In the months leading up to the UK lockdown I’d reached a place of confidence as a young woman living and working in London. I was beginning to find my voice both at work and in my personal life, and felt sure I could take on anything that came my way.
Having moved to the city after university, I had a job in communications at a small charity and rented a flat in a leafy part of London with two other girls. The city felt exciting, free and full of opportunity. It was a place where anything was possible and somewhere I’d proudly called home for four years.
The pandemic took us all by surprise, and as quickly as it appeared my reality became characterised by crippling anxiety and social isolation. The confidence I’d worked so hard to build was replaced with a pervasive sense of self-doubt as my flatmates fled the city, social gatherings screeched to a halt and I was put on the government furlough scheme for over 8 weeks.
London transformed almost overnight as once bustling pubs and streets quickly became deserted. The stark reality of the place I had chosen to live became real and suddenly a small flat on a busy road with no garden didn’t seem quite so appealing. The local park offered the only breathing space but eventually that too became suffocating as hundreds of other city dwellers descended on its worn out tracks.
Once the furlough period commenced, my mornings, which had once been filled with purpose and optimism, soon became empty and long. The majority of my colleagues continued to work and this made me feel ostracised even though I tried to keep busy with yoga, cooking and Facetiming friends.
Moving further into the lockdown those early past times grew stale and the hours I had previously spent working were replaced with worrying. I yearned for purpose but with nothing to focus on my mind went into overdrive: Would I lose my job? Should I sign a new tenancy? Would the pandemic ever end, and what might life be like even when it did?
Looking back over the past few months, the experience of being put on furlough has been the most unnerving element of the pandemic for me. It has been my first taste of the fragility of work and how quickly something you thought was secure can be taken away from you. It has made me realise just how well my company can function without me, and that has knocked my confidence profoundly.
On a wider scale, I think that the pandemic has also highlighted just how isolated many of us feel in the digital age. Without the rhythm of work to keep us occupied, it’s made a lot of us, and especially those living in cities, realise just how disconnected we are from any solid sense of community. Having moved away from my sleepy hometown years ago, most of my friends are now dotted across the country and we keep in touch via WhatsApp. While before I could visit them on the train with a little planning, the lockdown has trapped us all in our localities and it has become clear how little connection we have to the areas we inhabit.
Now as we head towards the autumn we are tasked with how to navigate returning to work, using public transport and new norms when attempting to reconnect with others. Although the future feels uncertain, I remain hopeful that we’ll have at least learnt something from all of this, if not only to breathe and let go of the things we cannot control.
By Caitlin Kelly