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COVID-19 Stole My Identity
Charlotte Moore explores finding yourself during lockdown
When we consider our defining qualities, the things that make us, us, they’re almost always in relation to others. You might cherish your good humor or ability to cheer up a friend. Maybe the thing you really define yourself by is the fact that you’re overdressed as standard. Perhaps you don’t quite feel yourself without a necklace that was passed down to you from someone who took far better care of it.
These silly, insignificant things are all part and parcel of who we are. And, I feel like COVID-19 has robbed me of them.
Recently I’ve found myself lying awake, pondering who exactly I was before all of this. Certainly less anxious, I didn’t fret about work in the same way or fear my grandma leaving the house. Definitely more tactile and sociable, Saturday nights were spent in the smoking area of our local pub. Kisses on cheeks. Cigarettes shared between at least four different mouths. Was I funnier?
If someone makes a joke and no one is around to hear it, is it still even funny? Maybe not.
In the same way that we reminisce about grotty nights out, I wonder if I’m looking at my pre-COVID life with rose-tinted glasses. Unable to see anything except an endless stream of pals, parks and pubs. There was always so much to talk about, and yet in this brave new world, I can’t think of a single thing that I did last weekend. And, as we enter 2021, I realize that the events of last year have left me uncertain of who I am.
I had an incessant need to always be on the move. It was just who I was
My previous life was certainly hectic. A chaotic sort of existence that often had me on the go. “Oh, things are so bloody busy!” I’d huff, as I packed my bag for London or Leeds, or wherever I was supposed to be on a Thursday afternoon. Exhaustion was second-nature. But, akin to some sort of bewildered shark, I had an incessant need to always be on the move. It was just who I was.
As we entered the first lockdown, I cackled at the idea that I would find it challenging. A self-employed writer doesn’t exactly scream sociability. But, even if I’m more introverted than the average soul, it doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy existing around people. I loved the hum of a busy cafe, the hiss of a coffee machine sending me into some sort of trance. So, as I sit at my makeshift bedroom desk, I realize that the reason I often retreated into the peace and quiet was for respite. It isn’t meant to be a permanent state for any of us. I never realized how much of my sense of self was wrapped up in other things.
I think of my friends that thrive in noise. The party girls, the going out-out friend. I check in on them every few weeks and they too appear to be lost souls. Like me, they’ve misplaced the things that previously gave us our sense of self, the weight of which anchors us to our lives and without them, keeping both feet on the ground is near impossible.
I decide to write a list of things I am certain of right now. An Instagram guru encourages it. The process will allow me to reconnect with myself. I consult an actual therapist who suggests it won’t do any harm.
I never realized how much of my sense of self was wrapped up in other things.
I set about listing the innocuous—a disinterest in sports of all kinds, red wine, and coriander, a love for scalding hot coffees, poetry written exclusively for children, and clean sheets—before considering the slightly more complicated stuff. I wonder if I’m a good friend. Despite my lax schedule, I haven’t been exactly punctual about replying to messages.
“Do you think I’ve been a shit friend? You know, during lockdown. Also, sorry about the above message, I did see it, but I’ve been crap at replying.”
“Just as shit as I am. Been meaning to call. Fancy a depressing Zoom coffee?”
I soldier on with my list. I rate myself as a ‘mostly’ good friend. And, I’m surprised to see that hobbies, interests I haven’t considered in months (years, even) begin to crop up: a passion for collage art, writing letters by hand, and wearing clothes that are too tight now move into the ‘yes’ side of my ever-growing document.
I stare at myself in the mirror again and take scissors to my hair. My chest-length hair is cropped to my jaw. It looks different. I feel different.
A new version of myself.
Underneath a shorter haircut and newly painted nails, I’m the same. However, something’s shifted. COVID-19 has taken my identity, but, like all interesting women in history, I’ve found another.