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View from the Anwar family apartment in Monterotondo. The lemon plant is the highlight of their sunny terrace. (Tahira Anwar)

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I Just Came Back Home When My Country Was Placed on Lockdown


I will never forget March 11th, 2020.

The Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte had just imposed a national quarantine due to the COVID-19 outbreak in my country. Many aspects of everyday life such as education, leisure, religion, travel, and retail would now face heavy restrictions. Most stores would be forced to shut down, with an exception for pharmacies and grocery stores. We would be able to go out only for strictly necessary tasks such as work, doctor’s appointments, and grocery shopping. Needless to say, this was drastically going to change my everyday life when I had been still trying to adapt to my newly acquired lifestyle.

The Suursuon park (Suursuonpuisto) behind Tahira's apartment in the Maunula area of Helsinki; a tiny forest right at the doorstep. (Tahira Anwar)

In December 2019, after 10 long difficult years, I defended my Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of Helsinki in Finland. As I still hadn’t secured another position after my Ph.D., I relocated to my parent’s apartment in Monterotondo, a small city of around 41000 people close to the capital city of Rome. After living by myself for all those years in Helsinki, I was now trying to adjust to this new lifestyle, and it wasn’t that easy. I consider myself an introvert, someone who regularly needs alone time and quietness to recharge from the stimuli the external world constantly pours on me. So now, all of a sudden, from the hidden recluse of the Nordics I was living again with my parents, in chaotic, messy, and crazy Italy. Adding to this, my last year at the University of Helsinki had been signed by heavy episodes whose consequences, especially mentally, I was still dealing with. Luckily, I still had my childhood room waiting for me, allowing me some “alone time”. My safe place, where I could recharge, where I could focus on my job search, where I could think of the many things that had happened the previous year in Finland that heavily affected my life and prompted big changes in me.

So now, all of a sudden, from the hidden recluse of the Nordics I was living again with my parents, in chaotic, messy and crazy Italy.

Since I came back, my days would usually be divided between the gym, a walk, groceries, time with my parents, and job searching, which would occupy most of my time. I would also regularly visit all my childhood friends with whom I rarely had occasion to spend time during my 10 years in Finland. So altogether, despite the big changes and the past open wounds, I was living a fairly balanced and serene life. I was of course closely following the news regarding COVID-19 and I was aware of the situation in China, the first country to be hit hard by the new virus named SARS-CoV-2, but somehow, that felt so far away. And boy, was I wrong!


And here we were, back to March 11th, watching my Prime Minister in television listing all the rules that from the next day we will be forced to follow.

La passeggiata, the busiest spot in town, now deserted during the lockdown. (Tahira Anwar)

The first week went fairly ok. We stayed home, no walks, no nothing. The weather was really nice, sunny, and warm, around 20 degrees Celsius, which allowed us to be on our relatively big terrace and do some gardening or just enjoying the sun. After a week, I went to do groceries. As my parents belong to the risk group for COVID-19, I would be the only one to go out for the weekly groceries. Usually, I would queue around 2-3 hours for groceries because the entrance to the shop has been regulated and only a few people could get in at a time. Being the only one to go out did put pressure on me and made me feel even more concerned for my parents: what if I carried the virus home after buying food? I was obviously very careful but still, how careful could you be when in a grocery store there were also other people touching the same stuff you touch? At home, I would also spend time Skyping or Facetiming friends and relatives, all extremely worried by the escalation of infections in Italy. My job search had a tiny break. Though I managed to get a screening call interview for a company in London, I was applying a bit fewer positions probably because I had been spending a lot of time watching news not only from Italy but also about Pakistan and Finland as I have family and friends in both countries.

The second week started to get heavy on me. I felt overwhelmed by the amount of information on the pandemic. Anything I did, turning on the TV, watching the news, logging on Facebook, Twitter, or any other platform was just COVID-19, COVID-19, and more COVID-19. I realized that I literally couldn’t do anything else! I shifted from one news to another, from one app to another in an unstoppable vicious circle. I literally moved from my sofa to my bed and back, my mobile always with me showing some sort of news. Needless to say, this affected my job search too, now on quarantine as well, locked somewhere I couldn’t get because all this was draining my energy and will to do anything.

