How COVID-19 has changed us: Voices of Canadians living in a pandemic

TORONTO — March is just around the corner, and Canada will hit the one-year mark of lockdowns and other measures used in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

CTVNews.ca wanted to know – how has the pandemic changed you?

Canadians from coast to coast replied, some with tales of heartbreak and angst, some with anger and others with stories of new beginnings forged out of the ashes of old lives.

These are some of their stories, in their own words:

(Disclaimer: replies have been edited for length, clarity and brevity.)

HEATHER LOHNES – PROSPECT BAY, NOVA SCOTIA

“Who I was before the pandemic: I am a Registered Nurse. I chose to make a career out of helping and protecting other people. Perhaps naively, I believed that the majority of the people who I share this planet with genuinely care about the well-being of other people, and would gladly make small sacrifices to protect vulnerable populations. I was so wrong.

Who I am now: Over the past year, I have seen and heard far too many people who have chosen ignorance over reality, all because they refuse to take part in a global effort to save the lives of the people who are counting on us the most… The elderly and the immunocompromised. They choose to believe conspiracy theories over reality, anti-vaxxer propaganda over science, YouTube videos, Facebook memes and untrustworthy sources over medical experts around the world. They politicize a global pandemic, believing that it is all part of a big government plan to control us. Are they taking this stance out of pure selfishness or is it a coping mechanism because they can’t handle the truth?…The willful ignorance of so many has changed the way that I see human beings as a whole… People who I have known my entire life have shocked and disappointed me with their distorted perspectives of reality. I have lost some of my faith in humanity. I thought we were smarter than this. I often wonder: Would they wear a mask if it meant saving their parents? Their grandparents? I’m not sure that I want to know the answer. One thing is certain: I would do anything in this world to protect mine.”

ALISON FINKELSTEIN – THORNHILL, ONTARIO

“I am a mom to five kids who are now all teenagers (three teens, two young adults). I’ve worked as a cashier in a supermarket for almost four years now and it’s been challenging during the pandemic working as an essential worker. One day, after a tough day at work, I came home and realized I wanted to do something more with my life than be just a cashier. I was an English major prior to having kids, but dropped out of university… and ended up getting married and having a family. Now as a 43 year-old adult, I realized I wanted to do something more meaningful with my life. If it weren’t for the pandemic, I probably would not have had the time to think about things more deeply and reassess. Now I am a college student at age 43, in the medical office admin program at George Brown College. My daughter attends there and encouraged me to apply. My family and friends are very proud of me – and I am proud of myself.”

LISA HAYMAN – WATERLOO, ONTARIO

“The pandemic has made me realize that you can’t take life for granted. Call your loved ones as much as possible, tell them that you love them, keep yourself safe, clean your hands and wear your mask.

Please be safe and take care of yourselves as much as you can, your family and friends will thank you for it. “

ED AND SHEILA KELLINS – NAINAIMO, B.C.

“We are recent retirees from Woodstock, Ontario.

Ed spent 30 years as a manufacturing engineer at the GM CAMI assembly plant in Ingersoll, Ont. I was a RPN. We met in 2014 and married within weeks. We both fought and won cancer battles within the first few years of our marriage and Ed officially retired in October 2018.

We had been playing with the idea of making a big move to B.C. and when COVID-19 came we cancelled an explorative trip out there in March. We stayed quiet like everyone else and then in April 2020 we decided, screw it. Let’s put the house up for sale and see what happens. It took some work to get it ready but it sold quickly in May 2020. We had been looking at an affordable off-grid, oceanfront property in the Gulf Islands and it was still available when we sold so we bought it sight unseen.

We gave away all our stuff and drove across the country pulling a tiny trailer filled with mostly Ed’s tools and arrived at our new property in time for the August 1 long weekend.

Lots of details in there but now that we’ve been here for more then six months, we call it home.

Totally different life and culture. Couldn’t be happier.”

