COVID-19 Series: #7

Author: Tina Tsironis

2020, for lack of a better metaphor, is an onion. A ridiculously frustrating and repetitive onion, with craploads of layers. Yes – I kind of stole this metaphor from Shrek. Sue me. (Please don’t sue me). Honestly, though – the first few layers, as much as they elicit a sizeable sting, are relatively easy to handle. They consist, after all, of the things we’re sad about losing, but which bring with them a strange sense of novelty – novelty which, at least for me, continues to this day.

Who can say they’re mad about rolling out of bed one minute before a lecture or a workday is due to begin, after all? I’m sure some of you can. But many of us cannot.

It’s when we keep peeling, however, that we unearth the potent layers. They elicit the type of sting that feels more like a burn; immediate and forceful enough to pierce through our tear ducts with such force that we can’t help but remark, to nobody in particular, that we’re not actually crying because we’re sad. God no! It was the onion that made us do it!

But then those layers unravel and fall away, against all odds, and now we’re forced to reckon with the layers within. If the shittiness of this metaphor wasn’t immediately clear to you, it sure as hell should be by now – because there’s no onion-core in the world that can describe the feeling of being forced, against all odds, to reckon with your own mortality.

To her credit, the moment the threat of COVID-19 became clear to her, my friend Kushlani Premachandra confronted the pandemic head-on. She practiced social distancing, stayed home after being stood down from her job as a conference producer for an events company, and tried to throw herself into her first semester of postgrad study.

“Before lockdown, I had a semi-pattern of going to work, coming home, and then on Thursdays and Fridays doing my uni work,” Kush told me during a Zoom call.

During the first month of lockdown, when this routine disintegrated, Kush said she “just felt excited.”

“I wanted to go on leave anyway, so this was kind of an extended holiday, except I’m at home. So I [figured] can spend more time brainstorming and doing all this stuff, and study whenever I want.”

In reality, however, the separation from home and study was non-existent. “I was waking up at midday and staying in my pyjamas all day, and then I didn’t feel motivated to do any work…you just want to be a couch potato.”

By the time we sat down for our chat, Kush had been out of work for four months. With a large part of her role involving interstate travel across Australia, her eventual path back to normality seemed like a long way off. At this point, Kush believed she should be picking up more units as part of her course.

“It felt like this internalised pressure,” she said. I should be spending all my time writing…I should be picking up more units.”

The combination of her disintegrated routine, however, and the continued threat of COVID-19, proved to be a potent motivation-sapper. Amidst this upheaval, Kush’s uncle Sumith, a 55-year-old disability nurse, had also been diagnosed with coronavirus in March.

“I was dropping food off at my parents’ house during the week, and while I was over there my mum got a call from my aunt, and she told my mum my uncle was in hospital.”

Sumith was struck with the virus after covering a colleague’s shift at work. “He was isolating at home from the weekend, then within three days it got worse, and he was in hospital by Wednesday.”

The family had been told that if Sumith didn’t improve, he would soon die. But by the time Kush heard from her aunt again, one week later, her uncle “had not gotten better, but he hadn’t gotten worse.” At this point, Kush and her family had no choice but to settle into a strange pattern of distorted familiarity. If you’re trying to imagine what this feels like, imagine the exhaustingly mundane, subtly unsettling “new normal” we currently experience while rolling out of bed for the 50,000th time this week, and multiply that feeling by thousands. This is a waiting game that no family should have to endure – but sadly, thousands of Australian families have.

Kush, myself and another close friend communicate primarily through a messenger group chat that we bitingly, yet somewhat accurately, have entitled Hyped Up Anxiety Corner. During this early April week, Kush stayed silent about Sumith’s illness, instead treating the chat to videos of Ina Garten making huge cocktails at 9:30AM, and WA premier Mark McGowan struggling to contain his laughter during a widely shared press conference.

Despite the seemingly insurmountable dread she must have been feeling, Kush’s warmth and quirky humour remained on-brand, serving as a wonderful source of comfort for our friend and I, who were both wading through our own isolation-driven feelings of dread. But on Monday the 6th of April, roughly two hours before my workday was due to end, Kush sent the Hyped Up Anxiety Corner a series of messages that appeared to come out of nowhere:

“So

My uncle passed away

The 38th Australian death”.

Sumith had passed away the night before.

“When I got the call from my brother I just remember asking, are you sure?” Kush recalled.

