Greetings from the suburbs of Chicago! I know what you’re thinking: “Helen! What in the world are you doing at home in the Greater Chicago Area!?!? Aren’t you supposed to be in Indiana for your senior year at IU?” To that I say: No.
This whole crazy extended season of spring into summer I was doing just fine living at home and conducting my life from my high school bedroom. Sure, there was the incessant anxiety, and feelings of isolation, and the struggle to connect with the outside world, but other than that it was peachy! But as the school year approached, I had the worst nervous stomach I’ve had in a very long while.
I was nervous about the social scene down at school with COVID, taking my remote dance classes in a room that only had a 4×4 ft. area of floor space not taken up by the bed (no, it wasn’t some boujee California King), and life in general. One thing led to another and the next thing I knew, my parents and I were zipping on through Bloomington on our way to visit my cousins in Tennessee rather than dropping me off on the way as planned.
This year, I am taking a much-needed break from the State School/academic environment to participate in a year-long dance conservatory (based in NYC and virtual until we’re cleared to be in person). I am so happy/grateful/excited for this year and that is truly a 180° from where I was four weeks ago. There are so many people I want to hug down at school, but I couldn’t do that right now anyway, so literally no downside to this decision!
Except, perhaps, the fact that as I write this post, I am sitting on my living room couch eating a pancake that my dad cut up into small pieces like a six-year-old would require. Granted, it’s because I’m laying on a couch icing my legs and can’t really move. Also, he’s a sweet gem who happily does that sort of thing. Usually though, my parents do treat me like the 21-year-old that I am.
I’m not going to lie, living at “my parents’ house” — it feels weird saying that since I still feel like a 15-year-old most of the time — is challenging at times. I am supremely lucky that I have good relationships with both of my parents, but even so, this whole “sharing a space” thing can get old. Here are a few things that help me remember I’m a full-on human being with a life and purpose while living in my (sister’s) childhood bedroom:
The most obvious struggle when it comes to living at home is sharing the physical space. Our house has a bonus room (we call it the great room) that my mom usually uses as an area to quilt and sew. Since I had remote dance classes in the spring semester and participated in a four-week dance program this summer, the room was reallocated to me as my “studio” during each of my classes. Not everyone has the luxury of multiple floors or lots of rooms, but clearly defining your space, even if it’s just the kitchen table from 9-5, can help you focus on your life outside the house.
One thing that makes me feel like an adult even though it takes such little effort is making my bed. The director of my program calls this sort of task a “tiny victory” and celebrating this one gives you just a smidgen of endorphins to start the day. Truthfully, I am very bad at this, but if I know I’m going to be on Zoom for a lecture and people can see it, you bet your ass I’m considering possibly maybe making it that day. The mornings I do make it seriously do have a little more zing to them though.
For more tips that help me sleep better check THIS post out.
Every single gosh darn self-help guru brings up at some point that you should not use your bedroom/bed for anything besides sleep. No work, no TV, no eating, nothing. Seeing as I will most likely be living in a maintenance closet listed as “quaint studio apartment” for the next (at least) five years of my life, that’s not really going to be all that doable for me. Even at home, I have the option of going to do work or watch a movie in another room, but I like my private space.
I’ve gotten so much better about avoiding doing anything stressful or task-related in my bed, but I do still watch Netflix in my bed. I make sure that my desk space is happy and clean enough for me to be able to work without feeling cramped; I’ve also sat in my comfy armchair more these past few months than I have in the eight years it’s been in my room. I’m working on a DIY floor pillow to create a cozy little nook too! It’s all about the separation of spaces within my room. I have my work area, my recreation area, and my relaxation area (my bed).
Set Guidelines & Boundaries
It’s simple, but important. You need to communicate your schedules to the other people inhabiting your space. The only way we’ve survived my remote learning saga is knowing who needs which space when. If I have a ballet class, my dad’s not going to come into the room to ask if I want to go on a walk. If I only have 5 minutes to eat between Jazz and a rehearsal, my mom won’t be (that) offended when I give her a one-word answer as I sprint in and out of the kitchen. I just really love communication. It’s easier for people to respect your time when you advocate for yourself and let them know you have somewhere to be!!
