Why This Month Has Been Especially Rough
Hiya folks. Nice to see ya. This is the first time I’ve written on Medium in exactly one month. A lot has happened since then: I saw my boyfriend for the first time in almost six months, we took our first “vacation” together in 3 years (a.k.a. we chilled in an Airbnb), I received my second dose of Moderna, NIAID vaccine, and today, my grandparents are receiving their second Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 shot. So many joyous things have taken place in my life recently, and I’m so grateful, but I’ve also never been so physically and emotionally drained.
This time last year, I was adjusting to online learning and having date nights over FaceTime. I stopped seeing friends, and they stopped talking to me, too. This time last year, we all stopped having the energy for each other and had to focus on our immediate emotional, physical, and psychological well-being. Rolling over into my boyfriend’s arms after months of on end separation reminded me of this acute pain that I’ve worked so hard unconsciously to numb — I forgot what it felt like to be loved and to have someone to hold me and see me. For the last year, I stopped experiencing my friends in person, and times spent catching up weren’t over coffee, in cute outfits, but over text where we’d only reply to each other days, weeks, and sometimes even months later.
While we stayed at our Airbnb, I recalled my last normal day: March 13, 2020. It was my boyfriend’s 23rd birthday. I initially planned to take him up to Empire State Building. After living in New York City for four-plus years, he’d never seen the view of the city from the 86th floor. I told him to meet me in Madison Square Park once he finished work. I arrived thirty minutes late with my hair pushed back; since I started sporting bangs, he told me he missed seeing my face. At the time, no one really knew the severity of COVID-19 in the U.S. so I told him to follow me to our destination, and if he didn’t feel comfortable going, we could do something else. When he finally looked up and realized where we were, he said, “Let’s go.”
It was eerily empty for a Friday evening. We ran around the perimeter of the 86th floor like it was our playground and took photos and held each other close as we watched the sunset.
While walking home, enjoying a classic New York City stroll, we decided to get dinner at Han Dynasty in the East Village. Tables were already spaced apart. “I really like this,” my boyfriend told me. He enjoyed the personal space, and I savored the spicy cucumber and cold noodles I ordered. I always tend to order incorrectly at restaurants, and this was the first time I liked my food more than his.
You know how there are those days you look back on and everything seems so glorious to the point where you cannot fathom its perfection. That’s what my last “pre-COVID” day was like. So when I rolled over to my boyfriend on his 24th birthday, everything rushed back to me all at once. I didn’t cry or anything, but I could feel the heaviness of realizing it’s been one year: One year of on and off separation from my boyfriend, mourning time lost while simultaneously appreciating the time I’ve had and will continue to have, struggling to find employment after working my ass off in college, creating opportunities for myself and learning my worth, growing closer to my family and creating memories with them, and them alone… for one year.
This tidal wave of thoughts and emotions — whatever its variation — stays with you. Knowing that I’ve somehow come out of this period, basically unscathed, comes with survivor’s guilt. I’m just supposed to… enjoy my life now? I have no reason to… avoid people? I can feel comfortable… doing (some) things? Returning to “normalcy” is simultaneously anxiety-inducing and liberating.
I can finally safely see my grandparents in Florida and my vaccinated BFF in NYC, but I also have fewer reasons to avoid gatherings. I’ll be the one with my mask on indoors, and that’s fine, but managing and processing all these emotions that come with change bogs me down. I feel a greater need to be productive and have less of an excuse to avoid living my life. As life winds up again, is the air supposed to pump right back up into me, as if nothing happened?
Watching your life as you once knew it and the world around you crumble before your eyes is traumatizing. And throughout that time, we’ve all had to be functioning members of society, while grieving life lost for the living and the dead. All of that wears on people, physically and psychologically. I have more gray hears than I’ve ever had before. I’m 23. I’m 23 and I feel like I’ve lived five different lives in the last year. If you’ve also experienced a sudden decline in productivity, energy, focus, and a general desire to engage this past month, it’s probably because your body is telling you, “You’ve done enough. Rest.”
From here on out, we will need to shift our mentalities away from survival mode and that will take time. While some are ready to break free from the chains of quarantine, others may need to hibernate to find their way back to the living. And that’s alright, we can get there together by taking some fat naps (and baths, too).