Life During Uncertainty

There’s a problem with writing for a travel blog in the time of a pandemic. I don’t know if what I’m going to write is important. I don’t know if it’s going to help anyone, but I hope it does. I worry it might seem overindulgent. Then again that could be anxiety popping in.

First I want to take some time to address my privilege. I am safe and healthy, and so far my friends and family are as well. I’ve been able to say home from work since about mid-March and have received some wages. I’m now temporarily laid off (and not sure when I’ll be able to go back to work). Since I live in Canada and I can apply for some financial support from the government. I’m an introvert and haven’t had any issues staying home. However I’m also living with my parents and my brother, so I’m not entirely alone. The weather has gotten nicer (the snow has finally melted) and I’ve been able to get outside and go for walks. We have food, medicine and other supplies in our house. All things considered, I’m doing well.

This is a blog about travel though, so I should write something about the fact that the only trip I had planned for 2020 will likely get cancelled. I’m about 98% sure this trip is not going to happen, at least not for the dates we originally booked. A couple of friends and I were going to go to Portland, Oregon for a few days in June. The main reason being to attend the Alanis Morrissette concert. I’m a child of the ’90s and Jagged Little Pill was the first CD I ever bought.

So far the concert is still going on, but that could change. More importantly, the border between Canada and the US is closed right now. It’s hard to say if the border will be opened by the time this trip is supposed to happen. The hostel we’re staying at cancelled our reservation but they are also closed and won’t be reopened during our trip. I got an email saying our flight has changed, meaning we won’t land in Portland until the next day.

I’m not stressed, anxious, or sad that the only travel I had for 2020 is likely getting cancelled. This statement might seem ridiculous to some, but if this situation had happened a few years ago I would have been devastated. I would have put on a calm demeanour and said I was fine, but inside I wouldn’t have been fine at all. Since I was 21 I’ve taken at least one trip a year to somewhere that’s new-to-me. Knowing I have a trip to go in the future helps to keep me focused and optimistic about the feature. When I’m not travelling, or when I don’t have an upcoming trip planned I start to feel anxious and depressed. Update: my Portland trip has been postponed until July 2021 at the earliest.

While I wish I could go on this I understand I probably can’t. This pandemic is beyond anyone’s control (how we respond to it isn’t). There is no anyone who’s at fault for my trip getting cancelled. There is no one to blame for this situation (except the virus itself, but that isn’t going to fix anything). Everyone is doing the best they can in these strange times.

What’s helped me deal with this likely trip cancellation, and with the pandemic is reflecting back on my time in Ireland. When I moved to Ireland in August 2016 I came there alone, and I initially spent a lot of time alone as well. Eventually, I got to know some people, but I didn’t have any close friends. Let me say this was through no one’s fault but my own. I tend to not talk to people I don’t know; it takes me a while before I start to feel comfortable around others. And while I could chat with friends and family online there was an 8 hour time difference. Often they wouldn’t be able to respond to my message for several hours and vice versa for me. My parents and I would video chat every few weeks, but they were the only people back home I chatted with in real-time.

Now I’m introverted, and even though I love to travel I also love spending time at home. However; there came points while I was in Ireland when I realized I’d spent days not talking to anyone. It took me several months (after an initial call center job that only lasted 2 weeks; which was not the job for me) to find work. For a while, the only things I would say were phrases like “are you hiring?” “is your manager in?” and “here’s my CV.” I pretty soon came to realize that mental health had suffered greatly from being isolated.

With the situation going on now even though I’ve been laid off I’ll get hired back on when it’s safe to do so. Plus I’ll get hired on for the same wages and position I was in before. When I first got to Dublin I spent months looking for work with no luck. I had someone money saved for emergencies, but rent in Dublin is expensive (more than I realized). Soon that account got dwindled to nothing, and I was much too proud (read: stubborn) to ask for help. Finally, I got an interview for a job I knew how to do and I was so relieved. Then a few hours into my first shift I was told it wasn’t going to work out, without any explanation.

