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Caring for yourself during Stage 2

On the mindset I adopted to cope with physical distancing

Caring for yourself during Stage 2

As Ontario begins to crawl ever so slowly out of some COVID-19 restrictions, many of us are breathing sighs of relief as we start to see a light at the end of the tunnel. And if you’re anything like me, knowing that COVID-19 precautions are both wise and necessary doesn’t always make the day-to-day any easier.

Being separated from friends you used to see every day, worrying about your elderly relatives, or even feeling like the typical activities that once defined your identity have been stripped away are all hard circumstances to accept.

Many of these precautions should still ideally carry forward, even as patios open and hair salons open their doors.

After many weeks, there are a few habits and mindsets I’ve found to be crucial in keeping me sane throughout our semi-lockdown; this isn’t a to-do list or an advice column, but I hope what’s mentioned here not only helps you out through this next phase of reopening, but actually redeems this time. Hopefully, we all come out of this as more reflective, caring human beings.

Accomplish one goal a day

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying I’ve gotten several things done each day, or that I’ve begun to pick up a major new skill. I learned that playing an instrument is not in the cards for me a long time ago. 

However, writing down something you want to accomplish the night before and checking it off the next day is so cathartic. Though I wholeheartedly agree with people who remind us of the fact that it’s more than okay when we aren’t productive in the traditional sense, setting these small goals can help to differentiate between days as they start to bleed together. 

There’s no worse feeling than going to bed feeling like nothing happened and then entering into the next day with the same mindset; it becomes an endless cycle that leaves you in negative thought patterns. Even once you slowly but surely build a more stable routine, it is important to incorporate small but tangible accomplishments to keep yourself on track.

Move outside

Catching some sunlight is always important, no matter the time of year or phase of life; but now more than ever, getting some fresh air is vital not only for your body, but for your mind as well. We all know that exercise releases endorphins, but going outside to do so can have such a deep impact. Seeing the earth renew itself and summer set in reminds us that not everything is falling apart.

As much as I truly love listening to podcasts or music while I’m walking, one of my favourite things to do during my walks has actually been walking in silence. I think in our normal hustle and bustle lifestyle, our brains are constantly occupied. Boredom has become a non-option. I never have to be bored if I have my phone — sometimes I even catch myself checking Instagram in the grocery line. 

But there is something so valuable in being left in our own thoughts with no other voices chattering in your ear or a need to document your surroundings on your story of the day. Take this time to form your outlook and views, away from everyone else, and don’t shy away from questions that you ignore in the usual rush.

Most importantly, don’t abandon your walks once you’re out and about! Being outside, and alone with your thoughts, is relevant beyond coping with being separated from others — it can help with both mental and physical health at any point.

Look beyond yourself

We’ve all seen the hashtags — #stayhome, #yesyoustillhavetostayhome, and #StayHomeStaySafe have all trended at some point. We know that staying home is a small price to pay compared to those who are on the front lines of the pandemic, but you can’t always control the way you feel about it. That is okay. It doesn’t make you a selfish or lesser person. 

At the same time, I’m a firm believer that action feeds emotion. Even if your thought patterns aren’t in the best place right now, doing things for others will lead your mind to naturally think of them too.

So, send a letter to a friend. Reach out first if you want to call someone. If you fall into the COVID-19 baking spell, safely drop some off at a friend’s doorstep. Spreading kindness to someone else will guide your emotions to follow and help you to not dwell on your own difficulties.

As we get out of our semi-lockdown, many will have an enormously difficult time adjusting to the ‘new new normal.’ Reaching out with compassion can help both you and the community around you. For one, you can consider volunteering through the Canada Student Service Grant program, to help your community in managing COVID-19.

I know a lot of people have different recommendations for their own mindset habits: gratitude pages, affirmations, journaling — the list goes on. What helped me most in looking beyond my own world of problems and struggles was daily devotionals. It’s been praying and reading my Bible — the daily habit that I’ve built has felt like such a lifeline in all this. I truly believe it’s not just a comforting mechanism or a personal crutch to get me through the day, but a real truth for me to hold onto each day. 

Oddly enough, a book I recently read while staying home was The Scribe of Siena, a time-travel book that takes place during the 1340s in Italy, the centre of the Bubonic Plague. This period of disaster and hardship and the following centuries also saw the Renaissance, a time of renewal and rebirth.

This is not meant to minimize the impact or the sheer sadness that COVID-19 has brought. This is to say, however, that we are not without hope and that we will see growth again. Tomorrow will worry about itself.

Remote control: work in the age of COVID-19

A reflection on maintaining life-employment balance from home

Remote control: work in the age of COVID-19

Who we are in the present day is shaped by our actions and conversations that reflect our past and directly or indirectly affect our future. The power of a world crisis offers the opportunity to live in the present moment or — as Eckhart Tolle likes to call it — the “Now.”

