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Mental Health

The Challenges of Being Forced To Move Forward

I obviously don’t have to tell anyone that we’re living in the middle of a pandemic, and I don’t have to tell anyone that it changed the way life was lived drastically, but we’re reaching a point where people are beginning to think that returning to normalcy should be encouraged. This Friday, I’m moving back to the campus of Kutztown, and while I should feel excited, I have this pit of unending anxiety. 

I’ve already touched upon my anxiety that was created from the pandemic: the anxiety of being forced to stay still. Little did I know that the anxiety of staying still has a direct foil: the anxiety of being forced to move. 

Anxiety isn’t a controllable force. It can be lessened and it can be comforted, but anxiety often acts like a brick wall during a conversation. The anxiety of moving doesn’t necessarily come from the moving itself, but more from the leaving that accompanies it. Of course, it’s not specific to this move, but it definitely feels elevated at the prospect of returning to campus. 

The anxiety of returning to normalcy is partly rational. We’re living in an event that most people haven’t had to experience before. We’re overloaded with tragic information constantly from every source of media. It feels like the punches keep coming. But I’m also aware that not all of this anxiety comes from a completely rational place. 

In August 2019, before I came to Kutztown for the first time, I cried every night for three weeks. Now, that is partially me being an emotional person in general, but it was also accompanied by a lot of anxiety. A pit in my stomach that only seemed to fade when I was distracted enough not to notice it, but made a raging return the minute I had any semblance of quiet or peace. There was a similar feeling in August of 2020, which would have been my first semester back since the pandemic began. It was this amplified sense of anxiety that felt eerily similar to the previous year. I was only at school for 11 days, like a brief trip to sleepaway camp, before returning home to finish the semester online. It’s now January 2021, the year that was supposed to be a fresh start and be completely fine—according to twitter, anyway—and I find myself faced with that same feeling of dread. I mean, God forbid I have one semester that has an easy transition period. I think I can pin point two reasons that this feeling keeps happening. 

In 2019, I had been living at home as a child for my entire life. The longest I had been without one of my parents was a month when I had gone on a music trip. The feelings of anxiety could be connected to this immediate source of comfort that I would be losing. Yes, I was a highschooler, so my parents and I argued. We didn’t always get along, but, when I was experiencing heartbreak or relishing in a happy moment, they were the people that I wanted to share those moments with. Also, I would be leaving my bed for a crappy college Twin XL back killer, so that was also a tragedy. The feeling now, and in August of this past year, stems from the same thing. Since 2019, I hadn’t spent more than a month at home. Sure, my freedom was short lived, but I had adapted to living somewhere else. Now that I’ve spent nearly 11 months at home, I’ve readjusted to that source of comfort. Sure, college courses were happening, but it was no different then doing homework in high school in my room. Not only am I going to have to adjust again to living away from home, but I’m also not entering a world that can have the illusion of safety. The pandemic is scary, no matter how old I am or the odds that it’ll affect me. I don’t want to get sick. More importantly, I don’t want anyone I love to get sick. It feels like I’m being chased out of comfort and out of safety into a world that isn’t ready for anyone to return—unless you live in New Zealand, because seriously, go New Zealand. It’s an added challenge that, honestly, no one asked for. 

The other factor is that I’m not fully choosing to come back. Some classes are in-person and can’t be changed. As a music major, I should have completely expected this, but I managed to avoid it last semester. I tried to appeal to the professors, school head, and asked my advisor, but unless I wanted to get behind in my curriculum, I had to go back. Making decisions is hard. But with choices, you can weigh the pros and cons, or you can rely on a gut reaction. Without choices, well, let’s just say that corners are not too comfortable when you’re backed into them. No matter what the situation is, the lack of options, feeling like you can’t make that decision yourself, can increase stress and anxiety. 

I can control how I behave on campus. I can control wearing a mask, wiping everything down wherever I go, and being cautious of who I interact with. The normal that I’m used to, the one I get at home, is comfortable and safe. What I need to remember is that, in 2019, I felt the same fear for leaving home and that my body will readjust. It might take more time because of the added layer of anxiety, but being forced to reach normalcy doesn’t necessary mean that it will be the same normalcy I had before I went to college, or in that brief period of bliss when college was the expected adventure. Normal, even though it looks different and scary, is something that changes as often as people do.

Grace Heinlein

Kutztown '23

A music major writes for a blog. That's the joke. You get it?
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