by Eleanor Kelman

I recently listened to a talk by Dr. Michael J. Breus, also known as “the Sleep Doctor,” in which he discussed the science of sleep. He was one of the featured speakers on an externship I (and thousands of other people trapped in limbo between school and not being able to find work) have been participating in, and his talk really resonated with me in a way few talks do. Typically, when I listen to a presentation I’m constantly fidgeting and attempting to keep myself from multitasking–well, distracting myself by scrolling through my Instagram feed or perusing Reddit forums. Listening to Dr. Breus speak was different. I was fully, wholeheartedly engaged in what he was telling me to do to improve my sleep schedule, and not once did I think about turning on my phone. I was so surprised at my own sustained focus that I attempted to figure out why I was able to pay attention for the full hour.

Maybe it was just his manner of speaking, but that’s never really been much of a factor for me. Other than once falling asleep while a beautiful voice slowly lulled me into dreamland while discussing the rather un-dreamlike topic of physics, I’ve never noticed the tone of voice in talks. Perhaps he was just a wonderful orator in general? Well, yes, but even the most passionate of speakers can still make me lose focus (of absolutely no fault of their own, mind you!). No, I finally came to the conclusion that what he was talking about was simply so fascinating and pertinent to me.

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[My newest idol… who also looks quite a bit like one of my favorite college professors?]

Sleep has been a point of contention for me for a long time. I sustained myself on a solid 4-5 hours during weekdays in high school, which led to a lot of dozing off in class and some lunch hours devoted to a quick power nap. In college, my quality of sleep improved ever-so-slightly but still negligibly. A roommate freshman year took to letting her alarm sound for two hours straight every morning, which always gave me a very rude awakening with zero reprieve. I never established a true sleep routine, even during my sophomore year while living with my boyfriend at the time who turned off the lights at midnight each night (while I toiled away on the computer next to him). Senior year I made a valiant effort to go to bed at the same time every night, but that was squandered by two suitemates who would be up yelling and playing music until two or three in the morning much to my chagrin. I never really got that coveted “sleep schedule” thing down pat.

I no longer had any excuse once quarantine started due to the fact that my house is a couple hundred decibels quieter at 9pm than my suite on campus was at 3am, but I still managed to finagle an excuse or two in there. I was going to bed at around 12 am and waking up around 8am to 8:30am depending on how many times I hit snooze, but I still couldn’t shake that desire to get up earlier and truly spend the morning being productive. I am certainly my most productive prior to lunchtime so I wanted to prioritize that time. Unfortunately, a lack of drive got in the way of those well-laid plans, but I still continuously wished I could be a bit better in a number of regards. From drinking caffeine at 8pm to rolling out of bed at a snail’s pace, I kept avoiding achieving my personal goals of maintaining a true sleep schedule and becoming a certifiable morning person.

Listening to Dr. Breus’s presentation lit a fire under me so to speak. I suppose it wasn’t actually the presentation at all, but hearing someone else say, “Do this thing,” made me want to do that thing, the thing I had been putting off for so long because it was solely a “me” thing. I dove in headfirst.

Instead of trying the recommended method of moving your alarm back 15 minutes every week until you reach your desired wake-up time, I went all in and jumped it to 7am and figured I would deal with the jetlag later. I also ended up setting two alarms: a digital alarm clock and my phone. With this, I had to jump out of bed to turn off the second alarm after the first one sounded. In addition, I made a pledge to myself to not just lie back down and fall asleep. I spend the first couple of minutes every morning in a hazy stupor but I allow myself to go back to sleep if I’m still tired half an hour after I wake up. Interestingly, I’m no longer tired by that point.

Returning to the Sleep Doctor, I’m supposed to fall asleep at 11:10pm to wake up at 7am every night. While I do attempt to fall asleep at 11pm, I ensure that I’m up and making my bed at 7am no matter when I fall asleep–thankfully, it’s never crossed 12:30am, a terribly late bedtime for me now that I’ve ascended to being a grandma. I’ve also stopped drinking a latte too early in the morning, which is an easier task than expected because I’ve replaced it with chugging water while I work out (I need to drink a concerning amount of water during the summer).

Who knew that presentations could be useful outside of getting participation credit for a class?

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[Herbal teas have replaced my nightly latte habit, a worthy companion to my bedtime routine.]

I won’t pretend that I’m not browsing the web at night or that I no longer engage in any unsavory nighttime habit, especially as nearly every night I’m on a video call with a friend, but I’ve been able to do just enough to achieve a goal I never thought really possible for me. On a very small level, waking up at 7am and not bemoaning my situation is amazing. It has represented for me such strong discipline that allows everything else to fall into place once I’ve gotten out of bed and started to get moving. On top of that, I can finally say with utmost certainty that I know I’m getting enough sleep, something I couldn’t say without crossing my fingers behind my back for most of my life.

