The past few weeks have been a whirlwind rollercoaster of emotions. I’ve felt everything from ecstatic to guilty to so upset that I found myself sobbing uncontrollably on the floor.
The University closed the day after my 21st birthday, and the week of March 9 went from being the best week of my life to the most chaotic. A couple girlfriends and I were set to travel to New Orleans for spring break on March 16, my parents had flown in from Singapore, my best friend was here from Scotland and I had barely slept. Despite the fear of the number of cases in the United States rising, I bought a supply of canned food and pasta, some hand sanitizer and Clorox and went on living my life as if not much would change, and everything would be okay on April 12.
It has been exactly three weeks since I stopped believing that. Since then, I’ve cancelled my spring break plans, booked and cancelled flights home (to Singapore) every other day, invested in a home office set up, packed suitcases, painted half a giant canvas, made homemade gloves out of plastic bags and rubber bands, built a bar and used so much hand sanitizer that my skin is actually peeling off. Absolutely nothing about my life is normal. Yet, every day I beat myself up for not being 100 percent okay with it.
So why do I expect myself to assimilate and be mentally okay instantaneously while I am still physically adjusting to a new routine within 750 square feet?
First, because I don’t want to worry anyone. My parents are oceans away, and I don’t want them to think for a second that I’m not perfectly fine here, in case things go horribly wrong and I can’t get home for a couple of months. I also don’t want to worry my boyfriend, who I am quarantined with, because emotions are contagious, and I would hate for my panic to induce his.
Second, I feel guilty for feeling bad. There are doctors, nurses and grocery store clerks working tirelessly, and people sick with this virus who are in far worse states than I am, so why am I finding it hard to adjust when they are literally endangering themselves to protect others or fighting for their lives?
Third, and lastly, I am so scared of actually facing reality for what it is right now that I constantly lull myself into a false sense of security — distracting myself with TV or throwing myself into work, multiple times a day, until the day is just gone.
In actuality, what I’m not doing is being forgiving with myself. There is no “right” way to adjust to this situation. More importantly, the difficulty we’re all facing is relative to our individual contexts. There hasn’t been an international pandemic like this in about a century, and I certainly haven’t lived through anything even marginally similar to this, so there is absolutely no precedent, and nothing to compare to for me.
Sure, it sounds great to have lots of time on my hands and be home all the time; I could be working out, watching documentaries, reading books, being on top of and ahead in all my classes, eating extremely healthy meals and sticking to a perfect routine seven days a week. If I was voluntarily doing this to myself, I probably would be. But what I’m comparing my current reaction to is a state of normalcy that no longer exists, and holding myself to that unfairly high standard is just not working.
I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling this way, so here are some things that I’ve been doing that I’ve found helpful: genuinely limit how much news you consume. Personally, I find coronavirus-related news everywhere from Instagram to Apple News to YouTube, and unfortunately I don’t have the liberty of fully shutting it off because I do need to keep an eye on travel restrictions, so I have allotted 30 minutes a day in the morning to checking up on things and being done with it.
Another thing I’ve been doing is making daily to-do lists. After breakfast, I sit down at my desk and write down two or three tasks I need to get done that day. Sometimes I’ve found that I have an immense number of things due and chores to do, but I don’t allow myself to write down more than three things a day because the shame spiral that comes with not ticking off everything on that list is so much worse than asking for an extension. Lastly, showering every single morning. Starting my day the way I normally would on any school day is so helpful in keeping productivity up and preventing myself from feeling too bad first thing in the morning.
I’m sorry to say that I don’t have a quick fix for any of these things we’re all feeling. The only thing I want to emphasize is that we need to let ourselves feel them. This is not a normal situation and there is no “normal” reaction, so please let yourself cope however you need to. I promise to try and do the same.