I can’t be the only one who feels like the last two years have been a blur. Pandemic life was something none of us signed up for, but all of us were thrown into it. We need to take seriously the fact that COVID-19 created many victims, reaching far beyond those that lost their lives.
What I remember most from the onset of the pandemic is the disbelief. Much like other adults, I had lived my whole life simply not believing that things like this could happen, or at least that they couldn’t happen to me. I was a grad student completing my placement for a mental health counselling degree, and everything was humming along smoothly. I had various schools that I was travelling to, providing counselling to students as a third-party service provider through my placement site. This was in March of 2020, when the “coronavirus” had already been in the news for several months. A colleague at my placement site lived right behind a building that was slated to host a group of incoming travelers for isolation, and she was very panicked about it. Meanwhile, there were talks of a looming lockdown, and I simply didn’t think it could be possible. A lockdown? In Canada. Yeah right.
I was at work at Winchester Public School when news came through of an upcoming three-week shutdown. A March Break Camp we had been planning was immediately cancelled. The three-week shutdown turned into six months, followed by three more school closures at various points in the span of two years. Masks became mandatory, stores were shuttered and then opened and then shuttered. Vaccines caused intense debate, division, and protests. Many small businesses were offended at being deemed “non-essential” while big box stores were allowed to sell the very same goods. Some small businesses didn’t survive. When schools were open for in-person learning, students and staff wore masks, learned strict COVID-19 procedures, and were only allowed to interact with people in their own classes. This past school year, I will never forget a group of third graders coming up to me and asking if they could see what I looked like. This was around January or February, when masks were still mandatory, even outdoors for staff. I had known most of the students for years, but it had been at least 18 months since any of them had seen my face. It felt so surreal to know that I had worked with these kids every day, yet they didn’t know what I looked like. I put some space between us and obliged. They were very excited.
By the time March of this year rolled around, it was difficult to even think back on all that we had been through in the pandemic. Two Christmases, two Halloweens, and two Thanksgivings of nothing feeling the same, with gathering limits and families divided. For many people, especially those reporting to workplaces with masks and enhanced cleaning protocols, not a day went by when the pandemic wasn’t a stain in their minds – a constant weight of stress and uncertainty. When mask restrictions were lifted, many people, including myself, had trouble adjusting back to normal. Some people chose to keep wearing masks, and others chose to continue staying away from crowded public places.
March 21 was almost four months ago now, and I just recently realized that entire days go by when I forget about the pandemic entirely. COVID-19 doesn’t even cross my mind, and it’s almost as surreal to think we have made it this far as it was to think the pandemic was happening in the first place. Just as quickly as life got turned upside down, most things have now gone back to normal. It was like magic – poof, and the stress was gone.
There have been few things as controversial to write about in the past two years as the pandemic. It has been polarizing, and has facilitated debate ranging in intensity from spirited to downright aggressive. I have therefore tried to stay neutral and leave opinion out of it. I suspect others did as well. When I interviewed candidates for the recent political election, even the candidates themselves were heavily divided on the state of the pandemic. Most were, at very least, cautious about how they worded their opinions of things such as public health measures.
Just as we must focus on physical health, mental health needs attention. That is why I’m not interested in discussing the past or the future of COVID-19, I’m only interested in discussing the here and now. We need to live life moment by moment, and the pandemic has certainly taught us not to take anything for granted. It always pays to be careful, but a spark of optimism goes a long way. We all have a pandemic story, though we may not realize it. I did not know I had a “story” until I told mine. So no matter what it brings, cheers to summer 2022. Let us hope that worst is behind us!