My experience with isolation can only be described by thinking back to a moment in my childhood when, in my impatience, I took my burger off the grill too early. Biting into that juicy burger, only to see red meat once I’d swallowed not only left a bad taste in my mouth, it also soured the experience of eating burgers for the next little while. Lockdown was like this.
In the first few weeks, I used my newfound free-time to catch up on books and shows I’d put off in favour of keeping on track with course readings. Life was a dream and my body floated through it as my mind took refuge in fantasy worlds. I didn’t know that my voracious appetite for fiction was purely a means to escape reality at the time; I still thought my dwindling To-Be-Read list was just a form of relaxation for me.
Like a guest who overstayed their welcome, the pandemic made me uncomfortable in my own home. It didn’t matter how often I washed my hands or cleaned my mask, the pandemic had put down roots and kicked its feet up on my coffee table. Now, my days consisted of endless scrolling through news articles about the best way to avoid catching the virus and which cities to avoid. When an outbreak occurred in my own town, I began to get paranoid. Every trip to the grocery store left me suspicious of anyone who wandered too close. Every sniffle left me on edge. I spent my nights in a similar state, only this time I didn’t need my phone to show me horror stories about the virus, my mind provided plenty for free.
I began to focus on everything that I’d missed out on because of the pandemic. My driving test got cancelled, my medical tests that I’d already been waiting half a year for got cancelled, and my exchange trip to Scotland and soccer got cancelled for this school year.
It was like I’d made a deal with the devil and found out the cost a little too late.
It was only after a few months had gone by when I realized that the pandemic had not just taken things from me. It has also given me plenty of time to be with my family (my friends must have gotten annoyed with how often I put up pictures of board games on my Snapchat story). With my five hour commute to UBC cut down to five seconds from my bed to my desk, the pandemic has also provided me more time to get my school work done, which in turn, has left me with more time to do things I enjoy. Writing has always been a way for me to work through difficult feelings, and when the world seemed hell-bent on wrecking my mental health, I turned to The Ubyssey and decided to get more involved.
This year was the first of its kind (and hopefully the last) but it also created the time and space for me to try things out for the first time as well. In September, I did my first interview. I also started my first upper-year seminar. In November, I had my first experience being an editor for The Ubyssey’s Magazine. In December, I wrote my first exam from the comfort of my own home. In January, I finally got my full licence. Now, in March, I can reflect back on the positives this year has brought for the first time.
While I appreciate the opportunities I’ve been able to take advantage of because of the pandemic, I cannot wait for the day I get my vaccine and can breathe a little easier. This year has been hard, the long days of scrolling through bad news took a toll on my mind. Every time Edinburgh came up on my Instagram explore page, I felt a twang of loss for the cancelled exchange that I’d been planning since before first year. I know others have definitely had it much worse, and for them, the virus had taken much more than a trip. I have friends who have lost graduations, jobs, and even loved ones.
With the news that UBC plans to have in-person classes for fall comes relief and apprehension. Relief, because getting back into the routine of coming to campus and talking to people face-to-face will inevitably make me feel less paranoid and more like a part of a community. Apprehension, because I used to spend every winter sick with cold after cold, no doubt picked up on transit as I made my way to and from campus. If my immune system can’t handle the yearly cold and flu season, I have to wonder how it will handle a commute with people who choose not to get the vaccine or those who choose not to follow safe-distance guidelines.
I want my last year of my undergrad to be in-person, where I can speak up without first asking if everyone can hear me. I want to be able to sit on the bus with my headphones in as I start a book for a course I’m excited for. Hell, I even want the lineups for my Starbucks tea in the Life building. Having to rush across campus in-between classes seems like a privilege when the alternative is staring at a waiting room pop-up before class begins.
I guess what I’m trying to say is I’ve learned my lesson: you can’t control how long things take, you can only control how you wait for them. All those minor annoyances that come with attending UBC add up to a whole lot of ‘not important when placed in comparison with the past year. The early morning classes and the heavy backpacks feel more like awards to be won so long as I can wait patiently until it’s safe to return to campus.
I have always been impatient, but now I see the value in the waiting.