With her mind laser-focused on an assignment she had coming up, at first, all she felt was shock. “I remember it was raining that day and I went and sat outside on the back steps and just got rained on, because I didn’t know what else to do,” she explained.

“It was during stay at home orders, so it’s not like we could go and see my aunt, because she still had to be isolated…the two-week period hadn’t passed for her.”

The impact of Sumith’s passing on his loved-ones and friends, of course, cannot be overstated. Every single tribute I have come across has mentioned his kind heart, friendly nature, generous spirit, or a combination of these these qualities. When Kush spoke to me for this story, she not only echoed these sentiments – she built upon them, painting a vivid picture of a joyful man with a witty nature. Much like this niece.

“Whenever he saw you, he would just envelop you in a giant bearhug,” Kush told me. “He was so lovely, he radiated joy.”

“I remember once, he picked me up with my cousins and we went to the movies and watched Spy Kids or something. Then we had a sleepover and he made sure we had snacks and stuff like that. But I just remember at the movies, 10 minutes in, all of a sudden, we just hear snoring. I look over and he’s fast asleep in his chair, and it was loud.”

“He was snoring in the fricking cinema with his head up,” Kush continued, “and my cousins and I were like “shut up!”, and then he’d wake up and say, “I’m not snoring, I’m not snoring,” and then go back to sleep and repeat the process.”

The weekend before I interviewed my friend, she finally got to visit her aunt. Kush worries about her, as she now lives alone, and is scared to venture outdoors due to the continued spread of COVID-19 – especially because, at the time of our interview, cases had steadily been rising again in Melbourne. The family cat, Benji, provides a slight semblance of normality. The British Shorthair, in fact, is dealing with Sumith’s passing in his own unique way.

“There’s a small table in the living room where my uncle’s urn is located,” Kush told me. “[Benji] never used to go to that table, and when the ashes came home, he was really confused, like ‘what’s this?’ Then I think he realised, and now he sits next to the table.”

Sumith’s grandchildren, and Kush’s nephews, aged one and four, have also been deeply affected by his loss.

“The elder one was very close to my uncle. He will go over to my aunt’s house and hug my uncle’s clothes and cry, and say, ‘I miss papa’”, Kush said. “He loved those kids so much.”

Kush’s own semblance of normality comes from connecting with her friends, her partner Lauren, and her partner’s father, who she lives with. Though this support cannot soften the blow of losing her uncle, alongside the stability of regular life this year, it has certainly flittered sparks of comfort throughout 2020’s otherwise tough, incredibly polluted air.

Kush’s partner Lauren, who is a trauma counsellor, has been especially supportive. “She’s been giving me all the cuddles, asking if I want to be left alone, or if I want her to come and stay with me and just be quiet,” Kush explained. “She’s very intuitive. Even without her training, she’s so caring and loving.”

In an effort to deal with her grief and continued hiatus from work, my friend threw herself into her studies. She told me that when she initially found out about her uncle, she thought, “I’ve gotta push through and keep going and not say anything.”

Ultimately, and understandably, staying quiet proved impossible. “I couldn’t do it, so I had to email my tutor Jacqui [Ross],” Kush said. “She was so understanding. She responded to my email quite quickly, maybe within the hour. She was like “don’t even worry, when you’re able to, if you’re able to, you can come back to do your work.” That was great, because it was one less thing to worry about.”

Kush finished this first unit of her course and progressed to the next with the attitude that it would serve as a useful creative outlet. During our interview, she told me that study “feels like a lot sometimes, but it’s pretty motivating and exciting.”

“I’m trying to work out what to write for my next research assignment, with of everything happening with the world,” she explained. “Not just COVID, but the Black Lives Matter movement, there’s so much happening, that’s been kind of motivating and a bit inspirational, and I can use what’s happening and tie it into my fiction piece and the current climate.”

A few weeks after our interview, however, Kush let me know that she had made the decision to take a leave of absence from her studies, due to her mental health struggles. The very fact that she momentarily tried to push through her pain in order to learn and practice her craft is admirable. But ultimately, the kindness and honesty of self that Kush has exercised, by confronting her pain and grief head-on, and pausing her creative endeavours, is far more inspiring.

In fact, Kush extends this kindness to others, stressing that, “most of us have never lived through a pandemic or anything like this, so you’re allowed to be sad.”

