Like many of us, I’ve had a lot of time over the past year to imagine who I’d be *after* all this. ‘This’ of course, being the global pandemic that has, day by ground-hog day, come to feel more like a constant than the ‘before’ ever did.
During the first half of the seemingly incessant lockdown, my imagination was put towards who I should be during the pandemic. Could I learn a language? Mornings on Duolingo said yes. Could I become a master chef, finally cooking for myself rather than depending on take-aways? My bank statements said no. Could I transform myself? Become a better, different person than the one I had been before all ‘this?’ Yes, in a way. But mainly no.
It’s a realization I’m coming to now, now that we’re allowed out of our houses again. Because the second half of lockdown saw my imagination run wild with possibilities for what would happen then, of the kind of person I would be, the kinds of things that a person like that would do and feel and think and say. But it’s been two weeks since lockdown lifted in London, and that person is nowhere to be seen. Nor, I increasingly suspect, will she be.
I saw myself as the kind of person who would wear heels every day, stepping out of her tracksuits and into glam outfits with the ease of a clicked finger on TikTok. I would never turn an opportunity to be social down. I would gallivant in the streets with my friends and we would bat our eyelashes at the Michael B Jordan look-alikes at the next table, and we would remember that we were young and wild and free, and act accordingly.
Instead, I just about managed to wear what are now being dubbed ‘hard clothes’, as opposed to the comfort of the tracksuit. I enjoyed the company of my friends, but wondered equally if I would prefer the company of my sofa; I spent days recovering from the interactions. There were no Michael B Jordan look-alikes, only very drunk, very loud strangers that were standing what I now consider far too close to me. Disappointing.
Part of it is adjustment, I know. Nor are we really out of ‘this’ just yet. My therapist said easing out of lockdown would be just as hard as going into lockdown the first time was. I guess it would be unreasonable to imagine that after a year of collective trauma, it would be anything less than that. But it feels like it’s something deeper, too; an understanding of the saying “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” and a reckoning with that.
So much has changed. Ourselves, first and foremost. But the core of us, of it all, has stayed the same, no matter the imagining, the manifesting, or that when we look in the mirror, at anyone, or at the world around us, nothing looks the same. There’s a confusion in that; a sad surprise that we didn’t magically transform into the kinds of people we imagined we would be, but simply retreated, perhaps, further into who we already are. The versions of ourselves we weren’t that acquainted with.
What a shocking realization, that it will take more than a global pandemic to transform aspects of your personality. That some things you can’t blame on lockdown, or on circumstance, but are just who you are. And perhaps it’s proving harder than we thought to shrug back into the conditioning.
So much of who I imagined my post-pandemic self to be was rooted in the word ‘should’, I realize. In the belief that I should be making up for lost time, that as a young, single woman, my life should look like a British iteration of Sex & The City. Never mind if that was even who I was, who I am, or who I wanted to be.
A friend told me that swapping should for could adds possibility, without the pressure and without the socially constructed ideals. I tried it out on my tongue and liked how it made me feel; like I could do those things; wear those heels, socialize for hours, cook for myself, when and if I wanted to. But that I didn’t need to. My imaginary self, built as she was from ‘should’, couldn’t contend with that. The truth is, after a year in which we couldn’t, that we can is enough for me right now, even if I don’t want to. And I’m increasingly starting to respect my post-pandemic self for knowing herself well enough to be able to tell the difference.