I can’t explain how much that destroyed my mental and physical health at the time. I went home and cried, feeling broken and wondering how I was going to afford rent or even food. Then I got sick and I’m pretty sure it was in large part due to all the stress I was experiencing. I was in bed for 2 weeks, exhausted and nauseous only leaving my room to go to the bathroom. The only food I could keep down was a few saltine crackers I kept by my bed. Eventually, I got better and found employment, but it still took months and it wasn’t easy.

For myself at least, the first few months living in Dublin were much harder than what I’ve had to experience with this pandemic so far. There I was alone. I didn’t know anyone (aside from my two flatmates, but I didn’t know them well). I was running out of money (like I said rent in Dublin is expensive and my account got drained fast). When I got sick in October 2016 I was done. That might have been the worst month, psychologically and physically, I’ve ever had. I felt broken. I couldn’t stop crying. For me to stay home with my family, where I’m safe and have security and food is not a big deal. This to me is easy; I’ve got this.

I don’t say this to belittle anyone else’s experience. I know there are people who are going through hell right now, and I empathize with them. Whatever emotion your feeling whether it’s sadness or anger or fear or relief or whatnot is valid. I’d never want to demean your feelings or experience. While things in the world are a bit uncertain right now I’m not as isolated or stressed as I was in the latter part of 2016. My mental health during this pandemic is much better than it was when I first was in Ireland.

While I was in Ireland as soon as things were okay or stable for a bit something would come up to disrupt everything. Before I came to Ireland I knew I wasn’t great with change. Perhaps the universe got the message and decided “yeah don’t get comfortable ever because we’re gonna change things up for you.” I thought the move to Ireland itself would be the only big change I’d need to worry about, but it wasn’t. I had 4 different jobs in Ireland, and I had to move 3 different times (not including the initial move to Ireland).

None of these things were what I wanted, but just what happened. The last place I moved to was in July 2017. My birthday is July 23, and I had booked a few days off from work (a job I’d luckily been at for several months at that point) to go to Cork. Then I found out I’d have to move to a new place by the end of July. The place I was moving to would be able to let me move into my room about a week early. Since I knew I couldn’t afford to take more time off work for my trip and this move, plus I’d have to pay rent and a damage deposit for this new place I just decided to cancel my trip. Financially I couldn’t have afforded to go on this trip and move.

I spent my birthday that year moving by myself from Dublin to the small town of Donabate. I learned places in Ireland usually came furnished with a bed and wardrobe, so I didn’t need to move those items. But I did need to pack other items like clothes, bedding, food, etc into a suitcase and large backpack and move them by public transit. First walking 15 minutes to the bus stop, next taking the bus to Malahide, and then the train to Donabate and then another 8-minute walk to my new place. I had to make this trip several times that day and was exhausted by the end of it. This wasn’t how I wanted to spend the only birthday I’ve celebrated (so far) in another country.

One of the places I visited frequently after I moved to Donabate.

I was sad to have cancelled my birthday trip to Cork, but to be honest I was also kind of numb to everything that had happened. It was at the point where I thought “yeah of course this is happening, because why wouldn’t it?” I’d experienced so much change uncertainty during the 11 months of my time in Ireland thus far. Nothing surprised me. While things did work out, and I go to go to Cork that April my birthday move taught me something important. Don’t get comfortable, because life is here, life is chaotic and life doesn’t care about what you want.

I didn’t write a lot about Ireland when I was there because I wanted time to process things. Despite how it might seem on this post my time in Ireland wasn’t all bad. The hard stuff was hard, but there was a lot of good as well. I got to see some amazing places and learn things about Irish history and culture I didn’t know before. I eventually talked to people, and when I did I realized I could have talked to them earlier and no one would’ve been offended as I’d assumed. We think our brains are smart, but they can be pretty stupid.

My time in Ireland taught me the importance of my mental health. How I shouldn’t keep myself isolated when things are hard. If I’d asked for help, even asked for someone to talk to early on I have no doubt my experience would’ve been better. Most important Ireland taught me not to get comfortable. I learned things change whether you want them to or not.

