Last September, I remember my friends giving me a tour of their house once they had moved in, and I had claimed which sofa would be ‘mine’. I also remember walking into their kitchen and seeing the stacks of chickpeas and cans, innocently pointing out then, that they were prepared for an apocalypse and even a pandemic of some kind; it’s strange how we’re here now, almost at the end of 2020, some of us wishing it would end sooner, others trying to figure out how to reel in that last bit of cautious optimism that might carry us safely into 2021, which for many of us will be our last few months studying at St Andrews before we walk out somewhat starry eyed about the future.
Every new year carries with it that charm of being one of resolution; a chance to forget any cynical thing you’ve ever said about the new year approaching, because another lap around the sun is amusingly almost far too attractive to dismiss as anything but opportune. Especially to those of us who feel like they are a part of the ‘no hope generation’, seeing things get far worse before they get marginally better. Slowly recovering from the passing of my grandfather the semester before, not too far into the second semester, a national lockdown was imposed in the UK in response to the rising cases of Covid-19, where all in person teaching was suspended for the rest of term. When the reality of some NHS services that were already too difficult to access became apparent, whether it was to do with waiting times or coping more so with the internal stigma of needing their services, it was all too clear to me that I needed to focus my efforts elsewhere, whilst I waited. Really, I would call this period as an education in trying to understand what my sense of self was really built on – mental and physical wellbeing; now this understanding is unwavering in my mind. ‘Education’ because it wasn’t always like this.
I know far too well about the casual discourse that has been passed around, of the desire to stand tall on the pedestal that promotes slimness and all that is external above all else. So, when I started boxing in the summer before my third year, it was the beginning of ending the disillusionment I often felt with starting something – another process far too focussed on changing myself and not being able to keep up with it. To me it felt like if I didn’t have my physical and mental health, the latter which was being exacerbated by our government’s lack of action and response to all that was unfolding, I had nothing. A lot of us directed our frustration by picking up new hobbies – cooking, picking up a book after the longest time. Some of us were even cleaning properly for the first time, just doing anything, looking anywhere but here to cope with the idleness and sudden rush of too much time to do anything, and really being able to do nothing. For me, working on myself by continuing to work on my physical health despite lamenting not being able to box gave me the respite that I needed from this year and allowed me to maintain my strength, and keep myself mostly levelled.
I often try to think about what my younger self needed to hear then, when all that cruel rhetoric would float around like free advice and everything that was good about my body, all that it really was capable of doing were fleeting realisations in passing. Somewhere along the line, it starts with what we see in school. Whether it is making physical education more inclusive and filled less with the dread of dealing with changing room drama and offhand comments on appearance, or finding a way to integrate a positive discourse around body image focussing on both physical and emotional wellbeing, it could serve us well growing up to change the debate around who can do sports and the type of person considered strong, or even desirable. Eventually, you begin to know your body for all it can endure. It is a lesson in patience, like much of this year has been.
This is not to say that I have let go of the need to directly work on my mental health and that I am free of the more challenging days, when it is all too easy to forget everything that I have achieved so far, but the point is to only walk out of this year feeling like you tried to make the best out of a bad year, because it has been a bad year, and feeling less defeated than before.