At Home Creativity: Jana, Age 21

 In Voices of Young People

In response to the newfound realities of social distancing, including remote learning for students and working from home for many young professionals, Springtide™ Research Institute launched the At Home Creativity Campaign. This Spring 2020 campaign invited young people ages 13⁠ to 25 in the United States to submit creative works responding to the prompt, “How are you finding connection and meaning in these days of physical distancing?” The variety of submissions included creative writing, poetry, essays, visual art, films, original music, and photography. The top five pieces were selected by a panel of judges at Springtide and are featured in the At Home Creativity series within our Voices of Young People blog.

Here is a personal reflection from Jana, age 21, in Minnesota:

“The Unintended Benefits of Social Distancing” 

I find myself in a confusing cycle of gratitude and guilt as I navigate social distancing. I work at a crisis adolescent shelter, and we are deemed an essential business. My first day was March 13, 2020 (either untimely or opportune depending on my ever-fluctuating outlook). Now, most of my social interaction comes from coworkers rather than my friends. It’s a strange change I’m still processing. I see people daily, and I have a job; two privileges many Americans have lost. I have been picking up shifts whenever possible just to leave my house. My initial part-time position has evolved into an informally full-time job. This has been an ironically busy time for me. I find that having less time to catastrophize has been beneficial to my mental health. I just need a purpose, a reason to get up in the morning, and an excuse to breathe fresh air.  

Chatting with my coworkers is like having a piece of chocolate for dessert when you’re really craving ice cream; it’s not exactly what you want, but it’s still good. So I practice gratitude daily and make the best of it. My emotional/relational cup is usually only half-full but gets replenished during Zoom sessions with my friends. I never thought I would be the type of person who gets excited over online Pictionary, but out of every theoretical personality quirk to emerge from self-isolation, it is definitely a harmless one. My friends and I laugh and chat while trying to ignore the earth-sized rain cloud hovering above our heads. At the very least, it is comforting to know we are all under the same cloud. It’s a similar feeling when I attend virtual lectures. It’s a treat to use my brain after so many weeks of cognitive stagnation. It is a different experience to see my professor and classmates through a webcam, but as time goes on, it feels more normal.  

Even though I’m physically busy, I’m not mentally busy. I think less about school, which occupied 99% of my brain before this pandemic. A lot of my intrinsic motivation has come back because of this crisis. Before, I used to categorize everything as school or free time. Free time was used to commute, sit on my phone, and sleep. I had to carefully plan my free time so as not to waste it on something nonessential. Now that time is increasingly abstract, I’m getting creative with how I fill it. Is coping baking a thing? I’m not sure what it is about a global shutdown, but some neurons in my brain started firing and said, “make a sourdough starter” at three in the morning. And who am I to disagree with intrusive baking thoughts? I’ve made coping cookies, coping sourdough, and coping brownies all with varying degrees of success. Some of the recipes turned out terrible, and I am actually okay with that. Decreased perfectionism has been a pleasant surprise during this chaotic time. I know that if my fresh cranberry bread tastes like knock-off bread crumbs, I can always try again tomorrow. Because, surprise! I will be free again.  

Feats of ingenuity from the Great Depression, like making a salad with dandelions or a pie with no filling, are starting to make sense. I ran out of butter and did not want to risk possible exposure at the store, so I made some. I wanted to try my hand at painting but didn’t have paint or brushes, so I used expired lipstick and old makeup brushes. My grandma can finally teach me the tricks – of the trade like using margarine containers as Tupperware, freezing bread, only thawing what you need so it doesn’t go stale, and how to make complete meals out of the odds and ends sitting in the fridge. My family spends more time together, and I am fortunate to witness transgenerational advice and appreciation every day.  

It is undoubtedly true that our culture has changed, but I hope this time also encourages personal growth. I hope this is a time when families actually sit at the dinner table and discuss life together. I hope that guarded individuals recognize the universal panic and share their feelings with a loved one. Every day is bringing new challenges and emotions. My only options are to remain mindful, call a friend, or pretend like I’m on Food Network. And if those are my only options, maybe this time isn’t so bad after all. 

Jana Abdulkadir is a research intern with Springtide and a psychology major at Normandale Community College.

Springtide’s recent Social Distance Study found that for many young people, sheltering in place and social distancing provoke fear and uncertainty, leading to increased levels of isolation, loneliness, and anxiety. This survey also found that the single most important way to mitigate loneliness is for trusted adults to reach out and connect with young people.

Although young people continue to find creative outlets even through the challenges of COVID-19, remember that our research confirms they still need trusted adults to reach out to them. Consider how you might connect to the young people in your circle of care by engaging their interests or encouraging their creative pursuits.

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