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'I'm not ready to see anyone yet.' This week, COVID-19 has broken me.

Last week in Victoria, people across the state waited on tenterhooks to see if the State of Emergency restrictions would be lifted by Premier Dan Andrews, whose recent Coronavirus playlist was so on point it made me feel fleetingly grateful for the creativity the virus had unleashed.

Top of mind for me during his announcement was whether schools would be reopening.

Wholly focussed on this news, so important for a family with a child who thrives on routine, I’d completely failed to factor in that we might also be able to socialise.

Watch: Horoscopes homeschooling their kids. Post continues below.

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Up to five guests allowed to visit, he said. And it absolutely threw me. In a confusing mix of cognitive dissonance and a cortisol high, I realised I wasn’t mentally ready.

I’m a social animal, I adore my friends and regard them as my lifeblood, along with my family. But when a friend asked if she could come and visit with her son on the weekend, I said I’m sorry but no, not just yet.

As I drove home from a grocery shop on Saturday night – a rare trip outside of the household bubble created on government advice – I couldn’t help but notice cars parked outside houses and music blasting from a neighbour’s place as I unloaded the boot. I can only assume they’re celebrating the end of the lockdown as we know it.

But is there much to celebrate? Is there much to talk about other than processing the grief that comes from having the rug pulled out from under us? Did I have FOMO seeing everyone out socialising? Nope. Not a jot.

So much and yet so little has happened over the past two months in lockdown. I’d lost a beloved job as a direct result of the virus’ hit on the organisation’s projected income.

I’d learned that remote schooling a neurotypical and atypical child is not for the fainthearted.

I’d started to embrace Zoom quarantinis as the ‘new normal’. And I’d also realised that without time to grieve and process all this change, another change in the form of government-sanctioned socialising was too much to bear.

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It’s been one challenge after another for so many people – whether it’s the juggling act of working from home while keeping school-aged kids engaged, spending more time with housemates than you’d ever anticipated, concerns about the virus’ direct health impact on vulnerable loved ones or losing a job but not having the luxury of time to process the news because other family responsibilities wait for no one.

JobKeeper and JobSeeker, as well as the Coronavirus supplement, are lifelines for those who qualify but there’s also a forgotten group that doesn’t qualify for any support and are now reliant on their partner’s income for perhaps the first time ever, including me.

I’ve worked since I was 14, and I’m now exactly three times that age (do the math!), so it’s incredibly disempowering to have this fundamental part of my identity taken away by such an unpredictable factor as a pandemic.

I know life is about attitude and realise that the only permanent thing is impermanence but right now, I’m craving some boring, garden variety stability to get us off this rollercoaster ride on which we didn’t buy a ticket to ride.

I’m not a psychologist, although many of my oldest friends are, and I’m sure they’d have one word to describe what I’m feeling: shock. It’s all too much. This feeling seems to capture the zeitgeist of this moment in our lives.

A sense of discombobulation, of not feeling confident enough to venture out of our metaphorical burrows lest we get used to the light only to be told we must retreat for another wave.

Listen to Mamamia Out Loud, Mamamia’s podcast with what women are talking about this week. Post continues below.

Unless you’re one of the lucky few who have benefitted from the situation the pandemic has thrown at us, how can we possibly jump back into our pre-virus lives without first cleaning up the mess it has left in its wake?

If anything worthwhile is to come from this global curveball it’s surely to pause and take stock of what we truly value and what parts of pre-virus life we want to reject. But the missing link is having the luxury of time to reflect and ‘build back better’.

If we’re champing at the bit to resume our old lives, we miss the chance to look at what’s missing in our hyperconnected yet disconnected world.

That’s what I yearn for, the space to pare everything back and imagine a world where we strengthen relationships, where we finally take climate action seriously, where we look at what makes our lives worthwhile and where we value acts of solidarity, selflessness and kindness over a massive GDP.

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You only have to look at who has propped up society in this crisis to know that we value the wrong things if we think wealth is the panacea. Our wellbeing and health are everything.

Imagine if we continued to check in on the elderly and vulnerable neighbours not because of a pandemic but just, well, because. Imagine if no one were to feel lonely.

So right now, socialising is all just a bit too much to handle. We’ve been rightly conditioned to fear physical interaction with the outside world for the greater good, yet now we’re told we can re-engage. Put simply, I think I’ve forgotten how.

I’m naturally optimistic and not one to give up but COVID-19, you’ve broken me.

I’ll gradually get the pieces back together with some space and time to process the grief of what has been taken away and I hope one day I’ll be able to get my social on with carefree abandon once more. For now, I’m going to stay in my burrow and not get blinded by the light.

Sara McMillan is the former editor of Habitat Australia and an advocate for workplace inclusivity.

Feature Image: Getty.

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