just be. So I’ll leave you with one of my favourite childhood quotes.
“What I like doing best is Nothing. It means going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.” – Christopher Robin, The House at Pooh Corner.
Trigger warning: this story mentions self-harm.
As a result of the pandemic, I have lived in three different homes in the last 12 months. I know that my story not only isn’t uncommon in the pandemic but is also incredibly privileged in comparison to others.
Back in March 2020, I was classed as medically vulnerable. This meant my partner needed to make a quick decision to either move in with me and my housemates temporarily or to stay in his current home and not see me until lockdown was lifted.
He quickly packed his bags and moved in. My housemates were supportive and welcoming, but, after two months of being locked down with a couple, they were finding that this was negatively affecting their mental health.
As a result, we made the decision to move into his house for the remainder of lockdown. While we had been at my house, one of my partners housemates tragically relapsed with alcohol and drug addiction and left the house under deeply sad circumstances.
I found this loss of my home during a global pandemic on top of the tragedy of my partner’s housemate incredibly destabilising. His house felt full of ghosts and I was experiencing feelings of displacement which triggered my PTSD. I was having panic attacks, self-harming and under extreme stress – which resulted in me being signed-off sick from work.
It is now seven months on, I still feel home sick for West London, but also incredibly grateful. I now live in a safe new home in North London, free from abuse, in a healthy relationship and with my two guinea pigs. It may not have been what I planned, but with all things considered I have had a very lucky experience in the pandemic.
These touching stories reveal how we experienced loss, bereavement, change, growth, desperation, hope, in the course of 12 months. Out of loss, came hope. Out of isolation, came connection. Out of change, came innovation. Out of trauma, came growth.
What is absolutely important to remember is that the experience of the past year has not been shared by everyone. We have all been in the same storm, but we have not all been in the same boat. The Coronavirus vaccine brings hope. The warmer weather brings smiles. However, for many of us, the next few months – and even years – will remain tough, vulnerable and uncertain.
The wellbeing impact of the pandemic is here to stay. Any of us can experience a mental health problem. But the risk is not evenly distributed. For many people, happiness and “normality” will rebound quickly. For others, who have lost relatives, jobs, or parts of their own identity, recovery will take much longer. If the past year has taught us anything, it is that in these next few months of recovery we will need to actively start rebuilding a future rooted in kindness, equality and empathy.