It’s not a rhetorical question to me

“Hey, how are you?”

This used to be a mundane greeting that was asked rhetorically as a formality, a neutral social transaction meant to start the conversation and avoid awkward silence. But now, I feel like a liar when I answer that I’m doing well. As the year has progressed, my answer has shifted from “I’m good!” to “I’m fine,” to “I’ve been better, I’ve been worse,” to “I’m existing,” to my current go-to, “Do you really want to know?”

Time blurs together, and so does my sense of self. Some days, I’m on top of the world, attending all my Zoom lectures and club meetings, finishing paper after paper. Other days — scratch that, most days — I’m in a mental and emotional rut, one that I unwillingly keep digging down deeper into after initially putting my shovel in the ground. I’ll get out of bed late one day because I was up the night before catching up on assignments, and then I won’t be able to get a lot done that day, which makes me feel worse about myself, and then I repeat the cycle again and again, falling into a vicious torrent of self-loathing and unproductivity.

Some people have been able to use their time in quarantine and shift to virtual-everything productively; they’ve reorganized their homes, started small businesses, gotten into shape and have been living their best lives. And that’s truly great, no doubt. But I speak from the perspective of an individual who is working as a resident assistant, or RA, amid the pandemic, in addition to a part-time campus job at Moffitt Library, all while trying to balance schoolwork, extracurricular activities and a social life (virtually and abiding by COVID-19 regulations). And to top it all off, apparently we’re in peak season for applying to summer internships. When am I supposed to find time to take care of myself?

I realize that I speak from a place of privilege in that I even have the opportunity to serve as an RA, to learn through digital means, to even get the chance to speak about my experiences through the platform that is The Daily Californian’s website. My heart also goes out to those who have lost loved ones and experienced immense hardships during this pandemic, and I admire the resilience of everyone who has been doing whatever they need to do in order to get through these traumatic times, however that may be.

For my part, on some days all I can manage to do is exist. And I’m trying to learn that this is enough. I don’t have advice for anyone who might be feeling similarly to how I am during this pandemic — often hopeless, unmotivated and so many other feelings you might not even be able to identify. But one of the steps I’ve been trying to take is engaging in honest reflection. I’m trying to respect my mental and emotional boundaries, creating a stable foundation that I can grow my feelings from.

I’ve also been trying to be more open with others in discussing my mental health, such as emailing my supervisors when I just need to step back and take a breather on the days when I feel like I can’t even get out of bed because there’s a weight on my mind and shoulders pushing me off the ledge of the rut. I’ve had similar conversations with friends, and this has, in turn, allowed us to be more open with one another in discussing our personal mental and physical well-being and develop closer relationships.

On the good days, I’ll try to meditate, journal my thoughts and feelings, exercise — all the standard recommendations that are given by therapists. On the more common days, I’ll watch “Adventure Time” in order to escape from this world to a happier place filled with adorable characters and plots that always have a happy ending, or I’ll listen to sad playlists that I made that make me want to cry more, not less. It might sound counterintuitive, but it helps me to better process my emotions, fully feel them and accept them as a part of me during this time when I often don’t even know the answer to the most mundane of questions, such as, “How are you?”

Contact Jenny Lee at [email protected].