I vividly remember the last day of in person classes prior to the onset of COVID-19. The sun was shining bright and the weather outside was perfect. I have this image in my mind of myself standing in front of the student union, somehow filled with holiday spirit, despite it being March at the time. My recollection of this day almost seems like a scene taken from a movie and maybe I handcrafted the memory this way. Either way, it is this beautiful memory that will stay with me forever as it was unknowingly the last time I’d be on campus as a graduate student.

College campuses are so beautiful during the spring and I guess this year it signified the calm before the storm. Myself, alongside my colleagues, had no idea that we would no longer have the opportunity to collaborate and socialize together in person as we once did on a weekly basis. At the onset of the pandemic my colleagues and Professors at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte exhibited a sense of compassion and togetherness that will forever remain memorable. The continuation of this collective support has allowed the cohort to continue fellowship with one another (shoutout UNCC Master of Social Work, Class of 2021!). Although this togetherness has looked different due to being fully virtual, we have shared helpful assignment tips, laughs, birthdays, pet photos, memes, engagements, tears, silence, frustration, and joy with one another.

Completing graduate school during a pandemic has indeed had its tough days. Due to classes being fully virtual, I spend more than 80% of the day online. Too much screen time is harmful to everyone no matter the age. Honestly, keeping up with multiple Zoom links is a struggle in itself, not to mention the frequent technical difficulties. My living space is a one-bedroom apartment (originally decorated for comfort) which makes it very difficult to set boundaries between spaces for work and rest. Honestly, my couch has turned into a multipurpose space for all of my classes, meetings, webinars, and lunch for quite some time now.

I would like to share a few things that have been supporting both my learning and mental health during the pandemic.

● Honoring my mental and physical emotions when they arise. This one is very important. Navigating through daily life is much more tedious and tiresome when neglecting your mental and physical needs. I have been engaging in this by speaking kindly to myself on days when I am unable to show up 100% (and this is okay). There are days when I am more quiet than usual or simply need a few extra minutes before jumping into my to-do list for the day.
● Cleansing and rearranging my living space. This can seem overwhelming at first but take your time with this. Possibly give each area of your home its own day for deep cleaning. I usually play my favorite music and spend time truly appreciating the things that I have and donating items whenever the chance arises.
● Plan something to look forward to. This can be daily, weekly, or monthly. Doing so has allowed me to engage in a well-earned self reward for continuing to persevere through each of life’s curveballs. Examples of this can include, treating yourself to a favorite restaurant at the end of the week, or simply designating a daily allotted time for yourself.
● Phone a friend. I cannot express how vital this has been for me during this time. Please be mindful of the mental space your friend is in as well. It is true that they may be unable to support you at that moment. This is something we should not take personally. Ask your friend how you can support them. Through reciprocal support and a few laughs, it is likely that you both will leave the conversion feeling recharged. As a graduate student, I sometimes phone a friend while completing an assignment. During this virtual study date, we are able to both encourage and bounce ideas off one another which eases some of the anxiety around virtual learning.

The silver lining that I have been able to see within this time of social distancing is that many people have been inadvertently growing in their relationships with the individuals in their lives. Many people, including myself, now speak to their loved ones more frequently. Also, new connections continue to emerge through social media and other forms of virtual engagement. It has been so heartwarming to see friends on my Instagram feed start a new business, engage in leisurely hobbies, develop a healthier lifestyle, and grow in relationship to self-awareness. Oftentimes as the “therapist friend”, and both a literal emerging social work professional, much of my time is spent ensuring everyone else is taken care of. Through moments of self-reflection during the pandemic I have been able to truly realize that I deserve a space to feel, express myself unjudged, and ask for help. You deserve all of these things as well.

Thank you for reading! I hope that as you reflect on the year 2020 you are able to find a silver lining as well. You deserve grace and rest, so give yourself these gifts. You made it.

-Shakyra King