On Wednesday I was thoroughly out of sorts and could not work out why. Yes, there were minor irritations, but they did not really account for the way I was feeling. I was restless, edgy, as though something was profoundly amiss but I had no idea what.
I was all set to dismiss my frame of mind as just part of the vicissitudes of my mental landscape when I heard on the radio that it was the two-year anniversary of the first Covid lockdown. I have learnt in other situations that whilst I am rarely aware of anniversaries – we all vary in this, with some of us profoundly conscious of them – I often find myself with apparently inexplicable reactions which can be traced back to a significant event. Suddenly my mood made sense. I watched again the announcement, and I took the time to reflect.
The difficulty with writing anything about this anniversary is that all of our experiences of that first lockdown, and indeed the second one, were very different, and so inevitably my experiences will not match yours. One of the cliches at the time was ‘We are all in the same storm, but we are not in the same boat’. Designed to reflect our very different reactions to the pandemic in general and the restrictions in particular, it always seemed to me an ironic phrase – the whole point was that we had been suddenly and traumatically thrown into an entire flotilla of boats which many of us were ill equipped to sail. Whilst some enjoyed a time as either a lone yachtsman or part of a small crew, away from the ceaseless demands of life for a season, others were alone on a hostile sea and in fear of drowning. Which, I wonder, were you? It was as though the jigsaw pieces of our lives, the myriad aspects which make them at least bearable and hopefully joyous, had been thrown in the air and we had no idea where they would land.
And then, in those early days, there was the fear, which was endemic. It was as if we could almost smell it in the air. The enemy was unseen, which only added to the sense of anxiety. Again, this varied – for those with issues of anxiety in ordinary times it was a torture. It is perhaps easy to forget, with at least the partial safety net of both vaccines and newer treatments, how frightening those early days were, especially for those designated as vulnerable because of age or underlying health conditions. People were dying in the most heart-breaking of situations and with so little known about the virus it seemed at times to strike at random.
Apart from the dreadful toll of the disease itself, there were the related tragedies. One of the most difficult aspects for me of the initial lockdown was the death of a friend who I could not visit to say goodbye, not least as he wanted to protect me. Not to hold his hand, to fully comfort those he loved, was a huge loss. When it came to Prince Philip’s funeral, somehow that lone picture of the queen, sat alone in black with head bowed, encapsulated the experiences of so many. Lives which would have been celebrated with crowds and laughter could not be, and though initially there was the hope to do this when the virus was defeated, as time went on somehow the moment was lost.
For some of us, the loss of social contact was more difficult than for others. It was one of the things, apart from expressing deep appreciation for our NHS staff who were literally putting their lives at risk, that made the Thursday doorstep clapping so precious. We could see, share shouted conversations with, our neighbours. The rest of the time, stopping to chat with others was replaced by the social distancing dance on those daily walks. I delivered baking to my daughter’s family, stepping back to the street, and watching with visceral pain my grandson trying to edge closer. I could not see my son at all. Both were agonising.
Part of this social isolation was the lack of touch from one another. Henri Nouwen writes:
Touch, yes, touch, speaks the wordless words of love. We receive so much touch when we are babies and so little when we are adults. Still, in friendship, touch often gives more life than words. A friend’s hand stroking our back, a friend’s arms resting on our shoulder, a friend’s fingers wiping our tears away, a friend’s lips kissing our forehead—these bring true consolation. These moments of touch are truly sacred. They restore, they reconcile, they reassure, they forgive, they heal.
For some of us simple touch – a hug, a hand on the arm – is life-giving and life-enhancing and we felt their absence keenly.
Now, two years on, life is very different. For many, life has returned to familiar patterns whilst for others life can never be as it was. Covid continues to be a factor in our lives, not least as cases rise and, even with restrictions lifted, impacts on life for many. I have done two different zooms this week where participants were missing as they could not leave their beds to participate. Yet the appalling fear and isolation of those early days is hopefully in the past. Many have leant new skills, new phrases such as ‘you are on mute’ have entered our corporate vocabulary, there have even been moments of humour. There have been many losses, but, at least for some, gains, life changes which were long overdue and finally made.
So why am I choosing to take us back to those dark days? Well, it is simply this. We have experienced, to different degrees, a totally unexpected corporate trauma, and trauma does not simply dissipate like morning mist when the sun rises. If not addressed, it remains buried in our minds and, research tells us, in our bodies too. Most of us will not need counselling or therapy, but some may, especially if the experiences of the last two years sit on top of other trauma it has not been possible to address. If that is you, be gentle with yourself and take the time and help you need to heal. For most of us, rather than dashing back into our busy lives as if nothing has happened, we need to take time to remember, to grieve, to be thankful, to acknowledge the complex web of memories and feelings that the last two years have produced. To recognise that there may be a deep weariness which needs time and rest. In short, to be honest enough with ourselves and others about what we need not just to have survived these last two years, but to emerge more fully human and with a deeper appreciation of all that we once took for granted.