Young people and COVID-19: The new normal

Our readers share their thoughts and experiences on life in lockdown and how it has impacted their daily lives

Written by spunout


Recently, we ask our readers to share their experiences of life in lockdown. Young people’s lives have been turned upside down during this crisis, with schools and colleges closing, and many young people losing jobs. As part of a project with the Irish Examiner, we wanted to highlight these stories and give a voice to young people in Ireland learning to cope in this new situation.

Below, you can read what our readers have to say about the impact of the COVID-19 restrictions on their daily lives. 

Young people share their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic

Róisín, 23, Mayo

This whole experience really is like a rollercoaster. One day it can feel fine and I feel content in myself, and the next there is a huge wave of anxiety. I think it comes from all the unknown associated with it. We don’t know when we’ll be able to see our grandparents again, or hug a friend again. I think it shows how much we took for granted before, like sitting down to have food in a restaurant, or having a chat with the cashier in a supermarket. At the start of these restrictions, I had great intentions of the routine I was going to get myself into with college work and other things to keep myself occupied, yet as it stretches out longer and longer, it is really hard to get motivated to do anything. Living in a rural area has been a challenge and a blessing in these times. A challenge in terms of how the internet connection can be unsteady, and there’s no way for takeaways to be delivered! But a blessing in terms of how I can go for a walk without fear of meeting a single person while I’m out. It’s possible to escape that feeling of claustrophobia that comes with being stuck inside. 

David, 22, Cork

Initially, I began my experience of the COVID-19 pandemic in denial. I could not believe the seriousness of the virus and did not expect such stern measures to be implemented. Initially there was also a lot of rumours circulating about the virus and this did not help in determining what exactly was going on. The day my university closed was when it hit my hardest. The first thing I did however was run to the library and withdraw as many books as possible that I knew I would need to help me in my studies now. The lockdown also sent me on a positive path towards getting fit. For the first two weeks I remained in my student accommodation with friends until my parents could pick me up. Two weeks spent locked in all we did was drink and this was not healthy. All of us were in shock but after those two weeks I decided I would go full 180 and get fitter during the quarantine instead. As news broke of the potential complete lockdown, my mother did not hesitate when rushing to collect me and bring me home before the roads closed. Since I have been home I have made a good routine between study and exercise. I find it difficult missing my friends but we stay in touch over social media and video calls. I am most thankful for technology during this pandemic as it has allowed me to remain connected to those closest to me. I just hope all of this ends soon as some days it is difficult to function when the future is so uncertain and it feels like any efforts I make may be to no avail.

Aoife, 17, Sligo

It’s completely surreal, but it’s also amazing how quickly this has become the new normal. When I try and think about life before COVID-19 it seems almost dreamlike, like it didn’t even happen. I’m finding it so hard to stay motivated. If I slept in before this it was a panic because I would be late for the bus. Now if I sleep in I’m just late for my desk, and it’s not going anywhere! Some days are a lot harder than others, when I focus on all that I’m missing out on or how the events I was looking forward to have been cancelled. Other days though I feel like I’ve adapted completely and the time for doing nothing might be good for me. It’s a bit monotonous – online school, exercise, eat, sleep and repeat, but I’m trying to stay positive and I’ve started learning French now that I have the spare time. I miss my friends and Gaelic football, but what I think I miss most is having something to look forward to. We don’t know when this is going to end and I think that’s what’s beginning to drain everyone. For now I think it’s important to focus on the present and do things like play football in the garden, use the seven year old basketball hoop and go planting spuds with Dad, a collection of stuff I hadn’t done since I was about 11. In a way, the pandemic is a bit like revisiting a childhood summer holiday. I was always very excited to go back to school.

Dean, 17, Wicklow

I have found the lockdown difficult to cope with because in my family, we are used to just walking into each other’s houses and having a conversation. We are a very open and welcoming, close knit family which is hard to separate from, hence the difficulty of lockdown. The lack of freedom and “social” distancing makes it harder to enjoy getting a break from the house. The lack of seeing my friends and also the amount of schoolwork I’m getting is just a stress. The teachers reckon that what we normally covered in a week should now be done in two days which is ridiculous! Then parents nagging on about how there’s a list a mile long of stuff to be done in and around the house and that they want it done in one go but say “you have to do school work when given it. You also have to do a list of things that could take up to a month usually during summer, this week, and also have to be up and also go to bed at the same time with school, even on weekends.” Its so stressful and is causing me to struggle more with my mental health than ever before!

