retellings, things i learned

ideas || life during COVID-19

Today is the start of week 5 in this new reality. I keep catching myself saying “this all happened so fast”, only to immediately disagree with myself. It didn’t happen fast, it just happened in exponential increments, and depending on what camp of people you’re in you would have been alarmed at different stages.

Here’s the story, from my end of the world. I can’t wait to read this back in 10 years.

Feel free to skip to my abbreviated thoughts, below this story.

the story

I’m in second year Commerce at Queen’s University, and the earliest memory I have of the coronavirus reaching the news was in mid-January. At that point, it was a virus that had popped up in Wuhan, China, and I remember having a fun debate about reading the news and whether it’s worth reading for stories that are not directly impacting your life.

The argument against was that the news typically contains unhappy, irrelevant, biased and dramatized pieces. My argument was that reading the news is an essential way to understand things directly impacting your life, and stay a responsible, informed individual. Just like reading history – the news is today’s stories unraveling before your eyes and directly impacting your decisions.

In that conversation, I remember at one point grasping at straws with some examples, and I blurted, “For example, the virus in Wuhan! It doesn’t affect us in any way now but who’s to say it won’t in the future? Plus, trade with China is important – it’ll affect our economy and who knows what else?”

Funny that.

Later, for reading break my boyfriend and I were planning on traveling together somewhere tropical for the week. It had been in the works for a couple of months, but we’d put off any research or ticket-buying until just two weeks before.

At that point, the research we started doing was focused on travel safety. But what started with looking into crime and kidnappings became trying to figure out how the Coronavirus was propagating. We decided we weren’t comfortable with traveling through airports when there was no way of knowing who we would come into contact with, so we decided to postpone this dream trip for later. Just in case. I knew it was the right decision but I couldn’t help being disappointed.

Fast-forward only one week after reading break. We visited Ottawa for a Lord of The Rings live concert and speculation was already beginning about how the situation would unfold. There were now more cases happening in Canada and the US, and debates over borders and border closings. A friend at the concert said with confidence:

Enjoy this, it’ll probably be the last time we’re allowed out at a big gathering like this!

At the time, I hadn’t even thought about the possibility of gatherings being disallowed. Was that even possible?

Another week passed and St. Patrick’s Day was on the calendar for the upcoming Saturday. Things were escalating much quicker now. Cases had picked up, travel bans had been put in place. No one seemed concerned enough to change their behavior, and yet every single group project meeting involved talking about the virus for the first 10 minutes.

I carried hand sanitizer around everywhere and decided not to buy coffee or sandwiches anymore. A study came out that virus particles could linger in the air for 3 hours after contamination. I started studying at home.

In the meantime, group chats were filled with discussions of St. Patrick’s Day plans. Who was going out where? Where would the parties be held? There was a sale for a cool green shirt on this online website.

I didn’t get it – it seemed like there was a huge disconnect between what was happening and how people were acknowledging it. In a show of bravado, I even placed a bet with a friend, saying that I thought there would be a case at our university within one more week. I couldn’t believe that classes were still being held and people were still going out partying.

Let me clarify. When I say partying, I mean Partying.

We’re talking about St. Patrick’s Day. Friends come from all over to enjoy the festivities at my university, consisting of an entire day of drinking, crowding on a public street in the “student ghetto” and hugging and kissing each other. Picture walking up and down a long street packed with students, with the simple but entertaining aim of running into people you barely know so you can exclaim and excitedly reunite with them like they’re your best friend. I know, it’s a fun part of a yearly tradition. But is now the best time for it?

Not so helpfully, our university sent out a couple of emails asking us to be wise and to not share drinks and to wash our hands. I really don’t think that people blacked out on the street would consider washing their hands to be a top-of-mind priority.

Considering that the virus was proven to have a 2-week incubation period by this point, the days leading up to St. Patrick’s day seemed to demonstrate completely irresponsible behaviour on the part of both partying students and university administration.

Would it really take a case of COVID-19 in our own community for people would take it seriously? Unfortunately, this kind of thinking would come to be an evident pattern all around the world in the coming weeks.

By Thursday, I decided I didn’t want to be around when St. Patrick’s Day happened, so I started packing my bags and sorting out plans.

By Thursday night, nearly every other university had cancelled courses for the following week and announced that they would be moving classes online. By Friday morning, I’d finished packing. By Friday noon, our university announced class closures and I left with my housemate, driving my car back home and making zero pitt-stops.