“You might be missing a friend’s birthday, an event that might feel small,” she said. “You’ve got to be kind to yourself, but also realise that even if you’re a young, healthy person, you’ve still got to think about your neighbours and the people around you.”

Kush does not want us to forget that all the cases, and all the deaths that have now started happening again, are completely avoidable.

“My cousin [Sumith’s daughter] was supposed to have her wedding the week of my uncle’s funeral. My uncle was 55, he did not need to die. He was called into work because [a colleague] was unable to come in. He wasn’t supposed to be working. These are completely avoidable deaths. The better we all are together, contributing to the bigger picture, the easier it’ll be trying to go back to the norm.”

While returning to the norm won’t happen for a while yet, especially for us Melburnians, Kush suggested that immersing ourselves in relaxing, pressure-free hobbies can ease the blow of our continued lockdown. Her hobby of choice? Quilting.

“I have become my mother. She made me a quilt and so I decided I wanted to make one too. She gives me little tips, telling me “no, not like that,” and I’m all like ‘thanks mum’”, Kush told me, mimicking the pouty, self-deprecating tone of a child who has just been chided – the exact type of voice that I look forward to hearing in person eventually. Hopefully by the end of this year.

“I’ll chuck something on Netflix,” Kush says, “and start sewing for a couple of hours, and it feels really productive – like, look what I’ve accomplished!”

When our eventual return to normality does come, its path will be punctured with strangeness and sadness for many of us, and continued grief and anxiety for others.

Facing these feelings now, as they’re brimming above the surface, is crucial. Face them while flicking on Netflix and weaving needle through fabric, or face them while penning stories featuring shitty onion metaphors – the specifics don’t necessarily matter. Doing so won’t completely alleviate the blow that is 2020, yet it will provide us with the opportunity to take a pause.

So, before we embark on this punctured path to normality, join me in taking a pause. Shut your mouth, take a few deep breaths, and enjoy this brief moment of silence. Remind yourself of all that you’ve accomplished, simply by enduring the last nine months – strangely and sadly, sure, but hopefully with the mortality of others front of mind.

About Tina Tsironis

Tina is the 2020 editor of SWINE Magazine. If being a certified hot sauce/BoJack Horseman enthusiast was a legitimate thing, she would be it. When she’s not obsessing over intense existential cartoons and spicy condiments, Tina is a Masters of Writing student and a marketing specialist/copywriter for a software company. She currently lives in Hawthorn with her partner, and no pets . She wishes there were pets. 

Iso Pet Peeves: Lockdown 2.0

Author: Grace Ashford

By now, I’m sure everyone has experienced their fair share of frustration regarding all things corona. But is there anything more irritating, blood boiling and hair-pullingly exasperating than having to go back into lockdown because a security guard couldn’t keep it in his pants?

We’re back for a Lockdown 2.0 edition of Iso Peeves – this time, focusing on our favourite variety of aggravating personalities, all of whom played a role in The End of the World: Part Two.

“I just needed to see my gals!”

I hope that ‘last hoorah’ with the squad was worth Grandpa getting sick, Tiffany! Just a quick reminder: our mate COVID-19 doesn’t pick and choose when it will be highly infectious. It’s the night before lockdown, not the night before you’re most likely to contribute to the spread.

In a single night, you and your girls jeopardised the health of everyone you came into contact with afterwards! I trust you found the perfect Snapchat filter to hide the shame. ♥

“Pete Evans is my god.”

5G conspiracists, please leave the chat. It’s really cute how you think you can fight science – oh, wait! It’s actually not, because people are dying. Take off your tinfoil hat and read the stats.  It seems you haven’t allowed yourself time to process the severity of the global pandemic we are amidst. Once you’ve come to terms with your denial, please kindly buy some hand sanitiser and stay the fuck home.

“Wearing a mask doesn’t actually do anything.”

Out of everything to complain about, you lot are choosing to get strung up over a piece of fabric. (And you were likely the same people to blame the BLM protests for the outbreak while simultaneously hanging out at Chaddy with your other 7000 pals every weekend). Fact check: you’re wrong. While wearing a mask doesn’t stop you from contracting anything, data from the World Health Organisation states it severely reduces the spread of oral and sinus droplet transmission via breathing, coughing, and even talking by 95%. That’s a serious statistic, and if you feel the need to take issue with attempts to reduce the spread of a disease with a global death toll of more than eight hundred and twenty-nine thousand (as of 27/8/20), you need to check yourself.

