By Ally Carey || Contributing Writer
Throughout my life, I have always coped with symptoms of anxiety, and growing up those symptoms presented themselves in a variety of ways. My environment often plays a role in my mental state: specific surroundings make me more or less uneasy depending on certain conditions. Managing that unease has been a significant obstacle that I have had to overcome, but it’s also given me the privilege to grow positively from such a hardship. I have learned ways of coping in order to distract a mind that is so often wandering into a state of worry or nervousness. The ups and downs of anxiety have enabled me to recognize what truly makes me happy and how I will be able to continue to succeed despite this disability. Through the process of learning to cope with my anxiety, I remained an optimistic person. No problem is too hard to solve, no day is too bad to be turned around, no tears that can’t be dried—I have a glass half full, a light at the end of the tunnel, and an “everything happens for a reason” approach to life. My mom once coined the phrase “choose your attitude” to describe how I approach each day, and up until recently, this was my motto. Maybe it’s pure optimism, or maybe it’s my obsession with having control over my life—wanting things to happen the exact way I imagine. Turns out, not everything is a half-full glass, and much to my frustration, not everything can be controlled.
In March, our worlds got turned upside down due to the coronavirus pandemic. Going into the second semester of my junior year, nothing could have prepared me for the wild turn of events that semester would take. Whether it’s a good or bad thing, a small college such as ours is a bubble, which makes it easy to become absorbed in our community—invincible to the world outside. With “quarantine” only having ever been an activity my friends and I did on Friday afternoons, masks only worn for themed mixers on a Saturday night, and Corona carrying no other meaning than a drink best paired with a lime—we learned an entirely new approach to life.
As a world, we learned how to adjust to a new lifestyle, and I reluctantly learned to accept the things I could not control. It’s hard to be optimistic in a time where everything seems to be going wrong. There is so much uncertainty, and life as we know it has been forever altered. Since the return to campus for my senior year, I have found myself grieving the loss of my spontaneous college days—where I could walk into the dorms unannounced, spend hours in the library not hiding behind a mask, attend social events carefreely—essentially reminiscing about my favorite elements of college and the loss of the full experience we were promised as freshmen. It is a hard pill to swallow and one that my friends and I often find ourselves agonizing over. There is no appropriate way to set about college during a global pandemic, leaving us often in complicated dilemmas of what we can and cannot do, or maybe even more onerous—what we should and should not do. It has demanded us to adapt to behaviors quickly without a clear end in sight. In simple words, life right now looks pretty damn bleak.
I have found it hard to be optimistic in the same ways I used to be, with no way to brush the disasters of the world under the rug. But against all tests of 2020, I’ve learned a new approach not just to life but towards my optimistic attitude, too. It occurred to me over the past six months that maybe optimism isn’t just about exaggerated faith and unrealistically expectations for the future, but a modified and realistic assurance in the hopefulness of our human nature. I find myself more grateful for the small moments, those moments that seem so trivial at the time, which you take for granted but yearn for once they’ve passed. I’ve reconsidered those moments now and recognized them as equally paramount in my memories as any of the rest of them.
This pandemic has forced us to slow down, look around at the people and the places that make us happiest and recognize their worth in our lives. Winston Churchill once said, “a pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” I realize now that my friends and I are still very much optimists, though with a healthy amount of skepticism, and we have yet to lose our hope. It has been a tough year, there is no doubt about it; it has burdened us with misfortune and heartaches and tested our limits. But as I surround myself with my favorite people in one of my favorite places, my optimism has only progressed. While what we have faced in 2020 is much different from the momentary challenges that permeated our lives pre-COVID, the practice of optimism has never been more essential to my life. The caprice of our world has never been symmetrical, and we have always learned how to acclimate ourselves to these changing conditions at a moment’s notice. As for me, I have acknowledged that our current state has left me powerless in many ways, and yet my optimism prevails, for it is one of the few things I can depend upon when everything else seems just so unpredictable.
Senior Ally Carey is a Contributing Writer. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.