Let's get one thing clear right away: she certainly doesn't want to appear too cheerful about the pandemic the world has been dealing with these past few months. This second-year student of Applied Math is all too aware of the suffering, restrictions and uncertainty - personal, social and economic - stemming from the corona crisis. “The things so many people are going through right now are truly awful.” In view of this, she has mixed feelings about what she is about to say, but wants to say it nonetheless. “While the corona crisis has certainly taken its toll on me, it has also done me a lot of good. Yes, I would say I've developed as a person because of it.”
Early on in our conversation she provides some context for her comments: “I am an indoor person and pretty solitary”. She's a happy homebody then, someone who is content in the ten square meters of her student room. Not that she would say she is antisocial, she adds emphatically. But quality over quantity, and nowhere does the clock tick for Joy the way it ticks at home (to translate literally the charming Dutch idiom for 'home sweet home').
The intelligent lockdown, staying at home as much as possible, social life on the backburner: a trial for many but a perfect baseline position for Joy. “Absolutely exhausted, that's how I used to feel much of the time, especially when I'd spent a whole day talking with people and running around getting things done. Finally, thanks to having to stay home and work from home due to corona, my energy has increased.”
And she has been glad of this energy on the personal - and medical - “adventure” she had only recently embarked on, to some extent voluntarily, when lockdown started. You see, in February of this year, Joy (21) was diagnosed with ADD. “Generally I'm quite a calm person, I'm not at all hyper. But I think a lot, too much in fact. I have a constant stream of thoughts about anything and everything going through my mind and I am easily distracted. A single spoken word can be all it takes to trigger a new stream of thoughts.” Her ADD also expressed itself during lectures. “I could see what was going on around me, but often it was as if there was a wall between me and the information I had to understand, and I couldn't punch right through it.”
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‘Something's not right’ was a feeling she says she often had. “Don't get me wrong, I could do everything perfectly, but I was aware that I was different. In that sense, it was good to get the diagnosis - even though in the meantime I'd already taught myself to adopt, or conversely drop, a number of behaviors. There are all kinds of therapies you can have for ADD, but much of it isn't that useful to me anymore.”
Nonetheless, this student started on her meds in February, and is still - under expert guidance - seeking the right balance. And even though, by her own admission, she is no great fan or eager user of medication, “As far as my concentration is concerned, it's beneficial for me.”
From MetaForum to medicines
This chemically boosted concentration proved, however, to be no quick fix for her issues with studying at home. While it was somewhere she thrived as a person, revising hard for her upcoming exams (taken in April) was another story. “I bring a lot of self-discipline to the things I want to do, but not necessarily to the things I have to do. In the past, I used to set off for MetaForum early in the morning and wouldn't leave there until eleven at night. When I'm there I have a completely different state of mind. At home I study in the same place where I eat, like to read a book or paint. I found it hard to make that switch. Fortunately, over this past quartile, thanks in part to my meds, I've gotten better at making this switch.”
Nevertheless, the exams in April were a struggle - “I was feeling really poorly then” - but with the next round of exams coming up, Joy is feeling reasonably relaxed. “I'm a little more used to everything now, have a better idea of what to expect. And if I don't pass them all, I can always do resits next year.”
Sitting at an outdoor cafe, nightlife; it's only now that I realize that I always found it utterly exhausting
In the meantime, Joy can see how the world outside her student room is tentatively coming back to life, though for the time being she herself is watching from the sidelines. She is back doing her part-time job in the now re-opened department store, pops out now and then to buy essentials, but for the rest she is happy to restrict herself to her few square meters of domesticity. And she is content to leave the public space to others to enjoy, people who, she readily understands, may be going slowly crazy from sitting around at home for so long. “But as they go outdoors, I hope they are respectful of one another, by sticking to the rules.”
On sitting at an outdoor cafe with friends, nightlife: “I think my need for that was stronger before corona than it is now. I always thought of that as ‘relaxing’ but it's only now that I totally realize that I always found it utterly exhausting.” It should be said that this is something that her best friends, especially those at her beloved GEWIS dispuut Défi, have always understood and accepted, says Joy. “They know my energy is sapped by social activities. And if I give it a miss now and then, they don't mind. But if we arrange to meet up as a group, I am fully present.”
Making the effort to maintain these friendships is something that she has consciously had to work at recently - since bumping into each other on campus has fallen by the wayside. Joy admits, “I've really had to teach myself to app right away whenever I think of someone, otherwise I'd easily forget to. At some point I wasn't speaking to anyone at all. I hope I've gotten better at that now.” WhatsApp, Instagram, Discord, it's all been busier than ever these past few months, she says. Likewise, the ‘Défi Daily Dares’, a series of upbeat challenges on Instagram during the crisis, have been, she says, good at drawing lots of people and providing a lot of enjoyment.
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Besides all this, at home she has been picking up old hobbies, among them painting, which she's had barely any time for over the past few years. “Now, if I'm feeling creatively inspired, I'll put down whatever I'm doing and reach for my sketch book, or I'll start painting. Sometimes I start out pursuing a certain idea and end up somewhere else entirely; it is fun to experiment.” She also exercises regularly at home, with online workouts or the motivational push of a virtual sports challenge with friends. And she likes to lose herself in gaming, mainly at the moment in ‘Animal Crossing’ on her recently purchased Nintendo Switch Light. “It's a game that'll keep me occupied for a while, chopping down trees and stuff like that,” she says cheerfully.
Fearful of returning
What does she expect of the immediate future? “I really don't know. Hopefully this situation will turn out better than we think, everything will be just fine and we'll see people outdoors as much as possible, staying healthy and doing all kinds of things. After all, the crisis has been a huge hindrance for a lot of people.” While for Joy, by contrast, this same crisis has proved to be a safe oasis of calm. “Before too long I'll have to go back to the university for all sorts of things; yes, that scares me quite a bit. That frightens me. I understand that being physically present works better for most people, but I know that it's a situation I function less well in and that it saps my energy.”
By her own admission, she has discussed this point with others, including her academic advisor, “but no one yet knows exactly how things will be. Ik hope that I can set better boundaries for myself. And, for the rest, we'll simply have to wait and see and make the best of it.
She hopes that others might also learn from this situation: “For a lot of people life's often about always moving forward, with no let up, doing as much as possible, and as quickly as possible. Lately that's simply not been possible. It has been much easier to take stock of things than to be as productive as possible. I hope that in future people continue to take some time out to rest, and realize that you don't need to be ‘on’ the whole time.”