2020…WTF happened?

I am sure I am not alone in saying that the past year was completely unexpected and caught everyone a little by surprise. Now as we are into 2021, I am still trying to make sense of it all.

Rewind back to this time last year. In January of 2020, I was sick of the other hot topic dominating the headlines, “Brexit”. So much so that the news was just background noise that I only gave a cursory glance. I was making plans to have a weekend in Europe in March and looking at bargain flights in the sales online. Then towards the end of January, the stories of a strange virus in China became headline news. Why? I thought, it’s across the other side of the world. Won’t affect us surely?I’d heard of SARS when I went to Hong Kong in 2007 and knew it was bad, but it didn’t ever come to the UK (that I know of). Same as Ebola. An awful disease but not one that landed directly on our doorstep. They were calling it the Wuhan flu at that point. Originating in a city in China I had never heard of, which is astounding as it’s a huge city. When they first mentioned Wuhan, I just assumed it was a small town. Nothing to worry about really. Then a few cases of this ‘flu’ arrived in Europe, then the UK and the narrative changed. COVID-19 had arrived.

It was around early March, I was shopping in my local supermarket, and certain products were just disappearing from the shelves. Toilet roll, pasta, hand soap, tinned food, frozen products. I remember laughing to myself when all that was left in one frozen aisle was a section of Bernard Matthews processed turkey joints. Even in an apocalypse, Bernard Matthews turkeys were considered inedible! The news of panic buying was now making headlines, and of course, as much as I said I wouldn’t, I did then go out and buy the essentials. I didn’t go full ‘Costco/3 trolleys full of industrial size loo roll’ crazy but just enough to get by for a few weeks until it calmed down. Even at this point, I honestly thought it would be a storm in a teacup. By the next month we would be laughing at the stupidity of it all and the scaremongering in the news. I had just started working for a new client at this point. Designing a large brochure for a roadshow he was planning for his beauty industry products. Work was ticking over nicely and I wasn’t too concerned. The panic buying continued and then suddenly Brexit was no longer the hot topic, but instead every bulletin was just about Coronavirus. Numbers of cases, numbers of countries who had it, numbers of how many weeks till it hit us and sadly numbers of those who’d now died from it. Numbers, stats, graphs. All became the norm.

I started watching the Government briefings avidly, and the one that hit me the most was when Boris solemnly said,

“this is the worst public health crisis for a generation, and I must level with you, more families are going to lose loved ones before their time”.

At this point I was trying to impress on my parents who were now classed as the ‘vulnerable’ category, that they had to stop going out as per Government advice. My father who is in his 80’s, was used to going to the supermarket every day to get his newspapers and bits of food shopping. It had been his routine since retiring, so being told not to do that made him quite panicky as things overwhelm him quite easily when his routine is broken, but all I could think of was to keep my parents safe. Then of course like the rest of the nation, I sat down to watch the Prime Minister announce the first UK lockdown on March 23rd. Everything stopped.

My main concern in those first few weeks was income. I lost the job of the brochure as the client’s industry dried up overnight. My other work was in limbo as it was mainly event based so it took a few weeks before that client adapted and set up their event digitally online. I still had some work (rather than none) and things continued albeit in a slightly reduced sense. Weirdly I wasn’t overly anxious at this point. Lockdown happened to co-incide with one of the nicest Spring’s in recent years and our daily 1 hour walk for exercise was pleasant and enjoyable in the sunshine. I began to plan all the jobs I’d been putting off because I’d been too busy. A bit of decorating here and there, a bit of DIY as I wanted to make some bird boxes, some baking as I was learning how to make Sourdough. I will use my downtime wisely I thought. We’re all in this together aren’t we?! It will end eventually and things will return to normality. Having worked from home for the past year and a half, the concept of lockdown wasn’t hugely different for me. The only downer was not being able to see family and friends. But WhatsApp and Zoom bridged the gap and soon lockdown was the new normal. I embraced my new projects and enjoyed having something else to do other than sit at a computer.

In July my parents celebrated 50 years of marriage and luckily, the restrictions had been eased at this point so we could see them in our ‘bubble’. We had several friends and family send video messages and we ended up having a lovely weekend in the warm weather. I am so grateful we managed to be together. As July turned into August, we enjoyed some small sense of normality again as pubs and restaurants reopened. To be able to sit outside and enjoy a socially distanced drink with friends was great. At the start of the summer I joined our local council’s volunteer scheme so I was filling my work gaps with dog walking and shopping for those who were shielding. I felt a real sense of purpose doing this and it was certainly one of the best decisions I’ve made to do this year. I took up cycling again around September/October time and managed to get in a few group rides before restrictions came in again. Even just going out on the bike on my own made me feel better. This is also one of my better life choices and one I want to continue.

Work was getting more sporadic towards the end of the year. In previous years with gaps in my work schedule, I would be quite proactive on getting out there to find more, but I found I was struggling to stay focused this time around, and even on the days I had work, I was easily distracted and constantly felt fatigued. As the Autumn approached, and Lockdown Mk2 was announced, I could feel my enthusiasm for additional activities waning. I had planned to update my website, redo my CV and do some training. I would start something but then get sidetracked down a rabbit hole or distracted by something else that seemed more pressing. The only way I could describe the feeling was that my thoughts were like the bits of paper in the bit at the end of Crystal Maze. They were all flying around and I was trying to grab onto a few to start with, but they were just out of my grasp. Trying to think of too many tasks to do at once, but ultimately achieving very little.

I had just enough work to get me through to Christmas and to be completely honest, I was glad of the break at Christmas time as I just wanted to switch off. The announcement of the 3rd, more severe lockdown just before Christmas was not that much of a surprise, but the difference being this time around, is that this lockdown has taken us into a new year with more contagious variants, dire case figures and even more deaths. That coupled with dark nights, crap weather, and more and more people just flicking the ‘V’s at doing as they’re told, has just made things worse.

So here we are in 2021… The words ‘mental health’ has been used a lot this past year as many of us struggle to comprehend the events of 2020. I know I am more fortunate than others in some respects, but at times I have struggled. I don’t have depression, but the low level anxiety I sometimes feel about things is something I need to work on and recognise. Switch off from all the noise and filter out what is not important. I want to try and use this blog to work through some of that, as well as write about stuff that IS positive. Mainly I just want to try and document these crazy times we never expected to be living through.

Until next time…

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Sharon McDermott

Not quite mid-life crisis yet! Designer, avid potterer, cyclist and loyal servant to my cat Ted!