I’d been chewing without tasting, mindlessly gnawing the days away. Eating rushed at-desk lunches, TV dinners, spoonfuls of sustenance into the machine, as routine as pumping petrol into the tank of a car. I’d been looking without seeing. Scrolling, swiping, wiping the sleep out of my bleary eyes so they can resume their glazed look as I skim read textbooks. I’d been doing without being; perpetually rushing to meet deadlines. Most regrettably, I’d been speaking without thinking, my words cold, clipped and clouded under stress and fatigue.
Things have changed now. Kneeling here with my head lolled out of my skylight, I begin to understand why dogs in cars brave the blustering wind to feel the sky’s kiss. I see magpies float and dive in the pastel sky. The air is perfectly still and there is a peaceful silence without the usual din of traffic. The setting sun makes a distant Travelodge sign glow amber and right now, suburbia sparkles with the awe-inspiring power of any of nature’s wonders. There is a magic in this stillness and I’ve been missing it.
I was told that A-Levels were a vital yet near-insurmountable hurdle and in my naivety, I scoffed at the idea; until my final year of school rolled around, revealing the devastating truth behind this statement.
With the pressure of fulfilling University offers weighing heavily on my shoulders, any fantasies I had of maintaining a work-life balance during my studies remained fantasies. As exams neared, days became a monotonous blur, my time was scheduled down to the hour, with breaks only to eat, sleep and beg the Lord for good grades. I was fuelled by anxiety and time was working against me. In an attempt at efficiency, I did everything in a hurry but the faster I went and the more I planned the less time I seemed to have. Much like the mule in the age-old adage, my view was blinkered and I was working myself into the ground chasing the figurative carrot, never stopping to just, be.
Subsequently, I spent the majority of my final term begging for time to slow down and give my flustered self a chance to catch up. By this point, I had burned out and rekindled more times than is countable and I was motivated only by the knowledge that all of my working (suffering) was temporary.
On March 18th, the Prime Minister announced the news that rocked the nation’s students. My exams were cancelled. I released a breath I didn’t realise I’d been holding. ‘Finally’, I thought, ‘I’m free’. In the most terrifying and abrupt way, I’d been given the time to stop.
Once the initial shock passed I expected to be embittered by the situation, the linear nature of my courses meant that all of my hard work was now, essentially, pointless. Instead, I find that I’m incapable of shaking this visceral feeling of relief. Perhaps that’s down to the niggling self-doubt which tells me that I’ve had a lucky escape and that I wouldn’t have achieved the grades had exams gone ahead. I’m realising that the newfound sense of peace I feel is not due to the cancellation of exams, education has always given me validation and purpose.
I loved school, but this made me vulnerable to something more sinister than the endless mocking of my friends. It’s only with hindsight that I can see how fraught with anxiety I was, the prospect of a handful of examinations desecrating all that I’d worked for tormented me constantly, and so despite these awful circumstances, liberation from the tyranny of my thoughts has been welcome.
I feel at odds with the situation. This confinement has been so freeing; to indulge my teenage narcissism, it’s as if I longed for a moment’s repose and in return, the world has ground to a collective halt. Amidst the haze of studying, any self-care habits I’d forged had fallen away, so being at home meant surrendering to my perpetual to-do list.
In retaliation to my self-imposed schedule, I spent any and all of my free time everywhere but home. Nights out became a balm for the constant anxiety I felt, I’d even jump at the chance to join my Dad on the weekly shop. But since the burden has been lifted, my days no longer involve uniforms or uniformity and home has become my haven. All that is required of me now is survival and with a new outlook, I’m realising that perhaps that’s all that ever was.
At the moment, all we have is uncertainty and each other. My daily walk is accompanied by the smiles of the strangers I pass, a show of solidarity.
The increased use of apps replicating the ways we spend our cherished social time shows me that I am not alone in attempting to make home a sanctuary and its heartening to see. The word ‘unprecedented’ has been bandied around excessively recently and not without reason; times are unprecedented, but as I’m seeing, so is this opportunity for rest, gratitude and unity.
Last night, from my window I watched the young family living opposite illuminate their front room with colourful lights and I heard the sounds of laughter as they danced around, quite literally making light of this situation. Right now, the moon shines brighter than it has before or perhaps, with the clarity and time to do so, I now notice it’s light.
My studies provided me with purpose and a community but my academic struggles felt singular and isolating. Here, in this limbic state, there is nothing I ‘must’ do. I may rest, guiltlessly and with the newfound perspective that comes with being thrust into chaos much bigger than myself, I see what a blessing that is.
Nali is passionate about pro black activism and mac and cheese. Staff writer at Aurelia! @nalisheboo