At the outset of the pandemic, I found myself in a unique and frightening position. I was the furthest away from home I had ever been - 14,000km, in a small town at the southern tip of Africa. I had not set foot in Canada in nearly six months, nor had I seen any of my family or close friends since the previous September.
At first I was belligerent about staying in South Africa and waiting things out. It was only on Sunday, March 15th, the second time that the Prime Minister called for all Canadian residents to return from abroad, that my stubbornness broke. I immediately called my parents, shaking and in tears, and told them that I needed to come home.
The travel agent affiliated with my program swiftly found me a flight, and on Thursday I was on my way back to Toronto via Johannesburg and London. What I expected to be a return to normalcy after months of unfamiliarity was not to be. I was flying back to a world forever changed.
Up until that point, I had been seeking a job back in Toronto, interviewing remotely for a number of positions. Nothing panned out, but I thought I had more time, at least a month, before I would need to find work and continue my career.
Upon my return, I isolated up north at a family property. I was still focused on seeking a permanent position. I was shocked to find some lawyers were still hiring for their practices. Job postings were reduced, certainly, but through hidden networks I found some opportunities. Still nothing, and as the weeks dragged on so did a slow descent into depression.
I felt that my career had stalled, and was rapidly descending into a crash from which it would never recover. My friends, particularly those who had returned from abroad with me, tried to keep me grounded. I know now that I was not thinking rationally, but my mental health had been deteriorating so much that it was hard to separate reality from the catastrophizing that filled my head.
Needing to take some control back, I considered going back to school. I always wanted to get an LLM, but it was a sort of “5-year plan” type of idea, not something I intended to pursue immediately after completing my JD. As luck would have it, the University of Ottawa was offering fellowships to those who wanted to tackle emerging issues in health law. I applied, and a month and a half later I was in.
Two months into Zoom grad school and I’m finding it to be a rewarding, if sometimes lonely, experience. Legal practice seems further off - at least two years until after I complete my thesis work, but new opportunities presented themselves when I needed them the most, and I couldn’t be happier with my decision.
Aside from the revelations about my professional life, I have also found this pause to be good for my personal journey. Late last year, I began to question my gender. For some reason, identifying as a queer or bisexual cis man no longer sat right with me. Over the next several months, I came out slowly to a few select friends. This summer, on International Nonbinary Day, I came out to the world as a nonbinary man through social media.
The relief I felt when coming out was like nothing else I’ve ever felt. I was anxious in the days leading up to it. I was scared of many reactions: that friends I held close would abandon me, that I would be bullied, that professional mentors would turn their backs on me. Perhaps my worst fear was my identity being questioned and rejected.
I dealt with these anxieties by building up my exposure to others slowly. I came out to close friends first, sharing my feelings and crafting a statement that felt genuine and true to how I felt. In the end my fears were unwarranted. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. Messages of support poured in from many friends and family members I had previously considered on the periphery of my social circle. I also found support from many members of the Canadian Bar - both LGBTQ+ and not - who reached out via Twitter despite having never met me in meatspace. Overall, to be living openly as my authentic self has made me feel more secure in my own body and in my relationships with others.
Things still aren’t perfect. Following my coming out I rode high on the release for several days before crashing into depression again. The lack of daily, free social interaction and physical touch is truly draining the longer the pandemic goes on. I haven’t seen my family since my grandfather’s unveiling last month, and I haven’t hugged any of them besides my mom and dad in over a year. I am single and have decided to eliminate my dating life entirely for the safety of myself and my roommates, as well as for my own emotional safety.
I realize the privilege I have in the ability to glean any kind of silver lining from this pandemic. Millions of people around the world have now lost their health, their livelihoods, their homes, even their lives as a result of this disease. I am immensely lucky to be white, able, and middle income in Canada, with a public and personal safety net that has allowed me to remain at least somewhat comfortable and safe during this time.
So even as I grieve the lost friendships, love, work, and travel opportunities that the pandemic has taken from me, I need to take a moment to feel grateful for the good things 2020 has provided. A new chance to learn, a personal revelation, and a new appreciation for those that nourish and support me, all have emerged like beacons of light from the darkness of the COVID-19 pandemic. I recognize this, and tell my story, to maintain hope that things will get better for us all.
About the author
Teddy Weinstein (he/they) is a graduate of the University of Windsor, Faculty of Law. They articled for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association before interning at the Legal Resources Centre in South Africa as part of the CBA’s Young Lawyers International Program. They are currently a research LLM fellow at the University of Ottawa Centre for Health Law, Policy and Ethics.