Life after Lockdown

Peter Hillary on the Annette Plateau, New Zealand. Photograph: Julia Thorne/Getty Images

Life after Lockdown

Astronauts and adventurers on the ‘shock’ of getting back to normal

Posted on 03.06.2020

After circumnavigating the world solo at 16, spending 20 weeks in space, and summiting Everest (twice), Jessica Watson, Andy Thomas and Peter Hillary have learned a lot about life after isolation

‘Accept that change is difficult’
Photographer: Bobby Model, National Geographic

New Zealand mountaineer Peter Hillary, who has twice reached the summit of Mount Everest and once spent 84 days trekking across Antarctica to the south pole, knows all too well what it feels like to return to “normal life” after an extended period of isolation.

“It can be a shock,” he says. “While you’re away you get used to a certain kind of predictability and a new set of routines and then all of a sudden you’re back. And it can be quite confronting.”

As physical distancing restrictions begin to ease across Australia, with students returning to school, restaurants reopening nation-wide and workplaces preparing to welcome back employees, Hillary believes many people will be experiencing a mix of emotions, ranging from relief to uncertainty and even some resistance.

“I think many people will have got comfortable with their new lockdown routines,” Hillary says. “They’ve probably discovered things they actually quite like about it and now we’re being told, ‘Well, actually we’re going back to normal now.’

“There’s no doubt there will be people who will be like, ‘actually I’m quite happy where I am,’ and it will be difficult.”

He says the key is to be “understanding with yourself, accept that change is difficult and give yourself the time to readjust again.”

‘You can use this experience to rebuild’

The Australian-born Nasa astronaut Andy Thomas (back row, second from left), who has been on four space flights, including 20 weeks onboard the Mir space station in 1998, says for those feeling uneasy about life after lockdown, it can be helpful to carry over some of the lessons you learnt about yourself during isolation.

Thomas says one of the unexpected benefits of his 141 days on the Mir space station was the gift of introspection.

“I found myself particularly thinking about family and family relationships and I realised that some of those needed some work on my part,” Thomas, 68, says from his home in Houston, Texas.

“When you’re in isolation, you get the opportunity for a lot of introspective thought. You get a chance to think about your life. What are the things you do that you like and what are the things you do that you don’t particularly like, but you do out of obligation.

“And so as the lockdown eases there is an opportunity to say, ‘Well, those things weren’t working or they weren’t fulfilling … so I’m not going to do them any more.’ You can use this experience to rebuild a non-lockdown life that is far more positive.”

But he warns it is easy to slip into old habits.

“The thing that will surprise people the most is that after a few days it can feel like it was all a dream and it’s easy to go back to your old ways, including the parts that weren’t working. You have to be quite disciplined about not slipping backwards.”

‘What this has shown us is actually there are alternatives’

Prof Vishaal Kishore, the director of RMIT’s Health Transformation Lab and a professor of innovation and public policy, says one of the ways to alleviate any uneasiness about the lifting of restrictions is to acknowledge that we, collectively, have some choice in the way our new routines and work lives might look.

“Before this pandemic, we’d often been labouring under the misconception that there was really only one way to organise work and society,” Kishore says. “We tinkered a bit around the edges with some remote working and a bit of work flexibility, but the fundamental model was broadly unchanging.

“What this has shown us is actually there are alternatives. There are different ways of organising education and work and healthcare and social and family life … and in fact, some of the ways we have chosen to organise these things in lockdown, we actually quite like.”

Kishore says now that we have “demonstrated” there are alternative ways of doing things, the key is to continue to make choices about how we want our post-lockdown lives to look, including the way we want to work.

‘Humans can be incredibly adaptable’

Jessica Watson, who became the youngest person to sail around the world at the age of 16, says people will also need to give themselves time to readjust to yet another significant upheaval in their lives.

“One of the big lessons for me when I set off on my voyage was accepting that that first little period was going to be really tough … But it was also about accepting that I also needed time to readjust at the other end too,” says the 27-year-old, who spent 210 days alone at sea.

“The other thing I learnt is that humans can be incredibly adaptable. We’ve all been through this incredibly challenging experience, where life has just turned on its head, but hey, look how quickly we adapted to that.

“Chances are we’re going to adapt to this new normal outside of lockdown too, but we just need to give ourselves time.”

Recognising that – amongst all the change and uncertainty – we have choices and agency in how we remake our world of work and social life can help us to navigate that uncertainty with grace and optimism.”

The Guardian




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