There is no scale large enough to measure how nerve-racking the idea of living in halls was at the start of 2021. I bit the bullet when I was guaranteed a place at O’Rorke hall through Art Scholars, meaning a swift goodbye to $15,000 and the fundamentals of lone student privacy. Living with 300+ people in my age group was not something my introverted mind wanted to tackle, but sooner or later, you have to break out of your comfort zone. Fast forward to mid-sem and my whole world had changed. I was surprisingly social, on the fly with my work and hobbies. I spent so much time hanging with so many different people that the number of times I had someone say hi to me in the dining hall became absurd to the point of a joke. Against all odds, O’Rorke became a place of comfort and personal growth that spread through all my academic, clubbing and social life in a giant swoop.
Everything felt new, like it was going somewhere. I think it’s safe to say that no one expected lockdown to fuck everything up in Sem 2. I mean, Jesus Christ, it came outta nowhere and the hall was in utter chaos because of it. Up to hundreds of residents left the announcement night, including everyone who would say hi to me in the dining hall. Luggage and lines of people flooded from those doors in mad dashes for drinks and cheap Ubers. I got out of touch from friend groups, study buddies and casual flings to a total social void. The hall lost it’s social spaces and I was not looking forward to what was to come. And to add the cherry to this disaster pie, my dumbass went to Bar101 on the night a close contact was spotted. What fun.
Because of my hedonistic choices, I was restricted to my room for two weeks. A roughly 3x6m room with two-thirds of it taken up by a bed and desk. This wasn’t some comfortable luxury queen bed of course. It was a squeaky, metal-framed monster of a thing that only felt comfortable if you laid on your side. The desk had been good enough for the year thus far; its straight wooden slab holding everything I needed. Yet with such a small gap between it and the bed (including the shittiest wheelie chair known to man), you really start to feel the walls closing in. The scariest part about it was that I couldn’t leave*. No common room. No dining hall. No pod hallway. I was stuck here.
The immediate reaction I took was blind optimism. I reckon I can handle it. I’m confident in my hobbies. I’m fully free from distraction so I can focus on my grades. These thoughts were empowering for the first few days, and in steady strides I began a routine to sort everything out. I would say it kept up for two to three days before the empowerment fell and a sense of dread loomed. My lecture recordings became a slog of words to the point I started to ignore them. Music from my speaker just kept on and on while my hobbies became nothing but monotonous. The claustrophobic room space was a vacuum of energy for me while all the stresses of non-lockdown day-to-day became worse. I was massively worried each day about my grades slipping and I never found the motivation to keep up much exercise. Food was delivered by the catering service, and each portion was too little and too spaced apart in time for the meals to be filling. It appeared that all the factors keeping my life stable were collapsing with each day, and with the looming dread of waiting for the COVID test results, I was defenseless against the piling shitstorm.
It was by the end of the first week that I took to being more active on my socials. I hadn’t talked to anyone amidst my collapsing state, so it was refreshing to find interaction despite my situation. I managed to reconnect with two high school friends that I had been relatively distant from living in the hall’s enormous social space. The last I had seen them was a month prior to the lockdown, yet it felt as if no time had passed in this social media space. Reconnecting with these mates of mine unknowingly started a significant turning point for the self-iso environment. Outside of no longer feeling alone, the communication between my friends improved my state of mind and attitude to my work for the better.
The interaction with my friends online seemed to become a microcosm of what the hall used to be. Throughout Sem 1, there was always someone: whether your neighbour, floor group, party animals floors above, or even the RAs. Support was always around the corner by being sociable and the online chats with my mates carried it on despite the trap of my room and the restricted lifestyle. Even after the levels changed and my social bubble opened**, I kept up as much contact as possible in any way I could. The self-iso period taught me that you have to plunge yourself into being as social as possible to survive lockdown at halls. Even if it’s a passing text or call now and again, it’s better to be heard in your problems and survive the entrapped dread you feel. I’m genuinely thankful for the mates I had online, especially for making accommodation isolation just that more bearable.
* Well I could go to the bathroom in a marked out pod for self-isoing residents but who really counts that as a new environment?
** Thank god for the negative result, or else this would be an entirely different article.