Please Stay 6 Feet Apart: Navigating Emotional Growth in a Post – COVID Society


  • Author Cassandra Lamadieu
  • Published June 28, 2023
  • Word count 2,014

As for now (fingers crossed) we can concur that the height of the COVID-19 pandemic is behind us all. It may rear its ugly head back in the upcoming fall, but I have faith the worst of it is over. Now that the dust has settled, many of us are left looking back at the wreckage. I will be the first to admit I’ve never been well equipped to deal with my emotions. Growing up in a dysfunctional household where I was always well cared for, but not always nurtured, emotions are hard for me to navigate and dissect. I’ve always been guarded and closed off, to the point that it can almost come off as cold and aloof. I let my fears of intimacy control how much of myself I gave to others. I struggled with my self-image and self-worth and only ever did things I knew I wouldn’t fail at. I never wanted anyone to get to close, and my worries of rejection and abandonment narrated almost all my romantic interactions. The idea of romance was always just a fantasy portrayed in cinema and literature. I had no real-life examples of an ideal relationship, from my parents to my peers and friends, it seemed like everyone around me was better off alone. This paired along with my depression and anxiety pretty much allowed me to be content with removing romantic relationships completely off my radar. I talked to men, went on dates, and gone through the motions of pursuing relationships so my friends (and mother) wouldn’t be concerned, but loving someone and being in a relationship was never something I truly desired. In fact, I ran from monogamous relationships every chance I got. My flings would last only a couple weeks, until the guy realized that getting to know me was a lost cause, I got scared and self-sabotaged, or I plainly just ghosted. This behavior went on for most of the beginning stages of my young adulthood until 2021.

The pandemic brought on a lot of free time. From cancelled events, to quarantine, there wasn’t much to do. As someone who needed constant busy work to keep from being alone with her thoughts, this was torturous. I spent a lot of time alone and in my head, which negatively affected my mental health even more. I was nearing the end of my senior year of college, mentally exhausted, bored, and with a new sense of freedom I was looking for something exciting. Ironically, the something exciting I found was in my Instagram DM’s (I should’ve probably just taken up crocheting). I met a boy who was younger than me and seemingly harmless. I thought maybe by giving him a chance I could distract myself from my other problems and have some summer fun. We shared common interests, he was smart, and relatively attractive. What started off a flirty, secretive rendezvous, turned into a painful, emotionally draining mess.

I don’t really recall the nitty gritty details of our situationship (probably dissociation as a trauma response), but I do remember when and how it all went wrong. As we saw each other more and more I began to realize that this boy, we’ll call him Tommy for the sake of anonymity, Tommy wanted to know a lot of details about me, being surface level with one another wasn’t enough for him. He was intuitive and I could tell he was starting to see through my nonchalant bluff the more he got to know me. Luckily, we had only been seeing each other for maybe about two weeks when Tommy revealed to me, he didn’t want a girlfriend. Ironically, while the underdeveloped part of my emotional psyche was relieved, the other part was a bit disappointed. Two weeks later Tommy returned to his hometown for the summer while I stayed in Philly. I didn’t have the courage to ask Tommy how often we would speak and see each other so I figured it’d be best to move on. I sat with the lingering disappointing feeling and the slight sting of rejection until an old fling I had seen recently texted me asking to hangout. The old fling, we’ll call him Patrick, and I had a falling out a year before over a misunderstanding and had gone no contact up until that point. I no longer had romantic feelings for Patrick, but I thought I could mend my bruised ego by seeing him. I ended up seeing Patrick, having sex with him, and afterwards going back to my apartment feeling as though I had suppressed whatever negative thoughts Tommy made me feel about myself, because if Patrick wanted to see me after an entire year of not speaking, I surely couldn’t be the problem (lol). It was a way of absolving myself from any flaws I thought Tommy might’ve seen in me.

About a week later I received a message from Tommy asking to come visit him for a weekend. I remember pacing back and forth in my room with my hands sweating thinking about if I should go or not. I ended up convincing myself that him not wanting a girlfriend was a plus and if I liked him and had a fun time when I saw him, I should do want, so I went. As soon as I arrived, I immediately regretted my decision. Who was I to think I could be capable of spending an entire weekend with someone I liked. I was nervous and uncomfortable, and quite frankly completely out of my depth. It was the first time I’ve been somewhere with a boy for longer than 2 hours. We went to eat, walked around and when he asked me if we could hold hands, I nearly wanted to fling myself off the dock into the water. I know I wasn’t ready for all of that just yet. I never did the work to unlearn the behaviors I had carried over from my childhood. However, what I didn’t know was that holding hands with someone who didn’t want a relationship would turn into a shit show.