RYANN WAYMOUTH – CHATHAM, ONTARIO

“Before the pandemic I wasn’t very social to begin with, I travelled with my boyfriend of seven years while he played golf all over the U.S. Obviously now, that’s not happening anymore.

I get nervous now even just going to the grocery store or pharmacy. When I run into someone I know, it’s weird having to stay 6 feet away from them while trying to say “hi.”

I barely leave the house, I try to walk my dogs twice a day, that’s about it.

I see friends with small businesses suffering, everyone is suffering.

My mental and physical health has taken a major hit due to the pandemic. I barely get dressed, I wear jogging pants or pyjamas all day every day. I don’t do my hair or makeup at all anymore. I don’t see the point, I feel like I’m just going through the motions, I sleep a lot more than I used to. It’s like time is going by but my world is standing still. I feel like I have nothing to look forward to anymore and I’m starting to feel like this is never going to end.

I believe that it will take years to get back to the normal as we knew it. It’s hard to live your whole life hugging, shaking hands, being affectionate, laughing with friends and being close to people then to all of a sudden have everything taken away.”

HOLLY REHILL – PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE, MANITOBA

“I have been in my house since last March about to go stir crazy. On a serious note, I have health issues and nothing is being done about it. I have been trying to deal with the doctors on this matter and their hands are tied too… This has been going on for two years now and I’m about fed up… I miss seeing my family. I was alone at Christmas. I believe I have done my part and continue to do my part about getting rid of this COVID-19. I hope it happens soon.”

DEBORAH MCMILLEN- PARKER’S COVE, NOVA SCOTIA

“My story is a bit opposite of most. I have a very happy outcome.

Before pandemic I was in a difficult relationship. I had dealt with social anxiety my whole life and was very unhappy, depressed. During the pandemic, I left my situation, bought my first home. I became “happy” for the first time in many years. I no longer had to find an excuse to try and avoid a social situation I didn’t feel comfortable in. I spent a lot of time outdoors, I enjoy my little flower garden, my dogs, peace and quiet. My mental health improved so much, I no longer require the highest dose of antidepressants, but none at all! The only thing is that I’m a bit lonelier. The outcome is I’m a much happier, relaxed person.”

EMILY PHILLIMORE – VIENNA, ONTARIO

“When I look back at where I was a year ago versus where I am today, I feel an overwhelming sense of self-worth and accomplishment. At this time last year I was in a terribly abusive marriage with two young children. I was a full-time stay at home mom that had been isolated from the outside world and COVID-19 made my world even smaller.

Over the first few months I noticed the marriage crumbling more quickly than I could have imagined, I was so beaten down and broken I considered taking my own life because I was so terrified of the man I was with and I saw no other way out. But I chose to get help because of the two little humans I love more than air itself.

I told the man that I was terrified of I was leaving. I packed two suitcases and moved in with my grandparents in Vienna Ont. I got my own job, my own car and very soon my own place for my babies and I to start our own life.

I spent four years being told I was nothing without him, that I would never amount to anything and that leaving him I was tearing the family apart.

But instead, I have grown closer to my kids, my grandparents, and myself.

I never thought I would be a single mother. But I am so happy to have my kids see their mother turn her life around and be happy for them. They are the reason I get up every day and I want nothing less than for them to see how we should treat each other – with respect and with love.

BOB CLINCH (AND MADI THE LAB) – ST. STEPHEN, NEW BRUNSWICK

I don’t know of anyone who has not been affected by the pandemic, living in St Stephen, my weekly trip to Calais has been non-existent since last March.

However it has been my volunteer “work” that has been the big loss. Our yellow lab (Madi) and I have been a pet therapy team with St John Ambulance since July 2011. Our normal week would see us at the local hospital on Tuesday mornings, elementary school Wednesday mornings, nursing home Wednesday afternoons and back to the elementary school on Friday mornings. In the summer, we head to St Andrews on Thursdays to visit with the kids at the Dragonfly Centre for Autism at their summer camp. We averaged 30 to 40 hours a month.

