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How I Write and Learn

The Important Things

By Ani

In Rachel’s day-in-the-life blog post, she reminded us: We’re all in this together.

I want to pick up there. “We’re all in this together” is so very true even as it seems we are so very far apart, tucked into our various new paths. It’s hard for us to see this though.

Even in the before times, pre-COVID-19 and quarantine, I often wished I could give the students I worked with at the Learning Center a peak at the bird’s eye view I had through coaching: we are all going through a lot. Like, so very much. All of the time.

I am going to share now what I so often wanted to tell my students in our sessions. The students I’ve had the privilege of coaching or teaching have gone through so much difficulty, and the reasons might be vastly different. The outcomes, however, are so, so, so often the same: an experience of heightened stress throughout the body, freezing up, an experience of anxiety-related procrastination, losing a sense of time or even the value of keeping track.

This is so normal it’s astounding. Each student comes in wanting to know why they—in particular—”can’t” do x or y thing. Honestly, the whys are vast. We each have such rich, individual worlds. The whys do matter. But as a person who has had hundreds of hours of experience coaching and thousands of hours teaching, the results of those very individual life experiences, the results of all those whys, are so incredibly similar and normal.

It is normal to get stuck or hide or go numb. It is normal to not have forward movement. It’s also normal to get busy with other things instead, and focus on a different type of productivity that fills up the hours.

That hasn’t gotten easier with a global health crisis. Everyone I know who can be home is following the shelter order to stay home. Many are dealing with crises that predated quarantine: an immunocompromising illness, a hurt or sick family member, a difficult home life with family or a partner, economic hardship, or any number of other personal disasters that are only compounded by the inability to safely be in the world.

I am a graduate student working and teaching virtually. What occupies most of my time and emotional attention, however, is caring for a terminally ill parent. The uncertainties of caring for my dad are only exacerbated by the difficulties of managing safeguards against COVID-19. Since my dad is immunocompromised, making sure groceries are disinfected and visits to the hospital are limited is so crucial. When my dad does have to go to the hospital, no one can go in with him because of the safety protocols in place to reduce exposure to this novel virus.

I know I am not alone in this. So many others are in similar positions.

I am lucky that I have two other family members, my mom and brother, here with me. We are a team, and we are in this together.

A screenshot of an Instagram Story that features a photo of a chalk illustration of "Nature Helps!" to emphasize a positive message.
What all of this often means is that I am not actively working on my research. The work that I came to UNC to do is not getting done. This is scary for me. I’m sure it’s scary for anyone else—regardless of your specific whys—when the work is just not getting done.

This post, then, is not a tool for how I write and learn. This post is to remind you that you’re a human before you are a producer of anything. It is more important to me and my family that my dad is safe and comfortable. It’s more important that we sit with him. It’s more important that we all talk to each other and share memories of happy moments.

A screenshot of an Instagram post featuring the poster's favorite things (food, color, animal, hobby, season, drink, scent, etc.) in order to illustrate a pleasant distraction.
Academic work—reading, writing, learning, making, calculating, exploring, thinking, creating, planning—will all happen again. I believe those things will get done.

With that in mind, this post is also a reminder that it is not only permissible but necessary to be gentle and patient with oneself.

A photo of a seal point colored cat with blue, wide-set eyes and its tongue sticking out to illustrate cuteness.
This might mean bubble baths and baked goods. More often than not it means breaking the work of life down into small parts, resting, and getting counseling.

We’re all in this together, and it’s right and good to be there for one’s own healing.

A screenshot of an Instagram post of one dogs sending bones by paper airplane to illustrate being kind from a distance.

This blog showcases the perspectives of UNC Chapel Hill community members learning and writing online. If you want to talk to a Writing and Learning Center coach about implementing strategies described in the blog, make an appointment with a writing coach or an academic coach today. Have an idea for a blog post about how you are learning and writing remotely? Contact us here.

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