The year that wasn’t: My year of COVID19 isolation

Today marks one year since the UK’s COVID19 lockdown measures became “law” – three days after the “stay home” orders were announced. Since then, the lockdown measures have been relaxed and tightened as waves of COVID19 has swept across the nation and the world. For me, the idea of lockdown began nearly two weeks earlier. I could see what was coming (although like most people I underestimated the length of time we were facing) and decided it was best to isolate early. An easier task for someone who can easily work from home. And so, I have been living this life of isolation for a full year now (and a bit).

Over the course of the last year, I have been sharing monthly recaps of my time in (near) isolation. I have found it helps me to have something to reflect on as each month progresses to remind me of how my experiences have changed with each month. This post, however, is a bit more of a synthesis of the full year. Kind of big picture stuff instead of the minutia of everyday isolation. And, to an extent, it’s a reflection on a year that never happened, a year in suspended animation, of sorts.

2020 had started with a positive outlook. I knew COVID19 was a thing, but it was on distant shores and, much like other distant illnesses, I didn’t expect it would be a direct threat to me or my way of life. But as the days and weeks of early 2020 marched on, I realised that this might be a little more of a threat than Ebola and other SARS viruses.

Our way of life began with seemingly “insignificant” changes: elbow-bumps instead of handshakes; hand sanitiser becoming a normal fixture in shops and businesses; a greater awareness of people’s sneezing or coughing. And when I was in Cambridge, for what turned out to be my “last hurrah”, things had escalated to cancelling large gatherings and talk of panic had finally started to set in. All combined, these things led to my decision to isolate myself on my return home.

At the time, I didn’t realise just how long that isolation would be. I was still excited about 2020 because I anticipated a long summer holiday to The Homeland followed by a second visit over the Christmas holidays – which would mark my first Christmas with my parents since the year that Paul died when they spent the holiday with me so that I wouldn’t have to spend it alone. Instead, I didn’t get any visits home and I don’t know when my next visit home will be. I also had plans for several short holidays around Scotland, England, and Europe. But those plans had to be set aside, too. Indeed, the only planned holiday that happened in the last year was a long weekend to Cambridge right before the lockdowns began.

And now, I look back and I feel that I have lost so much in the last 12 months. However, unlike so many others, I didn’t lose my health. Or my job. Or my financial security. Or, indeed, a loved one. The people I know who’ve had COVID19 did not need hospitalisation and, aside from varying levels of illness, they made it through relatively OK.

Thank you, NHS!

The “big” things I’ve lost are experiences: travels and adventures; in-person connections with family and friends; mundane interactions with The Real World. But I’ve also lost my naïve belief that people would pull together to overcome adversity and to save the world. I thought the world would come together and we would do everything possible to save each other. Instead, I’ve been so frustrated and angry because I sometimes feel that there are people who are doing everything in their power to slow the spread at a great personal sacrifice – whilst others are unwilling to make even the simplest of sacrifices. That, of course, is a bigger rant than I am willing to share here. (My most loyal reader, my Mum, has heard it often enough on our regular Skype chats!) So… let’s move on…

Another big “loss” this year was my “progress” in moving forward through the grief of widowhood. It’s not that I have moved backwards, but I have become more aware of the amputation at my heart. That’s because the extreme isolation has had an unexpected “side effect” for me: I am missing my darling Paul much more than normal. Because I am lonelier than normal, I have more time to think about my pre-widowhood life and the dreams that Paul and I had for the future. And as I’ve watched all the wonderful videos that other couples have made of their coping strategies for isolation, I can’t help but remember how Paul and I were together. And that makes me realise that we would have made the most of this with our dinner parties (that we never invited anyone to), our running and cycling together, and just our general silliness. Oh, sure, we would have gotten on each other’s nerves, but ultimately, we would have done well. We were good together like that!

I feel like I have been treading water over the last 12 months. I know I’ve done things, but I also know I’ve not done everything I would have, could have, or should have. In part, because of the emotional and mental strain of isolation. I have “simple” tasks that I struggle with every week – some of which have gone un-done since January. I mean, why should I repair that pretty work dress if I’m not going to wear it anytime soon? And letters to my pen pal? Well, I just don’t know what to say other than “Yeah, so, no news”. (But, I will get a letter written soon. I promise!)

However, even though the list of things that didn’t happen grows with each day, I am very aware of the good things that these past 12 months have brought me. And from the beginning of the lockdowns, I knew how “good” I have it compared to others, as I’ve shared in the past.

Making flowers from rocks

But I have also had a lot of experiences that I might not have had without the madness of this COVID19 year. For starters, I managed far more adventure walks than I would ordinarily enjoy in a year – from the woodlands and hills around my cottage to some wonderful beach walks a short(ish) drive from home.

I have also managed to do more running over the last 12 months, in part because working from home means I have more time (no commutes) and more flexibility for when I run. The downside is that without organised races, it’s harder to motivate myself for longer distances (I’ve managed half marathons, but a full marathon without a cheering crowd seems impossible!).

Oh! And I have saved a lot of money! I am not spending money on commuting or meals/drinks out with friends. I am not popping into the charity shops to buy a new (used) dress every couple of weeks. I am not buying lunch at little cafes or spending money on entertainment. And I am not buying those little nothings that add up with time. That means that I have managed to build my savings up for when I am finally able to travel to The Homeland for a visit, and it means that I can splurge on wonderful things without worry.

Importantly, this year of COVID19 isolation has also meant I have been healthier than normal. Isolating at home means no colds! But that’s a longer reflection for another day.

It’s hard to believe that it has been this long, and I worry that this will go on for some time longer. Although I am still trying to remain hopeful that I will be able to return home to America for a visit sometime this calendar year. And I am hopeful that the ongoing vaccination programmes will bring us some much-needed relief before long. (I have already had my first dose of the COVID19 vaccine, which makes me happy!)

Life is beautiful, never give up hope!

I am also hopeful that after a worldwide year that wasn’t, we might have gained some renewed understandings of the important things in life. I know that this year has brought a lot of the world’s ugliest things to light, but I do hope and pray that the light will help to banish those dark things and that, ultimately, humanity comes out of this stronger, healthier, and more loving than ever before.

As for me, personally, I am hoping that the nothingness fades soon so that I can enjoy a year of doing to make up for the year of loss. In the meantime, I will keep going. I will keep doing what I can to maintain my physical, mental, and emotional health. I will keep as safe as I can; as healthy as I can. And I will keep my faith in the knowledge that there are better things to come.

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