Call me paranoid – and many people did – but look where we are now. And I say that with no smugness, because I could very well have been wrong about the situation. I say it simply with the desire to negate – shrug off, if you will – all the blatant, confident mocking I received for my preventative actions in the beginning.

My parents and I haven’t left the house to grocery shop, see friends, grab coffee, or do anything besides walk our dog in the open, empty field by our house and soak in some sun in our backyard. We place orders online and quarantine things for at least three days before opening. We wash all of our produce.

Although government regulations are getting stricter and fines can be handed out if people living in different households publicly spend time together, this situation is still receiving a wide spectrum of interpretations from different people, and it’s hard not to be resentful about that.

In the meantime, I’ll be staying home and making the most of it.

Below you can read the progression of thoughts, realizations, and opinions I’ve had over the past four weeks, and I would LOVE to hear your thoughts or opinions on anything I wrote below. Let’s have a conversation about this!

Discussion questions are in blue text.

The key point of each thought is highlighted in grey.

first week thoughts

only a small number of people plan for the worst

Even as soon as I come back to university after our reading break, I begin carrying hand sanitizer with me everywhere, washing my hands in between every class, and staying a safe distance from everyone. At home, we begin shopping for some bulk items like oatmeal and canned goods. All this while many in my university town are getting ready to party, and others are hanging out with their friends. In a group chat, I suggest to a group of friends that maybe they shouldn’t be partying and I get downvoted by nearly everyone in the group.

Honestly, through this whole situation I am most shocked at how few people took even minimal action when the first signs started showing. It seems that people wait for authorities to set strict regulations before thinking for themselves at all.

Fast-forward to today. Easter weekend just happened, and at this point everyone is (or should be) social distancing. What happened on the Thursday right before Good Friday? Packed grocery stores full of last-minute shoppers and long lineups (with a 2-meter distance between people).

political correctness

What strikes me most at the start of this all is how much discussion is happening about the political correctness of stopping air traffic and blocking borders. Apparently preventing the spread of disease is now racist?

In Canada and the US, this is the FOCUS for the first week of social distancing, more so than the safety and health of everyone. Our leaders are incredibly distressed about what the international community would think and feel if they stopped allowing travel.

We’ve clearly been at a loss of serious problems for a while if this is what people consider to be the most important topic of discussion on the brink of a worldwide pandemic. It’s only once Italy starts to get hit hard that we’re able to actually close our borders.

summer jobs

At this point all future plans are in limbo. It is pretty clear that this will last at least a month, but it is incredibly difficult to come to terms with the fact that my friends’ and my summer jobs in downtown Toronto might not be happening anymore.

A few weeks into social distancing, some of my friends receive communication that their internships are cancelled, and others – lucky ones like me – are emailed that we would be working remotely once our internships start.

will it mutate?

I worry a lot about this at the beginning because it seems that COVID-19 has many parallels to the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918, which mutated and significantly got worse with every strain.

However, I recently listened to a podcast about the virus’ potential to mutate, in which the doctor described that it infects humans so well and so efficiently that he doesn’t realistically see a reason for it to mutate.

It doesn’t need to get better. I guess that’s good? We know what we’re getting from the start, right?

planning food is helping me stay on top of things

I cook for myself about 50% of the time at university, and the rest of my odd meals here and there are quick Tim Horton’s bagels or wraps or snacks from shops on campus. At home with my family, we also cook about half the time and go out to restaurants for the other half. Heading to a restaurant is our family’s preferred “indulgence”.

When everything suddenly has to be cooked at home, my mom and I plan out a week of fun recipes to experiment with on Google Calendar, and share the burden of preparing meals.

In this first week, it’s important for us to make the transition to social distancing easier by cooking up our own little pleasures.

how great it is to step back and give yourself some breathing room when overwhelmed

Finally, the last thing that has been really big for me during the first week is the breathing room. It was almost a relief to come home indefinitely, at a time when we were approaching university exams and things were starting to pick up with stress over relationships and group projects, school assignments, and managing my time. Not only that but our university actually cancelled all classes and assignments for an entire week. It feels like, for this entire week, nothing could get me down. I am truly free, for a week, to breathe, and sleep, and not think about school, and draw and have unlimited time to ponder and journal and process.

