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Student Series 02: Staying In    

Student Series 02: Staying In

Artwork by FISK

BY ELEANOR CITRON

I’ve grown up in cities, and I go to college in one. I have come to find solace in the sound of sirens, the hum of people on streets, and the feeling like I’m never alone. There’s always someone around. Someone is awake, always, even at the strangest of hours.

In college, these sentiments only amplified. There is always something to do. I could go to Insomnia Cookies or binge Netflix with friends at an absurd hour. Walk around. Go to a museum. Sit by the lakefront.

I think that this sense of vitality is what keeps me going. If the city is a body, then its people are its pulse. They pump through the city’s streets, its veins. Infrastructure is its organs. The towers, statues, and green spaces provide essential gathering places for the city’s people. However, in the past six months, the city’s frenetic energy has ceased. In March, I left school and returned home to write my final exams. On my second day home, I was notified by that spring quarter would not be in person—rather, it would be moved online as the novel Coronavirus surged through the country, infecting thousands daily. People retreated into their homes and business closed their doors indefinitely.

I was glad to be home, safe with my family during the pandemic’s outbreak. I have Type 1 diabetes, and it is uncertain how my disease and Coronavirus interact with one another.

I have lived with diabetes for the past eight years. I check my blood sugar several times a day; I have an insulin pump tethered onto my body 24/7; and I have other strange gadgets and stickers arrested onto my stomach and legs. My friends joke that my insulin pump is my Gameboy; I joke that I’m a cyborg—part machine, part human, and perhaps with enhanced capabilities. Throughout my life, I have been made to feel different simply by virtue of my disease. Perhaps I find solace in the city because it makes me feel less different or alone.

Since coming home in March, I rarely leave my house. I am hardly allowed to see friends or go the grocery store. The thought of me interacting with the outside world in any substantial way gives my parents panic. They love me, and they fear for my safety. Having an autoimmune disease is scary enough; catching a virus or a bad flu just compounds this. For the first time in my life, I have come to see my diabetes not as a source of strength or a marker of resilience, but rather, what it actually is—a disability.

In the past six months, I have developed some coping strategies. At first, I baked consistently. I love to make tarts, cookies, and cakes for my family and friends. Then, I took up watercolors. I would paint while listening to a podcast or while watching The West Wing. I am running often, doing yoga in my bedroom, and eating well. I have a stack of books that I am working through. I’ve gotten really into curating perfect Spotify playlists.

As my friends retreat outdoors—to the beach, to parties, to visit other friends—they rediscover some semblance of the lives we bade farewell to in March. The virus wages on and worsens, and I am all the more locked indoors. My blood glucose control is excellent; I am in great health. But I just feel so alone. I am in the city—I can see the skyline from my bedroom window. There are people biking through the streets and running along the river and getting dinner with friends. And yet, I can’t engage. I’m stuck in my room, waiting for the pandemic’s grip to loosen, waiting to re-enter the world.

I get mad, frustrated, and sad. I get mad because there are people who refuse to abide by social distancing rules, who believe that the virus is a political hoax. I get frustrated because I want to go out and be in the world and not just observe it from my bedroom window. I get sad because I mourn the life I once led—hanging out with my friends, trying new foods, walking around, dancing, feeling untethered and like a free agent.

However, the Coronavirus is not something to be ignored; rather, it is shown to target not just the immunocompromised (like the elderly or those with pre-existing conditions like myself) but also marginalized communities. Those who have the privilege of pretending like Covid-19 doesn’t exist too seem to have the privilege to pretend like many of society’s other frailties—like structural racism and unequal access to healthcare—don’t exist as well. I acknowledge my privileges—as a white woman, a college student with a family to take care of me—and I ask that those in similar situations consider their privileges as well. I challenge such people to consider how their actions impact the communities that they are a part of—and if they are part of the solution, or rather, part of our pervasive Covid-19 problem.

There is no vaccine, and I know that social distancing will be hard to enforce on college campuses. In light of such considerations, combined with my diabetes, I am not going back in the fall. My parents are not letting me go back to school; I am staying at home while taking classes virtually. I wanted to push back on their decision, but truth be told, it makes sense and I agree with them. I would be returning to school to socialize and see friends, to take classes virtually (none of my classes are being offered in-person) but have some social life. With my autoimmune disease, it’s just too much of a risk. I am sad, and I am mourning the life in college I had, I loved, and I took for granted.

I joke that I have been in arrested development since March with no plans to re-enter the world and grow. I will miss college and my friends and fall quarter. But I am ok.

I am ok, and I am lucky. I am lucky to have parents that care so much about my health. I have food to eat and a bed to sleep on. I have friends that are understanding and professors looking out for me. I am secure in the knowledge that I am not alone—if not at school, in the city, then in spirit. I have a lot to be grateful for, and so, I’ll stay inside for now.