Written by Matilda Head
Design by Aimee Lee
A note from the Editor: this article is one half of a two-part series. To see the second letter, please see the Lifestyle section of The Collective Magazine.
The year that lasted five, a year with which I harboured a tumultuous love-hate relationship – emphasis on the hate. Now, I loathe to use the word unprecedented as it feels rather like it has lost all its meaning after the sheer number of times it has been churned out in press releases, news statements and email greetings, however, I am lacking a word that sums up 2020 quite as well – it really was unprecedented.
A younger version of myself had aspirations of being a doctor and enjoyed playing a game called ‘The Great Flu.’ The objective of this game was to stop the spread of a deadly virus with measures such as closing schools and airports, distributing face masks, or developing vaccines. I was really not very good at this game. Every time I played it the virus would spread its little dots all over the world map. Meanwhile I, very flustered, spent all the budget on prevention methods that had little to no impact, and I would always be met with ‘Game Over,’ message. Never in my wildest nightmares did I think I would actually be living through this game. But a frightening disease, lockdowns, face masks, and mass panic are exactly what this year had in store for us.
Much like my prospects of a career in medicine, my hope for a good year went rapidly downhill. In all honesty, I never held much of a positive outlook for 2020. Even when COVID wasn’t on my radar I was struggling to welcome the New Year with any optimism as I had returned home from my first term at University feeling extremely down, which I later came to realise was more than just ‘feeling down,’ and sought help at the doctors who put me on antidepressants in February. So, I think it is fair to say my year didn’t get off to the best start! Then, just as things started to brighten with sunnier skies and prospects of summer term in Cambridge – a time usually reserved for many sun-drenched garden parties and infamous ‘May Balls,’ – well, COVID stepped into the mix.
Just like that, any hopes of enjoying summer in my first year of University were gone. But, in spite of just how terrible I felt at the beginning of the year, I know that I have succeeded in an almighty achievement, that simply being getting through the chaos that was this past year, and I really do feel at this point as though I have come out the other side – although that phrasing may be a bit pre-emptive! – with much more confidence in myself and my abilities.
The March lockdown was a novel experience for everyone, with the summer term cancelled I found myself stuck at home all day every day and ended up resorting to a vaguely childlike state alongside my 25-year-old sister. I spent an unthinkable number of hours either revelling in nostalgia Animal Crossing, or with my head firmly buried in a book – never in my life have I had so much time for fun, non-academic reading! Looking back, I am very grateful that I got to spend so much uninterrupted time with my family over lockdown, time spent with my older sister were some of the highlights of the March-August period; whether it be ‘sleepovers’ on the lounge sofas, bingeing our favourite childhood shows on Disney +, or playing an almost yearlong game of hide and seek around the house with a rubber duck named Delia, we kept each other thoroughly entertained.
As COVID cases began to lessen, the prospect of going back to University loomed. Given how I had badly struggled with my mental health throughout first year, I was absolutely dreading going back. I was convinced all of my efforts to improve my mental health over the previous months would be for nothing as returning to University would trigger some kind of regression. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised. Not only did I manage to stop going backwards in progress, I would go so far as to say that I massively improved. Even in spite of COVID regulations, and a two-week isolation period with my flatmates, we found our own way to make University fun.
The term whizzed by, and before I knew it I was heading back home for a Tier 4 Christmas, leaps and bounds ahead of where I was last year, even feeling in part that I didn’t want to come home. It seems unfathomable that I was able to make progress in the midst of a pandemic, but I am feeling very grateful to myself, my family and friends for making this year as great as it could be. 2020 taught me extremely valuable lessons in making the most of what you have, exploring new hobbies, being confident in your passions, and showing more kindness to yourself. A year that will most certainly go down in history books, and to all those reading this, we got through it! And that’s one hell of an achievement.
Of course, not forgetting the single most valuable piece of information I gained in 2020, which is that skinny jeans suck, so much. After months of loungewear and pyjama bottoms, I was unceremoniously greeted back into normal life by these leg prisons, which I now avoid at all costs. I have instead embraced the much comfier styles in my wardrobe, in favour of a bit of fashion-based self-care. Catch me embracing all the flares and straight legged styles from now on.Whilst the situation in the UK tips precariously downwards as we continue into 2021, I can only hope that I can stay on the high upon which I managed to end 2020, and carry forward the new thought processes and lessons I learnt in the challenges that this year threw at us – and blimey did it throw everything at us. Of course, I have my fingers crossed that vaccine rollouts can mean a relative sense of normality returning at some point this year, but for now I will continue to enjoy life without skinny jeans, and revel in stupid childish games played with my sister, although I might skip ‘The Great Flu,’ for now.