14 women on how lockdown has changed their lives, one year on

Written by Florie Mwanza & Katy Harrington

It’s been exactly one year since Boris Johnson announced the first coronavirus lockdown. Stylist asked young women from all over the UK how a year in lockdown has changed their lives.

One year ago today, Boris Johnson stood in 10 Downing Street and addressed the nation: “The coronavirus is the biggest threat this country has faced for decades – and this country is not alone”, he began.  

The lockdown he announced that night was a bid to “stop the disease spreading between households.” The PM asked us to only go shopping for basic necessities and avoid leaving our homes daily unless for some form of exercise, or to travel to and from work. Because, Johnson said, “that is the way we reduce the number of people needing hospital treatment at any one time, so we can protect the NHS’s ability to cope – and save more lives.” He encouragingly added, “We will look again in three weeks, and relax [the rules] if the evidence shows we are able to.”

We didn’t know it at the time, but what sounded like two weeks – a month at most – of sheltering at home and keeping our circles small, quickly spiralled into a national emergency that has seen 4.26 million people infected with coronavirus in the UK, and 126,000 people losing their lives to the respiratory disease.

To mark the anniversary of a year in lockdown, we asked women what they remember about the day the pandemic that put everything on pause, and how their lives have changed since. Here’s what they said…

Melissa is 18 and lives in Staffordshire

Melissa, 18

Do you remember where you were when Boris announced the first lockdown?

I remember watching at home with my family. I was meant to be doing A-Level examinations in the upcoming months – they were cancelled two days prior – but regardless, my college was still open, as were other places of education. The train going to college, usually packed with people on their commute, was empty. In college the corridors, usually bustling and crowded, were empty too. I said goodbye to friends and teachers jokingly, not knowing that a year would pass and I wouldn’t see any of them. The whole day leading up to the announcement felt apocalyptic. I’ll never forget that feeling. I felt angry and anxious that we had to stay indoors and just stop living our lives in an instant. I suffer from anxiety, so (selfishly) I was worried about the effect lockdown would have on how I would cope.

How do you feel today, a year on?

Hopeful. On a personal level, like many others, I can’t wait to see friends again, go out to restaurants or even go for a coffee. Most importantly, I can’t wait to be able to hug and see my grandparents. I’m moving to London for university in September and excited to get back into a classroom environment again. 

What’s been the biggest change to your life since the first lockdown?

The biggest thing I’ve learnt is the art of enjoying your own company. I’ve always been an introvert and needed my own space, but I’ve hated that feeling of being lonely. I’ve learnt who I am as a person by just focusing more on myself, in my own space, rather than needing validation from social media or friends anymore. For sure I’ve had some tough times, such as losing my job, but I try to think that it was completely out of my control, and that things will get better. 

25-year-old event manager Ruth

Ruth, 25 

Do you remember where you were when Boris announced the first lockdown?

I first heard Boris’s announcement when I was at work. We were closing up for the day and, to be frank, we were all rather excited to go home despite not quite understanding what lockdown meant. The immediate feeling was confusion and I actually thought it would blow over really quickly. I work as an events manager and at our last Afrobeats event before we had to shut we had a few farewell shots. 

How do you feel today, a year on?

It feels like an anniversary of sadness and difficulties. I feel more at ease now than I did for at least the first six months of the lockdowns – which included a milestone birthday for me, sadly. I’m just kind of numb and waiting for it all to pass. 

What’s been the biggest change to your life since the first lockdown?

I had a really hard time initially and despite being a mental health first-aider, my mental health suffered. I’d just gone from working almost six days a week to being at home all the time. I have had to give up a lot more than just my busy social life; I’ve given up smoking and alcohol, and focused more on my health and wellbeing. I’ve also started taking my skincare seriously, and included lactic acid and retinol in my routine (I wish I’d know sooner!). 

24-year-old Yasmin is anxious about the uncertain job market.

Yasmin, 24

Do you remember where you were when Boris announced the first lockdown?

When I came home from work that day, I switched the TV on and sat down in the living room with my mother. It felt surreal – like something out of a zombie apocalypse movie. I had so many questions flying through my head. “Are we going to be safe?” “How long will this last?” “Is life as I know it now going to change forever?” “How will I cope?”

