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Coping with COVID isolation and anguish

A photojournalist dissects her mental and emotional health during the pandemic to find that healing isn't always linear

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Feature photo for photo essay

It was a Tuesday in early November when we found out. Everyone in the house had been exposed to COVID-19 and two of my roommates were already showing serious symptoms. My sweet home all of a sudden felt too small and the air felt thick with sickness. I had the wild hope that maybe it wasn’t too late and that I could drive away untouched by the virus. So that’s what I did. After my last class ended that evening, I packed up and left, driving through the night to my home in Nashville.

I couldn’t find comfort in my parents’ arms; I was contaminated. Instead, I stayed in a neighbor’s empty house a few blocks away. Looking back, I’m unsure if running away was the right decision. It was there that months of deep-rooted emotional instabilities surfaced, and I frequently spiraled into fits of tears or long stretches of numbness. I was so alone. 

I began to feel claustrophobic in my own body and mind. There was no release from the tumultuous feelings roiling inside me. I can typically pull myself out of funks quickly, but I was grossly unequipped to overcome this. 

I have never been good at talking about my feelings. Creating the photographs in this essay was a way for me to process the dark emotions that I didn’t know how to cope with. I would wake up some days and couldn’t make myself get out of bed, my throat thick with tears. But there were also days when I could close my eyes and feel joy tingling in my chest and a smile would break through because I got a taste of peace.

Although I so badly wanted the healing process to be linear, I began to notice that it was far from so. Rather, the journey of healing is cyclical, with opposing emotions finding themselves within mere minutes of one another. The photos in this essay depict these conflicting realities as well as the efforts I made to find my normal again. 

Those efforts have extended into the now. I returned to Columbia two weeks later and leaned hard into relationships and the outdoors to find comfort. And although my mental health still ebbs and flows, I finally feel clear-headed. 

Our sense of normalcy was flipped on its head one year ago, and learning to cope has been a process for all of us. Once we recognize and allow ourselves to fully feel difficult emotions, however, we are finally free to let go and move forward. 


Pandemic Photo Essay: Messy bed

Usually, I can't fall asleep unless I'm on my stomach. Tonight, as I lie with my chest pressed against the bed, all I can focus on is my heart beating much too hard. It feels like a caged animal. I tried to lie there until it stilled, but it kept rocking me. I had to roll to my side to get away from it.


Pandemic Photo Essay Girl dancing in a tank top

I can finally feel again. It seems insignificant, but for months now my senses have been repressed. My mind has been foggy, and I haven't been able to respond as I normally would to music or sunshine or dancing or something funny– the things that would normally pull me out of the muck. It feels like I'm emerging from the fog, carefully and cautiously, scared something will trigger a spiral. But for now I'm getting tastes of normalcy. I guess I laugh at that, because what about this existence is normal?


Pandemic Photo Essay: bruised knees

I have become frustrated with the slow healing process of mental health. As an outlet, I work my physical body hard. I pus to find its limits and discover what it means to feel and be alive. I bear any soreness or bruises with pride because it shows my determination and efforts at healing.


Pandemic Photo Essay: photo wall

I have become frustrated with the slow healing process of mental health. As an outlet, I work my physical body hard. I pus to find its limits and discover what it means to feel and be alive. I bear any soreness or bruises with pride because it shows my determination and efforts at healing.  


Today I woke up from a dream where I was standing in the sun. I opened my mouth, and the sun filled me.  


Pandemic Photo Essay: Shower curtain tucked into tub

I have never experienced many of these emotions before. I often have a hard time determining the root cause of the negativity. My typical responses to positive stimuli are dulled or fleeting.


Pandemic Photo Essay: A girl's cheek stained by tear

I go all day with my body entirely clenched. My jaw and my muscles held tight, my legs drawn close to my body. I ache from feeling so vulnerable and exposed, and retreat. There is no one to lay a finger on me to release my tightly wound body. No one to soothe the skittish, animalistic being curled up inside me.   


Pandemic Photo Essay: A desk decorated with lights, drawings, pictures and trinkets

Two things brought me joy today. The first was watching my mother take a cellphone photo of the sunset. She jutted her chin high in the sky, peering underneath her glasses and topping with slow precision on the screen to get the photo. The second joy was watching her pick up bright yellow ginkgo leaves. Her hands slowly sorted through the fallen forms to find the ones she wanted. It was beautiful. After a few moments, I picked up some leaves and put them in my pocket, so that later I could cup them in my hands and feel my mother in me.

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