It’s been a year since lockdown began, and boy, what a year it’s been.
As I look through the pictures on my phone, neatly organized in the “March 2020” folder, I’m surprised at how I feel. It’s hard to describe. Different maybe, but different doesn’t really do justice to the inner turmoil that I’ve felt, or the extreme changes I’ve experienced. But who cares — It’s close enough.
It’s been exactly a year since the world stopped. My world in particular. To a 14-year-old me, trying to make it through the last few months of eighth grade with the threat of high school looming, my little bubble was the only one that mattered.
So when schools shut down a year ago, I felt my life taking a turn. Of course, like my fellow teens and everyone else, I thought the turn would be a quick veer off the road then back on it again. A little slice of time off, then back to it.
In reality, this turn was much more than a little swerve. My life turned onto a different road completely, and so did those of my friends, fellow VOXers, and almost everyone everywhere.
In the days before lockdown, the adults at my school had told us not to worry – to embrace our time off. We’d get to wake up in our PJs and do our work wherever we felt like it. For a few weeks, there’d be no buses to miss, no tests to take, and no stifled shuffling from class to class. What more could we want? And besides, our school’s most important hallmark of the last year of middle school — the eighth grade trip — had not yet been cancelled.
So I tried to embrace the first few days at home, and so did my parents. Between rabid trips to the store and frantic calls to family and friends, we tried to chill. We’d have dance parties over Instagram Live, play board games that hadn’t been touched since I was five, and do puzzles. Or at least lay the pieces out on the table.
Then slowly — ever so slowly — reality set in. An extra week, a few more.
Soon, with parks and large venues closing, the school trip was postponed. Then it was cancelled.
COVID cases began to rise as sharp as the side of a mountain. Deaths — thousands of them —soon followed. Adults fretted over their parents and problems. Politicians in Congress fretted over little kids not being in school and fought over stimulus. But, as we soon began to notice, not many people were worried about us.
As the craziness of this past year began to unfold in a flurry of fear, anger, hatred, and grief us teens seemed to have gotten lost in the mix. We cannot legislate, most of us can’t vote, and almost none of us have the platform to speak on the issues affecting us most.
Instead, the majority of us were left to silently struggle — “deal with it” and ball up our feelings to the point of explosion. But keeping those feelings inside never works — it isn’t healthy. Depression rates are spiking as teens across the country try to cope with — or hide — their feelings.
That needs to change.
For some of us, the pandemic allowed time to heal and grow, and for others, it did quite the opposite. Either way, we deserve to be heard. We deserve to be understood by those who run the world so once this is all over with, we can leave this traumatic year behind stronger — and more influential — than ever.
So sit back, read, and feel our pain, our sympathize with our sadness, and our indulge in our optimism for the future in true VOX fashion:
It’s no secret: For almost all teens, school has been wildly different this year. If we attended in-person school prior to the pandemic, there’s a high chance that we haven’t been back since. Instead of classes in classrooms filled with friends and casual chatter, they are now through Zoom. And if we have returned to in-person learning, it’s so, so much different than it was before. So what has this last year of school been like for us teens?
“There are certain subjects such as Algebra that are hard to grasp over Zoom, and I’ve been struggling with having the motivation to get up everyday and log into class.”
~ Zariah Taylor, 16, Carver Early College, VOX ATL Staff
“As it was my freshman year of high school, it was already hard enough being thrown into an entirely new environment with new people, new material, and new skills to develop. Having to navigate online school and not being able to meet new people on top of that made the beginning very tough.”
~ Emma Jow, 14, Walton High School, VOX ATL Staff
“Without exaggeration, my junior year [in lockdown] was the worst year I’ve experienced. After 10th grade, I left public school, moved in with my Grandma, and joined an online school. My entire 11th-grade year I had to play catch up. I was redoing classes I had failed while in public school. Though I was acing every course I had with A’s (90s and above), I still felt like I was a failure. Like I would never amount to anything.”
~ Brian Kluttz, 17, Jonesboro High School, VOX ATL Staff
Feelings of helplessness and anxiety over this past year have only exacerbated the decline in the mental and physical health of so many of us. We haven’t seen teachers, family, and much less friends. We aren’t in school, or at least school as we know it should be. Everything seems mixed up, jumbled and unfixable. However, all of us are different. Some teens have taken this “change of lanes” in stride, working to better themselves as the world around them crumbled. Others have fared far worse. So as we continue to protect the health of those most at risk, we also must take a close hard look at ours:
“My mental health has declined a lot. I’ve had months where I’d have 2-3 mental breakdowns per week or more. Due to this, I lost about 15 pounds in a few months and have become noticeably skinnier because I have no motivation to eat. It hasn’t been great.”
