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Learning in lockdown helped Yagmur triumph over adversity

Lockdown Stories: Yagmur H. Araz

Virtual studying wasn’t for everyone. But for Yagmur H. Araz online lessons provided a welcome distraction from trips to hospital.

Hello, my name is Yagmur. I am an international student from Turkey and there is one thing you should know about me: I do not panic. I like to think that this is because of my Zen nature and calm personality, but if you ever get the chance to watch a football game with me, you’d know that is 100% not true.

The reason behind my calmness is I have learned to live with cancer. No worries, I am very healthy right now - except for the small matter of a tumour behind my heart. See, when you go through something like this in your teens, your personality and worldview completely change according to your coping mechanism. Mine was logic; if something made sense, I was fine with it.

This was the thing with the restrictions brought about by COVID-19, it did make sense in my head. When there is a newly discovered mutating virus, there had to be a lockdown. No matter how it started or who started it, there was not much to do about it other than being responsible and doing anything you could to not spread it around. Of course, the majority of people reacted in weird ways; hoarding the shops, buying absurd amounts of toilet paper, going around saying their freedom was taken away. Any new order that we cannot comprehend seems like chaos at first. My experience was not like that. My chaos came later, precisely in the eighth month of lockdown.

The first seven months of the pandemic were very easy on me. At the time, my family and I were living in a house with a huge garden, and when I stood on my balcony, I could touch the leaves of the big oak tree that was standing in the middle of the Belgrade Forest. The house was so big that we would call each other on the phone instead of yelling each other’s names (this is definitely not me flexing my lavish lifestyle btw). Around the fourth month of the pandemic, my cousin moved in with us. We did everything you can imagine cousins would do. We painted, had wrestling matches, game nights, watched animation movies (shout out to 2000’s Barbie movies), fought my mom because she would not let us swim in the pool when it was raining (life is so unfair sometimes). Unable to travel to the UK, I studied at Nottingham Trent International College online. I did very well with my modules. This is going to sound nerdy, but I treated study like another hobby, a way of self-improvement - until it had to become a distraction.

In the eighth month of the pandemic, we found out that my cancer had relapsed, and at that moment I realized that all this time, I was living in a bubble that kept me away from the reality of the situation. It was like domino tiles; everything began to collapse in on itself and the normality of my life fell part bit by bit.

Before that, I saw myself as almost immune to the negatives of the pandemic because, in reality, I’d never experienced them. I swam in the pool, had a friend living with me, was able to go into the sun whenever I wanted. But now, becoming more vulnerable, the sunshine didn’t feel so warm when I was aware I might lose it. These feelings made me sympathize with other people, people who I thought were acting irrationally. They weren’t just right wingers against masks or hoarders thinking they would not survive this if they had a shortage of toilet paper; they were scared people.

As I said before; in the face of tragedy and chaos, people come up with different coping mechanisms, and there is no point in judging them.

And after a very depressing month, I decided to turn to my studies as a coping mechanism. Funnily enough, I did best in the module Logic and Critical Thinking. I would join classes from the car on the way for treatment or from my bed in the hospital. Some people seem shocked that I would want to study given everything that was happening, but the lessons were captivating enough to distract me from those falling dominoes I couldn’t control.

Now, it’s 2022. Both cancer and COVID-19 have become parts of the new life I am building for myself in Nottingham where I have started a degree in Psychology. I know it may sound like I have given up the fight, but if you ask me, there wasn’t a fight to begin with. There was just a way of trying to cope with difficult circumstances, a ‘new normal’. As Albert Einstein said, ‘Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere’.

'Degrees of Isolation' is based on the experiences of University students who were interviewed between 2020 and 2022’.

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