Illustration by Beth Nicol
I always try and plan out my writing a few weeks in advance, or at least brainstorm ideas in fear of running out. There was no way I could have predicted I would be sitting here, almost 3 weeks into self-isolation, writing this. In the UK at least the severity of Coronavirus seemed to creep up on us, even though countries across the globe had already suffered so terribly. I can personally put my hands up and say I didn’t take it as seriously as I should’ve. Although news of the horrors in Wuhan and Italy saturated the news I carried on almost as usual, thinking of only the miniscule number of confirmed cases there were in the UK at the time, naively believing it wouldn’t grow too much. I was wrong.
When the hoarding begun, I was mildly alarmed but mainly scoffed at the panic and the unnecessary loo roll obsession. The hysteria which was triggered by media coverage of the virus was comical in some way but also extremely problematic. Panic buyers rinsed supermarket shelves, leaving many unable to buy necessities. Panic buying is itself as a privilege as only those with disposable income can afford to shop in such large quantities. It also left there to be a deficit in necessities like soap and sanitizers, so many couldn’t protect themselves properly while others had boxes to spare. However, the hysteria for pasta was not matched by hysterical safety precautions. At the time the government hadn’t implemented any and protective measures and most were still travelling on public transport, going to pubs – keeping their cupboards stocked but their hands unwashed.
Later than most when the government finally made some policies on social distancing, things started to change. It was a weird feeling, knowing that you weren’t supposed to leave. Your room feels smaller, you begin to feel caged in. Personally, I begun to flit between mania and lethargy, confused at the nothing and everything isolation presented. Telling people they can only leave the house for certain reasons breeds a variety of different reactions. Many are still straight up ignoring the advice and continuing to use public transport for non-essential reasons, meeting up in large groups, risking their safety and others in a nonchalant manner. My tone sounds scathing but I don’t want it to be, as on the other side of the spectrum there are those who have taken the high and mighty route, practicing self-isolation perfectly and openly shaming those that don’t. Of course, they are right, considerate of others and saving lives. However, there is a discomfort in the social acceptance of shaming others. People on and off-line are venomously attacking those that don’t adhere to their perceived ‘right way’ of isolating, and they’re getting away with it. Even if you don’t agree with the whistle blowers, it is hard to say anything in fear of getting ostracized too. Although I agree everyone should be taking as many precautions as they can to save our health system and the people that need it, I believe that the acceptance of social shaming and the relaxed attitude it now receives is not a step in the right direction. Inform those you do not agree with on your ideas, not belittle them. Belittlement does not create change, only resentment.
This is a key example of how the pandemic has both brought people together and pushed them apart. So many people volunteered to help the NHS that they had to stop applications. Community support groups have been focusing on providing for vulnerable people in their areas since the crisis begun. There has been a rallying of goodwill, yet we are all kept apart. Two metre indicators scatter the streets as people tetchily avoid each other in the supermarket.
Although many are taking that extra step to help their community, many fester inside. We clap for the NHS, but we don’t donate. We can’t see our loved ones and we resent those who can. We may be together in spirit, but we are definitely apart. And we have other reasons to be feeling blue. As everything apart from essential shops have shut, many have lost their livelihoods. Some can luckily still work from home, but lots of people have been made completely redundant. Freelancers have also suffered greatly, as they have only themselves to fall back on. The government has put in place measures to reduce the impact, but there is only so much anyone can do to keep a sinking ship afloat. The economy is crumbling, and many are left behind and forgotten. It is no surprise that this will have a great effect on people’s mental health. The stress of a pandemic coupled with the stress of losing one's job is monumental, as well as the implications that stem from that. Being bound to one's bedroom is also a massive strain on wellbeing. For those already suffering with mental illnesses, the situation is bound to aggravate their conditions. The virus is attacking both our physical and mental wellbeing and painfully there is no sure ending. We are locked down until it slows, the thought of which is maddening itself.
Talk of coronavirus would not be complete without the mention of the NHS. Key workers – including those outside of the medical teams like postmen, binmen, supermarket staff – have been exceptional. Workers that are sometimes overlooked have carried us through a pandemic. NHS staff have put their lives at risk every day to save others. Unfortunately, there are not enough supplies for them to work safely. On top of the unhealthy hours they must work in order to protect us they are made to do so in unsafe conditions. Of course, the severity of the pandemic accounts for a lot of this, but I can't help but be bitter towards our Conservative government. It was not long ago the Tories had a landslide victory over the Labour Party in the general election, and I can’t help but wonder if things would be better for frontline workers if a pro-NHS government had been in power. I also can't help but think of the people who proudly clap every Thursday, knowing they voted in a party that was considering abolishing our national health service altogether.
There is so much more I could say about the whole situation and so much more I feel about it. I feel everyone is in the same position - fixated yet lost for words. It’s the only thing I'm talking about, but I have no idea how to describe the feeling; the confusion, disbelief and anger that consume me. I’m bored of it all but I can’t escape it. I think the only thing I can really suggest which applies to all is to appreciate the key workers who are pulling through this. It is all good me talking about my turbulent response to isolation but we can never forget that however uncomfortable you are in lockdown, there are people working around the clock and risking their lives to get us out. Donate if you can, be kind in the supermarket and stop voting Conservative!
Written by Isobel Gorman-Buckley