“I feel like my youth is being wasted … I’ve all this motivation and ambition to do great things and it’s bottling up and manifesting itself as frustration, so that’s been the tricky bit, trying to cope with that.”
The pandemic has affected everyone in different ways. For those just starting out in their adult lives, the lost opportunities have been felt acutely. Studies were moved online, travel plans shelved, adventures with friends cancelled, potential relationships curtailed and access to mental health services more limited.
We gathered four people from around the country between the ages of 19 and 25 to discuss the impact the pandemic has had on their lives. They talked not just about what they have lost but also what they have gained during this strange and isolating time.
Dublin-based Conrad Oppermann (21) is a student at Trinity College Dublin, studying management science and information studies. Iniolu Ekeolu (19), from Dundalk, is a law and society DCU student currently on an internship with an accountancy firm. Emma Roche (25) is a social care worker in Dublin who is working as a carer for a severely disabled young boy. Galway-based Luke Corcoran (23) is a science graduate who lives in a house share with friends.
A review of the past year. How was it for you?
Conrad: I just feel like my youth is being wasted, taken by this invisible force. I’m 21. This time is associated with spending time with your friends, having the craic, going on adventures, foreign places and that is just something that can’t happen.
I make videos as a hobby, and during the summer when things opened up I did get this opportunity to make a video for Tesla driving an electric car all along the Wild Atlantic Way and staying in amazing places. That was a highlight of the year. I’ve all this motivation and ambition to do great things and it’s bottling up and manifesting itself as frustration, so that’s been the tricky bit, trying to cope with that.
Iniolu: I didn’t allow Covid to stop my plan to do an internship. It was difficult to get a job because the programme in my college was cancelled but I cold-emailed people and I got one. So I am working from home. I was really looking forward to doing the internship, actually, because I wanted to experience office life but I haven’t been to the office once. I didn’t even do my interview there.
I’d like to be working in Dublin but I’m in Dundalk so I don’t miss the commute. I don’t miss running for the bus. I don’t miss waking up early to get the bus. Those are the few perks that come from working from home. But yeah, like everyone, I just miss seeing friends, getting out and about exercising, going to the gym, that sort of thing.
Luke: I studied microbiology and did my finals in the first lockdown. They went pretty well. I was supposed to go on J-1 to San Francisco last summer, with all my housemates, but that didn’t pan out. It might have been a blessing considering what America was like. I was also planning to go to Vancouver and spend a year there with my friends. I was really looking forward to it.
Instead I spent the summer at home with my family in Co Galway. I didn’t really do anything. I went for a couple of runs. Played a lot of Call of Duty on Xbox. You can talk to your friends through the game, and that’s mainly how we kept in contact. We don’t really meet up with anyone. Now I share a house in Galway city with good friends and we’ve a gym in the shed. If it wasn’t for that I’d have nothing to do. I was working as a kitchen porter so now I am on the pandemic payment. I’ve got into baking cookies and brownies.
Sometimes you wake up and you’re like, ‘Well, I’ve done the same thing for however many weeks’ and you kind of have to stop because it’s easy enough to get lost and just feel sorry for yourself. So you just have to keep plugging along. I’m applying for a master’s so hopefully I’ll get a response. It’s been pretty boring overall.
Emma: I’m a social care worker so Monday through Friday and some weekends I’ve been looking after a severely disabled young boy. That’s really all I’m doing at the moment. He’s high risk and I’m diabetic, so we have to be very careful. His whole routine is gone and he doesn’t understand about the pandemic. He’s non-verbal, so he can’t even tell me how pissed off he is. He’ll try and wheel his wheelchair into a shop and I have to tell him, “No, we can’t do that”. It’s soul-destroying to watch. We have a good relationship and I feel very lucky to have a job at this time.
How about family and home life?
Conrad: Back at the start, I made a video called Days Like This. And it was after Dermot Kennedy sang that Van Morrison song on The Late Late Show. I was sitting there and just kind of thinking how it was such a unique experience that everyone’s sitting at home and it’ll never happen again.
