Almost three months of cocooning has left Jennifer McShane to ponder what exactly she's dreading as she begins to slowly step back into the world
I'm happy to see the queues at Penneys (and begrudge no one for stocking up on PJs; I've worn nothing else the past 12 weeks). I'm happy to see life, sunshine, twinkled eyes atop of a face mask – the Irish really do smile with their eyes as I observed on the train. People are trying to breathe a bit again, though now it's about more than a virus.
I assumed I'd be thrilled once my cocooning ended. Mine was mandatory; I had to stay in. And I was resigned to lockdown early on – I almost looked forward to it. All that time to stop and pause (I'll never be sorry to see the end of that perpetual need to be busy).
And yet even while the last couple of weeks drove me crazy, they passed. I could soon see some normality in front of me, and yet I was nervous just thinking about it. I am nervous, still, to go full force into life again. Perhaps it's because I know many things are forever changed.
It will be years I think before the true weight of this change is apparent. Happily, some is for the better: the emphasis on family, community, friends, the little things, all seen with fresh eyes.
An unnatural state of being
But, surely I can't be the only one dreading the end of lockdown? Even though re-starting society is for the greater good. Lockdown is the most unnatural state of being; we know the toll it has taken on our mental health. We know there will never be a new 'normal' way to accept that we can't hug friends and family. We know standing two metres apart feels so far. And of course, we've seen so many become ill. We've lost those we love.
I'll never again take for granted our frontline workers. I'll never cease to wonder how parents, trying to work and take care of children when we could hardly set foot outside our front doors, did it. So, when I say I dread the end of lockdown, I know I'm saying it from a place of extreme privilege. I've had family around me. I could work from home. I didn't have young children to care for. I didn't get sick (a miracle).
Fear of change
But I dread popping the bubble I've been in because, like so many of us, I know I am changed. What was once of great importance feels frivolous, the regret more pronounced for what I did not do or say.
Pandemic aside, in 2020, I've suffered a series of falls and injuries that have, physically and emotionally, altered my once unshakeable get-up-and-go. Then Covid-19 hit and again, I was forced to re-evaluate what I wanted, and where, if I changed that trajectory, it might take me. And I never take change well. I had just moved away when the virus hit and I know that while I'll go back and give it all I've got, the sheen of excitement has passed.
Things feel different now. But I know I'm not alone in this.
In the most uncertain of times, who has never heard themselves say, 'can I really do this again?' and feared what the answer might be?
But, "doing it again" this time, isn't like a job or a move to a new city (third time lucky), it's doing life all over again. And that feels harder. Because I know – we all know – how unpredictable our lives really are, even if, when the virus has long gone, we do much of it as we did before.
At the same time, I do feel hope mixed with my anxieties. I think we all do. Perhaps life will be richer in the future because we have endured this strange, often sad time.
Personally, perhaps I'll no longer sit and while away my days daydreaming, at times afraid to try because I know the here and now is most important. And that those closest to me are all that really matters.
Perhaps I'll change my life path in ways I never would have before. Because 'before,' I wanted a different way of life anyway.
"The only thing certain is that nothing stays the same," my mother frequently says.
And as we slowly step back into life again, even though I'll miss parts of lockdown, that is what I'm counting on.
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