2021, starting the year strong

It’s six weeks into the new year and it’s been pretty eventful so far (despite a national lockdown). I’ve managed to break my ankle, catch covid, lock myself out of the flat (on crutches) and also had the water supply temporarily cut off without warning. But all in all, I feel pretty good.

I think in some ways, the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have felt so all encompassing in their isolation and how much they affect you, that more trivial or common mishaps in some ways breaks that doom and gloom feeling. Shit still happens. Life still happens, it’s just a little subdued right now.

Crazy to think we’re fast approaching one full year since I started working from home. Trying to remember how it felt back at that time, it felt like such a bizarre occurrence. There was such disbelief from friends, loved ones and also myself that it would last any longer than 4-6 months tops. And how we’ve all learnt since.

We’ve taken a lot from 2020 in terms of teachings, although definitely more of the tough love vein. My hope for 2021 is that we end this year having been able to implement those learnings and grow positively.

End of 2020: Thank fuck

At the end of a year, it’s natural to do some reflecting on the year past. Particularly what with time off work for the holidays, it’s natural to start thinking with more time on your hands. Having just watched Death to 2020, it just really hammered in what a bizarre year it’s been. With the Hong Kong security law, Brexit, the Beirut explosion, a new intensity of wildfires due to climate change, the trash TV show that’s been American politics, ending with a big finale of the election all drawn out to the overture of covid and all its complexities… It’s hard not to have felt fatigued from reading the news this year. Opening a news site became associated with an ominous feeling of dread “what new development awaits us now?”. And that’s all stuff on the global news cycle that I have no control over. In fact the main mental health implication is how those breaking news stories bled over and impacted personal life. Not just mine, but everybody across the globe. It’s hard to imagine another development positive or negative that has simultaneously affected everyone globally.

Personally I’m doing well which I recognise and am very grateful for. My partner and I are both working for companies that have not only survived but had very good years despite covid so our jobs are stable. In fact, my job has been incredibly stressful and busy since August which brought on its own issues. I work in an industry which has historically been vulnerable to budget cuts so my company has been cautious in spend (i.e. hiring people), and being in a world situation where job losses was at an all time high it meant you had to just suck it up and pull in the intense and long hours in order to meet client demands. Which has sucked. My mental and physical health has suffered for it. It’s scary to think that I am still considered one of the lucky ones and I do still think that.

Mental health wise, being in London has been incredibly tricky. It’s so easy to feel stuck, London has always had its own centre of gravity that made it difficult to leave, but now public transport was made to be something to fear, it meant you couldn’t travel 45 mins to get to the other side of the city to do that thing you wanted to like go to a restaurant or a climbing wall. With restrictions changing on a weekly sometimes daily basis like the menu of a bougie hipster cafe or restaurant, just flip flopping between being stuck indoors and being able to go out and see friends, it’s been really hard to adjust and get through it. You’re having to adjust every two seconds with very little consistency. The loss of control and ability to actualise what I want to do is the thing I struggle with the most. It will be interesting to see what the mental health implications of this will be. You don’t have to have had covid to be affected by the pandemic.

With vaccines being approved one by one, and distribution starting, I know the start of 2021 won’t look much different from the end of 2020 – I don’t think we’re under any illusions there. But I do fervently hope along with the whole world that we can reach a point where this becomes manageable. Covid isn’t going away miraculously, no matter what outgoing idiotic world leaders say so. It may mutate out of existence (which is random and small in chance), but likelihood is that it will continue to exist and infect people so if we can get to a point where there are protocols to manage it like smallpox, we might be able to get back to some semblance of life before. Where we were able to go about our lives without having to worry about an invisible enemy.

The World Today

The world today is not the world that it was three months ago. Or perhaps even two months ago in Europe. It’s crazy how quickly things have changed.

It is Easter Monday today and tomorrow I’ll be entering into my 5th week of working from home – 4 weeks into national lockdown. Whilst working remotely is something in recent years I’ve wanted to secure for myself, never would I have guessed that it would happen in this form. Covid-19 has taken advantage of hesitation from governments around the world and spread across the globe. To my knowledge, only a handful of countries have not yet reported a case although as we all know by now, confirmed cases and deaths are only as accurate as the reporting itself.

It’s occurrence is unlike anything we’ve ever known in this lifetime (most of us won’t remember the 1918 pandemic of Spanish flu I imagine) and how strange it all is. None of us could ever imagine something to occur on such a global scale, dominating the news until you’re sick of hearing about it everywhere you turn, and yet unable to stop thinking about it because it penetrates every aspect of your current life. As someone who doesn’t like feeling trapped, this turn of events is pretty suffocating.

There are fascinating things to come out of it, whether that’s statistically (biomed was my undergraduate degree so I find this all so interesting), politically, economically or socially. And whilst I’m sitting in my flat gleaning all these insights and collating all the articles and information I’m reading each day, all I can hope is that governments across the world are doing the same and better. I really don’t think much of the response to this crisis from some governments – slow to respond, and some absolutely ridiculous ideas have been floated around. When you have the government using the term “herd immunity” as a strategy against a virus for which there isn’t an existing vaccine for and an estimated fatality rate of 1-2%, that’s a pretty serious mistake particularly when a virus moves as fast and is as infectious as this one. Man oh man oh man.

