Louise O'Neill: 'Imagine if we'd been put into lockdown in the 90s, with two TV channels and the one house phone'

Louise O'Neill: 'Imagine if we'd been put into lockdown in the 90s, with two TV channels and the one house phone'
Jennifer Zamparelli and Katherine Lynch in RTE's Bridget & Eamon.

AT THE beginning of all of this — you know, society burning to the ground — I reminded myself how fortunate we were that this pandemic had happened in 2020.

Imagine if we had been put in lockdown in the nineties, with two television channels and the one house phone. Can you imagine enduring this without technology? Two months and approximately seven thousand conference calls later, I am less enamoured with our digital age. I feel dazed as I scroll through Netflix, unable to watch anything more taxing than a 22-minute sitcom.

Instagram has become a House of Mirrors display of competitive baking, parenting, and unnervingly accurate targeted marketing. And why did no one warn us how draining Zoom is? Wifi issues and speaking over each other and having to look 100% engaged at all times.

I’ve been forced to make increasingly outlandish excuses for why I can only stay on for half an hour (Me: The dog needs his medication immediately or he’ll go into cardiac arrest. Friend: But… you don’t have a dog?) and afterwards, all I want to do is take a very long nap.

I don’t think I’m the only person who feels this way. I’ve noticed that every time we organise a group Zoom for yet another quiz night (make it stop, I beg you), there is always one person missing. They don’t reply in the Whatsapp chat when you ask if they’re OK and when they re-emerge a few days later, they simply say: “I was having a bad day. A bad week. I hit a wall.” And every time, without fail, they will also say: 

I know I’m being ridiculous, there are people way worse off than I am. I’m lucky, really.

A few weeks ago, I went through what I will euphemistically refer to as a ‘bad patch’. I woke every morning with this curdling sense of dread in the pit of my stomach, beset with a terrible fear that something terrible was about to happen. I used all of my usual tricks; meditation, journaling, gratitude lists, yoga, exercise, deleting social media apps from my phone. None of it worked but I was afraid to stop, afraid that I would fall down and never get up again. Finally, I did what I needed to do from the very beginning. I let myself cry. I lay on my bed and I sobbed like a small child, crying until I couldn’t cry anymore.

I’LL START. I miss getting dressed up and going out for dinner. Googling the restaurant beforehand to peruse the menu, a sigh of delight when the waiter places a beautifully presented plate in front of me. I miss going to the cinema and inhaling a vat of Pick & Mix while I watch some dumb movie that I’ll forget two minutes after it ends.

I miss the theatre, a group of people gathered together in darkness to suspend their disbelief for two hours as magic unfolds on the stage. I miss wandering around art galleries. I miss getting in my car and driving anywhere I want, singing along to the cheesy bubble-gum pop blaring from the radio. I miss tight hugs from my friends, and I miss cuddling their kids too; the little chubby cheeks and hands, the whiff of baby shampoo from freshly washed hair as they nestle into my side.

I know what we have done for the last two months has been important. We have stayed at home to protect others and that was the right thing to do. I feel proud of the collective effort we have made as a country, and the lives that have been saved as a result.

I’m looking forward to the easing of the restrictions, and slowly, slowly, our lives returning to some sort of normality. But I acknowledge too that this, all of it, was difficult at times, no matter what our circumstances. And that’s OK.

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