Adam, 21, Cork

Honestly I’ve been having a good time in isolation so far. I think others my age are definitely worse off for different reasons, but my experience has given me a break from the stress of my part time job on the weekend, and the drama of my college during the week. I’ve been staying productive everyday since the lockdown which I think is key to getting through this. I finished my college assignments early on just to get it out of the way. I set myself my own projects outside of college that I can do for a few hours each day to keep me busy. As well as this I’m exercising almost every other day. I’ll jog about 2-3 times a week, do a home workout 2-3 times in the same week, and take rest days with whatever is left. It’s important to stay healthy both physically and mentally and both correlate to a healthy lifestyle. I think my biggest advantage is being able to talk to my friends every night. Before COVID-19 I would’ve been busy 7 days a week and wouldn’t get to hang out or talk to some of my best friends for days or sometimes even weeks at a time. This lockdown has given me the opportunity to stay in touch much more frequently and if it wasn’t for them I’m not sure how I’d be coping right now. As a plus I’ve received some much needed quality time with my mother at home. When I weigh it up, this pandemic experience has personally given me more good than bad. 

Lorna, 18, Galway

My experience with the pandemic so far has been eye-opening. Although there is a lot of fear and anxiety in my mind, I have benefited a lot from being at home. Thanks to the beautiful weather I’ve been allowed to go for walks with my dog and sisters which has really helped my mental health, health and my relationship with my family. It’s not all sunshine and roses due to the lack of uncertainty that I am facing with Leaving Cert exams. The stress that I’m feeling when I begin to think about it leaves me wondering what is the point of studying when I’m not completely certain that I will be sitting an exam come the end of July. Isolation has helped me to further my involvement in volunteering. I’ve begun my training as a Crisis Text Line volunteer, become a Youth Ambassador for ONE and, work harder as an Action Panel member with and SAUTI Youth ( Sustainable Accountability Uniting Tanzanian and Irish Youth) a climate action youth-led project. Although it’s frustrating to be in the same place day in day out, I know that as time progresses I will be a better and more patient person because of the pandemic.

Aimee, 16, Cavan

I think as a teenager in a global pandemic right now that it is a very strange, unexpected experience in life. No child or teenager ever had the thought of having to do school from home cross their mind, and now look where we are. I think that online school isn’t the easiest thing because you get easily distracted, especially if the television or radio is on the news station and talking about COVID-19. It’s very hard having to stay at home and not being able to see your friends and relatives, especially nanny and grandads. Being stuck at home makes you realise you should be more grateful for the things you have in life that you haven’t been so grateful for before, such as being able to call to your grandparents for tea and even going to school and doing work in real classrooms and seeing your friends.

Andrew, 22, Wexford

My life during COVID-19, like many others, has consisted of boredom, Zoom meetings and 5K challenges. At the start of 2020 I was very hopeful for the year ahead having been co-opted onto Wexford County Council. My plans have changed drastically. My days went from cramming in some study to running around meeting people and learning at a pace that I never thought was possible. Now, I get up go for a leisurely walk to clear the head for the day, check Instagram to see who’s doing the 5k/€5 challenge for charity. I will make a few phone calls or answer a couple of emails. Then, inevitably I will check Instagram again. I might go for a run and try and get a personal best on my 5k time. Saturday nights are quite compared to the gallivanting of old. Sundays can be bleak without the excitement of a GAA match. Things are difficult, loosing loved ones and friends while not being able to give them the sendoff they deserve. Social interaction seems a distant memory and it doesn’t seem to be coming back for quite a while. Young people have been told that there were no jobs for life anymore and that in any sector that we go into we will chop and change from one sector to another. Now is our test, are we able to overcome the challenges that this pandemic lays out in front of us, it will be difficult, but I believe so.

