BRANDON FOO

Frankie's back: My campus COVID-19 consolation

COVID-19 and Me

COMMENT

I was hopeful. I think a lot of people were hopeful. It was going so well. I'd moved back into college dorms. It felt safe to return. The fear and hypochondria that gripped me in the early phase of the pandemic were a distant memory.

NSW was about to move to Stage 3 where most things would be back to normal. Bars and restaurants had begun to accommodate larger groups, gyms were reopening (not that I was ever going to use one but the option was there).

The End Of COVID was in sight.

And then came the Victorian spikes. As the numbers grew, so did my worrying. At first, I told myself: "It's fine, it's only in Victoria."

And then it wasn't.

It was as if a little man in my head flicked a switch. I started fearing hugs and handshakes, sanitising to the point of dermatitis.

During these past two months, I had become complacent. When the lockdown started, I had moved out of my college room and into a shared house because everyone had left UNSW campus accommodation. I found a new COVID-normal rhythm.

As the weeks passed, I relished every easing in restrictions, no matter how small. I studied, obsessed over TikToks, wrote a story about our campus fox "Frankie" that went viral. I had 20 people over on my 22nd birthday. My hypochondriac mind stopped worrying about constantly sanitising and the fear of having to social distance. With my newfound confidence, I moved back into college. It felt safe.

Then, within weeks, with the worsening news from Victoria, something shifted again. It was as if a little man in my head flicked on a light switch. I started fearing hugs and handshakes, sanitising to the point of dermatitis. All I want now is to be like Rapunzel, locked in a tower and far from "civilisation". On campus, we are dispersed across residential colleges. I think a huge part of getting through this pandemic is being with people you care for. Not having that creates a huge burden on my mental health.

Today is July 29. I woke up in my college room, made myself a cup of coffee and scrolled through my news feed. The trending topic is coronavirus – again, still. I spent my whole day indoors, doing university work, binge watching Netflix, making TikToks, and eating, but not with my friends, because of COVID-driven changes to dining hall attendance.

I think what angers me the most is that we were so close. I find it hard not to want to blame the Victorians for their poor handling of the virus, especially after hearing about the allegations of security having sexual relations with quarantined hotel guests. We were a month, maybe even weeks away from normal but now it feels like we are back at square one.

UNSW isn't that far from the latest NSW cluster in Sydney's eastern suburbs. People who came back to college are contemplating returning home due to what feels like the high risk of college life.

So, here I am. Back to being lonely and worried. It's Groundhog Day (Campus COVID-19 edition). My only consolation is that "Frankie" the Fox, our vulpine campus mascot, has reappeared. Having thwarted the best efforts of the university's Estate Management team to "remove" it, Frankie once again stalks the quad at night, disdaining the hands of those eager students seeking friendship.

For mental health support, contact Beyond Blue COVID-19 service on 1800 512 348 or coronavirus.beyondblue.org.au.

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