By Lakshyaa Arya
The pandemic changed the lives of Indian high-schoolers in impossible ways. New and diverse activities came up in the middle of lockdown. Many decided to take it up as positive challenge while others let Covid cast its mind-numbing spell over our lives. TV shows didn’t excite us anymore. We waited for the monotony of the ‘eat, sleep, chill’ routine to come to an end.
With the past year of high school spent on an online platform, my friends and I had no expectations about anything anymore. Logging into a Zoom class had been the worst part as a student – “Switch on your video!” and “Unmute yourself!” were the two sentences that made us dread online school even more.
How much we longed for real school where we could joke around in the lawns and have vibrant discussions with our friends and teachers! All this now just feels like a dream. After having online classes for more than a year, my fellow 17-year-olds and I still consider those 6.30 am mornings rushing out in messy hair and half-worn shoes as the ‘real’ way to go to school.
When things began to open up, it felt like a new world emerged altogether. It felt as if thousands of people were let out of jail after years. The freedom of sitting in a car and interacting with people outside of a screen felt strange. Covid paranoia finally came to an end, and the new sense of optimism was contagious.
Then the second wave of the coronavirus hit India. Everyone again retreated back home. It was almost like déjà vu. All our plans for a great 2021 were paused. None of us was prepared for the devastating impact of the second wave. Depleting medical resources caused havoc in the whole country. People died in large numbers. Not one day went by when I did not hear about a tragic death due to Covid.
Lockdown 2.0 was nothing like the first one. For the first few months, grief and sorrow were all that surrounded the four corners of our house. No one could allow themselves to be happy; it seemed inhumane to do so. It felt like a period of grief and gratitude for life. Our brains and mental spaces went numb in reaction to the mayhem.
Mental health was at its lowest. I was struggling to get through the day with a positive view. Limited interactions with people led to a huge hike in my social anxiety. With the perpetually increasing number of deadlines to meet and school work to finish, the pressure felt unreal.
My stress levels began to increase as every day passed. There was no break between all the monotonous work. Breakdowns and panicking became an everyday instance for me. There were days where I would go MIA (missing in action) and would not feel like interacting with anyone. I didn’t have any motivation or energy in me to be myself. My behaviour with my family also changed.
As a result of my dullness and irritation all day long, I didn’t even speak to my friends. I wouldn’t pick up their calls nor respond to their messages after hours. This was my way of dealing with the problem at the time – by pushing everything away. But I didn’t realise how detrimental it was for me. I did not realise how this was destroying my mental health even more. I was cutting off all sources of a ‘break’ in my life.
But there’s always light at the end of the tunnel. As the second Covid wave waned, my episodes of panic and anxiety took a downside simultaneously. This was when I woke up to what I had done by isolating myself. I felt horrible for behaving like that with my friends. Venting it out and talking was what helped me. I had kept everything inside me for too long, the feeling of letting it all out felt exceptional.
The experience helped me realise how important it is to keep a balance and to value my friendships and relationships. It took me a while – a period full of breakdowns – to understand this. But now that I have, I make sure that I incorporate friendship and fun along with school work and my other responsibilities. Even if Covid has changed our definition of ‘normal’, the fact is that life does go on.
Lakshyaa Arya is a class 12 student of Delhi’s Vasant Valley School