I spent all summer dreading the fall. There were nights when I would lay in my bed restlessly as the question mark of what the future held chipped away at me. A part of me missed school and opening my mind up to new ideas, another part of me wanted to drop out altogether and never have to use my brain again. I just felt so burnt out; I felt as though these past few months had taken all the emotional energy I could muster and had wrung it out dry. On the surface, I might have appeared as a whole human being going about her day, but on the inside, my soul felt shattered.
When I finally made the decision to go back to school, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I tried to make myself excited about the possibility of meeting new people and reconnecting with old friends. Williams was, after all, one of my favorite places in the world. But the more I thought about having to make small talk with people, the more I began to dread going back. How would I respond when people asked me how I was doing? People have died since I’ve last set foot on campus, both people whom I’ve been extremely close to and people whom I’ve only known peripherally. It’s gotten to a point where when I hear about another death, I just feel numb. I think a part of me has felt numb since March. There are so many people trying to positively spin the pandemic; calling this semester “a grand experiment” and talking about how lucky we are to be back, to be living through history.
Why can’t we just all hold space to grieve?
Every day I walk around campus and I really try to be okay. I think I’m scared to show people just how fragile I am, how easily I can be broken. People don’t know what to do with a broken person, with someone they can’t cheer up, so I pretend. I’m such a good actress too, most of the time. I try to walk around campus with a pep in my step and talk to people about how beautiful the weather is or how exciting it is to be a student again. I rarely talk about how disinterested I often feel with the world, or how lost I feel maneuvering around campus. I don’t know who I’m performing for. I tell myself it’s for the sake of other people so that I don’t burden them with the heaviness of my emotions. In reality, that feels dishonest. I think I’m really trying to perform for myself, to convince myself to be happy.
I know that I’m not alone in my feelings of darkness, of numbness. We’ve all experienced feelings of loss, isolation, and profound sadness over the past couple of months. Sure, it’s been to varying degrees, but we’ve all been grappling with heavy emotions. We’re all performing okay-ness, shielding others from the weight of our loneliness, our grief, our longing for a life we once lived. When everybody’s struggling to perform okay-ness, how are we supposed to react when we watch our friends’ performances crack? Some of my friends aren’t very good actors. I sit with them while they talk to me about their social isolation or their frustration. I don’t know how to care for them or their emotions when I feel equally stifled and lost. I hope that they have other people to talk to or are using Integrated Wellbeing Services [IWS]. Then I remember that you can only meet with a therapist through IWS for 45 minutes once every two weeks and that it’s difficult for anybody to be a caretaker right now because we’re all hurting.
To every member of the Williams community, I urge you to treat everybody with an outpour of compassion. Nobody is okay. This pandemic and political moment have affected us all in profound ways, and socially distancing from each other is only furthering the sense of isolation. We’re all trying our best to get through our day without crying, and on top of that, we’re trying to be good students, good friends, good teammates, good job applicants. We’re all exhausted. We’re all spread way too thin and demanding too much of ourselves and others.
To everyone who chose to be back on campus this semester, I implore you to ask others how they would like to be cared for and to tell others how you would like to receive care. Let’s drop our performances of okay-ness and create space to collectively mourn. Our expectations shouldn’t be the same for one another as they would be during a “normal” semester, and we should allow each other space to hurt, and space to heal. As a campus community, let’s work to hold one another and make space for our collective fragility. We all need so much care right now.
Alex Pear ’22 is a political science and women, gender, and sexuality studies major from Philadelphia, Penn.