Yesterday I was out for my once daily walk, grateful for the fresh air after spending my first seven days in isolation at the house, and amongst the rainbow signs in the windows I saw one that read “When it rains look for rainbows, when it’s dark look for stars”. The phrase has stayed with me since. Though perhaps slightly cheesy, it sums up perfectly how I am trying to see the current situation.
I have been back in the UK two weeks exactly now. In the first week there was definitely a sense of being on edge. I waited to see if my cough got worse or if my exhaustion was merely jet lag or something more. I used separately plates, cutlery, glasses and I washed them up separately with my own gloves. There was only so much I could avoid touching and places in the house where I couldn’t keep the two metres distance from my mum and aunt but I turned lights on and off with the sleeve of my jumper. It was the same with doorknobs. I didn’t hug my mum, after not seeing her for over nine months, until I had been home around ten days. I kept my towels and toiletries in my room and wiped down the bathroom after every shower, the sink after every time I brushed my teeth.
Was it the right decision to come home despite the risks? One hundred per cent. Joey had said to me more than once when we were deliberating what to do that going home for us wasn’t just to be able to be with our families, or have greater financial security in our own country but that it was important to our mental health as well. I don’t think I fully accepted this, I think it seemed the most selfish reason at the time, but now that I’m no longer waking up every day feeling sick to my stomach, no longer restless to the point where the only things that would calm my mind for brief periods were walking or swimming, no longer feeling like my heart was pounding and everything was a rush, a race, now I understand. There are still anxieties, there is still uncertainty about the future but never have I felt so untethered as I did in those last weeks in Australia and never have I felt so solid being home.
Slowly, as no symptoms developed, I relaxed around the house. After eight days I went out for a walk, keeping my distance from everyone I passed. Yet when I’m in the house there is this strange sense of disconnect. I can almost pretend I’m just home for a visit or back for the holidays, then, as easy as flipping a switch, the news brings reality back into our lives. Many people still trapped abroad and, from what I can tell, not enough being done to get them home. There are nurses and doctors, their faces bruised and scarred from their endless shifts on the frontline of this coronavirus battle, as the news calls it. On social media they post tearful videos asking people to stop hoarding, to have some compassion, to appreciate them. There are carers battling just as hard and feeling under-appreciated and overwhelmed. For every day that goes by where I am grateful for not knowing anyone to have had Covid-19 there is a family mourning a loved one, their hearts breaking that they could not even be with them in the final moments.
However, there are moments that lift our hearts as well. I was watching Contagion the other night and although many phrases and scenarios seemed eerily similar to the reality we are now living in the film also depicted nightmare images of streets full of rubbish, riots, looting and violence. I am grateful we have not come to this. Instead we share videos of people singing in their living rooms, or dancing with their neighbours while keeping social distancing. Celebrities are speaking to us from their living rooms, wearing cosy jumpers and being interrupted by their kids, their cat walking in front of the screen or their dog barking in the background, a glimpse into their lives beyond the camera and a reminder of everyone being in this together. Jamie Oliver recording his cooking show on his phone, his kids wandering in to help or shouting in the background, his wife holding the phone after he tried to juggle close ups and stirring the pasta at the same time and his breathless gratitude to his film crew who are currently out of work. We hear stories of people delivering food to the vulnerable and the elderly. There are people turning their businesses around in a matter of days or weeks to be able to deliver essentials, make masks or sanitiser, to change their businesses to work online. There are gym trainers, dance instructors, yoga teachers who are re-thinking their whole business dynamic to be able to keep afloat and although the circumstances for having to do so are tragic, it will perhaps have a lasting effect and create new opportunities for them in the future.
I am amazed everyday at the positivity that has come along with these trying times and I am trying to hold on to that positivity too. Before leaving Australia we had plans to work in Byron Bay, a place I miss more than I thought I would, travel the East Coast and set up a life for ourselves in New Zealand for the next year or two. All those plans have crumbled now. In many ways I feel I am back where I started only worse off. I’m living at home, no job, the industry I have loved working in is at a stand-still but instead of dwelling on what has gone wrong I am trying to see this as an opportunity for change. Over the past year or so I have been thinking a lot about what is important to me and what I want out of life and this feels like the perfect opportunity to begin again, to ensure the important things take precedence and to shape my life however I want it. I hope this does not sound insensitive because please, don’t get me wrong, I am not in any way saying that coronavirus has been a good thing or that the pandemic has given me this opportunity. What has given me this outlook is my own personal situation that the effects of coronavirus has put me in, in the same way that people all over the world are changing the way they work, on how much time they spend with their families and on what passions they once didn’t have time for and now can indulge in.
I guess what I’m saying is that through the down-pouring of sadness, of loss and of fear we should still look out for rainbows. That even in these dark days our eyes can slowly adjust until we can begin to see the stars.