Later that night after a few drinks Tommy had asked me if I had slept with anyone since he last saw me. Even though I knew I didn’t owe Tommy my loyalty, I lied and said no. Part of me didn’t want to tell the truth because I feared how he’d react, and another part of me didn’t want to tell the truth because I was ashamed. Did I really sleep with someone just to get some dip back on my chip? Drunk in Tommy’s friends’ bed in a city I had absolutely no business being in, overwhelmed by the thoughts of me lying, and becoming a person I didn’t necessarily like, I broke down and told the truth. It was awful, and it only got worse from there. Tommy never forgave me for lying but stayed in my life for reasons unknown to me for about another year. We went on and off on and off, being on good terms, being on bad terms, him hating me, me hating him for longer than I’d like to admit. I would cry myself to sleep wondering why I insisted on constantly inflicting pain upon myself and why I couldn’t just let myself be loved properly. During times where I was going through hardships, uncertainty, and growing pains, it seemed like Tommy only made it worse. He was judgmental, hurtful, and even at times cruel. I’m no saint. I brought my own faults, and issues to the situationship, but part of me believes I used Tommy as a scapegoat for what I was going through. I kept him around because I felt that this type of relationship was all I was capable of and that the messy, dysfunctional relationships that I grew up witnessing, were my destiny, and instead of facing my problems I just blamed them on him. It wasn’t until after Tommy and I stopped speaking for good and I realized how emotionally unstable I was during the aftermath that I realized I needed to start doing the work to fix what had been broken long before I even met him.

People try a lot of things to help themselves grow and evolve. I did a lot of things that I thought would help me grow emotionally so something like that could never happen to me again. I went to therapy, I got prescribed anti-anxiety and anti-depression medication, I even started listening to Lauryn Hill (skipping over her misogynoir lyrics). I worked on mending my relationship with my parents, who were in the middle of a very high stress emotional divorce themselves. It took about 6 months for me to start to feel the medication I was prescribed take effect, but soon I started feeling like my old self. Someone who used to be filled with ambitions and dreams, who wanted to do the best for herself in all aspects of life. I started being kinder to those around me. I cared about my health and wellbeing. By February of 2023 I felt like I could start dating, but this time with the intent to open myself up to someone and add to my life, rather than have a distraction to fill a void. My entire mindset had changed. I don’t know if that fatal situationship was the straw that broke the camel’s back. But up until this year I was simply dragging my feet through life, making everything look good on the outside so no one could see how badly I was struggling on the inside. Once I changed the way I felt about myself and gained the confidence back that I was so desperately missing for so many years it felt easier to open to others. The process of unlearning and becoming braver with your feelings is challenging. To know and to express that you want to experience love is one of the scariest things a person can do.

I realized that not having emotions is more detrimental than facing them. I’ve spent so much time trying not to get hurt, avoiding my feelings, and not letting anyone in, that I put myself in a position to feel some of the worst heartache I’ve ever experienced. Trying to mask your feelings is never worth it. Emotions are meant to be felt, even the bad ones. Eventually you will heal, you will move on, you will find people who fit into your life, who appreciate you, and those who love you. Fighting your desires will only leave you constantly longing for something that is so easily attainable if you put in the work.

Now that the COVID-19 hysteria has subsided, and life has returned to what it once was, I no longer wish to distract myself with meaningless things. I don’t care about what others think of me, or who does and doesn’t like me. I want my life to be filled with all the emotions it has to offer. I am a vibrant and passionate individual and everyone I touch should feel what I radiate. Everyone should remember the last three years of a period of uncertainty, and chaos, but what came of it was a greater sense of how we want to navigate this ever-changing and healing society. I don’t know if I’m necessarily happy I went through such rough spots during the COVID-19 pandemic, but I will say I’m better for it and I hope to continue my journey of learning through past experiences and becoming who I want to be. I can now look back at my past mistakes and not be too harsh on myself, for I only knew what I knew at that time. Navigating my emotions will always be a work in progress for me, but at least now I’m working.

Hi, my name is Cassandra Lamadieu. I am a 24-year-old creative writing with goals to write about whatever feels good in the moment!

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Instagram: @_cassie.l

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