“Just one last stop at Woolies on my way home from getting tested.”

Congratulations Patricia, you are literally doing the opposite of what has been so clearly reinforced since the beginning of this sh*t show! While our everyday supermarket workers are putting their lives at risk for minimum wage before our economy comes crashing down, you thought you’d quickly nip in for some quarantine supplies. And yet, you’ve not even had the respect to place actual necessities into your basket. Instead, you’ve had the audacity to snatch up a family size bag of Maltesers and a nice big tub of iso ice cream. Hope you ate up your chocolatey treats along with your words when you saw the news announcing Stage 4 restrictions.

Featured image by Tom Radetzki, via Unsplash

a fool’s paradise: the lost history of the idiot

Author: Andrew Dopper 

Idiot.

The word chatters off the tongue as it hits the roof of your mouth once, then twice, like the flourish at the end of a Spanish dance. Even those with a weaker grasp of the English language know both the word and the meaning. But what does it really mean?

A fool?

Dim-witted?

Yes, and, well, no. To truly understand the word, we must cast our minds back over two thousand years, to ancient Greece. It was here, deep in the Mediterranean, that the word idios was birthed – later adopted by Latin as idiota.

From angry old European men to Ren and Stimpy, the use of the word bears more history and importance than we give it credit. Variations of “idiot” existed as far back as the Ancient Egyptians, who used the term idi, meaning “to be deaf”, and in Old Babylonian with the word idim, meaning “to be blocked”. But it was in the ancient empire of Greece where the word became the insult we see today.

As you walk the well-trodden road in lower Athens, a woman passes by leading a goat. She asks of your health, and whether you have an interest in the purchase of the animal. You decline and carry on. A breeze sighs over the land from the Aegean Sea, and you detect the subtle tang of brine and fish from the docks where another trade ship has just moored. The breeze catches at your robe, and you nod a greeting to a passing mason, well known and respected. He respects you, for you are a politician, of sorts. It is 456 BC, and you are on your way to an assembly.

The term “democracy” first appeared in ancient Greek political and philosophical thought in the city-state of Athens during classical antiquity. The word comes from demos, “common people” and kratos, “strength”. The Athenians established what is generally considered the first democracy between 508–507 BC. The assembly you head to is of a smaller scale, for the citizens of only three local townships vote.

You enter the court atop the hill to warm greetings and the wave of friends. Your brother leans up against a column sucking on an olive. Then, you are greeted by Andros. You agree to go fishing with him come weeks end, and he moves on. Andros is a nice enough fellow, but unfortunately, my fair reader, this man is an idiot.

A senior member of the parliament you often visit the bathhouse with steps up beside you. A vibration runs up from his vocal cords, and his tongue presses the roof of his mouth like a mother testing a child’s forehead for fever. His mouth changes shape and muscle memory produce the final vibrations that reach your ears.

Idiotai.

In this form, the word is not inherently negative. The older man was referring more to Andros’s class as a layman, a private citizen. Idios, after all, most commonly describes a private person. There is nothing wrong with this, but whilst all men over thirty are allowed to attend and vote at assembly, not all have to. Some take the label of idiotai, conceding to their class, maintaining that they are unskilled in the area of democracy. Yet whilst many humble commoners do not attend parliament, some do.

Andros is normally just another shuffling robe and raised hand. A good father and husband. A terrible fisherman but a decent carpenter. But, as mentioned, he is an idiot. Especially on this day, for the assembly plans to vote for a new road to a shrine of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, beauty, passion, and procreation.

Andros does not agree to the paving of this road. He insists on a road to the Eastern fields, to aid carts in reaching the Cephisian plains to the East, where the rivers flow long and slow. But the Eastern road is only an issue for the final month of winter when it becomes muddy. The shrine walk, however, is overrun by brush and thorns and visitors get lost.

The vote comes and all raise their hand, except Andros and one other man.

Talks begin.

“The road to the fields shall be repaired come next winter,” announces your uncle.

A compromise.

Nods and grunts.

A slave boy offers you more wine and you take advantage.

All hands but Andros’s reach to the sky now. It is the third time this vote has been held. Andros pleads his case and others too have prepared statements. A senior member makes his declaration, and all agree.

Andros shakes his head.

You see, the year passed, the term idios has been used with growing negativity.

The word is spoken now, and, soon enough, yelled. The senior members, too, mumble their labelling of Andros. Andros throws his arms up and is collectively ejected from the assembly. He has finally been pronounced an idiotai, or idios.

