My sister (left) and I reunited after separation due to lockdown

Two weeks into the first lockdown I had a realisation that I wasn’t happy with myself. Nearly a year later I can look back and see how vital that moment has been for me.

The one year anniversary is looming for Covid-19 first reaching British shores and while this time has been truly devastating for so many, sitting here as a 20-year-old I feel better off for this time.

Heading into March last year I had just started to break free from depression that had consumed me for the majority of my second year of university and while all was not perfect I brimmed with excitement of the thought of getting to spend these months with my friends, and of course resurrect my degree from the damages of my mental health.

The news of lockdown meant that this was no longer an option. Catapulted back into my seaside hometown I was left with just myself once again. Looking in the mirror the reflection staring back at me was a recovering mind trapped in the shell of its past struggles. Sitting in my room, weeping, feeling like I had made a full circle back to the months just passed, caused a reaction inside me and a conscious feeling to make sure this wouldn’t happen again.

A major part of my unhappiness came from body image. One of the consequences of my battle with depression was major weight gain, it was affecting my mental state being this unhappy in my skin. Before long my mum appeared as her radar for unhappiness was sure to be alarming and the conversation we had was the start of my lockdown journey.

Ironically it started for me with eating a cookie dough cheesecake which I had baked for Easter. Enjoying the cake, I felt it was an ode to the body that had got me through my struggle and every bite was a little thank you to the protection it had granted me.

But now it was time for a change.

Slimming World was my best friend for the first few months alongside Chloe Ting and Sarah Millican (the voice of my couch to 5k coach) and we tackled the coming weeks together.

Part of a Chloe Ting workout that I followed through the summer

As the weeks went by I started to see a difference in myself, not only in my weight but my fitness and importantly my relationship with food. Making my own meals was close to a nightmare for me before but once I had opened myself up to a platter of recipes that were healthy but fulfilling I started to understand how to work my meals. Along with this came my appreciation for sweat treats, my sweet tooth could take on Willy Wonka, but after a month of eating these snacks in moderation I learnt to be satisfied with just a piece of what I desired and that was a major achievement.

Another big part of my isolation journey was family. Family relationships have always been important to be but when I lived at home I wouldn’t blink an eye lid about running off to parties or other peoples’ houses to waste the hours away. Being in lockdown meant that it was just me and my parents, isolated. The three of us all still leaving the house for work meant that we had our time apart but embraced the hours together.

Friday night was a big night. Drivetime on BBC Radio 2 signifies two things: wine and hours of the ultimate cheese music. 5pm on a Friday was like ticking the box after a big assignment, an achievement of making it through another week, and it really helped to keep the segregation of our week that so many had lost. The weekend themes then came into play, we ventured from the French Alps to an Italian lakeside and everywhere in between by dressing up and planning our food and drink to fit around it. This was entertainment to say the least and gave us something to look forward to while there was little else to do.

My appreciation for my parents is unimaginable and while the pandemic has brought terrible times it has meant that these precious moments were mine to grab that would otherwise never have happened and I am utterly grateful that this

My friend Daisy celebrating my birthday with me

year has given me that.

Being separated from so many friends and relatives meant that communication was something that I undoubtedly was forced to work on. Failing to keep in contact with friends in the months before when I was unwell had to be rectified. Having to make yourself contact people is a subconscious realisation of who the people are that matters and sitting in my room staring at the hundreds of names consuming my social media it became abundantly clear of who I want to speak to about the empty days that past by and who will help me to get through mine.

The biggest struggle for me was not seeing my boyfriend, though we called all the time catching up on our days of

My boyfriend Harry and I

nothing and using many streaming tools that developed throughout the year nothing can replace actual interactions and that caused my darkest days. Our relationship, which started only months before my mental health hiatus, had been through a lot and it meant this was just another hurdle for us to overcome. A Covid-free life will give us a bit of normality to our hurdle jumping relationship.

Whilst keeping up my relationships, whipping up healthy delights and panting to 5k, I was also working. I really struggle with my own company which I unfortunately am yet to master. A job was vital to keep me distracted. I got a supermarket job and while it was my idea of hell, without it I would have been much worse off. Having a chat with people from all stretches of society fueled my extroverted personality and fed the verbal contact I craved. Once restaurants opened again I juggled two jobs because going back to my hospitality job was never not an option. While at the time this seemed like a lot, the money I saved is still sitting in an account waiting to be spent on my 20-year-old summer that has been put on hold.

The summer of 2020 was a Covid hiatus, filled with freedom, that sits in my head like a dream I can only half remember. I spent my time on the beach in appreciation of the company I was privileged enough to keep and it was a summer that I would never take back.

Reuniting with friends from university after months apart

Heading back to university and dreaming of a normal uni experience was quickly shattered in September. I was heading back to my student house knowing my studies were going to be effected once again by the pandemic. However reuniting with friends where more months then minutes had past was more than enough. In and out of tiers, quarantines and lockdown, the experience has been challenging and near to breaking point due to pairing of the third year work load. But heading back to uni with the confidence I had found in myself from the past few months felt like I was a new person that the streets of the midlands had never seen before.

The lockdown meant that uni work seemed like the only option. The combination of online uni, studying and sleeping all in one room with the help of temperamental WiFi was a struggle all of its own. This stress led to baking. My weekly baking sessions were a treat for my flatmates but when emotions were running high I made my mistakes and grilling a brownie will take the 1st place podium.

My housemates and I making the most of lockdown birthdays

The last few months have been the biggest struggle of the past year. Back at home once again, my university experience has been snatched away and whilst I know it isn’t a priority it feels like such a loss. The positives have been hard to find with my grandma’s illness progressing and life just seeming to lack those happy finds searching for the small wins is all that can be done. I am still hitting goals and completing work and little accomplishments are meaning more then they ever did before.

The person I created in the last year is someone I feel proud of and embracing this time to focus on myself and what matters to me has created a spark inside of me that I am beyond proud of.

A year that I expected so much from has been robbed from me, but I see it as one year out of life. A year to wake up before stepping into adulthood which had helped me to learn and grow and become the new Amber Malley.

By Amber Malley