Yesterday officially marked five months since I’ve been living at home. Like so many students across the world, the COVID-19 pandemic forced my friends and I off of our college campus back in March. All of a sudden, our beloved community Shabbat dinners, midnight sushi runs, and study sessions on the college green were taken away from us so abruptly after returning from our spring break. Months later, and I still miss every part of it and what could’ve been the end of my first year of college. I miss it all, even the bitterly cold January mornings which forced me up and out of my lofted bed and on the way to 8 am Hebrew class. When we were told we had to leave campus, I stuffed my clothing and shoes into way too many trash bags and piled them into my sister’s Honda CR-V, thinking to myself, “But this is only temporary, right?”
And at that moment, it was, until the dreaded email on March 23rd popped up in my email inbox. As my eyes shuffled across my screen and read the words “We have made the difficult decision that…” I felt only what I can describe as a numbing, aching feeling that left me submerged in my own anxiety for the next few days. Before I knew it, days were turning into weeks, which turned into months without any stability or answers, which made me fidgety and uneasy.
Some days were better than others. I began to walk every day, exploring new trails, and developing a deeper appreciation for nature. I basked in the sun’s warmth and fell in love with the sky. There is just something so calming about it, just looking up and escaping for just a few seconds.
The skies remind me that none of us are alone. It feels comforting in a sense, to be immersed in the ever-expanding aqua above and know that someone else is looking up at it, too, going through the same thing, and surviving.
After the headache of Zoom classes ended each day, I picked flowers and sat cross-legged and barefoot in the grass outside while I brainstormed writing ideas, which I hadn’t done in a very long time. I started going to therapy every week again, redecorated my room, and reunited with singing and songwriting. This was good because the busier I kept myself, the happier I told myself I’d be.
But if the grass is always greener on the other side, why does mine feel like it’s wilting?
Quarantine brought upon a rollercoaster of emotions for me, as it has been for everyone, but what is so wrong with letting yourself feel them? I was still extremely busy even while learning remotely and did not have too much time to relax, but whenever I did, I grew anxious. To me, downtime meant a lack of structure and productivity, which I equated to laziness and not being able to achieve my goals. In a world with so much uncertainty looming over us, I feared that I was slipping in all aspects of my life. At school, being involved was a part of my daily routine, but at home, I faced the challenge of learning how to create my own structure and struggled to motivate myself like I had done so effortlessly at school. I’ve always been a go-getter, but no matter how many things I found to occupy myself, I felt myself becoming burnt out from the constant pressure to be productive. If I could just stay as positive and busy as possible, I told myself everything would be okay and that I could find happiness again, but instead, I just kept piling more and more onto my plate.
I still remained unsatisfied. I was exercising, writing affirmations and reading them aloud, using essential oils, and dabbling in every single “self-care” method possible yet I could not find the quick fix of normalcy that I had been desperately searching for. I missed my friends, my school, and most of all, I missed feeling like my old self and wanted to automatically return to that lighter, more vibrant version of myself. I wanted to feel something positive again because my brain hurt from all the negative, lonely energy around me. Then, a few months later it dawned on me: My constant need to be “positive” was completely exhausting me and became a huge catalyst for my anxiety.
The first time I had heard the term “toxic positivity” was when I was mindlessly scrolling through Instagram one night and had seen a friend repost it to her story. “Toxic positivity” is the idea that we should focus solely on the positives in life in order to feel better. It’s pushing your feelings aside and minimizing them to compare your specific situation to ones deemed “more important” than your own. As I read, I realized that this was something I had unintentionally been doing this for so long, especially in the past few months. If I could still try and uplift other people, maybe somehow I’d be able to do the same inside and get myself out of the hole I had been digging for so long. Regardless of who you are or what your background is, our lives were all put on pause because of this, and everyone’s experiences and feelings should be viewed to a similar standard rather than compared.
When I learned that my college was not opening its doors to upperclassmen students this fall, I took the news very badly. I cried (and did a whole lot of it, too!) and constantly lashed out, screamed, falling into this cycle of hopelessness, anger, and sadness. FOMO (fear of missing out) is real, anxiety is real, and sometimes, life just sucks. Sometimes, shit completely hits the fan and you’re left to pick up the pieces afterward. Sometimes, just sitting on your bed and accepting the reality of the current situation is all you can really do to process everything in a healthy way and better understand what your own feelings are, and that is more than okay.
I’m sorry, but if I’m heartbroken over not going back to school, I’d really, really prefer it if you didn’t babble on about how so many people have it worse than me. I recognize my privilege and reflect on it frequently. I am so beyond grateful to have a roof over my head, food to eat, warm clothing, access to a college education, and a loving family. These resources do put me at an advantage, but they do not excuse my feelings. There is a difference between being realistic and being a pessimist, and continuing to process and mourn the loss of my college experience, or any canceled event for that matter, should not be associated with guilt. There is a pressure that we should be happy for other people when they mindlessly post pictures partying with all of their college friends, but honestly, it’s difficult to watch other people partaking in what could’ve and should’ve been our college experience, too. Seeing everyone else go off and enjoy their “normal lives” while you feel like you’re stuck in one place is hard. These thoughts are 100% real and valid ones that my friends and I have multiple times throughout the day, but it is about what you do with those thoughts that can make all the difference. I’m not going to “fake it ‘til I make it” because I know that either way, I will make it.
I am a 19-year old figuring this crazy, horribly-gone-wrong-sci-fi-movie version of life out right now, and I can show that side of myself to people without fearing judgment or presenting as “negative.” I do not have to smile all time, tell people I’m okay when they ask how I am or wear a full face of makeup on Zoom calls because quite frankly, I am exhausted. Humans adapt quickly and are inherently flexible, but that does not mean I have to return to “normal” so quickly with how I am feeling. We are all trying our best right now, and sometimes, just trying is enough.
Five months into the pandemic, I have seen how messy, complicated, and really goddamn awful life can get, but I know I can still handle it. I’ve made it through 100% of my terrible days, and so have you. There are countless forces coming at us all from different ends and overwhelming us, but they are either thoughts or temporary happenings that will pass. I’ve learned that how I view things is up to me, and I have the power to determine how my life will be. Right now, I am choosing peace and consistency. It is my choice to accept what I cannot change, reflect on what I can, and continue to embrace my emotions rather than suppressing them for the sake of keeping my shit together. We are going to be okay again, even if we do not feel like that is feasible for us right now. Do not be fooled by my smile, I am really struggling, but I am dealing with this in the best way that I know-how. I still remain hopeful that I can still leave the world a better place than I found it for both others and myself, even from behind a computer screen. I am also choosing gentleness, kindness, hope, and relaxation, and to find those within myself during this difficult time.
And I am ready to accept those feelings with a warm embrace.