To live in the Now is to pause and embrace yourself by filtering out all the noise that keeps life rushed. You do not realize how important the little things are when you have access to everything — vacations, outings, gyms, restaurants, and especially workspaces.

Physical distancing has led me to build routines, particularly around my work as a research assistant in data privatization for the University of Toronto. However, as we enter this new norm of remote working and a digital divide, we must work harder to stay relevant.

Yes, the future is changing. Of course, physical interaction is essential for transactions. Nevertheless, services like selling virtual real estate and other commodities are captivating for corporations. It is only a matter of time until this shift is fully integrating. Therefore, it is essential to diversify your digital finance skills, digital markets, algorithmic literacy, or web design skills. 

But, how do we manipulate a new bureaucratic system to get something done? We build a routine and learn to adapt.

My hours as a research assistant are very flexible. I structure my day as if I were going to the office. I anticipate my sleep schedule to a set time, making me feel energetic to perform efficiently. I wake up at 6:00 am and sleep at 11:00 pm. This small alteration automatically led to a habit that became natural.

If you’re working from home, you should treat it like a real job. I get dressed up to work. I have kept the same healthy, balanced routine that involves getting up early. Also, by staying active, connecting with nature before work, and getting ready, I allow myself to feel mentally and physically sound. This has positively influenced my work ethic and provided a sense of freshness that helps me ignore the feeling of being lazy.

It can be very lonely and stressful to work from home, and feeling this way for prolonged periods can indeed affect productivity. That’s why many are facing mental health challenges amid COVID-19. While it is important to acknowledge your stress and anxiety, it is also important to communicate and talk about it with your coworkers to facilitate adaptation.

Talking helps you feel less separated from others. Learning to normalize mental health talks can help us move forward when faced with uncertainty. COVID-19 has allowed me to immerse myself into the little things that make my life rich. Coffee breaks enable me to check in and socialize with my coworkers and friends. It is now an exciting part of my day because ‘we’re all in this together.’

Usually, staying focused and meeting deadlines is the hardest challenge, especially when summer is around the corner. I tend to play piano music to remain concentrated; it contributes to my self-esteem and mood and makes me work efficiently. While working, I try to hydrate as much as possible, and I meal prep to avoid any distractions throughout my day.

Working from home does have its perks — sleeping in, wearing pajamas, avoiding the commute, and snacking all the time. But adapting to a new norm, or transitioning to a ‘gig economy,’ has also taught me to be patient and have control of my emotions, allowing me to stay motivated when my anxiety is consuming me and create projects on hold. 

Most importantly, to forget our obsession with talking about the past and the future, we should deepen our focus and attention on our day-to-day actions. We should have remote control of our lives to the extent that we simply forget that we are living under physical distancing.

Discovering my queerness during lockdown

When the ordinary fell out of the world, I found myself

Discovering my queerness during lockdown

The world came to a stop and I discovered I was queer.

It wasn’t a sudden realization but the accumulation of three months worth of reflection. At first, I told my friends that I was “attracted to men.” Then I was “questioning,” followed with “bi-curious,” and finally, a month after classes went online, I looked inside myself and found the words ‘bisexual’ and ‘queer.’

As the ordinary fell out of the world, I found myself. 

I am newly queer but unable to go outside and find my community, who might be able to help me make sense of this unfamiliar identity. But as paradoxical as it seems, being isolated from other people actually saved me a lot of pain.

The value and pangs of being isolated 

The quiet of physical distancing has been immensely valuable for my journey into accepting myself. After in-person classes were suspended in March, I went inside to work on the last few assignments I had. The time to think deeply wasn’t just useful for schoolwork; it allowed me to centre in on my queerness with an insistency that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.

I would be washing the dishes, and the thoughts would absent-mindedly come up. They would walk into my blank mind when I was out for a walk or circle round and round deep into the night.

With so much time to think, the timeline for acceptance was drastically reduced. If I had still been distracted by classes and friends and work, I might not have come to accept myself as quickly as I did. 

Moreover, I managed to get ahead of the fear and doubt that can accompany queer realizations. Every queer person’s journey is unique. Some people take years to find the courage it takes to come out, even to themselves. But COVID-19 actually cut me some slack and let me do all the hard work in one short, intense burst. Once the fear was gone, there was nothing left staring at me in the mirror but my true, authentic self.

The major loss has been community. As soon as I started developing new feelings toward men, I wanted to reach out and find other queer people who could help me understand. I wanted to know — at what point do you know you’re actually queer? Was it hard for you, the way it’s hard for me?

Sometimes I feel like less of a man because of my sexuality. As a man, you’re never taught that liking boys is acceptable. It’s a sign of weakness; it’s something “women do.”

