I keep thinking back to Week of Welcome when I had just moved into an apartment.
It was my first time being on campus after over a year of isolation and social distancing.
The anticipation of starting a new chapter, of being around people.
I was sold on the pipe dream that life would return to normal.
All I wanted was to return to the feeling I had my first semester of college, before the pandemic.
I spent time with friends every day, setting up camp wherever I could find a seat in the library.
I romanticized the little moments that made that time in my life feel normal.
Now, it is those very motions of everyday life that drain me.
I had forgotten what it felt like to be a part of something–to feel as if I belonged.
I thought returning to in-person would bring back that feeling.
That is the hope that I held onto for the past year and a half.
By the end of Week of Welcome, I began to feel the shift.
My life was not what it had been before the pandemic. Now, I do not think it will ever be the same again. In that first week with a jam-packed schedule of on-campus events and old friends returning to campus, I became overzealous and overcommitted to going out and seeing people every day.
Within five days, I crashed. Small talk never used to take this much out of me.
Driving around Atlanta had never filled me with existential dread.
Once the semester started, I did not recognize that I was hurting myself.
I thought “normal life” was just something I had to become reacquainted with, so I kept pushing myself beyond my limits.
Before the end of August, I reached a level of burnout no amount of boundary setting could solve.
Over a year in isolation led to my social appetite changing in a way I could not have predicted.
And I am still not certain how to cope with it.
I have held onto this big empty feeling in my chest of not knowing if I am okay and not being sure on what to do about it.
The devastation of not knowing who I am and of not knowing how to live in this brand new world has made a home in my heart.
Since I crashed, I have practiced pacing myself and trying to understand where my new boundaries exist.
The pandemic has left me with a lot of trauma I’ve only just begun to sort through.
This exercise in looking back and self-reflection has cleared a path to reach “better.”
The image of the new me is beginning to come into focus.
I concede my memories of my first year might have a rose-colored tint to them.
I cannot remember feeling anything negative — no stress, loneliness or fear.
As much as I wish to return to that place, how can you return to your old self if they have become a stranger?
So with all of this being said, I am now reintroducing myself — like falling in love for the first time, I am slowly getting to know what makes this stranger tick.
And as is the way with any rebirth, I am trying to carve out a place for myself that feels like home.