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  • Darragh Clayton

Pandemic Identity: Who Are You When the World Disappears?

Author: Darragh Clayton



No matter who you are or where you are in the world, this year has turned your life upside down. The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed the way we work, learn, communicate, create, interact, and go about everyday life. Something else it has changed, which we may have given less thought to, is our identities.

For me, one of the most unsettling parts of the pandemic was the contrast between my usually bustling life and this sudden, daunting, empty space that I was confronted with last March.

Over the last year, I have changed in many ways that would be difficult to pinpoint, as I believe we all have:

Aren’t we all different people when no one else is watching — when we are removed from our everyday roles into which we have settled so comfortably? What do we do with that sense of fear and discomfort that strikes when we are taken out of our regular routine and environment? Does our definition of home change when it is a place we are confined to? What happens to us when the place we sleep also becomes the place we work and learn? As artists, do we still create if we have no one to create for? Are we still inspired to make art if we can’t see firsthand the impact it has on people?

These questions have been tumbling through my mind over the past several months, as has been the case for many others, although perhaps subconsciously. We have all had to reinvent ourselves this year to an extent. Being forced to stay inside the walls of my home for several months also led me back to all the things that make me who I am, no matter what the world around me looks like. At first, I felt distanced from myself, since I had never known a version of myself who had that much free time, and I didn’t know what to do with it.

As a writer, I was disappointed and confused when I realized I hadn’t touched a pencil in days or even weeks. But as I grew into this new person, or perhaps a version of myself that was always waiting to come out, I found grace and peace, realizing that I was probably the only thing I could control right now. As soon as I let myself adjust to the new rhythm of life, I felt refreshed and inspired to create again. Giving myself the time and space to feel my feelings, rather than suppress them, was the remedy I needed in order to want to write again.

In a society that is pressuring us to become a hundred different people, it’s courageous to be yourself and to live for yourself. In all honesty, it has been nice to have a year that allowed me to focus on me, and the things that make me happy, without worrying what the rest of the world thought. And I realize how lucky I am to be able to say that.

In this little collection of poetry, I have tried to portray the shift in my identity that took place during the last year. Some of the pieces were written early in the pandemic, while others are more recent.


you are not

your roles

you are not

the items on your to do list

you are not

a username;

you are not

what the rest of the world

turns you into

you are

the steady beat of your favourite song

you are

the pages of your cookbook worn down from use and stuck together with love

you are

the insistent scratch of a pencil filling your notebook page by page

you are

the dog ear folds in the corners of all your favourite novels

you are

the blended and beautiful mess of paints splayed across your canvas

you are

the gold in the first seconds of sunrise

and the glow of the full moon’s light

you are

the first breath of a meditation

and the last thought before you close your eyes

you are

the familiar twists in the roads you drive at night

and the worn route that leads you back home

you are

so many

little things.

i fear that i’ve

fallen out with my best friend.

disputes lie unresolved

words remain unspoken;

my pencil hasn’t touched the paper in weeks.

during a universal pause,

notebooks should be overflowing

i should have a million words

but instead

i have none.

still my page is empty.

my problems are minuscule

my thoughts irrelevant

enough could never be said

but i can’t find the words.

before and after

I am a new person because of this pandemic.

Not a skinnier, lighter, fitter person

Not an organized, productive, overachiever

I am a stronger person

who knows how to push through the fear of the unknown.

I am a kinder person

who is always wondering how

they can help others, even when they are hurting too.

I am a more grateful person

because I have reflected every day

on the things that really matter.

I am a more selfless person

constantly considering how my actions

will affect others around me.

I am a more cautious person

who has learned to value their health

through the fear of losing it.

I am a more loving person

who will hold everyone closer

and cling to moments

spent with the people I adore.

I am a more self-aware person,

because I’ve had time to feed my passions,

honour my strengths

and work on my weaknesses.

I am a healthier person

because I’ve had to learn how to

balance work, play, and relaxation

inside the walls of my own home.

I am a more mindful person

because I have learned how to

calm my mind in the middle of a storm.

I am a happier person

despite the state of the world

because I will never take anything for granted again.


and suddenly

we’re us again;

strolling side-by-side

exploring worn paths

stumbling through tall grass

that used to tower over our heads

balancing on fallen trees

following our imaginations

instead of the trail

discovering and rediscovering

all the secrets

we used to share

all the places

we spent endless summer days

we now spend

swimming in nostalgia

falling back in love

with being wild

now, when my bare feet

kiss the sweet spring grass

i feel roots

pushing through the ground

growing and twisting and

settling in my soul

it’s okay

if this year

you didn’t

write a book


become fluent

in a new language


master the art of cooking


start working out twice a day


cut out sugar and carbs

and everything tasty.

it’s okay

if you didn’t

start a business


fill your walls with paintings


take virtual piano lessons


record a studio album

from your bedroom.

it’s okay

if you didn’t

organize your house

drawer by drawer


train for a marathon


renovate your kitchen


start a self-help podcast.

there is no winner

in a pandemic,

you survived

and i’m proud of you.

we’re broken

and it’s not that we’ll never

be whole again, it’s

just that

we will never

be put back together

in the same way

this time last year

we were entering a new one

a new decade

a fresh start

the year i would graduate high school

travel for the summer

and move away for university

this time last year

we had no idea

that in a couple of months

our entire world would turn upside down

and stay that way

for as far as we can see

this time last year

we had heard vaguely about

a virus spreading across the world

some of us didn’t even know

what a pandemic was

no one wore masks

and now we wear them every day

we didn’t use the words quarantine

or social distancing or unprecedented

hand sanitizer was just a precaution

not yet liquid gold

we couldn’t even imagine

the life we are now living

so for the sake of everything

i am allowing myself

to hold no expectations for 2021

but to imagine a year

that is better

that is happier and safer and kinder

i am allowing myself to be naive

and believe in a year of being together

because that’s all we can do,

dream of normalcy

and hugs.

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