Sleep may be for the weak, but I’ve got a real weakness for it.

 

 

by Eleanor Kelman

When I first received news that my campus would be shutting down and classes would move to remote instruction due to COVID-19, my initial fear wasn’t directed at how I personally would adapt to the change; rather, I worried how my dad would fare. I had been living at my university in Boston, which quickly became one of the hot zones of the virus; however, once it became apparent that I would need to leave the bubble of my university housing, I only worried about the possibility of catching the virus. Though it does seem a bit shortsighted in hindsight, I truly believed I would be absolutely safe from catching the virus. At the time, the news was reporting that younger and otherwise healthy people would simply catch the equivalence of the common cold and recover without issue; therefore, I shrugged off the prospect of becoming gravely ill in the event I would become infected. However, once I realized I would need to head back home, I began to panic.

Like many others, despite not being in the at-risk group for COVID-19, I have family members who are. I’m living with my family at home, and my dad is immunocompromised. Even simply coming home from school made me nervous. Parties were thrown every night, and since I lived in a popular upperclassmen-only area of campus, these parties occurred directly outside my front door. I was at the crossroads of wanting to enjoy the final days of my college experience and not wanting to put myself, and subsequently my dad, at risk. I even considered trying to remain on campus or staying with my boyfriend’s family to avoid any chance of passing on the virus. Neither option would prove particularly feasible, and on top of that, my parents wanted me to come home so I could maintain a sense of normalcy.

My family is doing its best to act like we have the freedom to move around, but our need to be hypervigilant reigns supreme. My parents go shopping once every two weeks when the supermarkets open in the morning. We wear masks every time we leave the house to go on walks around the neighborhood. I’ve been keeping connected with friends via messages and video calls. At first, I found this to be a suitable substitute for actually living on campus close to my friends at all times, but lately, I’ve been feeling more and more antsy and fidgety. I have felt completely lost within my own thoughts for what seems like hours every day. The one time I got some reprieve when I drove to stay at my boyfriend’s house for a few days, I never left the car until I was at his house and reinstated my entire quarantine routine while there. When I returned home, I quarantined inside my bedroom for a week (with my parents placing food outside my door that I ordered by calling our home phone). My parents will crack the occasional joke about paranoia, but we understand that it’s something we all have to do in order to keep my dad safe.

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[Each of us has our own personal mask in my family. I got the groutfit one.]

It’s been difficult, to say the least. When I see friends posting on social media about going grocery shopping, I feel a pang of jealousy — my parents don’t allow my siblings and me to go to the store with them. I got plenty of messages like “Oh, that’s stupid!” when I documented my in-room quarantine to my Snapchat streaks, but it wasn’t stupid in my household. Sometimes I want to hop into my car and drive to the local hiking trail or shopping center just to get out of my head for a while, but I know that I shouldn’t. Maintaining safe quarantine practices isn’t all that essential for me, but it could be literally lifesaving for my family. I still can’t help those feelings of lamenting having to be so tightly-wound from sneaking in, though, no matter how much I know they are selfish. 

Whenever I get caught up in jealousy and a weird new-age type of FOMO I thought I had left behind at college, I find people in similar situations to mine. One of my best friends from childhood is severely immunocompromised and, for months, found themselves unable to leave the house just to take a walk. Many of my friends live with elderly family members and have been more worried than myself. Some people I know have even caught the virus themselves, know people who have caught it, or have come in contact with someone who caught it. I also know some people who are in the exact same boat I am with an immunocompromised member of the family.

In all honesty, it’s been a tough time for everyone. That being said, hearing how I’m not alone in my fears has made it a lot easier to handle. If I need to, I can call up a friend who understands my frustrations perfectly and just vent for an hour without feeling guilty. My support network has truly strengthened during quarantine, which was something I was not at all expecting when I said my “final” goodbyes to my friends before beginning the long drive from Boston. My friends and family have been there for me in a way I’m eternally grateful for, especially given that this has really challenged how close we are!
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[My beloved Google Calendar even has some standing friendship dates!]

Whereas remote learning was, pretty objectively, absolutely terrible, remote socialization has been lovely. People who I hadn’t seen in a while and had accidentally fallen off my radar (sorry!) due to my hectic pre-COVID day-to-day life have become my close friends again. I’ve been more inspired to reach out and initiate conversations, something I have always struggled with, due to the fact that there are no longer any real ramifications. After all, who is going to be too busy to video call? We’re all stuck here with too much time on our hands! And no one has lamented me being more active on social media; in fact, I’ve started commenting on posts of people I haven’t seen since high school who have found themselves elated to reinvigorate our friendships. Navigating and mastering social media to stay happy definitely had a bit of a learning curve for me at the start, but it’s allowed me to focus my energy on the people I really care about and fully nurture those friendships.

