"The lessons and experiences we all gained as a species throughout so many historical events in the past months have shaped us into new, more resilient humans. After the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, vaccine misinformation, political turmoil, and social justice issues across the globe, it matters now more than ever that we come together in support, and use our voice during times of need."
— Abby Kernya
It's hard to try and remember who I was before the pandemic. Before the confusion, the outrage, the anxiety attacks, and the late nights trying to figure out if it's just a sore throat-or if it's a life threatening virus. It seems like a lifetime ago I was just a scared sixteen year old sitting in my history class hearing about the Coronavirus for the first time, and in a way, it was. It feels like I have lived several lives in the past 18 months, each lockdown experiencing a new part of me I never knew existed. Every time the world would stop, I would unlock a new version of myself. Somebody full of self love, self worth, and a voice I’m not afraid to use.
As each and every one of you reading this knows, everything we knew was about to change.
When my school shut down in mid March, I was ecstatic to have two weeks off... and then three weeks... and then a month… and then suddenly the extended March break didn’t seem so exciting anymore. Every time I would turn on my phone, something new about the coronavirus would light up my screen, and my anxiety would send me into a pit of worry. Each day I saw someone across the world sick with a virus I really knew nothing about. I would hear stories of neighbours, and a friend-of-a-friend who were sick, but everything still seemed so unknown. Suddenly a tickle in the back of my throat was enough to put me in a days-long panic, wondering if I could be the next victim to Covid-19. I celebrated my seventeenth birthday only two weeks after everyone went into lockdown in late March. I was alone and scared of the world lurking outside my bedroom. Nobody knew what they were doing, least of all me. It was a time in history I know will stay with me for the rest of my life.
So, where am I now? How have I changed since Covid-19 first touched down in Canada? Well to be honest, I feel like a brand new person. I have grown into someone I don’t think I ever would have known if I wasn’t forced to spend a year and a half entirely alone with myself. The months I spent in lockdown - as horrible and lonely as it was at times, gave me an opportunity to learn to love myself for the first time in eighteen years. Cut off from friends and a fast-paced high school, the only person I could really rely on was myself - so it was time I finally got to know her.
Growing up, I was always that kid who wore sweaters in the summer, never spoke up in class when I knew the answer, and always had some kind of “injury” when gym class rolled around. For as long as I can remember, I always held myself back because of my insecurities. One thing I noticed a drastic uprise in during lockdown was body positivity on social media - which I am 100% here for. As someone who has grown up viewing body image in a very unhealthy way (thanks to violating tabloids shoved in my face as a child), seeing other people embrace themselves literally changed my life. On one hand, I finally had the time to learn about proper nutrition and better my mental health (which in turn affected my physical health), and on the other hand, seeing the world in an apocalyptic-like state really put things in perspective. With everything going on, how I looked in the mirror suddenly became less and less important. Seeing thousands of other people stepping out of their shells during Covid made me more confident and comfortable to just start living my life (not that I was doing much in lockdown anyway), apart from other people’s expectations. One of the biggest life lessons I have learned in the past 18 months is that life is just too damn short to care what other people think of you.
"One of the main things that helped to calm my anxiety was just hearing other people say, “Hey, I’m struggling too." It took a catastrophic event for me to fully understand the importance of human connection."
When I first started hearing about Covid back in 2020, my confidence was at an all time low. I was sixteen and already dealing with the insufferable anxiety that comes with high school, so add in a dash of a global pandemic - and I was spiralling. However in a way, I was secretly grateful to be out of school in the first lockdown. It gave me a chance to catch my breath and reconnect with myself.
To be honest, I had never felt more myself than I did during lockdown.
I had the freedom to explore new hobbies, and I was finally learning how to love myself. Yet, even though I had all the time in the world to relax and be productive, I was still drowning in levels of anxiety I had never felt before. I couldn’t even turn on my phone or television without feeling my chest tighten with worry. It got to the point where all I could really do was tune out the world and live in my own little bubble. But most of all, I was angry. I was angry at myself for wasting time worrying about things I had no control over, I was angry at the world, and I was angry that I couldn’t do anything except sit back and watch everything fall apart. Nobody knew how to handle lockdown, we were never taught in school how to prepare with all the emotions and grief that comes with a pandemic. I was angry with no outlet, and that anger quickly turned into anxiety.
One of the main things that helped to calm my anxiety was just hearing other people say, “hey, I’m struggling too.”
It took a catastrophic event for me to fully understand the importance of human connection.
Just hearing a stranger online share that they are also feeling what I’m feeling, calmed my nerves exponentially. It is a powerful feeling to know that you are not struggling alone. Each and every person on this planet experienced lockdown differently, but we all collectively struggled to cope with the change in one way or another. A change that broke us down, but also re-built us into stronger versions of ourselves. As someone who uses social media less than the average teenager-I am forever grateful for the power to connect online.
Where do we go from here?
So, where do we go from here? What's next? Does anyone even remember what “normal” is? Even though the coronavirus is still just as important now as it was back in March, the rollout of vaccines gives some hope of a return to normalcy sooner rather than later. But what does that mean exactly? It’s obvious that the world will not just pick up where it left off, and frankly - I’m glad. The lessons and experiences we all gained as a species throughout so many historical events in the past months have shaped us into new, more resilient humans. After the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, vaccine misinformation, political turmoil, and social justice issues across the globe, it matters now more than ever that we come together in support, and use our voice during times of need. Yet oftentimes it felt that in the darkest points of the pandemic, instead of coming together in unison - the world became divided. It was in this divide that I truly understood just how far pure kindness can go. The kindness I was starting to see online more so than ever during lockdown made me re-evaluate how important my everyday actions are. I’m sure that we have all had lows during lockdown, which means we all know just how far one act of kindness can go. Moving forward into the unknown future, I hope that everyone reading this is able to show a little more kindness to strangers as we all venture out of the apocalypse. Even a simple, “thinking of you '' text can be enough to make someone's entire week, and it lets them know they are not alone in this scary new world.
We all learned so much together, even though we were apart.
The pandemic changed every single one of us for better or for worse. Through the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows, we made it out of the most impossible year - and then some. Our collective bravery and compassion during Covid-19 truly showed the good side of human nature, and I for one hope to continue seeing that side as the world slowly returns to normal (whatever that means). If you can take anything away from the pandemic, know this: you are never alone. Help is always available so you never have to fight your battles on your own.
P.S.: If there is another lockdown - stop panic buying toilet paper!