How do you feel today, a year on?

I have noticed that there are more jobs available. I have managed to arrange work experience with several places, I have a better social life and the country is trying to ease into normality, all of which gives me hope. However, I am still anxious. I have spent most of my life in education and my career is only really about to begin in a time of such uncertainty. 

What’s been the biggest change to your life since the first lockdown?

Last year I remember feeling as if I had sunk into a black hole with no guiding light to take me out of it. I felt lost. I had only graduated from my master’s in December 2019 and then the following year I was thrown into a pandemic. This feeling, coupled with the fact that I had always subconsciously tied my self-worth to my levels of productivity or the work I produce, did not help my mental health. Coming to terms with the fact that my work is not the entirety of my identity, only a part of it, has made me appreciate myself more and I am a lot happier.

28-year-old Alisha runs her own business Miss Millionaire

Alisha, 28

Do you remember where you were when Boris announced the first lockdown?

I was sitting in Newstead Abbey Park where I read the news about lockdown. My father had predicted it before Boris’s announcement. I realised I would be spending lockdown looking after my vulnerable parents, who were already very anxious about the unknown.

How do you feel today, a year on?

I feel fortunate coronavirus is under control in the UK and there are good times ahead. I am grateful there is a vaccine as, during lockdown, I was incredibly anxious to go anywhere as I always felt an immense sense of guilt to protect my parents and prevent them from getting coronavirus. 

What’s been the biggest change to your life since the first lockdown?

Lockdown has forced me to put myself first without feeling guilty. I started writing more, focusing on my long-term goals and rebranding myself and my business, Miss Millionaire. Since the first lockdown, I feel stronger, wiser and hopeful that the reality TV show I’ve written will be on air sometime soon!

Irene, 29

Do you remember where you were when Boris announced the first lockdown?

I remember feeling relief watching the announcement. Boris’s sombre address felt like we were finally fighting back. Lockdown was supposed to be a one-time sacrifice to regain normality. I don’t think we could have ever imagined that one year later we would still be stuck at home, a long way away from normality.

How do you feel today, a year on?

I’m finally starting to feel optimistic. A third of the population has now been vaccinated. The first flowers are blooming, the days are getting longer and the sun is shining again. Spring will soon be here and I can feel the mood changing. There’s hope in the air.

What’s been the biggest change to your life since the first lockdown?

It’s been humbling to realise how much we took for granted. Simple things, like going out for dinner with a group of friends, now seem like extravagant luxuries from a bygone era. As immigrants, the hardest thing for my husband and me has been the travel restrictions. We have a 19-month-old daughter, and I feel that our families are missing out on seeing her grow. Home used to be a short cheap flight away – now the distance is unattainable. On the plus side, having my husband working from home while I was on maternity leave made a huge difference. 

Rosie, 30, lives in London

Rosie, 30

Do you remember where you were when Boris announced the first lockdown?

We were in Scotland. My boyfriend and I packed up our car and drove through the night so that we could get out of London and to my family home in the Scottish countryside. We all knew it was coming so it wasn’t a surprise, but I think at the time I almost felt excited. It was something we’d never been through before and I was with my family (my sister, her husband, my mum and dad, and my niece, all isolated together through the first lockdown) so I think it sounded to me almost like a holiday.

How do you feel today, a year on?

I’m so bored of it all now. It doesn’t make me feel particularly anxious, but I feel frustrated that it’s gone on so long and it now feels as though as a collective we’ve missed out on so many would-be moments – from weddings and holidays through to missing new baby cuddles and funerals.

What’s been the biggest change to your life since the first lockdown?

I think I used to think I loved being busy but it just kind of happened out of habit. Now that my social life has taken a backseat, I realise time at home pottering around is actually a nice feeling, and I’m definitely going to make fewer plans in the coming months – but when I make plans to see people I want them to be really, really good memory-making ones.

Singer/songwriter Deeqo performs under the stage name Bluesforthethorn

Deeqo, 27         

Do you remember where you were when Boris announced the first lockdown?

I was at home with my family. I read rumours on a WhatsApp group chat first and then watched the big announcement. We didn’t know about the effects of what lockdown meant but, I remember thinking this is a good idea. Instantly, I also remember thinking this disease will affect Black people andthe working class the most. I had the worst anxiety during the first lockdown – but I found out the anxiety was because of vitamin D deficiency (due to lack of sunlight exposure). 

