When COVID-19 hit the world, New Zealand committed to an elimination strategy, which meant that on 8th June 2020, nearly three and-a-half months after the first case was reported on February 28th, the country went into alert Level 1. In layman’s terms, this means we’re pretty much ‘back to normal’, except for strict border control.
When we hit Level 2, a lot of the country opened up again; we could see friends, go out to restaurants and pubs and travel around the country.
It was incredible.
Those little, simple things that you missed were suddenly there again. That first hug with a friend was accompanied by tears, unexpected and a mixture of joy, relief and a weird sense of loss and grief.
The urge to DO ALL THE THINGS was high. See the people, go to the pub, eat the food, hike the mountains, visit the shops, buy the stuff, drink the tea. But in a slightly altered fashion. Sign into every place you visit, sit down and be waited on in a pub, still maintain your distance from people, groups of 10 or less. It was strange, but just part of the crazy COVID train; a normal pub feeling like a fancy bar with table service, scanning QR codes on entry anywhere, slathering the hand sanitiser on multiple times a day and still jumping into the road and risking accident just to avoid strangers on the pavement.
Level 1 came just at the time that all of that was getting a little tiresome, people starting to drift off a little. Everyone noticing physical distancing wasn’t what it used to be, groups of more than 10 obvious. Cases had dropped off, people aware the risk was lower than it’d ever been, the team of 5 million hitting the goal they’d set out to achieve.
No real huge celebrations, just more a collective sense of relief. Life normality could resume, with no restrictions or disruptions, the risk of getting sick disappearing. Of course, we know it’s fragile, and we’ve had new cases since then, but we have systems in place to control and contain.
Compared to other countries, an early, harder lockdown means a quicker time frame for the economy to get back up and running as normal. Organisations that are still trading have reopened, and life is pretty well back to normal.
Only it’s not, not really.
My experience is that now everyone is so fucking tired. Over three months of constant change, new ways of working, lack of working, job worries, family worries, financial worries, lack of freedom, social isolation, threat of illness, the list goes on. There’s been no let up, and now everything’s springing back to normal there’s still no let up. No chance to catch a breath, to take it all in, to stop and adjust again. It’s exhausting. Like going from 100 – 0 then back to 100 again with no pitstop or tea break.
Months of social isolation with minimal people means any social interaction now is TOO MUCH. After weeks of working at home alone the first week back in the office felt intense. I went to a party recently and most of us there were overwhelmed; by people, the situation, the expectations. I hit a point where I just needed to get the fuck out of there, despite being a massive social butterfly. I couldn’t cope.
Living overseas, the COVID-19 stress is also far from over. I’m never 100% in New Zealand, so part of me is living the COVID-19 UK experience because of all my family and friends there, and fuck me, it’s stressful watching from the outside, unable to help, just watching a political agenda car crash unfld in slow motion.
Not knowing when I’ll be able to see anyone I love again is hard, especially when I had a trip booked later this year that I was SO looking forward to.
Knowing I can’t be there if anything happens to anyone I love is hard.
Knowing that the majority of the people I love are in the country with the highest COVID-19 death rate is hard.
Knowing I can do things I love without restriction but others can’t is hard.
All things I don’t think of too often, but for all us expats they’re there, at the back of our minds. One of the things that makes it easier to live abroad is the knowledge that it’s [relatively] easy to pop back if we need to. Take that away and it’s a difficult adjustment.
So pile all of that together and yes, we’re back to normal but no, it’s not normal. Getting to Level 1 was great but two weeks in and the wall has well and truly been hit.
Too many people, too much stimulus; time to take the foot off the accelerator for a little bit and lose myself in writing, running and rest.