Published March 30, 2020
I have always thought of change as a good thing, something to embrace with open arms and courage. But this change I’d always been so willing to accept has become far more than I bargained for, especially when it abruptly entered the final semester of my senior year at UB.
First, I received news of my father. A phone call from my mother a few weeks before spring break revealed that the man who always served as my rock, my role model, my hero, was diagnosed with cancer. Luckily, early detection saved his life, yet this news still came as a shock. But I knew what had to be done. Embrace this change, I told myself. I knew as a family we would get through this, even though this change not only worried me, it terrified me. The mere idea of seeing somebody I loved so much going through treatment was not something I felt ready to endure.
Then came the COVID-19 pandemic. It was as if everything around me began to change so rapidly I couldn’t keep up. Ready to head off to my first spring break away from home, I no longer could travel. COVID-19 was spreading and back home, my father was immunocompromised from cancer treatment. I couldn’t take any chances. Change, I braced myself, here it comes again. I cancelled my trip and headed home.
They say change comes in waves. When I arrived home for spring break, my classes transitioned online. Distance-learning, they called it, would begin. Normal day-to-day life would end. Little did I know that I wouldn’t return to UB for the remainder of the semester. My online classes still promoted connection and open communication. My professors encouraged video conferencing and email correspondence to hold onto some semblance of usual coursework. It seemed ironic. My major, communications, now relied on virtual connectivity to keep on track. I didn’t mind the change. I remained optimistic, as I always told myself I would, when confronted with it.
As a means of communication, professors encouraged students to use the discussion board via UBLearns to converse and share feedback on assignments and postings. I received email upon email assuring me the transition would be smooth. Luckily, my courses relied on technology for the submittal of weekly assignments. The professors seemed to adapt smoothly. This would be OK, I thought after the first week.
But online learning was just one element. As a backdrop to students’ new normal, New York entered a state of emergency. News outlets call it “New York State on pause.”
As of this writing my hometown, Rockland County, had suffered with 623 confirmed cases of the virus and five deaths. We entered quarantine. I was unable to leave the house for anything other than groceries and medical supplies. I was strongly encouraged to social-distance and avoid interacting with anyone outside my immediate family. Change, I thought, it’s here to stay. I continued distance learning while my mother, who works in the medical field, continued to work as an essential employee.
I worried. Change now became inevitable. It threatened my education, relationships and family. This was more than I had signed up for. Then I realized what I could do with this change.
I wake up early every morning. I make my bed. I go for a run. I cook breakfast for myself and my siblings. I help run errands for my grandmother. I continue taking advantage of my education. I spend quality time with my father. This change that terrified me, that halted my ability to accept the reality of my new day-to-day life, was drastic, scary and certainly unexpected. But it’s given me power to control how it affects me.
Although I’m unable to connect with friends and relatives face to face, I have found the beauty in reaching out via phone call and text message. Simply reminding the important people in my life that I am still here and how much they mean to me has become a powerful social conjunction.
I’ve rediscovered my love of reading, cooking and drawing. Writing has always soothed me, a great way to process feelings and emotions. Writing about adjusting and coping with change has been a healthy outlet of expression. The love for these hobbies once buried under technological dependence, college stressors and daily distraction is still there.
Self-care has become my priority. Taking time throughout my day — to relax, meditate, pray — is invaluable. I typically neglect prioritizing my mental and physical health due to the demands of daily life responsibilities. Quarantine has forced me to reflect on my well-being and become comfortable with being alone. In a society driven by social interaction, approval and judgment, this distancing has the ability to heal my dependence on these variables.
The transition to distance learning, the abrupt ending to my senior year of college, moving back in with my family and rediscovering comfort within myself have been difficult to accept, yet part of the change I feared. Coping with these unexpected changes has revealed to me my character, strength and resilience. During a time of increased isolation and decreased social interaction, I have found acknowledging and allowing time to process my feelings and emotions is restorative.
One of my favorite quotes from Debasish Mridha, an American author and physician, proves this change to be beneficial: “When there are no changes, there is no life. A plant has to change to bloom.”