If there is anything that 2020 taught us, it is that life is unpredictable. Life is short – but you may know this already. The pandemic hit the entire world like a whirlwind and dragged us headfirst into turmoil. The state of emergency kept on going longer and longer, and now, we are over 400 days into what was supposed to be a month-long attempt to flatten the curve.

I was fortunate in not having a rough transition to online learning when the Czech Republic first went into lockdown, I had already attended classes virtually the fall semester of 2019 due to visa issues – I was used to staring at initials on a computer screen. I’m a homebody, so staying indoors didn’t even bother me much. But that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t disconcerted by the distressing situation. Despite the boredom and loneliness that I’m sure most of us have experienced, I started to become more agitated, sometimes even angry, but most of all I was overwhelmed. As the semester drew to a close in May, 2020, I tried to push all those feelings away.

I began a new chapter of my life on a sunny Sunday morning in June, just as life was blossoming right outside my window, but I felt a whirlpool of conflicting emotions within myself. I spent my 20th birthday in quarantine, with the number of daily cases still among tens of thousands. Your 20s are supposed to be your selfish years, they say. I knew I was privileged enough, and I kept telling myself that there were thousands of people dying all over the world and families who were starving. But I know now, after hearing a random stranger on the internet say this – just because someone else has a broken leg doesn’t mean your sprained ankle doesn’t hurt. Maybe back then, I should have let myself wallow in self-pity, after all, the pandemic really has deprived me of the university experience I had been so excited to go through.

Now that I’m about to enter my third and final year of studies, I only had four weeks pre-COVID to attend classes in person, four weeks to spend with the few friends I made at university – most of whom went back to their home countries before the borders were first closed. Come September, regardless of online or offline classes, I will be immersed in preparations for graduation – nostrification exam, thesis, internship, along with my scheduled classes – and for the start of an independent adulthood that is awaiting me in a weakened economy and extremely competitive labor market.

But this ‘letter to my past self’ is not without its silver linings. The past 12 months felt like a never-ending cycle of hopelessness and despondency, but they weren’t completely gloom-ridden for me. I realized new things about myself and the world around me that I never would have noticed if I didn’t go through these tumultuous times. Being cut offfrom the outside world also gave me a chance to distance myself from my own life, and opened my eyes to new opportunities within the negativity. I became much more engaged in politics and social issues. I started to develop my identity as a writer and an aspiring journalist. I picked up old interests in photo and video editing that I thought were long gone, and I formed new habits to improve my life. I am learning to be less self-loathing and to accept the person I am. As much of a cliché as it sounds, I’m trying to live more in the moment, to enjoy life as it is unfolding before me, to become less of a future-oriented pessimist that is always worrying about what obstacles and challenges that are going to come next. Even though I still have a long way to go, I’m now much more aware of my mental health and how to keep it from deteriorating. 

The year-long isolation has helped me recognize my dream of living in a certain city that never sleeps, and I was ecstatic that for the first time in my life, I finally found a place where I feel like I could belong, a place I could yearn for – for the first time ever, I had an actual goal that I wanted to work towards. Nevertheless, it is not to say that I have done a total 180 and have fully transformed into a different person. Yes, I’m trying to focus on the positive side of things and not dwell on all the bad, but I still worry about what’s ahead of me. I think about what’s waiting for all of us on the other side of this pandemic. I think about the grueling job-hunting process once I get my Bachelor’s degree. I think about the astronomically expensive living costs of my dream city. But worrying is only part of human nature – life isn’t a diagonal line that never goes down. 

You have to experience the lows in order to truly feel the highs.