By: Jordan Martin
When I first started writing articles for Heritage Herald, I told myself that I did not want to write about COVID at all. I was honestly tired of seeing it everywhere I looked, and I just did not want to add to the pile or talk about it at all. However, I think that there are effects of the pandemic that should not be overlooked just because it’s tiring to discuss. Students all over the country are experiencing some pretty extreme mental affliction with little to no advice on how to deal with it. The adults in our lives did not experience anything like this when they were teenagers, so they just don’t know how to understand us. Quarantine had an overwhelming effect on us, and we should be talking about it. For this project, I interviewed multiple students from our own Heritage High School to get a broader perspective on how our student body is really feeling.
As you can imagine, there are many students who have really thrived since coming back to school from quarantine. Some were frustrated with online classes because of how we lost the social aspects of school. We missed out on sporting events, school dances, and just the overall in-person interaction. This made these students return to school, eager to get back to these things while having a new appreciation for them. These students have found a new desire to be extroverted and part of the school community. These students have reported experiencing elevated feelings of nostalgia and fear about moving away from home. Missing out on these high school experiences makes them feel like they’re growing up too fast and feel that the one-time experience of being a teenager is slipping through their fingers.
On the other side, there are students who have felt that what used to be a regularly-paced life feels a lot heavier after spending so much time in quarantine. One student recounts how they felt “desperate” to return to regular school in the second semester last year. However, when we were informed by the county that we would be spending the rest of the ’20-’21 school year online, they gave up on all of the social energy they had been storing since the beginning of the pandemic. They described how repeated disappointment caused them to believe that letting go of all hope would be the least emotionally straining option. Now they feel frustrated being back in school like they had wanted for so long, but not having the mental stamina anymore to “survive it”. These students felt exhausted during online school because of the stagnancy of life at the time, and now feel exhausted because of too much going on at once. It has been overwhelming to go from a year of isolation to a school of 2000 students.
I also think that it’s important to bring attention to college applications. The class of 2022 left school during their sophomore year, and are returning to college application season and their COVID-struck G.P.As they have no time to fix. For some, college applications are exciting because they are eager to escape high school after an accelerated experience with learning independence through quarantine. For others, college applications are upsetting because they wish they had more time to live life as high school students. For all, college applications are extraordinarily stressful. Junior year is the time for college preparation. Junior year is when you take your higher-level courses, have lots of meetings with your counselor, and get used to the idea that the time to move away from home is approaching. The class of 2022 missed this time, and they now have to go from the in-school mentality of a 10th grader to the mentality of someone setting up their adult life.
Whether you are a student who is doing extremely well after quarantine or someone who is experiencing worsened anxiety or depression, a lot of the mental-health repercussions I have seen stem from a feeling of perceived loss. Many students lost their friends, hobbies, or academic ability, and all of us lost a year out of high school. One student I interviewed explained that they felt they “lost their innocence.” They look back on themselves from 2019 and see someone more naive and joyful, and don’t believe they can ever have that “mindless joy” again. This was something that really stuck with me. Persistent depression and anxiety can make a person feel like they are changed forever–whether it’s for better or worse. This student feels that they are just more knowledgeable about the darkness of life, and they can never return to a time when life was exciting and simple, rather than mundane and overwhelming.
The process of interviewing my peers and hearing about their emotional rollercoasters throughout the past year was extremely complicated. Everyone’s feeling something a little bit different, but no one is unchanged. Every single person I interviewed, whether they are flying or drowning now, feel like different people than they were before the pandemic. I want readers to know that they probably are changed forever from quarantine. Just because we all went through it, doesn’t mean it was not traumatic. We go through a lot of change throughout high school anyways, and this experience definitely had an amplifying effect on that process. However, depression and anxiety does not have to be forever. When you are deeply depressed or anxious, it feels like it will last forever. There is nothing anyone can say to convince you otherwise. But the truth is that those feelings will eventually pass. Time moves forward whether we want it to or not, and with time comes healing and growth. One day we’ll wake up and this pandemic will be a distant memory, but until that time, don’t invalidate your feelings about the situation. Even if everyone else is feeling it, or if no one else is feeling it, your feelings are still real, and they still deserve attention. Never feel like you’re being needy or dramatic in looking for help from a friend, parent, teacher, or even a mental health hotline. My best advice would be to embrace how you’ve changed since March 2020, and look for help where you need it.