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Observer Editorial: This isn’t the new normal

| Friday, August 28, 2020

Let’s just say it: It’s been a rough few weeks.

Maybe you’re in isolation and feeling disconnected from the world and the people who care about you. Maybe you’re worried about the well-being of your friends and family while the pandemic rages on in our world and on our campuses. Maybe you’re simply feeling overwhelmed trying to keep up with classes and “normal” responsibilities in a world that is far from normal. All of these feelings are valid. 

The truth is that we’re going to school in the middle of a pandemic. It sucks. 

We aren’t able to see our friends or go to our classes the way we want to. The news cycle’s constant loop of political turmoil and climbing case numbers isn’t helping either. At Notre Dame, on-campus students are confined within the bounds of the University, and off-campus students aren’t allowed on campus, not even to eat or exercise. Meanwhile, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross students are encouraged to stay on campus, isolating all students from the tri-campus community, something so foundational to our social lives and sense of belonging.

Recently, we’ve spent time poring over the dashboards and positivity rates; we’ve even begun contemplating our own mortality. Sometimes, it’s hard to muster up the energy to do anything but lie in bed.

When we returned to South Bend a few weeks ago, it might have been tempting to push away these feelings and attempt to embrace this semester as “the new normal.” Sure, we have to wear masks, social distance and eat our meals outside, but at least we’re Here, right? However, as more and more members of our community are being carted away into quarantine and isolation, it’s become increasingly clear — this is not a normal semester. We should acknowledge that. 

We need to recognize that we are all under a lot of different kinds of stress. This isn’t normal. It’s OK if you can barely do homework, if your grades are suffering and if your main goal is just to make it through the day relatively healthy.

We’re journalists, not doctors or mental health professionals. But we’re also college students. This pandemic may be isolating, but we’re all going through it together. We have to lean on each other and give one another some grace during this difficult time.

If you are struggling, it might be tempting to isolate yourself from the rest of the world and sink into yourself. Remember that there is a community to support you. If you’re struggling in or outside of class, let your professors know. Take advantage of campus mental health resources. Chat with your RA or Rector. Be candid and honest with your friends about what you’re feeling, and in turn, listen to the people in your life who might be having a difficult time. There is no shame in being vulnerable. We all have to lean on each other right now.

Remember that what seems like an increase in free time does not mean you have to be more productive than usual. We’ve all seen the tweets about Shakespeare allegedly writing “King Lear” during the bubonic plague (as well as Taylor Swift writing “folklore” in 2020), but this heightened pressure is not reflective of reality. It’s OK to be just hanging on right now, to not be alright, to seek professional help. Using your free time to take care of yourself is not lazy — it’s healthy and necessary.

Take your time adjusting to our current circumstances, but remember that things are not normal. It’s OK to acknowledge this and to grieve the college semester we were promised. Accordingly, it’s OK to treat this semester differently than in the past.

Despite how it might feel right now, we will not have to live like this forever. Like all difficult times, with the combined ingenuity of humanity and the miracles of 21st-century medicine, this will come to an end. Our lives will resume to some version of normal, forever altered by these experiences, but a more recognizable version of normal nonetheless. Until then, all we can do is try to get through every day while looking out for ourselves and each other.

So if someone tries to tell you this is the “new normal,” remember that you don’t have to soldier on as though this is our destiny forever. It’s OK to look forward to the day we don’t have to be afraid to hug the people we love. It’s OK to want to sit mindlessly watching television, instead of being productive. It’s OK to tell your friends, “I’m not doing so well.” 

In fact, we encourage it.

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