2020, the start of a new decade, which, so far, has redefined the way we see the world and interact in it. For months, humanity has been battling the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), which like a tsunami, grew in strength and crashed onto shores, rendering great economies immobilized. Our world is like a web, where nations and varying sectors within them are connected. For many, our lives have been flipped upside down, and we see governments and civil society doing their best to get a grip and control this situation. This global pandemic has made us aware of how situations mismanaged in early stages can snowball into something with fatal effects.
Steep Learning Curve
The looming virus captured our shores just before exam season. I watched the ingrained practice of education delivered in physical classrooms shutdown with an efficiency I would not have expected of something so set in stone. Virtual classes became the new reality. I imagine that’s how colonialism happened hundreds of years ago. Quiet, but deadly ships approaching African shores and changing everything those people had always known. Much like my ancestors, it was no joy being forced to adapt to threatening circumstances. The switch to online classes felt more demanding. Exams, though ‘open book’ had me looking for a needle in a haystack. Many times, I felt like I was only grasping at straws.
Sometimes, we wish for things we don’t actually want because we take for granted what we have. I used to fantasize about virtual learning as the solution to the many problems I had with attending lectures on campus. My fantasy of online education was the furthest from the truth. However, this experience wasn’t just a prickly walk through a bed of roses. It made me aware of inequalities that I also took for granted. For instance, while I worried about online classes, I never considered what device I would be using because I knew I had access to them. In April, the Ministry of Education found that some 60,000 students in Trinidad and Tobago were without access to laptops.
Job opportunities I spent months planning to achieve were cancelled. Business slowed down and companies were trying to ‘make do’ with the staff they currently had. It was devastating in the earlier parts. Adjusting to the new normal was difficult. Our lives were quickly placed in bubbles where verbal communication with friends and loved ones could only be a virtual activity. The week before lockdowns began in T&T I had some of the greatest times with my friends on campus celebrating International Women’s Day. It was a sharp contrast from being stuck at home.
Alexander Den Heijer in Nothing You Don’t Already Know said “You often feel tired not because you’ve done too much, but because you’ve done too little of what sparks a light in you.”
For many years, I regarded mental health as something that is secondary. “You have everything you need, what can you be stressed about?” is a perspective that was echoed often in my circles, so I’d brush my feelings aside and move on from any mental issues. I used work and school as a distraction most times from stress and I thought I felt happy doing that. I practiced self-care by taking naps, doing a facial, generally anything that made the physical me feel good.
Then in March 2020, the world stopped. The isolation quickly became overwhelming. Jokes about wanting to be by myself have turned into dryness in my throat from not having anyone to talk to. The combination of worldwide devastating news, and restrictions on movement, created a struggle to find balance within myself. I spent days just lying in bed until noon, waking up long enough to see the health updates and going back to sleep. Like a fish out of water, I didn’t know what to do. Standing in front of a mirror, looking at the image of myself and my emotions, I realized my mental health was a priority.
Figuring Out How to Cope
I wish I had an amazing story to tell on how I managed to overcome that period of my life but it’s a really simple one. I woke up one morning and decided there are so many skills I wanted to acquire and develop, why not now? One of the goals was to bake a cake for my sister’s birthday in August (I didn’t). I set goals, but most importantly I created “me time” out of the abundance of lockdown time.
I started doing daily yoga and exercise. I read inspirational books and other novels. Truthfully, that was only for an hour. I combined my hobby of watching YouTube cooking videos and trying new things in a little series for my friends called “Adriel Tries It.” Some of the random dishes I enjoyed making included eggplant lasagna (don’t knock it ‘till you try it); bread; Jamaican patties (a type of pastry, usually with meat fillings); and roti (a local variation of naan). Through these activities, I could feel myself doing a whole lot better and I was able to make even a few people feel better.
To develop intellectually and professionally, I joined Coursera. Even now, I continue to try new courses so that I can keep building myself as an individual. For a short time, I did some tutoring to young students who were out of school and without access to online classes from their schools. It was a fulfilling experience, taking time to prepare material and interact with students and experience their eagerness to learn. I took advantage of opportunities to present my views on current social events on different platforms. And I used my spoken word skills whenever I could.
While I filled my time with activities I deemed relaxing, it’s in no way a broad solution for everyone. Think of yourself and the things you enjoy doing, it may be spending time with a book, it may be taking a jog. The key is knowing who you are and what you enjoy. It’s a difficult time for all of us, regardless of where we may be, take it easy on yourself, check up on your friends and family. But most importantly, we at Future Black Female encourage you to be responsible and follow your national health care guidelines.