Feeling stuck as a first-year during the pandemic

A letter on the loneliness of watching my friends leave while I stayed behind

Anastasia Kasirye

A letter to myself:

It’s sometime between late 2020 and early 2021. And somehow, even when the whole world has assumed a pause and most are at home behind perpetually closed doors, even when everyone’s not doing much and longing for the pre-COVID-19 abundance of interaction and activity, you’re missing out. You’ve done it again: you’re stuck.

While all of your friends stream along — going out, making new friends, surpassing their goals, you remain here, close to it all, but off at a tangent. Near enough to moan about all of the assignments and the short deadlines, to carry along tutorial discussions with your helpful — but perhaps not as developed — insights, to laugh with the new group and go to their socials, but never managing to make them your friends.

You are certainly not the only one feeling this way. You struggle to derive a semblance of comfort from that because, somehow, among all of the disconnection, disorientation, and disarray of plans wrought by the upheaval brought about by the pandemic, people are still seamlessly connecting and embarking on new, vibrant chapters in their lives. Growing. Thriving.

Where are you in all of this? Are you still on that precipice of fresh experiences, where the exhilaration you seek is so close but also so far that, well, how do you even get there? Maybe ‘stuck’ was the wrong word to use. You’re lost.

Lost in the throes of an interim personal fable you had told myself while knowing, but not really feeling, that there were people — many of them — who could probably relate.

The truth is, when your friends left because their universities were open and in person, you felt like you had no life. They trickled off, one by one, and you remained, always the figure waving goodbye, receding into the distance with each rolling turn of the car tire that carted them off to the next phase of their lives.

As they did, your once-saturated weeks of activity gradually diminished, metamorphosing into a monotony of interactions with your family, online classes, and occasional weekend hangouts with the friends who were still here. Around you, your friends seemed to have no problem finding an endlessly packed calendar of plans.

Despite the mental fulfillment your new university classes would impart you with, you felt like even your learning lagged. Your ability to actively discuss what you were learning in relation to real-world situations didn’t compare to your peers. While you had no problem engaging with people in group chats and Zoom socials, you still couldn’t fathom how other first-years were channelling these short-lived, momentary interactions into fully fledged friendships.

It constantly felt like you were on the verge of being in that place where everyone assumed you were, but finding the entrance to this realm proved incessantly elusive. Nothing fundamentally new, exciting, or interesting was happening to you — at least not in the way it appeared to be happening to everyone else. You were perpetually on the periphery, missing out.

You felt stuck, and despite the overarching halt in activities experienced by the world due to the pandemic, you felt alone in how stuck you were.

I know you want to say that this period has had a definitive, merry conclusion, and that you emerged from a brighter place within yourself, with a less critical self-outlook. While I do believe that you are in a better, more enlightened and, perhaps, less critical place, I don’t view this moment as having been concluded, signed, and sealed.

Truthfully, it is an ongoing flux, an oscillation of self-esteem, and a constant alternation between feelings of contentment and inadequacy. And honestly, that’s okay. At least, it’s starting to feel like it is.

As your first year at the University of Toronto comes to an end, your continuous penning continues. You will move from states of satiation to being not quite there yet, from feelings of belonging to a sense of exclusion. From feeling like you measure up, to feeling like you really don’t. But you no longer feel quite so disoriented by these undulations — rather, you draw a sense of comfort from their interminability.

There is no clear cut note to end this piece on. Everything you’re learning about yourself, you do so as you go. But for all the instability and insecurity this year has brought on, you’re figuring out how to balance your footing. I know you can ride it out.