Her special place
She sits in her “special place”. Outside, on the balcony, she has created a little relaxation corner with europallets and cushions to create a kind of cosy atmosphere. It’s a cold day and she has to wrap herself in several blankets to stand the cold, but she just can’t bear to stare at the white walls in her flat anymore. She listens, looks, smells, breathes, and tries to enjoy the little things in life.
It was another day she woke up and didn’t know why. Another day without a goal to work towards. Another day without a reason to leave the flat. Still, she got up. Still, she made coffee in her espresso maker, as if she needed the energy to get through the day. Still, she smiled and put on some music to artificially boost her mood.
It has been seven months since she last went out with her new friends. It’s been five months since she last saw more than two people at once. It’s been two months since one of her two friends in town moved away. She feels lonely.
The TV tells her that the world is coming apart at the seams, the government tells her that there is a dangerous virus out there because of which everything must be done to protect her, and that measures to make her lonely are justified. And although she understands and obeys, she only feels the effects of these measures. Loneliness, alienation, and isolation. This is not how she imagined student life to be.
There is a distinct difference between being alone and being lonely. I have been alone many times, sometimes intentionally but I have never been lonely. After 7 months of isolation in a new city, a new environment and without any opportunities to meet people and grow, I got to know this feeling very well and honestly, it annoyed me and still does.
My studies during Covid
I am now a second semester student and my time at Karlshochschule within the Karls family was limited to the first two months of the first semester, when I was able to get a bit of the spirit. I was actually very lucky because my fellow students are super cool and super nice and even the two months with them were great. I can only imagine what this time was like for people whose university isn’t as caring and doesn’t put as much effort into online lectures as Karls.
I don’t think I’m alone in this situation, though. I think we all face some kind of loneliness this year, whether it’s because we’ve had to move back home and feel like we’re treading water, or, like me, find ourselves in a new environment without a place to truly belong and a family far from home.
I experienced loneliness in many ways. Obviously, the lack of opportunities to go outside was harsh and increased as the days got shorter. However, since my November and December were packed with exams and essay writing, I didn’t notice the loneliness too much. I was one of those people who started learning a new language and reading a lot of books. And when I say, “a lot”, I mean “A LOT”. Still, it was more of an occupation for me than really enjoying being a student. I was also lucky enough to have made a very good friend at the university and the two of us were able to conquer the time until Christmas together by baking and playing games, hoping that everything would be better in January. Without her, I would have given up much earlier.
Losing my motivation
After Christmas, however, we quickly realised that change was not in sight. I kept myself motivated by studying for exams and dreaming about where I could go in the summer, who could visit me here in Karlsruhe, and I met the only two people I knew in town quite often to keep my head above water. In February, March, and April, however, everything became more difficult. I had trouble motivating myself to get up at a reasonable time to study, I lost motivation for some of my lectures and on top of that, out of two people in this town, one moved away. I also lost the support of my family. That was a point where I felt lonely for the first time because I experienced gigantic holes in motivation, mood swings and there were days when I moved from bed to sofa and back again, barely ate and didn’t study at all, which ended in guilt that I wasn’t taking university seriously enough, resulting in a marathon of studying without breaks. All in all, a routine that was not at all healthy.
Not only did I feel lonely at times, but I even feared that I would not make any connections at the university and in Karlsruhe in general, and that my chance had been lost. I almost gave up the idea that I would ever have a normal student life, meet people, and have my experiences, as we are all supposed to do in the first years of university.
In my experience it takes the strong support of a good friend or other loved one to help the lonely conquer their feelings. Simply trying to counteract the low self-esteem verbally will not do it, though, for in their down state, they will see the person as just trying to be nice or spare their feelings. The lonely must be shown in more subtle, yet clear ways that they are not the useless person they perceive themselves to be. I was lucky enough to have had that support.
The reason I am writing this is because I think sometimes, we forget that we are not the only ones in this situation. Sure, we all experience it differently and we cope in different ways. But in the end, even though it feels like it, we are not the only ones who are not doing well after a year of pandemic. Therefore, it is okay to feel sad and lonely, and it is also okay to lose motivation as long as we seek help and talk to friends, family, teachers or professors about what is happening to us. Talking about it made me realise that I am not alone.
With this text, I wanted to remind you not to give up on yourself.
By an anonymous student – International Relations, 2nd semester
Here is the contact information for the Karlshochschule mental health services: Prof. Ella Roininen – firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to contact Ella if you need support.