The most affirming conversations I had in the early stages were with a friend who is gay. He showed me by his own example how the strength that supposedly makes a guy lies in self-acceptance.

Because of work-from-home flexibility, we were actually able to have more discussions about unlearning heteronormative masculinity and finding new, gentler, better ways of carrying ourselves as men. Of course, virtual connection is never the same as the real deal you can’t deliver a much needed hug through a phone but I had the time to think through what I was experiencing, and that definitely lessened the burden that I was carrying.

I’m still struggling though. I go through periods of wondering if I’m really bisexual or just kidding myself. Even now, I look at the words on this screen, and I feel like a fake like I’m not who I say I am.

But overall, I’m happy that I got something so salutary out of this pandemic. It’s changed my life forever now everything’s in colour.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still desperately, achingly hungry to find queer folks to share this joy with. I’ve been starved of my truth my whole life, so this wanting makes perfect sense. But I’m holding back and staying indoors.

It’s not just the socially responsible thing to do; it’s my way of honouring my history.

Using freedom for freedom

The more I learn about the history of the LGBTQ+ rights movement, the more anguish I feel over the cost of freedom. Today, I have the freedom to love and marry a man in this country, but that invaluable joy was won by many, many people in the community fighting and suffering through the years.

They shouldered trauma, stigma, abuse, police brutality, and family abandonment. Even now, the freedom I have is a precious right that many don’t have in this country — regardless of what the laws may technically stipulate — or around the world.

I want to use that freedom for freedom use my freedom to stay inside, safe, and financially privileged to help protect the freedom to live for those who are vulnerable in our society. I can’t see how I could do otherwise when I have the luxury to be patient until the lockdown ends. A history of triumph and cost is part of my world now; it’s burrowed into my bones. I can’t take from its benefits without doing something in return.

My friend tells me that since the LGBTQ+ rights movement is a fight for the right to love, everyone who benefits has a duty to love. Not just loving oneself but loving others. Staying inside is how I can fulfill that duty right now.

I see now that I have always been a bisexual man. It’s a new and welcome revelation, but it’s not going anywhere. My queerness will always be a part of me.

For now, I can be patient. 

For all those who came before and those who are still fighting, I can love. 

Editor’s Note: Due to safety concerns, the name of this article’s author was changed to a pseudonym. 

U of T meme group’s merch website shut down after infringement notice from administration

Items targeted 2020 graduating class, profits aimed to be donated to four BIPOC charities

U of T meme group’s merch website shut down after infringement notice from administration

After releasing a merch collection to celebrate convocation this June, moderators of the “uoft memes for true 🅱lue teens” Facebook group moved their merch website offline after receiving a trademark infringement notice from U of T and Shopify.

The specific trademark that U of T cited in its copyright infringement notice protects the usage of “University of Toronto” without authorization on items such as clothing and textile goods. The university deemed 13 merch items as infringing on the trademark.

Group moderator Katie Kwang explained the decision to shut down the merch store after receiving the infringement notice, noting that the moderators are “broke and can’t afford legal fees” to contest the notice.

Celebrating 2020 graduation, donating to BIPOC charities 

The Facebook group, whose membership exceeds 17,000, conjured up the idea for merch after a campaign to give the graduating class of 2020 commemorative spoons gained popularity in the group. Kwang looked into the logistics of procuring spoons for graduates and, in the process, determined shirts were more feasible.

The designs of the shirts, which were conceived by the moderators of the group, included pins and bags showing Robarts library as a turkey, brown food truck t-shirts and mugs, and 🅱oundless crewnecks.

“I figured it would be a nice gesture for the graduating class,” Kwang wrote to The Varsity. “With an online convocation all sense of class spirit must be obliterated so it would be nice to give em something to rally around… a tangible reminder of the conclusion of their undergrad.”

The profits of the merch were set to be donated to four Black, Indigenous, and people of colour charities: Black Lives Matter Canada, Black Legal Action Centre, Native Canadian Centre of Toronto, and No One is Illegal. 

Along with their merch announcement, the moderators of “uoft memes for true 🅱lue teens” released a Google Doc that provides resources for members to inform themselves on COVID-19 and race, policing, and discussing the Black Lives Matter movement with elders.

U of T’s trademark policy  

When asked if they considered the charities when delivering the trademark infringement notice, a U of T spokesperson told The Varsity that “while we asked the seller in this case to discontinue sales of specific merchandise (that violated policy and used marks without permission), we did not ask the seller to cease operations” and that the revenue generated from U of T merchandise is frequently invested into funds such as the Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education’s Equity Ideas Fund.

The university also emphasized that trademark infringement notices are common. “In any given year, our Trademark Licensing Office reaches out to ten to 20 merchandisers requesting that they adhere to this policy,” a U of T spokesperson commented.