I always thought that I would spend my final year of university surrounded by the people I had come to love during these last four years. University was really the first time I became independent. I’m from a small town in Delaware. I attended the same public school all my life, and watched the same people grow up with me. Of course, moving to New York City was a huge change for me. For the first time in my life, I would be living without my parents. The city had its pros and cons. For one thing, it was easy to just be yourself without anybody paying attention to you or particularly noticing your business, it was easy to lose yourself among the millions of other people. That wasn’t possible when you lived in such a small town where everyone was a familiar face. I loved how big it was, the diversity, and I even came to love how busy city life was. But quarantine and COVID-19 changed all of that. For me, the coronavirus began to show me how living in such a populated city, which was once the center of a lot of my dreams and ambitions, could become a nightmare.
I considered myself very lucky to have successfully found a job in the months following my graduation and was even more grateful that I had found one in New York, meaning I wouldn’t have to move across states to find work. So I didn’t mind it too much when university started transitioning online because, at the time, I honestly thought we might be back for graduation. I also already had a future neatly planned out with my job acceptance. But then, New York City became a cesspool for the virus. Within weeks, the cases and deaths were exponentially growing. And with that, the nervousness and anxiety started to set in.
Everyday, while watching the news, I witnessed the overcrowded hospitals and families unable to see their loved ones because they were infected with COVID-19. Disease is such a different type of adversity because it’s not something you can beat with your fists or hurt with your words; a pandemic is an invisible force. The knowledge of this invisible enemy, something that I could not see, hear, touch, taste or smell— something that I couldn’t stop from entering my body no matter how much I wanted to— started to eat away at my mental state. I became obsessed with hygiene, washing my hands incessantly everyday, and carrying gloves, hand sanitizer, wet wipes, lysol, and other forms of disinfectant the few times I dared to go outside. I didn’t want to touch or even be near my friends if they had just come back from being out in the city. I tried to sterilize everything that came through my door and I would spend an unhealthy amount of time wondering if me or anyone around me had contracted the virus everyday. Finally, my mindset became too much of a problem, affecting both me and my friends, so I went back to Delaware.
But the effects of living in New York City during the height of the pandemic didn’t just go away— they had affected me so much that I couldn’t just switch my anxiety off simply because I changed locations. At home, I refused to come out of the safety of my room and even though I had been so initially elated at my job offer, I strongly debated whether I should reject it, even though I didn’t have another one lined up. The thought of returning to that populated urban area scared me that much.
I still struggle a little bit now, but my mental state has drastically improved. I’ve come to realize that a lot of the consequences of disease are out of my hands, and I shouldn’t obsess over what I can’t predict or control. As long as I take the necessary measures to keep myself safe and healthy, I will be comforted by the knowledge that I have done all that I can. Whatever may happen in the future will simply happen.
Written by: Debi Chakrabortti