With semesters coming to a close many of us find ourselves returning home or—in some cases—never having left. It is December and we are sitting in a pile of string. Somehow, we survived the semester—tanks of sanitizer and more gym wipes than anyone should ever have to count stringing us from one day to the next. Our recreation centers kept rolling along, but now the uncertainties are driving through the holes in our quickly sewn fabric shells. We can’t help but be reminded of March, of lockdowns and breakdowns.

Quarantine house.
Same four walls!
Have I moved from this seat?
Did I have ice cream for breakfast or was that yesterday’s dinner? If I have no sense of time do my meals even have names?
Like Netflix after hours of inactivity “Are you still watching?” Life is on pause, but the seconds keep ticking.
2:00 AM to 10:00 AM, am I even awake? The day does not matter, only the countdown.
Breathe. YouTube meditation. Yes, I am still present. Here. Now. The birds are all I hear now.
Laughter. Wait is that a human voice? Outside the window people continue to live.

That is this whole year, staring outside of the fishbowl at a life we once knew and a world we hope to return to. Some of us may have voluntarily quarantined, some of us may have had no choice. In isolation it’s easy to feel discombobulated by the markers of time that we normally pay attention to: appointments, mealtimes, and all the check marks that make up our day. We do this looking at the whole year too: weekends, holidays, breaks, all of the things that mark the progression towards some end. What are we walking towards this year? The countdown is to an unknown when and how. It’s an unknown end.

“The future is uncertain, but this uncertainty is at the very heart of human creativity” – Ilya Prigogine

We remember quickly hustling to get ourselves back up on our feet—maybe a bit hobbled and maybe a little worse for the wear, but still we stood again. The virtual castles we built with little more than a vision are still standing. We have learned so many things in this lifetime crammed into a year. We keep going. We keep grinding. But we also need to know when to take care of ourselves.

“Advocate for yourself.” A green sticky note mocks me as I’m contemplating philosophical questions between Zoom meetings. There is a pandemic surging—how can I champion myself right now? I am reminded by mentors and friends that there is no better time to advocate for yourself than when you are depleted.

“Selfcare is giving the world the best of you, instead of what’s left of you” – Katie Reed

We make small requests in apologetic tones. These are the life-giving, sanity-preserving demands that keep us full with purpose. We must demand what keeps us going. When we stop moving, the whole production stops rolling. Whether it’s a moment to step away and take a breath or to schedule a decompression hour (I highly recommend a destress dance party), whatever it is that you need, ask for it.

“Life doesn’t always give us what we deserve, but rather, what we demand.” — Wadi Ben-Hirki

Replacing the “I’m sorry” with “I’m needing” has given me my power back. Taking ownership of our health and giving to our bodies fuels us. We are good. We are great! We are worthy of grateful hearts and peaceful minds. As I’m sitting here reveling in the relief of voicing my needs I think “We all need to speak up more.” The glow alone is worth it.

We glow together. This journey is full of names and faces, but also hearts and stories that we care for and carry forward. Our families, our friends, our people—they may not be right here to hug, but they are always here to love. Those soul ties never break. If anything, this year of struggle has strung us closer together with stronger strings.

Fitness and Wellness Graduate Assistant at University of Kentucky | NIRSA Profile

Tanika Santos, NIRSA Student Leader, is currently the Fitness and Wellness Graduate Assistant at the University of Kentucky.