Out of isolation and back in

‘It feels like Groundhog day’

During the first lockdown, student-freelancer Anouk made a foto series on Instagram with students who openly talked about their mental health. About a year later, she went back and photographed them again. Oblivious of yet another lockdown right after that.
Text and photos by Anouk Brekhof
21 December om 17:48 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 12 January 2022
om 13:57 uur.
December 21 at 17:48 PM.
Last modified on January 12, 2022
at 13:57 PM.

Around December of last year, I started the photo series ‘Isolation Z’, to portray students in their rooms and talk about how the pandemic affected their mental health. I published their portraits and personal stories on Instagram, on topics such as depression, feelings of loneliness, and anxiety.

After an initial call for students who wanted to be part of the project, responses came in from students across the country, showing the huge toll the Covid pandemic has taken on our mental health. Now, a year later, I am following up on four of them to see how they are doing. 

And then, yet another lockdown was announced. UKrant went straight back to the students and asked them how they feel about the latest round of restrictions. Worried, is the short answer.

Ale (18), history

‘A lot has changed for me. Mentally, I am in a better place. Even though I still struggle sometimes, I now practice gratefulness every day and I recognise certain behavioural patterns quicker. After Isolation Z, many people reached out to me. It made me feel connected and I wanted to take action myself. Therefore, I decided to put my study on hold this year and join the board of the Groninger Studenten Bond, where I’m particularly responsible for ‘student well-being’.

If I look back at last year, I would have tried to change my own perspective. Isn’t it in a sense impressive that we are battling full survival mode through a pandemic together? Years from now, we will tell our stories to the next generation.’

After December 19

‘It feels like Groundhog Day, you know, when you wake up each day and you are living out the day before over and over. I am already thinking a bit about how my room can become a workspace, chill space, and sleeping space in one, all while I am doing a board year and trying to keep up with my studies.

It is sort of sadly funny that the only in-person thing I have for uni will be an exam this week. I am really worried for my mental health – I try not to think about it too much. I’m really crossing my fingers that this does not turn into another period of mental unwellness. Why does it have to coincide with the January blues?’

Nynke (22), psychology

‘I’ve learned so much about myself over the past year. I used to work four jobs in addition to studying and I had a busy social life. During the summer, I felt good and well-rested, but when the new uni year started I quickly fell back into old patterns. This is when I realised that I was having burnout symptoms. As a result of the lockdowns, I felt tired after social activities, which is something I never had before.

The last couple of months have been better for me. Because of the current half lockdown, I am now forced to take it slow and focus on myself. I don’t work four jobs anymore and I picked up hobbies. I enjoy being with other people, but I feel just as happy spending time with myself. And because of the pandemic, I feel more resilient than ever.’

After December 19

‘As I have always said, I try to take it day by day so I am, at this stage, not too bothered by it all. It does mean Christmas will be different again with just my immediate family – but hey. I am worried though, about whether this continues into the new year… Then I might have to reevaluate my day-by-day strategy.’

Khyan (25), international relations and international organisations

‘When we met last December, I was in a really dark place. Luckily, my life has changed for the better after I started going to therapy. During the sessions, we focused upon getting to the roots of my complaints, instead of merely battling the symptoms. I wasn’t sure what the fuck was going on, but the approach was renewing and worked out for me.

It is almost winter now and even though I still experience the winter blues, it’s nothing compared to what I used to feel like. I have moved into a studio, my best friend lives in the same house. And I am taking the time I need to complete my studies. One step at a time.’

After December 19

‘This just feels like repetition for me at this point. We as students are constantly forgotten in the midst of all this. Other than those who are caught in the morbidity of it all, we are impacted enormously. I’m constantly feeling the same frustration, the same sense that avoidable mistakes are being made by people in charge.

At least at this point I am doing better than at this point last year – that is something. But in the new year, I would love for a bit more urgency to get this all truly done with.’

Sophia (20), European languages and cultures

‘Things have been up and down. On top of the lockdown and my struggle with my mental health, a traumatic event happened last year. Next to that, a new diagnosis that I got makes me worry about what people will think. A certain label might not be understood by everyone.

I tend to study to the point of burnout and that is why I am incorporating real breaks in my day now. Not ten minute breaks, but real me time where I try to pick up on things I used to love, like art and reading.

I have to say that I am proud that I am still studying and living in this beautiful city, since I could have moved back to England. Some days are good and some days are really bad, but I am still standing and I feel more resilient than before.’

After December 19

‘During the third lockdown I was at my breaking point – I do not even really know what to say now. I now have really got used to not having different spaces to relax and study in. I find the library a bit too intense, particularly at the moment.

I will be home in the UK over Christmas but I anticipate this lockdown going on longer and I will need some time to process that thought. My therapy sessions will now be online too, that isn’t great. It makes it much harder to be honest with yourself. Saying “yeah I feel fine” is much easier behind a screen.’