How do you feel today, a year on?

Hopeful but sad – I believe we could have saved so many lives if we stayed in the lockdown but now, so many lives have been lost because of policies and changes to law. It makes me angry. I’m not sure if it’s because me and my family have become more health conscious and, majority of my loved ones have had their first dose of the vaccine already but I do feel hopeful.

What’s been the biggest change to your life since the first lockdown?

I’m an R&B singer and songwriter (my stage name is BLUESFORTHETHORN). During the first lockdown I actually became more creative and, as a songwriter, started writing more songs. I was planning on releasing an EP but, due to recording studios closing, a lot of planning and time schedules were pushed back. But, I did manage to write my latest single Hold Your Pace during lockdown – that was pretty exciting! The biggest learning curve was that life is too short. Lockdown really, really humbled me. Being raised and living in London you adapt to a very fast-paced lifestyle about chasing the next big thing but all of that became trivial. It’s the people you care about and love the most, that’s what really matters. It gave me a chance to slow down, and for that I am grateful.

Iris met her new boyfriend in June

Iris, 26

Do you remember where you were when Boris announced the first lockdown?

I was in my north-west London flat with my two housemates and had only left the house once that week — undertaking my own mini lockdown — to buy some wine, which I realised I would probably need to deal with the whole pandemic situation. I wasn’t thinking ahead at all, I just knew that we needed to social distance if things were to eventually get better. I don’t think it hit me for a while what prolonged quarantine might mean for our collective state of mind.

How do you feel today, a year on?

Weary. It’s got to the point where I find it hard to be excited about things when every day is the same, and I also kind of don’t remember what things were like before so I’m not sure what to look forward to. But I also feel hopeful, because spring is peeking through the clouds, there are birds singing outside my window and we have specific dates for when things might be looking up. I’m sharing lists of restaurants taking outdoor reservations with friends — so that’s definitely something. 

What’s been the biggest change to your life since the first lockdown?

My boyfriend and I met on Hinge in June, just as I was preparing to spend the summer with my parents in France. We texted every day for three months before meeting in September — I think we had enough of a connection that it might have gone this way anyway, but who knows? I’d love to say that lockdown has led me to some big realisation, that I now want to slow down but the truth is I need stimulation. I’m craving spin classes, too many pints, making new friends in the loos, that coffee on the house at Pret that makes you feel like the most special person in the world. I used to have a new super-strict routine for myself as a freelancer but I doubt I’ll return to that level of discipline.

Rachida, 34

Rachida, 34

Do you remember where you were when Boris announced the first lockdown?

I remember vividly. I was sitting in my living room with my husband. When he said we were going into lockdown, I felt immediate relief but also anger that it took the government so long to act. For weeks we were wondering what they were waiting for. Friends from around the world were telling us how their governments were all locking down, starting testing and tracing systems, and offering financial relief. I felt a huge level of dread after the announcement and had what felt like a panic attack the next day at the thought of being in lockdown.

How do you feel today, a year on?

I am feeling a wide range of emotions and they fluctuate daily. I could wake up and feel completely depressed, then after my shower I feel motivated with a slight ray of hope but then will check the news and Twitter and feel frustrated and pissed off for all the lives that could have been saved.I found the third lockdown much harder because of the prolonged period of uncertainty and lack of human contact. I haven’t seen my parents for a year because I am terrified to infect them since some people can be asymptomatic (they are both in their late 60s and 70s). Having said that, I am hopeful thanks to a so far successful vaccine rollout. 

What’s been the biggest change to your life since the first lockdown?

My pre-coronavirus life was very hectic and I absolutely love what I do so I never took some time off. In fact, in February, I was supposed to book a week holiday in France to visit my family but cancelled it last minute because I felt I was too busy at work and thought that I would have more time in April. Needless to say, I have been regretting it every single day. This pandemic made me pause and reflect on why I wouldn’t take a second to answer a text from my childhood friends in France, or book a GP appointment when I had a dull pain that wouldn’t go away and kept postponing my smear test. I have realised that without your health and your friends are what really get you through hard times. Re-investing in my friendships and health was a big mindset shift.

