By: Bianca Rector
2L at Southwestern Law School
When COVID-19 caused my law school campus to shut its doors, I did not grasp, or perhaps, fully absorb, the effects the burgeoning pandemic would have on myself, my classmates, and the others around me. As a 1L months away from completing my first year of law school, I had long ago bid farewell to my once active social life, along with any opportunity to exercise some spontaneity. The challenges of law school in addition to the trepidation of exams had already compelled me to adopt a somewhat “reclusive” lifestyle, one that mirrored much of the characteristics of mandatory quarantine procedures. This is not to say that implications and uneasiness surrounding such an unprecedented spread of illness had no impact on my psyche and personal circumstances. I missed my friends and the camaraderie we shared in working through our first year of law school and the preferred learning experience of in-person education. I also worried about my mother and brother, both of whom have been sent to the hospital over a more routine virus due to being diabetics. However, with every classmate, school, and person in general being thrust into the same exceptional crisis, I found it more constructive to “ride out the theoretical storm” and use my time at home to focus on my coursework rather than dwell on what I could not change.
That being said, by the time 1L exams were coming to an end, it was becoming increasingly clear that the spread of COVID-19, was not. Summer courses were predictably held over Zoom and the externship I had secured at a firm in Downtown Los Angeles was made remote. I was incredibly grateful to still have an externship opportunity, considering many institutions had since rescinded their offers to other students. I assumed any remote work I received from the firm, on top of the Legal Professions class I had registered for, would continue to keep me engaged until some sense of normalcy had returned to the world. Maybe I was being naïve or was simply hoping for the best in a situation that had made reliable predictions an impossibility. However, even my well-laid-out plans could not combat the mental hardships that accompanied prolonged isolation and a future rife with uncertainty. Perhaps my, and many others’ position, is best voiced by the Atlanta hip-hop duo, Outkast, who prophetically crooned that “you can plan a pretty picnic, but you can’t predict the weather.”
Summer, a single class, and restricted courtroom activity offered more free time, but quarantine guidelines limited any activities or outlets to devote this time to. However, motivation had made itself scarce, despite my best efforts to stay focused on course work, externship assignments, and be productive in my downtime. While I spent much of my 1L year longing for more “me-time,” when this wish ultimately came to be, it instead resulted in increased alcohol consumption and mindless scrolling of social media. It became obvious to me “something had to give” to combat my worsening mental health and to ensure this decline in my productivity would not carry over into my 2L year.
Change started slowly, and somewhat painstakingly, with devoting a period of time out of my day to explore hobbies that made me feel personally fulfilled. Friends both inside and outside of law school assisted in inspiring me to tackle pursuits I no longer felt I had the bandwidth to accomplish. To name a few, Jacob, my partner in school-run negotiation competitions, spoke with me about his experimentation with sourdough bread, while one of my cousins dedicated her extra time to cultivating and selling succulent plants. For me, hobbies consisted of rekindling my passion for a small side-business I conducted prior to law school, which consisted of baking and intricately decorated sugar cookies. Additionally, I also developed an interest in jewelry making. It may sound comical, but something as simple as organizing the beads by color and type has done more to quell my anxiety than any prescription pill or breathing technique. I further discovered over time, that committing more of myself to personal pursuits not only improved my mental health but served to revive my enthusiasm for advancing my legal education. In the end, establishing a healthy balance between both individual and scholarly pursuits during the whirlwind of the COVID-19 pandemic was the most effective therapy for the uncertainty that has blanketed almost every level of our society.
I am not a mental health professional, and the sharing of my individual experience is not to claim that a hobby or personal pursuit will remedy every student’s academic and psychological woes that have resulted from quarantine. Nevertheless, I strongly encourage fellow law students to put their textbooks, commercial outlines, and law review writing aside, even if just for a moment, to find an outlet that they find personally satisfying. No one knows when the world we were familiar with prior to quarantine will return, but it would serve all of us well to attempt to find ways to be our best selves amongst the chaos.