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Finding a New Normal. Again. A College Freshman on Quarantine

As a college freshman, this school year has already been full of uncertainty and new experiences. Before the coronavirus, the uncertainty was exciting, and, as paradoxical as it may sound, expected. It was through this uncertainty that I would learn to live on my own and be a young adult. It was through this uncertainty that I found new friends, new passions, new ways to thrive –  my new normal.

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While I did miss my parents, living in a college dorm was good for me, and I loved it. Coming home for a month for winter break was a big adjustment. I found myself missing college quite a bit. When the new semester started, I was so happy to be back with my friends, with my way of life, with my normal. I had a schedule that worked well for me and I was thriving. I found myself going to bed completely satisfied and happy almost every night. My happiness, in large part, was directly related to stage managing the spring play at our campus theatre. I loved the experience and it became the highlight of my day. My new normal was school, dinner, rehearsal, and it was wonderful.

As spring break was drawing near, I was looking forward to going home to see my parents and my pets. But I was also aware that I would be away from rehearsal and my friends for a week. It was going to be bittersweet for me. I was aware of the coronavirus, but it was in the background, as all world events had been while I was living in this isolated world of a college campus.

The week before spring break, the coronavirus situation was getting more dire.

It wasn’t the highest thing on my radar, though, because on March 3, my college town was struck by a massive tornado. Normal had gone out the window, and we were getting it back just in time for it to be gone again.

By the following week, word was circulating that the school might take an extended spring break. Rumors were flying about what was or wasn’t going to happen, based on what other colleges were doing. Within days, the campus president announced that we would take an extra week of spring break, and prepare to potentially begin online classes afterwards.

My biggest concern was whether or not we would continue rehearsals. The department head was in support of the twelve of us continuing rehearsals as normal. So I packed up my truck, ready to head home for spring break. I assumed I would return in a week for rehearsals. But then the announcement came that classes would be online for the rest of the semester. The play has been postponed until fall, and move-out times have been released to clear out all dorms.

My new normal was gone.

Even worse, I didn’t know that my last day on campus would be my last normal day. It had been just another day in my new college life.

While I’m extremely grateful that I have a good home life and access to internet and computers to continue my schooling, I’m also devastated that the way of life I loved so much has ceased to exist. Now I have to figure things out yet again.

I was thriving in college, and my life was honestly better than it had been in a long time. To have that taken away so suddenly, without even being able to say proper goodbyes to my actors and friends, is heartbreaking. I went from living in a dorm surrounded by other college students, and always having someone to hang out with, to living at home with no one to talk to except my parents. I’m grateful that I can still talk to my friends online, but it’s not the same. I don’t even have anything to talk about, because every day is the same now.

I’ve been trying to go easy on myself this week.

It is my spring break, after all. But I know that in order to bring some normalcy back in my life, I need to find a new routine. I don’t know what my classes are going to look like. I don’t know what my daily schedule will be. I don’t know how long I will be living like this. I don’t know what my new normal will look like.

What I do know is that the sacrifices everyone is making are important and necessary. What I do know is that for me to stay mentally stable through this, I need to make a routine for myself. And stick to it! Little things, like changing clothes every day, sitting down to do schoolwork, reading a book, and exercising, are all going to be increasingly important to me as this stretch of social isolation continues. While my first year of college life was cut short so suddenly, I’m hoping that I can find a way to thrive in this new normal that I have now.

Emma Waltenbaugh is a college freshman from Tennessee who has a passion for helping others and advocating for her peers.

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