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I think I am not alone in saying that the past two years have been anything short of challenging and hard. 

I do not think my brain can comprehend the science behind time. I mean, are you really telling me that the pandemic started two years ago? There is absolutely no way that much time has passed since that bizarre day when my principal announced that “the school will be closed for two weeks to follow the protocols regarding COVID-19.” I remember my friends being ecstatic about the news, but for some reason, I had a weird pit in my stomach. Now I am not saying I am psychic or anything, but I was not joyous about the two weeks long break we all were getting.

In hindsight, it could have been because it was my last semester as a high school student so I didn’t want to miss out on the last few days, or simply because it was a “cloudy day-one” thing to know about me (the weather sort of dictates my mood, so cloudy = gloomy mood). Whatever the reason was, I distinctly remember feeling anxious about what the next few days would mean. How I wish I could tell myself that that would pretty much be the last time you would walk out of your high school as a student. Like most students graduating in 2020, Friday the 13th was my last day as a high school student. Well, technically, classes resumed online. We had an online graduation ceremony and a virtual celebration. I technically left high school in June. But everything in between that time and now is so blurry, and memory is extremely hazy. Sometimes I really wish those few months were “normal” and that I got to say a proper goodbye to that part of my life, as I am sure many of us do. However, in the grand scheme of things, those problems feel rather minute, as this pandemic has not spared anyone. In one way or another, good or bad, it has brought out changes in most of our lives. 

For me, the few months in isolation were extremely hard. I was extremely grateful to get the chance to be home safe and spend time with my family. However, more time for me meant more time to overthink. The slowness of the pandemic life led me to have a lot more time in my hand, which in return gave me an empty brain with a whole lot to think about. The world was already in shambles outside, but inside the four walls of my room, I felt like I was in shambles myself. My days started to bleed into one another. Everything began to feel so overwhelming that I became weary of the time passing. 

Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months, and I felt like life was passing by. Many good things happened to me during this time: I graduated high school, turned eighteen, got into UC Irvine… and yet I do not remember feeling anything at all. I always imagined these days to be filled with all sorts of happiness, but they simply passed, and I let it. After realizing that this pandemic would not be short-lived, I yearned to feel alive like I was part of something. I attempted to spend my time doing things that would help me be creative. It is never easy to shut down the negative thoughts in your head and turn them into something productive.

Disclaimer: I am in no way trying to minimize how hard it can be to function, especially when your mental health is not in a good place. Although these hobbies of mine did not eradicate the problem, they did help me be kinder to myself and cultivate emotional growth. 

TAKING PICTURES on Walks

Let me preface this by saying I have no idea if “going on walks” counts as a hobby, but if it does not, then it absolutely should. I think this is one activity that has significantly changed my life. During the pandemic, I had almost started hating my room because it continuously reminded me of the feeling of being stuck—literally and figuratively. Every evening right before sunset, I decided to get up and go for a walk. The walk probably lasted a solid 15 minutes, but it left me feeling so accomplished. Like I did something, you know?

Then, the walk turned into a fun little game where I would take pictures of things that I found interesting during it. By the end of it, I had hundreds of pictures of the sky, random rocks, houses (is that creepy? I think not), sticks, rocks, and just the city around me. It’s been two years since and going on walks still makes me excited. Don’t get me wrong, I have to force every cell in my body to get up from my bed, hit the pause button on Netflix, and leave the house. The feeling of getting the steps in, being able to see the sky after a beautiful sunset, and listening to some good music will leave you with a sense of euphoria that Netflix might not be able to give. Hence, walks deserve more hype!

Painting

Another preface coming your way: I am in no way, shape, or form, an artist. Well, let me rephrase that. I think we all are artists in some or another. I merely do not consider myself a professional artist or anything. However, who said you have to be perfect at something to enjoy it, am I right? I began by doodling in my journal and then moved on to painting by watching Bob Ross tutorials on Youtube. Painting allowed me to release my emotions onto a piece of paper, and then at the end of it, I had something to be proud of. It gave me a safe space to do whatever I wanted and allowed me to express myself. Let’s just say that when words fail, art helps you emote.

Every night I painted and vented all my emotions to a piece of paper. The colors, the water, the mess, all of it made me feel alive and happy. I felt very attuned with my emotions, and now when I look back at those paintings, it almost feels like I am looking through a personal archive. The thought that whether it’s painting, listening to music, or reading a book, on my lowest days, I have always turned to art and artists as my escape is truly beautiful.

Reading

“The best moments in reading are when you come across something—a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things which you had thought were special or particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person who has never met you, someone even who is long since dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.” I think this quote beautifully encapsulates how I feel when I read books.

I have to admit that I am not an avid reader, and sometimes even finishing one book takes me months on end. However, I must confess that how fast one can finish a book is not synonymous with how much one loves reading. I may be wrong, but I do not look at it that way. For me, it doesn’t matter how long it takes for me to complete a book; the time spent reading and how I feel after is more valuable.

I distinctly remember picking up the book The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green (shameless plug: you can find my article about this here) during the pandemic when I was feeling extremely anxious. A few pages in, I had tears rolling down my eyes and began crying profusely. Reflecting on it, I think what triggered those emotions was the simple fact that amidst the feeling of extreme isolation and loneliness, I was able to find a story that made me feel heard. Without giving too much away from the book, I will say reading always feels like a warm hug, and from time to time, you will stumble upon stories that make you feel so alive. I do not know the science behind it, but being part of stories and opening your imagination to anything and everything is quite magical. I may be biased and generalizing, but I genuinely think if someone does not like reading, they have yet to find their book, to a world of imagination. 

Despite the extreme challenges the pandemic threw on us, I still would like to thank it for bringing these hobbies into my life that have now translated into being parts of my life. If you made it this far, then thank you and if you ever want to talk about anything from books to life in general, please feel free to reach out to me at saleenad@uci.edu.

saleena dhakal

UC Irvine '24

“A stranger to his own home”. I remember quickly jotting this down in my journal in class as we were watching Hamlet during my senior year in high school. It’s a sentence that has resonated with me ever since. Hi, I am a first-generation college student who has been on this journey of finding her identity ever since I moved to the United States at the age of twelve. I would like to say I am nowhere close to reaching the destination but slowly and steadily I am definitely getting there. And, when I am not trying to find deep meanings out of simple things in life, you will find me either watching Friends or jamming out to One Direction, or doing both :).
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