Reduced Happiness


Hey loves!


In all honesty, I have put off writing a new blog post for a while. It feels like I missed some weeks of posts, but when more and more of you guys started asking me whether I still post on here at all, I went onto my blog and realised those "few weeks" have actually become almost three months. I have always said that I only post stuff when I feel like I have something to say and truth be told, I did not feel like that for the past few weeks (turns out it was actually months).


It feels a little bit like lockdown, online university classes followed by online exams and hardly ever leaving the house has drained my creativity and also some of my joy. Before I go on, I want to be very clear that this is not me arguing against any covid restrictions - I understand that they are needed and throughout this crisis, my family and I have held ourselves to the standard "just because you are allowed to do it, does not mean it is the responsible thing to do it." But just because you understand the need for the rules and will definitely follow them, does not mean that it will be super easy to do it all the time. It is definitely a big sacrifice to me to lose this much of my university experience and also just normal activities - it is a sacrifice I am happy to make for the safety of everyone, but it is still a sacrifice.


Normally, I do not mind being alone. I am very introverted and super shy - I do not do well with strangers and my close friend circle can be counted on one hand. But this situation of constantly being at home has been going on for over a year now and my normally welcome state of being alone has started to turn into loneliness. In September 2020, I started my exchange year at the University of Regensburg. In-person classes were hardly a thing in the beginning and just a few weeks in, that once-a-week in-person class I had was moved online. I am grateful for the decision because I feel a lot safer with online classes, but it also meant not making friends at my exchange university. I know a few people who texted me because they heard that I was a student at Regensburg University now through social media, but I did not really have a chance to make any real new friendships.


Being back in my hometown has also made me realise how lonely of a place it has become for me. I love this city, but I have not really lived here since 2016 when I packed my bags and moved to Hong Kong to attend boarding school. A lot of my friendships got lost over time. That is perfectly ok and, I guess, also perfectly normal - I left when we were all still growing up and we all changed, made new friends, tried out different things, and now we are all trying to figure out our way.


The city itself also feels familiar but unknown at the same time. It is little things that give away that I used to be a part of the city, but now I am more of a visitor. Like when I confidently walked to the train station to take the U2 line to the main station - turns out it no longer stops there. Or when I wanted to go to the glasses store where we always bought all out glasses to get my glasses repaired - turns out it went out of business years ago. Or when I drove to the wrong train station because I was so sure that was where my doctor's office is located - I ended up at my dentist's office but had actually aimed for my GP's office.


So things are kinda weird now. I obviously still have friends from Cambridge, but I have realised that I often find myself lacking the energy to reply even within a day. Sometimes I put off replying for really long times and I am lucky to have friends who do not hold that against me, but it has also shown me that my batteries are drained. In a weird way, I am sad about the fact that I am currently not making new friends, but I also appear to lack the energy to give the friends I have around the world the energy they deserve.


On a lot of days, I just feel really exhausted. Seeing other students on social media talk about their lockdown experiences tells me that I am not alone with this. But the odd thing is that I cannot really explain what is wrong. Like objectively, things are not that bad: I get to be with my family during this time, my grades are good, my online classes were pretty well-organised and I do have some friends who are staying in touch with me. I guess these little things that I always took for granted at uni are actually a really big deal - like a late-night McDonald's run with my roommate, a little chat about basically nothing with a friend on the way to the faculty, or just sitting in the library with all your friends while you are all trying to figure out what the hell your teacher wants from you on question four of the assignment.


These little things are part of a big network of support. And when you see each other all the time, you constantly and unconsciously check in on each other. But when you are separated for so long, you have to constantly make the effort. And when your batteries feel drained, that effort can feel really big.


A lot of us also lost our coping mechanisms. For me, a lack of motivation is usually beaten by going to the main reading room of the University Library in Cambridge. But that is not an option during lockdown. For much of my semester, the library of my exchange university was closed completely. I spent like 90% of my time just in my room and constantly being in the same four walls is just tiring after a while. And sure, you can go on a walk or something like that. Whenever I have had to go to the post office on my own, I have turned it into a walk. I could take the train and be there in five minutes, but these little 15-minute walks have been really enjoyable. But it is not a cure for this low mood which eventually returns.


I do not have a good description for what it feels like for me to be a student during lockdown - the best I can come up with is reduced happiness. Like I am not completely unhappy and there are good moments, but overall I just feel like I was happier before and like I had more energy for things. And now, despite technically having a lot less things on my plate (given that all my extracurriculars are pretty much not happening due to covid), I feel exhausted a lot. While I am grateful that my education could continue online, I am also so tired of constantly looking at my screen for over ten hours a day. I miss hugging my friends. Hell, I even miss the Cannstatter Wasen (it is a local celebration which is quite similar to Munich's Oktoberfest). I always found it way too busy and crowded, but it was something that showed how alive the city was. People got excited about it and until a few days ago, the city was a bit of a ghost town with pretty much everything closed. Shops are now starting to reopen for people who make an appointment to shop, so I guess things will get busier again. But busier can also turn into more infections and return us to stricter rules.


This constant worry of the situation worsening and also of whether you are up-to-date with the rules which change a lot is also something that is always on the back of my mind. This whole situation is far from easy for anyone. But I think I have only realised how much of a toll it has taken on me over the past few weeks. I guess I did not have as much of an issue with contact restrictions and being home in the beginning because I am extremely introverted - but even us introverts start missing other humans at some points (trust me, that was a shocking discovery for many of us introverts during this pandemic).


I think the best thing I can do for myself for now is give myself time off and just try to find stuff I like to do at home. I feel like I have treated this situation as temporary for too long - do not get me wrong, I am not here to say that we will be in lockdown forever. What I am trying to express is this: When something is just temporary, you are often willing to compromise more. Like why pick up a new hobby if you are just gonna be in this situation for a few months? I have treated this situation like this a lot - over the summer, I thought I would move onto the campus of my exchange university, and this semester, I already found myself telling myself that I will be back at Cambridge in October, so what is the point of establishing completely new things now. The point is that they can make you happy. And we can all use some happiness now. Many of us are currently not able to do our pre-covid hobbies and I know many of us are tired of people being like "ThIs is SucH a GrEAt OpPoRtUniTY tO tRY NeW ThiNGs." This whole situation feels pretty annoying and draining, but not really like the kind of situation that makes you excitedly cheer about all the things you could do.


And here is the thing: you do not have to be excited about doing something new right now. It is ok if you have to force yourself to do something new in the beginning. And you can start out with just one thing once a week. You can aim for reading a chapter in that book you have wanted to read since the beginning of lockdown, writing a verse of a poem, sketching out what you want to draw, or getting the ingredients for these cupcakes you have always wanted to make and committing to baking them sometime next week. The point of these little things is not to try out something new for the sake of trying something new. The point is to do something so that you get to do something out of this same routine you have been following for months now. To do something that may make you smile - even just a little bit. The world may be on halt and things have probably been far from ideal for the past few months, but you deserve to give yourself little breaks that are just for you.


It can be so easy to forget about creating these breaks for yourself when you are no longer in an environment where you can easily sign up to join a student club or volunteer somewhere, but this does not make these little things any less important. Make sure that you give them to yourself.


Lots of Love,


Elena

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