This is not how I imagined life in 2020 and 2021, none of us saw this coming — so many lives lost and so many plans ruined; a reality that I am trying to come to terms with just like the rest of the world. I moved to Milan just after completing my post-secondary education in Seychelles in the early 90s. Milan has been my home away from home and I divide my time between Italy and Seychelles. Generally, I am a positive person who enjoys travelling and visiting new places. Milan is Italy’s capital of fashion, so I love shopping, and the nightlife, even if I am 50-years-old. I just love my life here in Milan; well, at least, the pre-pandemic one!
I grew up as a Christian and religion has been one big part of life too — I pray a lot and I am a regular churchgoer. In Milan, my life is all about praying, working and enjoying life, and when I go to Seychelles, it is about family and friends. Before the pandemic, my weekend was always full of activities, as it was my way to relax and enjoy myself after a hard week at work. Milan is a busy city and it can be overwhelming at times, but everyone here carved the life which is suitable to them. My day always started at 5.30 am with a two-hour jogging session, no matter the weather condition. I enjoy the silence of the early morning where I have time to think, this was important to me. Suddenly all that was taken away due to lockdown and restrictions, and I was beside myself.
The Pandemic and Lockdown
At first, like most people, I did not pay much attention to COVID-19. My first reaction when it started back in early 2020, was that it was happening in China, and there was no way I could be directly affected by it. I thought it was going to be over soon. I even went to the annual Venice Carnival without thinking much of the virus or wearing a mask. The train was extremely full, people were coughing, and to me, this was all normal for a cold winter morning. We all get flu during winter. How wrong was I? Just a few days after my wonderful adventure in Venice, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and seeing in the news; an outbreak in Italy! That’s when panic started setting in. All of a sudden, people were being hospitalised.
Dealing with Internal Struggles
Fast forward to two weeks later, and the city was on full lockdown, with people unable to leave the house without a permit except for essential trips to buy food or collect medication. Milan is the capital of Lombardy, the region in Northern Italy that was the heart of Italy’s first coronavirus outbreak. I became so overwhelmed with all the changes that were happening and my mental health was compromised. My phone had been constantly buzzing with worried friends and relatives around the world kindly checking in on me all the time. It felt like my brain had suddenly changed gear, I couldn’t sleep, so spent my nights staring into total darkness, and felt hopeless for days. It was surreal.
Getting Through the day
Suddenly, this vibrant city that I called my second home was forced to pause. Many people were faced with the unthinkable tragedy of losing loved ones, even people I know. However, there was an unexpected beauty in the middle of this awful pandemic. The sound of traffic was replaced by birdsong, the sky was no longer thick with pollution, and the people of Italy were singing, filling the streets with heartfelt renditions of the Italian national anthem or Volare.
To help me through the darkest days, I focused on my faith by following prayers and bible study online and listening to spiritual music for relaxation. The first lockdown changed my life overnight. Day by day, I accepted the reality. I became aware of the uncertainty the world was facing and I could only try to stay positive.
The Financial Effect
I work in the educational sector and for about nine months I was not working, as schools were closed for a long time and then it was the summer break. Although I was fortunate enough to get an income every month, it was only 50% of my normal salary. I still had to pay bills, rent, taxes and buy food. In Milan, life is very expensive, so I had to budget carefully. I do not have children, so life was a lot easier for me than for some. I was able to stay at home, pay my bills and I share my apartment with my partner. There was some comfort going through this with someone by your side, but not everyone was in the same situation as me.
The Worries of Being Away from Family
The biggest impact of the pandemic for me is not being able to travel and visit my family. I have an elderly mother, so I do not want to travel to Seychelles and put her at risk. Also, with travel restrictions at practically every border, travelling has become a nightmare. I had to cancel all my 2020 travel plans and I am still uncertain about this year. I miss my mother and my family. Staying away from home for that long worries me because my mother’s health is not that great at the moment. I am usually home three times a year to help take care of her. I feel really sad at the moment because I have not seen her for almost two years now. I have hope that life will return to normal again.
Coming to Terms with the new Normal
Italy went into a modified nationwide lockdown on Christmas Eve with some restrictions and closures similar to the 10 weeks of the hard lockdown of March 2020. Life has not returned to normal, but like the rest of the world, we are adapting. I still find it hard. In this new normal, I am trying to live life one day at a time, whilst remaining conscious of adopting the practices that minimize the spread of infection. I concentrate on what I have going for me today, without making plans, or thinking much of what will happen tomorrow. I stay connected with people who understand how hard this change is. I regularly check on my elderly friends to see if they need help. A new thing for me is spending long hours in supermarkets to avoid long hours confine in my apartment. My food shopping is a slower process now, and quite therapeutic too.
My zone is always in some sort of lockdown, so I take the opportunity to do things that I never had time for. Self-talk is now a big part of my life and my faith is stronger than ever before. If I get one of my anxious episodes, I can say to myself, “stay calm Giovanna! Things won’t be always perfect. God gives and takes away, so accept what is and move on.”
We should remember that COVID-19 knows no boundaries- it affects us all. We have to support each other through these challenging times. Stay positive, be kind, generous and count all your blessings. I am lucky that my loved ones and myself are safe and healthy. I am also grateful for those hardworking people out there sacrificing so much to help during this difficult time. Someday, we will be embracing each other again.