I have a complicated relationship with control. As in, I like to have it. And when I don’t, then it’s usually one of the topics of my next therapy session.
This whole year has taught me how much I value having control. And the last eight months or so have been an exercise of showing me how little control I actually have on most things. It’s been about finding ways to cope with that fact and doing my best to control what I can.
Over the summer I was a counselor at a summer camp. It seemed like a natural position for me. I’ve always adored kids and I was working in the arts & crafts area. Two things that I love. And yet, it was probably the most challenging summer of my life. There were parts of it that I really enjoyed: being on the lake, really cool bosses, coworkers from all over the world, all around new experiences, etc. But it was also exhausting- mentally, physically and emotionally.
I think I called my mom crying more times this summer than any other period of my life. A lot of it had to do with feeling like I never had privacy or a moment to myself. As an introvert, I seldom felt completely recharged. But a good portion of it had to do with my days being completely structured in a way that was out of my control. If I was upset or not feeling my best in the morning, then I had to continue on with my completely planned day, without the time or space to fully right my mind.
And because as a counselor, you’re always trying to make sure that your kiddos are having a safe and fun time, it meant that I was constantly pushing down my negative out-of-control feelings so they wouldn’t impact their experience. By the time camp ended, I was running on fumes.
A few weeks later, I started as an RA in the Honors dorm at Mizzou. During the Fall semester I also taught a one-hour Freshman Interest Group class to a class of 23 Honors journalism students. I absolutely loved it. I made it a priority to be available to my residents and tried to be there for them as much as I could. It made me so happy when they shared with me what was going on in their classes and what successes they were having in their orgs. I often felt like a proud mom.
But it was hard sometimes. Many of them were emotionally vulnerable with me. I was honored that they trusted me with their struggles, but sometimes it felt heavier than what I was equipped to bear. Some moments were even scary, especially when it came to mental health. At the end of the day, I was not a trained counselor. And in my friendly RA capacity, I could only do so much. It was terrifying to think that one of my residents could do something really permanent, and I honestly had no real way to stop it.
And just when I thought life had given me enough recent examples to wrestle with control, COVID-19 hit. I’m self-aware enough to not take it personally. This virus and its effects are hitting literally everyone. I’m blessed to have a safe home, a good family and health insurance. So far, the truly worst thing that has happened to me is that I had to cancel my spring break trip to Chicago with a friend.
But that doesn’t mean I’ve been 100% okay, either. I drove home on Friday, March 13th. At the time that I left Columbia I didn’t know that Mizzou would be going to online-learning for the rest of the semester. I brought home a few things, but most of my stuff was still in my dorm room in Missouri.
I don’t even consider myself that materialistic of a person, and yet every time I thought about my belongings still being in Columbia, I had a pit at the bottom of my stomach. It felt like my life was split in two places: Texas and Missouri. I felt unsettled. And with all of the other uncertainty going around (how were online classes going to work? who was healthy and who was actually sick? what was even going on?), that was one thing that I deeply wished I could control.
It also didn’t help that one of the ways I cope when I feel anxious or stressed is craft: and all of my craft supplies were part of the belongings I had back in Columbia. So for the first week I was home, I relied on a few of my other coping mechanisms. I baked brownies. I organized my family’s pantry. I paid close attention to my professor’s emails and wrote new assignments and crossed out old ones in my planner. I made lists. I even went as far as ordering my planner for next school year just because I knew it would make me feel better about the world.
I also tried to soak in some of the simple joys of being home. Having a couch to lounge on. My dad’s phenomenal cooking. Being near my brother. Seeing my neighbors (while being six feet apart). Even still, I had trouble sleeping up until my mom and I drove to Missouri and back to completely move me out of my dorm room.
Everything in this world feels very out of control right now. Online classes from home are an adjustment. Trying to formulate some kind of new routine has been key. I’ve found that getting up at the same time as I would for class helps. Showering and putting on clothes that aren’t PJs works wonders. I’ve been doing schoolwork at the dining room table because there’s more natural light and I’m less likely to nap. Going outside, whether that be my back patio or a walk around the neighborhood is the best break.
A few other ways I’m trying to find some control: I ordered a medicine ball so I can continue to do some of my workouts that I did at the gym at home. I’ve been writing letters to friends who now live far away. I renewed this blog so I can continue to have an outlet for my thoughts in writing.
One really random way I’m relishing having control right now is through my body hair. Over Winter Break I realized the longest I’d gone without shaving my legs since I started in the 6th grade was probably four days. Even in winter, or when I really didn’t even need to shave, I was shaving almost every day. I haven’t completely sworn off shaving, I’ve just decided that I’m not going to shave unless I have a specific event with an outfit where you’re actually going to see my legs. So as of today (March 28th), I haven’t shaved my legs since January 20th. And every time I’ve mentioned it to someone, they have not even noticed. To which I say: “why was I shaving so much in the first place?”
What it comes down to is the only thing I can control is me. Whether that be through my actions or attitude. The rest of the world can be going completely bonkers, and I have to do my best to not let it weigh me down. Even if it isn’t easy.
And when I’m struggling with my lack of control, I have an amazing support system. Both my family and my friends have really been there for me this year when I’ve struggled. And I am so thankful.
My advice as a 20-year-old college student right now is this. Find your coping mechanisms and don’t feel sorry for them. Practice social distancing as much as you can. If you know a healthcare worker, please thank them. And if you love someone, shoot them a quick text and tell them. I think everyone could benefit from hearing that right now. Just because we’re social distancing doesn’t mean we have to be virtually socially distant. And wash your hands!
A few other ways I’m looking forward to taking control and growing from this experience when it’s all over: making more time to spend with friends and family, taking more dance classes at the rec and finally asking the cute guy in my marketing class if he wants to grab coffee. Because it doesn’t hurt to have a few things to look forward to. (: