When I say that I didn’t see myself spending my 20’s in a global pandemic, it’s an understatement. If you told me at ten years old that I would be sitting in my childhood bedroom, listening to online lectures and avoiding parties for the better part of two years, I wouldn’t have believed you. That says a lot since at ten years old, I believed I was in love with Ronald Weasley from Harry Potter (despite his fictionality).
Although my daily life has changed significantly – from the way I shop to the way I learn -the immaterial aspects of my existence have shifted more dramatically, creating an entirely new outlook on life. Before the pandemic, I was a typical first-born daughter – I was driven, anally organized, and in my first year of Architecture at the University of Toronto. In March, when the pandemic first started, I packed my bags, came home to my parent’s house, and started online classes, not knowing my life was about to change significantly.
I’m grateful for the safety I experienced during the pandemic – although I knew people who had COVID-19, everyone was safe. However, like everyone, I was forced to confront my own issues sooner or later within the confines of my household. After all, there’s only so much ‘alone time’ you can have before you start to really look at yourself. Although I had always been a perfectionist and a high achiever, school assignments began to wear on me more noticeably. I got irritated with small issues and nothing ever seemed like it met my standards. After a while, I didn’t even enjoy the architectural history classes and model building I had previously been intrigued by. Everything seemed to be moving in slow-motion, and I couldn’t shake myself from the feeling that something in my life didn’t quite fit, like a puzzle piece that someone tries to shove into the wrong spot.
After months of pushing myself to succeed and ignoring my own eerie feelings about my life, I was completely burnt out. I made no time for myself and I felt vacant, even though I checked off all the items on my daily to-do lists. I found myself yearning for career paths I hadn’t seriously looked at since high school – the Fine Arts degree I’d considered and the English courses I’d browsed. At the time, in high school, I wanted those paths, but I was scared of what might lie ahead. After all, everyone told me they were ‘unrealistic.’ But months of doing online architectural classes, drawing and calculating within the confines of a too-narrow bedroom made me confront what had been at the back of my mind for my entire university experience – my fears and longings for a different vision of myself.
I can’t say when I decided to transfer schools and programs to end in an English degree at the University of Windsor. I don’t remember it as a linear event. I remember it like pieces of memories that started to shift until finally, things began to start making sense in my life again. I threw away the to-do lists, the plans, and the anxiety-inducing thoughts about the future. I trusted my gut feeling and my heart for the first time in my entire life, and I stopped caring about what other people would say. After months in quarantine, other peoples’ opinions did not matter to me as much, because at the end of the day, I still had to wake up with myself every day. I was tired of playing roles for other people and ignoring my true feelings.
More than anything, however, the pandemic reminded me of how precarious and valuable life is. Even though pushing down feelings, ignoring your intuition, and staying in distressing situations that don’t serve you may seem like a small sacrifice, it builds up. Then suddenly, your whole life is determined by what you didn’t do, just because you were scared of what might happen if you did. With my family and my friends’ support, I transferred schools, programs and changed my entire outlook on my life. I didn’t just want to be successful anymore, and I no longer thought that I should be perfect, or that being perfect is even possible. I just wanted to be happy and to work towards paths and destinations that were important to me; despite other peoples’ opinions, my own fears, and the world’s judgement. After a semester in the English program at the University of Windsor, I wake up everyday with purer thoughts, better moods and a new outlook on my work and life. I work hard, but I make time for myself to relax and destress. I have a plan, but I don’t beat myself up if things don’t go the way I thought they would. I care about my work, but it no longer consumes me. I look after myself in ways I never did before; I can renew myself by caring about myself.
Although the pandemic is a life-altering and traumatizing event in individual and collective ways, I emerged in a new light, with more direction, purpose and agency than I ever had before. For the first time in my life, I have no idea what’s next in my life and I’m okay with that. In fact, I’m excited for the unknown steps and the discoveries because it means that even though I can’t control everything, I’m moving forward and discovering myself, piece by piece, step by step. More than a year in isolation taught me to value myself above all – to negotiate and determine what I let into my life, including the positivity or negativity, the good or bad friends, the decisions for myself or for others and the allowance of my own happiness and decision-making.