Obviously, this pandemic is different than what happened when I was in Ireland. I don’t want to equate the two experiences because what’s happening now is completely unprecedented. Yet, I know everything I went through in Ireland is helping me to process what’s going on right now. I’m grateful that during this pandemic I’m with people I care about and who care about me. I’m grateful that I can talk to my friends via text or video chat and there isn’t an 8 hour time difference. I am relieved to know I’ve got support from the government to help me pay my bills. I am lucky that I can stay home, write, play piano, watch Netflix and learn German (I’ve always wanted to learn German).

I don’t want it to seem like I haven’t had any fears or anxieties during this time, because I have. When I was still at work (before our store had closed) I felt a lot of anxiety, particularly because I work at a store close to an airport. My eyes would feel watery and I’d wonder if it was allergies I usually get in the spring, or if I was dying. Once we were informed our store would be closing I was relieved. I didn’t have to worry about factors I couldn’t control (basically what other people were or weren’t doing).

When the pandemic first broke out I felt a lot of anxiety watching the news and going on social media. Now I limit my exposure to the news to about an hour per day. This was also something I learned in Ireland. When I was in Ireland the 2016 US election had occurred and my only exposure to the election campaign was memes I saw about it. Now, if this seems like me being uninformed and avoiding reality maybe it was. At that time, with all I’d been through, I mentally couldn’t handle reading every news site and political commentator. Plus I am Canadian. I couldn’t have voted in the election. I couldn’t have changed the results.

“Staying informed” can easily cross over to the point of “ruminating over things you can’t control and stressing because there’s nothing you can do.” It seemed like many of my fellow Canadians back home had crossed that line during the 2016 US election. In Ireland I realized while it’s important to stay informed, I should get overwhelmed by things I can’t control. Instead of worrying about things I can’t change I focus on what I can change. That is my actions, my attitudes, my behaviours.

Watching the news constantly and looking up things like how many people have coronavirus right now? doesn’t help me. Most importantly it doesn’t change what’s going on. I can’t force everyone but essential workers to stay home, no matter how much I’d like to. I can’t change how a foreign government responds to the pandemic in their own country. What I can do is stay informed about what my government is doing. If you live in a country where you have the right to vote remember how your government responded to this pandemic the next time you’re at the polls. If you want things to change then don’t be apathetic when it comes to voting. Yes, sometimes life brings change, but sometimes we need to be that change.

I don’t want to sound out of touch with this situation, or like I don’t care because I do. This pandemic is serious, many people have gotten sick and many have lost their lives, which is heartbreaking. Essential workers are putting their lives in danger every day. Seeing that many are doing so with a lack of personal protective equipment is infuriating. People are stressed/scared/overwhelmed/traumatised. I’ve been there too. Today I feel all right, but tomorrow might be different.

I’ve heard sentiments like “I can’t wait for things to get back to normal.” I get that people don’t want to stay in this state forever, but to be honest I don’t want things to go back to normal. I don’t want things to return to how they were before, because things before weren’t great for everyone. This pandemic has shown people how much inequality exists in the world. We’ve been able to see the damage we’ve done to the planet and to each other. To say the world should go back to the status quo before the pandemic is cruel and unfair. I want things to be better than they were.

I don’t have any exact answers. I don’t want things to stay the way they are now, but I also know they won’t. The big thing I learned about in Ireland, more than historical facts or how to pour a perfect pint of Guinness or anything else is change. The only constant there is in life is change. Nothing, whether you perceive it as good or bad, will last forever. While I don’t know how things will change I know they will. The situation we’re in now will not last forever. Things might get better, things might get worse, but they won’t stay the same.

This might not be a comforting statement, but it’s the only truth I know. Things will change. I hope we’ve taken the time to look within ourselves, to prioritize our mental health, and to connect to others (even if it can only be online) to handle whatever change comes next.

2 comments on “Life During Uncertainty

  1. Thanks for this article Alouise.
    I believe that your experience in Ireland taught you resilience.
    Stay safe. We all look forward to travelling again:)

  2. Each time I am privileged to read one of your stories I appreciate your perspective on life and living it . Thank you.

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