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Coronavirus – personal stories from the UK and the US

Another week has passed. It brought some minor excitements, mostly in the form of culinary creations and sunny coffee breaks on the terrace. It also inspired more thoughts on the reality we find ourselves in. We are confronted with ourselves, in a world stripped of vibrant stimuli and distractions that would normally surround us day and night. It is a chance to devote some more time to our well-being, our ideas and to let our thoughts roam free for once.

In today’s post, my dear friends, Anna from the US and Thomas living in Scotland, will share their stories. They will give you some personal insight into their daily lives and their well-being in the reality controlled by coronavirus. What do they do on a daily basis? How have their lives changed? What do they fear and what do they miss? They will tell you as well how the governments are handling the situation and what regulations have been adopted.

Their observations go far beyond the coronavirus situation and touch on our humanity, relationships and mental health. I hope you’ll enjoy their personal accounts.


Anna, 25 years old, Kansas City, the U.S.

Thomas, 21 years old, Edinburgh, Scotland


What is the general situation in your country like?

Anna: Right now, it seems the United States is still trying to produce enough tests and personal protective equipment for the healthcare providers. Many states have issued Stay At Home orders and most companies are on home office. The unemployment rate has peaked in the last few weeks as well, which will cause economic hardship for the coming year.

Thomas: The UK is quite infected, including our Prime Minister, with about 84,000 confirmed cases. In Scotland, 5,900 were tested positive with the death of more than 540 people.

What are the restrictions in your country?

Anna: Right now in Kansas, Governor Laura Kelly issued an Executive Order for temporary, statewide stay-home from March 30 – April 19. We can still go out for essential necessities like food, medicine, and household items, but all unnecessary travel is restricted. However, we are allowed to engage in outdoor activities as long as we practice social distancing. There’s a 10-person gathering limit now.

Thomas: In the UK, everything that is “non-essential”, which means pretty much everything other than food shops and pharmacies, has closed down temporarily or changed its hours drastically. People are allowed, however, to go out twice a day, once for a form of exercises such as a run/cycle and once again for food/medicine shopping. If you want to walk or exercises with someone, either they have to be of the same household, or you need to stay two meters apart from each other. The police are also issuing fines for any gatherings that take place of more than two people.

Do you know what the procedure is if you get infected and how getting medical help/officially quarantining yourself works?

Anna: Our government recommended that if you show symptoms you should remain in home isolation and call ahead to your medical care facility in advance for further instruction. Depending on your symptoms, they might recommend you stay at home and drink water/take sick leave and wait for mild symptoms to subside.

Thomas: If you have symptoms, you need to call 111 to get advice from the NHS. They will most likely advise you to self-isolate for 7 days, during which you apparently CAN go out for a walk, but not for food shopping, which is both interesting and strange.

The lucky thing about being in a student accommodation is that they bring food and supplies to your door, while if you live alone and need to self-isolate, then you need to undertake the whole process of buying food online without any external support. Who knows, maybe officially self-isolating in a student accommodation feels more like royalty than being trapped (although the tradeoff is having to get by on very little space which seems to get even smaller as time goes by).

If you were to make 'A Day In The Life Of’ video clip right now, what would it look like?

Anna: I would mainly be showing all of the food that I’m cooking at home! As well as cleaning and organizing my apartment. I have so much time on my hands now to do these things!

Thomas: My day in the life would start with me struggling to get up out of bed. This is mainly because getting up doesn’t have the same urgency anymore when you know that you have the whole day to yourself…..and not necessarily in a good sense.

I’ll then have a tea to ease myself into the day and dispel the negativity of the dreams, while reading. I’ll then either do a workout/go on a run and then have breakfast, although I have to be careful going on jogs, since I never seem to want to stop and come back.

I’ll then have lunch and proceed with the list of things I’ve set myself to do. This could involve more personal tasks, such as playing guitar or writing poems, or more collaborative endeavors such as working towards projects that I’ve started with some colleagues.  I’ll make a few facetime calls, lose some time on social media and emails.

When I eat, I’ll watch TED Talks or series or documentaries. Then I’ll go to bed at some very late hour because I tend to get most motivated and on track at night, and the cycle rebegins with another set of awkward dreams.

