Illustrations by Hannah Robinson
Since lockdown was announced, our world has grown smaller and our attention has shifted inwards to focus on the bare foundations. For many, this sudden refocusing has triggered revelations and at times opportunities for the re-examination of our lifestyles. For some, it has marked an uncomfortable return to an internal world, seemingly without escape; one which has been transmuted from a prison of the mind to one of the body.
The condition I am referencing holds an astonishing likeness to the lockdown which we now lived under. Parallel ‘symptoms’ include social isolation, an inability to partake in activities which were once enjoyed, and feelings of hopelessness and guilt. Some of us have known them for far longer – as markers of an illness that is already familiar to up to 20% of adults in the UK. I am, of course, talking about depression.
Since March, public health resources and efforts have been refocussed to address the pressing demands of COVID-19; a necessary step given that the country was in no way prepared to deal with this crisis. The collateral damage to individuals and society at large, however, can only be fully assessed once we emerge from this lockdown. Like many other young people, I have been living and dealing with depression since my early teens. Access to support from medical professionals and loved ones has allowed me to learn to makes this affliction manageable.
In a recent conversation with my father, he provided a new perspective for those who feel themselves slipping back into a place we’d rather not find ourselves in. In a way familiar to anyone with a family member born before 1980, my father’s first instinct was to respond to my struggle with something along the lines of ‘I’ve had it worse’. This time, I chose to listen.
My father, a child of the sixties living in the confines of the authoritarian regime of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in East Germany, grew up in what was truly a prison on a national scale. “It wasn’t just a few months. As far as I knew, it was going to be my whole life” he tells me. Whilst I have known since birth that my horizons are technically wider than what I could ever experience within a lifetime, his stopped at the border to Poland.
“We were born into a world which we never expected to escape” he says over a meal with ingredients he never expected to taste. He goes on – “Imagine your country is your house, your friends in other cities are on the other side of a wall that – as far as you know it – will never come down, and you watch as people all over the world, people that look like you, live and love like you, take freedoms for granted that you could never imagine. They can travel outside of their patch of land. They can listen to music you’ll never be allowed to hear, and watch films you’ll never be able to see.”
His truth, which I have heard many times before, suddenly resonates with me more than ever. I am worried I won’t be able to go back to university as normal in September. For him, being able to go to university at all, without being part of the political elite, was a pipe dream. If that impossible wall could come down, so will this metaphorical one. Ours is temporary. Ours lets us eat what we want, watch what we want, listen to the music we want to listen to. This will only be a blip.
My intention is not to devalue your experience or negate your discomfort, because I feel that too. It is simply to show that, if you feel your hope slipping, you do have a reason to keep going; because a hell of a lot of good stuff awaits on the other side.
If my father’s world could change against all odds, so can ours. For me, this is the angel on my shoulder telling me that I should get out of bed, I should eat well, I should go for a walk if I can, because very soon, I’m going to be needed out there again, and if I don’t look after myself, I can’t be there for anyone else either.