Isolation or Independence?

By Anonymous

This was written at the start of social distancing in mid-March, and as social distancing measures begin to lift this essay serves as a reflection on the past two months 

During this time of social distancing, it’s easy to sulk into feelings of isolation. But through a more positive lens, this is an irreplaceable time of independence. We will never get this time back—and that is an important lens to live through, today and everyday. 

I am a 21 year old with minimal “real world” responsibility.  This period of dwelling and doing nothing and being bored out of our minds is an absolute privilege for those who can afford to allow their minds to wander aimlessly. I believe that our 20s are for questioning everything around us—including ourselves. 

As an individual, what matters to us? What do we want out of our lives? What can we do to feed our souls every day, when we come to the realization that nothing about our futures are truly promised, and that everything we enjoy is a luxury? This is the most alone and independent and individual we will ever be. Your clock revolves around you—how will you use your time? 

I don’t mean to romanticize this time. No need to be hard on yourself though, there are times that we want to sulk and be miserable, complain, and we are so allowed to. Not every day has to be a perfect day. It is an incredibly difficult time for many, simply because of the fact that everything we’ve revolved our lives around has come to a sudden halt. We live through distractions, through a constant on-the-go flow. Without the constant rhythm of running through a to-do list, how do we find meaning in our time? Learning to sit with yourself, and simply be, seems to be the scariest task of all. I guess that’s why we prioritize anything else before we are forced to take a good look within.  

As a junior in college, I’ve had my share of ups and downs. Much like many of my peers, this seems to be the year where we learned to start living for ourselves rather than for others. During the fall semester, I would routinely talk to my therapist––it was my allocated time in my schedule where I could open up and address things going on in my life. While having a therapist is an amazing resource and tool to deal with mental health, I wanted to find a way to build stronger tools within my own life so that I could learn how to have a stronger grasp around my own emotions, by myself. As I embarked on my semester abroad, I made it a goal to use my newfound time and energy to be more patient with myself, handle my emotions, and to take an extra step to listen to myself. I made space to think critically about my anxiety, and learned how to become more mentally disciplined to handle my state of mind. I tried to learn how to calm my anxiety instead of letting it boil to the point where I rely on others to calm me down. I wanted to be enough for my anxiety. I am learning to not fight and wrestle with how life happens around me, rather go with the flow a bit more. Life does not revolve around us, it revolves around the cards we are dealt and we are simply the player. How are you going to play your cards? 

Entering this time in quarantine has further stripped any sort of structure we knew down to bare bones. While I am proud of the progress I have made with learning to cope with my present anxiety over the past few months, there are deeper layers and experiences that I have refused to address. Instead of being able to numb my thoughts with the beautiful sights of a foreign country, I found new ways to channel into different worlds. There are doors to memories that I’m scared to open, but in my confinement reading more books and watching more TV, they were opened for me. 

I’ve been obsessively listening to Know My Name, by Chanel Miller. For those of you unfamiliar with this book, it is the Brock Turner rape trial as told by Emily Doe––also known as Chanel Miller. I listen to this book for a few hours a day, captivated by her storytelling, yet also feeling comforted by a sense of familiarity, and the feeling that she knows a secret that I too keep. In the evenings I tune into the Netflix show Unorthodox, a story of a young Orthodox woman who runs from her community to pave a new path for herself. In an episode, she speaks with a doctor about the overwhelming pain she faces while attempting to have sex with her husband. The doctor diagnoses herself with vaginismus––involuntary muscle contractions that make it painful during any sort of insertion. It can be related to general anxiety, or a triggered response that induces a fear of having sex. 

A lightbulb goes off in my head. I have always had painful encounters while having sex. First it was the fumblings of losing my virginity, then it was the discomfort of awkward drunken encounters of hook-up culture, and not far into my freshman year of college, it was attributed to sexual assault. 

This memory is repressed into the deepest and darkest corners of my mind. Though the night itself was explosive with emotion–– tears, fear, and confusion––I left my trauma in that moment––or so I believed. It could’ve been worse, it’s not as bad as some others experiences, don’t be weak, it was your fault anyway. I avoided telling my friends, I refused to admit that I had been so foolish to put myself at risk. Whether it was to protect them or myself I’ll never know, but subconsciously that night still lingers. 

But how could it have impacted me if I pretended it never happened? From then on, I pushed partners I once trusted away, causing uncommunicated confusion and hurt. Compounded by shitty one night stands that lacked trust or compassion, my poor relationship with sex was exacerbated. I convinced myself that it had to do with the fact that I didn’t have a real relationship with anyone I slept with, and that the pain was usual for assimilating to a new partner. Oh, it happens when I get too drunk, don’t worry about it. Though it can be attributed to a lack of genuine trust and intimacy, but the catalyst was something else, and I know that now. As I brushed that night further and further away, I developed a sense of abrasive passiveness. I’d slowly start to sweep many of my other emotions aside too after realizing how easy it is to keep secrets. Perhaps this too is the root of my anxious episodes. 

Without the stimulus of day to day excitement, I’ve allowed memories from two and a half years ago to arise and take a deep dive into my past. It draws my stomach and throat into a knot. These are conversations that I have avoided having with myself, let alone anyone else. But I know that for it I will be better, and I will have a deeper understanding as to why I act the way I do. 

Telling this story is not about coming forward with my truth for others––but it’s about finally telling it to myself, and for myself. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. So today I own my past, my present, and my future. Everything that has happened up until now has created who I am today. and everything that has yet to occur will continue to shape who I am. Today I acknowledge her, and I celebrate her. Not for anyone else, but for myself. Today, that’s enough for me. And I hope you can do that for yourself too. 

No matter the scale or severity, everyone has a laundry list of things left unresolved that need tending to. This stir-crazy time for everyone can be built-in soul searching time if you open your mind to that idea. At this moment in time, it seems hard to see progress in our lives. Our momentum was suddenly stopped and we grapple with this reality. But just because you stop growing in one way (perhaps it was through your relationships, academics, or career) doesn’t mean that you have to stop growing altogether. It’s an opportunity to open up new doors and to take this time to be selfish in getting to know yourself, and help yourself along the way. 

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Things to remember: patience, kindness, and gratitude––not just during quarantine or this month, but always. Forgive yourself if you have a bad day or get lost on the internet, be kinder to yourself and your body, and be extraordinarily grateful for everything we have. Be patient with social distancing, and always with yourself. It is an incredibly weird time for everyone, but try and make the most of it. Life is too short to let it pass us by—it’s in your hands now to make the most of every day, whatever that means to you.