My name is Arifah, in 2019 I finished my final year at University. That final year was so mentally, physically, and personally challenging that I found myself almost constantly saying I just want to be left alone, I just want to sleep, I need to rest, I need to heal my knee (which at the time was injured), and yet I continued. Daily life required me to continue, or so I felt.
Classes continued, life continued, the asks and requirements of me continued – and so I did. After University I took 7 months out to rest. 7 months of no institutional activity had me thinking I was resting. In reality, my heart and my mind was always uneasy, restless, grieving, worried, lost and wanting space. After seven months I finally found myself in a job! I did the thing everyone had spent the last 7 months of rest asking me about, “what job will you get?”, “What will you do with that degree?”. This work was nice, bright and full of funny and supportive people, who looked tired but in a fulfilled way. I liked that, I really liked it.
Three weeks in I start to really shine in training at work and then we hear as of tomorrow everyone must stay home and not come into the office. I’d heard casual conversations about this for a week or so and we had been making small preparations if it happened. But all a sudden – this was real. COVID-19 was announced, a virus influenza that we had no experience or data in with fatal affects spread globally and shutting down the nation. We were in lockdown. Count my blessings I think, I’m a fresh graduate, in a secure job, they’ve offered something called furlough for the next 6-8 months and I get paid to do… Nothing? This is amazing, I don’t have any kids or a household to be responsible for, I can finally rest.
And rest I did. For the first time I felt apart, without a single person in the street or around me. I was finally alone – the thing I always wanted but feared, and I could go slow. I remember sleeping alot, it was difficult to get up, in the nights I grieved and rested and healed; in the days I smiled and built garden furniture, started an online facemask business and redecorated my house. I listened to podcasts on Covid and the vaccine creation processes and we thought through whether to get a vaccine or not until it was mandated. Slowly watching the world debate and despair and lock ourselves up.
I built a self care routine in lockdown and used my salary savings to get therapy and I exited lockdown a new person. Understanding who I was, what my boundaries and pace were, and how to be respectful of my needs and my body. I re-entered work a wiser person. My entire team had left, and I had to switch to a new job I hadn’t applied for in the business and my new team was pulled together from all over the Southeast- they were fun, but this was a big change. The office I loved going to was closed to save money and I worked from home.
COVID is still here but we have so much more knowledge on it. As we all re-enter life, both a positive and energy shift has come out of the process of healing and a big scar too. Never before had everything and everyone had to stop that way. The affects so individual, but also so common.
For me, I now find myself tired in conversations in person. “In-person” is something we say now. I find myself most in tune with those hardest hit by the ongoing shaky climate. Upset, tired, angry, and yet hopeful for change and to be heard. At this point this text gets messy because that’s what the experience is, and was. What happened? How has this affected me, I think? I feel it and experience it daily, but how do I write that down? How do I express this without painting a picture – it’s complicated.
After years of hardship and being forced to stay in an unstable and difficult home environment, I’m growing in myself, finding my understanding and boundaries. How to work in this environment and to show up at my job and in relationships online. Everything seemed difficult in my physical space, but I found solace with the people I learned from and met online.
I had new friends, a new therapist, and a new online work team. If you’d have watched me from the street, I would have looked the same, but internally I had changed. My inner thoughts and feelings were challenged 4 times a week, my personal relationship with myself changed and as we stepped back out into the world, I had new standards and defined needs. I met tired, joyful, wise and authentic people after that and I found myself in rooms not afraid of taking up space. I finally found the world malleable after all of this disruption. Hope and gratitude birthed from me and I started to put out into the world everything I had found from my learnings in the past year – I started to dedicate my work to building safe spaces for others.
I have now just started in a new job – in inclusion and belonging. I stand with new friends, empowering and steadfast in all of our shared values and goals, whilst embracing their full messy and most human selves. I stand in this same space happy, joyful, and in-tune with myself. But still often from the safety of inside – I hardly go places, or travel, or leave the house. I need a big push to make me get out the house, to travel, to get to events and see friends in person. My previously busy and bustling life has moved completely to the reach of my fingertips.
My eyes hurt and strain and vertigo is often a reality. Forced screen breaks are a thing I have to remind myself of. Getting out for a walk once a month is a push sometimes, having to remember that driving isn’t walking and spending time outside just because it’s out the house is is healthy and necessary. I’m human and lockdown and COVID changed me forever and managed to connect everyone from all corners of the world in unexpected ways. We hurt together, hugged together and healed together. Things will never be the same, but we stay connected in different and new ways. Social movements have tangible results now. Self-care, social justice and wellbeing are permanent standards now and talked about much more freely.
I’m still figuring out all the ways I’ve changed through lockdown and all of the opportunities that may be lost. My communities were hit hard by systematic racism, neglect, and underfunded care – I’m still grieving and witnessing the results of this, but I can also see the voices from within communities strengthen, grow, educate and amplify.
It’s all in balance, but it’s still all a lot. I’m often scared, but healing. I will never be the same and I am grateful for that.
Thank you for this space reader. Thank you for everything you also went through, I’m sorry and I’m impressed by you. Don’t give up and always know that like me – you are enough. You are doing it so well. And we can do hard things. Let’s keep going together.
It’s gratitude and love, Arifah
Arifah is a student and hosts the ‘A Phone Call to the World’ Podcast