This month, Gurls Talk - the community-led non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting the mental health and wellbeing of adolescent girls and young women - launched a campaign inviting community members to write a letter to their pre-pandemic self.
The campaign is a way to process what we've endured, how we’ve changed through adversity - and who we've become. Here, Kara Douglas****, a writer from Northumberland who is studying Creative Writing and English Literature with the Open University, shares her letter to her pre-pandemic self...
It is Saturday, 14th March 2020. You have just had a phone consultation with your doctor where he threw around words like ‘immune compromised’ and ‘vulnerable’. These are suddenly new slithers of your medical identity, and they sit brash and bold on the cover page of your ever-expanding hospital notes. It is decided that you are going to self-isolate. You like to think of it as a decision made against your will but honestly, you are relieved you didn’t have to make the call. The fear that the perpetual cycle of daily news instigates is beginning to penetrate and you wouldn’t want anybody to know it, but you’re scared. The suggestion of twelve weeks of quarantine feels like forever, and the reality of sixty-three would be incomprehensible.
You will slip into self-isolation like a duck that has migrated to a familiar, but small pond. The following Wednesday your mother will be sent home from work due to vulnerability too and you and your parents won’t leave the house again for some time. You should know that after the first week of learning how to disinfect packages properly and setting up zoom calls, the next three months will pass so smoothly.
You’ll develop a perfect daily routine, one that any well-established YouTube content creator would be envious of. Every hour will have structure, later you’ll realise it was all for distraction. You’ll use the time to learn new skills, watch films you have always put off and feel incredibly accomplished when you read everything ahead of time for your next literature module.
You will slip into self-isolation like a duck that has migrated to a familiar, but small pond.
You’ll learn so much about yourself in this period, and in turn, that self-security will seep into all your relationships. It’s in these times you’ll learn to appreciate the impact the people in your life have on uplifting your mental health, and the impact you have on theirs. You’ll see your friends struggle more than you are with smaller isolation time frames and sometimes you’ll resent it, but you’ll grow to understand that the grief of losing weeks of life hits everyone in different ways.
The hardest part of lockdown will be when you become unwell. Fortunately, it won’t be with Covid, but unfortunately, this will mean the threat of Covid denies you the surgical interventions you need. To this present day, you’ll still be waiting for that call that says; ‘it’s your time’. Visits to hospitals will be particularly unnerving. You’ll struggle to be heard in crucial treatment moments beneath your double masks and you’ll fear with every swelling or tender touch of skin that you’ll have to be checked into a ward, alone, and at risk of the virus. As these problems span months, you’ll begin to say you feel much better to the people who care to ask because you don’t want to bring the already sombre mood down in the group chat. You’ll regret that, denying people the opportunity to support you.
At the height of summer, restrictions will be lifted, and your friends will be back in beer gardens at comfortable distances. They’ll call you drunk, wishing you were there, and you’ll appreciate it, but the longer it goes on the more deflated you’ll feel. You’ll keep trying to find escapism in their conversations but only find irritation as you're forced to hear about another great time your health made you miss out on. In some ways, you’ll revert to that avoidant disabled teenager that couldn’t get into the parties because of steps or couldn’t go on the girls’ holidays because of inaccessible flights and you’ll punish yourself for it.
Not only will you be isolating from Covid, but you’ll also withdraw from conversations and spend too much time in bed. It will feel as if you are slowly disintegrating from the scenes of everybody’s lives. As if you were once the main character that left with the promise of a spin-off show, only to be cancelled before the pilot even aired. To remedy this, you’ll start wearing red lipstick every day, and curling your hair or painting your nails and it’ll feel ridiculous getting dressed up to go nowhere, but you’ll realise it was all an act of self-care.
Wearing red lipstick and curling your hair will feel ridiculous but you’ll realise it was an act of self-care.
Sadness will reach its peak in 2021 when you finally get your vaccine and yet are still too afraid to go outside. You’ll feel alien in the line at the vaccine cabins as if everyone is staring at you. Which, in reality, they are, because people do stare at people in wheelchairs, but because you haven’t experienced it for a year it feels like an attack. It feels like you shouldn’t be there. You’ll go home and hide in your room for another two weeks and then you’ll wake up one day more frustrated than usual and finally, you’ll realise you’ve been ill for seven months and isolated for fourteen and you’re angry! You’re so angry that it had to be you, again! You’re angry that you can’t seem to let yourself bring it to an end! You’re so angry you go outside. Once you’re out you think you might as well get a coffee and walk through a park because fuck it, you’re already ill. That’s how it ends, or maybe how life started again.
It will take some time, but slowly you’ll begin to look back on lockdown, not as time lost but as so much time gained to discover who you are and what is important to you. Although terrifying at first, every offer to go see a film on a Sunday or to drive around your hometown listening to a new album in your best friend’s passenger seat or going to the same coffee spot to order the exact same thing, now will all feel so special. In the same breath, slow weekends at home or afternoons resting in bed alone will also feel special. Everything will become purposeful. I will be so proud of you in the end because you’ll experience so many fluctuating emotions throughout this time that you’ll finally stop making yourself feel guilty for not always feeling your best. You’ll learn that happiness, like sadness or anger, is just a feeling, not a destination. You’ll learn, through everything, to be gentle with yourself.
Some days, you’ll feel heavy again, like you did towards the end. Maybe you’ll hear someone clear their throat a little too close to you or catch a newsreader shouting on the BBC about a new aggressive variant and you’ll feel the yearning of your safe and comfortable bed, but the next day you’ll get out of it again. You’ll go outside, and you’ll notice a stranger staring and it won’t make you feel vulnerable, it will make you feel seen.
All my love, Kara
Follow Kara on Instagram @karajadedouglas
ABOUT GURLS TALK
Gurls Talk is a community-led non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting the mental health and wellbeing of adolescent girls and young women. Following Adwoa Aboah’s personal experience with mental health, Gurls Talk was formed with the goal of creating safe spaces – both on and offline – where gurls can access mental health resources, share their experiences and support each other so they never feel alone or have to reach a breaking point. To help support their work donate here.
WANT TO WRITE YOUR OWN LETTER?
CHOOSE A DATE Identify a specific day before the pandemic (for example the first day of quarantine or the last 'normal' event) and write a letter to be received on that day.
ADDRESS THE LETTER TO YOURSELF and write it as you would a real letter. It can help to physically write the letter.
USE THESE PROMPTS
Honour the challenge: I want you to know the first three months will be… Days will begin to feel… You will lose… The hardest part will be…
Reflect on how you've changed: You will learn to appreciate… Moments of peace will be found through…
Celebrate your resilience: Care for you now looks like... Even though bad days will continue, you must remember... With time, you will recognise that quarantine brought meaning to...
WRITE / RECORD Once you have written your letter, record a short video (30-60seconds) reading it out loud or post a caption with the written letter
SHARE Spread the word with friends and family to encourage them to sit down and write a letter to their pre pandemic self