All that came to a screeching halt in March. I am retired and that was my “work” and had been for about nine years. I am not alone as there are about 160 teams in N.B. whose visits have all been put on hold.”

SHANNON WHELAN – OSHAWA, ONTARIO

“I am down a job, which has been hard as a single mom. I depend on my second part-time job to help with my bills. I have had to find a new part-time job at Tim Horton’s just to stay afloat. However, I work Saturdays and Sundays and it doesn’t give me much, but it’s better than nothing. My mental health has been greatly affected. I never had any issues with my mental health and since the pandemic happened, I have noticed my anxiety is terrible, and I cry basically every day. My full-time job allows me to work from home most of the time. At this point, I am in the office every other Tuesday and Thursday. I strive on routine, and I am not in a routine at all. I miss my family, friends, and co-workers. I just want some more normalcy.”

STEVE COLKITT – ATLANTA, GEORGIA, USA

“My wife and I have been in a commuter marriage for nine years, July will be our 10th anniversary. We live 2,068 kilometres from one another (Atlanta to Ottawa). Before the pandemic we would be together for at least a long weekend every four or five weeks.

The pandemic has changed our lives in ways we never imagined possible. Never in our life would we have considered not being able to cross borders. Not being able to come home be it in Ottawa or the Atlanta. We were lucky to get five weeks together in our Canadian house during December, but now we wonder every day – will we even see each other on our 10th anniversary? Can we somehow figure out a way to afford the quarantine costs, the multiple testing costs, will we even still be allowed to cross?

We try not to focus on the when, we talk a lot about the future with great hope but we both at times wonder… will I see you again?”

BECCA ATKINSON – GATINEAU, QUEBEC

“The pandemic changed me in a few ways: My husband and I separated in June. I don’t necessarily think spending more time together affected our relationship that much, but we simply had nothing else to focus on, except that it just wasn’t working anymore. It gave us the time we needed to reflect and ultimately separate. So I moved out, and we’re co- parenting now.

The pandemic also gave me an opportunity to speak openly about my alcoholism. I have found the time and, in my newly single life, my voice, to start a podcast openly talking about alcoholism: The Unashamed Alcoholic. I’ve found a purpose, a hobby, an outlet and a new passion. I’m very proud to speak openly now and unbelievably grateful that I get to interview famous sober people- essentially hoping to de-stigmatize sobriety.

Overall, in the past year, I’ve discovered who I am, what I’m capable of, what I want and what I don’t. The pandemic has been incredibly tough, but also very freeing. A year later, I am living a completely different life, but finally feel like myself.”

WAYNE BELICK – TORONTO, ONTARIO

“I’ve rapidly grown older; in body, spirit, and mind. After all of these months, one realizes that the world that we lived in will never be the same again.

I believe that I was one of the first to have COVID-19. But, I was just told to stay home, because there wasn’t enough testing available last March. How did I know? I went through a series of ‘Long Hauler’ symptoms, include the infamous ‘COVID Toes’. When you see purple and red dots on your toes, you know it’s not from bumping them against furniture. I had fear, anxiety, and the stress of dealing with so many symptoms. When you are pressed to send photos to your doctor about your conditions, it becomes almost surreal. Many of these photos never captured what I saw in the mirror.

There was the added stress of trying to support my mother. She was admitted into a care home the day the first lock down began. I was not allowed to see her, even though I was there to sign the papers. For the next three months, I would hear my mother’s voice dwindle away. I went to see her outside of her window, while a nurse held a phone to her ear.

But not everything has been so bad.

I have also grown much closer to my own relatives. I think that many of us have created stronger bonds with our family. I get more texts and phone calls now, than I have ever had in the past.

I guess you could say that I’m more practical now than before. I have learned to waste less, cook more often, and save more money for an unknown future.

On a better note, I stay positive in believing that there is a fantastic new world to see once this is all over. And one of my dreams when I’m too old, is to travel a hyper loop from one city to another.”  

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