Learning from lockdown: what isolation can teach us

Written by Jordi Hooper, 23.

2020 has been an unprecedented year in many ways. From mass bushfires in Australia, to Black Lives Matter protests and consequential riots after the death of George Floyd in the US highlighted incidents of police brutality around the world, it has been a turning point in history; and we’re only halfway through the year! Perhaps the most notable, of course, is the Covid-19 pandemic.

Few people our age have experienced a state of emergency like this before; even our parents have never lived through anything comparable. At the very beginning of this crisis, when there was talk of this being similar to a World War type situation, it was almost impossible to comprehend; now, though, it truly is the closest we have come to living through a war-time scenario.

The vast impact of the virus is immeasurable. From loss of income, to cancelled plans and sadly loss of loved ones; it would take more than one article to cover them all. Yet I have come to think lately about the positives that might come out of this situation.

For many, by far the biggest change to daily life has been the measures put in place as the UK was ‘locked down’. Although these are gradually being eased, we are far from back to normal and many wonder if we ever will be. In the early days of lockdown especially, most of the UK were confined to their homes; only allowed to leave for a few specific reasons. In many cases, your only interactions were with those you lived with – if indeed, you were lucky enough to live with anyone at all. This, along with the entire situation, is unprecedented for most.

It wasn’t for me, though – and a select group of others across the world. Illness during my teenage years meant that I was essentially ‘locked down’ for long periods of time, only leaving my family home to attend hospital appointments or, if I was very lucky, half an hour or so out in a supermarket. This is the reality for many people who are chronically ill – not just during a pandemic, but 24/7. While I am lucky enough to have improved drastically in recent years and often forget about that part of my life, it has allowed me a unique insight into this unusual situation and to reflect on what my time stuck inside taught me. Here’s what I think we might learn from lockdown; from someone who has more than a little experience with self-isolation!

Appreciating the ‘little things’

If you asked many people pre-Covid what they’d miss the most should a ‘lockdown’ scenario occur, it is likely to be different to the things we are missing the most now. For me, it would have been parkruns and races; I am an avid runner, and the warmer weather should mean months of training and events. For many, it would have been going to the pub with friends out to their favourite restaurants on a Friday night, or getting their monthly manicure at the nail salon.

While we undoubtedly miss all of that and will revel in being able to partake once again when it is safe, there are so many aspects of life we may not have thought about. When the warmer weather came, for example, I found myself wanting nothing more than being able to sit in mine or my partners family’s gardens, having a barbecue. Such a simple event that we would have done countless times in a normal summer, but suddenly couldn’t. That has now changed, of course, with groups of up to 6 people allowed to meet in outside spaces as long as a 2 metre separation distance is kept, but for so long it was prohibited – and we now appreciate being able to do so that bit more.

This will be the same for so many things. At the time of writing, I should be in Disneyland Paris, celebrating finishing my degree. Instead, my partner and I have been faced with a week of annual leave and no chance of leaving the country anytime soon. I didn’t spend the day sad, as expected – instead, we did something we haven’t been able to in months and drove to the beach.

Everything I couldn’t do before, I did with unrivalled passion

Having grown up by the coast in Devon but moving to rural Somerset almost 11 years ago, I can never go too long without getting my fix of the sea. This hasn’t been possible for months – first because of lockdown restrictions prohibiting you to travel for exercise, and latterly due to the crowds of people descending to the South West to enjoy the beauty spots, making it impossible to social distance. Today though, we set off early on a weekday, checked the live webcam before leaving and were able to enjoy a short walk along a mostly deserted beach. Day trips to the seaside wouldn’t have felt anything out of the ordinary before but today, that hour spent in the sea air felt like I had won the lottery; almost as good as Disneyland!

I know that I am not alone in this; the local parks and outside areas are much busier than they would have been, with so many enjoying the easing of lockdown restrictions. This is something I experienced after my period of isolation as a teenager and into early adulthood – when I began to get my health and life back, I had a newfound zest for life which I haven’t yet lost. Everything I couldn’t do before, I did with unrivalled passion; when I first moved in with my partner, I was even excited to do my own washing, a small aspect of the freedom I never had. I’ll admit that perhaps the novelty did wear off a little in that particular activity! As we come out of this nightmare, it is my hope that more people will further appreciate the little things in life; which, after all of this, have turned out not so little after all.

