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The Daily Tar Heel

Editorial: What a year of solitude has taught us

Kyle McClintock, a junior chemical engineering major at NC State, poses for a portrait at a desk in a house in Chapel Hill on March 8, 2021. All of her classes have been online since lockdowns began a year prior in March of 2020.

For those quarantined in our childhood homes and college apartments, the pandemic has been a lesson in solitude. Our social circles have become parties of one, with technology as the only option for social interaction. 

It’s difficult to go from living in a college town with thousands of people to isolating yourself and staying six feet apart from strangers, but we learned how to be alone. 

We took up hobbies, practiced self-care and reevaluated the friendships that were once subconscious parts of our daily life. For some, the distance meant drifting apart from friends. For others, COVID-19 exposed those who don’t share the same values and who failed to take the same precautions.

Despite this, we learned how to be comfortable alone. We learned that spending time with yourself and being comfortable alone is a form of self-care – one that takes time to perfect.

It’s difficult to pull positive lessons from a time of loss and crisis, but it's important. The silver lining is evidence of our growth as people and as students, navigating a socially distanced world. 

Here are some of the Editorial Board members' reflections on their time alone during the pandemic:

Aditi Kharod, Editorial Board member: 

Obviously, it has been rough staying inside for a year and barely getting any social interaction with most of the people I love. But something that I’ve really embraced about this situation is my abandonment of performative beauty. 

Women especially are told that they have to look pretty in public at all times. If we’re not “naturally” pretty, makeup exists to create the façade of conventional beauty. Quarantine helped me reject that idea. In quarantine times, nobody cares about what you look like at the grocery store, and I, along with many other women my age, have fully stopped worrying about my appearance. 

I don’t have to be pretty in Trader Joe’s; in fact, I actually don’t ever have to be pretty. I can just be!

Vance Stiles, Editorial Board member:

 “Nothing, to my way of thinking, is a better proof of a well-ordered mind than a man’s ability to stop just where he is and pass some time in his own company.” – Seneca 

This quote is one that I had to lean into over the past year. In normal, day-to-day activities, it is hard to determine what a "well-ordered mind" is. Constantly on the go, I figured if I wasn’t skipping class and meeting deadlines, I was ordered enough. 

The pandemic forced me into solitude and into the depth of my disordered mind — a scary place. Having to sit and just be is a challenging proposition. To do that with the threat of a deadly virus looming overhead is near impossible. But somehow, I was able to do some of this by focusing on the small things I’m not going to have post-pandemic. 

Instead of rushing through my first cup of coffee for the day, I get to slowly sip on it and watch the sunrise. Instead of throwing together meals at the last moment, I get to spend time focusing on the art of cooking. Instead of dealing with traffic and buses on the way to classes and work, I get to simply hop on and off of Zoom, taking away the stress of being late. 

All of these led to the creation of a more “well-ordered mind," setting gratitude and routine first. Some of that will be going away soon, but hopefully incorporating graduate and routine into my post-pandemic life will be a bit easier than it was before. 

Raymond Pang, Editorial Board member:

One thing the solitude of quarantine has taught me is that it’s okay to take life slowly at some points. In the days before COVID-19, it felt like the world constantly demanded that we be doing something at all times to fit in with everyone else (who are seemingly hustling 24/7). However, I now realize that it’s okay to need a day of rest, and it’s okay if you need a day by yourself to clear your head and refresh your mind.

I’ve also realized that mental health is such an underappreciated aspect of life and how people around me — or sometimes even myself — always try to sweep our stress under the rug and pretend like we aren’t overwhelmed. 

Since the pandemic began, I’ve noticed that mental health is being taken more seriously by our society, and that’s a good thing. It seems like it’s finally acceptable for people to speak out about issues they’re facing, and there’s no longer a need to maintain the idea of a seemingly perfect life.

Ben Rappaport, Editorial Board member:

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The pandemic taught me to appreciate. It taught me that the few people I get to see in-person are the ones I need to hold tighter than ever. Seeing an unmasked face and a full-toothed smile became a luxury that I won’t ever take for granted again.

Beyond the people, I also learned to appreciate nature. The sounds of bird songs in the morning, and the way each bird is unique. I came to seek out the vibrant reds of the cardinals and white stripes on the faces of the Carolina chickadee. The uniqueness in nature that we so often gloss over became my symbol of the remaining beauty of life. 

Learning to appreciate more and hold life a little closer are things I want to take with me after this is all over.   

Liam Bendezu, Editorial Board member:

In a world where my desk is six feet away from my bed, and the vast majority of people I see on a daily basis are tiny faces on a screen, I’ve found it easy to let myself fall into an endless pit of procrastination and avoidance of many of the things I actually care about. Isolation, although necessary, is unhealthy. Putting schoolwork in the mix, along with the task of figuring out post-graduation plans, makes it all the easier to sit on my phone in bed and mindlessly watch YouTube. 

Nevertheless, the world still exists, and I have to deal with it. In sum, the pandemic has forced me to learn the time-honored art of discipline — not only to carry on with what I must, but to also create a basic sense of normalcy.

Although I’ve found discipline helps me day-to-day, it does not go without reasonable space for mental health. Sitting at a computer all day to get things done, in real person clothes, is exhausting even in “normal” times. 

Taking a break to go outside (with a mask!) or just be a couch potato is a necessary outlet. But at the same time, imposing some kind of structure on my life aids my mental health, too, and is something I hope I can continue when this whole fiasco has passed.

Abbas Hasan, Editorial Board member:

One important life lesson I’ve gained from the past year has been the importance of physical space. I think we all were incredibly aware of how much time we spent in our rooms, homes, neighborhoods, cities and communities this year. For me, it was a time to reflect on what those spaces mean to me, and how I want them to be a part of my life moving forward. 

I had always considered myself to be someone who was never particularly attached to space or place, but being physically forced inside made me reconsider. I began to see my time in quarantine not as missing opportunities outside my room and home, but instead as a way to explore myself and the space around me. I decorated my walls and searched through old cabinets, and began to realize things about myself that I hadn’t considered before. 

Before the pandemic, I felt like I was moving through life aimlessly — the places I was in were just moments that would pass. However, this pandemic made me realize how important physical space is in marking our lives and experiences. Moving forward, I’ll take the time to explore and reflect on the places I occupy.