I shifted from one news to another, from one app to another in an unstoppable vicious circle. I literally moved from my sofa to my bed and back, my mobile always with me showing some sort of news.

During the second week, I started displaying some physical symptoms: heaviness on my chest and shortage of breath are heavily affecting my days. I was quite sure these were in no way related to any COVID-19 related but sometimes, for a tiny millisecond, I would think, “what if”? Right after the appearance of these symptoms, my sleep went all over the place as well. I used to follow quite a regular sleeping routine but now, either I couldn't fall asleep or if I did, I would wake up in the middle of the night without any reason and stare at the ceiling for hours until, eventually, I would fall asleep again. So yes, there it was again, my old dear friend anxiety coming back to visit me! I have been dealing with anxiety and sleeping problems for several years but last year’s episodes at my university and this lockdown definitely increased its symptoms a lot!

Tahira's crippled family of origami. (Tahira Anwar)

I needed to do something, I needed to help myself and get out of this stillness. I needed to give a structure to my days despite not having a clear goal or a clear aim like writing an article, a grant, or a thesis. First of all, I decided to limit my exposure to the internet and all the tragic news for shorter and specific times of the day. I picked up a new hobby and started making origami. Every day I tried a different animal (usually my 7-year-old nephew who lives in London would ask me for specific animals) and now I have a happy crippled family of 5. As I forced myself to less screen-time, I started spending more time on our terrace and having regular chats with our neighbor living downstairs: a terrace-to-terrace coffee time! Logging onto Twitter I came across a few opportunities to keep myself busy. I signed up for “Skype a Scientist”, a platform that allows homeschooling families to contact a scientist and have a chat on a topic they are interested in. Towards the end of March, I made the decision to share my experience of living in lockdown at one of the centers of this pandemic. And here I am, battling my impostor syndrome (yep, got that too!) and writing about my life in lockdown.


It's now almost five weeks of full lockdown and my anxiety is slightly better with milder physical symptoms. I keep myself busy with different things and I have again started applying for some more jobs though in the back of my mind there is always the fear of not getting a call back due to the tragic circumstances. Our Prime Minister has prolonged the quarantine until the 3rd of May. Some specific types of shops, offices, and industries are allowed to open on the 14th of April, but the rest of the population will still need to follow the lockdown rules. Italy seems to have reached its peak, but that is after 160,000 confirmed cases and 20,000 deaths. We need more days to hopefully see a downward trend of the infections and deaths; if all goes as expected, we should very slowly start getting to a more “normal” life.

We need more days to hopefully see a downward trend of the infections and deaths; if all goes as expected, we should very slowly start getting to a more “normal” life. But what is a “normal life” after this?

But what is a “normal life” after this? What will I be allowed to do? Will I be able to do groceries normally? Will I be able to see my friends like before? Will I be allowed to travel? Will I be able to go and give an interview if needed? I don’t know the answers to all these questions but honestly, I don't want to think about it now. There is still plenty of time, and I'll worry, because I know I’ll worry, about it later.

Captured at 00:23, a breathtaking midnight sun at Rovaniemi, the capital of Lapland in Northern Finland. (Tahira Anwar)

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Tahira Anwar

Born in Rome, Italy, to Pakistani parents, Tahira graduated in Biological Sciences (Master of Science) from Sapienza University. She then moved to Helsinki, Finland, where she obtained her Ph.D. from the University of Helsinki studying autophagy, a self-eating cellular process that plays an important role in many physiological processes and whose impairment causes several diseases. Tahira enjoys cooking quite a lot and she participated several times in Restaurant Day events and she also cooks for her friend’s parties too. Oddly, she once carried with her friends a second-hand sofa she bought for around 5 kilometers (3.1 miles).

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