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  • Writer's pictureQCMHA

Choosing Optimism in Hard Times

Written by QCMHA Research Coordinator Taylor Mackenzie

I hate to be that person who, unprompted, talks about what an amazing and eye-opening experience going on exchange was, but let me do exactly that quickly. Spending last semester studying in Barcelona, Spain, every day involved learning about interesting culture in and outside of the classroom, meeting new people from around the world at my exchange school, and visiting new areas, stores, restaurants, and nightlife spots. Take all of this, plus meeting up with my Queens friends almost every weekend to explore a new European city, and you have an incredible three and a half months.

With all of this in mind, I was excited when coming home in mid-December to see my family and friends but was really sad knowing I was leaving this once-in-a-lifetime experience behind. My spirits definitely were not helped by the first thing I saw upon landing in Toronto being that Queens was moving to remote learning for the first two months of my final semester, as well as testing positive for COVID on my Pearson Airport test. While I tried to keep my fond memories and gratitude for the experience at the forefront of my mind, it was hard to not feel disappointed and have a negative mindset towards what was to come.

After allowing myself to fall into a pessimistic outlook during my first couple of days of COVID isolation, I began to feel frustrated. As someone who is naturally fairly optimistic, I was annoyed that I was feeling so down about the upcoming few months, and knew I was only truly doing myself a disservice by not actively working on changing my perspective on things. While aspects of our wellbeing and mental health can be out of our control, I suddenly realized that the way I chose to approach my final semester, no matter the circumstances surrounding it, was very much mine to dictate and that I was going to make a genuine effort to find all of the good within it, and choose to make it a great one.

For me, this looks like taking a few different actions. Firstly, it was important to not spend time thinking about the negative aspects of closures and online learning, but instead, the silver linings that they can bring. One of these that I found last year was how much closer the circumstances led to me becoming with my housemates, as well as how much easier it was to stay in touch with family. As well, while I wish my classes could be in-person in Goodes, classes being online free up more time in my schedule to spend time doing things that improve my well-being, such as working out, reading, and cooking. Beyond these current positives, it is also helping me to think about how exciting things, which were once so normalized and mundane, will be once things begin getting back to normal.

Again, what is working for me is not pretending that the negative aspects of the current circumstances are not there, because this is both unrealistic and nearly impossible. Instead, I am consciously choosing to not focus on them and only putting active thought and energy towards the positives in my life. I hope to keep my heightened sense of gratitude for once under-appreciated things in my life with me even once all of these changes and restrictions become a distant memory.

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