I’ve overplayed certain songs to the point where I immediately skip them if they pop up on a playlist now, dyed my hair the brightest red it’s ever been, pierced my nose and finally downloaded TikTok after months of telling my sister I wouldn’t because it was a waste of phone storage.
It’s been a little over a year since the pandemic picked up in the U.S. — I’ll refrain from recounting it in detail because each of us lived it. I don’t think I have any specific revelations or moments that occurred during or after the thick of quarantine that make my experience any more relevant, or daunting, than anyone else’s, but I think that’s what sometimes frightens me most.
I’ve spent almost an entire year of my life trapped in an intangible, indescribable numbness that could’ve been dedicated to growth or change or learning to play the guitar and making whipped coffee. I almost feel guilty for not doing any of those things, or for not even writing when I had virtually all the time in the world.
Now my schedule sees me sitting in a classroom once — or sometimes twice, as a treat — during the course of a week, and spending the other days contemplating my entire existence as I see my exhausted-even-though-it’s-10-a.m.-and-I-just-woke-up-face in a tiny square in the corner of my screen.
I often wonder what my high school self would think of me, and my current predicaments, if she watched my daily routine through a 2017 magic mirror or something. I used to wake up at 6 a.m. every single day, spend over six hours sitting in various classrooms and interacting with people in person, and then still managed to find enough time and mental energy to stay for after-school activities and do my homework until ungodly hours of the night. (For the record, doing my homework at 3 a.m. still remains a lovely trait of mine, but it’s usually because I’ve procrastinated all evening and still fear deadlines and authority.)
Perhaps my underlying motive for writing this article — and the reason I feel comfortable enough sharing my most personal journalistic piece to date — is knowing that I’m not alone. That sounds incredibly Hallmark-movie to say, but I mean it in the sense of “I’m not special.” Each of us are struggling and thriving in our own ways right now together — albeit separately — and sometimes I’m reminded of this in little ways. The in-between moments that are now wearing masks.
I saw it in the smiling eyes of the barista at the Starbucks drive-thru when she gave me a free baked good. I see it in the Marie Maday Theatre when an entire group of masked theatre kids sit around signing each other’s scripts, taking the time to write an extra note alongside their signatures. I saw it in the tears of my professor when we had our first in-person class as she realized that had been her first time teaching in a classroom since we were sent home last March.
I used to thrive off of feeling special and completing so-called bigger achievements (I mean, I still do) but I’ve come to greatly appreciate not feeling special during a time like this, and not being too ashamed or bashful to ask for extensions on papers or celebrating little victories.
I’m able to wake up every day knowing a solid support system awaits me, and I’m grateful to know that’s one thing the pandemic hasn’t taken away from me. I even started attending counseling for the first time in my entire life — which unfortunately took a global pandemic for me to finally sign up — but I’m nonetheless proud of myself for stepping out of my comfort zone in doing so.
So, despite rarely being able to see my best friend who works at my high school and lives a few towns away, and despite cringing inside every time I hear a song that immediately takes me back to the first season of quarantine, and despite spending so much money on various ways to change my appearance and feel excited over the ability to change and actually control something, I’m thankful I’ve found new ways to exist.
Perhaps I have changed and grown more than I’ve realized as I write this piece, but in ways that my high school-self couldn’t fathom, because that’s no longer me. The pre-pandemic world no longer exists and never will again.
I didn’t stay diligent with the Chloe Ting workouts, and I didn’t finally break the poor habit of waiting until the last minute to start an essay, but I have learned to stop focusing on the “didn’ts” and start realizing some of the “dids,” no matter how small.
I did have to learn to enjoy my own company for longer periods of time than I was used to (which is hailing from a proud lifelong introvert), I did receive opportunities to continue partaking in things I enjoy safely, and I did find new ways to love myself and those around me. I’m coming to terms with the fact that it’s okay to not be okay.
P.S. Can we please never use the words “new normal” or “quarantine” when this is all over? Thanks.