Over the past three months of quarantine, I went through periods of shutting people out and then reaching out to them again. The first week back home, suddenly away from my university community, I ignored every single message sent to me on social media and every single email in my inbox. I knew I was falling behind in classes and alienating my friends as well as family that cared about me. But that knowledge couldn’t draw me from my lethargy. The adrenaline of packing and getting on a flight home with only a 48-hour notice wore off.

I typed out so many messages trying to articulate how I felt, but the thought of actually sending them and having to engage in conversation about what I shared was too emotionally draining. I dreaded having to come to terms with the reality of what life had become. The following week, simply seeing the number of unread messages made me feel nauseous, so I tried a blunt-force technique. I wrote out my reply and counted down from five, hitting send once I reached one. This worked alright for letting professors know my progress in assignments but not too well for responding to friends who were asking about my well-being.

I dreaded having to engage with the reality of what life had become.

As the days went by and I craved a sense of connection more and more, a different issue arose. Was it fair for me to seek out conversations with friends whose messages I had ignored for so long? As difficult as it was, I finally began replying to messages one by one. In doing so, I felt obligated to explain why I took so long to respond. With some friends, I tried my best to be honest about how I was feeling. With others, I felt more comfortable writing some general statement about being busy unpacking. Something I didn’t expect to hear was that they missed me. How could they miss me when I was such a bad, uncommunicative friend? My instinct was to deny their sincerity. It must have been an empty sentiment, they must have stopped caring or become upset with me.

It took a few weeks of talking back and forth, tagging each other in memes, and organizing calls for me to feel more comfortable in my friendships again. I settled into a rhythm of talking about smaller things, like the Love is Blind finale, and bigger things, like how it felt being back home. Having these conversations more regularly, I was able to stop being so hard on myself. There were still days that it felt too exhausting to carry a conversation. I gradually learned that I didn’t have to punish myself for that by shutting everyone out again. I deserved the same patience and empathy that I extended to others.

One experience of connection that I’m especially enjoying is calling up friends and simply leaving the video on as we go about our day. For me, this is a strangely comforting practice that doesn’t require the emotional energy to engage in conversation. Every once in a while, we check in on each other. Mostly, it’s just the calm, constant presence of a friend keeping me company.

I gradually learned that I didn’t have to punish myself for that by shutting everyone out again. I deserved the same patience and empathy that I extended to others.

I’m so thankful to have friends who care about me and show that with love and understanding. In navigating how I too can be a good friend, I’m realizing how important it is to honor my own needs and capacity for connection. Then, I can be honest about that when nurturing the relationships that I cherish.

  • Tusshara Nalakumar Srilatha

    Tusshara Nalakumar Srilatha is pursuing a BA in Literature and Creative Writing and Psychology at New York University Abu Dhabi. Tusshara writes poetry and short stories, runs workshops for young girls to promote female empowerment through education, and facilitates dialogue about community at her university. Tusshara's creative work, written primarily in English with the incorporation of Tamil, often explores her evolving experience of identity. She is currently based in Manila, Philippines.