Updated: Mar 17
I know it doesn't sound like the most uplifting start to a personal blog, but if the purpose is to get my thoughts onto paper (or rather, website), then I'm afraid this is what you're stuck with for round 1, but I promise it ends on a positive note! So here we go:
I can't say I ever thought that I would witness, or ever be affected by a pandemic. It always seemed like a concept that was quite far away; it belonged in the realm of the imagination - books, films, board games (or CU weekend away wide games, what an evening that was) - and it never crossed my mind that anything like this might enter the rather nice little bubble I was contained in. But now that Coronavirus has well and truly crashed the party, it's made me think a huge amount more about...well, basically everything.
It's really interesting to observe the entirely mixed set of reactions people are having. Obviously, not everyone fits into one category, but on the one extreme, we have those who are completely panicking, and to be fair, I can kind of see why. If words such as 'pandemic', 'death toll' and 'contagion' are being used by the mainstream media daily and, like the majority of people on the planet, you care about your own life and the lives of at least 1 or 2 other people, it is entirely natural to have high levels of concern for your and their safety (but please stop panic-buying loo roll - it really doesn't affect that area).
On the other end of the scale, we have those who are passing this off as a complete overreaction to what they consider a slightly more extreme version of the common flu. Again, I can kind of see why. The practical thinkers among us look at the figures and tell ourselves and others that if you really think about it, the risk of contracting a serious case of this virus is crazily low. For those of us fortunate enough not to have pre-existing health conditions, it is easy to 'logic ourselves out of the panic' when we look at it like this, because the reality is that we are statistically much less likely to suffer badly from COVID-19. However, I really have to say here that we have to exercise caution when it comes to talking about it like this. Firstly, those who are elderly and/or have pre-existing conditions are NOT expendable.
"Of COURSE they're not, how could you even suggest that I think that?!"...
...I hear you cry, and I'm not suggesting that you do. What I'm saying is that talking in these statistics-focused terms (as I know I have been guilty of doing recently as well), takes out the human aspect of these things and turns real people into numbers.
The other element we have to be aware of is who we are talking to in this way. If you don't have relatives and friends who are statistically more likely to contract a serious case of Coronavirus, then it's easy not to think about those who do, and if you don't know them well enough to know if that's the case, then it's probably best to not even talk about that. Maybe the person you are talking to has a pre-existing condition themselves that you don't know about - I have a couple of friends with long-term illnesses, but admittedly I often forget that they have to deal with that. This isn't at all for lack of caring, but because 1) they rarely talk about it, and 2) I don't see the practical implications that has for them on a day-to-day basis.
And finally, somewhere in the middle are those of us who are more like the humble duck (or literally any other bird that swims but duck is what we're going with because ducks are cool and I will use any excuse to post a duck gif).
On the outside, we're calm and collected, gliding along, mostly aware of the potential dangers but seemingly, and to an extent genuinely, we are unphased by them. Under the surface, however, there is much more going on than there seems to be. We are the middle ground between the panickers and the practical thinkers. We are not amongst those panic-buying loo roll, hand gel, soap, milk, and preparing for total lockdown, but nor do we find satisfaction in using logic and statistics to reassure ourselves that our own bubbles will remain more-or-less intact.
I have to admit that until this evening, I would have put myself pretty much firmly into the second category, the practical thinkers, but I think I am now most definitely a duck. When I watched the UK government's press conference held earlier today, it really hit home that this is actually happening, and I will confess that there is an element of fear. It's not that I was entirely unafraid beforehand, but if you know me well, you will know that I have a tendency to try and brush off or downplay how serious certain situations are, sometimes because I'm afraid, sometimes because I don't always see the wider implications, but mostly because I really dislike exaggeration and unnecessary freak-outs. I'm not always wrong to do this - I have rarely come across a situation over the last 23 years that has been made better by exaggerating how bad it is and running around like a headless chicken - but I think it has now sunk in what this really means for me:
1) Statistically, it is unlikely that I can avoid catching it at all, which would undoubtedly be quite an unpleasant experience. Personally, I am fortunate enough not to be at risk of serious infection, but that possibility is still present, and I'll admit that this does scare me a little.
2) If I catch it/have symptoms, then I'll need to self-isolate, and the implications of this could have a crazy effect on both my life and the lives of my housemates/my family if I'm back in Plymouth. I'm also a weirdo who is neither fully an introvert nor fully an extrovert, so I can quite happily spend time by myself and cannot be around people for too long, but when I'm alone for a little too long then I do end up craving company and conversation
3) The holidays I had planned to Paris and Nijmegen to go and see friends on their respective years abroad there may have to be cancelled or postponed. Again, if you know me, you know that travel is a huge passion of mine, and given that I've been planning this for ages and miss both of them massively (shout-out to Pips and Jess, you two are so great ❤ ), this would be an incredibly disappointing outcome.
These possibilities are both sad and unfortunately, realistic. I really wish I could say that they are not genuine. However, it would be easy to leave it at that and end on that rather glum note, but given that I absolutely cannot stand even the thought of that -
- here are some thoughts (in no particular order) on the present situation which I hope will help you to look at it more positively:
1) If you end up in self-quarantine, either alone or with others in your house, use it as an opportunity. If you're anything like me, you will have a mountain of books that you told yourself you would read, but life got in the way and you never got around to it. Read something! Or pick up a language, do an online course, or catch up on some work or chores you've been meaning to do. Personally, if I end up in self-isolation I will mostly be catching up on uni work, but there's also a German course which I thoroughly enjoy that has been mostly abandoned since Christmas, a copy of Daphne du Maurier's Jamaica Inn which is being worked through very slowly, and a bullet journal which I love to use but always feel guilty doing so given the amount of uni work I have.
2) If you are in isolation or know someone who is, use Skype/phone calls to the max if you are craving company or are worried about someone. We are blessed to live in a time where things like that are possible. This is the first time in history (that I am aware of) during which communication like this has been possible during a pandemic, those living through the various plagues and outbreaks of history did not have access to this kind of thing at all. Your mental health is still so important at a time like this. If you need them then please don't hesitate to message me and ask for my skype name/phone number.
3) If it makes you feel better, think about the environmental impact this is having. Due to the huge drop in travelling, harmful gas emissions have significantly dropped, and on Tuesday (10th March) the Guardian published this article saying that China have cut their CO2 emissions by 25% - amazing!
4) This will build up immunity in the population. The reason that COVID-19 is spreading so quickly is because it is new, but after this, the build-up of immunity around the globe will grow, and so future generations will not have to deal with Coronavirus in the same way as we will.
5) People are getting better! The last figures I saw on this were from Monday (9th March), and they showed that 56.6% of those in China who had contracted the virus have now recovered, with another 40% still ill. We will get through this, it is just a matter of time.
6) To the Christians among you I say this: during this outbreak, it is imperative that we stay close to God, and we have a great opportunity to spend extended periods of time in prayer and reflection during any times of self-isolation, but if you're not in quarantine then don't let it go either. It's simpler to say it than to do it in times like this, but continue to give thanks that He is good, and He has given you good things, and pray for those around you.
That's it for blog post number one. I hope that if you needed it, you found some sort of solidarity here. If you're feeling scared, talk to people around you who care about you, the likelihood is that they're feeling similar things. It's a scary boat to be in, but for better or worse we're all in it together, and together, with regular hand-washing, we will get through this pandemic.
Thank you for reading! If you have any questions or if you'd like to guest-write for The Classicist with an Atlas then I'd love to hear from you - you can get in touch via the form on the Contact page or on Instagram @theclassicistwithanatlas.