A journalist once interviewed people who resided in Nazi Germany during WWII and asked them about their dreams. She noted that people’s dreams got a lot darker and more gruesome, reflecting their daytime fears of getting falsely accused by their neighbors to SS officers, etc. I wonder if my dreams are having the same effect on me – daily life is no longer populated with the same fast-changing abundance of stimuli as before, and therefore it seems as if my dreams are trying to make up for it. They are also quite macabre and that might definitely reflect the fear of COVID.

How has coronavirus affected your work/studies? 

Anna: I work for an international bridal design house: Essense of Australia. Our US branch here in Kansas started home office in the second week of March. Right now, our main objective is to reach out and give support to our retailers. We work with many small business owners as well as bigger retailers.

Update from Anna (proving the dynamically changing situation as well as the economic uncertainty many people are facing): Unfortunately I was furloughed from my job, so I actually won’t be working for the foreseeable future.

Thomas: As a 2nd year Uni student, all my assignments that were previously due are now formative and all exams have been cancelled. This means that even if I just showed up to a tutorial this year, I will get a pass. This definitely forces every student to redefine his/her relationship with their degree and the courses they’ve been enrolled in since continuing with their education, at least in the same terms as delineated by their university, is now entirely in their hands.

How about grocery shopping? What has changed for you? Is anything lacking from the supermarkets?

Anna: I grocery shop as normal, once a week. The only thing that has changed is that the bulk foods are now pre-bagged. When the virus started to spread there was no dry pasta, rice, or toilet paper anywhere. And frozen food was scarce, too. Now most places have a lot of their regular products stocked.

Thomas: Things were initially lacking but now they are back in stock. It’s good to finally see some tomato sauce. With regards to shopping, you now need to wait outside in a line before going in. Shoppers are quite skittish and nobody makes eye contact anymore as if the virus can be spread through the eyes.

You see people skirt past each other quickly and ask you to move almost against the food so that they have enough space for two people in the aisle to pass by you.

With that said, the homeless people seem happier for some reason. Could it be because we are all now experiencing some of what they experience everyday: isolation and avoidance from our peers?

What is the hardest thing for you in the current situation?

Anna: I really like to travel, and I had made plans to visit my parents in Washington and go on vacation in Colorado, but it looks like that might not happen. I also do miss going to the office to work. I am lucky that I have a room exclusively for work in my apartment! Otherwise, I think I’d go crazy.

Thomas: The hardest things for me is creating structure for myself. And when I finally have it, it seems to falter and crumble a lot easier. Time doesn’t feel the same. This makes me fluctuate between states of high highs and low lows and it is quite exhausting.

It is difficult to feel like anything you are doing on isolation is worthwhile or done properly enough to be satisfying. Nevertheless, on the other hand, this makes you reconsider your purposes for doing things and rediscover what it means to do something just for the sake of it or just for the fun of it, which is a luxury that our society often bans from us.

Also, I’m a person who likes to take up a lot of space, more than the average person. When I talk and tell stories, I move and jump around. I’m a dancer too. All these things make it difficult for me to stay in confined spaces for too long.

Do you notice any positive changes in your life? 

Anna: I have been able to organize and clean more now that I’m staying home. I also don’t have to pay for as much gas now because I am rarely driving places.

Thomas: Although FaceTime and phone calls cannot replace in-person dynamics, they can allow for very singular connections between people, even people who haven’t heard from each other in ages. When you have your phone to you ear or propped against your desk lamp, it’s just you and that person, and their voice like a lifeline. Your full attention is directed at each other and the stories you’re sharing. In that manner, it can not only allow for bonds to stay alive, but to strengthen and grow, especially in times like these when a call serves the purpose of a lifejacket. You’re not just calling to see what’s up, you’re calling because you want to make sure the other person knows they are not alone.

I’ve also seen myself reconnect to my musical, lyrical side. I’m beginning to better understand my natural need for creativity but also my natural competence for it. Along these lines, all this time has given me the permission to study what I’m interested in. I can read without pressure and look things up without rushing, which I’ve found to be very personally formative and instructive.

I enjoy going out and feeling like the air is fresher, like there is more space for you to move in, like everything has slowed down. But admittedly, perspective plays a big role in this. If it’s cloudy, for example, I actually miss the hustle and bustle of people.

I’ve also enjoyed all the free classes and tasters online; it’s a great way to give back to the community and to indulge freely in things that would have a hefty price on them if COVID hadn’t struck.

