• Expert By Experience

Isolation Series: Learning To Live In Limbo During Corona

Written by Asyia Iftikhar

I remember the day I moved out of my parents home - I remember the car was full to the brim with all my belongings for the three hour drive to London. My parents were full of nervous trepidation and I was running on adrenaline filled anxiety. 

It has been almost two years since that day, and as life went on, we all settled into our own routines. For me it became a routine which consisted of calling my parents everyday whilst finding friends and a place to call ‘home’ in the scattered streets of London. 

Looking back now I can say that I’ve created a life for myself in London, a simple life to call my own.

Coming from a family of three NHS doctors I was aware of the dangers of the coronavirus before most of my peers. Even then, I wasn’t able to appreciate the last time I saw my friends, or left my flat without fearing for mine or my family’s health. The jarring contrast from even a few days ago has left me unable to process the reality of the situation - like many. 

The first few days following the outbreak of the pandemic my existence became filled with news updates and compulsive hand washing, despite me not leaving my room. 

This is the first pandemic we are living through and it’s hard - all of which is made worse by the 24/7 instant access nature of social media. 

Being suddenly thrown from a sense of community with my friends and family to social isolation is now enough to give me motion sickness.  

As the situation escalated, it was not ‘if’ but ‘when’ my sister’s and I would be able to travel home to Birmingham for the family to be together for everyone’s safety. 

The day we travelled back home I remember we boxed up our plants, packed and repacked our clothes, not knowing if we would see summer in London or from the refuge of our home. 

The detached and sterile way in which we stepped out of our lives and drove to Birmingham would have been laughable in its irony had it not been so far from our emotional truth. 

I’ve been at home for a few weeks now with my family. 

As the youngest child, it has been a decade since my whole family has been together in the same house. With all of us living such independent lives, the adjustment has been more than difficult. 

My parents are trying to relearn how to support us whilst navigating our new boundaries. My sister’s and I seemed to have inevitably spiralled into old habits, arguing and teasing one another. Just the difference now is that the strength in our convictions is leading to a harsher home climate being created. 

By the same token, I also recognise I am incredibly fortunate to have a house and a garden and when things are becoming overwhelming, I can find room for personal space. Others are not as fortunate. 

Despite this, as any second generation immigrant will tell you, the life we lead inside and outside of the home are almost unrecognisable to one another.

In London, I am an adult, relying on myself, performing, writing and learning on my own terms. 

London is where I have found my feet - in a world that seemed so terrifying when I first left my small town on the outskirts of Birmingham.

On the polar opposite to London is home. At home, I am the youngest, most often not taken seriously, and like the rest of the nation, trapped inside my home. 

My creative outlets, which have slowly formed the bedrock of my existence have been put on halt and instead I feel like I have entered a time machine to five years ago as a lost teenager, looking for somewhere to find myself. For university students across the country, our minds are not attuned to this way of life after having experienced our own freedoms. 

Growing up in an ambitious South Asian household has given me the psyche that I must always be working towards something or being constantly productive. The wall outside my room is filled with photos of my sister’s at their graduations, a subtle reminder every time I am home of what I am working towards. A few weeks ago, I thought of this as an opportunity to pick up new skills whilst maintaining my degree; almost immediately I had a list of goals from learning BSL (British Sign Language) to writing a play. 

However, since coming home I have found my motivation sapped and my thoughts unable to comprehend what I am working towards - not much in the world makes sense. 

I am trying to realign my priorities. Instead of forcing myself to learn 3 languages, I am spending time with my family. Instead of putting pressure on myself to write a 90 page play, I am getting 8 hours of sleep. Instead of spending every moment trying to write an essay for university, I am taking more mental health breaks. 

We continue on, and I recognise that It’s okay to do that. 

Trying to reconcile two lives in the time of a global pandemic was never going to be easy - no one prepared for this. 

We need to be easy on ourselves and find a way to exist in the limbo.