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Five Important But Painful Lessons The Pandemic Taught Me

I think all of us can agree when I say if I read an email that starts with “In these unprecedented times” one more time I’m throwing my laptop out the window. Over the past year, I have felt like I’ve been in some virtual reality game where I seem to keep losing. Somehow the past 365 days have felt like a lifetime and the blink of an eye at the same time. Feeling overwhelmed and confused, I decided to dive into the past year and try to find the important things I’ve been able to take away from this weird and haunting experience. I know the pandemic is not over yet, but the new sense of hope I have found through things slowly coming back to normal has allowed me to finally begin to close this chapter in my life and I’m praying I won’t have to open it again. After long showers and late night thoughts, I have finally come to five lessons I learned that have helped me come to terms with the unforgiving year.

Your best right now may be completely different than your best a year ago, and that’s okay!!

This one may have been the most challenging one to learn. Just like most college students, we have been taught to always give 110% and there are no exceptions. Despite a pandemic demolishing almost every aspect of our lives, for some reason our workload and expectations didn’t change. Especially over the course of the fall semester, I was always upset with myself in some way for not excelling in the ways I usually do in the past semesters. I was never one to procrastinate until last semester and I placed all the blame on myself for this. What I failed to understand was that constant isolation, fear for loved ones and myself and adapting to an entirely new learning environment was impacting me and my mental health. In reality, just adapting to these changes should be seen as an accomplishment for everyone. It’s okay to not always be on the ball right now. As our situations change, we need to adjust our expectations and not place blame on ourselves for not being able to give as much as we used to.

Just because others are struggling, it doesn’t mean your struggles are any less valid.


Through having family that work in the healthcare field, I’ve always felt guilty when I would complain or be upset about losing out on the fun aspects of college. I always think of when Kim Kardashian lost her diamond earring and Kourtney yells back “Kim, there’s people that are dying,” and can’t help but laugh. Even though I wouldn’t compare any of our feelings from the pandemic to Kim crying in an exclusive resort, I think of that situation sometimes with a bigger meaning. The past year has affected almost every person in some negative way. Just because everyone is struggling, doesn’t make your issues meaningless. Instead of making yourself feel guilty for having these feelings, embrace them for a bit. I’m not saying let these issues control your life or to hyperfocus on them, but rather allow yourself to feel instead of forcing them into the back of your mind to linger for months. Find someone you’re comfortable with and express them! You’ll feel so much better after than if you continue to shame yourself.

FOMO is real, but keeping your community safe is realer.

We’ve all seen pictures and videos of our friends throwing huge parties over the past few months and there was nothing more you wanted than to be there. I’ve found that it’s a lot harder to follow guidelines when it seems that no one else around you is. I was labeled “Covid-catious” ever since I stepped foot back on campus and had countless nights of feeling upset and like I’m missing out as I watched my friends attend countless house parties. By staying away from the party scene I have been able to stay COVID free so far (knock on wood), but have also lost some close friends in the process. Through dealing with my new reality of being alone most nights, I’ve been able to find a new appreciation for myself. As harsh as this might sound, if the close friends I thought I had didn’t want to continue our friendship unless I put myself and others at risk, they weren’t really that great of friends to begin with. I’m sure so many people have lost friendships because of this and I really want to stress that you are in no way at fault for this. For the future, this has taught me how to create important boundaries in friendships even though it may not be because of COVID. I learned that if I’m not comfortable with doing something or going somewhere I’m allowed to voice my opinion and stand up for myself in ways I never could before.

Finding a reliable support group is the most important way to stay positive.

I was one of the thousands of freshmen that was told to pack their things and get out in a matter of 24 hours. As I felt my whole world crumbling, I was lucky enough to have amazing parents that kept my feet on the ground as I spiraled into uncertainty and sadness. Them, along with a few close friends, were able to help me look for the positives in life and lended an ear to just simply listen and let me spew out my fears and frustrations. As awful of an experience the last year has been, I’m lucky enough to come out on the other side with a strong group of people that I know will always be rooting for me. Although college is supposed to be about meeting tons of new people and forming new friendships, I feel like it’s most important to find a few people you relate to on a personal level and to form strong bonds with them. Those few people will be there when you fail a test, when you move across the country after graduation and will even be there for you during a global pandemic. I also know that everyone isn’t lucky enough to have supportive parents or guardians, but if you do please call them!! They may not ever admit it, but they need you as much as you need them. I promise you they always want to talk, even if it’s about what socks you’re wearing that day. I now view being sent home as a blessing because I was able to have quality time with my family that I’ll probably never have the chance to have again. Value the time you have with your family and make sure to check in whenever you can. Your older self will thank you for that.

There is always a light at the end of the tunnel (even in a never-ending pandemic).

I know what you may be thinking, the light at the end of the tunnel is the pandemic ending right? Wrong! Through this cliche, I learned that the light at the end of the tunnel is there when I want it to be. Trust me, I know it sounds dumb; I had my fair share of obstacles over the past few months such as mono, super painful frostbite and a false positive COVID test (thanks UW). At the beginning of March as I continued to wallow in my self pity like I had done for the 12 months before that, I kind of slapped myself in the face. If I continue to feel bad for myself, I’m not going to feel any better! Instead of being upset over being alone or asking why these circumstances were happening to me, I finally decided to do things on my own terms. Through the combination of no longer holding myself to an unattainable standard and choosing to accept my life for what it is, I finally am starting to live my life (COVID safe of course). I started out by doing small things, like allowing myself to take a break and go for a walk, buying that book I’ve been wanting to read for awhile and making myself a large breakfast even though it was time consuming. I’ve been able to build on that and I now do virtual game nights with some friends, crochet, go for runs three times a week and pick one day out of the week where I allow myself to relax for at least part of the day. I know, it took me an entire year to do things I could have been doing from the start. However, learning to prioritize myself has been a long journey and yes, it took a global pandemic for me to figure that out. Even though we may feel overwhelmed and even hopeless at times, through creating our own light by rewarding ourselves in small ways can make the light seem closer until we eventually find it. 

These lessons are ones I owe the pandemic to for forcefully teaching me as much as I hate to admit it. I really hope that my sappy analysis can help at least one other person out who feels like they’ve walked away from this as just a sadder version of themselves. I encourage everyone to find at least one lesson they’ve learned through this pandemic, even if it’s the exact opposite as mine. Although we may feel that our life was put on hold, evaluating ourselves and seeing just how far we’ve all come can give us a sense of accomplishment that’s probably well needed. As the pandemic slowly but surely comes to an end, remember to stay safe and take care of yourself, you deserve it!

Claire Batten

Wisconsin '23

A sophomore at UW-Madison double majoring in community & non-profit leadership and economics.
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