As the weather gets hotter and the months lazily roll past June, July, and now August, our last moments at Dickinson 6 months ago are an increasingly haunting reality. It seems that all of the months have morphed into one big chunk of chaos, uncertainty, and turmoil, and without a doubt, this time has been challenging – there’s no question about it. Now more than ever we’ve been tested as a community and as individuals in our properly distanced quarantine “pods”.
Like many students, I (Julia) have always been challenged by mental health, particularly anxiety. At Dickinson, I have been fortunate enough to have found a therapist through the wellness center that worked really well for me (shout out to Carrie Bowerman!). However, when the pandemic hit and we could not return to campus, I could no longer work with this therapist, who was only licensed to work in Pennsylvania and could only see students on campus. So, I began working with my therapist from high school via telehealth. While I am extremely thankful to have this available to me, it was not easy to transition to working with someone who was not completely caught up to the challenges I had been facing in a college setting and the ways that I had grown and changed since working with her in the past. The phenomenon of adjusting and readjusting my personal and emotional care routine was just as disorienting as the physical displacement of the pandemic.
A positive outcome that really snuck up on me though, was rediscovering sacred personal time that I (Lizzy) had always put off in my pre-pandemic fast-paced life. I used to think that 5 minute nightly meditations were too much of an inconvenience and I couldn’t be bothered to drink the necessary 8 oz of water a day. Now, because my days are more compact and each interaction well-thought-through for social distancing purposes, I have put more thought into the time that I spend for myself. Though some usual routines like public transportation and lectures are now almost taboo, with the time I’ve had I have discovered new routines that should’ve been as integral in my schedule as factoring in daily commuting time. Also, now more than ever, I see the importance of my Dickinson organizations and friends and professors. They have served as great support and critical outlets during this time.
Often, there is a negative stereotype about women being emotional. During this challenging time though, I have found so much comfort in vulnerability and the ability to share my emotions with my friends. I am emotional, and I’m okay with that. We (Julia and Lizzy) have leaned on the women in our lives in beautiful ways – from handwritten letters to teary late-night facetime calls, We have gained confidence in friendships by going into overdrive through support and honest communication about personal struggles during this uncertain time. There is a lot of power in vulnerability.
The last 6 months have been an emotional rollercoaster of mourning our Dickinson routines, reconsidering and refocusing on personal matters, and of course, rolling our eyes at the fact that we actually thought that all of this would blow over after two weeks in March. While we recognize our immense privilege to have safe places to live and the ability to socially distance, sometimes we catch ourselves brooding over the ‘unfairness’ of it all. Before spring break, we thought we were going to see our friends again in a matter of days, only to soon learn that it may be a year or more before we see our Dickinson loved ones again.
But, as my (Julia) therapist has helped me to remember, being uncertain of when I’ll see people in person again is not the same as being uncertain about the strength of a friendship. To my surprise, I have more confidence in my friendships than ever because I understand the resilience of them. These friendships are enduring a pandemic – which makes it feel pretty likely they’ll endure other hardships that will come my way in the future, too.
In these months of quarantine when we are mandated to spend our time alone or in some cases, in smaller pods, we have found it far too easy to slip down into a hole that makes it feel utterly impossible to reach out to friends or family for help. However, we have learned three important lessons: mental health ebbs and flows, support from friends can take you far in your own personal growth, and it is ok to feel defeated and throw your hands in the air every once in a while – and acknowledging that feeling, rather than burying it, can feel powerful.
Written by Julia Kagan ’21 and Lizzy Parry ’21, WGRC student workers
August 17, 2020
Image: CDC/Alissa Eckert and Dan Higgins