This past month has been disorienting, shocking and upsetting for just about everybody on the planet. After four weeks of social isolation and national lockdown even the most seasoned introverts among us are starting to go stir-crazy, and some are facing far bigger stresses than just boredom. For many, this is a period of extraordinary difficulty, stress, and uncertainty.
Some have been thrust back into toxic family environments, separated from the social safety nets of friends, and some have no family environment to fall back on whatsoever. Some have been evicted from their accommodation, stranded across borders, separated from loved ones. Some are working on the frontline, constantly worried about getting sick or infecting loved ones, and some of us might have lost our jobs completely and are sitting at home feeling helpless. Every one of these struggles is valid and difficult, but just remember that this period of dread, anxiety and hopeless uncertainty won’t last forever.
In the face of all this, our academic lives can seem trivial, but students aren’t spared the strain that’s being placed on the whole world’s shoulders at the moment. Anyone in a difficult home environment, financial situation or with mental health difficulties are likely struggling more than ever with their studies. While some departments in College may be doing their best to help, plenty of students are left at a disadvantage coming into unclear and terrifying exams, and that stress is weighing on them immensely.
Some Erasmus and foreign exchange students were forced to cut their time abroad short and now face an uncertain academic future, and final year students have been robbed of their last weeks in College that would have otherwise been savoured with friends. Online dissertation submissions, graduations via webcam and a final lecture delivered over Zoom aren’t quite the emotional end many envisaged, and it’s okay to mourn the experiences we may have missed out on.
More than anything though, spending time alone in isolation and reading about the sorrows of the world can bring about guilt: guilt that you’re at home doing nothing, unable to help; guilt that you’re unproductive and unable to function at as high a level as before; guilt that the days are passing and blending into one another. It doesn’t feel right, fair or normal, but this is far from a normal time. It’s okay to feel helpless, it’s okay to feel “lazy”, and it’s okay to feel anxious. Those of us with a history of mental health struggles are likely finding it tougher than ever, and even those with no prior difficulties must be feeling a strain.
Take the time you need to breathe. Be productive if you want to be, but if you don’t have the energy, whatever you can’t bring yourself to do will probably still be there when the world starts spinning again. Exams and assignments can be terrifying at a time like this, and while we may not yet have gotten full assurance from College for those struggling to cope, we cannot allow our studies to push us too far, when the global situation has left so many people vulnerable already. Counselling services are still available over the phone, and while it may not be sufficient for those in an unstable environment, there are always people willing to help.
Take care of your friends and family to whatever degree is safe, and most of all, take care of yourself. Nobody will look down on you in months time for not taking this time to write a novel or master a new language- some of us just want to make it to the other side in one piece and feel normal again. Take a break from the news and from social media if you need to, nobody will begrudge you for going off the grid for a while. Reach out to your friends if you feel up for it, but if you can’t ensure everyone else’s wellbeing, you can at least do your best to ensure your own.
Every one of us is sacrificing something to bring us safely to the other side of this crisis, and big or small, every sacrifice will take its toll on our physical and mental wellbeing. More than anything, we want everyone to get through this, and rest assured, we will get through this. For that though, sometimes the most important thing to do is to stay home, stay safe, look after ourselves and look out for one another.
TCD Student Counselling Service is taking phone appointments at [email protected]
Samaritans can be reached at 116 123 for mental health services over the phone.