March 24 2020. The first full day of the nationwide lockdown and my 18th birthday.
Only a few days previous Northern Ireland had cancelled their A Level exams due to the coronavirus pandemic. Honestly, I was more upset that I may not get into university than I was about the birthday party we had planned for the weekend.
It wasn’t like me ageing-up had been postponed. I turned 18 when I woke up Tuesday morning and my mum and I celebrated with a very mature Harry Potter cake.
Slowly, however, the reality came in that I wouldn’t have all the experiences you’ve spent age 17 waiting for. I wouldn’t have my first legal drink in the local pub, enjoy a beer and a burrito in Botanic Gardens, be deafened by the music in a musty nightclub.
I didn’t let myself dwell on those missed experiences though. It felt selfish with the world in chaos around me to worry about something so trivial as having my ID checked at the bar.
What would have been a summer travelling around my friends and my favourite locations in Northern Ireland was confined to my front garden. It was picnics with mum on her lunch break or listening to serial killer podcasts in the sunshine and when the weather was bad, it was endless banana bread and brownies.
September seemingly brought the standstill to an end, when I boarded the ferry to my new home at Stirling University.
I was optimistic in packing outfits for nights out during Freshers, but my heels are still laying at the bottom of my suitcase. The flat kitchen is more a place for jeans and a nice top.
I guess I’m lucky though. I’ve never been wildly into parties or getting blind-drunk on a Saturday night, so I couldn’t miss what I’d never yearned for in the first place.
It’s strange to think though that my family won’t have ever been inside the flat I lived in in first year. My mum hasn’t even been to Stirling. Reflecting on it though, I suppose it means they trust me to make responsible and independent choices.
The family groupchat have seen Stirling through the lens of the many times I’ve dyed my hair since being here and the obviously Michelin star cuisine I cook up.
I haven’t seen Stirling alive at night with students bustling through city centre as the clubs close. But I have seen it living and breathing during the day, through the trails I’ve trekked or bike rides into town.
I turn 19 today and the year that passed so quickly has taught me to slow down. I realise all the things I missed out on when my head was buried in exam study. Simple things like going to the cinema with friends. This has meant that I’ve had a plethora of Netflix shows and movies to catch up on during the pandemic.
In taking time for me I’ve tried new things. Long walks, yoga, working out for wellness and not results. And let’s not forget living out my Rory Gilmore fantasy at Brig, even if it is virtually.
But I’ve also remembered old things that made me happy. Reading for pleasure and not productivity and writing poems instead of essays.
These are things that I hope to keep time for when the world goes back to normal, whenever that is.
Moving from Northern Ireland to Scotland during the pandemic has been a different first year than I expected but it’s taught me a lot about independence and wellbeing.
Of course this year hasn’t been picture perfect. I’ve spent hours scrolling through Tiktok mindlessly when I’m bored, buying takeaway coffees I can’t afford when I’m sad. But it’s important not to lose sight of everything you have achieved or maintained this year, no matter how big or small.
There’s plenty of time for parties in second year.