At the end of last year, coronavirus seemed like a distant thing that would have no major effect on my life. Ebola was contained pretty effectively, and I was in fifth grade when H1N1 occurred. This would be just like those; besides, it was something that was happening across the world, far away from my life and those that I love.
As my last semester at UNC began, there were inklings that coronavirus would become something more. I had flu-like symptoms in February and was worried I had someway, somehow gotten coronavirus. I went to dinner with my friends who had heard from others that spring break would be extended due to coronavirus, with the possibility of switching to online classes. Cases started to trickle in and appear all over the US. And as someone who has struggled with anxiety and OCD and can be a bit of a hypochondriac at times, I began to be terrified by the possibility that this was going to be catastrophic. Thankfully, Expedia always gives people refunds when you cancel a trip, because I had already decided to cancel the New York trip I had planned for my last spring break. Break came around, and the university began sending out messages about self-quarantining if going to countries or states heavily affected by coronavirus.
Over the course of spring break, circumstances worsened every day. What started as something that was paranoid to be worried about expanded into a large enough threat for travel bans, virtually all spring breaks being extended and schools going online, and multiple state-of-emergencies. My heart sank as I read the email that graduation had been postponed. It seemed like everyone started working from home apart from my parents, who are regarded as essential workers due to their careers being in the health field, and the thought of them being exposed to the virus paralyzed me with fear. My anxiety grew with the exponentially growing number of cases, but I kept telling myself that it was okay, that it was temporary. I distracted myself with anything I could to keep me from thinking about the rapidly changing world outside.
People with eating disorders know that they are often a defense mechanism. Since my eating disorder is something that has grown in times that I experienced adversity due to my race, it also made sense that it would grow during a pandemic. It may not seem relevant to talk about eating disorders with everything else going on, but I’ve realized that it is. I numbly stared at empty grocery store aisles and didn’t think it mattered at first when my therapist asked how coronavirus was affecting my eating disorder. But as numerous jokes about the “Quarantine 15” and home workout videos piled up on my social media accounts, I realized how this would be hard for everyone currently dealing or has dealt with an eating disorder. I realized that when people feel threatened, they run back to the thing that made them feel in control and comforted, that gave them some semblance of normalcy in a world that none of us have ever experienced before. When everyone is saying to use this time to do home workouts and try healthy recipes, the sense of guilt that is often associated with eating disorders starts to creep back in and intensify.
You should know that it is perfectly okay to not use this time to work out, that it is okay to eat what you can and what you want when maybe even grocery shopping isn’t safe. You don’t have to write a book or start a project or develop a perfect skincare regimen or solve world peace, and most of all, you don’t have to lose weight. You don’t have to “use” this time for anything. Don’t let yourself be ridiculed by people who keep saying that this isn’t a big deal. It is okay to feel scared, and it’s understandable to want to cling on to something familiar when things become unpredictable. I encourage you to reach out to your therapists and your loved ones. And I want you all to know that here at Embody, we understand. We are here for you during this tumultuous, uncertain time.
On another note entirely, I didn’t know that the last Embody meeting I went to would be my last one. I pictured being able to end my semester with saying goodbye to the organization that has defined my college experience. I just want to say thank you to everyone who has helped me learn and grow from this organization, because I don’t know who I would be if I hadn’t found it my freshman year. So this is goodbye, at least for now. I’m excited to see the lovely people you all become and to see where this organization goes from here.