My Life Before and Now

Hello reader, my name is Joseph Trombetta. I am in my third year of college at SUNY Oneonta. I became interested in this blog because I feel as though I am ready to share my experience before and after COVID. I have undergone a period of mental growth over the last year and a half. My story starts in fall 2019 and concludes up to the current month of December 2020. I believe my experience translates into the current issues we face with the pandemic, and I hope to leave an impression on you through this writing.

Before I begin my discussion of my student life during quarantine, I must provide some context of my life prior to COVID. In fall 2019, I started my time as a student at SUNY Oneonta after transferring from a private institution. I had worked hard and scored highly in my classes during my first semester at Oneonta. I even attended some club meetings in my spare time and bonded with certain professors. You might conclude I really enjoyed my first semester at Oneonta, and while I cannot say it was unenjoyable, I knew I was not feeling well at the time. Around that time, I had dealt with several recent losses in my family. In fact, my first day in Oneonta occurred after a funeral the day prior. Hence, I was very overwhelmed emotionally to say the least. So, how then did I score highly my first semester? I have since realized, with some outside assistance, that I funneled all the painful energy into my studies and used it to distract myself from emotions. Of course, I try my hardest in my classes for the simple sake of doing well academically, but that semester my studies carried undertones. The intense focus I placed on school made me very critical of myself and I felt as though I could not relax. I would put myself down and question if I had the capacity to understand my subjects, critique that I was not doing well enough even though I was, among a multitude of other negative comments. With that came doubts of my future in terms of finding a career. All this energy was only compounded by my status as a new transfer, and with that the pursuit of friends while balancing studies.

Perhaps the hardest thing that I had to deal with that semester was the feelings of isolation and loneliness. I am reserved to myself for the most part, except when I can feel a special connection with a person. When I started the semester, I was worried if this introversion would hinder me from meeting people, and to an extent it did, though I give myself credit for trying as much as I could. Nevertheless, I struggled to find my niche, and much like with the emotions of loss I had, I focused myself into my studies to distract from the feelings of loneliness. As I had stated, I did make efforts to socialize. One club that I attended during this time was the campus’ NAMI—National Alliance on Mental Illness. NAMI’s mission is to educate and provide supportive information for mental health related issues. At this time, I feel that it is appropriate to acknowledge that I have struggled with problems that have stemmed from my Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I feel this is a necessary point to add as it may provide context for why I fell into a cycle of self-criticism during my first semester. In brief, OCD has two components, the obsession and the compulsion, or action done for relief. Therefore, the obsession in the situation of my first semester was my academics and the compulsions—relief measures—included tasks such as checking my grades frequently. NAMI proved to be a beneficial outlet in helping me cope with problems such as these during this time. However, I continued to struggle mentally, though my path toward mental liberation was just beginning.   

As spring 2020 began, I was feeling somewhat better, though there was area for improvement. This semester was the beginning of my mental growth. Over the course of the semester I received various treatments, which helped me comprehend why I was self-critical and how to alter my thought process. I likewise started to realize at this time how emotional pain such as familial loss can contribute to the mindset I had in the fall. I was able to feel less introverted and started to make friends through organizations such as NAMI as a member of the E-Board. I also joined the Oneonta State Emergency Squad (OSES) as a probationary student. I was taking a lot more initiative to feel better. I especially learned the importance of balancing school and social activity that semester, and I am continuing to learn how to do so. I started off well in all my classes, though as the semester progressed, I struggled in one of them. Nevertheless, things began to set in to place and I felt more connected to the campus community. I was beginning to feel well about myself. I engaged in old hobbies, such as model building, that I had once given up. However, as we all know, this was the semester when learning transitioned to online and campus extracurriculars ended. While there is never a good time for a pandemic, I thought the timing was very poor in terms of the progress I was making. After some self-reflection, I did not let the transition to online get me down, though like most I was initially disgruntled with the change. Despite this hinderance, I finished out the semester as best I could on the new platform.

