Finding yourself in a not-quite-post pandemic world is hard

A student reflects on the difficulties of exploring her identity throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.


When Pennsylvania started lifting its COVID-19 restrictions this summer, I finally began experiencing the world outside my home again, only to feel lost. 

Every outfit I wore felt wrong as if I were wearing the clothes of a stranger. Scrolling through my own social media accounts felt like I was stalking someone else’s. My mind went blank every time someone asked me even the simplest questions, like my interests and hobbies.

My anxiety-driven mind raced into a dark hole as I imagined every little thing that could be making me feel so out-of-touch with myself. I wondered if I had a mental illness like depression or even a physical illness, something invisible and chronic. 

Finally, I had an epiphany: I felt so unsure of myself because, since graduating from high school, I’ve spent most of my time in my house avoiding the virus instead of discovering who I am and what type of person I want to be. 

After this realization, it was easy to put the pieces together. None of my outfits felt like they were mine because they weren’t. Who I was before the pandemic is a completely different person than who I am now.

When the pandemic forced Temple University to shut down its campus in March 2020, I was sent home a semester and a half into my freshman year, just four months into adulthood. I had to pack up everything just as I was starting to figure out how to navigate the whole college thing.

As the months at home went by, I found it difficult to understand what I truly enjoy doing. I spent so much time in my room trying not to lose my sanity, distracting myself by taking up new, random hobbies, like crocheting and embroidery, and scrolling mindlessly all day on TikTok. Though quarantine was full of self-reflection, I failed to realize who I am outside of it.

Since coming to terms with my realization, my mission has been to figure out who I actually am. I moved back to Temple’s Main Campus in the fall of 2020, but only recently started going out and experiencing pre-pandemic life, like by exploring Philadelphia and trying new restaurants. I now keep a list of the places I like to go and the activities I enjoy doing.

I’ve donated old clothes and started buying new ones. I’m taking the time to evaluate how I feel in each outfit and ask myself if it expresses who I am. 

I’ve started to ask myself tough questions. Who do I want to be? What makes me happy? Who do I want to spend my time around? 

In the short time I’ve contemplated these questions, I have learned a lot about myself.

I used to be a person obsessed with sticking to a plan, as the slightest bit of a schedule change would send me into a spiral of anxiety because I feared everything would go wrong. 

But the pandemic has shown me how much can change in a year, and I’ve learned to stop planning so rigidly. Over the past year, my college experience dramatically deviated from my hopes and expectations, leaving my fear of everything falling apart to replace my excitement for the future.

However, I’ve learned to be adaptable to let myself go with the flow instead of allowing my anxiety about straying from the plan to take over.

If it weren’t for my newfound flexibility, I would have never taken the risk of applying for graduate school. This was never part of my original plan as applying meant admitting that my life plan had changed yet again. In hindsight, it is clear I was just afraid of getting rejected. Taking this chance on myself allowed me to take a step closer to my dream job of being a multimedia journalist.

Using my new way of seeing the world, I am learning to take things one day at a time. There is no book on how to go about transitional periods during a pandemic. To soothe my young adult angst, I remember this pandemic has affected nearly everyone in the world, whether it is mentally, physically, or both. For many, in way worse ways than I could ever imagine. 

Though I still have a lot of soul-searching to do, I think I’m starting to figure out who I am, and so far, I think I like her.

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