An Unprecedented Year - The Challenges Of COVID

As lockdown restrictions continue to ease, here's a blog about what challenges I, like so many others, had to overcome during a year that was so deeply affected by the pandemic.

IT WAS LOOKING LIKE A GOOD YEAR


Over the past year, I've written a few blogs about how I and my business have been coping amidst such a tough time to be self-employed. Back in March of 2020, however, I was feeling quite positive about the year ahead. I was going into my third full year of being self-employed (having registered halfway through the 2017-18 tax year) and, although the business had had small increases of profit in the first two (and a half) years, the year ahead was set to be a huge increase in business income.


LOCKDOWN'S IMPACT


The week that the first lockdown was announced, nine of my saxophone and clarinet students cancelled their lessons and, despite trying to persuade them that video lessons would work and allow us to keep going, to this day those students have not had a lesson with me. In the space of a week, I had lost £270 of weekly income, or £3,240 of the yearly income.


For the remaining students, most of them happily agreed to make the transition to video lessons while a few needed a little persuading. Over the past year, I only had four new students start, one of which is still having lessons. Those three that sadly gave up found that they did not have the income or time to maintain the lessons, which was reflected in some of my other students who have had to cut their lessons down from weekly to fortnightly.


I remember being contacted by a journalist towards the end of the first lockdown who was searching for tutors who had seen an increase in students wanting lessons due to the pandemic. In hindsight, I have to wonder if he found any? I had told him at the time that I had seen the opposite and suspected other tutors might have too. Since then, I've seen articles pop up talking about the rise of people learning instruments but, instead of paying tutors, they are using free Youtube video tutorials instead, which makes sense when jobs and income have been at risk.


During 2020, I also found that my composition took a hit as well, with library sales becoming few and far between and commissions drying up completely. Fortunately, with the successful application to Music Array earlier this year, that decline in income will be contrasted dramatically in this next tax year (hopefully).


Still, it wasn't long into lockdown that I realised I would need the support scheme the government set up. I ended up being only just eligible for it and, although the money given wasn't much due to it being based on my first two years, it was help I appreciated having.


PERSONAL STRUGGLES


When lockdown came into effect, I was lucky not to be on my own, having my wife by my side. She had started a new job the day lockdown happened and went straight into working from home. For the first few months during her probation, things were quite tense, especially when the company had to say goodbye to two of its employees to keep things afloat. Fortunately, her place in there is now rock-solid (as if there was ever any doubt since she's amazing at what she does).


Another lucky aspect was being based in the countryside which meant we had plenty of walks to go on in our spare time. We were keeping in touch with friends via messaging and video calls, having weekly quizzes with family and we hadn't yet had any COVID cases in the family. So, to begin with, we felt optimistic about how our family, ourselves, and our mental health would cope during this time.


Two lockdowns later, the third and final lockdown proved to be the hardest. A day before she was due to get her first vaccine dose, my great aunt sadly passed away from COVID. I'll admit, the last time I had seen her was as a small child but I was devastated for my family and was really starting to suffer from the strains of not being able to see them.


Since my mum's sister, auntie Philly, had been diagnosed with cirrhosis three years prior, I and my wife had made sure she was still able to get everything she needed and would regularly call and visit. This woman had been my confidant, my best friend, for so many years; had kept me going through some really tough times five years prior when I attempted to take my own life. Not being able to see her, for fear of bringing the risk of COVID, was the hardest thing about this pandemic. So when she died a day before her 60th birthday, I felt my world would fall apart. Since then I've regularly had to stop myself from thinking that I should have said 'F COVID, I'm going over anyway'.

Not long after, my godfather, someone who I was always in awe of, passed away, having been diagnosed with cancer earlier in the year. This was a man who I loved and respected dearly. I have fond memories of, as a child, telling my friends about my cool spanish godfather, a man who supported every choice I had ever made, even when his support contradicted with that of my parents. I had not been able to see him in over a year and again, I couldn't help thinking about how my respect for the rules had cost me valued time with him.


I was fortunate to have my 30th birthday land on a date after the easing of restrictions for outdoor gatherings. It was the first time I had been able to see all my close family members in one place. I was surprised with photo albums of my childhood (something I should have expected as this was done on my 18th as well) and, while they were nice to see, they brought a lot of bittersweet memories and sad emotions upon seeing all the photos with me and my aunt and godfather in.


I'll admit now, business struggles aside, if there was no COVID, it still would have been a tough year. It's just that, as is the case for so many others, COVID has made it so much more difficult. I find myself hoping that the teaching will pick up and fearing the inevitable fact that my parents are getting older. It also means, however, that I'm appreciating being able to see them a lot more than I already did. Not only them, but all my family and friends. I can't wait to be able to go and visit all of them and give each and every one of them a big hug.


I don't know what life after lockdown will be like. It will take us a while to recover and I don't think things will be exactly the same as they were before COVID but I would like to hope June onwards won't be as bad as what's happened since March 2020.


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