Sumaiya, 22, lives in London

Sumaiya, 22

Do you remember where you were when Boris announced the first lockdown?

I was with my boyfriend at his place, with the news on in the background when the lockdown was announced. I’d been staying here for a few days and remember feeling shocked and annoyed by it. I hadn’t thought the virus could affect us to the extent that it did at the time to warrant a national lockdown. Perhaps that was some type of western privileged thinking, because a year on and we’re in a much worse state — three lockdowns deep. I also, immediately after the news broadcast, went online to read about it in more detail. I felt confused and worried, as my boyfriend and I weren’t sure about what would happen, especially as we had literally just started dating and made it official a few weeks before. But I knew I’d be going to my parents as they’re elderly, and he would be going to his sister’s to help her out with her kids as she’s a single mum. We knew it would be hard over the next few weeks but we hadn’t fathomed just how difficult it would be, especially on a new relationship.

How do you feel today, a year on?

I feel anxious still, as I’ve had family members die from the virus and get sick. Not being able to really visit anyone has been a little difficult. For my parents especially, having people around them is super important. I feel a little apprehensive about what will happen this year and feel like there may even be a second spike. I also feel frustrated because of the lack of opportunities there are now, due to the pandemic.

What’s been the biggest change to your life since the first lockdown?

I’ve learned that having hope does help and nothing is ever as bad as our mind makes it out to be. Yes, the pandemic is absolutely awful and we have all lost loved ones — I’ve lost a lot of family members and family friends; my aunt and uncle had it as well, and every day I’m scared for my dad as he’s super high risk but through it all I’d say that at least we were able to talk to each other over texts, calls, emails. That still counts for something. And it’s taught me a lot about relationships. My boyfriend and I are a lot stronger now, and my relationship with my parents is also a lot better. I’ve also learned different ways to cope, from starting therapy again in 2020, and to follow the plan and not the mood, as my therapist told me.

Lou, 33

Do you remember where you were when Boris announced the first lockdown?

I watched the announcement from home, kneeling on the floor in front of the TV. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d purposefully tuned into watch something in that way, as opposed to mindlessly scrolling Instagram with Netflix playing in the background. There’s something really unsettling and surreal about watching the prime minister stare down the lens of a single camera to address the nation. I remember my partner and I both saying we felt like we were watching a disaster movie. Although we could never have imagined what lay ahead, or how long it would go on for, it definitely felt like a pivotal moment. 

How do you feel today, a year on?

I’m currently finding that my mood is very up and down. I really struggled in February – it was definitely the toughest period of lockdown so far for me. I felt consistently low and unable to garner any sense of hope despite there being some talk of restrictions lifting in the future. I think we’re all really feeling the weight of it now that we’re approaching a full year since it began – there’s a sense of grief as we take stock of what might have been.

What’s been the biggest change to your life since the first lockdown?

In October I was made redundant from a career I’d spent a decade building. That experience triggered massive change in my life – in the obvious, tangible sense of losing my job and facing unemployment, but also in terms of a huge personal wake-up call. The past year has finally taught me that it’s impossible to have an iron-clad grip on your future. Trying to follow a blueprint for life, ticking every box along the way, can be really damaging to your self-worth when you’re inevitably knocked off-course. I’d always believed that if you work hard, things come good – that you reap what you sow. Now that I’m getting over the shock of realising that just isn’t true, it’s given me a totally new outlook on what I want from, and am prepared to give to, my career. During a year so lacking in freedom, it’s been strangely liberating when it comes to realisations like that.  

30-year-old Louise is originally from Hong Kong

Louise, 30

Do you remember where you were when Boris announced the first lockdown?

When Matt Hancock announced unnecessary contact was to cease, I was still working in the head office. I remember it so vividly. Obviously working in fashion with companies in China, and my parents [living] in Hong Kong, we were already aware of coronavirus, but just never really thought it would hit UK so hard. 

Thinking “oh this is just happening on the other side of the world; it’s affecting our garments but it won’t really come here!” The moment we were told to all go home and work from home (something that almost never happens in fashion), I just had this feeling we were not going to be coming in for a long time even though my work wife thought I was mad for taking all my snacks home. How naive we were to realise we were not going to go back to the office for months.

How do you feel today, a year on?

