My last day of school was the 14 February 2020. Almost two years ago, I lived in Northern Italy at the time, one of the first places to be severely struck by coronavirus. Less than a month later, the entire country was placed under lockdown. I spent five months almost exclusively indoors, all semblance of daily order and routine was thrown out the window. My reality shifted from bright classrooms to glitchy Zoom calls through patchy Wi-Fi. Evenings out with friends turned into two notebooks filled with mine and my parents’ Scrabble scores.
At a time when I had anticipated my first taste of adult freedom, I found myself placed under stricter rules than ever before. I grew up enthralled by dystopian films and fiction, until suddenly I found myself part of one. Out of nowhere, I was only allowed to leave my house for necessity, work or health reasons. Supermarket speakers blared announcements to complete our shops as swiftly as possible. Shelves were bare and queues outside would last for hours. One morning, I looked out of my bedroom window and a military truck was driving along the road. Soldiers leaned out with megaphones, urging people to stay indoors.
As time went on and cases soared, it began to feel like lockdown life might never end. I’ve always been an avid overthinker, and the uncertainty over my future fostered a sickening sense of anxiety. Before the pandemic, I had felt like I was in control. Yet now, I had no idea when I would be able to see my friends, what grades I would be given, or whether I’d get into university. Sometimes the only positives I could find in my days were the two lines on my lateral flow tests. I’ve always been an optimist, but silver linings were beginning to get thinner and thinner.
Even when I made it to university, I struggled immensely with the transition. I found it hard to find a routine, to wake up before 10am, to bond with the seven strangers who I’d been put in a corridor with. Adjusting to a new country and a new lifestyle was a huge challenge. Just a few weeks into term, I tested positive for the second time in seven months. Isolation in a small bedroom is something I will remember for a long time. Whenever I clean my kitchen surfaces with my wild rhubarb anti-bac spray, the smell takes me back to the pink gin I drank alone in my room to make my evenings go by a little bit easier.
With all the chaos and confusion that I had to deal with each day, it was easy to become overwhelmed. There came a point where I decided to reframe my situation to try to see the positives. I was exhausted by checking the news headlines each day, obsessively refreshing Worldometer statistics, and letting myself get wound up by a world that was far beyond my control.
So, I entirely changed my outlook. I started by setting limits on the amount of news that I consumed. I reclaimed my routine, setting schedules and sticking to them. I rediscovered my love for hobbies I’d let go of, like cooking, reading and writing. I started to meditate and practice mindfulness. Rather than perceive myself as vulnerable, I resolved to recognise the resilience that I had shown by getting to where I am now.
As soon as I started thinking like this, I found a burden was lifted off my shoulders. I looked at all my anxieties through a new lens. No longer did I see the pandemic as robbing me of my freedom, but as an unparalleled experience which has bound my cohort impossibly close together. We have all lived through unprecedented times and made it to the other side.
As restrictions have gradually loosened, I have realised the preciousness of the moments I spend with family and friends. I notice things in the world that I had neglected to see before and find myself much more closely aligned with nature. I enjoy each laugh and smile that I experience, and feel a new appreciation for being alive. I feel less anxious and have realised the importance of letting go and not getting caught up in things that don’t truly matter. I’ve adopted new habits, like complimenting a stranger every day. I look for beauty in the smallest of things and have learned to love in a way that I didn’t know before.
The pandemic has been challenging, but it has entirely transformed my outlook and my values. I am grateful to be the person that it has moulded me into.
Image credit: Anna Kuptsova