For a long time, I felt invincible. No one, nothing, including a worldwide pandemic, could defeat me. I went two years having never caught Covid-19, never seeing that extra red line on the testing stick, or getting that email that I had to move to Rebecca M. Sykes Wellness Center for two weeks. I was just built differently. And then, last Monday morning, I walked into Sykes with a sore throat and a runny nose. I took a test and sat anxiously in the waiting room, wringing my hands, trying to keep myself awake. When the nurse reentered the room and looked at me with a pitiful glance, I burst into tears. I knew then and there that I had tested positive, and I had to swallow the biggest emotional pill of the last two years.
It had gotten me. I would be staying in Sykes for five days, missing orientation, getting to meet my new classmates, and almost worst of all, I would be stuck on Zoom for the first few days of classes. That realization, when it hit me, was the most unique out of body experience I have ever had in my life. I could not believe it. The part of my brain that had been planning my matriculation outfit was now shut down. I was no longer concerned with who was in my classes, or who I would be eating lunch with that week. Everything that had seemed important was dwarfed in comparison to this new revelation.
Later, on Tuesday morning, as I was logging into my first Zoom meeting, I had this profound moment of déjà vu. I was immediately transported back to the Fall of 2020, when I was sitting in my single room, attending orientation online. This was not a unique experience, because everyone was experiencing the school for the first time online. But this time, I had an immediate feeling of anxiety, and for lack of a better word, FOMO (fear of missing out).
For many, this may feel like a stale topic. Yes, it has been discussed before, but I think what our generation has neglected, or maybe merely forgotten, is just how important our peer relationships are. We are so focused on the future, on our goals, and our dreams. We forget to appreciate the present, and how our relationships now set the foundation for the rest of our lives––I know that I hadn’t considered either since freshman year. It is easy to forget how isolating it can be when you are by yourself, quite literally alone, and the only connection you have is your screen. You begin to feel invisible, physically, socially, and emotionally disconnected from your community in a matter of minutes.
What is so peculiar about this sense of isolation, though, is how rarely we discuss it. Maybe it feels uncomfortable, or we don’t like to have difficult conversations because it means we have to actually acknowledge the roots of our problems. I cannot imagine that I was the only person feeling lonely, or invisible in my classes because we have all had those feelings of loneliness and isolation at one point or another. Only recently I realized that those feelings of isolation and loneliness are just as important as feelings of joy and happiness. They teach us to appreciate the good in contrast with the difficult, and we can then be more grateful for our good times.
It is easy to take our relationships and the accessibility of our peers for granted. Only when you cannot foster those connections do you realize just how lonely it can truly be. I know I forgot that until that Monday morning, when my peers reached out to me, with small things like texts, and made me feel included and connected. I was no longer able to say hello to my classmates on the paths or have a casual meal with my friends. I had a profound and deep sense of loss that ached in my stomach. I wanted appreciation and connection, and in isolation, that is what I lacked. When people reached out to me, I again began to feel a sense of flexibility and freedom, even within my confined circumstances. The very messages that made me feel included were also the catalyst for my more explicit gratitude for my peers. What I wished I had begun to do earlier was express my gratitude for those around me. I wish I had appreciated my relationships more verbally and explicitly because that is what I appreciated in a moment of vulnerability.
This is not to say that every situation of isolation is the same, but I believe now, quite passionately, that explicit and profuse gratitude makes an unimaginable difference in those around. Those positive vibes, and that gratefulness for the people that support you, is so unbelievably helpful. Again, this is a message we have heard countless times before. But I will say that as you are going about your day, attending classes, doing work, or playing your sport, to think more intentionally about the effect and the energy you give to others. Be positive, be grateful, be supportive. It helps a lot, and in the process, you might feel better yourself.