A mere 6 months ago, the world looked so different. I vividly remember lying awake one February night, unable to subdue the smile on my face. I was glowing. I had just spent the day with a guy I’d recently met. We had clicked instantly. The next day I was to move to a Residential College at the University of Melbourne, a sort of freedom I had dreamed about since I was 15. For the first time in my life, I was no longer dreaming about my future. My dream life was my reality. It felt too good to be true. The painful fact is, it turns out I was correct.
Six months on and the world changes tenfold in an instant. The guy is gone. A casualty of a new dating world in which social distancing is the norm and a ‘date’ consists of walking around our local housing estate 1.5 meters apart. I will not be returning to College until 2021 and under what restrictions no one knows. What I do know, is that even in my privileged position, I cannot help but feel that my future has been ripped from me. It feels like I am grieving an insurmountable loss.
In Victoria, insurmountable losses have become the new normal as the state grapples with a crippling second wave of COVID-19. In the final week in July, Victoria recorded over 2500 cases, after over 2000 in the previous week. As of August 3rd, more than a quarter of all Australian deaths have come from tiny Victoria in the previous 7 days alone. On June 9th, the daily case total was 0. By July 30th, the daily case total was a staggering 723. Victoria had reached a state of disaster and authoritarian restrictions were impending.
The world came crashing down once again for so many on Sunday August 2nd as those restrictions were announced. It was the horror of March, although on this occasion, ten times worse- a statement I would have once thought impossible, but here we are. For metropolitan Melbourne, life sounds like an obscure science fiction movie, as stage four restrictions are enforced. There is an 8pm- 5am curfew, measures not seen since the height of Second World War paranoia. Travel is only allowed within 5km of home, with people limited to shop and exercise once per day. All businesses have been shut apart from essential services.
As a 19-year-old navigating young adulthood in these trying times, it is hard not to feel that the acclaimed ‘best years’ of life are being stripped from me. The first year of university is a time of freedom, self-discovery and connecting to the wider world. Yet here I sit, chained to my laptop in my childhood bedroom from which I was desperate to escape this time last year. Family tension, the loss of a relationship and an engulfing sense of loneliness are horrible at the best of times. Throw in a global pandemic and these worries seem inescapable. After all, it is me and my thoughts, all day, alone.
For Year 12 student Madeline Watkins of Ballarat the sense of loss is painful. The long looked forward to social events students would experience in their final year of high school have been held online. There is a possibility that graduation will be a student only event in order to reduce numbers. For Madi, this is a devastating possibility as she hoped to share the momentous occasion with her parents who have supported her through 13 years of schooling. Many assessments have been delayed until term 4, when hopefully face-to-face learning will resume.
This adds to the stress of impending exams in November and December. Madi says she feels a deep “sense of loss” for her final year of high school. Although she regards herself as privileged, being able to carry on learning, she will grieve the year 12 which was taken from her.
We are the first generation to experience a crisis of this scale since my grandmother was a teenager in World War Two. Of those who lost jobs in 2020 Australia, 44% have been 15-24-year-olds. As of August 4th, 20 people in Victorian hospitals with COVID-19 were under 30, including three in intensive care. Scientific research shows socialising among young people isn’t just a fun part of life, it is critical for development. It is the keyway in which we feel secure about our place in the world and our identity. The same research suggests social isolation is less of a risk among older adults, who have had more time to expand their social networks and are more likely to have partners providing emotional support. For many young people, isolation is more terrifying than COVID-19 itself.
This is not merely a ‘poor me’ sob story. Rather, I want to provide a sense of comfort for young people globally. Positivity and gratitude are essential to surviving trying times, but sometimes I cannot help but feel that grieving losses is a necessary part of acceptance and moving on. Social media is full of people ‘hustling’ in isolation- eating healthily, working out and working hard. Sometimes getting out of bed is the best we can do and that is okay.
Whether you are a Victorian or not, experiencing a second wave or not, let this be a comfort that you are not suffering alone. Whether a first-year university student deprived of your first taste of freedom, a year 12 student who’s had their final year of school stripped from them, or simply just struggling, we are all hurting in our own ways. We are grieving. Grief must not be rushed. It must not be ignored. And from grief comes strength.