"The freedom we once enjoyed is now within the hands of people in positions of power, and the only thing we can do is wait for someone to tell us how long this feeling will last."
1 January 2021
For the past year, all we’ve heard about was how shitty 2020 was. And it really was. It should have been a year of new beginnings, hopes, turning 20 again, turning 20 twice, the beginning of a new decade, a fresh start for a lot of us. The only fresh start we had was towards the unknown. 2020 was the stage of the unexpected, this side of life we could never have imagined.
Each one of us got placed on the largest scale, with our actions having repercussions on others within days, sometimes even on the other side of the globe. Yet our experiences as human beings are unique, with our own context, our own fragilities, and privileges. Most of us live under the same reality, but the way we experience it can’t be compared. Covid life has managed to be the most common, yet the most intimate experience our generation had the opportunity to live.
The rules on fighting the virus differed from one country to the next, with a lot of us facing severe restrictions and prohibitions that, for once, didn’t discriminate, and at the beginning of 2020, one by one, countries went under lockdown. We experienced different stages of those restrictions depending on our cultures and the choices of our leaders: lockdown in some cases, curfew in others, or neither of them but early closure for restaurants and bars. For my own mental health, the worst part of it all has been the unknown. Throughout the year, experts talked extensively of the impact of lockdowns on mental health, but much less about the repercussions of long-term uncertainty. I have come to terms with the fact that I would rather know my sentence and even prepare for a year-long lockdown, as long as I was sure I would eventually get back to the life I once knew. I suppose many of us have felt this way in the past 12 months. After all, we’ve all been forced to live in a state of almost total uncertainty.
Managing our time and planning ahead are pillars to the way a lot of us are brought up, necessary for us to feel safe as individuals. This is life as we know it. We know what time it is, what day it is, when our sister’s birthday party is, the next time we have a dentist appointment. We are made to plan - at least I am. Planning ahead for our holidays allows many of us to bear our work life. Planning means having projects and prospects, which intrinsically makes sense to us humans - but in a blink of an eye, our biggest prospect became waiting, for the foreseeable future.
In France, where I live, we now spend our evenings waiting for the next President’s speech with more anticipation than the World Cup finals. We wait for new rules, and a lot of us who have been left unscathed by 2020 for the most part, feel guilty most of the time. We feel grateful as much as we feel guilty because we suffer while not being forced to face the pandemic head-on. A lot of us don’t work in hospital facilities; we don’t face the horror or see the lack of resources in those buildings; we’re not the exhausted ones dedicating our lives to saving others; we’re not the people devastated by grief. We also feel guilty because we are not in extreme stress situations, like single parents working from home with their children around while schools remain closed.
Well, I, at least, feel guilty. I feel guilty that my biggest concern this year has been being unemployed and single. As a girl who dates girls, meeting new people can be hard. Fortunately, we have our safe places, even though they’re still rare. Those safe places are mostly bars for me and well, now they’re closed.
Of course, the question of dating is not a priority in the context of a worldwide pandemic, but, in the end, I’ve asked myself, what is worse? Being sick, afraid of being sick, scared of having friends or relatives getting sick? Losing my freedom? Curfews, lockdowns, the closure of bookshops? Babies not seeing the faces of the people taking care of them?
This year has felt like several years, where we compared our pains and felt guilty about it - which is also probably why a one size fits all plan cannot work in the long run. How can the variety of people’s situations be put in the same box, and looked at with the same lens? What about people under lockdown with a violent partner? With a homophobic family? The list is endless.
What is certain is that this period has had a large impact on our social lives. Students can’t take advantage of this time to create life-long friendships. And we know that these years are precious and build character; sometimes they even lay a foundation for our futures. Many of them are actually suffering psychological damage and are now sinking deep into depression. Meanwhile, some boomers have been arguing that living during the war was way worse than this. They’re probably right. But what do we exactly gain from comparing?
We have an unprecedented experience of time. We have time; a lot of it. Our vision of life is slightly blurred - what we knew and took for granted, the freedom we once enjoyed is now within the hands of people in positions of power, and the only thing we can do is wait for someone to tell us how long this feeling will last. For now, uncertainty is our more certain companion, one I could absolutely live without. That is for sure.