British Columbia·Analysis

Anxious, tired and looking to the future: British Columbians mark one year of COVID in our midst

What does an anniversary mean when you're still in the middle of the event being remembered?

Real adjustments, made by people quietly following the guidelines, are worth remembering

A person walks through Mountain View Cemetery in Vancouver on Dec. 22, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

What does an anniversary mean when you're still in the middle of the event being remembered?

"I guess we don't really have another word for it," said Simone Littledale, a teacher at an independent school in Victoria. 

"The word feels strange, in that it feels like the longest year ever and a year that has sped by." 

It has been exactly one year since British Columbia announced its first positive case for COVID-19. Since that time, nearly 1,200 people have died from the virus that has claimed the lives of more than two million around the world. 

Some people have downplayed the effects of the virus and have proudly displayed their opposition to health orders. 

Most, however, are like Littledale. She stopped visiting her immunocomprised father in the Lower Mainland, started wearing a mask all the time, and misses going to libraries and coffee shops. 

"I just don't think the risk is worth it," she said. 

They're the types of small sacrifices millions have made. Real adjustments made by people quietly following the guidelines that get lost in the daily sea of numbers and press conferences about outbreaks and orders. 

'Our new normal'

"Normally, people who are dealing with tragic incidents in their lives … they're alone and the rest of the world, their community doesn't understand," said Britt Helm, a credit analyst for TD Bank in Victoria. "But with this, we're all together."

When the pandemic began in earnest in March 2020, not much initially changed for Helm.

"Honestly, I know that sounds weird," she said. "But I live with disability and chronic illness.... So it just became another thing to our list of things to manage." 

These days Helm is a bit more tired. She stresses about her family in the U.S. and is frustrated by the government telling her to "do more." She's pessimistic about changing the minds of people who aren't following the rules and the repeated timelines given by Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix. 

"You know, the next two weeks, the next two weeks, over and over again. This might just be our new normal," said Helm.

"People are having different emotions now than they had three or six months ago."

Pedestrians in Vancouver's Chinatown last week. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Anchoring bias

There's a psychological term for what Helm and others are feeling.

"People succumb to what's called the anchoring bias: we base our future based on how things are right now," said University of British Columbia clinical psychologist Steven Taylor. 

Taylor said COVID fatigue is real and understandable. So is anxiety that comes with the bombardment of information people get every day — both real and false — and the anger that comes with the sense B.C. had cases so low in the summer and squandered its opportunity

He points out a couple of silver linings, too. 

One is that B.C., "all things considered, is doing well." The province continues to have significantly fewer deaths than most jurisdictions and is using guidelines to manage the virus rather than strict lockdowns and COVID-zero approaches. 

The other is resilience.

"It's a truism, but I think what's surprising people is you're more resilient than you think you are." 

Everyone had to adjust to a new reality during the pandemic. A woman pushes a baby carriage near Pacific and Hornby streets in Vancouver earlier this month. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

A return to hugs?

That historical context comes as little solace when you're on month three of no gatherings and month ten of Netflix and puzzles.

"You start running out of things to do," said Kelsey Leung, a public school teacher in the Lower Mainland. 

Leung balances negative feelings about the pandemic with the positive energy she needs to continue following guidelines.

"I love my job. I really do. And there are things we obviously want to see in classrooms: a mask mandate, reduced density, improved ventilation. But being able to interact with my students is such a privilege," she said.

Leung has delayed her wedding twice, yet one of her biggest losses is something much more simple. 

"I'm very much a hug type person with friends and people I care about," she said. "...[and] it's hard."

These days, it's all hard. 

One year into the pandemic, Taylor says small stories of sacrifices shouldn't be forgotten.

Neither should the fact that things will get better.

"Will we go back to shaking hands or hugging, or partying? Of course we will!"

"When you're in the moment, when it's all gloomy, people use that to predict what the future will look like. But things will bounce back."