If, after reasonable and lengthy discussion, one person continues to hold up the vote, despite overwhelming research, evidence and agreement from experts, their attendance becomes pointless. Defunct. They are an idiot and are ejected from parliament. Some concede earlier. Some agree to carry on with the consensus of the most knowledgeable: the people of science, architecture, and philosophy. Some, like Andros, are sent back through the stone arches of the assembly to the scowling and shaking of fists.

It is not until the word idiot was used colloquially in 17th-century theatre, that it truly came to be used the way it is today. But its existence in early democracy gave idiot its foundation. The Greeks, in fact, held one of the greatest civilizations in human history. They invented machines, democracy, universities, mathematics, and science itself.

Don’t get me wrong; they were not flawless. War was perfectly viable as a tactic for expansion and resource gaining, and while the life of women in ancient Greece was not Hell, it was far from desirable.

a fool’s paradise: the lost history of the idiota fool’s paradise: the lost history of the idiot

Pericles’ Funeral Oration (Perikles hält die Leichenrede) by Philipp Foltz (1852)

Bringing our mind back to the present day, do we still go to war and destroy entire cultures for political tiffs and resources? Are women equal to men globally?

One thing certainly remains superior in the days of early civilization.

An idiot was an idiot.

Today, not only are idiots not ejected from parliament, they band together. These idiots remain, despite having no evidence, research, or even democratic majority. In fact, in many places, the idiots rule entirely.

The Eastern road or the road to the shrine of Aphrodite?

Often, in the present day, it takes years for such roads to be finally built. In many cases, the Eastern road will take priority to quieten the idiots. More and more, we see roads paved to nowhere, and sometimes, no roads at all. Yet the idiots remain content. Whilst the fisherman and the carpenter are skilled and vital members of society, they’re unskilled in the areas of science, civil engineering, and commerce; an idotai.

A comparison:

Climate change.

Yes, the infamous political topic of today. Science, majority belief, and global benefit and safety heavily lean towards the issue of climate change not only being true, but something that needs to be addressed immediately.

Yet, it is a topic firmly ruled by the idiot.

By denying science, math, experts, and the greater good of humankind and indeed the natural world itself, the idiots are winning. The idiots are louder, not more numerous. They are stubborn, not correct. In Australia, it is overwhelmingly common for political leaders to only be educated in business, maybe law, or to have received no higher education whatsoever. If these people sat in parliament in ancient Greece, they would have only occasionally been consulted on monetary issues; or perhaps would not have attended at all.

Australia’s current minister for welfare has a single degree in business – not welfare. The minister for education? A Master’s in foreign affairs.

And the minister for health, impressively, has two degrees – in law and international relations, however, rather than health.

No member of the entire party currently in power, in fact, has any form of degree in health, welfare, or education. None have a PhD. Three have no higher education whatsoever, and only one, in the entire government in power, has a degree in science.

This is a far cry from the parliaments of Ancient Greece.

Have we entered the age of the idiot? If so, what is the remedy? Is it to equal the loudness of the fool?

Mark Twain once wrote: “Never argue with an idiot. They will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.”

How do we eject the idios when the entire assembly are idiotai?

Perhaps the idiot must reclaim their title. A scientist knows nothing of fishing, so why would the fisherman be expected to know science?

Next time you call someone an idiot, cast your mind back to the assemblies of ancient Greece, when there was no shame in being an idiot, but there was in pretending you were not.

“It is better to be unhappy and know the worst, than to be happy in a fool’s paradise.”

― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Idiot

 

Featured Artwork: King Lear and the Fool in the Storm by William Dyce (1806–1864) 

a new era of masculinity

Artwork and writing by Belle M. 

Stoic, strong, unemotional and dominant are words commonly associated with masculinity. Unsurprisingly, these male stereotypes are further fuelled by the mass media and entertainment industries. Over the last couple of years, however, these industries have experienced an incredible shake-up, with various talented young men ushering in a progressive and exciting new era for masculinity

A famous, and much-loved example takes the form of Harry Styles, well known for infusing some much-needed colour and flair into the music industry. Styles confidently blurs the Fine Line between society’s black and white definitions of masculine and feminine and gay and straight. Alongside his beautifully progressive song lyrics, Styles further defies toxic masculinity traits through his androgynous clothing choices, colourful and embellished suits and jewellery choices.

