By Hayley Doyle
In a word, yes.
Even if you survived it relatively unscathed, you likely referred to it in the last conversation you had. Not a day goes by when we don’t hear the words, Covid-19. All it takes is one person in a surgical mask to make us reach for the hand sanitiser. Or maybe you’re more blasé about it all. You got through the worst of it, so what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. You view the pandemic as a strange blip. A distant memory. A weird old period of weirdness. But life goes on and everything’s hunky-dory again. Normal.
It’s not normal though, is it?
It’s a New Normal.
Three years have passed since the first lockdown. I get the jitters when I think of it. That very word, lockdown, makes me squirm. Personally, I have Schitt’s Creek to thank for keeping my spirits up during those dark days. Maybe you do, too. We were “all in this together”, weren’t we? The weekly Zoom quiz with the fambo, Banana bread. Clapping for carers. We all did it. All existed in our own tiny worlds, feeding an all-you-can-eat buffet to our screen addiction. Now that we can perhaps - tentatively - feel relief that the global health crisis has somewhat eased, how are we changed? What is irreversible? If we revisit this article a few years from now, I wonder if the New Normal will still be normal, or maybe we will realise that we were still transitioning, still living through a pandemic, and the world will have finally reverted back to 2019 status again.
But why are we talking about this, you might wonder. Why bring up the pandemic and its aftermath? Aren’t we sick and tired of dragging it out? Let us get on with our lives! Working from home is great! Or at least, hybrid working is. When we go out and about, everywhere feels “normal” again, doesn’t it? And I’m not talking about the New Normal, either. Restaurants are busy. You can’t get a seat on the train during rush hour. You can even get an in-person doctor’s appointment (if you kick up a fuss). Still, there’s a feeling we cannot shake off, isn’t there? I imagine you’ve already done something today that only belongs to post-Covid-you. Perhaps you meditated this morning to relieve your anxiety. The weekly team meeting is still conducted via Zoom and will be for the foreseeable. Your online groceries arrived. You spent longer than necessary on Instagram. You cancelled dinner this evening because the familiarity of a night on the sofa is just easier. The radius of your comfort zone is smaller…
Let’s go back to the anxiety part. If there’s one thing the pandemic has left us all with, oh hello, it’s that. Maybe you weren’t particularly anxious pre-pandemic, but it’s likely you’ve experienced its horrors by now. For those who have always suffered from anxiety, it’s been one hell of a ride. And the thing about anxiety is that it always outstays its welcome. It comes knocking on your door when you did not invite it over to play. Anything can trigger it. Even happy moments. I can be having a wonderful time at a birthday party and I suddenly think, what if we can’t do this next year? Will we be forced apart? Will one of us die? How long will this happiness last? It’s already dwindling… And honestly, I never thought like this pre-pandemic. I had anxiety about certain things, sure. But not on this - often, irrational - level. A global pandemic made the irrational, rational, though, didn’t it? Everybody I speak to is battling a similar demon on some level, walking on eggshells, doubting themselves, and all navigating their way through it as best they can.
With much discussion over recent years about mental health, awareness has been raised and as a society, we are becoming less quick to judge others. Or so we’d like to believe. The freedom of commenting online has accelerated at such speed that it’s impossible to say something is blue without being told, you’re wrong, it’s orange. For every truth revealed, some people find the lie. There isn’t a product out there that you can’t comment on, and for those who want to raise its profile in a positive light, others will drag it down into the gutter in a heartbeat. The role of the reviewer has become redundant. Who needs “expert” opinions when the voice of the public has taken the microphone? Of course, social media had firmly landed before the pandemic, but oh, how it came into its own during lockdown. Once human contact was removed from society, the conversation moved from mouths to fingertips, and suddenly opinions were being vomited left, right and centre. A world before online commenting was indeed a quieter place, even though the words we read on the screen don’t even make a sound. Face-to-face may have made a gradual comeback, but it’s impossible to reverse what has been said in writing, and for many, it’s a habit too addictive to control.
Social media allows us to connect without having to touch. Perfect for a pandemic, eh? Now, add home entertainment into the mix and you never have to go anywhere again. I remember browsing the DVD offers in Virgin Megastores, getting excited about which three movies to choose for 100 dhs. That pastime feels ancient now, but this was less than a decade ago. Pre-pandemic, a lot of people I knew had Netflix. A lot also didn’t. Certainly, people didn’t have multiple streaming services and having to wait for episodes or movie releases was completely normal. The pandemic made way for on-demand to skyrocket, with Amazon and manufacturers of home-theatre systems reaping the benefits. The demise of thousands of theatres has been well-documented. Even churches and houses of worship have been hurt, with in-person service attendance now 30% to 50% lower than it was before March 2020, and many moving to online worshipping. Digital ways to engage and entertain softened the blow for those forced to stay inside, and generated the perfect excuse for those with already reclusive tendencies. Whether you view this as damage or not, it’s been done, and it’s hard to undo. With an overwhelming amount of entertainment available from the comfort of our own homes, cinemas will need to be reinvented to be reborn.
Humans, however, could be ahead of the cinema game. For many, the pandemic created space for reinvention and new, healthier lifestyles were reborn. I asked some of my best friends if they believe it changed them forever, and one said she was able to consider the direction she wanted the rest of her life to go in and went back to college. For another, it made her marriage stronger, and for another, it highlighted that the marriage was over. One friend said she learnt to stop worrying about what people think of her so much and to stop being a people-pleaser. She now refuses to put herself into situations that she doesn’t want to be in, understanding that life is so valuable, so short, that she only wants to surround herself with joy.
For me, the pandemic has made time slip away far too quickly. We lost two years. The back and forth of can-we-can’t-we has left a deep, anxious scar and I find myself forever racing against the clock. I fear time will rob me again when I least expect it. I try to use this to my advantage; making the most of every moment. This isn’t easy when I’m unloading the washing machine or making packed lunches for the kids in the morning. I wash my hair less often! But I don’t think I’ll ever take for granted the simple things such as going to somebody else’s house for a cuppa or eating in a restaurant. We’ve been doing that for a while again now and I still get excited - or perhaps it’s relief - so I can’t imagine ever not feeling that way.