Has Covid-19 robbed us of our illusions?

I used to forget about reality in the illusory distractions of streets, theatres, cinemas

Have we been robbed of our illusions? Is that one of the big psychological losses of the pandemic?

Illusions add spice to life. Remember the singing on the balconies and the plans we all had to get our lives in order during lockdown? That all went down like a slowly deflating balloon – but it was exciting for a while, it cheered us up and did no harm.

Maybe much of the best of life lies in illusion. For instance, those years when you think you and your crowd are going to live forever, when the future stretches into the distance like the yellow brick road, are good years full of hope and possibility. That they contain a strong dash of denial doesn’t take from the fact that they are good years. That’s a tribute to the power of illusion to lighten what can be a hard path.

Illusion can make you sing and dance while grim reality (and the National Public Health Emergency Team) says go and sit in that corner over there

When you’re locked down with too much time to think is that illusion sustainable? If not, it’s a huge loss.


Even the illusion that the whole Covid thing would be over soon and then the illusion that it was, more or less, over sustained us. Would it have done us any good to have known what was coming?

My father used to talk about a man in the parish who took up dancing in his 70s after a quiet and retiring life. That is the power of illusion: it can make you sing and dance while grim reality (and the National Public Health Emergency Team) says go and sit in that corner over there and don’t stir until you’re told to.

In college people can develop the illusion that they are with the in-crowd (which I’m sure isn’t called that any more) and that they are better than all the rest. That this was stripped away is, I think, cruel.

In the workplace the illusion that you are special can add a spring to your step. When I was in journalism we used to bolster each other’s belief that we were different to people in mundane jobs. As time went on you could see it wasn’t true but the illusion added something to our days and nights that I wouldn’t be without. How easy is it to sustain that from behind a laptop beside your cornflakes?

Magic distractions

I can forget about the realities of life – the ones I don't welcome – in the magic, illusory distractions of streets, theatres, restaurants and cinemas. Netflix leaves me exactly where I am.

It’s not all about illusion, of course: in normal life you can hope to run across real people and things that “take you out of yourself”. When you meet people in person, even if you didn’t particularly want to meet them, they exercise some sort of alchemy that can be summed up in that “take you out of yourself” phrase. You may have groaned at their approach and looked for some inoffensive way to avoid them, but still the encounter rearranges the molecules in your brain and you go on your way energised. In my experience you don’t generally have these encounters in the online world.

You know the carousel in a carnival and the horses with flowing manes carrying children or, later in the evening, young lovers around and around? In the pandemic the carousel with its illusion of magic and fun and romance has stopped. But when this is over it will start to move again and the music will begin to play again.

Then you and I can embrace our illusions and distractions like friends lost and now found. We can forget reality, whatever that is, in the flow of other people’s comings and goings, poses and posturings, in colours, sounds, the chatter of strangers, their truths and lies, the clatter of coffee shops, the drama of crowded streets. We can dance and pretend that this is real and that the yellow brick road we thought we were on is real too.

William Butler Yeats wrote: “Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.” Change dreams to illusions. That’ll do me.

Padraig O'Morain is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His latest book is Daily Calm. His daily mindfulness reminder is free by email (pomorain@yahoo.com)