Column: Going back to normal might be the hardest thing I’ve ever done

Audrey Whitaker, News Editor

I am 20 years old, in my third year of college, I’ve never changed my major and this is my second year living in an apartment about three hours from where I grew up.

I am incredibly homesick. 

I have never been homesick before. For years, I was itching to move away from home. I never got sad at summer camp. I complained about being home all of Christmas break, summer and last spring. But now, I just want to go home.

My mom said that it felt like my freshman year move in all over again, but during freshman year, I was so happy to be away from home. It hit me as soon as I moved in, but I blamed it on being the first cold I had in two years. On the second day of laying in bed, surrounded by unpacked boxes and dirty dishes, I realized I was feeling more than just a cold; I was sad.

During the first week, I repeated  “I’m just so happy to be back in-person” to everyone I talked to, like it was an affirmation; like I could convince myself that I was fine with going “back to normal.”  

But going back to normal has been one of the hardest things I have ever done.

I really am thrilled to be getting back to in-person classes. This fall is the first time I’ve had them since March of 2020. Last fall, all of my professors decided to move to online-only formats. When the winter semester was shaping up to be the same, I decided to head back to Detroit and nanny while I took classes online. It was a very isolating and lonely year and a half. Eventually, though, I got used to it.

I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling that the pandemic came at the least convenient time–when I was finally getting to enjoy independence and could begin to formulate a trajectory for my life. The pandemic laid waste to everything I expected from my next four years, forced me to wreck every plan I had for myself and try to set my expectations for the day-to-day while everything remained up in the air.

I can’t help but wonder if I would feel the same way if it hadn’t been for the pandemic. Is the burnout I’m experiencing normal, or pandemic-induced?

I recognize that I am 20 years old, this is my third year of college and I should know what I’m doing. These classes haven’t magically gotten harder than they were two years ago and it’s not like I expect professors’ expectations to magically change. I know that my malaise is not the responsibility of my professors or GVSU. But it’s this apparent expectation that we can just jump back into normalcy when so much has changed that still hasn’t settled in.

I’m not ready to sit in a room with 25 other people or go to in-person office hours. Above all, I’m not ready to act like everything is back on track and I’m feeling totally capable of keeping up with it- cause I’m not.

I don’t think that I–or we as a community–have had ample time to mourn what we lost in the last two years. Be it graduation, an internship, a freshman dorm or an idea of what we thought college would be like. I’ve been putting on a brave face to avoid being called a cry-baby, but I’m sad and homesick, and it’s proving to make this school year hell for me. Yes, we are lucky to be here getting an education, but we are allowed to recognize that this has changed the course of our lives in ways we didn’t want it to. 

While the pandemic has turned our focus to the importance of mental health and connecting with others, recognition for the massive loss of life due to COVID-19 seems hard to come by. Neither GVSU nor my hometown community has organized to recognize the loss of life our nation has seen since the beginning of the pandemic. Coming together as a community has always been a source of strength and healing, and I think it’s something that would help a lot of students feel less alone as we continue to move forward this semester. That’s what I hope this column can do for anyone who reads it.

I want to recognize the resources GVSU does offer- information on the Lakers Together website keeps our community informed. The university counseling center offers so many resources to struggling students and faculty and staff have been compassionate and understanding time and time again. 

There is nothing we can do to turn back the clock to life before COVID-19. The new normal isn’t great, but it’s what we have to work with. As a community, coming together to grieve lives lost and the lives we had before COVID-19 can help us move forward.