It has been 41 days since I came to join the rest of the United States in the national stay at home order.
I have experienced every emotion known to man over this past month. During my travels from Kenya back to the US, I definitely had not processed fully what was happening. Half of me felt numb, very numb. The other half…was a bit in denial. For some reason, I felt that my return to the US was temporary, merely a short evacuation. Perhaps in the summer our program would be allowed to finish where we left off. Oh Yamai, how naive.
And then I arrived home. As the pandemic situation progressed rapidly around the world, the empath in me suppressed all the sadness I had felt from my own experience, and adopted the experiences of others. My heart ached for the people around the world who did not have the privilege to simply “stay at home” and “social distance.” Their livelihoods and positions in life simply would not allow for it.
The early days of self-quarantine were rather decent. I spent time recuperating from an academically rigorous semester (one that was on pause for the moment), catching up on TV shows and with friends (virtually), and consuming home-cooked meals. My days were spent lounging while I waited on word from my program about how the semester would continue. I still had assignments due for four classes, and was not looking forward to working from home.
As school picked back up again, I found myself entering a period of anger and frustration. I was resentful towards my university and professors for their assumption that we should continue with the semester “business as usual” while the outside world burnt to the ground. I was also just tired. This is coming from a college senior who was growing sick of academia and patiently waiting for a graduation that would soon be postponed. Forgive me if the last thing on my mind was writing a ten page paper on abstract theories about gender and development.
And then there was the cabin fever from being cooped up in a small apartment with my family.
I had planned so intentionally for this year. I would study abroad my last semester, come back to graduate, and then be off to the University of Florida for two months of intensive French learning. That would be followed up with me leaving for Senegal in late August to continue this language training. This was supposed to be a critical year for my transition out of undergrad and lay the foundations for what was to come in the future.
And I think that is what hurts the most and is the root of my anger about this entire situation. I had created this picture perfect view of what 2020 would look like, failing to consider the possibility that something could take this year from me. And although I still feel robbed because to a certain extent this pandemic did not need to be a pandemic, I am slowly coming to terms with the reality.
There’s an old adage that goes “man plans and God laughs.” I feel like God has been cackling at me for a while now. Just as life was looking up for so many people, things changed instantly. Not only must I stress about my postgraduate timeline being severely disrupted, now I’m stressing about my financial future and what all of this means for me securing employment in the long run. Who would’ve thought that the Class of 2020 would be in for this rude awakening into “adulting.”
And yet despite all of these anxieties, I’m trying to remain present. I find myself mentally planning how I can professionally bounce back after COVID-19, playing with new deadlines and potential endeavors. In a time of “great uncertainty” (I’m so over this word), I’m trying to find a balance between simply just being and trying to change what I have control over.
Am I still angry, upset, and gravely offended by an invisible enemy practically ruining my life? Oh, you bet. Can I also recognize that people have it a lot worse? As an empath, absolutely.
There is no one correct way to cope through this pandemic. We are complex beings that experience an array of emotions that may contradict and intersect with one another. I think if I have learned anything from this pandemic (besides the importance of good hygiene, investing in health systems, and breaking community transmission), it’s that life is a series of peaks and valleys. In times like these, we are reminded of how temporary and arbitrary everything in this world is. All we can do is simply live through them, and hopefully come out on the other side stronger and wiser.