Two weeks after I registered for school, the world went into a complete shutdown. Yep, all that ‘best life’ and ‘queening’ I was excited for came to a deafening halt. The schools decided we were a liability so they all but kicked us out. Literally the worst-case scenario for an international student. I found a last-minute sublet through a friend of a friend. I was proud of myself. Look at me handling my business and landing on my feet. Or so I thought… I lived in an apartment with no Wi-Fi except for this one spot in the kitchen or if I leaned far enough out of my bedroom window (not conducive for research). I didn’t really have friends and I lived with a gorgeous Ugandan woman; the language barrier meant I spent my days in my room re-watching series and movies I had hoarded on my laptop over the years. Occasionally I would watch the boys across the street work out (Thank you, Lord).
When the lull of it all began to settle in, I realized how exhausted I was from travelling and dealing with immigration and school admin so I welcomed the rest. To be honest I was excited about the lockdown. As an introvert, I knew this was my time to shine. My family rallied around me even with the distance. I’m the baby of the family so I was treated to 6 am check-in calls with daddy every day. He panicked over the slightest thing. It was both sweet and maddening. The mention of me running out of hand sanitizer had put him in a tailspin and earned me a lecture. My research was in limbo and we couldn’t commit to anything due to the COVID uncertainty. Halfway into my lockdown sublease, said ‘friend of a friend’ decided to increase my rent. I realized I hadn’t signed a contract and he thought I was desperate enough to just pay more. We all know it was illegal to increase rentals during COVID. Unbeknownst to me, I had a little gas in my tank so I stood up to him and decided I wouldn’t feel safe or secure dealing with him anymore so I moved into a dig.
Ah yes, communal living. What was I thinking? The truth is I was lonely so I thought living with more people, a community; would help. I forgot to factor in the part about me being 25 and needing my own space. I had to share the kitchen and bathrooms with 7 other people at one point. I think we’re all a little OCD to an extent and mine reared its head in the form of mommy’s voice. All I could hear was her condemning the hygiene. I hadn’t realized how similar I was to her until then. I was miserable there. Come to realize I was the oldest in the house. I was a 25-year-old living with 19-year-old first years. The boys had girls in and out of the house IN THE MIDDLE OF A PANDEMIC. I took on more of a ‘big sister’ role. The worst part was realizing despite the age difference, I still related to them. I questioned my maturity. My age mates were having children or getting married with interesting starter jobs whilst I was spending nights getting high and debating about the latest trap album.
Yes, I started experimenting with alcohol and weed during the pandemic (Mom and dad, you’ll get over it). Yes, I am a late bloomer but I’m glad I did it older and on my own terms. I still haven’t found my ‘drank’ or ‘strain’ yet but I get the appeal. Vices humanize you. They’re also a great conversation starter. Eventually, the hygiene issues drove me out. I was looking for a place to thrive and the universe delivered. I moved in with two girls. Living with them was my favorite version of me. It was the Promised Land. They echoed similar aspirations to mine of betterment, fitness, education, and ambition. I was all for the sisterhood except for that one night I snuck a boy into the apartment and he called me the next day to say he had tested positive for COVID (sorry girls).
My mental health wasn’t the best when I moved in, but you know that cliché quote by Jim Carey about giving yourself a fighting chance? I had decided to start working out. I’m not flush with cash so I got myself to commit by spending a little money on workout clothes and decent running shoes. It felt like my body had changed on me. It was the little things; my breathing, maneuvering the limited flexibility in my joints, adjusting my footing. I actually had to learn my body and in all the excuses I had made before to not put in the effort, my body was now telling me how much it loved to move. It was a high on its own. I started to love my body and actively practice gratitude for it by taking care of it. It cascaded to my diet, learning about money management; Jhene Aiko’s album ‘Chilombo’ had introduced me to sound healing so I really got into sound baths and meditation (Thank you YouTube). I started writing for FemInStyle Africa around the same time. Let’s just say feminism is uncomfortable and confrontational. All of this was an overhaul of me and I loved it.
The loneliness still crept in from time to time, amongst ‘other’ needs. I realized I was pregnant 6 weeks after the act. Let’s just say I’m not pregnant anymore…by choice. I never told anyone. Again, I handled my business. My mental health took a frightening dive and I went to therapy. I was accosted by a man while running in the park and I never went back alone so I started running within my neighborhood. The first human contact I had in over 6 months was being mugged by 3 men down the street from my apartment. I lived in a constant state of anxiety after that. My world had literally shrunk to 4 walls. It took me two months to finally leave the apartment. By then I was used to going stretches of up to 2 weeks without talking to anyone. The drug dealer next door showed me more kindness than most during those periods. At the very least he’d knock and say hi if he hadn’t seen us for a while. At the most, we’d stand in the sun together and talk about nothing really.
I remember instances when my mind would shut down like during a thesis presentation. I knew the answers to the questions, but extended isolation and lack of conversation meant I just didn’t know how to string words together to form coherent sentences by then. Tutoring and interacting with other students eventually helped with the brain fog. I had become an expert at deceit and convincing people I was fine because I deluded myself into thinking I was just adapting to life. I also didn’t know how to explain to people that there were days I couldn’t get out of bed because I literally couldn’t stop shaking. Somehow I convinced myself this was normal. I hadn’t realized I wasn’t processing or that my body could even absorb and hold onto these seemingly insignificant occurrences as trauma and in such a vicious, paralyzing way. Simple everyday tasks became increasingly difficult. I had myself convinced that my ability to be so alone and isolated showed strength. That I was enlightened. In hindsight, it was dangerous.
Nobody talks about how postgrad is this weird little vacuum that’s almost on the cusp of adulthood because at the end of the day you’re still in school and it limits all the other ‘big’ things in life. Distance has helped with the illusion of ‘fine’. My biggest fear is that all my sins will be visible at first sight to the people I love. That I will be exposed because let’s face it, secrecy and oblivion are embedded African coping mechanisms. It’s so easy to fall into the ‘woe is me, no one cares’ trap but I’m learning that my loneliness simply means a desire for connection which requires effort on my part. Yes, introverts need people too. Being alone is easy for me. My show of strength is now in being vulnerable enough to form genuine connections apparently. There’s so much more monumentality that has occurred for me during COVID. The only consistency I’ve had is the uncertainty and I have lost and rediscovered myself endlessly.