Then there’s the promising young actor Timothée Chalamet, star of a plethora of groundbreaking projects including Call Me by Your Name and Beautiful Boy. In these films and many others, Chalamet clearly and effectively embodies complex characters exploring complex emotions.

His raw and impassioned performance as Laurie in Greta Gerwig’s film adaptation of Little Women is a testament to this. One could say that Chalamet is showing the world, one film at a time, that unbottling your emotions and expressing yourself doesn’t make you any “less” a man. Oh, and not to mention – Chalamet has quickly become a fashion icon for his show-stopping red-carpet ensembles, head of soft curls and genuine kindness towards his fans.

When Spider-Man: Homecoming was first released, numerous headlines proclaimed Spider-Man as “the most feminist superhero”. On the surface, this is a lighthearted and fun teen film, however British actor Tom Holland’s portrayal of Peter Parker is surprisingly nuanced. Spider-Man is openly emotional and awkward, doesn’t claim to “have all the answers”,  and makes a clear point of respecting women.

Tom has also been making waves outside of his role as an iconic Marvel superhero. In an interview with GQ magazine, Holland opened up about being bullied at school for practicing ballet in the gym instead of the traditional “boy’s sport” rugby. Tom proudly admitted that all those hours wearing tights and dancing by himself in the school gym has been incredibly valuable to his career on a number of levels, and is something he doesn’t feel like hiding.

Perhaps the most nuanced and diverse expression of masculinity is through K-pop. Fans enter a colourful universe when they watch these mesmirising music videos, with vibrant and ever-changing hair colours, elaborate outfits, dainty jewelry and glowing flawless skin. Whilst the authentic and progressive K-pop aesthetic is sadly known for making many Americans uncomfortable, this only emphasises how the Western psyche does not associate masculinity with softness or beauty, unlike some other cultures. However, K-pop music has still amassed an enormous passionate fan base – aptly named “army” in the case of boy band BTS. This speaks to the diverse nature of the genre, highlighting its enchanting and liberating appeal to men and women from varying nationalities.

Together, these multi-faceted and courageous men (alongside many others) are dismantling the long-established boundaries of gender stereotypes, emphasising that men can do things typically seen as more “feminine” without threatening their own masculinity.

In the words of Harry Styles, there’s so much “masculinity in being vulnerable and allowing yourself to be feminine… and becoming comfortable with who you are.”

COVID-19 Series: #2

Author: Girish Gupta

There are days I just lay on my bed and listen to the same songs on repeat.

Days when I fall on the carpet in my room and cry and scream as if there’s no soul who could hear me ever.

Days when my muffled crying is too much, as if every brick in the wall of my house is judging me for all those tears.

On these days my trauma takes the most of me, and getting off the bed seems like a task insurmountable.

On these days, I order food for breakfast and end up heating it ten times before it falls into trash the next day.

On these days, the dishes in the sink don’t cry for a wash and the carpet can deal with its own dust.

On these days, I think the worst: of today, of what has happened and what has yet to pass.

The pandemic, while it has us all locked far apart, is a journey of self-growth. Where all the emotions I’d tucked into a bed unknown at the back of my head have woken up, rushing through me. I can’t tell them I’m busy with the next assignment, or that Saturday shifts are no more.

I’ve had to deal with years of unspoken words and hidden-away fears and I’ve learnt to know what the aftermath is.

No, the aftermath isn’t the graveyard of self-worth or the dreamland of sorrow. Neither is it the shadow of self-loathing of all these years.

What comes next is becoming stardust, the kind no sun would ever dare challenge. Or an entire galaxy where the planets bloom and bloom forever.

These days I feel like I can win this world over and still have enough energy to build another.

These are the days called cotton candy coupons, which can be felt as the sweet taste in your mouth, while your hands are all sticky.

These days my house is as clean as ever and smile as bright.

And on those days when my shine swallows the darkness of a million others, I smile because I know that things will fall into place. For while I don’t know when the pandemic of this world might end, I know that the pandemic in me is here to stay.

About Girish Gupta

Girish is 21 year old student of Masters in IT (Data Science), who finds his solace in poetry. He has been published several times in magazines, anthologies, and several blogs. Girish is a firm believer in self-love and promoting mental health awareness. His favourite book is Looking for Alaska and favourite movie is Tamasha(Bollywood) and show is F.R.I.E.N.D.S.

