I’ve been very introverted for my whole life. In high school, I was a quiet kid who kept my head down and got low scores on participation because I was too shy to talk in class. I regularly got comments from others about my quietness, something that has continued to follow me through the start of my college career at MSU. I had hoped that attending a school of almost 50,000 people would have forced me to grow out of my shell, but old habits die hard.
So, needless to say, being quarantined for a few weeks back in March didn’t seem world ending to me. I was sad, sure – despite my shyness I had met a lot of great people at school that I was upset to leave behind when I moved back home. But, I was also comforted by the idea of being able to sleep on my own mattress, not having to use a community shower, and not having to trudge across campus to my 9 am class every morning with my attendance grade on the line. Spring break had felt very short and I was almost looking forward to stepping away from how hectic everything at MSU tended to be.
However, I realized that things would not be returning to normal anytime soon. As time went on, I was feeling less and less optimistic about fall semester. I was worried about how my job situation and academic plans for next year would be impacted. I felt my anxiety spike whenever a stranger would pass me in a grocery store aisle. I would catch myself overthinking about what would happen in the months to come, but I always tried to push it to the back of my head to be ignored. But no matter how much I ran from it, the loneliness and anxiety I felt about not returning to a normal fall semester continued to creep in on me. The media that I watched and played all had people living in a pre-COVID world where they could physically interact with friends, family, and the world around them without worrying about the consequences, and it became more and more painful to accept that the MSU I had gotten to know would not be the same when, or if, I came back in the fall. There wouldn’t be any more late nights at the Union with my friends, no more game nights on Saturdays, no more fans packing into Breslin (where I worked) for a basketball game. Despite my anxiety in social situations, I found myself strongly missing the connections and friendships that I had made. Don’t get me wrong – I very much understand the importance of quarantining and social distancing, and I would never put my own feelings above the public’s health. I know that being able to stay safely socially distanced is a privilege itself. But, it was a struggle to accept that things were changing for good and that the future wasn’t going to be anywhere near the way I had pictured it.
It took visiting campus at the end of August for me to fully accept the situation. It was shocking to see everything so empty. I was there, physically, but it felt like I had been transported to somewhere else entirely. Had it really only been a few months?
I hadn’t been very optimistic when I came to college. I was expecting to be a small fish in a big pond, keeping my head down and minding my own business. My mind flashed back to all the times I had complained about college and living there. I remember pulling into the parking lot of my dorm building during move-in, the frats across the street crawling with people and pumping loud music, and I thought that I’d made a massive mistake. But as I was taking it all in in the present, I started feeling angry at myself for taking everything for granted. I regretted the times where my shyness and anxiety took over the decisions I made and I wished that I had done things differently. I wondered if I would have appreciated everything better if I had known what would happen.
I can’t change the past, but I can change myself. If I’ve learned anything from COVID-19, it’s that the future is not reliable or given, and that I don’t want my anxiety to continue to hold me back from appreciating everything in my life while I still can. It’s difficult to feel optimistic during a global pandemic, and I still struggle with it at times. But I can hope that, in a post-COVID world, I won’t let myself take advantage of the important things in my life anymore.