Returning to “Normal” – The Cost of COVID as a Live-In Staff Member

I’ve been putting off writing this article for a few days now. With econ tests, essays, presentations, and serving in an on-call duty rotation, one could say the pressure is high. Add in the remains of a global pandemic and what do you get? My second year of grad school.

I think we are all feeling it, this semester has been hard. Campuses are opening back up and we find ourselves trying to return to a pre-Covid life, inside and outside of the classroom. As much as I hope that the world will return to normal soon, I can’t help but feel it will be a struggle to get there. As student affairs professionals, we see our students going through a whirl of emotions – grief for the educational experience they thought they would have, anxiety for the new normal they have been thrown into, excitement towards the new people they will meet and the tradition of which they will become a part of.

I experienced a lot of these emotions myself last year, as both a student and a professional. To say that these emotions have amplified this year would be an understatement. As someone new to the student affairs field, I don’t think I anticipated the degree of involvement and interaction I would be having with students, regardless of pandemic status. While my only experience in higher ed took place during the pandemic, I didn’t realize the physical and emotional toll being a live-in staff member had on me until this year. Looking back on the last year, I was in a daily fight or flight response. Being advised to social distance by both university and governmental institutions but feeling a personal obligation to be present to support not only the residents that live in my building, but the families that entrusted their students in my care resulted in intense cognitive dissonance and emotional drain – something I had not experienced in my previous corporate work. I would be lying if I said I knew how to handle it. I was in survival mode, we all were – we did the best that we could and that had to be good enough.

All this to say, survival mode became the new normal and coming out of it has proven difficult, especially when there is no end in sight. As live-in staff members, we all know that our jobs are not 9-5. Our responsibilities don’t end when we walk down a hallway to our building apartments, especially when RAs want to chat, when a student tests positive for Covid-19, or a student is in crisis. While we have barriers like duty rotations and PTO set up to provide some separation for work-life balance, at our core, we are helpers. While we have a desire to help, the lines between work and home blur extremely quickly, especially when every interaction that you have might make someone’s day a little bit easier, and you know how hard each day already is.

So last year was hard – now what? When survival has become your new normal, you’re pouring from an empty cup and you’re all out of spoons. But how do you fill your cup when the only ways you know how are not feasible because of pandemic residuals? You return to survival mode to find new ways to care for yourself, even when the circumstances are changing. You lean on your leadership team. You take time off for yourself. You reevaluate what brings you joy and ask yourself if you can find it in your work. You find value in the kindness of others. You press on.

How do you “press on”?
When is enough, enough?

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