Have you realized something about yourself or about life lately?

Anna: My travel bucket list has gotten quite long! I have found that this online map quest called GeoGuessr has been fun to use while I’m stuck in my apartment. I can still see different parts of the world. Right now, my boyfriend has a grocery store bucket list! Brugseni and Tesco are the top priority.

Thomas: I realized I can drive myself crazy with expectations of what I need to do and how I need to be, and this is a great time for me to confront myself about that.

I’ve realized that time is something we construct, not a thing in itself.

I’ve better understood the beauty of doing things for fun.

I’ve realized more and more the presence of hypocrisy. First, we’re mad at everyone being out on the street, then we want everybody to come out again.

I’ve realized that we’re all so fragile, and that we’re strong when we’re together.

I’ve realized we gotta really stop fucking with the planet.

I’ve realized that this is also a blessing. I think my father, and many people like him, really needed some time home from work.

I’ve realized that memes are actually awesome and cat videos are incredibly therapeutic.

What do you miss the most from pre-COVID days?

Thomas: I miss being in a room full of my friends, with everybody laughing, hugging, cuddling, engaging in deep life-or-death conversations, and bantering with each other, moving from person to person, shenanigan to shenanigan, and just spreading the love. I miss handing out love and energy and new ways of seeing things.

What are you doing to self-care in these times? What are your self-care tips?

Anna: I have more time to focus on my skin! I don’t wear make up at home, and I have been using a few different facial cleansers. This combo has really done wonders for my skin!

Thomas: I’m reading a lot and re-introducing the creation of music into my life. I am exercising as best I can and pursuing art forms close to my heart like writing raps or poetry. I stay in contact with friends, family and my dearly beloved. I also find that I’m reaping a lot of benefit from doing things for other people like preparing surprises or leading workouts for others.

My self-care tip is let yourself feel, let yourself be, but without pressurizing yourself. Some say that we have to make use of this time because we’ll never get something like it again, but screw that. The self-care and activities that make you happy and that you engage with right now are things that you should incorporate into your everyday life regardless of the times. All in all, just don’t let this time pass as if it were a dream. Sit with it. Stay in the present.

Any particular customs in your country that have been impacted by COVID?

Anna: In general, I would say that work-life and religion have been impacted the most. My mother is a pastor, and she can’t meet with her congregation each week.

Thomas: One custom that has for sure been impacted is pub-culture. All pubs and bars are closed. No more beers or IPAs. No more Irish dancing. No more Scottish sing-a-longs. No more ceilidhs.

More importantly: no more café crawls. This is the worst. The UK, especially Edinburgh, is known for the importance of cafés. Cafes are where you meet your friends or go study, go unwind or take a break between errands. A lot of what it means to discover Edinburgh and its people is to discover its cafes.

Anything that is worrying you particularly during these times?

Thomas: On the one hand, I wonder about all the good things this pandemic is teaching us about ourselves and each other, and I fear that as soon as COVID is gone, we’re all going to go back to our old ways. I want this time to serve as a lesson, not to feel like a haze. Then again, that’s life isn’t it? I shouldn’t hold on so strongly to this expectation of mine.

I also particularly worry about all the people whose struggles we aren’t hearing because they are stuck at home. How about all the people who own small, local businesses that are now closed, and who still have a family to provide for nonetheless? How about the people who live in abusive households and can no longer escape? How about the people at high risk who fear constantly for their lives? What crimes are going unseen because nobody is around anymore to watch?

I worry also about what would happen to me on the street were I to feel bad? Say I choked on a date seed and fell down coughing, would anybody touch me? And if I were in my room? Who would hear?

On the other hand, I can’t wait to hug my girlfriend, my family, my friends, and I think that the way it will feel will be strong enough to dispel all worries and make every river run again. The anticipation of that feeling is keeping me going.

What is the first thing you’ll do when it’s all over?

Anna: I’m excited to go some place new and be out in the world again. I’m working to convince my boyfriend to take a trip to New Orleans!

Thomas: I’m gonna gather all my friends and go for a huge picnic party in the Meadows. Then at night, I’m going to go Latin dance until the sun rises, making sure I don’t sit down for any song.

If this last longer though, first thing I’ll do is buy a flight ticket and go on a trip.

Photo by Kirsten Drew on Unsplash

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