Look at the sky. Don’t just glance upwards, really look. Lie down and let your mind float up into the clouds. Feel the breeze on your skin and bathe in the warmth of the sun. Become engulfed in the blue expanse so peacefully hung with fluffy clouds, and just … breathe.
Everything is the same and yet different. Here I am on campus, just as I have been for so many semesters before; my deadlines roll around as quickly as ever; the season change is just as predictable. But I am feeling the changes: the absence of my friends; our abandoned plans; the strange stillness that has settled. It is interrupted only by the blaring buzz of an emergency alert. It’s easy for the mind to become too noisy in the absence of all the clamor of regular life, and easy to go hours staring at the same pixels without doing much of anything at all. Online interactions have all the pretense of being a straight substitution for our regular lives, but the rare chances I now have for personal contact seem to lift a virtual mist from my mind that I hadn’t realized was there.
As we become adjusted to this new normal, the novelty has worn off. Dalgona coffee leaves a bitter aftertaste, and my initial enthusiasm to “productively” use all this time has long-since faded. I’m left in this emptiness — not sad, but not happy, and with the nagging feeling that I should really be doing more, or doing better, or at least doing something. The speed at which the days and weeks have passed and merged together is terrifying, and I can watch the sun rise and set like a screensaver for the rectangular window of my dorm room. The sky seems beautiful but detached, as artificially lit as the rooms in which I’m physically and mentally confined.
When I — regrettably infrequently — step outside, the meowing of the resident cats makes me wonder whether they’ve noticed the change. They certainly seem to be more emotional than normal, begging for interaction and love as I walk past. And I wonder if I’m doing the same, seeking support from strangers, pouring out my feelings onto this page. I’ve definitely been acting out of the ordinary, and I can’t tell how much that’s down to the external situation or me actually changing. It’s hard to work out if I’m losing or finding myself while the world holds its breath, and it’s hard to catch my own. I used to believe that stillness was synonymous with calm, but it’s not, now. It feels as though there is simultaneously too much empty time and too little empty space. Stillness is suffocating.
Our reactions to challenging circumstances are individually determined, as are the exact difficulties we personally face. My own struggles with isolation are not yours, nor are they on the scale of the hardship and loss many are experiencing. But every unique situation is still significant, because it is life-changing, for you.
On the other side of this, none of us will be the same people we were. I already feel different. But the sky remains a sempiternal, constant blue. Wherever you are, whoever you are beneath it, I hope breathing it in uplifts your spirits, and reminds you to be kind to yourself.