Designed for our protection against contagion…
by Ruks Moreea
As the world stood still in March 2020, the hysteria of panic stopped only to create hysteria around the unknown, triggered by Coronavirus. We were bombarded with theories of transmission, theories of how to keep us safe via social distancing, theories of how we would all be vulnerable if we did not sanitise our shopping and homes. Wash your hands for 20 seconds became a mantra. Was the best healthy solution to keep us indoors and shielded from each other?
The initial days…
Locked down in March 2020…whilst we were told romantic stories of how birds sang sweeter and how the air we breathed became fresher, whilst we became hermits in our bubbles, to break contagion circuits. Of course, the air did become cleaner and sweeter as fewer of us were using our cars for traditional school runs and work and air travel had plummeted. Many of us felt that we were breathing again, an irony as the virus stifles our natural ability to breathe! Of course, we absolutely heard birds singing louder and clearer amidst the silence of traffic-less skies and roads. Finally, we paid more attention to the natural beauty around us and some fortunate souls were grateful for being able to be out in their gardens or in open spaces whilst many in the rest of the world were deprived of that luxury as confinement meant limited movement outside of their homes!
Many paid more attention to eating habits and exercise regimes since restaurants, cafes and gyms were shut. However, did confining us indoors mitigate some of the initial hysteria? Absolutely, as supermarket shelves were allowed to be stocked again and order was kept in front of supermarkets and pharmacies in addition to the rationing of some essentials such as milk and eggs. Did it contribute to chronic loneliness? Absolutely, as many people were restricted to online and screen socialising. What was once a choice for some to avoid face to face interaction now became the norm! Zoom and House-party saved the Playdates and school chats. Was this natural for us social beings? Well, we all know the obvious answer. Even the loner suffered, albeit being better equipped to cope. As this confinement dragged on, anxiety and depression almost became normal. Social isolation and mental knock-on effects became a true pandemic.
Opening in phases…?
Once most of us opened up in May or June, many things and old habits around us did not change. Traffic became busy again, the air became less sweet to breathe as air traffic picked up again. The romanticism of the early lockdown weeks was well and truly over and people craved to get back to their normal lives.
Whilst, residential and urban life picked up a certain pace, city centres of some large metropolises like London, became ghost towns. No tourists to roam around or to visit museums and galleries as these were mostly shut. Many shops and restaurants were empty but eventually businesses picked up. And no bankers in the City or Canary Wharf. Other things appeared out of nowhere such as 2 figures with a line of 2 m separating them and clear markings on where we were allowed to stand at supermarket checkouts or train stations. Eventually wearing masks became mandatory and plexiglass screens popped up like mushrooms to protect cashiers or bus drivers.
Labeling, catastrophising, and shielding…
We were told that we should be protecting one another ostensibly by shielding and social distancing. Yet, many people I have spoken to claim to have shown the symptoms of COVID at the end of 2019, without really infecting their loved ones. Did a certain hysteria around the unknown create this fear of the pandemic? Were we rushing to hospitals to get help or was that one of the causes of panic as death tolls rose? Protocols in the U.K. have now changed to staying at home if there are symptoms and get tested, if possible. No going to doctors or hospitals.
However, one cannot help thinking of the true implications of shielding. Are we shielding from our own emotions and feelings as we feel the need to shield our ability to express? Wearing a mask has become an expression of outrage for the anti-mask league but let us be practical and sensible: as we cough or sneeze, we potentially spread any virus so perhaps, it is wise to shield in public, as prevention. Many of us will find this a step too far, but if the rules strictly require facial covering, most citizens will abide.
We have now learned to speak behind a face mask, visors, and screens. Perhaps this is a lesson for us as we were getting in one another’s faces and encroaching in one another’s’ spaces, sucking the energy out like vampires. We became too comfortable speaking loudly, I feel. Loud has become the new confident as soft-spoken is perhaps seen as being meek and shy. Too often we are taught to shout to be heard in classrooms, in public spaces as crowds became too unbearable…Had we lost the art of listening, whilst cultivating an art of just softly talking?
Shouting is often an expression of fear. So why speak to one another loudly? Why can’t we be softer? The mask & shields remind us that we can still be heard! Perhaps, we just need to cultivate a habit of hearing and listening.
Overall and the situation as I write…
We live in unknown times and the best we can do is to keep a level of calm. As for the economic ramifications, it feels that no heads of states seem to have a clue how to shed a positive light on the realities of this human, social, and economic lockdown and breakdown. Yesterday the British Prime Minister announced another 6 months of restrictions ranging from the early closures of pubs and bars and working from home in order to keep schools and businesses open.
Read between the lines as scientists claim that this is not enough. By March 2021, we would have built a natural urge to shield from one another. This is not akin to our social-selves, not akin to maintaining a healthy mind. We will be compromising our mental well-being whilst causing impairment to our immune systems. I rarely write about the negative aspects of life and society, but this to me is no viral pandemic: it is more a mental one with a rise in chronic loneliness, depression, and anxiety.
However, this is also a time for us to build more compassion for one another in an attempt to maintain some happiness in times of darkness.
I wish all my readers well and may there always be light. And as always, the sun will keep on rising and shining.
Photos: courtesy of my phone