I’ve missed that, and the special thing about this time is that the entire world is temporarily on pause. It feels like an entirely wholehearted, unfaltering permission to let go and just take things slow.

second week thoughts

planning and bullet journaling about everything is really therapeutic

This week school started again, and I sometimes feel myself waking up a little stressed and overwhelmed. But the luxuries of being at home have been really showing themselves at this point, because any little stress simply gets relieved through a bit of journaling, planning, list-making, soul-soothing.

Typically at university, I do this anyways but it’s on a time crunch. I have 30 minutes before I really need to start getting real work done, or I have 1 hour before I need to be in class and have finished a pre-class reading.

This time, I can genuinely let myself journal for the first two hours of the day if I want to and the therapeutic effects are incredible. Having the time to myself to process things and really sort out the little stresses that accumulated the previous day or week makes me feel so light going through my online school day.

online learning

With the start of online school – which in my case, is only two online classes via Zoom and a ton of group project meetings through Facebook video call or Google Hangouts – I’ve started thinking a bit more about online courses. I used to be obsessed with learning new things online through Massive Open Online Courses on platforms like Coursera. In fact, in grade 9 I took a full-fledged 11-week online programming course offered by the University of Michigan and completed it with a certificate of distinction to show for it. In grade 10, this allowed me to skip the introductory computing course offered at our high school and I skipped straight to a grade 12 programming in Java & project management course. I thought it was the coolest thing at the time, and really believed that was the future of education.

In university, I lost sight of that because everything seems to happen in the “campus bubble”, but moving things online has made me realize, first off, how silly it is that profs lecture the same thing four times to four different “sections” every week. It also has reminded me how little we actually spend discussing things or practicing what we learn. It seems that we spend most of the semester being talked at, and then every so often we get thrown a huge challenging assignment to attempt to complete, only to receive a couple words of feedback 3 weeks later.

A lot of learning in university is self-directed, but unfortunately, not a lot of self-direction does happen. And unfortunately, there also seems not to be much benefit in doing everything in-person anyway.

On the other hand, moving things online has also made me realize how short online school comes from the actual campus experience of making connections and talking to friends before and after class. Stopping to chat with a stranger in line for coffee. These are probably the best things about being on a concentrated university, and I’ve talked about them in my blog post about spending a summer working at my university.

being on your own means that you’re not very affected by other people’s states

Oh boy, this is a big one. I’m realizing that not being on campus and in the midst of school also means one huge stress relief: relationships.

I’m generally really affected by other people’s minor emotional states, so much so that one small rude interaction that probably has nothing to do with me and wholly to do with the other person will set me off on a spiral of questioning and analyzing and doubting myself. I’m a huge extrovert, always love to spend time around other people and find that I’m most myself when I am around others. In fact, whenever I feel sad my no-fail solution is usually to meet someone relatively new for coffee and chat about something completely unrelated and distracting and new.

Being home alone has made me realize how useful it is to actually just be alone and with my own thoughts from time to time, too, despite my extroversion.

be inspired rather than feel like you should

The other thing I am realizing from being on social media more is that people posting online about what they did today has a completely different effect on me than if they tell me in person. I’m sure I speak for many people when I say this.

If I’ve had a particularly lazy day, someone telling me on our walk back from campus all about their workout and readings and how exciting their day was makes me immediately question what I accomplished in the day, and sometimes makes me feel a bit down about myself. But seeing it online makes it optional. It’s an invitation to be inspired more than a display of what I should have also done. And online there are so many more individuals to choose to be inspired by, too! Maybe we should remember this when we chat with inspiring people in person, too.

Their life is not a representation of exactly what we should be accomplishing also, but rather a bank of ideas for our own lives, which we create for ourselves!

working out makes such a big difference

Okay, I’ve worked out at least four times a week every week since the lockdown started and I am loving it. At first, I was hesitant about not having access to a gym but I think just having a relatively un-suffocating open space to move around in is all I need. And it’s made such a big impact in starting my day off on a good foot.

Days where I don’t work out feel more lethargic than those where I do, even though I’m consuming way less energy.

things could be way way worse – watching old movies

This week I also watched a couple of historical movies. One of them was “Darkest Hour”, which details Winston Churchill’s appointment to Prime Minister on the cusp of World War 2. It honestly just made me realize that we actually have it pretty good.

I saw a post around this time suggesting that our parents’ generation – those who grew up and became adults between the 1970s to 2020 – actually were an exception to the chaos of the world, not a new ideal post-war reality. Sadly, if you look to history, this is probably true. I think I’ve grown up in a relatively rosy version of the world compared to what it’s historically proven to be.

