Guest blogger and college student Katherine Barnes talks about the silver linings she is finding during the pandemic. Katherine is an Integrated Marketing Communications major at the University of Mississippi. Photo from Ole Miss website.
On March 9, 2020, I boarded the Carnival Valor cruise ship for my spring break vacation. There were approximately 500 confirmed COVID-19 cases at the time in the United States, yet life was seemingly normal. I went shopping, picked up coffee, and enjoyed a drink on Bourbon Street with my friends the morning before the cruise set sail. I had absolutely no idea that that day would be the last time I could enjoy such luxuries.
On the vessel I had no cell reception, an unreliable wifi connection, and no idea of what was going on in the world around me. The crew members aboard the ship shielded us from what the public health officials were saying and denied any knowledge of the outbreak. While docked for the day in Mexico, I received a notice that my classes at the University of Mississippi were cancelled for the rest of the semester. I was shocked to find out that the NBA was suspended, Tom Hanks had contracted the disease, and that the virus was officially classified as a pandemic. I realized the severity of the public health crisis after recognizing several similarities to the plot of one of my favorite movies, Contagion.
My friends and I were terrified that we would be stuck quarantined on the cruise ship for months at a time. Other cruise ships were stuck at sea, as seaports were directed not to allow ships to dock. Thankfully, I was able to get off of the ship with no problems at the end of the trip. I arrived in New Orleans and for the first time witnessed the Big Easy as a ghost town. Popular tourist attractions were deserted, and the shelves at every gas station and convenience store were bare.
The reality of the outbreak settled in when I fell ill on the drive back to Oxford. I was exhausted and feverish, and felt a dry cough coming on. These common symptoms of the virus led me to self-quarantine in my apartment. I quickly became bored, irritable, and tired of watching Netflix all by myself. I lacked motivation to read or do anything productive. I wallowed in my sadness and spent days doing virtually nothing, but I eventually accepted the fact that I couldn’t leave my apartment or see my friends. To cope with this new reality, I pushed myself to try new hobbies by ordering resistance bands and arts and crafts projects. These small purchases helped improve my mood while quarantined, and they kept me entertained while in my isolated apartment.
After getting the doctor’s approval to return home, I moved back to Arlington, Virginia. A silver lining of COVID-19 is that I got to move in with my long-distance boyfriend Kevin who goes to college in Virginia. Kevin encouraged me to make the most out of every day, and to not dwell on the things that I could not control. We constructed a routine together that consisted of completing our schoolwork, cooking elaborate meals together, and going on walks. To my surprise, I adapted well to online learning, and my grades for the spring semester were straight As and Chancellor's List.
There were many days that I felt sad and frustrated with being quarantined. It was hard for me to accept social distancing as the new normal. I missed seeing my family, attending cycling classes, and having face-to-face interactions with my professors. I often struggled to explain the complexity of my emotions to Kevin, as I was extremely happy to be with him but often pessimistic due to isolation. I tried to keep my negative thoughts and emotions to myself, but they always poured out of me eventually. Over time, I learned the importance of communication and articulating how I feel. It isn’t always easy for me to discuss my feelings, but being vocal really improved our time together in quarantine and our relationship overall.
I also struggled with communicating with my friends. I was used to seeing familiar faces every day, whether in my apartment or on campus. Isolation contributed to extreme loneliness and anxiety regarding my friendships. It seemed as if my friendships were fading away, but the reality of the situation was that everyone was coping with the pandemic in different ways. I continued to reach out to my friends, and I began to incorporate mindfulness and journaling into my daily routine to ease my anxiety. It definitely was not easy, but reframing my thoughts and actively keeping in touch with my loved ones through texts and phone calls helped improve my mood over time.
Adapting to the coronavirus pandemic has been difficult, but my experience throughout lockdown has helped me grow as a person. I am so grateful to spend time with my family, whether from a distance or on zoom calls. I have rediscovered my love of reading for pleasure and found joy in cooking and trying new foods. I am appreciative that my family members are healthy and safe.
I know that I will have to continue to adapt to COVID-19, as case numbers are rising and my classes will remain online. I am so sad that I won’t get to experience the physical beauty of campus every day. However, I know I will make the most of my situation. I plan on adopting even more hobbies, communicating effectively, and focusing on one day at a time.
Ellice Halpern, J.D., is a Virginia Supreme Court certified general and family mediator.