For People Like Me, Virtual Trinity Is A Blessing In Disguise

Throughout the whole of Hilary Term I suffered a debilitating illness that severely affected my mobility, alongside my ability to do work and socialise. Each week I found myself constantly declining invitations to one activity after another, missing out on dinners with friends or going to bops, and always having to shamefully request extensions for my essays, and to reschedule my tutorials. Someone once said to me that “when you’re sick, it sometimes feels like your world just gets smaller and smaller”, and I still think about this from time to time. In a quite literal sense, my world throughout Hilary began to shrink, as it was mostly confined to my room on the third floor overlooking the Rad Cam, (which would have been an absolute pain to get to, but I’m grateful that we had an elevator for accessibility) and the kitchen on my staircase, living weeks off microwaved meals because on most days I was physically unable to cook, and that walking to hall for lunch or dinner was almost always painful.

In a way, I was sort of already in a partial state of lockdown and self-isolation since Hilary, and it was one of the most physically and mentally tormenting experiences I had ever gone through – to watch life unfold as normal for the people around me, while I spent most of my time isolating in a college room, halfway across the globe, alone and away from home. Getting weekly blood tests done and spending more time at doctors and hospitals than I did in the library or in tutorials, while still not being able to get a proper diagnosis for my illness, meant that my life was full of uncertainty, doubts, and not knowing what to expect – just as almost everyone feels throughout the pandemic right now.

Now that I am home and when my illness does pose its occasional difficulties, my family is actually able to care for me and physically offer the help I need.

Except that, in a surprising, unexpected turn of events, things have gotten significantly better for me since the lockdown. A few weeks after arriving home in Malaysia during the Easter Vac, I finally managed to get a diagnosis for my illness. I was told that I had Rheumatoid Arthritis – an autoimmune disease that was lifelong and incurable, which also made me immunocompromised in the midst of a pandemic. Under normal circumstances without the existence of Covid-19, I would not have expected myself to be able to return to Oxford merely two weeks after my diagnosis, before having the opportunity to even start proper treatment and allow myself the time and space I needed. In fact, it is quite likely that I probably would have rusticated. Yet, although an online term would never be able to do justice to the full Oxford experience, I would nevertheless argue that for people like me this virtual Trinity has – unprecedentedly – been a blessing in disguise.

Being able to do my reading, listen to lectures, and have my tutorials from the comfort of my home has meant that my mobility issues have not yet been a problem, unlike in Hilary, especially since then I did not yet have a diagnosis, making it difficult to request proper support. But now that I am home and when my illness does pose its occasional difficulties, my family is actually able to care for me and physically offer the help I need. My weeks of going through the motions eating the same, bland microwaved meals have now been replaced by much more nourishing, appetiaing home-made dishes, especially now that I am currently observing the month of Ramadhan.

Being in lockdown has paradoxically also made me feel very much less alone

Yet I say this with the understanding that despite my health, I am still extremely privileged, as not everyone has a supportive or safe environment at home, and it is completely understandable why a lot of us would want to return to Oxford. For many, Oxford is the only safe space they have. Similarly, I am by no means discounting the multiple financial, physical and emotional struggles that many have been facing, alongside the countless lives lost. For the past few months, it has felt as though a dark cloud has been looming over the world around us, a constant air of somber uncertainty and despair.

Life since the outbreak of this pandemic has undoubtedly changed for us all. Especially for me, it also marks a new life in a new body that I am still getting used to – and everything which happened before the Coronavirus outbreak or my Rheumatoid Arthritis now feels like a lifetime away – completely foreign and irretrievable. But being in lockdown has paradoxically also made me feel very much less alone, knowing that my friends are merely a videocall away, and that I am now able to join multiple meetings and activities via online platforms unlike how I was barely able to last term.

Despite the bizarre and horrifying condition the world is currently in, I feel somewhat of a sense of security to be staying at home for the next few months, especially considering how my risks are higher than most people my age. If anything, the sudden transition to a much more virtual way of doing things has made me realise how the world we lived in prior to the outbreak was inevitably ableist, and often put people at a disadvantage.

I usually have no need to wake up early, since there is, quite literally, nowhere to go to.

Being in quarantine has also made the hours and days melt into a blur, as time increasingly feels like a distant, merely socially constructed concept – and in the midst of this I have found myself observing my daily routine in the most unprecedented of ways. With Ramadhan meaning that I am usually fasting from dawn to dusk each day for a whole month, my sleeping schedule has also taken a radical shift, as I now go to bed at 6 in the morning and wake up in the afternoon.

Although this definitely isn’t healthy or sustainable in the long run, I have nevertheless found that it has worked best for me throughout this virtual Trinity term. Being seven hours ahead of the UK also means that my nocturnal sleeping schedule has not yet been an issue, since my tutorials usually take place at four in the afternoon where I am, and the current circumstances mean that I usually have no need to wake up early, since there is, quite literally, nowhere to go.

I have nevertheless learnt to make peace and find the silver linings in an Oxford term transitioned online.

In the long hours of the night I have found my personal space and ability to reflect, as I sit in solitude, working on an essay. With ease, I am able to move from my dining table to the living room, to my bedroom, or wherever I please, to make myself a cup of tea or coffee at two in the morning as I access a virtual library, lying down on the sofa. If I were to be wholeheartedly honest, these silent nights have brought me a sense of tranquility and contentment that I have not felt in an extremely long time. To be able to work at my own pace, uninterrupted by the outside world, has genuinely (and unexpectedly) made me fall in love with learning again.

Before I go to bed, I have my suhoor (pre-dawn meal) at five in the morning with my family, perform my prayers at 5.45, and awake to the afternoon sunshine streaming through my window. Throughout the day, my younger sister and I sit at our dining table which has now been converted into a workstation, making occasional jokes and conversation to keep each other company, unlike the hostile silence of a library. In the evenings we help around in the kitchen, and at 7pm we gather with the rest of our household to have our iftar, and not long after that, I begin my transcend into the weekly essay crisis. Except, it does not feel like a crisis as much as it used to back in Oxford, when I have the advantage of being seven hours ahead. Although I am not in any way grateful for this pandemic which has resulted in countless tragedies and upheavals, and like everyone else, am desperately wishing for things to return to normal – I have nevertheless learnt to make peace and find the silver linings in an Oxford term transitioned online. After all, despite waking up at noon, I still have four more hours to finish my essay before the tute, and that is almost always more than I could ever bargain for.

Image provided by Matthew Kayanja