About a year ago, I posted an article about how the COVID pandemic was directly changing our societal views…but what if, three years later, in a silence hinting at the confusion left behind by the pandemic, it wasn’t really directly affecting us? We all know how relieving yet shocking it was to be able to drop the mask mandate in early summer of 2022, and to be told we could meet with our friends without social distancing. What if the numbing transition into fewer COVID restrictions is attributed to those years we spent during the pandemic believing? We thought we would become more socially capable the moment the virus ended while we were in fact still going through the neutralized COVID state of mind. With this instantized change in views that would take a long time to reconcile with, we could actually be facing the true social breath of the COVID in the months (even years) following the restrictions dropping.
After we returned from our March breaks in 2020 to a COVID disaster, many were almost possessed with the idea that we survived what killed off millions of our population. “How on earth have we not gotten COVID yet, we weren’t even using masks or vaccines? How on earth are we going to see anyone again… safely?” was a question I got from friends, relatives and classmates all over within the quasi-surreal blur of the pandemic slowly claiming our lives. But after a few months, I wasn’t thinking about how often we’d have to wear masks that concealed our expression anymore - it had become normal to feel this way, with the added factor of safety weighed in. This same blank neutrality remained as many fought for vaccine mandates or not-mandates so they wouldn’t dip into desperation. We even accepted our bedroom walls becoming the walls of our offices. We were instinctively letting the pandemic pass us by with a facade of conformity, so we wouldn’t be caught by troubles along the way - the everyday worries that came with questions of “how on earth?” Our hope lied in the days after the pandemic, that we thought would be easygoing, relieving and just amazing. Instead, it became for many a live recap of our time spent delaying these numbing reflections years ago.
Second phase COVID , when we were able to re-enter school, involved a lot of awkwardness, then fights, threatening world events and worsening mental health all around my school. I remember one instance of getting into an argument about the war in Ukraine, and me getting upset, unwilling to cooperate with somebody else’s opinions with my solidified views (as typical back then). The annoying thing was that this time my argument crashed right down into regret: being faced by friends instead of online school computers, shame written on their faces, made me feel so sorry. So long after seeing through my own pandemic dilemmas, hurting them seemed a more fragile matter - it was like pretending I understood where they were coming from, which reminded me of parents trying to explain and sympathize with teens’ pandemic experience. It felt wrong to try and challenge peoples’ experiences after feeling something so uniquely and indescribably identity-shaping myself during the pandemic. I apologized. And they forgave me. I felt raw inside with this realization, but equally horrified. What happened to the old us? My article on COVID’s direct effects was based on this regrouping of social views, a sudden breakthrough that reflected our lives back at home during online school.
But there were many other phases to come. In this new breakthrough that lasted several months, we were all anticipating - nervously, or excitedly - the complete dropping of the mask mandate in early summertime of 2022. I found we coasted into the new post-COVID lifestyle aware of the lasting effect the pandemic had. And so we accepted the new restrictions drop with regards to our mental health, but as we continued to warm ourselves up to others, whether we meant it or not, we shared surprising things with each other we maybe wouldn’t have at other times. Many tried to put words to the COVID feeling of How on Earth? and we can practically see them flying away from Earth through this pursuit, getting more lost and confused than ever before. Family and friends who lost relatives to COVID described seeing the walking dead in the turmoil of incomprehension that followed; death hit before they could process. Friends faced the solitude of lockdown with a waking moment that would transport them mentally elsewhere, on vacation or even visiting grandparents; a temporary coping mechanism. It was clear that people had had to contain these self-reflections during COVID to not give up the survival tactic which was neutrality. Now, the shield of both social contact and renewed protectivity has made us somehow vulnerable to those images all over again, three years later, thus affecting us indirectly over a period of time and in ways we may not have suspected.