Non-essential workers: thrown back into the nest just as we were starting to fly

When I packed my bags and flew the nest to go to university, travel the world, and find my first job, I never imagined that a deadly virus would come along, clip my wings and drag me back home again. I know that I’m not the only one still feeling trapped despite lockdown being over, as this was an unforeseen adjustment many millennials faced alongside me. So why aren’t we talking about how hard this really is? 

There’s an endless stream of articles about how parents have struggled to juggle childcare and home-schooling, and how amazing our essential workers have been (which of course they have), but what about those of us who were deemed non-essential workers? Those of us who lost our jobs at a time when so few new jobs are available? Those of us who had no other option but to move back in with our parents? Now, as the world seems to be licking its wounds and moving on as best it can with schools and offices reopening, it’s important we don’t get forgotten about. 

Back in February, I was a 24 year-old independent young woman with a first class degree and a passport full of stamps. I had just moved to the big city, landed a role in my dream career, and I was blissfully happy in new relationship. Life was great, I was doing my rom-com idols proud (Elle Woods, Carrie Bradshaw, you know the ones…) and I’m sure stony faced commuters wondered where I got my cheery glow from at seven in the morning. 

It was then that a pandemic hit. I was thrown a curve ball just like everyone else, and this ball hit me square between the eyes. Within a few short weeks I was forced to leave my new city to return to my old family home. I was having almost daily panic attacks as my already challenging general health anxiety faced its worst nightmare. I could only see my boyfriend and my friends through my phone screen. Then I was furloughed from my dream job before later being made redundant. 

Of course, I know that I’m very lucky to have a parent who was more than willing to have me come and live back home during this hard time, but a fear of sounding ungrateful and privileged shouldn’t silence a conversation about just how difficult returning to the nest can be. I was living a full, rewarding and autonomous life and I hated the fact that I suddenly had to revert back to falling in line with other people and feel like a child again. I don’t think this makes me selfish; doesn’t it just make me a human adult?

According to the Resolution Foundation, ‘one third of 18 to 24 year old employees have lost jobs or been furloughed during the pandemic, compared to one in six adults above that age’. This means that thousands of young people are coping with being made redundant (an undeniably difficult time) without even having their own space to grieve in, as an estimated one in ten adult children moved back in with their parents, according to figures from AJ Bell investment firm.

Being back in my childhood bedroom reminded me why I spent many of my teenage surrounded by mess, listening to Evanescence, and shouting at people to “GET OUT OF MY ROOM”; it’s a crippling lack of independence which slaps you in the face every time you want to make pasta for dinner but the family is having casserole, or you want to watch Peaky Blinders but someone’s on a Zoom call at the other side of the living room. Pair these mounting trivialities with awkward conversations about money, household chore schedules, and a soul-destroying job hunt at a time when your fledgling CV has to compete against newly unemployed experts; I found myself regressing back to wanting a fringe so big that I could ignore everything and everyone around me. Duvet Days turned into Duvet Weeks. Where was I meant to find the motivation to crawl back up onto my feet, when there was a killer virus knocking on the door and I felt like a non-essential teenager again? 

The main comfort to me throughout this time was that I know I wasn’t the only one missing something I once had. Whether it’s a lost job we loved, being within a metre of loved ones, or even just eating whatever we want for dinner. This time has been proof that we can withstand an awful lot, and I know that we can get back out there again with some determination. The key workers had their well-deserved applauses of appreciation, but now it’s time for us forgotten non-essentials to quietly cheer for ourselves, ‘I’ve got this!’ We did it once, and we will do it again. But, for now, it’s my turn to mow the lawn.

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