Published: Aug. 20, 2020

Visitor Services Liaison Elizabeth Gregg interviewed Sophia Baldwin about the process of writing about her spring 2020 experiences on August 4, 2020.
Read her essay titled "The Surface & The Shadow of COVID-19" here.

EG: What was the process like for you when writing about your experience?

SB: I started my process looking through the (online database) and finding a picture that resonated with me and my experience. And when I found the picture of bread that just started drawing new ideas, it was the contrast of the shadow and the light that really spoke to me and my experience of being – you know, like our surface needs and our needs that we can’t see as easily. So, when I saw that, I started to frame it kind of into two parts. And that’s how I started to write my piece, and I just started taking quotes that really spoke to me with that theme.

EG: Were there any other art pieces that you looked at during your process?

SB: I looked at one that looked like a row of lipstick. I don’t know why, it just really popped out at me. It didn’t fit at all for my piece, but I just kind of liked the minimalistic characteristics of it, and that was the vibe I was going for. It started my thought process on going more minimalist for my piece.

EG: Did you find writing about your experience to be helpful to you?

SB: That’s a really good question! I would say that it was nice to write it down so that I could remember it when I’m older, and just kind of look back on that. My grandma was telling me to write down my experience as I was going along, but I was so sick I couldn’t really do anything so being able to have it be more cohesive and not really so much of a “dear diary, I threw up today” kind-of-thing. To have it be a bit more polished but still have the rawness of it was helpful to me, really just to be able to talk to people about it, and frame how I wanted to talk about it without it being off topic or ranting about everything. It really condensed everything for me, and it’s nice to have in the sense of “that’s what I went through!” And it’s not like reading a diary, it’s like “these are two big bulks of what made me at that time, and what still makes me – my soul and my body, my physical body.” So, I feel like it just makes me be able to talk to other people, and to have ideas of what it was like to go through that, and to keep that in mind when I’m talking to people. I’m not sure if it really helped me personally, but I feel like it helped me frame it for more conversations.

EG: What were your thoughts like when you heard that campus was closing down?

SB: It felt like a tunnel with no end; I didn’t really know what was going to happen. It was more of a time where you just felt like you were floating, and just kind of waiting for something to stop your motion of floating. It felt like it just kept going and going – it still feels that way with campus still not really sure, like, if they’re going to open and for how long, and with other campuses, too. It was this feeling of floating without any direction to stop, except for whatever direction turned you at the beginning. I would say, obviously, the initial thought was kind of like “well, maybe I get a day off!” But, really, it was kind of like a tightening in my chest that came in, and just kind of that feeling of numbness, like “I don’t have control over my reality anymore. I’m now subjected to what is going to happening around me.” And that’s a really scary place to be! You’re not faced with that fear head-on, but it’s definitely more like being tossed by a bunch of waves here and there.

So, I think when campus closed, there was definitely a lot of confusion and – I try not to panic too much – and it was really more of, like, a “okay – I’m going to be pushed around by this ocean, and we’ll see how it goes!” And, obviously, it got so much worse, but the initial thought was that I’m just floating around here, waiting for the next thing to happen. It makes your brain feel fuzzy – it makes your body feel fuzzy, too! There’s a weird, haunting stillness to everything.

EG: What was something you wished you had gotten to do last spring?

SB: I wish I would’ve been able to continue to go to the REC Center and work out. That’s a really big part of my life, and a huge de-stresser for me. I like being physically active, and I was just getting good with dumbbells and actually knowing the terms for certain things! And that’s where a lot of my friends are, and where I met my boyfriend too, so that’s just a really great place for me. So, I wish I could’ve been there, still working out and working on my health.

I’m a very anxious person, so any chance that I have to go inside my head is always something that I’m trying to protect myself from. Being active has always been my way of being able to balance my worry out, and just take care of my physical fitness. So, when that was taken away – when I couldn’t even walk, I was really just, like, on the couch for two months – and even thought it wasn’t you know, I was watching The Simpsons, I was watching Star Trek – it wasn’t… like, that doesn’t sound bad compared toso many things that people are going through, but for me that was just my own personal hell: being in my head for two months, really having those anxious voices come in and really destroy a lot of how I saw the world, and how I saw myself. And definitely seeing myself lose more and more weight, I just didn’t feel like the same person. It was like, that part of me that I try to tame a lot with working and with being physically fit, being active with people and just feeling joy, and feeling full – and when I had lost twelve pounds and when I alone with my own thoughts, I was surviving, but I wasn’t really living that joyful life that I used to.
So, that was really hard for me, not to be able to just even more around. And people get tired with just staying in the house for a day, but that was my life for two months. I’ll never take that, I’ll never take being outside for granted ever again.

