How the Pandemic Changed Me—And Probably You, Too

When rumblings of impending lockdowns began happening in the United States, I remember frantically calling my mom on the phone in a random parking lot for reassurance and asking, “Surely the United States won’t lock down, right? They can’t do that to us.” I desperately tried to convince myself that what happens in other countries doesn’t have to happen here. Our values are based on freedom. What was most terrifying was that no one had any answers. No one, not even our government officials, knew exactly what needed to be done, how bad things would get, or how long our lives would be put on hold. The most authoritarian figures were immediately humanized in our eyes. We were all helpless children when it came to a raging virus circulating around the globe.

The turbulence of 2020 made me realize how quickly life’s luxuries, and even necessities for survival, can vanish. Massive lay-offs were happening all around, supply chain issues shook consumers, individuals who never prioritized their health were beginning to regret putting their health on hold, and everyone in the world was on pins and needles. As someone relatively high in neuroticism with a low threshold for spontaneity, I found planning anything to be useless. Events continued being postponed as months passed with no easing of the pandemic. The goalposts for COVID restrictions continued moving further and further away nationwide, and the pendulum was exhausting us all.

Even as we leerily sneak out of the throes of the pandemic, it’s uncertain when and if we’ll ever find ourselves in this predicament again. After COVID, how severe does a novel virus have to be before we lock down again? What kind of precedent has this set globally for the future? I am thrilled to see the vast majority of restrictions vanished, but the thought of being suddenly thrust back into a state of rules, limits, and uncertainties continues to weigh heavily on my mind as I wander mask-free around Target.

Senior citizens and those with compromised immune systems did not have the luxury of only feeling like a petulant child put in timeout, such as I did. I was exceptionally bitter about the last few years of my 20s feeling as if they were being wasted, and I was angry and rebellious because everything felt out of my control. Embarrassingly enough, my concerns seem rather minute in the eyes of those who have pre-existing medical conditions and find themselves at a disadvantage solely because of their age. In reality, had I found myself in one of those categories as well, the weight of the pandemic might have been too much for someone with my anxious personality type to bear. Fortunately for me, I think God knew that.

With literally everyone on edge, people were at each other’s throats more often than usual. Financial, health, relationship, and mental health stressors were taking a toll on everyone’s ability to think rationally and not overreact, including myself. We became easily polarized and reacted to each other like animals backed into a corner. Canadian clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson has spoken in lectures about how trauma such as betrayal causes one’s once youthful face to harden after undergoing a stark realization that there is malevolence in the world. While COVID-19 was not a serial killer, sociopathic criminal, or cheating husband, it felt menacing and turned our lives upside down. In the aftermath, I find it more difficult to let my guard down and not wait for the next hammer to fall.

As of now, it seems like we might be in the clear. I’m going to have to find a way to revel in the moment and not let the uncertainties of the future prevent me from enjoying old freedoms as they come. While I made it out relatively unscathed, others were not so lucky. Many are grieving the loss of loved ones, managing lingering symptoms from contracting the virus, and small business owners have watched their hard-earned livelihoods crumble. Needless to say, I think the world’s face looks a bit harder now.

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