COVID-19 Series: #1

Author: Millie Spencer

In the first week of semester 1, my Global Media Industries lecturer began his lecture by telling us that 70% of people meet their life partner at university…so if we didn’t want to die alone, we should turn up to class. Looking around the room of first years, I could see from their wide eyes and open mouths that they were experiencing an epiphany: ‘I’m actually going to bother turning up to uni!’ But then we were hit with COVID-19, forcing us to stay home, interact with people via a screen and most likely ruin our chances of ever meeting a life partner.

Victoria’s forced lockdown has evidently destabilised traditional expectations of dating life. How has this societal shift, combined with the general instability of life as a university student during a global pandemic, impacted on the lives and mental health of students?

Jazzy Swedosh, a second year Bachelor of Health Science student, suffers from   depression. She told me that COVID-19 exacerbated her tendencies to overthink, resulting in her becoming introspective to the point where she almost lost grip on reality. Her partner who had never experienced depression before also began to suffer, as a result of social isolation and not being able to attend university on campus.

“He needed me to emotionally support him just as he’d done so often to me, but my struggles with mental illness prevented that,” Swedosh explained. “I’d try to help him, but my lack of self-worth believed that I was the reason he was depressed, and that my selfishness about making it all about me only made him feel worse.”

Swedosh and her partner have been together for over a year and generally see each other daily. “[Pre COVID] My boyfriend and I went from having sex every day to about once a week, I was expecting the opposite and I even invested in some sex toys for us to use together.”

Although Swedosh and her partner continued to see each other, they felt their “connection begin to dwindle. “We both lost our sex drive and began to feel not 100% comfortable around each other. We communicated all of this and talked regularly about how this feeling of emotional distance was affecting us, but it’s still just so hard.”

They are currently still seeing each other, but less frequently, Swedosh told me – in the hope that it will give them some more clarity about how to handle this situation. “We are so in love with each other and this is our first real rough patch, and it’s been so hard realizing that we are not immune to struggling with our relationship (as I know no one else is).” She is holding out hope things will go back to normal and their relationship will be stronger than ever. “I am 100% certain that the amount of love we have for each other will prevail and we will be stronger after getting through it together .”

Like Swedosh and her boyfriend, COVID-19 has affected the mental health of many young people in Australia. A recent ANU study indicated that 10.8 per cent of Australians reported a serious mental illness compared to 8.7 per cent in 2017. With young people aged between 18-34 years being largely responsible for this increase, the impact of the pandemic on our dating lives becomes clearer.

However, the global pandemic didn’t quite spell doom for P’s love life. P, a Swinburne student and academic staff member who wishes to remain anonymous, took to online dating for the first time during the pandemic. It had been a while since she last had a relationship, so she took the opportunity to delve into the world of dating by downloading Bumble.

She swiped right and quickly initiated a connection with someone who worked near her. “We recognised each other from work, so it was already a bit promising,” P told me. They managed to catch up for two dates before Victoria was in a complete lockdown and decided to continue dating by moving their relationship online, where they tried to be inventive with their virtual dates. Because her date worked in the hospitality sector, they organised to cook food for each other and drop it off to their respective houses “without actually interacting”. Video calls asking deep questions, virtual cards against humanity and Netflix watch parties were also common for the pair.

P said they had “great conversations” and got to know each other quickly, which was a welcome contrast to her previous dating experiences, where the physical tends to happen early on. “In this case it was very much like getting to know the person for who they are, which was really lovely.”

However, P said the online dating experience was full of ups and downs. Sometimes she would feel amazing after their dates, while at other times, they would message each other and express how flat they felt because they couldn’t see each other in person. “I think those ups and downs sometimes can impact you a lot harder, especially in isolation. You don’t really have your friends that you can see in person to vent to, or chat about the date with, you can talk to them with video call, but it’s different to when you can just hug a friend.”

With her main focus during the pandemic being to keep her family safe, keep herself safe “and not spread anything”, P set clear boundaries with her date, including “not catching up in person until the health authorities/Government said it was finally safe to do so.”

While they were aware of the fact that partners were allowed to see each other during lockdown, P says they we were not quite at “that stage”, which left the pair in a “weird grey area.” These boundaries proved to reveal their compatibility. “I eventually found out he was not really honouring the lockdown restrictions, whereas I was being a bit more strict with them.”