This isn’t to say that everything has been rainbows and sparkly unicorns and I love having the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to stay home and relax. I’ve been terrified to leave my house, but I am equally afraid of the ramifications that come with staying inside. I miss my friends dearly and wish I could say I am too busy rather than too bored. That being said, the resilience I’ve seen in everyone, including myself in a way I don’t feel uncomfortable bragging about, has been inspiring. Quarantine has had its fair share of negative side effects, but I think it has presented a feeling of “we’re all in this together” that I have never felt before. When I chat with my friends for the umpteenth time about my problems and see them listen intently, it makes everything feel just a little bit better.

by Eleanor Kelman

When I was younger, I was what adults would call a “voracious reader.” Not a day went by that I wasn’t buried in a novel. If I finished an assignment early, it was lunchtime or I simply had a free minute, I would pull my book of the week out of my backpack, flip to where one of my handmade bookmarks was slotted in between pages, and continue on in a little fantasy world by myself. I requested only Barnes & Noble gift cards from my family for Christmas and had a devoted bag just for my weekly library trips, which I would overfill with everything from manga to gossip rags to classic literature. I read anything and everything without discretion; I just wanted to read.

And one day, I didn’t.

I guess the decline was slow in hindsight, but by the time I was deep into high school it was evident: I just didn’t read anymore. I read what was required for class, but the passion wasn’t there and I had no motivation to pick up a book for pleasure at all. By the time I was in college, the only times I read a book outside of coursework were on long plane flights during which there were no real distractions. This brought the grand total of full novels I read for fun in about a seven-year stretch to something to the order of three. That’s how many I could have finished in a typical month as a child.

Every single new year brought forth that resolution to “read more” and each summer gave me a theoretical new wind to pick up and finish even just one book. And, of course, not a single declaration of “this is the day I become a reader again” actually came to fruition. It didn’t take long for me to become jaded despite still hoping I would one day be able to find my passion for reading again.

I was not shocked that I once again found an opportunity to read when I was kicked off of my college campus and quarantined within my home. But even that dream was quickly squashed when I found out that all local libraries were closed for the foreseeable future. I do have plenty of books at home, but my most prized ones I had already read (two of the novels I’ve read four times each) or hadn’t considered starting because they just didn’t pique my interest that much. While I did pick up a science fiction novel from my shelf, it only took about a chapter for me to realize I was not interested in the bland setting and unrelated storylines of multiple characters (I’ve always disliked that writing style). I relegated myself to yet another half-hearted attempt at becoming a reader that went nowhere.

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[A snippet of my personal bookshelf, er, bookfloor]

The thing was, I still really, really wanted to read. I mean, it wasn’t like I had much else to keep me busy! My hectic schedule, from classes to multiple clubs to constantly seeing friends up on campus had come to a screeching halt; I had exponentially more downtime now than I had had in years. Fumbling around on the internet eventually led me to a way to access e-books through the library cards I already had (one for my local library at home and another for the one closest to my university), and once I downloaded that app I only had one final excuse left to not start reading. I still could just forget to get around to it, no?

Once the semester ended and I was officially done with classes, the website I had used for the past four years of college to track homework assignments had lost its purpose. This actually disheartened me a surprisingly good amount, as I had become weirdly attached to it after it practically single-handedly saved me from failing every class I took. I was so fond of this website that I decided against unceremoniously giving it up, and swapped the course subjects for categories of things I’d need to do that summer and didn’t include class periods. One such thing I added was a way to track my reading, something I’d previously used it for to track the chapters professors had assigned weekly. Now that I had nullified that excuse, I had to read.

Okay, I’m not going to pretend I dove headfirst into hundreds of novels and can now say that I’ve polished off half of the Library of Congress. However, I did actually start successfully reading for fun, which is a much less lofty and much more vague goal but a goal I finally achieved nonetheless. I finally have flipped the final page of Thomas Cullinan’s The Beguiled, which wasn’t my favorite in the end, but what it represented was so much more than just a mediocre Civil War-era thriller novel. I’ve moved my e-book endeavors on to two books at once: John Carreyrou’s Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, a book that has been on my radar since I became engrossed in a podcast about the white collar crimes of Elizabeth Holmes and her company Theranos, as well as Henry James’s novella The Turn of the Screw, which has a forthcoming adaptation in the second season of The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix.

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[The porch has quickly become my favorite place to engross myself in a book]

It’s not even about the quality of these books per se but rather about how they show me how I’m maturing. I feel better when I’m reading, sort of like one of those “self care queens” on YouTube. They give me a jolt of “wellness,” and some feel-good nostalgia. Reading brings me back to a simpler, less chaotic time when I didn’t have any adult fears and anxieties looming over my head. They remind me of a childhood when I did something for no reason other than truly enjoying the escape. And when I finished one book, the only worry on my mind was to pick which one to read next.