Róisín Ingle: The truth? This crisis has changed my life for the better in so many ways
I keep it to myself mostly. The fact that, for us lucky ones, Covid restrictions are not painful
Róisín Ingle: ‘I’m cycling past Grafton Street where the Great Unmasked did their sit-down protest at the weekend, causing even more businesses in town to lose money and custom. ‘Eejits,’ I think.’ Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times
“I think I’ve got survivor guilt, if that’s possible,” I tell my friend. I am talking to him through bluetooth headphones while cycling in the rain around town.
It’s the Sunday of the 24-hour downpour. The Sunday of the four-hour NPHET meeting. The Sunday of the Manchester United goal-keeper letting six balls past him. I don’t care about the six balls personally but I have friends who very much do. It’s all relative and this is a crappy Sunday by anyone’s standards.
My friend doesn’t hear me. He asks me to repeat myself.
“Survivor guilt,” I shout into the air as I cycle towards College Green.
I’ve taken to going off on long, solitary cycles the way some fitter, more masochistic people go for walks or runs. When I get far enough away from whatever I’m cycling from, I turn around and go back home. It feels medicinal.
I am thinking of the angry and resentful. The people contemplating closing shutters for the final time. The young people in limbo, waiting for their futures to start
My friend thinks he’s heard me wrong, that the wind and the rain has mangled my words.
“Survivor guilt? Sorry, I thought you said survivor guilt, there. What did you say?”
“I did say survivor guilt,” I shout as I peer between the railings of Trinity College to admire the wildflower meadow. Now I’m cycling past Grafton Street where the Great Unmasked did their sit-down protest at the weekend, causing even more businesses in town to lose money and custom.
“Eejits,” I think as I cycle down Nassau Street, but in reality I use a different word, one that wouldn’t get printed here.
“But isn’t survivor guilt something people get after a major catastrophe that they have narrowly avoided, like people who were supposed to go to a meeting in the twin towers when 9-11 happened, but they cancelled it for some reason and so lived to tell the tale?” he says.
He goes online to find an even better definition. He’s in bed listening to an audiobook, an escapist thriller, as he is most evenings. He lives, quite contentedly, alone. He is not the kind to be interested in the six balls.
“Survivor guilt is common among survivors of natural disasters, violent conflicts, and epidemics,” he reads. “It refers to the feeling that many survivors have that they have done something wrong in surviving a traumatic event when others did not survive.”
“Yes,” I say. “Survivor guilt, but around not being adversely affected by the pandemic. I don’t know if it’s a thing?”.
“It sounds,” he says, tentatively “like a bit of a self-indulgent first world problem, if you don’t mind me saying”.
It’s good to have friends like these. But also annoying.
“Yes. Self-indulgent, that’s what I’ve been thinking. But it’s how I feel.”
I’ve felt it for a while now. It’s summed up by that widely used pandemic saying, about how we’re all in the same storm but we’re not in the same boat. The truth is this crisis has changed my life for the better in so many ways it would be perverse to list them all here. I keep it to myself mostly. And I am careful who I tell.
So when, after a day of uncertainty, the Government finally announces it is stepping up restrictions across the country, I can’t help but think about the difference they will make to my family’s life versus the impact they will have on so many others.
The world does not need any more Zoom quizzes
I am thinking of the angry and resentful. The people contemplating closing shutters for the final time. Those fearful of unemployment. The young people in limbo, waiting for their futures to start. The unwell who suffer with precarious mental health, who were already barely getting by. The performers. The creators. Those who rely on audiences that can no longer gather and will not be gathering for a long time. I’m thinking of those still grieving for lost loved ones and of the sick and the dying and of the still cocooning.
And I am thinking about the rest of us, those for whom even the for-now-discounted Level 5 would be about as painful as the original lockdown, which is to say not painful at all.
For now, having to stay at home and endure a curtailed social life at Level 3, 4 or 5, while continuing to work and earn money and maybe, if you are wiser than me, even save money, is not pain. Yes there are worries about older relatives but if there are other people in your house that you love and who love you, there is the daily promise of camaraderie and company and crack.
I’m cycling back home along the canal when my friend lists some things that might be useful for self-indulgent people like me and possibly you at this time: make a daily gratitude list, counting all those unearned, accidental blessings that serve as a constant reminder of our privilege; check in on people we know who are struggling; donate to good causes especially those who help vulnerable women and children, who are – because nothing ever changes on this score – suffering disproportionately in this pandemic.
The world does not need any more Zoom quizzes. As the survivor-guilty class reduces its social contacts a little further, we might dream up creative ways to share even a little bit of our entirely arbitrary pandemic good fortune with the people floating around us in very different boats.