As restrictions started to ease, P arranged an in-person date. But the week before the date was due to happen, her date became very “flaky and distant.” Eventually, he called P and told her “considering you’re so worried about the health side of things, you know, I’m still going to be going out, catching up with friends. I’m still going to be doing all this stuff and I’m not sure how comfortable you’re going to feel around me. So maybe it’s best we wrap this up.”

“It threw me off quite a bit, because his personality on the phone was completely different to how he had been this entire time,” P said.

P said this experience was a “massive learning curve”, with her date’s refusal to adhere to lockdown restrictions “being an indicator of [us] not being on the same page in general”. “If someone can’t take the situation seriously and do the right thing, it makes you question how seriously they’ll take any situation.”

She advised that for anyone struggling with dating or relationships, setting boundaries that allow you to uphold your personal values is vital ,“especially during something like a pandemic when you have kind of no choice but to uphold those values, you can really kind of filter out the ones who are really not meant for you.”

Essentially, this experience has allowed P to learn more about herself and unpack what she wants in a relationship. Though online dating can be flaky and end quickly as a result, “either way [it’s an] insane learning experience and, definitely something that you reflect on when you’re like 80 years old and you’d be like, yeah, during the COVID-19 pandemic I dated someone.”

“I think it’s given me a really good insight into dating, for when it becomes a bit more normal again. Honing more into that beginning phase of really getting to know the person and testing those boundaries and seeing where you both lie,” she said.

“Pandemic virtual dating [is] actually quite a heavy thing to deal with and what would typically be a casual dating experience could end up [feeling] just as serious as a monogamous dating experience,” she added.

“For anyone who’s not done long distance before, you know you can do it if you can do it in a pandemic.”

P is now more open and confident about the idea of online dating. Mid-pandemic or otherwise, explaining that she “definitely wouldn’t deny the experience in the future.” With that said, online dating can foster a “keyboard warrior mentality” that may leave couples less connected to each other. “Sometimes I think you make promises and, you know, you kind of create all these ideas because you feel less, I guess, attached to the situation because it is more virtual.”

In order to succeed, P believes that online dating requires a mutual agreement between both people from the beginning, to ensure that clear boundaries are set and open communication is established.

“I think it takes a cliché; it takes two to tango.”

She added that both people should disclose what they are willing to do or not do, understand each other’s preferences and engage in consistent, open communication.

“And you know, the minute you feel like you can’t do it anymore, just say it because the worst thing is not getting messages back for a week.”

Though COVID-19 has simultaneously impacted the relationships and mental health of students, it has allowed some young couples to forge stronger bonds. Pippa Criss-Chisholm, a fourth-year part time student studying Games and Interactivity, has been living with her partner Austin throughout the pandemic. Criss-Chisholm has had to take on the “home maker role rather than working partner role” after losing her job.

“I somehow feel as if I have let down my feminist predecessors by losing my job,” she said.

Criss-Chisholm explains that her mental health has suffered as a result, presenting a challenge for the couple.

“[Austin] is endlessly supportive but when I’m spending 9 hours of my day by myself, a lot of those hours after dark, there is only so much he can help.”

Despite these difficulties, Austin has been a great source of support for Criss-Chisholm. “He held me through my tears of anger and grief, my panic and not being able to get what we needed from the shops,” she said.

“He has been my rock. He even nursed me when I became sick and had to isolate after testing and made sure I was warm and cared for.”

Criss-Chisholm has noticed a change in her relationship dynamic due to the stress of losing her job and being isolated from family and friends. Being alone for most of the days, Criss-Chisholm now treasures the evenings and weekends when Austin is home from work.

Evidently, dating during COVID -19 is complex and multifaceted in nature – and doesn’t come without its low-points. Many of us have had to adapt by moving beyond conventional ways of initiating and maintaining relationships.

2020 has been life-changing for many of us, but the stories of Jazzy, Pippa and P have shown that when we think creatively, support our partners and set clear boundaries, our relationships can serve as a great source of comfort when the world feels like it has been flipped on its head.

About Millie Spencer 

Millie is a first year Media and Communications student majoring in Journalism and Media Industries. She has written for the Swine, The Standard and is the editor of Boroondara Youth’s online publication SPACE Reviews. Millie has a background in Arts and Events and one day hopes to work as a Producer or Media Advisor for a media outlet or arts organisation. In her spare time Millie enjoys walking, baking sourdough, playing with her puppy Bonnie and shopping for earrings made by local designers, adding to her growing collection!