Opinion: Rachel O'Neill writes about the difficulty of watching her 20s pass her by throughout the on-going pandemic.

"I mean this entire year is a write off anyway." 

This was a sentence I wrote to a former colleague on Twitter last week when he asked me how everything was going. How else can you answer that question in 2020? I'm staring at a second lockdown, a second global recession and am about as close to owning my own home as I am to landing on the moon. It’s enough to make you want to hibernate until spring 2021. 

2020 has been a terrible year for everyone. People have lost loved ones and jobs, things that cannot be replaced. But people, especially young people like me, have lost hope and we’ve lost time, time that we won’t get back.

That might sound trite but when people tell you that your 20s are going to be the best years of your life, you tend to believe them. 

Photo: Rachel O'Neill

What’s struck me over the past few months is how disconnected I’ve felt from the events going on around me. It’s kind of like an out-of-body experience where you’re watching something unfold but don’t feel like you’re participating. Instead, you just get to spectate on your life as it’s stripped back to the bare necessities.

Now the routine becomes more monotonous due to the latest batch of restrictions; get up, work, make food, watch Netflix, go to sleep. Repeat with the odd podcast recording and you’ll have my schedule for the next few weeks or longer. It makes for grim thinking. 

"Now I just feel drained and worried about when I might see my friends and family in the flesh again. Will it be Christmas?"

It also doesn’t help that autumn/winter (is there a difference in Ireland?) has arrived bringing with it cold, wet weather. It was easier to accept the lockdown in March and April because I could get outside or meet a mate for a socially distant coffee and a walk. But now that the days are darker and colder, it’s going to make lockdown just that bit harder to take. 

The first lockdown had a novelty. Between Zoom quizzes and banana bread, it felt like I could embrace all this extra time we had with the promise of summer coming. Now I just feel drained and worried about when I might see my friends and family in the flesh again. Will it be Christmas?

One of the fundamental pillars of my own anxiety right now is a lack of control around time. I’m someone who obsessively counts how long something will take and how much time it leaves me for the rest of the day or week or year. 2020 has sent that thought process into overdrive.

While worrying about time has always lurked in the back of my mind, now I can’t stop worrying about how much time I’ve lost. I wonder whether I’m missing out on the best years of my life because of a pandemic and lockdowns. I’ve missed out on gigs of my favourite bands, a holiday abroad with friends, being able to meet colleagues in a new job, dating. I could go on. And while some might say these are not that important, they were and are milestones for many young people.

"Spontaneity is the spark that keeps life from becoming completely mundane."

When you’re young you have few responsibilities. There’s no mortgage, no kids and if you’re lucky, no living at home which allows you to be spontaneous. Spontaneity is the spark that keeps life from becoming completely mundane. It’s that decision to go for a pint on a Friday and ending up in the Globe at 3 am screaming Mr. Brightside with a bunch of people you’ve never met and will probably never meet again. 

It’s making those last-minute plans for dinner with your friends that lead to cocktails* and exchanging numbers with some cute lad at the next table. And while I might be heavily romanticising spontaneity in those two scenarios, it’s hard not to miss it. 

Without it, we’ve become those spectators of life. We’re existing alright but we’re not really able to enjoy anything, not really. Our lives have become scripted, with almost every action pre-ordained. We work from home, we exercise in our 5km zone, we only get in the car to get groceries and we move from our work screen to our TV screen to keep us entertained on the dark evenings until we can go to bed. 

What’s struck me the most though throughout the past few months has been the reaction of my own grandparents to this whole pandemic. My Nana Áine has constantly said that she doesn’t worry about older people as much. She was broken-hearted about first years not being able to experience college properly. At one point she turned to me and said 'we’ve lived our lives, the young people haven’t yet’ which on the surface may sound defeatist and depressing but I get the point she was making. 

During the height of the first lockdown, many of the fears of young people were pushed aside and even laughed at. People told us they didn’t really matter and we should just shut up and be grateful. Yet when I listen to my grandmother worry about people starting college, it scares me even more. 

At 84, she knows what it’s like to be young and to be old. She knows the importance of being able to live your life before you settle down, to be able to make mistakes and learn from them. To be able to live without big responsibilities and find your feet, to live without fear and to have fun while doing so. 

I look forward to a time where I can be fully involved in life again, rather than just watching from afar, wishing I was.

- Written by Rachel O'Neill

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ.

*If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can visit Ask About Alcohol