A year ago, when the first lockdown was announced I was living with my parents in Edinburgh, working two part-time jobs and finishing off my Masters. From busy days in the office sandwiched between early-morning gym classes and late-night essay-writing sessions, overnight my life became very still. As the networks I was part of figured out the remote working landscape my work life shifted online and the perimeters of my physical world shrank to a 20-minute radius around our house.
In those first few weeks and months I actually really enjoyed working and living from home. As a naturally more introverted person, I appreciated the time in my own head, the space to work on my Master’s dissertation and the chance to have greater control over social interactions. After years of living away from home, of juggling multiple jobs and socialising with friends, it was also lovely to have the chance to spend real time with my family and boyfriend (who had moved in with us). Two members of our household are key workers but were able to work mostly from home for the first few weeks of the lockdown and we would have long evening meals where conversation was fueled by the adrenalin of what was unfolding around us and how our professional and social networks were coping with the drastic change.
With movement restricted there was time to see the beauty in small things; the warm weather, local wildlife, new growth on produce in our allotment, and more people travelling by foot and bike. In these first, novel few months I would take part in Zoom quizzes with friends and although it was hard not having real-life social connection, it was also amazing that people who were now dispersed across the country could still meet virtually and laugh together.
As the summer trickled through our fingers and the nights started closing in, the novelty of social isolation and home working started to gradually wear off. Ready for a bit of a change after six months of living with my parents, my boyfriend and I moved into a flat in September. The only place we could find within our budget and in the right location was a small basement flat which looked pretty nice when we went to view it in August but was much less nice when ice formed on the inside of the windows and black mold started growing on the walls in November.
Initially it was fun to explore a new area and settle into a new home, however as the months folded from summer to autumn and into winter (and as the black mold situation worsened) things got a lot tougher. My partner was back working inhumanely long hours and was often on call so I found myself spending the vast majority of my time alone. While the summer months offered the chance of socialising outside, as the days became shorter opportunities for meeting up after work were limited even further.
With a growing workload and too much time in my own head, feelings of anxiety started to creep up on me. Although I’m usually pretty good at keeping my anxiety under control (sometimes with a little bit of help from medication and CBT), as the days alone in our little flat became longer it was a shadow that at times threatened to engulf me. From fears about the state of the world to online meetings and decisions about my career, it was easy to get lost in the warrens of anxiety inside my own head. Speaking to friends I know that these feelings of loneliness, anxiety, overthinking, lack of motivation and frustration are not uncommon. In fact, over the last year there have been countless studies detailing the worrying long-term impact that Covid has had on a number of potentially vulnerable groups including children and young people. With this in mind many experts have emphasised the need for more robust mental health interventions going forward in order to help reduce some of inequalities that have emerged.
In December, with no end to the lockdown in sight, we were able to move back in with my parents. Although it can be a little crowded, the internet is significantly worse and my anxiety is still a constant shadow, being back at home has made a huge difference to my happiness.
Overall, my privilege has allowed me to negotiate the choppy waters of Covid-19 and remain relatively physically and financially unscathed. Importantly, I work for an organisation – the LGiU – which has not only been open to flexible working but which has actively supported staff during this challenging period. I recognize that I am one of the lucky ones. From unemployment and illness to home schooling and grief, this crisis has turned so many people’s worlds upside down. This pandemic has changed the course not just of individual lives but of entire societies. Yet, even for me, the scars on my mental health that this crisis has carved- the heightened anxiety, insecurity, uncertainty, mental exhaustion and loss of creativity- are likely to linger long after the danger of Covid has subsided.
With a looming climate crisis and growing political and economic uncertainty, this is certainly not the last shock we are likely to face in the coming years. Now, as we tentatively turn our attention towards recovery there are so many important lessons from Covid that we cannot afford to ignore. As hubs of local democracy, providers of vital services and major employers, local authorities have a key role to play in implementing so many of these lessons and supporting the development of resilient, sustainable communities.