Living vs. existing in the confines of a pandemic

GRAPHIC BY DANA CAPISTRANO/GRAPHIC CENTER

Devyn McCray is a junior biology major.

As the pandemic follows us into fall, you might feel like you’ve become stuck in a routine: wake up, get dressed, attend online classes, do homework, check social media, and sleep. If our days are all the same, blending together to feel never-ending, how are we really living?

When the pandemic first became a serious public health crisis and USF made the decision to close in the spring, student concerns arose about not being able to see friends, having to move back in with parents, and tuition not lowering with the switch to online classes. I, too, fell victim to many of these complaints. Being plucked from the beauty of San Francisco and forced to return home made me feel lazier and less motivated, and I quickly fell into a routine of doing what I needed to get done rather than doing what I wanted to do.

As it turns out, USF students were not the only ones to respond in this way. Massachusetts General Hospital reported spikes in student depression rates that correlated with the pandemic being on the rise. Because many of us were uprooted from our dorms and laid off from our jobs, we were especially vulnerable to depression and other mental health concerns, since we occupied several high-stress situations. You might’ve felt like you were simply existing this summer, failing to live to the fullest, and only existing in routine.

Even with resources like the Center for Academic and Student Achievement (CASA) and Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), and now being surrounded by family, students still continue to suffer. Classes and connections aren’t the same through Zoom. It’s challenging to go out with the various safety precautions, even if it’s for grocery shopping or essential work. Friends are now only seen over screens, and multiple time zones complicate scheduling a hangout that works for everyone.

Despite the difficulty and loss that COVID-19 has brought into our lives, some of us found joy this summer in learning to bake bread just because we could, or learning how to perform a complex TikTok dance that took far too long to get the hang of, but made us feel utterly accomplished. Some added joy to their lives by rescuing a puppy, cat, turtle, or even a fish. As the pandemic continued, hope began to rebuild itself. From going on dates over FaceTime to sewing our own face masks from a fabric we liked, we slowly began to adapt to the pandemic and break out of our slump.

By breaking out of routine, we begin to live again. Things get better the more we prioritize positivity in our lives. Each day can bring a new adventure, even if those adventures are limited. Personally, I discovered several new passions this summer — baking, running, and reading. I started doing the things that made my life feel worth living and that gave me joy.

As we embark on this virtual semester together, go on a beautiful hike after your classes. Bake that dessert you saw on TikTok. Put that murder mystery novel that’s been sitting on your shelf next to your bed, so you can read a chapter before bed every night. Dance it out, even if it’s just for 30 seconds. Wake up and do sunrise yoga. Do what makes you endlessly happy, because everyone owes it to themselves to strive for a life they actively love, rather than one they merely exist in.

In the words of Robyn Schneider (my most recently discovered author), “Oscar Wilde once said that to live is the rarest thing in the world because most people just exist and that’s all. I don’t know if he’s right, but I do know that I spent a long time existing and now I intend to live.” Coming into the new semester, I urge you to live and not simply exist.

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