In January 2020 when news of some unknown virus first started to surface I was blissfully unaware of the enormous impact that a pandemic can have on Civil Liberties. As a resident of Melbourne, the majority of my 2020 has been spent in some form of lockdown. My city is one that has made headlines for being put into one of the longest and strictest stay at home orders that has been imposed to date.
For more than 110 days there were only 4 reasons we could leave the house; to get supplies, exercise, to seek medical assistance or to care for someone. We were under curfews. We were limited in the amount of time that we were allowed to be outside (only 1 hour a day for exercise) and we were not allowed to travel more than 5km from our homes. Businesses shut everywhere and we all lived in our isolated Groundhog Day seeing the world through our mask impaired vision.
As we come out of our isolation and we are allowed to re-enter society, socialise, and leave our homes for no particular reason at all I have been reflecting on the impact all this has had on me. On a whole the months felt like a roller coaster. Some days were full of focus and productivity and finding joy in the small things. While others seemed like a haze of helplessness as new infection numbers climbed or stubbornly stayed unchanged making me feel like I was never going to be allowed out of my home again. I think this changeability was also experienced by others because it seemed the minimal encounters that I did have with people were anything from curt, fear-filled suspicion to slightly awkward but good-humoured accounts of the simple things that people had found a new appreciation for.
For me personally the messages that were coming from the government had a strong impact on the way I was viewing things. I found their rhetoric about the measures being taken stern, punitive and relentless. The bright moments I found came from my own personal resilience strategies which like anything were fallible in the face of constant bad news. There is no doubt that the gravity of the situation required a very serious response but I wonder how my perception that there was a lack of empathy has impacted my view in the longer term. I know I have found the fear and suspicion a little hard to shake. Walking with friends down sidewalks now crowded with happy diners enjoying the Spring weather I find it hard to imagine myself being one of them.
While I know this is a temporary trepidation I think it ties into a broader feeling I have that the world has fundamentally changed. A feeling that has me questioning what I want my life to look like. I know that I am not going to be happy to go back to the way things were. For many people I have talked with they felt like there was a pause button put on their lives. One that has now been released so they can get back to the way things were, but for me it seems like my storyline has recommenced in a completely different place. I don’t quite know what this place is yet but I think it is really important for governments to realise we are not all just going to go back to business as usual. So just making the previous version of society COIVD safe is not going to be enough for those of us who are questioning what comes next.