James, 25, Cork

I’ve been working from home since March 16th. It hasn’t been easy so far – I’ve had two friends pass away since lockdown began, and it’s been very tough not being able to say goodbye properly. I’m blessed to have such supportive housemates throughout this pandemic. One thing I would like to mention is that this crisis has made me think long and hard about the state of this country, and I personally have lost hope. This country has been a mess for over 10 years while our media act like cheerleaders for old men who couldn’t give a damn about the average working person. If things don’t change completely once this crisis is over, then the workers must force this change.

Clodagh, 16, Dublin

The first time hearing of the novel coronavirus seem so distant now, but I do remember it being just one of those things I found dismissible as something being blown out of proportion by the same people who are now panicking about 5G. But by the time midterm came, and people everywhere were travelling, in the span of just over a week the coronavirus became less an uneasy joke and more a direct worry. More than half of my own year had travelled to Italy, as had many other schools. The future was starting to become a bit uncertain, seeing as I was living with my grandparents: two at-risk people. Schools closed suddenly, and lockdown measures were coming in, so I took one of the last flights out to Luxembourg to my parents, who are at the moment living abroad. We are all now possibly overly informed on the evolving situation, and what is required of all of us, but I suppose what makes this so difficult is how invisible and distant it is. You can’t protest the virus, you can’t go out and fundraise, you can’t do much besides doing nothing. It gets hard to muster the motivation to get out of bed, never mind do the random projects school tries to keep us busy with. It can get intensely frustrating to know that some people are still seeing their friends, but we all have to remember why we are doing this and who for.

Ria, 16, Tipperary

My COVID-19 experience so far has been surreal. I usually wake up in the morning, do some of my school work, go on a jog within 2km of my house and spend time with my family. Of course, like everyone else I’m starting to overthink about different things, but I’ve been able to get my mind off those things by doing bits and pieces like painting etc. so I am very much supporting my mental health. I’m also making sure to keep in touch with my relatives and friends by phone and by sending letters with An Post. I’m starting to miss the little privileges in my life that I had before the pandemic, like meeting my friends and going to school. I’m starting to realise how hard the frontline staff are working for our country, and I’m very grateful to an Taoiseach, Mr. Harris, Dr. Tony Holohan and any other person striving to make this pandemic as easy as possible for our country.

Ellie, 21, Cork

The 12th of March 2020, the day the first of the COVID-19 restrictions were announced, was also the day I turned 21. At first, there was some novelty about it for a lot of people. Ah sure, few weeks off work, grand job altogether! The virus was a distant thought, something that killed other people, made other people sick, not us, not young, healthy people. As the lockdown grew increasingly severe, and stretched out to a seemingly endless and hopeless extent in front of us, more and more of my friends had to find alternative ways to celebrate milestones; birthdays, anniversaries, even a funeral. The novelty gave way to all-encompassing boredom, and a dull, ever-present unease. After work pints and quick coffees were replaced by compulsive jogging, sweating into your face mask. The feeling of invincibility was gone. Stranger still though, was the feeling of solidarity that grew out of all this. People making big trips to the shops so their elderly neighbours and relatives could safely cocoon. Friends coming together to livestream gigs, or “Netflix Party” together. In a weird way, the distancing has made me feel closer to my community than I ever have.

Anonymous, 18, Kildare

My experience, like most, has been a tough one. I seem to be having the opposite problem to most, they are stuck at home and bored, meanwhile I have never had less free time. I am working in a shop and was originally there part time during college, but I have been working nearly full time since the pandemic. We are understaffed as there are people with underlying medical conditions who wish to not work. The reason this is a problem for me is that I too have an underlying medical condition. I have asthma, so requested less shifts, paid for a doctor’s note for my boss and was told that if I wanted less shifts I could leave. This is not an option for me as both my parents have lost their jobs. As well as this, I am also still in college, with assignments to finish. I have been forced to ask for extensions as I can’t get them in on time with the amount I am working. This is unlike me, as I am normally a very good worker, and I have such an interest in what I am studying. I’m so anxious my teachers will think I don’t care. I struggle with anxiety and usually the only person I can talk to about it is my boyfriend. But of course, I can’t see him right now. This is especially tough when I see young people coming into my shop daily with their friends as if there is nothing happening in the world. I’m trying to stay hopeful but it’s difficult when you are just so scared.