Now it feels like a way of life. I think because I started my business and lockdown at the same time (was not the wisest decision), it has become my new “normal”. I feel like I cannot remember what normal life is and a tiny part of me is so scared life will never be the same. I am hopeful for things to get better but always feel this hope with caution as I don’t want to be disappointed again but I don’t think my mental state can take it! Everyone has dealt with their emotions differently during coronavirus but it has definitely made me a more sensitive person and suddenly bursting into tears is not uncommon.

What’s been the biggest change to your life since the first lockdown?

The biggest realisation is that my confidence is so much based on my friends and people around me. I never realised how much I depended on people around me – colleagues, friends, friends of friends – to remind me who I am. I have always been quite a confident, open person but during the first lockdown I lost all confidence in myself, my relationships with everyone, and became quite paranoid and sensitive to any comment or situation I wasn’t comfortable with. Before lockdown, I probably wouldn’t have even of noticed these things and brushed them off.

We take normal life for granted so much. I used to work for the weekends, dreaming of when I could just do nothing. Doing nothing isn’t fun anymore when it’s your only option. We want to do things that we know we can’t do, as simple as that. If it becomes the only thing you can do, it’s not attractive anymore. So when normal life happens, take in every single moment, every single mundane activity because it is what makes us human and ourselves.

The importance of natural light is a weird realisation. My husband and I live in a lovely tw0-bed garden flat. I take a lot of pride in my home and we have never been affected by the fact it is a basement flat and the lack of light. But now spending literally 24/7 here, we have realised how much we miss natural light! Especially during the winter months. Of course it also makes my product shots really difficult! It has also definitely made me look at property in a different light.

22-year-old Lucy from Liverpool

 Lucy, 22 

Do you remember where you were when Boris announced the first lockdown?

I was at my university house in Liverpool watching it on the TV. My housemates, my boyfriend and I all sat down together to watch it. We all felt weirdly excited for the announcement, even though we pretty much knew what was coming. At the time, I don’t remember feeling particularly anxious or stressed about the lockdown. The whole situation felt a bit surreal to be honest, and I just remember constantly thinking “this is so strange”, while watching it.

How do you feel today, a year on?

A year on and I feel pretty much numb to the whole situation. I think the saddest part, is how accustomed we have all become to the current situation. I try not to think about it too much, as I think that’s when it’s easy to become overwhelmed. I’m becoming used to it all, but in general I just feel demotivated and quite flat most of the time. The pandemic has definitely proven how much having things to look forward to can effect our mood and daily life.

What’s been the biggest change to your life since the first lockdown?

Lockdown has without a doubt changed my mindset on life and most importantly, my mental health. The first lockdown gave me the time to reflect on my mental health at the time and finally take the correct steps to prioritise it. Mentally, I am in a much better place now and prioritise being happy more than anything else. My plans for the next year have changed completely as a result from Covid; from focusing on my career, to just taking every opportunity to have fun and see my friends and family whenever possible.

Megan is Battersea’s senior vet nurse

Megan, 26

Do you remember where you were when Boris’s big announcement about the first lockdown? 

At the time, I was at home with my boyfriend. I think one of my first thoughts was what animal I can take home to foster. Battersea had been preparing all week for a lockdown but when it was made official, it suddenly dawned on me how much we were going to have to change our ways of working to be able to support every dog and cat in our care – we sent lots of our animals out for foster care so they could be in a home environment. Despite that, throughout the last year staff have been going in every day to look after the dogs and cats still on site across our three centres.

How do feel a year on? 

I’m proud to have been part of an organisation that has been able to maintain staff safety while not compromising on the level of care we provide our patients. We’ve been able to adapt our ways of working within Battersea’s clinic whilst still providing the best quality of veterinary care for the thousands of dogs and cats that come through our gates every year. I’m glad that we can continue with this level of care, no matter what the pandemic throws our way.

What’s been the biggest change to your life since the first lockdown?

Like many others, it’s taught me not to take anything for granted. I’m lucky that despite not being able to socialise with friends or family, I’ve had a consistent support network of work colleagues. Being able to foster animals has always been an honour for me but having rescue animals to keep me company during lockdown has reinforced just how much we humans need them, just as much as they need us. Rescue animals really have rescued me this year.

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