As a member of the Class of 2024, the beginning of the semester has been a bit of a culture shock to say the least.
There are just so many people here.
I usually love crowds of people on the street — it energizes me. This year, however, I am a bit apprehensive about the return to normalcy because it seems a bit premature.
With the emergence of the Delta variant, it seems as if our facade of normalcy is slipping quickly out of our reach. However, no one — myself included — seems to be quick to relinquish some of our long-awaited freedom. So, as I watch the groups of students walking down Commonwealth Avenue to a frat or a friend’s house for gatherings that would have been suspendable offenses last year, I feel conflicted.
How do I — as a fully vaccinated student — balance the fear of missing out and COVID burnout with lingering guilt and doubt about going out to crowded places?
I’m scared of looking back at my college years a decade or two from now and realizing that being over-cautious cost me the great memories and experiences I could have had. But I’m also scared of testing positive for COVID-19.
I acknowledge that a prerequisite to these problems is having an immense amount of privilege. As a young, overall healthy, vaccinated person, if I contracted COVID-19, it would likely be a small inconvenience at most. That doesn’t mean that I should throw all caution to the wind and completely disregard the recent national and University case spikes that have occurred since last spring.
However, it has been a year and a half now since the pandemic started. And for most of that time, my mental health has suffered from not seeing people when following strict public health recommendations, because as an extrovert, not being able to be around people has caused its own harm. I don’t regret these choices, but I’m tired. On top of that, I feel guilty about my pandemic exhaustion, which makes me even more tired.
It feels like I can’t win.
So, I ask the universe again and again: where is the balance here? I am burnt out, guilty, uncertain and craving the rush of being lost in a crowd of people without a little voice in the back of my head worrying about this virus.
As I pose this question, I know there is no right answer. Everyone else is navigating an uncertain present and future right along with me and hoping that they’re making a majority of their choices responsibly.
No matter what, I will look back at this year and think that I made some stupid decisions and some incredible ones — like with any year. All I can do right now is try to make the stupid decisions that will make funny stories in 10 years, not decisions that could spread a potentially deadly virus.
Maybe a little bit of guilt in the back of my mind is a good thing right now. It’s a reminder that we’re not out of the woods yet in regards to COVID-19 and that my actions can and do have consequences. I have to find ways to balance the fun and social aspects of the semester with the necessity for safe and protective practices.
Not to get too philosophical, but college doesn’t last forever. At some point, I’ll graduate — knock on wood. I want fond memories and silly pictures to point to and say: “I was really happy then.” I also don’t want to be reckless with safety guidelines and look back and feel ashamed.
For now, I am going to continue wearing a mask, getting tested at least every week, monitoring the case numbers and trying to live life according to the “new normal,” not the old one. More than anything, I am going to try to trust my judgment more. Missing one social event that I am uncomfortable going to because of the ongoing pandemic is more than okay, and I need to cut myself some slack.
In summary: get vaccinated if you haven’t already, get tested regularly and trust yourself. It’s really all that we can do right now.