Minju Jung By: Minju Jung
Doctoral Researcher in Politics and International Relations
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02 May 2020 : A Therapeutic Diary Piece

When the lockdown started, one of my friends emailed me to ask if I am OK. I wasn't sure if I was OK or not. Everything had changed rapidly, and there were not many things that I was sure of. I was busy figuring out what was happening; however, it was not easy because situations changed very often. I was experiencing many ups and downs in a day, however, I did not really put my thoughts on my emotions or my feelings. Therefore, writing him a reply was therapeutic, because I could think about myself while writing about my feelings and images that I had in my mind.

I have had many feelings recently, and this has made me have my ups and downs, despite I got accustomed to the lockdown and the pandemic situations. I think perhaps I need another therapeutic writing session, so I’m writing this diary piece.

I remember the day before the University closed all of its facilities (It happened after five days when they notified that a member of the staff had been diagnosed with COVID-19). It was the last day that I worked in my office. On 18 March, my colleagues and I got the email from our director of PGR. It read that the department building was going to be closed from the next day, so our PGR offices will be closed too.

Most of my PGR colleagues were disappointed with the news. Few of them were upset because they thought that they could be OK if they strictly followed social distancing and washed their hands. Some of them were worried about their progress with work because they were unproductive when working from home. Another group was sad about the fact that they cannot use the printer in the office. My personal concerns belonged to all of these groups. I pretty much underestimated COVID-19. I am usually super lazy at home, and cannot read a long piece of text from screens because my eyes get tired easily.

On that day, only a few of us were working in the office. We packed our bags with anything that we thought we needed at home. I squeezed printed materials and necessities including my tumblers (I cannot understand why I brought them home) in my bag. I left my books in the office because they were heavy, and also because I did not expect that I would not come back to office till this time (I regret this decision a lot). The last thing I did in the office was moving all of the food and packs of milk into the freezer (I’m not sure if we can use them when we get back).

When I finished packing my bag, I seemed to be the last person in the building. The whole department was very quiet because many people had already started to work from home, amid increasing concerns of the virus. I set the alarm before leaving. I felt strange while listening to the sounds of the alarm being set, thinking that I may be unable to return soon. The scenes that I saw while walking home were unusual: few people were on the street, and it was quiet everywhere; but two big supermarkets, near my flat, were full of people. 

Next day, on March 19, the University closed all its facilities including libraries. A few days later, on Monday, as we all know, Boris Jonson announced a lockdown across the country. And, here we are now.

First few days were extremely chaotic. I was busy with attending various kinds of emergency meetings and video calls with friends of mine. My email account was crowded with lots of emails from the University, the department, my line manager, my students, and also, from the director of PGR. It had become common to start an email with ‘I hope you are coping well with the current virus situation...’ and end it with ‘look after yourself and your families… stay safe..’.

When looking back, I was anxious that the situations were getting worse very quickly. I had lots of WhatsApp messages and video calls with my friends. On the one hand, we just wanted to check whether each of us were OK. We were concerned about the uncertainties and struggled coping with all kinds of sudden changes (especially working from home and suspended fieldwork). However, on the other hand, we were quite excited to meet virtually. We tested various video call tools and compared their qualities and functions.

Now the UK has arguably passed the peak of the virus, although many people have still died. I am still surprised by the daily death tolls, but now I can remain calm. On April 19, the death toll (in hospitals in the past 24 hours) had dropped to 596 from 888, which was the number the day before. I was relieved and even, a bit happy, by hearing that news. Initially, when the government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, said that they were hoping to keep the death toll from the virus below 20,000, I was extremely astonished. Later, when the actual death toll numbers had touched this figure, I was less astonished.

The number of deaths and all horrific stories are still painful to me. But I am getting accustomed to all these horrible news and surreal situations. It seems that I have unintentionally normalised these pandemic situations, and this makes me sad and disappointed with myself. It is hard to see myself looking OK when listening to the news of several hundreds of people who have died in 24 hours in the hospitals alone. I feel like I am becoming a person who sees the pandemic in a detached and indifferent manner. 

When I first watched Trump in the US government’s COVID-19 briefing, I was upset with his irresponsible remarks. I was very concerned about my friends and family in the US. But, later, Trump’s daily briefing has become an amusing event of the day. When I listened to him saying about radiation and injecting disinfectant things, I laughed a lot. His frequently changed hair colour and also the bright part around his eyes on his tanned face make me laugh. There are very few points that I gather by listening to his briefing carefully, such as his surprising announcement of the immigration ban measure.

It is still difficult, but I try to adapt myself to the lockdown situations. I am getting accustomed to the COVID-19 situations. I follow routines to discipline my life at home; and, I’ve also become pretty accustomed to working at home. It seems like I’ve just accepted the fact that there is no other choice, and time is still passing. However, I still cannot read many things from the screens, so my work progress is very slow.

These days, my life is pretty similar to the one that I had before the pandemic. I mark essays, deliver seminars and provide office hours for my students, attend training for PGR students and seminars, and also, see my lovely friends. It seems that the only difference is that all these activities happen online - virtually.

I still have regular video calls with my friends, but we do not talk much about the pandemic. Instead, the topics of our conversation have got back to the things that we used to talk about (research progress, menus for dinner, silly jokes and episodes with flatmates…). Emails do not start with the typical statements related to lockdown or the pandemic that we were used to earlier. It seems that we have forgotten that we are in an unprecedented situation. Pandemic has become ‘normal’ for us.

Now, I have an ambivalent emotion towards the lockdown. On the one hand, I hope to get back to my (past) normal life. I particularly want to see my students in a ‘real’ classroom (my students are too shy to show their face to online, so they prefer turning off their cameras during the seminars. This makes me feel like I’m talking to myself). Also, I would like to give my friends real hugs - real big and strong hugs!

On the other hand, I am anxious that I might have another significant change, when the lockdown is lifted. It took a long time to get accustomed to the current situations. I think life after the lockdown will not be the same as the one before the lockdown. I am not sure how long it will take to rearrange my life in another new situation.

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