365 days with Covid: What has a year living through a pandemic taught us?
A year on from Leo Varadkar's unprecedented 2020 St Patrick's Day address, Louise Slyth looks at what living with Covid has taught us.
It’s hard to believe that a year ago today we watched the news in stunned silence, as Leo Varadkar gave an impassioned St Patrick’s Day address to the nation. We were a country united in disbelief and fear. We were asked “In years to come, let them say of us, when things were at their worst, we were at our best.”
It was an address I never expected to see in my lifetime, and I distinctly remember shedding a tear. I knew things were about to change, but the full extent of those changes was yet to be revealed.
Three weeks prior to that, I was in Edinburgh visiting my family and friends. Life was crammed with plans and possibilities. I had several holidays booked, a friend’s wedding, a college reunion… Back then it would have been inconceivable to me to think that I would spend a full calendar year within a 5km radius of my home. And yet I have. It was unfathomable that in those first few weeks, toilet roll and hand sanitiser would be more valuable commodities than gold.
We have all been living with this terrible virus for a year now. Sadly, some of us have lost loved ones, jobs, relationships, or homes. All of us have lost the joy of a carefree life. The devastation of this pandemic will only be fully understood in the years to come, and we will all emerge with some psychological scars.
And yet I wonder, was this only a year of profound loss, or could it be the year we found ourselves? What have we learned from 365 days with Covid? I would like to hope that when this is all over, we get to choose a hybrid of our old and new lives, having learned the lessons along the way.
We know what’s important
2020 taught us all that when life is stripped back to basics, the things we long for the most are the things we previously took for granted: good health, the ability to see our friends and family, hugs, freedom to make plans, and the ability to travel.
We are all now inured to the “new normal”, where few of these things have been restored, and I doubt that any of us will take them for granted again for a long time. We found out last year that “normal” is just what you are used to.
We’ve placed our relationships under the microscope
During the pandemic we found out that nothing is more important than family, we discovered what makes a good relationship, that some rifts were worth healing, and chances are, we found out who our friends really are.
The divorce rate over the period of the pandemic has increased by around 25%.
This is unsurprising given the difficulties of the last year, with little to disrupt the intense lens of prolonged proximity. For some, it will have been a blissful time of uninterrupted togetherness, but for others, it was an intolerable relationship pressure cooker.
I would not wish to re-live these past 12 months for all the money in the world, but I have had a valuable friendship edit. I’m blessed with many wonderful friends, but I now freely admit that perhaps some of those were acquaintances or drinking buddies rather than true friends. A true friend is someone with whom you still have plenty to talk about, even when the world is in stasis and there is nothing to discuss. A true friend picks you up when you are down, or makes you laugh over something ridiculous. That said, there is definitely a place in life for acquaintances, particularly those that encourage you to broaden your horizons.
Don’t put off your dreams
People always said, “life is short”. We now know how true that is. I know lots of inspiring women who have started new relationships or businesses, embarked on a course, moved to the country, or pursued a much-held passion over the last year. Last September I wrote about my baby steps into Flamenco lessons. I don’t think I would have found the nerve (or the time) without lockdown.
Travel is important in unexpected ways
I have not left Dublin in the last 12 months, even when the restrictions lifted a little. Not only has my world been physically limited, but I realise how psychologically limiting such a life has been. I physically ache for the sensation of the sun on my bones, the opportunity to connect with new places and the chance to sit on a sunny roof terrace, sipping the local cocktail and putting the world to rights.
I think when you come back from an enriching trip, you bring back more than a tan and some souvenirs – you bring back a glimpse at a parallel life, some new insight, or just an appreciation of how wonderful Ireland is.
New ways of working are entirely feasible
For years, many organisations resisted requests to work from home, until Covid forced it upon them. Over the last 12 months, those of us lucky enough to have retained our jobs have performed them just as well, if not better. We have done this from makeshift offices, kitchen tables or garden sheds, sometimes with a child screaming in the background, but we have done it. Employers who don’t continue to offer this flexibility are likely to face pushback or retention issues, and to my mind this is a long overdue change.
Women still bear the brunt of bad situations
During the pandemic we saw an increase in cases of domestic violence. We also saw that in many households, women were expected to mould their day around childcare, often while still working full-time. From what I’ve heard anecdotally, I think some of the hands-off husbands now have a real appreciation of what it takes to run a home, and hopefully this will go some way to addressing gender imbalances.
We have reevaluated the importance of material things
I love a new handbag or pair of shoes as much as the next woman. Being honest, probably more than the next woman. Being at home for a year has given me the opportunity to reassess my wardrobe and my spending patterns. I do believe that looking good makes us feel good, but I’d argue that we don’t need as much “stuff” as we thought we did. When the world opens again, I’ll be focusing on experiences over things, and I suspect I won’t be alone.
We are stronger than we thought we were
We have all survived this far. If we have got through 3 lockdowns, we can get through anything. We have worked our kindness and resilience muscles and we are all the stronger for it. Thankfully, with vaccine rollouts, there is now light at the end of the tunnel. But as my Dad said recently, “it’s a long tunnel”.
I have come to a sad realisation this year: that there is a small but significant minority who care more about their own inconvenience than the lives of others. We have seen this in the anti-lockdown protests, the house parties, and in the bars that secretly stayed open in lockdown. I have been shocked by the people socialising whilst waiting for a test result, those who have gone on holiday and not quarantined, and irresponsible celebrities trying to bribe restaurants into hosting parties during lockdown.
We need to learn the bigger lessons
The pandemic is a terrible and vivid example of what can happen when humankind takes its eye off the ball. The threat was there, but few countries heeded the warnings and took decisive action until it was too late. So far, 2.5 million lives have been lost across the planet due to Covid. Countless more have been disrupted, and it’s not over yet.
Hope is on the horizon, but we have another imminent crisis which we must now pivot to address. Climate change is a real and very present peril. How we behave in the next ten years will change the trajectory of our future. Earth is slowly dying, and there will be no vaccine. My only hope is that Covid has taught us that we are all intertwined and that the actions of every individual, however small, can have a profound effect on the planet. If we can take on board this lesson, then the suffering of the last 12 months will not have been entirely in vain.