I’ll never get to spend this amount of time with my family. We’d all this time and nothing to do with it except be with each other, almost like getting to know each other again. Obviously there’s so many people suffering but there’s also a sense of uniqueness that I think is really valuable.
The hard part is I live beside my Nana and I just can’t go in there. A lot of time we’re outside the window trying to try to tell her how to use Zoom or something. It’s frustrating having to talk to her through a window. She broke her hip back at the very start of the pandemic. She had to go into hospital; that was really scary.
Iniolu: I can’t wait until my younger brother and sister go back to school. I do a lot of screaming at my 11-year-old brother, Tahmid, that I’m in a meeting. If I was to list the grievances that I felt in this house in this year of lockdown I would be here for ages. But like Conrad was saying, you get to know your family again. I’ve done a good few Zoom calls with my family because we’re all over the globe. On Christmas Day we did a Zoom call with relatives in Nigeria, the States and New Zealand. And everyone was just screaming at the camera. It’s fun. It ebbs and flows sometimes, you know.
My younger sister, Tobi, is disabled. She’s 18 and she has cerebral palsy and diabetes. She is high risk and so we are all very mindful of that. She had a very strict routine and obviously that has been disrupted. She’d be sitting at the door waiting for the bus to come, and I’d have to explain to her that the bus isn’t coming and she’d be screaming and crying. It’s been like that for a year.
It was frustrating for her and for everyone in the house. I just feel like that demographic of disabled people are kind of being forgotten about in this pandemic, because many can’t speak about it for themselves.
Luke: During the summer it was just me, my dad and my mum for ages. You run out of things to chat about. There was a lot of Covid talk. It was all “Here’s the number of cases today or the numbers of deaths” and then there’d be a Covid special on TV and then like the nine o’clock news and it was more Covid. I couldn’t deal. It was the only topic of conversation there for a couple of months.
I felt like I was going to crack up, so when a room opened up in Galway I moved here. It’s not a total Covid-free zone. When we’re playing video games there’s one of my friends who, no matter what, always mentions the cases that day, and he just gets a barrage of “Shut the f**k up” from everyone. Because it is depressing. No one wants to hear about it.
How has your mental health been?
Emma: My mental health is quite up and down anyway. I had a severe mental health crisis last December and I wasn’t able to access my usual supports, so that was difficult. My parents rang the hospital I would normally go to, but because they’d had a coronavirus outbreak, I couldn’t go there. They told me to go to A&E, but I didn’t want to go and sit there for nine hours because I am diabetic and paranoid about getting Covid and being around people who have the virus.
We rang two more hospitals but they told us nobody could come in. So I had to stay home with my parents. It took days to get an appointment with a psychiatrist, and when I got one, it had to be on the phone, which is not the same. It’s nobody’s fault, I don’t blame anyone, but it was such an isolating experience. In normal times I have a crisis team and people who know me, so it was hard. And extremely difficult for my parents, trying to look after me – I can’t imagine what it was like for them.
I got through it and eventually moved out of my parents’ house to Stoneybatter. The longer it’s gone on, I’ve got used to having my appointments on the phone. When I’m really lonely, I go and talk to the man who works in the 24-hour Centra for 10 minutes.
Luke: You’re worrying about things, you’re in your room all day and your mind is going to wander somewhere, like what Conrad said earlier: “I am just wasting time here … What’s the point?” but you just have to stop yourself. A couple of my friends have gotten help. I think Pieta House is helping a lot of people. There’s no face-to-face meetings; there’s an online thing or on the phone. And friends have told me that that’s helped them, but that wouldn’t really be my cup of tea. So I just soldier on. That’s probably the wrong term.
I’m in a great house. And I’ve my friends here. I’m happy. It’s just the repetitive nature of things gets to me. It’s boring. You find yourself thinking, Well, I’m doing this again. And I’m doing it again. And again. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel. It’s just, yeah, pretty boring.
What about dating and relationships in a pandemic?
Luke: There hasn’t been much activity. Normally when I meet people it’s in the pub and you can’t or even when you could, you couldn’t go to anyone else’s table. So nothing going on there. I am not into the apps.
Conrad: Same as Luke. Nothing going on. The apps are not my buzz at all. I prefer going out and meeting people in pubs or clubs. Nothing to report on that front.
