It’s been almost a full year since I flew home from Brown to finish my senior year in my childhood bedroom. The announcement telling everyone to leave came on a Thursday I think, and after a frightened call with my parents, I booked a plane ticket for the next day. I spent the day packing and making last minute plans to see friends, and barely slept that night.
My friend drove me to the airport. I worried about putting on my mask (that another friend had gifted me) before I got out of the car. I wore bright blue rubber cleaning gloves at the gate, because I hadn’t had the foresight to buy those thin latex ones beforehand. The other person in my plane seat row wiped down her tray table as I did mine, and for once, I barely used my phone on the flight.
When I got to DFW, my dad was waiting for me with a spritz bottle of alcohol. He was masked too. My jacket got sprayed down, I think I took off my shoes, and once we got back to the house my mom instructed me to shower and leave my dirty clothes in a trash bag for her to wash. For two weeks afterwards, I barely left my room, and my parents brought me meals nicely arranged on a plate.
Classes were canceled for this time; I think one of the weeks was our spring break. I didn’t do any homework, and instead focused on settling into a new pace of life in suburban Texas. I thought about ways to exercise. I cleaned my room, set up calls with friends, read news article after news article. For a brief period I felt carefree and relieved that I didn’t have “it”, and that no one I loved did either. There were only things to be grateful for.
When school got back into the swing of things, I was doing okay initially. I had time to exercise, I called friends, I got my work done and was not in danger of failing everything. Towards the end of the semester, however, my undergrad thesis started taking up most of my time and energy. Due to one of my co-advisors, it was a miserable and demotivating experience. I didn’t quit, though, and ended up finishing it.
Graduating was anticlimactic. Final projects were turned in, the class I was TAing ended, and the thesis document got uploaded to the department website. I didn’t even give a presentation, because I turned it in a full week late, long after the official presentations had happened. There was no senior week, no celebration with family, no senior photos, no ceremony. But I had dinner with my family and we toasted the milestone, and that was pretty alright.
I’d moved up my start date for my job to June. I wasn’t going anywhere, so why have time off? It was the right decision. With a solid routine and the chance to move forward in something during this limbo, I felt much better when I was working than when I wasn’t.
But quickly I accepted that this time was not just “limbo”. In summer 2020, some people could still hope that all this would blow over relatively soon. But many suspected this would not be the case, and to live as if only waiting for a temporary storm to pass was to live in daily frustration. This was my life now – daily walks, eating dinner with my family, videocalling my friends, and quietly doing my own hobbies.
I started playing viola again. And then I started taking viola lessons from my old teacher again. I took long walks and then started running most days, and picked up yoga and freestyle dancing. I sang whenever I wanted. Sometimes I wrote if I had the brainpower, but mostly read things online. I thought about what kind of person I want to be, and how I wanted to live. I went on dating apps, a lot, to no avail. I started learning chinese on my own, something I’ve always felt too ashamed to do.
Life happened. During everything, I cycled between anxiety and depression. I’d set good boundaries for work life balance, not doing work on most nights or weekends, but then I would spend my free time anxious or sad or panicky. There were weeks that I had to tell myself to slow down, and there were weeks that I could hardly make it out of bed at 10am.
What has made it truly bearable has been being employed. I ended up interviewing and transferring teams within Microsoft at the end of 2020 because I didn’t like my first team, but nonetheless, working was good. I had money to pay “rent” to my parents, money to donate, money to invest, money to spend. I got a therapist on my insurance and set up retirement accounts.
My friends have been equally helpful. I’m introverted but need near daily conversations with friends – real ones, ones that start with “How are you?” and last 1-2 hours. Somehow, I even made friends in the Seattle area, connections kept alive by the hope and expectation that eventually I’ll move and they will become real in person friendships. That was many months ago, and since then my friend tree has been quite static. But that’s okay, and it will be okay too when it temporarily changes for the worse once I move. I’ve moved before, I’ve made friends, and I’ll do it again.
I like my new team at work, and I’m still keeping on between periods of anxiety and mild depression. A few Friday nights here and there get especially lonely and sad, but knowing I am not alone in that is comforting. I got to spend an extra year with my parents and brother that I never would have gotten otherwise, so I can appreciate that result of the pandemic. It’s also given me the space and privacy to be more of the person I want to be. That’s pretty beautiful.
I can’t wait to see how much farther I can go even in the next few months, and especially beyond the great shift to more normal-ish life. It will be terrifying, and I could not be more grateful for that.