Life in Lockdown
The thing is… everyone could see it coming.
The pandemic had swept through China, Italy and lockdown measures were popping up throughout
Europe. I was meant to be going on holiday with some university friends at the end of March and, at
that point in time, I was still hopeful that we would be able to get there, even if we couldn’t get
back. “I’ll just write my dissertation from a sun-lounger in Spain,” I’d thought, “worse things could
happen.” Despite my dogged optimism, doubt had crept in with my friends as flights started to get
cancelled as Spain implemented travel restrictions and strict isolation measures. We were due to fly
on the 22 nd March and, on the 17 th , the UK announced its own lockdown. My first casualty of
It feels insensitive to talk about events as casualties, when there have been so many real lives
affected, injured, and ended as a result of coronavirus but it does just feel like the most appropriate
word. It was a huge loss: one of the first ‘final chance’ opportunities that I was to lose. From that
moment, the scale of the situation dawned on me. One after another, more of those final moments
were pulled from beneath my feet: Roses, Summer Term teaching, shifts at work, Summer Ball,
Colours Ball, end of year meals, training, and the hardest hit of them all, graduation. These symbolic
celebrations and pinnacle moments of accomplishment had all been stripped away. Of course, I
know that these seem incredibly superficial compared to a global health crisis, but it just felt so
unfair to be the only year group in recent history who didn’t get to dress up, cross the stage, shake a
hand and collect our degree in front of proud friends and family. Opportunities that had seemed
immovably cemented in the university experience were exposed for not being the infallible rites of
passage I’d thought they were. As the blows began to fall relentlessly, lockdown became a mental
Identities that I had held on to had become seemingly redundant: student, swimmer, staff member,
teammate, housemate, course-mate, resident of York, all had fallen away and left me bereft and
lost. How could I be any of these things without any of the facilities needed? With friends trapped
and scattered across the globe, how was I meant to get any kind of closure to satisfyingly conclude
the last three years of my life? I tormented myself with all the conversations that ended with “see
you later” or “we’ll do something next term” and times I saw friends for the last time without even
knowing. I felt like I had handfuls of loose ends and no way of tying them off. That first month was
really tough as I exhausted myself railing at the world for its terrible timing. Once things had settled
into something that resembled a routine, writing my dissertation was a weird kind of comfort. It
gave me something to structure my day with, a reason for getting out of bed, a handle on my
identity as a student. As furlough was introduced, I held onto being a staff member for a little while
longer and slowly, I reassembled myself in compliance with this weird new normal.
It’s been a weird old time and I know there are people who have suffered far more than I have in
lockdown, but even though these personal crises aren’t factored into the stats on the news, the
mental health impact of the virus has been huge. In years to come, when the historians reflect on
2020, the tendrils of corona and its pandemic will extend beyond its horrifying death toll. Think of
this document as a time capsule, to be sealed in an envelope and opened in thirty years.
I hope some poor soul studying the year 2020 for their History GCSE gets this as a source to analyse
one day. Maybe we won’t have GCSE’s in thirty years, maybe online schooling is here to stay, but
2020 will definitely make the history books and my experience along with it.
Life in Lockdown: Phase 2
Much like how “Tiger King Lockdown” seems like it belongs to a completely different era of
lockdown, I feel as though my own experience has been segmented in a similar way. My first article
describes how the pandemic initially floored me but after a couple of months I had
settled into something of a routine: desperately trying to not finish my dissertation too quickly – a
very unusual concept, I know, but these were unusual times. I didn’t want the steady supply of work
to end because then what would I do? As the deadline got nearer and nearer, I realised that I
wouldn’t be able to finish my dissertation to a good enough standard without the books I had
abandoned on my York bookshelves. For this reason, and multiple others, I decided at the beginning
of May to return to York to see out my rent until the end of June.
Now, I am aware that to many this does not meet their definition of “necessary journey” and I hate
the fact that I still feel guilty about a decision that brought so much happiness to those two months.
One of my housemates had stayed in York since the announcement of lockdown and in a worst case
scenario, my return to the house would have put her in danger but, frankly, our need for company
outweighed the viral risk. Overjoyed to see someone other than my mum for the first time in two
months, that first week was spent adjusting to each other’s lockdown routines. The sun shined down
and we explored places in York that I hadn’t seen in my whole three years of study. After I
completed my deadlines, we threw ourselves a huge party, turning our kitchen into an at-home bar
and I spent the next day happily hungover. At the end of May, my other two housemates (also final
years) moved back to York too and it was almost like old times. Confronted with such an empty
calendar, we organised our own versions of the end of year celebrations we had looked forward to
all year: DIY Colours Ball, End of Year club meals, Love York Awards, Summer Ball and, finally,
graduation. We were not going to let corona spoil everything. Cooking three course meals in fancy
ball-gowns in our student kitchen with the awards ceremony streaming on a laptop is perhaps one of
the most surreal things I’ve ever experienced.
