The coronavirus pandemic has been life-changing for much of the world and any thoughts of a return to normality have been put on hold time and again.
And so, for seventeen-year-old Rhona Bowie, the year 2020 was anything but what she had imagined it would be.
The final-year student at Banchory Academy is preparing for the “big move” to university.
She would have expected to spend her last months of high-school stressing over final exams and planning a grand celebration to mark the occasion.
But with current restrictions remaining in place, the reality for Miss Bowie and her fellow pupils has been very different.
She has shared her heartfelt thoughts of life for young people amidst the pandemic with the P&J.
“There are days when it kind of hits you just how different the year would have been if it hadn’t been for the pandemic.
“My friends and I would often talk about how we feel bad about complaining, because people are dying and there are so many in much worse situations.
“But we are still missing out on so much of our lives and we will never get that back.
“This is so big and so unreal to think about, that I wanted to just get it all on paper for everybody who might feel the same way and to send the message that it’s okay to feel upset and be put off by everything that’s happened.”
Despite the pandemic, Miss Bowie is still looking forward to discovering what university life has in store for her.
She is currently awaiting responses to her applications with the hope of studying politics or international relations in Edinburgh.
“I think it’s very important to find something to look forward to every day and focus on the little things that get you through the week”, she added.
“A lot of people might feel like there is no end to this and I’m under no illusions that in a couple of months everything will be normal, but if there is anything that I have learned during the pandemic, it is that we are strong and we can make it through.”
2020- The Unprecedented Year.
How we survived it and how we can carry on.
From the perspective of a 17 year old.
2020. The year that no-one could have predicted.
One that went from bad to worse in a matter of months. One that will require countless pages in the history books.
From the bushfires that swept through Australia to rumours of a third World War, 2020 was already turning out to be a significantly interesting year.
Then, as the cherry on top of the cake, Covid-19 struck the world and changed our lives forever.
This is my ode to the year that changed us all, how we survived it and how we can carry on.
It is rare to see complete overwhelming, world chaos. We watch from afar as it descends in films and read about it in books, but never actually experience that all-consuming, ground-breaking panic that grips us all – something that cannot be said after 2020.
When lockdowns began internationally throughout March and April, many of them were introduced for a three week period, to be regularly reviewed.
As a result, millions of people around the world lost their jobs, began to work from home, had their exams cancelled, began online school, college or university learning and had to put their lives on hold for the foreseeable future.
After working hard for years of your life, how many times is it that you get a three weeks impromptu break, away from work and at the luxury of your home? Never, right?
So it’s understandable that for so many people, this felt like finally catching a break.
Still on a high from the simply ludicrous situation, many people saw this as a blessing in disguise. A chance to finally get on top of things or the opportunity to take time to themselves.
As we all know, this mindset shifted with each extended lockdown announcement.
This relaxing down-time was starting to turn into a nerve-rackingly long period of time, forcing isolation upon us and hours upon hours of time to ourselves.
It was around this time that, for many people, boredom and a sense of doom kicked in.
I immediately felt guilty for complaining about something so trivial and mundane as boredom when there were thousands of people dying daily and even more dedicating their time to keeping those people alive.
I know I was not alone in this feeling, of both simultaneous anxiety and guilt.
However, in such a situation, that none of us have been equipped to deal with, we must give ourselves some credit.
Yes you might not have been on the frontline, an essential worker, or have any personal experience with Covid, but that does not mean lockdown didn’t take its toll on you.
You have every right to feel different and experience a wide range of emotions, no matter how you spend lockdown.
Every single one of us will have coped with this in a different way and that is okay.
We made it through this awful nightmare of a year and that is an achievement.
‘Mental health’ is a term that’s constantly thrown about but can be so rarely thought about.
We were thrown into the deep end of our own thoughts during this pandemic and forced to sit and fester with them.
So it’s no surprise that the mental health of millions massively deteriorated.
Young people in particular felt the heavyweight of this pandemic on their shoulders, carrying the burden of what it meant for them and their future.
Your teenage years, all the way to your early twenties, are said to be the best years of your life.
The years that are filled with mistakes, late nights, friendship, love, discovering what you like and dislike, what you love and loathe.
These are the years that you discover who you are. Years that are challenging enough without a pandemic and lockdown being thrown into the mix.
Many young people have felt the swift kick in the teeth of missing out on these years and all that they entail – proms, exams, leaving high school, moving onto further education.
Now only endless questions remain. Who would we be if not for this pandemic? Who would we know and how would we act? Where would we be now?
Some say it’s unproductive to dwell on the past and the what-ifs.
I have to disagree. I think that it is a necessary step on the ladder of growth.
Of mourning a version of ourselves that we could have been in order to move on.
I agree that we must let go of this fictional version of ourselves, but that does not mean that we can’t mourn it and grieve over what could have been.
Social Media already has a bad reputation, that’s nothing revolutionary.
Each year as January 1 rolls around, people vow to spend less time on their phones, scrolling – and each year they fail.
People shout out in indignance that they are not addicted to their phones and Social Media, yet sit in their rooms for hours staring at their screen, watching people’s lives unfold like it’s daytime TV.
Phones are also useful, of course. A device with thousands of apps to make our lives easier and more entertaining.
It’s inevitable that we want to catch up with our friends, to see what they’re up to and how they’re doing.
It allows us to keep in touch with family, make connections with strangers that we would otherwise never know, find people with similar interests or those that inspire you.
During this pandemic the world was able to stay connected through Social Media.
We could bond on a global scale over the hardships that we were all facing – providing at least one positive from 2020 – and the bonds that we created.
However, for many people, Social Media provided the opposite of support, spinning them into constant turmoil.
What was stopping them from wasting hours of their day relentlessly watching everyone else ‘live their lives’?
We officially had an uncharted number of days to be left to our own devices.
Online school and working from home provided millions of people with the time to simply scroll through the hours of their day.
This is not something you should feel guilty about or beat yourself up over.
After all, how could we possibly have been equipped to cope with a global pandemic and lockdown?
Each and every person was forced to figure out a way to survive, let alone thrive, throughout this time.
And if the way you survived was through Social Media, then so be it.
However, 2021 is a new year, one that you don’t have to spend on Social Media if it does more harm than good.
It seems to be ingrained in us to compare ourselves to each other and hate ourselves for the so-called inadequacies we find.
People struggle with this on a normal day, let alone on a day where it feels like the ‘repeat’ button has been hit yet again.
So, instead of spending time on your phone, try swapping those hours with reading a book, going for a walk or doing another form of exercise, trying something new or even watching a movie you enjoy.
All of these activities will not only reduce your screen time but provide you with breathing space from the toxicity of Social Media and allow you to prioritise yourself.
Unfortunately there is no handbook for how to move forward from a year like 2020.
This process will look different for each person.
2020 was only one year of our lives, yet millions of people have had to deal with the unexpected losses of loved ones and missed out on so many experiences.
It’s inevitable to feel a change after such an ordeal, so try not to hold yourself to some sort of standard for not being a productivity-machine. That’s okay.
Try your best to be empathetic towards other people and remember that not everyone will process 2020 in the same way.
Most importantly remember that there is always somebody to speak to. Whether that be a family member, friend, co-worker, stranger or a professional. You are not alone.