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Opting out of being seen: dealing with anxiety while moving my life online

A student reflects on how COVID-19 pushed them back to their safe zone
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SEOYEON LEE/THE VARSITY
SEOYEON LEE/THE VARSITY

“Breathe in; breathe out,” a calm voice inside my head repeats as I gasp for air on the train platform at Union Station. With every breath of air, my chest begins to tighten, and as I exhale, I see a white puff escape my mouth, only to drift away with the cold winter winds. The voice instructing me to breathe starts to become muffled as other thoughts begin to invade my head.

One of them says, “You’re going to be late for class.”

Then another begins to speak: “The next train is coming in an hour; now, your entire schedule is behind,” and another pipes up, “Everyone is watching you.”

The first semester of my second year at university consisted of breakdowns before exams, frequent panic attacks, and general stress from life’s daily shenanigans. But, by the time my second semester had rolled around, I was able to manage my anxiety with the help of doctors and therapists.

However, as March quickly approached, the world braced itself for the effects of a deadly infectious disease, bringing itself to a sudden halt as institutions scrambled to adjust their operations to a new reality.

In the midst of all this mayhem, I remained calm. Moving daily tasks onto an online platform, I traded awkward glances, self-conscious thoughts, and butterflies in my stomach for a small cube-of-an-apartment with my name on it. The pandemic gave me the chance to hide and avoid every situation that would usually cause me stress.

Although attending doctor’s appointments and classes online was still anxiety-inducing, being hidden behind a computer screen gave me the option to just not show up. Attending activities online made it easier for me to opt out of being seen.

Despite feeling as though I had my anxiety under control during lockdown, I achieved the opposite. I was able to confine myself to my safe zone — my room — and do what I do best: avoid situations that are necessary for my personal development. Not showing up to classes or doctor’s appointments — ones that I had booked online because I was too nervous to show up — undid the work I had done with my therapist.

So here is what I learned about my anxiety and the pandemic. Throughout this entire time, I viewed the pandemic as an escape, a way to steer clear of circumstances that I did not want to be in. This was extremely easy because everything was moved to an online platform.

I have to continuously tell myself that life is not something where everything can be calculated and planned for — my dream scenario. Rather, it is a series of different events, sometimes daunting and sometimes nerve-racking. But at the end of the day, those events will teach me things I would have never learned if I continuously took the easy way out.