Crises on a worldwide scale have been scarce for the past few decades, and we started getting used to focusing only on concentrated crises that affect some but not all. Maybe it was just about time.

third week thoughts

when will I see my friends and boyfriend?

At this point I’m really missing my friends, and especially my boyfriend. This means a few more tears and sad mornings than the usual since lockdown started.

i’m really scared of getting sick – how will i even know when it’s okay to go outside?

I’m realizing now that I’m very afraid of getting sick. This whole situation was coloured by my experience being extremely ill last year in April. I had some sort of a flu or viral infection that caused me to defer my final exams into the summer, and left me in pain for two weeks straight with high fever. Back in February when my friends said “oh, it’s fine – we’re young, even if we get the virus it’s okay we won’t die,” I remember being frustrated that they didn’t understand how horrible it is to be badly sick in the first place.

I’m afraid. I really don’t want to get this virus, even though it seems that in order to get through, this most of us will. If the lockdown ends and we are allowed to go outside, will I even want to? What’s to stop a surge of infections from cropping up again if we do?

Not sure what my answer is to this yet, and I’m still feeling this feeling quite deeply.

maybe your difficult moments are also valuable because they record your experience

I’ve been writing a lot on my blog and sharing thoughts to Instagram throughout this whole experience, and I’m starting to embody the belief that every human experience is valuable. Even recording my own thoughts as we progress through this historical moment will be really cool to look back on and remember when all this is over. In a way, this blog was always a bit of an archive for my future self. Now I’m realizing it could also be an archive for many more people who are sharing similar experiences.

Most of all, I’m realizing that this goes to show how important it is to even share the difficult lows of your life. Growing through them is, in itself, an experience worth remembering and learning from.

you’re not worse when you’re slow or un-energized

Being at home with nowhere to be makes it easier to take a light day if I’m feeling low on energy. I rarely do this at university – I usually push myself, and it results in one of two outcomes. Sometimes I come out of it in a good mood anyway. Sometimes it just makes me feel even more down about not being as energized and excited as my “usual self”.

I want to remember this: when I’m having a slow day, I need to push myself first. But if that doesn’t work, then it’s just one of those days and there’s no more to it. Often no explanation needed, even though I always try to form an explanation.

It’s amazing how much faster we can recover from these low states if we are able to let ourselves relax properly and give ourselves distance from our stressors.

Can we somehow replicate this when there isn’t a worldwide crisis giving us distance whether we want it or not?

division between happy and serious people – pressure to feel a certain way

Finally, this week I started to notice a very stark divide in how people were reacting to the situation online. I follow a wide variety of influencers and content creators on Instagram and there seemed to be two very distinct camps of people:

Those who were happy, going about their indoor day normally, and enjoying themselves like nothing was happening.

And those who were serious and concerned and sharing countless posts “allowing” their readers to feel lazy, or do nothing, or feel stressed – because we’re all going through a traumatic experience.

In a way, I felt a bit of pressure from both camps. I felt pressure to try and live my life exactly normally, despite it all. To just do the same things, indoors. But then I remembered that things weren’t normal, and so maybe I needed to prove that I understood that. Maybe people would feel like I was taking for granted that I was lucky to live in a house and have groceries and family members that have the luxury of working remotely.

I think I’m in the camp that believes you need to make the most of the situation but still push yourself to be your best self.

Also I’m in the camp that believes you should pick your camp for yourself and not try to control other people’s reactions – unless their reaction is denial.

fourth week thoughts

you need to stay in touch with people or you no longer feel connected – even if you’re busy

By week four, I’ve been getting better at this distance friendships thing. But I’m also realizing that when people are busy and distant, it gets doubly more amplified and frustrating because there’s no way to just go see those people in person. A few of my friends are really busy go-getters, and I love that about them. But completely closing off your calendar might be okay for a while if you’re in the same vicinity and you see each other anyway in class, but not okay if the only point of contact is by text. A simple message every so often does wonders to keep you connected, and I’m learning this.

Maybe it can apply to relationships with close friends that aren’t in the same city as you, which is something I’ll keep in mind for when I move out of university.

there is room for you

I love this phrase, and it’s been playing in my mind these past few weeks. Mainly in relation to this blogging thing I’ve been doing, but also just generally because having free time to spend with just myself is really allowing me to explore what I enjoy and what I want a lot better. In a way, I’m remembering how to appreciate my own company.