Ruth, 22, Kilkenny

My days have changed drastically. I am used to being in work by 9am, working all day and finally getting home at 6:30 to relax. Now I find myself lost in the unknown of what is next for me. I lost my job due to the pandemic and I’m not sure if I will have it when all this is over. This is a major stress for me as it’s my only form of income. My health also took a hit. I ended up making myself sick with stress, worried about how me and my family are going to cope with a reduced income. However, it has not all been negative. I have been able to connect with people that I wouldn’t normally have time to talk to. It also brought my family together, which is most important to me. We are all healthy and I want to keep it that way. So I am staying home. And so should all of you.

Samantha, 20, Donegal

My experience with COVID-19 so far has been difficult to say the least. I feel as if life as I know it has been taken away from me. I’ve lost my job, my plans of going on a J1 and I have lost my entire sense of independence. I’ve been living out of home for two years studying in Maynooth and working full time trying to be as self-sufficient as possible. Moving home I feel I have completely lost this along with my sense of self. I know this sounds silly but it’s hard to go from living independently to moving back home. It’s mentally draining and feels quite degrading. I’m lucky in ways as I have quite a comfortable home environment and don’t have a lot of real complaining to do other than mentally adjusting to home. I have found this time to work on myself and try to get fit by doing a couch to 5k programme. I’ve also tried my hand at cooking and baking, something I wouldn’t of had the time to do due to trying to balance work and college. I’m worried about when I will get back to work and back on my feet as the plans for the future are very uncertain.

Emily, 21, Dublin

The past few weeks have been an experience I will never forget. Due to the colleges closing, I decided to work full-time at my local Burger King (where I work part-time when in college). We stayed open for a while to feed the front-line staff. I was working 10 hours shifts and still had college work to do on top of going into work. Safe to say, I was exhausted. I got laid off and now I’m focusing on getting on top of my college work. For the past few days, I have been going on runs and have been trying to keep myself busy to keep my mind occupied. Zoom calls are honestly what’s getting me through this pandemic. Iswt’s great being able to speak to those who I can’t meet in person. I have been trying to see the good in everything around me and appreciate the village I live in by going on walks and sitting outside when the sun is setting. It’s the little things in life that keep me going.

Niamh, 21, Dublin

Negative emotions come in waves. There are so many hours in the day to experience the rawness of life, and every conversation, mood or laugh is heightened. I’m getting through it but I do worry for my mental health by the time night comes around. I share a room in the family home, which is a flat with no garden. I miss green spaces and the sea. I’ve been apart from my partner of three years for over a month now, the longest it has ever been. Living in the city, it’s frustrating to see people fail to social distance, meeting their friends or walking in threes, expecting you to disappear while they walk by. Definitely an added stressor and I feel so anxious when I go for a short walk, taking back roads in and out of housing estates to avoid everyone. I’ve been temporarily laid off from my job, but the team are being amazing checking in on me. For my Masters, we continued classes online but they’re finished now. The last week I lost all structure, and with that my wellbeing decreased. All I have is my mindset, so for the new week I’m going to persevere with a new routine.

Clodagh, 17, Galway

COVID-19 has definitely impacted my day-to-day life. When the schools were shut down, I had no fixed structure to my day. I struggled with this for the first week but I can say by now that I’m used to it. I believe I’m lucky to live in a rural area because my 2km walk is a beautiful, scenic route, which many don’t have access to. I can say that at first COVID-19 seemed like a foreign illness to me. It didn’t impact me because I couldn’t relate to it directly. As soon as I started seeing the cases in Ireland increase I knew the days ahead would be frightening but I knew we could only do what we could. I have donated to charities and asked my friends to do the same. I think this could make the younger people feel as if they are helping and that they will feel that they can have a big impact on the outcome this illness will have on our society. Thinking of the people in our society who may be more impacted by this virus has made be more thoughtful and grateful. I think this is because I’ve realised that I’m fortunate to be healthy and safe.