~ Alex Smith-Perry, 15, Dekalb School of the Arts, VOX ATL Staff
“At the very beginning of the pandemic I was very optimistic about it ending soon. Around summer time I got really upset about not being able to act in person. Then I decided to distract myself from things I couldn’t do with things I could do. There was a time, around fall, that I took that point of view too far and I was doing way too much. I had to moderate myself so I wouldn’t burn out.”
~ Hananya Allen, 19, Homeschool graduate, VOX ATL Staff & Actor
My mental health is way better because I’ve had time to work on myself and think about the future. School kinda just took a small bit of that away but it’s way better than before COVID.”
~ Treseá Borders, 17, Sandy Creek High School, VOX ATL Staff
“In all of my life I never felt so completely alone. I was around my family 25/8. I couldn’t leave the house or even go outside. It was suffocating. To help fill the gaping hole in my heart, I found solace in food. I was like shattered glass attempting to pull myself together with bandages. Over the course of five months, I gained fifty pounds (that’s literally ten pounds a month). And though I didn’t know it at the time, I was dealing with severe anxiety and stress. Coupled with mass weight gain, my emotional and mental health spiraled into the pits of depression.”
The biggest part of most of our lives as teens isn’t the schoolwork we should be doing or futures we should be chasing, but rather the people and friends around us. Our whole lives are built off of relationships. Coaches, teachers, friends, and family are our whole world, and not many of us have ventured outside of it. So as days, weeks, and months added up, the relationships we so prided ourselves in have changed. The people who we were close to a year ago may be completely gone, with others – or no one – in their place. And as far as parents and guardians go, we have been around them more than anyone else:
“Because I live with my mom, we’ve been in the same space for almost 11 months now. It is the longest we have been around each other. I haven’t really seen any of my immediate family as frequently as I used to. And for my friends, I appreciate them more. I didn’t realize how much I would miss being with people until I wasn’t able to see them as frequently anymore.”
~ Brooklyn Mahari, 16, The New School, VOX ATL Staff
“I live with only my mother and my dogs, and we used to fight all the time. However, as my mental health got better we got way closer, and now she’s my favorite person and we trust each other and talk all the time. My friend group has shrunk a ton, but I’m 10 times closer with the people I kept in my life, and I’m so much happier.”
“My relationship with my parents has been tough because my Mom doesn’t understand the stress students are under because of the pandemic. She looks at my grades as my fault instead of understanding the conditions which led to my performance in school. I will say it has been nice to have more time to spend with family in the house. My family is having movie nights and game nights to deal with quarantine boredom. It’s something we didn’t really have time for before the pandemic so that’s nice.”
“Without being in school, there was no reason to speak to many of my friends, so I lost contact with a lot of them. My relationship with my family has stayed the same for the most part with the exception of me going out with them more (I used to ALWAYS stay in my room).”
~ Rebecca Larkin, 14, Tucker Middle School, VOX ATL Staff
Between all the gloom and doom of this year, some light has still shone through. In adjusting to the new normal, I, along with many of my friends, have found the things, people, and places that make us truly happy. It has been a year not without experiences, and while most have been dark and frightening, others have been pretty good:
“It’s crazy because I feel like some of the happiest memories in my life took place in 2020/21. Here are 6 of my favorites: 1) Binging ‘Stranger Things’ with my family 2) Getting a new puppy 3) Being cast in 2 films 4) Being in the Alliance Theatre Teen Ensemble 5) Meeting/ growing with so many people.”
“My happiest memories are easily the ones where I got to hang out in person with people (wearing masks and social distancing still). I have also gotten into new hobbies, and learning about them and doing them has made me happy.”
“My happiest memories this past year was meeting new friends online. I don’t know what I would be doing if I hadn’t met them. They’ve really played a big part in my happiness through this whole pandemic.”
“[My happiest memories are] 1. Getting therapy. 2. Finding my voice (through singing at church and writing music.) 3. Expressing my feelings through my music. I composed and arranged music and burdens were lifted off of my shoulders.”
On top of everything else, this has been a year of discovery and learning. For all the rough moments, we have stayed hopeful, resilient, and strong by finding comfort in the happy little things that we may have taken for granted before.
So as we look ahead into an uncertain future, still reeling from the events of this past year, we find that we have learned. Learned how to be there when those we love need us. Learned how to make it through suffering and pain. And we learned that we must embrace the people around us, and most of all — ourselves. Somehow, someway, we have all made it through this, in large part thanks to these simple, impactful happy moments.