In Their Own Words

The Coexistence of Gratitude and Grief

Every waking day of the last few years has merged into a collective blur of repetition in which I stare blankly at my computer, forgetting that human existence isn’t merely reduced to projected pixels and travelling decibels. This is difficult to grasp when the monitor and speakers are intended to mediate connection. As my vision gradually worsened from excessive screen time, the path ahead became increasingly more unclear. I relied on glasses for the former, but the fogginess clouding my future wouldn’t dissipate.

How can we emerge from mass disruption on a global scale unscathed and fully intact, as if the emotions surrounding all that we lost might automatically vanish? Well, that is precisely what was expected. Our schedules remained packed, standards stayed high, and societal measures of success taunted us. Meanwhile, each successive traumatic event was meant to ricochet off us like we were equipped with bulletproof vests, even as we pleaded for mercy, stripped and unarmoured.

Although it was impossible to focus on school, I funneled any residual strength toward finishing my studies. We were told accommodations would be arranged, and while I appreciated assignment extensions, I couldn’t put a timeline on recovering from perpetual loss. I guess I’m supposed to be fine by Thursday at 11:59 p.m. to submit my research paper on “Coping Strategies for Stress and Trauma Responses to COVID-19” for my Health Psychology class. I tried the seemingly effective suggested method of distraction, which wasn’t efficacious for a student required to thoroughly review current literature on the pandemic. When my mental health plummeted and I finally gathered enough courage to reach out for help, I was redirected to generic webpages with invalid resource links.

I pictured completing university to be a celebratory moment; instead, I exited the last online final exam of my undergraduate degree with nobody around me to witness this accomplishment. The years of hard work and effort felt like foolish investments. Major milestones looked more like microscopic pebbles amidst rubble.

In the wake of destruction of the world as we knew it, we traverse through fallen debris of past dreams and desires, carrying the person we once were upon our backs. We were forced to navigate foreign landscape as if we already had the map and a compass in hand. When denial and anger eventually subside, all that’s left is indifference and apathy disguised as acceptance.

I want to reflect on this time and regard it as a period of progress, but I didn’t grow. I wish I were still a 20-year-old, full of wonder and hope. But I am now 22, disoriented and directionless, desperately clinging to what should have been s.

I undoubtedly have a deeper appreciation for the moments I never imagined might be taken away, though that gratitude doesn’t cancel out the grief. It is additive, and I am learning to subtract guilt from the equation. I will move forward because I must.

I will also hold this heaviness in my heart until I am ready to release it.

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Carmen Cheung

Vancouver, British Columbia

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