Exercise is good

When the UK officially entered lockdown on 23rd March 2020, one of the few exceptions to the ‘Stay at Home’ instruction was exercise. It was quite simple; we were permitted to leave the home for one form of exercise once a day, which had to start and finish at your home address. Despite much debate in the media, this did not include driving for exercise, nor was there a time limit; it was simply about being sensible.

Coupled with the warmer weather, this caused a huge surge in the number of people exercising. Many, like myself, already exercised; the aforementioned running is a huge part of my life, and I am partial to the odd cycle too in the warmer months. However, these new guidelines which meant you were only allowed out once a day did change my exercise routine; I started doing much, much more. In fact, I chose lockdown as the perfect time to start training for a half-marathon, even though I knew that there would be no actual race to partake in. Everyday for 50 days I went out for my daily ‘Borisercise’ – either for a long walk, cycle or a run. The first time I didn’t since we went into lockdown was the day we were finally allowed to go out more than once; funny how the human brain works!

Although we live in a very quiet, rural village there was a definite increase of people being out enjoying the fresh air. For many, like my partner and I, it was the only time we left the house bar weekly food shop; we are both fortunate enough to be able to work from home, so had no other essential trips to make in the early days of ‘full lockdown.’ Many others made use of their permitted reason to leave the home, and their newfound time. Although we were still working, the lack of commuting time and having nowhere else to go certainly allowed us to make better use of our free time.

Running for me is my act of defiance after so long tied to one place

Some of these people had exercised for years; many used to, but had gotten out of the habit of it and found this was a good time to pick back up an old hobby; others were gym goers, now forced to venture into the outdoors to stay in shape. Perhaps the most exciting though, is the increase of those new runners, cyclist and walkers who have already found a new appreciation for the ‘little things’ as per my first point. Although there have been many jokes about the ‘new’ vs ‘old’ exercise goers – I myself am guilty of purchasing a commemorative ‘I was a runner before Covid-19’ t-shirt – it is all tongue in cheek and a whole new generation of people experiencing the physical and mental benefits of exercise is a fantastic unintended consequence of this largely nasty situation.

I can fully relate to why people have chosen now to do it. In a time where so many activities are restricted, many have taken this act of freedom and made the best of it. I myself would have probably never gotten into running, if it wasn’t for the fact I never thought I’d be able to – after spending years unable to walk, it was unthinkable that I could run. Running for me is my act of defiance after so long tied to one place. The physical and mental freedom it brings cannot be rivalled. When I am tired, broken and sore during a hard run, I think of all those things I couldn’t do for such a long time. I suspect that for many, this escapism has been attractive during the pandemic – an activity that you were permitted to do while everything else is restricted.

Perhaps when the dust has settled and the world returns to its mundane 9-5, some will fall out of love with exercise and the great outdoors; while I know it will always be a great part of my life, I suspect I will find it hard to keep up the level of training I have during lockdown. It is my hope though that some of those people who rediscovered a new hobby or delved into the world of exercise for the first time will continue to do so – and all of us will be left with a newfound appreciation for the benefits of fresh air.

We can be kinder to our planet

Prior to the media shit show that has been 2020, our newspapers were mainly dominated with two topics of conversation; Brexit and climate change. While I am not even going to attempt to tackle the first issue in this article – although I have been heard to utter the phrase ‘I almost wish we could just go back to Brexit’ a few times to co-workers in recent weeks – the second has particular relevance to our current situation. In a time where activists such as Greta Thunburg have, despite dividing opinion, brought the issue of climate change into daily conversation, the Covid-19 pandemic has shown us one thing: it is possible to be kinder to our planet.

During the initial lockdown period, car usage was at its lowest point since the 1970s, with car journeys in the UK down 80% in April. Unless you were a key worker or leaving for a mandated trip such as for medical reasons or essential supplies, you had no business driving and it was in fact prohibited under Covid-19 legislation – unless you were testing your eyesight at a tourist destination, of course!

The Covid-19 pandemic has shown us one thing: it is possible to be kinder to our planet

Air travel has all but ground to a halt globally, far lower than its usual peak tourism season of people jetting off on their early summer holidays. Even trains and the London Underground were running a reduced timetable, only available for those permitted to travel for essential reasons. Never before in our generation have we experienced such low levels of Co2 emissions.

