The New Normal

I’m sitting up in my bed in my parent’s house only a week after having moved out of my on-campus (adjacent) housing accommodations from my junior year at university. My boyfriend tells me I shouldn’t work in bed because it will mess with my sleep cycle, but he’s not here to encourage me to work at my desk instead, nor is my desk a space very conducive to writing in its current luggage-filled state. So, sorry babe, I guess my bed will have to do.

It would be an understatement to say that this semester did not quite go as planned.

These past few months I’ve resisted writing about my experience living through a global pandemic, not because it’s been surreal or because I felt I didn’t have anything new to add to the already vast collection of articles on the virus and its disastrous social effects (although both are true to some degree). But because, like many people, I simply haven’t had the will or the motivation to work.

I’ve had my fair share of apathetic bouts over the years, which usually seem to blossom in the summer months and completely flower into full-blown breakdowns just before the fall semester starts up again, but none of these depressive periods have impacted me quite like living through a global pandemic.

Unlike many of ASU’s on-campus students, I chose to remain in on-campus housing for the duration of the spring semester, deciding not to take Michael Crow’s bait of a stipend in exchange for an early move-out. Although I remain steadfast in my decision to have stayed on-campus until 24 hours after my last final exam, I will admit that this decision did take its toll on my mental health. When you go from running to class amongst thousands of students on ASU Tempe’s campus five days a week to walking to the Memorial Union P.O.D. Market in between remote Zoom classes where the only person you’ll talk to--or even see--is the cashier, you can feel quite isolated.

Girl lying on bed aloneNow that is the point of stay-at-home orders and social distancing, for sure, but after a while, the buzzwords that only whisked themselves into existence a couple of months ago start to take on a heaviness to them. What were once phrases I struggled to recall during my news-headline-breakfast-debrief with my roommate back in early March, have now become bolded vocabulary that someday some 7th grader will have to memorize out of her middle school history textbook.

Social distancing doesn’t just mean staying 6ft apart, it means hiding in your home protected by a barricade of contraband toilet paper and Purell. “Wash your hands” is no longer just a message on bathroom signage to restaurant and fast-food joint employees imploring them to follow health-codes, it’s a mantra spoken by the pandemic generation. Masks are not just a protective measure only seen on the occasional healthcare or construction worker, they are the staple piece to the uniform we all must wear to do our part in flattening the curve.

These changes, which for most people were hard to swallow in March of this year, have now become the new normal. Somehow, though, I’m still struggling to see this as anything but. The social distancing and the mantras to wash your hands and wear a mask don’t bring to mind a sense of community. Sure, there is a sense of togetherness that the world has adopted as we’ve slowly come to realize that nobody is safe from the virus. But I feel so much farther from my peers, and even from strangers, than I’ve ever felt before. The global pandemic hasn’t just forced physical space between us all, it has taken away our choice to limit that space. Who would have thought we’d miss the early morning drive (or rather the “drive and stop”) on our traffic-filled way to work or school? Or the interactions we’d have in breakout groups in small seminar classes? Although I welcome the sounds of birds I’d never heard before on my walk around outside and the decrease in air pollution brought about by the halt of the American workforce, I can’t shake this feeling of isolation. FaceTime, Zoom, and Skype calls can try to replace human connection, but it’s hardly a substitute for physical touch and closeness.

Girl Reading A Book In Bed ​I admire those who have found solace in these adaptive measures and the communities they’ve built on-line, but I have yet to reach this point. The pandemic’s not-so-graceful way of limiting my own (and everyone else’s) individual choice and freedoms have put a bit of a damper on my ability to community build. My only hope is that in the coming months I will learn to adapt just as others have because the effects of the pandemic are far from over.

For right now, though, I will sit in my bed writing my musings on pandemic life to anyone who will listen because for the time being, you’re all I’ve got.