Iniolu: Actually there was this one guy that was trying to talk to me. And he was like, “Oh, do you want to break lockdown restrictions and hit me up?” And I was like, no. And then they’re like, “Oh, well, I’m more of an in-person type of person, that’s how you’ll get my personality.” But I’m not ready to break restrictions just to meet people.
I think people are just getting to know people out of boredom. So they’re going on Tinder, they’re swiping up to your stories. So I can’t be bothered. I’m like everyone else, just vibing on my own. I’m past the point of being annoyed. I can’t stress myself over being angry over something I have absolutely no control over.
So I think: just take the time to focus on yourself, you know, self-development. Read some books. Listen to some podcasts. Do whatever you need to do. It’s not for ever. So when it is over, you can go out, meet people, do what you want to do, go to clubs, whatever, and you know that you’re doing it when it’s safe.
Emma: I am lucky. I met my boyfriend just before lockdown happened. I got in there just in the nick of time. I secured it, I planned it well and I am clinging on to him tight. I don’t live with him now, but for couples in that small space I can see how it would be difficult … I know people who moved in with their partners during lockdown and they ended up breaking up. It’s too full-on. I am just grateful to have someone to moan and cry to on the phone.
What do you think about the youth-blaming narrative that has been prevalent in the pandemic?
Conrad: It’s annoying when they’re putting all young people into one one box. Everyone on this call sounds like they’re really bored because they’re not going out, and I’m the same. I think that’s most young people. The vast majority. The reason I find it really frustrating is because I have over more than 10 friends who are training to be doctors and nurses, they’re all in placement, all working on the front line with minimal training, and all this responsibility is being foisted on them. And they’re not being paid properly.
I feel so much pride when I talk to them about their experiences and they’re telling me, really stoically actually, how they are doing. I’m in awe of them and young people like Emma, looking after a young boy. There’s no way I’d be able to do that. So when I hear negativity about young people I feel frustrated.
Emma: I agree with Conrad. When restaurants and shops were open, I had friends working who told me all the people who refused to wear masks or follow guidelines were older people. There was never a young person who walked in and refused to wear a mask. So I think it’s really unfair.
Iniolu: Young people are trying to enjoy their youth. I’m not going to sit here and say that I haven’t seen the odd party and when I do see those, I get so angry. When people invite me to them, I get even angrier. Like, I’d love to go, bro, but I can’t, especially with my sister at home.
I just think it all comes down to personal responsibility and just not being, excuse my French, an asshole about it. Like just stay at home. It’s actually so simple. I think we just all want this to be over. It’s frustrating but you can’t be selfish about it.
Do you think other countries have done better than us? How has the Government handled the pandemic?
Conrad: It’s quite a difficult situation given that we have two nations on the island, and the fact that one of them isn’t actually in Europe any more, and we’re trying to keep the peace. Obviously, we would have loved to have had what happened with New Zealand, where you just close everything and then wait and then everything opens up when it’s all fine. But something like that really wouldn’t have been possible if [we] want to keep a lid on the tensions in the North. I feel like, as much as I’d love to see what happened in New Zealand happen here, it just wasn’t possible.
I follow Simon Harris on Instagram. I don’t know what he stands for or anything, and I am unfollowing him as soon as this is over because it will just remind me of lockdown, but I think he’s great.
Iniolu: Obviously, it’s a pandemic, it’s difficult. But it’s the hypocrisy. You’re telling us to stay at home and then we’re hearing this Minister was at the races or this Minister was at the country club. You need to have personal responsibility, and you’re not upholding those values. That is where people get angry, you can’t say one thing then do another.
And also, it’s the in and out of lockdowns. It’s the opening up around Christmas time. That was disgusting, honestly. We have this lockdown, and the numbers are down. And everyone’s like, “Oh my gosh, like if we keep it going, we’re gonna be out of this.” And then they opened it up. I hope this is the last lockdown but I just don’t know.
