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Happy Numb Year

Has Covid Gatecrashed the Party?

by Hayley Doyle

The start of a New Year can be profound for some, and to others, just another day. Many love the idea of a fresh start, whereas many don’t understand the hype. Whatever camp you might find yourself in, New Year and the glory of New Year’s Eve has changed somewhat since the pandemic. It’s another consequence of Covid, changing our mindset and adding even more unwelcome anxiety.

New Year’s Eve always gave me the tingles. The good kind. So, you can guess which camp I was in, right? It started when I was about six years old and allowed to stay up late at a family party. I remember being told that when the clock strikes midnight, I’d hear the ships’ horns (I grew up in Liverpool, which is a port), and then, to quote my mother, “Everything changes!” Well, this blew my mind! What changes? I guess it was her way of explaining out-with-the-old and in-with-the-new, that anything was possible. And that’s when the tingles started. Over the years, no matter how I celebrated, from those family gatherings, to house parties, to clubs, to bars, to restaurants, back to house parties, and even an intimate dinner at home with a glass of something fizzy - like that moment before going on stage, or getting ready for a first date - this nervous energy encompassed me every 31 December.

Now, I know it’s bonkers to believe that things will actually change overnight. But I like the mentality of seeing an end to something, and then embracing a new beginning. And it doesn’t have to be 31 December. For many, September can mark the start of new beginnings with the academic year kicking off. In the summer months, lots of Dubai expats flee the sandpit and return in the autumn refreshed and ready to “go again”.

At the end of 2020, however, those tingles weren’t there. My plans were identical to the previous few years; a night at home with my husband, the little ones fast asleep, some nice food and sitting around the kitchen table with our favourite songs playing. But midnight fell flat. It wasn’t that I had certain expectations to be met with disappointment; I just had no expectations. The numbness of a Covid-world had replaced my optimism, my excitement and, sadly, my joy. It was overwhelming. Social media was splattered with good riddance to the worst year ever, and BRING ON 2021. My heart was heavy. My hopes were low. I had things to do that I just had to “get through” and knew they’d bring disappointment with them. I didn’t feel like bringing on 2021. I wanted to fast forward, get to June or July, and think oh, phew! It hasn’t been that bad so far. And if I was feeling like that, then so many others were, too.

You see, I look back on each year as one big event with lots and lots of small events packed into it. For instance, in 2002 I turned 21, spent a month in the States, produced my first show, and fell in love (again). In 2015, I went skiing, and to Laos, got married, had a miscarriage, and then fell pregnant with my son. So, hands up if you were somebody who spent a chunks of 2020 and 2021 sorting out cupboards? It happened to the best of us, yeah? Whilst sorting one day, I came across a pile of birthday cards; January 2020. It was bizarre how similar the messaging on every card was, and not because of a plain old, Happy Birthday. My friends and family had written to me about how this year was going to be my year, how 2020 was the one I’d been waiting for, how all my hard work was going to eventually pay off… I wouldn’t have been the only person being told this, and certainly not the only person to have suffered the consequences of Rona. It affected us all. But seeing those birthday cards and their warm, encouraging messages for that year ahead was disturbing. Oh, how we’d all changed.

Practically, overnight.

Once, we were humans who made plans, worked hard, got excited about holidays, travelling, going to weddings, parties, seeing our favourite people. And now, we aren’t. If somebody we cared for was sick, we went to visit them. Now, we don’t.

Okay, we do. Apologies for the doom and gloom. We do!

We do make plans. We do work hard. We do get excited about holidays, travel, and all the salt and pepper on top. We do it all. So long as we’ve done a lateral flow test or got that negative PCR confirmation. The simple ways in which we used to live our lives have just become more difficult, more time-consuming. It’s created more planning, yet those plans can be cancelled as quickly as you can say, Omicron.

2021 was the year of adapting, of trying to move on. We’ve grown accustomed to it. It’s the life our children have accepted as normal, and for some little ones, all they can remember. I feel for the young adults, too. Those just old enough to break away from their family traditions and make their own choices, to celebrate with their friends or travel to new places. For them, at this point in their life, parties and new friendships and discovery should be a given. They shouldn’t have to pause before hugging and kissing. They’ve earned their freedom as much as anybody, but their new-found freedom is riddled with control. How are they feeling as they enter this year? Do they have the world at their feet? Sort of. Definitely. Not really.

1 January can be regarded as a comedown, depending on how hard you partied the night before. We’ve all been there, done it, got the t-shirt(s), right? Reality kicks in on 2 January, 3 January… and we realise that things haven’t changed at all. It suddenly doesn’t matter that those tingles on New Year’s Eve didn’t turn into a spectacular dream-come-true. Real life in January just gets consumed with, well, real life, and it’s not until the year starts drawing to an end again that I’m able to look back and reflect. Wow. Spectacular things did happen. Some dreams - whether big, small or teeny-tiny - did come true. Things did change.

So in the build up to the most recent New Year’s Eve, I recalled small events that joined the dots together to create my big 2021. The good and the bad, the highs and the lows. Memories had been made. Laughter was had. Tears were shed. Overall, the year was better than anticipated. Then, just as we were starting to relax and see glimpses of normality, out popped another variant, like a Jack-in-the-box, making us jumpy and on edge. Omicron; the uninvited member to the party who gatecrashed and stole the fun.

Or, did it?

I’m sitting here writing this article, late on 2 January 2022, and I’ll be honest… the tingles made a welcome return on New Year’s Eve, just a little. I’d had a tummy bug a few days before (shock horror, an illness that wasn’t Covid…) and woke up on New Year’s Eve feeling completely back to my usual self. That was reason enough to celebrate! I took this positive vibe (and negative LFT) and ran with it. I planned my usual party in the kitchen, put on some lipstick once the kids were asleep and gave myself a spray or two of perfume (I like to make an effort going from room to room these days). 10, 9, 8, 7…

The numbness is still present, but not consuming. I don’t have a date in the diary beyond this Thursday when I’m hoping to see a friend for a playdate with my daughter. We both know there is every chance this playdate will be cancelled. But I also choose to have my glass half full. I have no big plans for 2022. But if I’ve learnt anything on reflection of last year, it’s that the little plans do create the big plans, and perhaps I’d never seen it that way until recently.

One step at a time. We’ll get there.

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