A breath of fresh air

My graduation ceremony consisted of a two-hour Zoom meeting that I wasn’t featured in, which I watched in a formal dress and bathroom slippers with a newly-opened bottle of vodka.

Have bus rides always this bumpy?

I hooked my arm around the metal hand rest to keep from sliding across the seats for the third time on the R4 to UBC. I lived a walkable distance to the nearest Skytrain station, and it had been a few weeks since I’d needed to take a bus.

This is pretty much what the past few months have felt like: It was getting used to a new normal that theoretically shouldn’t have been that hard, nor was it actually entirely new — as an introvert, I’d happily spent more than half my time at home before the pandemic — but I found myself slipping anyway.

I graduated this year (though I’m still taking online courses). I never got the best grades at university, but my university years indoctrinated me to actually enjoy the learning experience. My graduation ceremony consisted of a two-hour Zoom meeting that I wasn’t featured in, which I watched in a formal dress and bathroom slippers with a newly-opened bottle of vodka.

My first foray into post-grad life did not start with a bang, as I had expected: My family wasn’t here, the job market was uncertain, I wasn’t even able to meet any of my friends in person. A couple of my best friends and I tried to watch the ceremony on Zoom and take the ‘Selfie with Santa Ono’ together. (Spoiler: We failed miserably, and I sent the picture to President Ono, who responded with ‘Oh no!’)

Although post-grad life started with a pandemic and quiet nights, I was blessed enough to get a job immediately after I graduated —which I’ve since lost since it was a contract position, but c’est la vie — and the remote position came with its own challenges. Work-life balance, anyone?

But overall my life was a lot less busy than it had been in a while. There were no social obligations. There was no homework. There was nothing I had to do past the 5 p.m. end to the workday. There was no need to put on any kind of public mask.

By the time I finished my five-year undergrad at UBC, I’d completed a double major, a minor and six different jobs. I liked being busy, but it was only in the absence of busyiness that I realized I never had the time to breathe.

Despite all the uncertainty and the occasional pangs of loneliness, I found it was actually nice to take a break.

I had time for myself.

I started writing again for the first time in years, outside of class assignments. I was able to be more active in my church community since Zoom meetings eliminated travel time (and thus my go-to excuse). I got medical check-ups I’d been putting off because I ‘didn’t have the time.’

I started therapy.

There doesn’t need to be something ‘wrong’ with you to go to therapy.

One thing my therapist hammered home was that self-compassion (‘I’m doing a good job.’) was more effective than self-criticism (‘Why can’t I just do this simple thing?’) but wasn’t the same thing as self-indulgence (“I’m going to binge a show I don’t even like for the next four hours to hopefully feel better about myself.”) It wasn’t the easiest process, but it helped me fight procrastination a bit more and work closer to the level of effectiveness I wanted.

I found meaning in my work at the sustainability nonprofit Student Energy. I was writing a report on global young leaders’ priorities in the renewable energy transition, to be submitted to policymakers. I was making a difference, and it felt good.

I could really think about things I enjoyed, found time to learn more about and work on things that were meaningful to me. I built the confidence to apply for some of my dream jobs — one of which I recently got an internship for.

I could educate myself on the issues going on with the world — Lebanon, Yemen, Black Lives Matter, the increase in trafficking, migrant workers’ rights — and do what I could to help. I could talk more with family members on the other side of the world.

I didn’t have to do these things in stolen hours of free time or keep myself motivated by a mix of obligation, fear, and spite.

COVID-19, ironically, has been a metaphorical breath of fresh air.

By Alicia Margono
May 12, 2021, 2:41 p.m.