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Student Series 01: Preparing for Uncertainty    

Student Series 01: Preparing for Uncertainty

INTRODUCING OUR FIRST STUDENT SERIES:

Perspectives On School In The Time Of COVID-19

For college and primary school students alike, the beginning of the 2020-2021 academic year is just around the corner. The COVID-19 pandemic poses unprecedented obstacles for students all around the country, culminating in the final question of: should I go back to school or not?

We asked several students from around the country to write about their thoughts, anxieties, hopes, and fears revolving around school in the time of COVID-19. In the next couple of weeks, we will be releasing a student series in which authentic voices elaborate on their thoughts on the decision that all students are currently facing.

We want to hear from YOU. To share your experience with mental health in the time of COVID-19 as a student, email submissions to LocalOptimist@Madhappy.com.

With love,

The Madhappy team

Artwork by FISK

BY SAMANTHA FOULK

T-minus two weeks until I drive the seven hours from my roommate’s house in Maine to the Finger Lakes Region of upstate New York. Two weeks until I repeat the process of reestablishing my home for the next…three months? Three weeks? Three days? My college has prepared for its students to participate in a hybrid of limited in-person and remote courses back on campus until Thanksgiving, where we will then return back home to complete our finals online with the hopes of avoiding the highly anticipated second spike of COVID-19. However, the amount of times I’ve heard friends declare how likely it is we are sent home after just a week or two leaves me feeling unqualified to know what the hell is going to happen.

Dare to say that my friends’ proclamations come true, and all classes are required to fall back into remote learning, then I plan to remain living with my housemates in our duplex on campus. Although current rationale has debunked the idea of twenty-year-olds being free of COVID consequence, I do feel a sense of comfort that I’ll no longer be putting my parents at risk every time I walk out the door and return home. For the professors that I will safely be meeting with this fall, it is arranged by their preference and at a distance with masks. But ultimately, I will have full autonomy to change any in-person participation to online if need be.

Who would have thought that the year I turned twenty would be no start to any roaring twenties, but a gateway to confusion, pain, loss, and uncertainty. The uncertainty of these past six months—half of a year—has led me to confront the drastic changes in my everyday life. I never thought I’d be watching a movie and think Oh my god, they are all so close together—they shouldn’t be doing that! And where are their masks?? 2020 has provided anything but 20/20 vision for any of us. If anything, 2020 has brought me to consider whether the world is indeed coming to an end.

For instance, planning for the future now feels like tightroping over quicksand—I must take each day one step at a time or the staggering symptoms of uncertainty will rob me of my balance, and I’ll be left plummeting into the blackhole of anxiety. For how am I supposed to know if my future will even have room for the decisions I make today?

Back in March, once I accepted the reality of my college experience relocating back home and under my parent’s roof, remote learning had only the slightest damage to my soul. This, however, was before another three months went by and the compulsion to return to a captivating schedule of discipline—and a change of scenery—was not yet eating away at the expiration date of my simple yet satisfying quarantine routine. There’s also the growing desire to be allowed indoors and surrounded by friends at any revolving moment.

After wrapping up my last final for my sophomore year of college (from my childhood bedroom in Seattle), I made a pact with myself concerning how I would spend the following two weeks before my remote job started. Two weeks that I could either fit more quarantine walks into my schedule and binge every new series on Netflix now that classes were finished, or I could capitalize on this valuable break from responsibility and reflect on the state of my mind at the moment. The pact I made with myself consisted of option number two, and in doing so, I obtained control of mentally preparing myself for the months to come.

I forced myself to reconcile with the feeling of uncertainty—the feeling of such anxiety, for I found that anxiety benefits off the feeling of powerlessness. Digesting emotions of discomfort is one hard pill to swallow. But there is beauty that comes with sitting with uncomfortable emotions.

As many of us can agree, sitting with our emotions can be compared to the itching feeling to back out of a confrontational exchange with a friend we’ve been actively avoiding for weeks. We can see the end-goal in sight, but in no way do we feel ready to put in the work to arrive at a state of reconciliation. Well, that’s similarly how it felt when I contemplated the very state I was in—from seeing the repercussions of a pandemic worsening by the minute (while finding no comfort in our country’s lack of leadership) to addressing and further educating myself on my privileges to partake in conversations and install actions to disassemble the systemic racism in our country.

Every newspaper article I read questioned my decision to feel hopeful. Yet, it was in the depths of my mind where I realized the value of channeling my gratitude. Amid our country’s devastation, I came to understand the power behind the cliché of control what you can control. I am not capable or responsible of carrying the weight of an entire country, but I can direct my empathy into actions that I can control, such as wearing a mask in public spaces, sanitizing, and limiting my social interactions to fewer numbers of parties.

Speaking of parties, and in this case, a different form of the word ‘party,’ I know that there will be a lot of confusion and anxiety around wanting the social scenes at college to remain the same as previous years. Social distancing required on campus only brings me to question the salvation of the partying scene. Will the late-teens and early twenty-year-olds that make up our student population be responsible enough to resist making selfish decisions in order to keep our community healthy? Not to mention that a flood of cases would send us all home for good. After all, scientists have detected that the youth’s delusion of their invincibility has led to many of the most recent spikes in cases. As comfortable as many of us may feel around getting sick, our body’s individual response to COVID-19 is just as uncertain as our futures.

So, it is within our very expectations of this upcoming year that will determine whether we experience fulfillment. I would be lying if I said I didn’t mind the predicted limitations on my social life at school, however, I am not alone in experiencing these restrictions—we are all in this together. And together, if we shift our expectations to focus inward on those we value and wish to uphold, then however long our first semester lasts on campus, we have the capability to max-out our time there. Inside of channeling my energy in wishing things were different, day after day, I want to seize the moment—seize the opportunity to be reunited with my friends and feel satisfied with the work I put into school. Feel satisfied with the decisions I can control. And as a result, feel grateful of the unscathed possibilities I still have in store for me.

Just as if I were walking a tightrope, I can only take one step at a time once I arrive on campus. If I seek to find fulfillment in the little things, such as a meaningful interaction with a professor or a great night spent with loved ones, then I feel confident in my ability to make each day count. I will cross each bridge as they come, and if fall semester goes fully remote, then that reality will be out of my control. And therefore, not my responsibility to change but my responsibility to feel grateful for the decisions I will be capable of making.