Emma: I agree. I think it’s been handled very badly. It was profit before people every time. Opening the shops to make money and then people are crying and going “oops”. England was terrible, too, like everything went horribly wrong, but in fairness they cleaned it up so well. They have rolled out the vaccines. I have friends over there who are 30 and they’ve been vaccinated. I’m a carer and diabetic and I’m not vaccinated.
I’d be in ICU if I got a really bad bad dose but I’m not hearing anything about when I will get the vaccine. And the fact that it took so long for the over 85s to be sorted is just wild.
And speaking of vaccinations …
Emma: Yes, please, I want it immediately. I’d take out a credit union loan tomorrow if it meant I could get it. I’d inject it myself if I could.
Luke: Most of my friends are all for it, especially if it means we get to travel. Some of them were worried but at the same time they’re saying, “We’re going to be vaccinated last and it will have been tested on everyone else first”.
Conrad: Like Luke, there are a few of my friends who are sort of questioning, saying it’s going to be in your body for ever, sort of thing. And it’s interesting to hear that dynamic. Like, there’s almost a sense of weighing that perceived risk up against, say, going to Greece. Which is interesting. But, yeah, I study science and I believe the facts.
Iniolu: My sister is definitely going to get it. And I think her carers are going to get it too. But me personally, I’m a bit worried. I don’t think I’d be first in line. I’d be wary, it’s something that I would do a lot more research into before taking it.
What have you lost in this pandemic – and have you gained anything?
Luke: My grandmother passed away recently. So that was very sad. The funeral was weird. It was just, like, 10 people in the church … it was bit surreal. And you know, it’s sad too because my grandfather still lives down in Ennis and he has a carer now and my mom and my aunties take turns looking after him. It’s tough knowing she’s gone and that my grandfather is on his own.
I’d say one thing I’ve gained is a sense of perspective. I have everything I need here. And, you know, there are people in a lot worse-off spots than me. There’s no point complaining too much about it.
Emma: I’ve learned how to be on my own more. I used to depend on my friends a lot for happiness. In the real world, I would have plans every day of the week. But I really learned how to spend time on my own and I like hanging out with myself more. I’m at peace now with being alone … I can just chill out with myself. I’m grateful for that because that’s a really good skill to have. I think I’ve lost the ability to converse – just random conversations with a taxi driver or in shops feel strange.
When I had my mental health crisis, I lost the security blanket of having a hospital, and it was worse for my parents because if I had got into hospital they’d have known I was safe instead of worrying. So that was hard and I’m eternally grateful to them.
Iniolu: I’ve also gained gratitude. I’m grateful for my health. I’m grateful for my life. I’m grateful for the opportunities that I have. You know, in Nigeria when they started saying that you need to wash your hands, the government put up the price of soap. So I’m grateful to be here and to be protected. Other people, unfortunately, they don’t have that privilege.
Like everyone else here, I’ve lost time. I do feel like my youth is slipping away slowly but surely. But we’ll get it back. Positive thinking is important because it’s very easy to let your mind wander and go off into the deep end. So you really do have to just keep looking forward. The time will come when we will get out of it. So I’m just excited for that.
What next for all of you when this is all over? What are you looking forward to most?
Conrad: I want to say something from what Luke just said. I don’t feel like I’m the worst-affected generation. I feel really sorry for people like Luke’s granddad. Older people down the country whose only social outlet is the postman. If I was in their shoes, I’d be so sad all the time. At least my generation, we know how to use Snapchat and Zoom. I feel like they’re the worst affected and we’re second in line.
I really hope it’ll be over by September. I have one year of college left. I hope I can move out and live with some friends. And maybe go on some more Tesla adventures before I have to get a real job.
Luke: It sounds pretty boring but I’d love to just go into the pub and get a pint again. It’s been so long. Just to have one pint of Guinness and to go over to someone else’s table. The first time that happens, it’s gonna be weird. That’s my metric for being back to normal.
Emma: I just want to go on a night out with my friends. I want to be able to grab someone’s face and just touch them. I’m so sick of stopping myself.
Iniolu: My plan when this is over is to say yes to everything. If you asked me to go somewhere, yes. If you want to travel to another country, yes. If you want to go skydiving, yes. I will be saying yes to everything – that is my plan.