Knowledge is power. That’s why countries like South Korea and Germany have had such success in comparison to their neighbouring countries. Find the trail of infection, if you know where it’s been and where it’s going, you can control it – short term and long term. For the period between now and when a vaccine can be mass produced and distributed, that is the only really conceivable solution, a national lockdown is not sustainable.

I’m so intrigued to see how the world will change after this. After the SARS outbreak in 2003, lots of East Asian countries including my home region of Hong Kong took it as a cultural habit to don a face mask whenever they were sick. Western societies seem to misinterpret it as people not wanting to get sick but it’s actually the opposite. They’re wearing the mask to avoid spreading it to others. Given the misinterpretation from the West, I doubt that this will become a common trend like in East Asia.

Things that I think will change:

  1. A shift towards more of a working from home/ remotely culture. For the companies that have moved remote (including my own), senior management may see that productivity doesn’t drop as much as they fear and actually be encouraged by the idea of revenue they can save by hiring less office space.
  2. Introduction of heat cameras at transportation hubs like airports, at least for the first couple of months after we’re allowed out again.
  3. A higher public awareness around illness, particularly on crowded public transport if people are coughing etc.
  4. In the UK, I sincerely hope (and this point is more of a hope than a prediction) that there will be more protection around the NHS. It’s unique and great quality that’s part of British life which has been dredged through hell and back in the last decade under tory rule. Hopefully this will help put it back on the list of priorities.

If the Labour party is clever, there is a potential to shift public favour towards their way. However, given the recent change in party leadership, the timing may be against them as the news hasn’t been that much of a forefront of the headlines due to covid-19 and so far Keir Starmer hasn’t really been able to do much to turn the tides. What with Boris Johnson probably gaining some national sympathies from his infection with the coronavirus, Starmer will have to really start getting a plan into gear if he is to lead Labour into a win next election.

So that’s some of the ramblings and muddled thoughts I’ve had so far in my month of quarantine. All in all, I’m not in a position to complain. My partner and I are both working from home and both are currently not at risk of losing our jobs. It is just difficult living in a city when the main reasons for you to live there are all currently moot and shut down. In a city, without all the bright lights, culture and bells and whistles, at the end of the day is just a grey monolith of a prison. Mentally, that’s probably the hardest part. It is a long journey and we’re only partway through it, so just pace yourselves, we will get through to the other side.

This Too Shall Pass

That is the phrase I have tattooed on my leg in Hebrew. “Gam zeh ya’avor”.

I got this because a friend had said it to me during the really dark period of my life a couple of years ago. It was such a short phrase said almost as a throw-away attempt to comfort me (nothing brought me much comfort in those days). It stuck and it seared itself into my memory becoming some sort of mantra.

This too shall pass.

This time shall pass. This awful feeling will pass. This horrific time will pass. This journey will pass. This amazing time in South East Asia will pass. It will all pass, good and bad, all of it.

There are so many things to take away from that phrase. It did bring me comfort. In the days where I was hurting so much I wanted the world to burn with me, it comforted me to know that at some point it probably will. In the days after where I went travelling to heal, it reminded me to savour every beautiful, precious moment out there, because it too, undoubtedly will pass.

And now, in my more settled state in London, I find myself still lost, having been lost since I got back. I know what direction I want to go but I’m scared. It will require sacrifice of time, effort and hope. The last one being something I know how scarce and valuable it is. So I don’t dare dream, I don’t dare strive. I try and build towards my dream within the tiny sandbox that I have penned myself in. It’s impossible to build a real castle inside a sandbox.

Today was the first time in a long time where a conversation with the right person ignited my enthusiasm, my passion if you will. It was there all along, it’s never changed or waivered. I just needed the right person to help me unearth it. I don’t belong in a sandbox. And it is scary to try and invest in this. There’s no guarantee it will be a good investment. But time will pass, it doesn’t hang around. You don’t have eternity so get moving now. You’re never going to be as young as you are now so what are you waiting for?

London

Having never wanted to move here in the first place, never wanted to stay, never wanted to come back after travelling, I mean every word when I say I do not want to stay in London. I will truly be heartbroken if in ten years or maybe even five years time I am still here. But no matter how much I mean that, I also know there will always be somewhere in my heart for this city. Like a long term relationship, it has shaped and moulded my life in my years as a newly fledged adult. That will forever remain part of my identity. Like everything else that has influenced me in my life, I would not be the person I am without having been here. With nearly 7 years since I moved here, that’s a significant proportion of my life.

I write this as I sit on the bus home just going past Tower of London and going onto Tower Bridge. It is these moments when there is that moment of stillness as the almost empty bus sits in momentary traffic just in front of Tower of London that I think “I’m pretty lucky to be here”. This city swallows and spits out people everyday, and I am here, still standing. It’s a reaffirming message – you’re alright, you’ll be fine.