EG: Were remote classes more or less difficult for you than in-person classes, and why?

SB: They were definitely easier for me. That’s just because I wasn’t driving all the time because I commute from Westminster, so I wasn’t spending all my time driving and waking up at a certain time to get to campus on time. I actually had time to wake up at a good time and study instead, so it actually worked out really, really well, academically. I got straight A’s – even in some classes that I didn’t think that I’d get even a good grade in! So that ended up working out really well for me, just being able to be at home.

I was sick with COVID at the time. Being in that headspace, the bad mindset came in, really, after the semester was over because I’d been sick longer then. It was really the physical symptoms that were hard during the semester. I was almost throwing up, but I wasn’t able to, and I had to go take my psych test in the middle of it, so I had like, a bucket on the side, and I had a blanket around me, and I was just like, trying to figure out how to do this test!
But the nice part was that I didn’t have to worry about going to campus while still trying to figure out what I had, sickness-wise. It ended up being – for classes – a lot easier than being in-person, for the driving purposes, and the security of being able to be at home while I was recovering.

EG: Did having classes to focus on help your mental state?

SB: Yeah, I think they helped me focus more on things to do during the day, and I found that when I didn’t have school, you know it was twelve hours open where I just sitting. And that was definitely extremely hard. So, being able to have things to break up the day was very helpful for my mindset because then I wasn’t focusing on my pain for twelve hours straight; it was kind of disbursed.

EG: Do you think you’re better prepared for fall?

SB: I think experiencing COVID firsthand has made me very cautious about when I go out, and everything. I think I’m prepared; I know what’s going to help me get through this, and what breaks I need to take – basically how to take care of my mental state and my body a lot more. And, actually, when I had COVID was when I started taking counseling and getting anxiety medication, and that, really, has changed my life. I mean, I’m still working on it, but it made me realize that – being by myself for that long and being sick made me realize that there are two parts of me that I need to take care of, and one part, my mental state, was neglected for a long time. And I was like, “okay, we’re done with the gym, I need to focus on the other part of me, which is my mental state.”

So, I think, for the fall, after taking counseling, after taking medication – and I did these things because I had zero outlet for stress – being able to know that I’m an anxious person, and just talk things out, and take medication, I think for the fall I’m a lot more prepared. And just taking things slow and knowing that I have very little control over almost every aspect of my life except for how I treat others or how I treat myself. So, I think I’m prepared to not be prepared, if that makes sense!

EG: What are you most looking forward to this fall?

SB: What I’m looking forward to for the fall is really just being able to be with people again and being able to interact with people, and get excited about things that they’re doing, and just really supporting people – it’s really just all people-oriented for me!

I’m really excited to start making films for my Bachelor of Fine Arts program. I’ve been writing, but being able to be on set again is going to be amazing. I’ve gotten a taste of that this summer, but just being able to be with my friends is just going to be something that I’m extremely looking forward to – I am looking forward to it, right now, and have been for a long time.

EG: Is there anything else you’d like to share?

SB: I don’t want to sound preachy at all, and with this experience, I’ve been really trying to work on that. But I would just say that, like, this situation is so different for everybody, and it’s going to be painful in a lot of different ways for a lot of people. I just want to that if you are going through something – or whoever’s reading this is going through some type of anxiety, and it’s just kind of underlying everything, that’s so normal for right now. And that’s something that I’ve been trying to grip onto, that there’s nothing wrong with you if you’re feeling anxious during this time, even if there’s just a day, you know even if there’s not really anything that would make you feel anxious. There’s a weird kind of underlying beast that we’re having to deal with right now. It’s hard to tell when you get the virus, when you don’t get the virus – it’s a lot of uncertainty all at once with jobs, and sickness, and just a lot of things that are going on. So, if you feel anxious, just know that there are two parts of yourself to take care of, and just hang on. I can’t really give any advice because I don’t know anybody’s situation, but I just hope that you all can find hope in this time we really have zero control over.