Note this is my letter–others will say different things, and have different opinions. I don’t speak for the department or my colleagues. I would just urge everyone to be kind to themselves, and extend that to others.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want to say to you. Like many, I am finding it difficult to concentrate on everything that needs to be done, even as I am overwhelmed with responsibilities.
There is anxiety about what this means for the immediate future, as well as the long term. On top of that are worries about family members, economics, opportunities. There is so much going on that I have yet to find a way to synthesize it and consider the implications.
Beyond this, part of me feels like I need to mourn the future that won’t unfold as anticipated. We all had plans for next month, next year, four years from now. Plans have a way of became familiar narratives we take for granted–but now the rug has been pulled out from underneath us. Being unexpectedly unmoored can be paralyzing, and it is hard to regroup and plan anew, especially as we don’t yet know what we will be navigating.
There are two things I can suggest right now: one is acknowledge you may need time to recover and recognize that rethinking the future will take time. Make time for things you find affirming–read your favorite books from childhood, arrange online dates with friends, or watch favorite movies virtually together. Ask for help when you need it. Don’t think you need to set huge goals–I don’t care what Isaac Newton accomplished when he was social distancing during a pandemic. Your only goal right now should be to get through this.
The other suggestion is to learn: how have people banded together historically in times of crisis? Look for how people did this historically, and how people are doing it now, singing on balconies, sewing masks, turning breweries to making sanitizer, creating window scavenger hunts for children. If you feel helpless, you aren’t. There is something you can do to feel you have some control, or some influence in the lives of others–even if it’s just reaching out to make someone else feel less alone.
In the end, you are going to remember the anxiety, but you will also remember the good things you did to get through this. And in our present moment, knowing that you are participating in helping others may make this easier.
That said, if you are feeling overwhelmed, that’s normal too, and valid–no one got through the 1918 Spanish Flu without feeling some combination of anxiety, depression, or defeat. I’ve been posting resources on dealing with these on the UWaterloo English Facebook page.
Above all, be kind to yourself, be responsible, social distance.
Sincerely, Professor Jennifer Harris