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Lonesome Town: How the Return to In-Person Learning Has Affected My Mental Health

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at BU chapter.

Whenever I talk to one of my friends — whether a BU student or a co-worker who goes to another school in the area — it becomes even clearer that this semester has been particularly rough on students. There is some sense of comfort in knowing I am not alone in this. But at the same time, it is sad to see that so many people are struggling. The simple awareness that others are in the same boat doesn’t do much to alleviate the feeling of solitary confinement of my mind (as I’m fairly certain it doesn’t alleviate my friends’ mental health struggles.)

The transition back to in-person classes has been incredibly difficult. I thought last semester was the worst I’d ever had — and I guess up to that point it was — but this one has just been worse. During the days of Zoom University, I found that I had more work than ever before. Because we were stuck at home, people often felt like we had the ability and availability to spend every waking hour on schoolwork. I was constantly stressed out and barely spoke to friends — let alone family members — who lived less than a mile away, for over a year. As much as I disliked breakout rooms on Zoom, at least they provided (required) opportunities to talk to people outside of my own house. 

I also got to take part in three or four different plays over the course of last year, which provided a nice respite. Not only could I still talk, sing, act and laugh with new and old friends a few times a week, but I could see people’s faces. Though these were by no means typical theatrical experiences, I am endlessly grateful to those who put in so much work to make them possible. I had my first experience working on an original play and developed a love for voice acting while also taking an acting class with Second City L.A. — all the way across the country from me. I don’t know that I would have had any of these opportunities if not for last year’s school format.

I think that knowing I couldn’t see people in person last year was reassuring in that it made me feel less bad when I wasn’t speaking with them because I didn’t have time.  

This semester is the first of my senior year. My classes are time-consuming and challenging and very, very lonely. The work that felt like too much last semester is nothing compared to the constant assignments coming my way these days. Aside from my acting class, I don’t know anyone. I drag myself to classes where I not only don’t know people’s names, but I don’t even know what they look like. I’m starting to miss the things I always anxiously dreaded, like group work. My fourth class this semester is my senior thesis project, which is completely by myself aside from weekly meetings with my advisor, which I go to after spending all my time working on my paper for that week in solitude. I love working with my advisor, and we have great discussions about my research and analysis that get me excited to continue with it, but the amount of time I spend on the project takes over everything, so I fall behind in all my other classes. With work and my extracurriculars outside of the project, I’m lucky I get all my assignments in and can eat. 

I barely sleep, pulling all-nighters to finish essays. Last month, I pulled two in one week. I’ve lost out on homework time because my commute is back to about two hours a day instead of the walk from my bed to my desk. I love writing, but any time I sit down to work on an article, it just means more time by myself.

Anna Schultz-Girl On Computer Stress
Anna Schultz / Her Campus

I have friends at school, but it’s really difficult for me to find time to hang out with any of them. I’ve gotten to meet up with different friends a few times this semester, and those moments bring me so much joy. Over the semester, I’ve gone to coffee, watched a Halloween string quartet, chatted in the GSU, gone to the movies, and attended my weekly BU Off Broadway singing rehearsals. I’ve had wide-ranging conversations and the opportunity to learn more about people I’ve known since freshman or sophomore year with whom I’ve hoped to become closer friends. Even when I just run into someone I know on Comm. Ave. and can say, “Hello,” it makes a difference in my day. I’m so lucky to have great people in my life, but every time I leave these interactions I leave wishing that we could get together more. I wish that I could get to know them more. I wish for the millionth time that the pandemic hadn’t happened, that it hadn’t taken away so many chances to know so many people, and that it didn’t continue to do so. 

Knowing that people are hanging out on campus and that I’m not there, that I couldn’t be there even if I did live on campus (though the commute makes it more difficult) is isolating. I feel overstretched and unreliable and spend my time hoping that people don’t think I’m standoffish. In a way, I’m having a harder time now socially than I did during the height of the pandemic because I see that people can spend time together in person. It makes me well aware that I am missing out on possible friendships and memories in my last year at school, potentially my last year to make those friendships and memories with those specific people.

Lindsay Thompson-Music Festival Miami Ultra Lights Stage Concert Balloons Music Edm
Lindsay Thompson / Her Campus

I live at home and still barely see my family. I sometimes go to sleep when my father is waking up. Trying to balance everything, I’ve missed weekend drives, quick overnight trips, and family parties. Since there’s more time to talk at work, I’m happier there than at school, but I still never stop thinking about all the things I should be doing for my classes. I feel guilty that I can’t go to work as much. I feel guilty that I ever want a break, and when I do take a break, I end up feeling worse a couple of days after because I have to catch up on whatever work I set aside. I feel guilty when I get sick — which has been happening too often because of my stress and lack of sleep. I feel guilty if I miss a class, for not participating enough, complaining, and even writing this. 

It’s uncomfortable to write down, but I recently had an intense panic attack thinking about this semester and everything I had to/have to get done in different areas. I’ve had panic attacks a few times before, but I felt especially scared this time because it seemed to come out of nowhere. I couldn’t stop crying, and every time I tried to take a deep breath, I was met with several shallow ones in quick succession. As someone who likes to be in control of my situation, the fact that I can lose control of my intake of air like that is terrifying. While I already knew I was having a rough time, that panic attack put a cherry on top of my worries. My body was letting me know what my mind knew but didn’t want to accept — that it is possible to take on too much.

I still have a lot of work to do, and unfortunately, that cannot be avoided. But I’m trying to remind myself now that the simple act of talking with friends and family can positively affect me and that I should try to live in each good moment. Sequestering myself in my room to work without getting up for hours upon hours at a time, going for long periods barely talking to anyone, staying up past 5:00 a.m. to write papers, and disallowing myself from spending 25 minutes watching a TV show are not healthy habits, and they are not helping anyone. I hate to wish away any time, but I look forward to the end of this semester. 

With all my requirements complete once this semester ends and my thesis paper ramping up, I am seriously considering petitioning for a part-time class schedule for my last semester if a seat doesn’t open in the third class I’m interested in. Either way, I’ll be in at least one less class than usual next semester. I’ll still have a lot to do, but as my schedule looks right now, I may even end up with four-day weekends, which I am not at all mad at. I could make more time for my friends, my family, and myself. I know that I truly need it.

After 17 years of putting all my effort into school, I’m almost scared to think how I’ll get things done without that familiar judgment system in place once I graduate. Still, while the extrinsic force of school has pushed me to succeed throughout the years, I know that it has also pushed me in a way that can negatively affect my social life and mental health.

The school-free territory may be unknown, but I am so looking forward to a break from school and all the possibilities that it holds.

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Angelina is a senior at BU, studying English in the College of Arts and Sciences, with a focus on Shakespeare. She is from Somerville, MA. In addition to writing for HCBU, Angelina is the Director of BU On Broadway Off Broadway and has been involved with theater through BU Shakespeare Society, Wandering Minds, and Stage Troupe. Outside of school, she enjoys dancing, music, baking, and movie marathons. Her pop culture heart lives in the 1980's.