E.R., 18, a student in Seoul, South Korea

A few months ago, buried under the unending responsibilities of a first-semester senior, I closed my eyes and let out a deep sigh, the 30-something post-its on my desk flapping as if to beckon me back to work on my college apps. I remember desperately thinking to myself, “I wish the world would just pause for a hot second.”

I absolutely did not mean that in this way. This has lasted more than a hot second and I’m truly more than ready for the second to end now.

In late February, the government began temporarily closing schools. Our high school soon followed suit, and my neighborhood friend and I celebrated this “temporary” “break” with a delivery food party. Yet as the days and weeks progressed, confirmed coronavirus continued to soar exponentially—especially due to a particular religious sect that did not social distance—online school became the new norm for eleven whole weeks. There was never a specific moment in which the bleak, unprecedented status quo really “hit me.” Rather, it simply bled into my everyday, and soon my lifestyle became dyed in the hues of my laptop’s blue light and the dull beige of my bedroom’s four walls.

Unlike many others, I never consciously felt extremely frustrated at the coronavirus situation itself. I was annoyed, sure—my precious final spring of high school gone—but never truly angry. Rather, I think the circumstances of social distancing implicitly took a toll on my emotional stability and prompted me to project my frustration at other things or people. Friction in our family dynamics peaked, with all of us lashing out frequently and keeping our bedroom doors shut. I found myself snapping at my brother who snapped at my mom who snapped at my dad. It wasn’t until recently that I finally made sense of the fact that I was unreasonably irritable likely because I was projecting my frustration toward my circumstances at those around me. Family members became victims of each others’ irritability, which only resulted in more friction accumulating. At the same time, quarantine also accentuated my issues with body positivity and eating habits, adding pressure to my thin ice emotional state. More time on social media meant more exposure to societal standards that feed my insecurities. My friends were telling me about their diets and Chloe Ting workouts, because after all, didn’t I finally have the time and leisure to exercise and get fit? Being extremely vulnerable to the pressure to feel productive, I forced myself to follow my friends and “make the most of” my quarantine. Without a reason to be busy, I was left alone to ruminate repeatedly over self-destructive thoughts. It was not fun.

Needless to say, I have been privileged enough to be able to quarantine and mostly do nothing for the past few months. I have been lucky enough to have remained healthy and safe through it all. Taking a step back, this pandemic has solidified my view more than ever that the capitalist “normal” we’ve known is fundamentally broken. And if, god forbid, a disaster like this should ever happen again, society will hopefully apply the lessons from this collective trauma—whether it be about healthcare, essential workers, or better leadership. But that’s a whole other, bigger conversation. For me personally, staying home all day with an empty to-do list has also given me the chance to do things I never had the time to, like going on long walks, biking, baking, and having long conversations with friends (albeit over Zoom). But I think it’s okay to recognize that such opportunities and privilege can coexist with an inexplicable emotional struggle. As the pandemic hopefully comes to a close in Seoul, I am taking some time to reflect and reconcile, to appreciate the people and things I’ve taken for granted. Never again should we need a wake-up call this jarring and disastrous.

[submitted on 5/12/2020]

Life in Quarantine: Witnessing Global Pandemic is an initiative sponsored by the Poetic Media Lab and the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis at Stanford University.

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