“Sometimes, victory lies not so much in conquering the glorious mountain peak but in simply having survived through a fatal and deadly storm.”
― Hrishikesh Agnihotri
“Watching this manic desire to make or grow or do ‘something’, that now seems to be consuming everybody, I do feel comforted to discover I’m not the only person on this earth who has no idea what life is for, nor what is to be done with all this time aside from filling it.”
― Zadie Smith
In 1939 in England as World War 2 was starting, Winston Churchill gave a speech right before D-Day. In his speech he talked about how the war would be a short one and end with decisive victory. It didn’t quite go to plan and for the next 7 years, the English were in a state of emergency and disaster. England was perpetually in lockdowns and routinely bombed.
They had massively underestimated their enemy and massively overestimated their own capabilities. Much like what has happened today during the Coronarivus pandemic. Many countries in the world were confident and believed they were much better equiped and capable than they were. Leading to a lot more problems that could have been avoided.
But the interesting part of this is that for life in London in WW2, it just continued. People still got married, babies were born, children went to school, families had fights and people just carried on with the minutiae of daily existence. Even though in the background was the shadow of one of the worst periods of human suffering.
Those years were a sort of lost years for those who didn’t die in the war. Where you could still get married but you couldn’t have a large wedding in case it got bombed. If you could study or work at home, you were encouraged to do so. And so on. Life continued but it also wasn’t the same. You were living a life that was failing your own expectations of what life should be like. Because if you were around before the war, you could remember what it was like to not be at war.
During this there was widespread depression and anxiety throughout the population. But population’s depression was as much about lack of freedoms as it was about remembering freedoms. It was life but in constant fear and apprehension about the future. Because any moment, things could get worse and repeated hopes would be defeated.
The war was publicly announced to be on the verge of being over several times a year, for many years before it was. People lived heavily restricted lives for almost half a decade before it finally was over and life began to return to what it used to be. For a lot of those people, they’d almost forgotten how to go back to that life and live again. Some studies show that the level of anxiety and depression experienced during life in those times continued with people their entire lives.
Thankfully we don’t have a World War anymore. For much of the world and people alive today, COVID is the closest thing we’ve experienced that can come close to the sort of global suffering and restrictions of freedom that happened in the past. But it’s a good corollary because much of life is similarly morose in the face of a big scary thing that is beyond what any individual is able to influence.
As an individual with something like Covid going on, you really feel like you don’t have any control over anything. And the years you spend going through that feels like years you spent, missing. They happened but they’re also missing. While I’m thankful for my health and that I’ve come out of the pandemic relatively unscathed, I’ve definitely felt that sense of greyness, like life having been on autopilot without a lot to look forward to or be hopeful for.
In Melbourne, Australia, we’ve spent close to 300 days of the last 400 days in some of the strictest lockdowns in the world. Where most businesses were closed and you weren’t allowed to leave the house unless it was essential. I’m usually a person who doesn’t suffer from any mental health conditions, but it was super depressing.
I’m married now and my wife and I had our wedding in a lockdown without any of our family there. We ran businesses that all got hit hard and were strongly affected by lockdowns. Several family members died and we couldn’t do anything about it or even be there. I think for most of it, eating food and watching TV was the only highlight of life. I don’t even know how people in the past would go through something like this, before Netflix and Ubereats and technology.
At least in the present, even though there’s a disconnect between realities around the world, people could still stay in touch in an instant. Technology has enabled people to stay connected even though they’re very much apart. That wasn’t possible in the past. In the past, if you were isolated, you truly were isolated. The years you’d spend in those lockdowns you’d have no-one but yourself. Those years really would be lost.