I think “there is room for you” is a great reminder that your thoughts, feelings, quirks, cool interests, and unique opinions have a place in this world. You will find your tribe and your calling by staying true to that, and you’ll also enjoy your company a lot more.

how do we make sure we never again take things for granted?

How do we make sure we never take things for granted again? Looking through old photos makes me realize how much I took for granted: health, social gatherings, time to chat with friends in person, a nice cup of coffee at a cafe.

Will we forget this as soon as it’s over or will we just revert back to our stressed-out, preoccupied, out-of-touch selves? I guess, in the opposite direction, the worst case would be waking up to a fear-ridden world after this is all over.

I hope it’ll be something in between. Is there something we can do to make sure?

are most people averse to learning or pushing themselves?

And finally, today I saw an article in the Toronto Sun about how high school and elementary school students now taking online courses through Google Classrooms have been giving the app incredibly low ratings and advocating via TikTok and other platforms to spread the message.

The actual reviews are pretty disturbing, as well. Things like, “I hope my teachers get coughed on.”

I’m all for accepting your moods and being okay with not feeling your best, but I am not all for being lazy, and I think this is downright lazy behavior.

Really strange to read about and I’m quite bothered by it! On the other hand, this is how ratings work – anyone with no credentials or expertise of any kind is allowed to share their opinion, and the value of a product is based on trusting the value of mass opinions.

Should this be stopped, then? Would love to hear your thoughts.

what next?

Today is Monday, of Week 5. It’s convenient to measure in weeks because schools closed through Wednesday and Friday, and we pretty much started lockdown on Sunday.

It’s a completely crazy situation no one would have anticipated just a few months ago, but I think the most we can do is focus what is in our control and make the best of what we can.

For me, that means keeping my days as structured as possible with a morning routine and sleep schedule, while staying connected through this blog and by calling my friends, and doing things I love to continue giving me purpose despite it all.

Once again, I’ve raised a ton of questions throughout this post and would love to hear your thoughts on absolutely anything I wrote.

Share them down below, and let me know what your own experience has been like.

What have you learned from this experience?
What has been the most challenging?
The best part of it all?
What do you hope to remember, 10 years from now?

4 thoughts on “ideas || life during COVID-19”

  1. Great entry! I agree with so many of your points and I’ll definitely come back to this post in the future when thinking about what happened the Spring of 2020. I appreciate the effort in trying to take an honest recount of the past few weeks. The current news media have been focusing a lot on how the world is on an economic or social level, but I’ve been seeing a major lack of actual emotional recounts or feeling in their writing. It’s refreshing knowing that someone else is feeling the same panic as I am and that we’re in this together.

    In my neighbourhood at least, there was a pretty immediate reaction to the pandemic. One the virus reached Canada, I had plenty of friends and family begin to stock up on food and bulk items. In my school, no one ate lunch without generously applying hand-sanitizer and we cancelled all our March Break plans early on. Despite my family being prepared, it’s shocking to know that it takes an international pandemic for society to practice basic hygiene and social distancing when sick. It’s upsetting knowing that members of your university were still planning to go out for St. Patrick’s Day, but I’m glad that by the end of the lock-down we’ll all be a little more cautious.

    It’s been challenging dealing with the uncertainty of the situation. Though my own mental health has been fine for the most part, and I haven’t been too stressed dealing with lifestyle changes, it’s terrifying knowing that we could be living like this for an indefinite amount of time. I’ve been taking up random hobbies and working out as you are to kill time and ease tension, but at the end of the day, I just want to go back to a normal life. Going into week five, I really had no idea it had been this long till I read this entry. The days really do seem to blend together.

    I’m glad that our world has progressed far enough to rarely suffer from a crisis on this scale. This is the first time I’ve been on lockdown, and I’m grateful. We were definitely underprepared as a whole, but seeing the quick rise to action of the public and the compassion that’s been shared is reassuring. Some countries have done significantly better than others, but I don’t underestimate our ability to overcome this.

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience with me. <3 You captured another thing I've realized lately, when you mentioned that it takes a global pandemic for people to properly social distance when sick. It is unfortunate that for this virus' incubation period, even that is not enough, but that's still very true.

      I hope that you are right and that we are in good hands. I'm eager to get back to the way things were before, and while I know it will be a wait, we will all come out of it with an entirely fresh perspective. Maybe this can help us work harder to ensure the time in between crises lasts even longer, and the crises themselves are even milder. <3

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