Maeve, 20, Cork

I have been reading more, but writing nothing other than assignments on A Journal of a Plague Year and Titus Andronicus. It follows a man through the Great Plague and, as it was for those who read it in 1722, I find it hard to separate fact from fiction through descriptions of quarantines and death tolls. My news intake is less than usual, the fictional being easier to reconcile with a mind trying to get through lockdown than reality. After wrapping up a conclusion, I’ll revert to Sally Rooney or Joan Didion or, yesterday’s exercise in living vicariously, watching a rerun of Coldplay ‘live from Sao Paulo’ with my sisters and I muse upon how strange it is now to see so many people so close together. It’s Zoom calls through unstable connections which keep me smiling, overly-detailed analysis shared with my parents on our separate daily runs provide laughs at how creative we’re getting in mapping routes within two-kilometres. Things are okay, and the sun makes it easier. I am grateful that my biggest problem is how to fill my days and meeting deadlines but, as my mom leaves for work on the frontline, reality reminds me how far from normal we are. In the meantime, it’s the small things that keep the days from rolling into one – even if that means singing the wrong words to ‘Paradise’ too loud as you belt it in the kitchen with your sisters.

Sarah, 24, Donegal

I am living at home on the outskirts of Donegal Town with my one year old daughter, my mum and my older brother. The pandemic has opened our eyes immensely to what normality is and what really matter. My dad passed away from cancer last year which inspired me to apply to a Healthcare assistant course. We consider ourselves to be extremely lucky to live where we are as we can go outside for a walk, take in fresh air and listen to the lambs in the fields. We are so aware of what the costs of COVID-19 are and make sure that we practice proper hand hygiene and our food shop is only done once a week. I have applied to Be on Call for Ireland. My family and I know that we will have to become more strict about our practices if I get called to work during the pandemic. I feel like it is my duty as a person with the skillset needed to be able to help in whatever way. I fear catching the virus and bringing it home to my mum, brother and my daughter. I fear that I will get sick and not be able to help anymore. Hearing the stories of healthcare professionals falling ill and dying is a frightening thought to an outsider, however these are the selfless heroes who need all the backup they can get and I am willing to be part of it.

Jessie, 20, Kildare

The day begins at 2pm, the crack of dawn for us here. I get up and meet with my young sister who is attending a class in junior cert maths or science, pulling her hair out and begging me to leave. I sneak out of our room and enter the kitchen where my mother, when she’s not out being a front line worker in the local supermarket, is looking for some work to keep her distracted. I walk back to the hall way and press my ear to the door that leads to my parent’s room where my older father is frustrated, trying desperately to figure out how a laptop works as he tries to work from home for the first time in his life. I sneak back in to my room, grab my laptop and head out to the back garden shed, where I can finally begin my college assignments, which are constantly flooding in. Around 6pm I take my sister for a 2k run around the woods. We get back and cook up a packet of noodles and veg which we have stocked up. We return to our posts to complete our overflowing assignments. Some nights my sister joins me in the shed and we melt marshmallows over a candle, listening to music, watching the stars. Once a week I have a bubble bath to destress from the situation and to feel a change to routine. Other nights a cool shower does the trick. I have friends who are equally distressed with the reality. We have begun the habit of writing and sending letters to one another, a lovely surprise each day. Its a basic groundhog day situation, the days rarely change. I am intellectually challenged and usually receive support from the college to complete my assignments successfully. Having lost this support has proved to be a problem and has created an obstacle for completing the year for a majority of us. It has been upsetting to see the negative impact the situation has had on many of my fellow students mental health. I am, however, impressed with how so many have risen above and are working hard to provide support for many around the country. I have a few friends who are student nurses who are working hard saving lives. I could not be prouder. Its a scary situation, I have seen loss and sadness in many however I have also seen a community grow. I have heard from those I haven’t spoken to in months, patched up the past and we are creating projects for the future. When trapped by the darkness, we have found ourselves becoming the light.

Eva, 24, Dublin

COVID-19 has made me more aware of how little control we have over life and how insignificant material things become in the face of a universal crisis. No matter how big your house, how many cars you have, how many homes you own, how rich or famous you are, it all means nothing in the face of a health crisis. We are all as vulnerable as one another since a virus can affect anyone and everyone. In the eyes of a virus, a human is a human. It doesn’t differentiate on material grounds. So I suppose this situation has made me more aware of what is truly important and I hope going forward that it will give everybody a fresh perspective on life and we will prioritise social connection and kindness more than ever before.

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