Fall 2020, the semester that could have been. After a summer of quarantine, like most I was looking forward to the starting of a new semester. Unfortunately, plans for the semester did not unfold as expected. However, I still progressed this semester in terms of learning about myself and the people around me. I stayed in an off-campus apartment complex during the duration of classes. I felt if I could not be on campus, I could at least be near the campus to feel as though I was at college. I brought my hobbies with me; my bike, my games, and I even had a little modelling station. As classes moved online, so too did my club NAMI. I am pleased to say I was elected vice president, and more importantly, that we maintained a healthy membership over the course of the semester. Some events NAMI was associated with over the semester concerned mental health discussions and panels. I felt as though I was ready to share my experience with others, and I contributed my perspective to two or three events. OSES also continued their probationary class and I am slated to run shifts for spring 2021. I am looking forward to this especially as I can bring my knowledge in to the field and help fellow students. COVID has exponentially increased an already existing mental health crisis amongst my generation. We must help each other if we want to curtail this issue let alone make it through the pandemic. Sometimes, all someone needs is a person to talk to them, to listen to them, and to empathize with them. I made several good friends in my apartment building over the course of the semester. They have been beneficial to my development and I would likewise say I have been to theirs. I am grateful that despite the eventful start to the fall 2020 semester, I have progressed mentally with the help of my newfound friends and of course, my family.

We can all be our own worst enemy. Self-criticism is an act of sabotage against oneself. To an extent, it can be useful in developing yourself as a person, and I still engage in it. However, certain things are out of your control. During fall of 2019 I criticized myself for quandaries that I had no real control over. In large part, this issue occurred because my OCD was running faster than I could keep up with it. Once I received help, and after some introspection, I began to catch up, and then surpass my mental dilemmas. I am by no means perfect, but I try my best, and I am not hard on myself as much as I was then. I ask you to likewise affirm your humanity and do not put yourself down. This pandemic has tested all of us. I acknowledge how this situation has been much more difficult for others, and as you read this perhaps it has been for you. People have lost loved ones, lost jobs, lost what has brought them joy. To that end I extend my sympathy. I want to say that we could easily fall into a trap of self-criticism because of these circumstances and due to the repetitious days of quarantine. At the end of the day, we can only try our best, whether that be in class or in life, and that is all that matters. In that vein, no one determines what your best is except you.

The idea of loneliness is especially prevalent now because of the pandemic. To be honest, this topic is difficult for me to address, but to reiterate the theme of the previous paragraph, I will try my best. The mind requires social stimulation. Even the most introverted of introverts require someone to speak to every now and again. You possibly were very extroverted before the pandemic, and the lack of social outlet has perhaps hit you hard especially. I can only offer advice based on my experience. I fulfill my alone time with hobbies, such as model building. There are numerous hobbies one can engage in, if funds are an issue then watching videos on the hobby is an option. Sometimes I find myself watching my hobbies more than doing them. Other times, I like to read articles that pique my interest as I am always eager to learn something new, however inconsequential. As for social engagement, I talk with who I can when I can. Part of being a transfer student is not really knowing anyone. I used to be worried about reaching out to people because of this issue, however I have since realized this is no longer a problem and is more a benefit. Every person I talk to and meet is a fresh perspective in my life, and whether that perspective is positive or negative, it adds to my overall world view. Hence, I no longer doubt if I should reach out to acquaintances I have met in my travels or talk to new people that come my way. I believe now we all just want someone to talk to; the subjects of discussion are only secondary to the fortune of speaking with another person. I find a sort of irony in realizing the value of social engagement at a time when it is most difficult to obtain. Nevertheless, I do not let this deter me. We all have a way of maintaining relationships with those we can no longer see in person. For me, video chats have been a way to maintain a level of social activity. Text messaging is of course another possibility. However, I believe sending text messages can only go so far. Text messages lack the facets of human social engagement. You cannot see the person and they cannot see you. There is no indication of emotion or attachment to the conversation over text, unless directly noted from one person to another. Therefore, I would encourage you to engage in video chats to maintain contact with people. While not the same as an in-person conversation, it is the next best option. We are fortunate to have such technology at our fingertips, utilize it. 

So, my reader, that summarizes the trials and tribulations of the last year and a half of my life. I started my time at Oneonta overwhelmed with a flurry of emotion. I was not sure what I should do so I intensified my study efforts. After this action failed to resolve the issues that stemmed from my OCD, I sought help and have now become less self-critical of myself. Now that I have learned to let myself live; I have become less isolated. COVID has complicated my situation, but I remain hopeful and I try the best I can every day. Some days, my best varies, though I am not harsh on myself when that variation occurs. I thank you for taking the time to read my narrative and I wish you strength in these turbulent times.