In between these Cinderella moments (“we shall go to the ball”), we arranged so many outdoor day
trips out into local towns and the North York Moors. Adventuring to waterfalls and natural beauty
spots with my closest friends is one of the best things to have come out of lockdown – much better
than a catch up in a coffee shop. For a fairly introverted person, such a busy schedule after having
months of relative nothingness, I will admit it was a bit full-on but there was no way I was going to
refuse actual, non-virtual plans! We gave ourselves the end to university that we thought we’d lost
and, even though the experiences weren’t what we had always planned for, the homemade touch
made them all the more special, unique to our year group. I have so many happy memories from this
phase of lockdown and, to me, they completely validate my decision to return to York.
I feel like something that the pandemic has exacerbated is people’s self-righteous attitude to judging
others. When I moved back to university, lockdown measures had eased a little but I was terrified to
do anything that might expose the fact that I’d switched locations. I was scared that people would
notice that my setting had changed from the previous week’s Zoom catch up. I was scared to post on
my socials in case people recognised where I was. I even stopped using Strava because I knew the
run maps would give me away. My return to York was necessary to me - for the completion of my
dissertation and for my mental health - but from a casual snap of the Minster on my Instagram story
I knew that people would judge me to be a selfish rule-breaker who can’t just stay home.
In the run up to my move back to York, I tried to actively expel that judgement from my own habits as I realised
that I couldn’t ask people to not judge me if I was judging them. Whilst it would have been easy to
vilify my neighbours for their questionable social distancing and other lockdown infractions, I was
forced to realise that, just like me, they may have very valid reasons for their actions.
Of course, lockdown would not have been nearly as successful if we hadn’t held each other
accountable in the first few months but, as rules were (and continue to be) relaxed, we didn’t trust
anyone to decide for themselves what a reasonable risk was.
We need to trust each other again.
Life in Lockdown: Phase 3
“In the eye of the hurricane there is quiet, for just a moment, a yellow sky”
Fans of Hamilton will recognise that line and I’ve wanted to use it in this series for so long but, at
every stage, I could have believed I was in the eye of the storm.
Before lockdown hit the UK, I was able to hope that it would just pass us by and we would be
unaffected. Then when we went into lockdown, I was able to cocoon myself in my house and, until
you went to the supermarket, day-to-day life wasn’t really all that different. Inside my house, I could
convince myself life was normal while everything around me was up in chaos. Then I moved back to
York and, for a while, life was genuinely good; so good, in fact that I thought maybe the storm had
passed.With the benefit of hindsight, I can see now that my time in York was my patch of yellow sky, a
respite as I hid from the world. Now it seems I’m back out in the storm.
After we’d thrown ourselves our last homemade celebration, it was time to face the fact that our
rent was running out. We stayed until the very last hour of our tenancy and when it was time to
leave we tried to brave-face it… unsuccessfully. Putting my sad playlist on in my car, I drove back to
my mum’s with a car stacked full of things that I had no idea when I would need them again. Pots,
pans, duvets, pillows, decorations that made up my life in York had no place in my life going forward.
That first week was rough. Three years of near-total independence and it felt like someone had just
turned back the clock.
I was sold the idea of university on the basis that it would improve my job prospects and the quality
of job I would be able to get with a degree. Now I know nobody expected a global pandemic (unless
maybe you did?) but this has not been my experience of job hunting at all. I wasn’t going into it
completely blind – friends of mine had graduated in previous years and had struggled to find a job so
I didn’t expect to walk into my dream job, fresh off campus. But I had expected to be able to get a
job. I feel so wretched and guilty for thinking this, but I’d thought that having a degree meant that
I’d have more opportunities than those who hadn’t. Not that having been to university makes
graduates any better of a person than someone who left school at 16, it doesn’t. It was more that if
a job only required five GCSEs then why had I wasted time at college and then at uni to end up at the
bottom of a ladder I could have been climbing for the last five years?
The idea of my years at York going to waste breaks my heart. Even though the premise of uni was
the supposedly better job prospects, I know I’ve gotten much more out of it than that. Friends for
life, amazing memories, independence, general life skills like paying council tax and sending
important emails. It was the best experience of my life so far, but it just isn’t the experience
employers want you to have. I chose my course because I loved it (and still don’t regret it) but I do
sometimes wish I’d done more with my time at uni and not put what I wanted to do before things
that I perhaps needed to do. I thought having a degree would be enough.
It’s hard to big yourself up to an employer when you’re feeling such conflicting feelings towards your
own self-worth. How can you sell yourself in a cover letter or application when you’re feeling as
though your degree is worthless and you’ve wasted 3+ years of your life? I know that those feelings
are probably very unfair and don’t do my experience at university any kind of justice but it’s a
massive uphill struggle to convince employers when I can barely convince myself.
It’s difficult to think about how different things would have been for me as a graduate if things had
gone on as normal. I’d have been able to work the jobs I do actually have (in places which have been
closed due to the pandemic) and felt like I was spending my time productively. I’d have been able to
go travelling and graduate properly and celebrate the end of university in all the ways previous
students have. If all these fulfilling experiences had been available to me maybe there would be no
despondence clouding my job applications. Maybe there would have been more jobs available,
maybe not. Maybe I’m making excuses for myself and I’m just deeply unemployable? Who knows.
Truth is, life isn’t going to be easy for a long while yet but I know the storm will pass eventually. It
has to. As Hamilton would say “there’s a million things I haven’t done, but just you wait”.