Sparta, New Jersey, USA April 3, 2020

Limbo is an apt label to describe my state of being. Well, perhaps limbo mixed with a side of conflict is most appropriate. Being an emotionally sensitive person comes with both benefits and drawbacks, but a perk that I have enjoyed for the past 22 years is the ability to not only be deeply connected with my emotions, but to also understand and decipher my feelings no matter the complexity. Yet, COVID-19 has rendered that ability useless, making my emotions and feelings just another mystery.

I am in a constant state of conflict—a conflict so salient that I find myself crying over not knowing what to feel. What a strange experience: the inability to control what you are supposed to have absolute control over. Or at least that’s what I have been told throughout the years. I have spent days mourning my college graduation that will not happen in May (even lamenting the missed opportunity to potentially trip across the stage) and days thinking about the apartment in Maryland that I wish I could live in for a few more months. While these feelings of sadness and loss are so tangible within me, I find myself simultaneously questioning their validity. In this current pandemic, sadness and loss are reserved for the dying, those gasping for their last breath, those who are grieving the loss of a loved one, and for those losing businesses and homes. And rightfully so. But in this time of overwhelming despair, it seems as if there is no space remaining for what society labels as insignificant sadness—the kind of sadness experienced by the privileged and insensitive. It’s just graduation, be grateful that you aren’t dying. It’s just your senior year of college, there will be more important moments in your life. Be positive, it could always be worse.

Right. They’re right, right?

So, I commit to conditioning my mind to believe my sadness is unworthy: how could I possibly be sad when I am alive? My family is alive? I swim in the guilt instigated and perpetuated by society’s standards, and subconsciously form a link between my sadness and selfishness. Yet, an omnipresent tension nags at me day after day because it’s not just graduation and it’s not just my senior year of college; graduation was supposed to be, though perhaps sounding cliché, one of the best days of my life thus far, and my senior spring semester was going to serve as a capstone to four brilliantly challenging and influential years. This is loss. This is sadness. But relative to the context of today, it fails to seem genuine, to be meaningful. I grapple with how to integrate these two opposing forces and often wonder if a resolution to this conflict of feelings is even possible. And at the end of the day, I find my mind muddled in layers of emotion and too exhausted to decipher meaning from the chaos. What should I be feeling?

As the weeks pass, however, I have realized that a global pandemic is enough to handle without the added pressure of regulating my emotions and feelings to align with society’s expectations and without the challenge of deciding what I should feel. Instead, I should simply feel—a task that once occurred instinctively, but now proves rather daunting. I am working on unapologetically and unabashedly feeling because every person is experiencing a form of true sadness and loss no matter the scale or arbitrary label. So, my advice to my future self—whether in a pandemic or not—is to feel, to feel more, and to feel more freely.

Madeleine Cuan

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