When my high school shut down for what was supposed to be two weeks due to the outbreak of COVID-19, my initial reaction was that I finally would have time to explore my artistic capabilities, finish projects I’d been meaning to do for months, and catch up on my sleep. I made a trip to Michaels to buy paints, brushes, and canvases; I dug up some yarn and knitting needles from my basement; and made one last trip to the library to get books I actually wanted to read, all things I hadn’t made the time to do in a while amidst the pressures and challenges of high school. I had plans to be amazingly productive.
While the pandemic felt far away and abstract at first, it soon grew more pressing within my community, shifting from merely an unpleasant thought into a harsh and terrifying reality. People are sick and dying, seeing their worlds collapse, losing their jobs, and fearing for what the next day will bring. People we know. And, in many places, the worst of COVID-19 is still yet to come.
Even amidst this terrible reality, teenagers have found ways to make the most out of their situations. Something as simple as a walk turned into a fun activity. We have explored nature, tried out new recipes, created art projects, and spent quality time with family. With the possibilities of group FaceTimes, Zoom calls with our friends, and virtual movie nights through Netflix Party, the technological opportunities of the 21st century helped foster the idea that there was a light at the end of the tunnel.
And then two weeks off from school turned into over a month, and a month turned into the rest of the school year. And what about prom and graduation for seniors, sports seasons, plays, travel plans, and all the other events and opportunities we look forward to? How will the pandemic impact the college admissions process for juniors? In a time with so many questions and uncertainties, it is stressful that there are few answers, and no one can predict what will come next.
It may be time away from formal schooling, but it has come with a whole new set of anxieties: This is a valuable time for young people, teachers have told my peers and me in our class Zoom sessions. This is a time for you to create your own story of how you experienced and made the most of this uncharted period. How will you push yourselves to use this time valuably? How will you go off and learn on your own? How will you positively impact those around you? I and others in my shoes are eager to take these questions and run with them. Indeed, for a time, I ran off to see what amazing and life-changing creations I could produce: The creation that would be my “story” of how I used my time, stuck in my house.
My thoughts swirled with so many possible routes to take, so many new skills to hone. I could learn a new language! I could set up virtual tutoring for younger students! I could get a jumpstart on my college essay! It got to the point that I was having trouble falling asleep. Everywhere I turned, I read inspiring stories that told me I wasn’t doing enough. I wasn’t making the most out of this precious time at home and properly shaping my personal story. The paints and canvases I had looked forward to using began to feel like a pathetic waste of time. The possibilities of what I could do with my time turned into an expectation of what I should be doing, and this contributed to the anxieties I already felt as a result of so much change in such a short period.
The truth is, it is okay to not be amazing right now. None of us have experienced anything like today’s reality, and any sorts of emotions we may have for various reasons are warranted and even expected. We must let go of the need to live this period spotlessly- the need to craft a perfectly-polished and overly impressive tale of how we experienced the implications of COVID-19.
Now is the time to attend to our personal wellbeing, and, when we are ready, to help others around us do the same for themselves. It is a time to tap into creativity and inspiration when we wish to and because we want to, not a time to force ourselves into an endless spiral of activity out of a fear of letting a precious moment slip away.
It isn’t easy to turn on the news and see death counts climbing at a horrifying rate and hear of increasing shortages of personal protective equipment for the brave healthcare workers who are risking their lives to protect us. If you have something powerful you want to contribute or something positive to share, please do so proudly and help lift up others on your way so that they can do the same. But at the same time, simply existing and keeping your head up is a pretty potent act these days, given all that is facing us. If you are struggling through this new reality, you are not alone. Please allow yourself to be imperfect, to be less productive than you might wish, and to ask others for help when you need it.
Each and every one of us will have a story to tell of how we used our time, confined to our homes during COVID-19. Let’s make these stories authentic and heartfelt, and most of all, let’s do what we can to reduce the pressure on ourselves. Coming out of this period with our health and sanity intact will be as amazing a feat as anyone could wish.