This piece is part of a series collecting the experiences of researchers during the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Patrice Reid is a Commonwealth Scholar pursuing her Ph.D. in Psychological Medicine. Her research is focused on the development and field testing of a culturally grounded digital intervention to address alcohol and marijuana abuse in young Jamaicans. The following is a reflective piece by Patrice on living in lock-down.
Today’s Start. By: Patrice Reid
Where do I start? I really don’t know. It’s Thursday, and I have work to do, but I got up after noon because I couldn’t sleep. It’s a recurring pre-COVID-19 issue that has been worsened by the current conditions, I think. But, even in these conditions, it’s a new day, so let me start.
Before starting my academic journey as a graduate student away from home, I was confronted with one of the hardest decisions about my future, I would have to make: stay or go? ‘Stay’ or ‘go’ because before me lay the possibility of grabbing one of two very different, but much yearned for dreams. The decision made was to go, in the hope of having it all. Our plans don’t always work out as we hope, as I left behind all that I knew or that I thought I knew, especially what I thought I knew about myself. Deciding to leave came with positive outcomes and less desired consequences, but that’s life I suppose – a series of questions and decisions we encounter and create for ourselves that lead to paths of unknown and hoped for end results. I was faced with, yet again, the difficult decision amid this pandemic: ‘stay’ or ‘ go’? Asked by my supervisors, asked by my family, asked by my funders, asked by my friends, asked by my accommodations, asked of myself. The borders were closing in a week, I had almost three years’ worth of my life in my flat that I couldn’t take with me if I left. I was on the mend from being ill, left considering my own semi-vulnerable health status, and the potential risk I could pose to my family and myself by going through gateways and flying across oceans with many others – all in the attempt to go home. I stayed. And I realised that other students like me were faced with the same choice and they left – leaving behind everything but going back to everyone. My internal clock is now set to the morning and night of home as I yearn for its’ embrace and connections like no other time before. It took restrictions of movement and curtailment of freedoms that were once at my fingertips to bolster my appreciation for not only what I left behind and what I have stayed away from, but who I look forward to embracing and where I most want to return.
Before the official lockdown, I was self-shielding – being the hermit that my doctor cautioned to avoid becoming given my decision to stay. A hermit who found joy taking out the garbage and doing laundry at odd times in the wee hours of the morning. A hermit who inhaled deeply as my lungs filled with fresh air. Taking the time to gaze upon the velvet blue skies and listen to the quiet. Enjoying the experience of coolness dancing across my skin, which the four walls and window of my flat hid me from. It was on the two months’ anniversary of self-shielding that I deliberately stepped foot outside my self-imposed hermitage because I had no flour for weeks. Can you imagine, the flour made me do it?! Armed with double masks, a pair of gloves, fully covered, and a sanitizer in my pocket, I walked along the path to the supermarket. In my mind’s eye, getting strange looks from passers-by, yet feeling relief when I saw others costumed like me. I guess this is how persons attending Comic-Con in costume must feel, I think, that sense of camaraderie that they are not alone in a choice they made when they stepped out the door. I would never imagine that the act of preparing myself to go beyond my door would fill me with anxiety or that I would feel fear walking along a street I have so often travelled. It has been three months. The weather is beautiful now. I ordered something from Amazon and collected it from the voice that called me from the other end – venturing beyond my door only costumed in a pair of jeans, flats, an old T-shirt, and a cap because I didn’t comb my hair. I lifted my face to the sun, relished in the melding of heat and coolness on my skin, and thought, ‘maybe it’s time to take a step out, to live beyond my four walls and a window.’
The question of whether to stay or go is never an easy one to answer because it’s never just about the act of leaving or remaining. It’s about the visible and invisible strings that bind. It’s about the courage to face uncertainties even in fear. Anaïs Nin once wrote, “life shrinks or expands in proportion to one‘s courage,” and I understand the words more clearly now. Her words ring true as frontline personnel day by day make the decision to stay or go in the fight against COVID-19, and as I see us zooming to adjust to a new normal while praying and keeping hope alive in these unprecedented times. There is a risk just stepping outside to take a walk, just as much as it is a risk not doing so. My experience of the pandemic is a kaleidoscope of lockdowns and restrictions – the lockdown of my temporary residence, the lockdown of my home, the lockdown on physical connections and movement, the lockdown on my own mind and body because it is all just so overwhelming at times. It’s a reality we are all facing together, not only you or me but us. We are all experiencing this kaleidoscope of uncertainties and rising to the challenge to move forward in an evolving ball of resilience, kindness, innovation, appreciation, and creativity. I watch the news, review posts on social media, and there is still strife and ugliness packaged in discrimination, abuse, and poverty. These truths haven’t changed but have been heightened by the pandemic. Yet, I see mother nature filling her being and taking some much-deserved TLC – her so-called higher-order thinking children had to be scolded and given a time-out so that her other children could frolic on playgrounds that were once their own.
After all is said and done, where do we start? Where do I start? I really don’t know. It’s Thursday, and I have work to do but awoke after noon because I couldn’t sleep. I started writing because it’s a recurring pre-COVID-19 strategy that I have embraced more as a result of the current conditions. But, even in these conditions, it’s a new day, it’s a start.
Patrice is undertaking a PhD developing and field testing a culturally grounded digital intervention to address alcohol and marijuana abuse in young Jamaicans. Her research interests include substance misuse, child development, ageing, caregiver support and training, digital mental health, and the development of culturally sensitive psychosocial and psychoeducational interventions. Patrice also enjoys non-academic writing and volunteering her time. These extracurricular activities have been captured in her current role as a Unibuddy-Ask a student e-Mentor, supporting prospective students, and writing blogs for the University of Glasgow.