While there have been several ambitious claims about the Ozone layer healing itself due to the reduction in travel which was later found out to be false – the Ozone layer is healing itself in the Arctic, but this is not due to the pandemic’s restrictions – there has been a sustained improvement in air quality across many regions in the UK, and indeed globally. In China for example, where the air is usually thick with smoke from the factories, the skies are clear.

Of course, this level of reductions in greenhouse gases is not fully sustainable – this improvement was seen because people were confined to their houses and businesses were shut down.

Never before in our generation have we experienced such low levels of Co2 emissions

The economical fall out from all of this will be unrivalled. I do not think it is too ambitious to hope, however, that we might see a change in behaviour after all of this. As we begin to ease out of lockdown and start to be able to travel more, I am struck by an inherent wrongness when I go to get in my car for a drive; after so many days not being allowed to drive a few miles down the road for a walk, you find yourself thinking again. Perhaps this instinctive feeling will make people reassess if they really need to make that drive, or whether multiple trips can be combined.

As people begin to return to work, and the government encourages walking or cycling in place of public transport, it is possible more people will opt for these alternatives even beyond the pandemic. Some businesses who have never worked remotely before and were now forced to may see the benefit of it; meetings that would have involved hours of travel may be done virtually, and some workers may continue to work from home a few days a week, saving travelling into the office. There are a number of ways our behaviours can change from this.

Our lives ground to a halt, yet Mother Nature continued

One thing’s for sure, this pandemic has shown us one thing; we do not own the Earth. Our lives ground to a halt, yet Mother Nature continued. Spring has sprung, turning quickly into summer (and back into winter a few times!). The circle of life continues. Maybe, we will have a newfound respect for her and a different approach to how much we need to travel to operate successfully.

Good will always shine through

In times of crisis, something strange happens to society. It seems that these sort of situations bring out both the best and worst of humanity; from outstanding acts of kindness, to outright rejection of the rules and guidelines put in place to keep us all safe, it has been a constant whirlwind of emotion towards our fellow beings.

Like always though, I choose to focus on the positive – and there has been plenty of that. From community volunteer groups establishing very early on to help those self-isolating or shielding access essential supplies; to random ‘Acts of Kindness’ Amazon gifting groups on Facebook, where people brighten each other’s days just because; to collections and hampers for our wonderful NHS staff and carers on the front line of this illness. There have been simply too many gestures to name, big and small, all restoring our faith in humanity.

Perhaps the most notable feat was Captain Tom Moore – now of course Sir Tom Moore – the 99-year-old pensioner who pledged to walk 100 laps of his garden before his 100th birthday, to raise money for the NHS Charities Together fund. What started as a fundraising goal of £1,000 quickly transformed into having raised over £33 million to date. I think anybody who has watched this man will agree that he is a true national treasure – so humble and sharp for his age. He has now been knighted after completing his challenge and celebrating his 100th birthday.

Feel good stories are so important in times of crisis, and I feel that – bar Sir Moore – this has not been focused on enough in the media. These are scary times where it is paramount to keep informed of the horrible things going on – but it is equally important to hold onto the good. I am reminded again of the stark parallels with my time in self-isolation in my teenage and early adult years; it was so important to hold onto the positives, even when it was almost impossible to find any.

I remember too the small acts of kindness I was given during the darkest periods of my illness. A card, signed by all of my classmates at college when I had just been forced to drop out a second time due to ill health, wishing me to get better soon; a hamper of makeup products, sent for free from someone who suffered the same conditions I was diagnosed with whom I’d met online, simply wanting to brighten my day; even a text from someone in the outside world to let me know they were thinking of me, while my world consisted of the four walls I lived in. Although it is difficult to remember exactly how hard those times were now that my life has transformed, I will always remember the kindness of those that supported me – even though, sadly, there were of course those who did not.

As we emerge into this new and uncertain world, slowly coming out of the grips of Coronavirus but with so far to go before we return to ‘normal’, if we ever do, it is my hope that the value of kindness and the best of humanity is a lesson that none of us will forget. We have proven that, as a nation, we can get through the hardest periods in life – as long as we remember to always be kind.

This contribution was written by Jordi Hooper.You can read her profile and learn more about the voice behind the contribution, here.