Commentary, Opinion

Student vignettes from a pandemic

Valentina de la Borbolla, Contributor

Talk about the pandemic has been defined by words like “abnormal,” “unprecedented,” and “challenging.” Admittedly, these last months have been all of those things and more, but in the chaos, I have found a sense of normality that I had never-before experienced. 

Being alone with all the time in the world has left me craving both flexibility and something constant to hold on to. For me, that became my morning routine. I did have a routine before the pandemic; I am a pretty anxious person, so I usually need structure to function. However, I found that my pandemic routine was a lot more mindful than any of those prior to COVID-19. My morning rituals became a lot more intuitive, and I started doing things that actually made me feel good and not just things that made me productive. 

Breakfast was no longer just caloric fuel: It became a mindful half-hour where the most important thing was my milk-to-coffee-ratio and bagel-crispness-level. Listening to the New York Times’ The Daily podcast every day stopped being a source of news anxiety; instead, it became a comforting break to hear the same intro-music and anticipate Michael Barbaro’s Here’s what else you need to know today” at the end of each episode. 

But the most important thing about my routine is that I am comfortable changing it. I tend to come up with a routine and stick to it for months on end. However, this is not possible in the pandemic context because now, more than ever, my emotional state is unpredictable. At the beginning of the semester, I was very set on my routine: 7:30 a.m. alarm, have breakfast, shower, make my bed, and start school at 9:00 a.m. Yet, as the months passed and school began to weigh me down, I realized my routine needed to change. This would have been unthinkable a year ago because adapting my routine would have meant being less productive. As I shift my priorities, productivity is slowly losing ground to things like comfort, calm, and enjoyment. So I rejected years of prioritizing academic performance over my health and stopped setting an alarm. I changed up my breakfast; I laid in bed for longer. The Daily stayed, though—that one is non-negotiable. 

Although these changes may not seem life-changing, and not everyone has the privilege to be flexible, I have learned to adapt the expectations I set for myself to prioritize my mental and emotional well-being. The pandemic has shown us that we cannot take our health for granted. To me, that means never putting school over my health ever again. 

Sepideh Afshar, Staff Writer

I have always found comfort in numbers, in having a group of people around me vulnerable enough to share similar feelings. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in many rapidly changing emotions ranging from fear to helplessness but, as the reality of Montreal’s red zone set in, I feel that it has settled on loneliness. Feeling alone is hard, but it’s an inevitable fact of life during lockdown. I have found solace in building connections within the McGill community and knowing that we are all going through these feelings together. I am lucky to live with six girls. We all act as support systems for each other, bound by our shared feelings. These are relationships I have held close to me, as online school has changed the way we communicate with our peers.

Between Zoom classes and online events, forming friendships looks completely different now. It is hard to really understand how someone is feeling when it is impossible to speak face-to-face. However, I find comfort in logging into the Facebook Messenger group chats for my classes and seeing that everybody else is also freaking out, collectively accepting that we are all being penalized 10 points a day for handing in our essays late in the middle of a pandemic. 

This online semester has also allowed me to connect with the McGill community in ways I may not have before the pandemic. Together, we have hyper-fixated on the McGill Fight Club incident through memes, and shared disappointment with the choice of the Redbirds as the new name of our Men’s varsity teams. Reactions to these events would not have diffused so far, nor would they have attracted the attention of so many different student groups, had they not taken place online. They have allowed for links between students to flourish where they may not have been able to before.

Beyond relationships between McGill students, the accommodation and compassion shown by professors has allowed me to connect with them more than I may have in a classroom setting, where it is much more intimidating to ask a question. I know that most people are not as lucky as I am, but many of my professors this semester have shown that they want to be as helpful as possible—beyond the regulations McGill sets in place for them. 

There is a general understanding that we are all going through this together, and will continue to do so until the virus is snuffed out. No one is exempt from the impacts of COVID-19. Instead, we’ve all come together within this common experience and tried to support each other. 

Rory Daly, Staff Writer

Calling me a David Bowie superfan would not be an overstatement. I am in the top one per cent of his listeners on Spotify, I can sing a good third of his catalogue by heart, and a vintage 70s concert poster of his hangs on my apartment wall. I can even tell you what songs he sang at that specific concert. Please don’t think I’m crazy—I just happened to be quite sick for much of my childhood, and music provided much-needed relief for the loneliness that chronic illness can induce. And during this pandemic-enforced isolation, music has continued to serve as a powerful coping mechanism, more so than other avenues like fiction or television. 

While I prefer David Bowie, any genre and any artist can provide an experience similar to the one he does, because the greatest value of music is in hearing the struggles and passions of others. Compared to the familiar voices of roommates and family that many have become accustomed to in their quarantine bubbles, listening to an artist you love is like a breath of fresh air. Even instruments work similarly if one focusses on how they are played and the number of individuals that are involved in a piece. To a keen ear, a good song can provide company. 

I also enjoyed reading as a kid, but reading a great deal of fictional literature fosters feelings of isolation instead of working against it. Wishing to be in the presence of the prodigious d’Artagnan or the resourceful Bilbo replaced the longing to be around friends with a want for more fictional companionship. Most TV dramas work the same way. But there is something grounding in music, in hearing someone describe their own struggles and experiences, that cannot be found elsewhere. 

Recently, I have been returning to Bowie’s Blackstar, an album which in many ways is a reflection of his impending death from cancer. It is hard to imagine a man staring his death in the eye and choosing to create something so powerful with it, but he does. Every minute of the album is tinged with his soul, and one might find comfort in hearing something so human. Not only do I empathize, but I feel I know a bit of the man through his work—just as I do Joan Baez or Elvis Costello. I carry their voices with me in times of isolation, and in turn, they provide me with company in a way that a good book or show never could.

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