Mixed emotions: Balancing safety and sanity

Wednesday, October 28, 2020 - 3:08pm

The Washtenaw County Health Department’s stay-in-place order announcement was met with a mixture of emotions. Some were hardly surprised, with the rising COVID-19 cases and the nature of the week ahead being both the first Michigan football game day at home and Halloween. However, even without a stay-in-place order or a global pandemic, this is a stressful time of year. It is because of these additional stressors, that the stay-in-place order made me particularly concerned for what it would mean for the well-being and mindfulness of those affected; now more than ever, we must learn how to adapt and celebrate in unorthodox ways. Though it may seem vague at first, I would argue that within ambiguity lies the true message of this piece: There is no need for specificity. Celebration for me likely feels very different from a celebration for you. 

The increasingly intolerable stress has been undeniably augmented by the details of the stay-in-place order. From the very beginning of the school year, it was already clear that college freshmen were missing out on major parts of the college experience my friends, peers and I feel so lucky to have had. Beyond the handlings and mishandlings of the pandemic by the University of Michigan administration, the unique spirit of the Leaders and Best has been missing since I returned to campus. 

Imagine adding midterms, the obstacles of remote learning and the constant fear that every time you leave your room you have a decent chance of exposing yourself to COVID-19 on top of an already lackluster foundation for the school year. Now consider the turbulent and emotionally draining political climate; it all builds upon each other and proves to be a fierce foe for even the strongest or stablest of psyches. 

As someone living in a one-bedroom apartment, the stay-in-place order immediately terrified me. I had just submitted my last midterm and looked to my calendar for my weekly plans as a much-needed detox. While everyone operates differently, it is proven that having something to look forward to — whether you write it down somewhere or add it to your calendar or whatnot — is an excellent way to provide yourself with necessary rewards and incentives, especially in times of duress. 

However, the stay-in-place order essentially canceled all of my plans, despite already being within COVID-19 guidelines. It would be ignorant for me to attempt to discuss the pandemic’s effect on the University without confronting the irrefutably irresponsible actions of some students on campus. The case numbers do not lie and a stay-in-place order, while frustrating and potentially psychologically harmful, is at least supported by both qualitative and quantitative data. 

So what do we do? It grows tiresome to continue telling others and ourselves to “look at the bright side,” when all we want to do is sing “Mr. Brightside.” I want game day to be a sea of maize and blue; I want 110,000 people in a stadium. I want the reverberation of a professor’s voice in Angell Hall, the white noise of a Blue Bus temporarily overpowering the hustle and bustle of students walking to class, even the sticky floors of a frat basement with the stench of cheap cleaning supplies and the incomparable sounds we took for granted in the pre-COVID-19 world.

While this may read like a stream of consciousness instead of a concrete opinion, I think that is ultimately the best I can do to show you how I truly feel. It’s okay to feel uncertain and not perfectly cohesive in your perspective given the situation. I feel my morality more than ever before like the literal manifestations of Freud’s id and superego perched upon my shoulders. Despite having already had COVID-19 and now having antibodies, should I lock myself away in my one-bedroom apartment? How do we weigh the benefits and burdens of a stay-in-place order that in itself holds so many confusing contradictions? 

At the end of the day, our best chance is to trust in science, numbers and data. If the Washtenaw County Health Department’s assessment of the situation proves a stay-in-place order to be an effective solution, we owe it to ourselves and our neighbors to adapt. Find ways to create celebrations within your own space. Whether that means watching a Halloween movie that makes you smile or giving yourself fifteen extra minutes of TikTok, finding small ways to celebrate will provide strength to keep going. 

Jess D’Agostino can be reached at jessdag@umich.edu.


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