Remembering how to live

Photo courtesy of Blake Israel

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.