If you’ve ever been a freshman at IU or probably any residential school, you are familiar with a roommate agreement. If not, it pretty much speaks for itself. At the beginning of the pandemic, a trend started with parents referring to their toddlers as “co-workers” reporting the shenanigans that interrupted their WFH experience. Nowadays, my parents are my roommates. We haven’t drafted up a formal agreement of any kind…although, knowing my family, I’m surprised there hasn’t been an Excel workbook involved.
Instead, we just had a conversation. We laid the groundwork for a dynamic that allows me to tell them things like “I’m busy from X-Y,” “I need alone time before/after blank,” or “I can help you with that after I finish blank, but this is time sensitive” (When helping with chores, I make sure to still be respectful, but also if I have a deadline, I need to honor my outside responsibilities too.)
If I don’t have some semblance of a routine, I will spiral until I’m catastrophizing at a 6-figure pay grade. That’s why I was always that chick in classes this spring who rose her hand when teachers asked who wanted the class to be synchronous. I am fortunate to have classes everyday doing something I love that also give me purpose.
I’ve established a few habits outside of my classes that remind me I was once a semi-functioning sort of adult who lived on her own. Top of the list? Laundry. I do my laundry at obscure and inconsistent times, probably a vestige from living in the sorority house and having to strategically do my laundry at 2am. But, hey, at least I’m doing it. If I’m going to ask to be treated as an adult, I need to take on at least a fraction of the responsibility of being one. On that note, I’m *getting better* at cleaning my own bathroom — mom if you’re reading this, go look… it looks so fresh and clean! Lastly, cooking is both calming and energizing for me, so building making dinner into my schedule gives me something ordinary to ground me.
Breaking news: the pandemic has made safely socializing a lot harder, forcing introverts to realize they really miss their encounters with the Fresh Thyme cashiers and extroverts to feel like their heads are going to explode. I’ve eaten outdoors with friends and gone on walks throughout the quarantine, but now almost all my friends are far far away and those are no longer viable options. This is what I’ve been doing instead:
I Facetime my sister 1-12 times a week, one of the variables being how many times someone’s phone dies during the call. Also dependent upon how many texts I get that end with periods instead of exclamation points. Seeing my friends’ faces just makes me happy and when there’s a pupper involved, like with my sister, it makes me really happy.
This Google Chrome extension is free and super easy to use (non-spon) and takes me back to the days of yore when we all watched American Idol in our respective homes and called on another during commercial breaks to discuss. There’s a handy little chat function too if you want to simulate talking over the movie to annoy your friend. (Amazon Prime has a watch party option now too!)
To celebrate the beginning of my dance program, my sister and I were planning to have a wine and movie night. To my dismay, they took Center Stage off of Netflix and I haven’t been so offended by a streaming platform in a long time. I needed my sister to watch this with me because I don’t think you really see me for who I am if you haven’t seen the movie before. Obviously, unacceptable for my very own sister to have not seen it. I’ll give the rest of you 10-14 business days.
Mmm how I love a good walk. My dad and I go on walks to various coffee shops frequently, but it’s rare that I go on a walk by myself. I went on a total of two (2) runs this spring/summer, but when I took a solo walk the first time I felt super awkward. It was like just walking wasn’t hard enough work (and that’s on comparison culture). I was feeling so sluggish one day, though, and a friend of mine called me to catch up while she was on a walk.
Instead of wallowing in my slothy cocoon, I decided to take myself on a walk too. It was surprisingly lovely and felt like we were actually on a walk together. P.S. Take a shot every time I say “walk” in this post. For legal reasons, that is a joke so please don’t. Anyway, my point is, we can’t actually do the social things we usually do with our friends, so why not just do those activities independently and call/Zoom a friend to connect. I’m planning a few much-needed coffee dates in the coming days and weeks myself.