Losing Myself in the Pandemic

Shut away from my friends and my real-life classes, I'm less sure who I am.

by Tayia Day

I have struggled with my mental health since I was a child. My diagnoses include post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, panic disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). I’ve gotten help from therapy, medication, friends, mentors, and writing. One of my favorite things about writing for Represent is that my stories help others, and I want to keep helping people.

When I started college in February, I decided to study to be a mental health counselor for children. I had no one there for me when I was a child to help me understand my emotions. I want to be that adult for children like me.

I had dropped out of high school several times, so it was a big accomplishment to get my GED and then get accepted into Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC). It started out great. I enrolled in a program called CUNY Start that gives me extra preparation for my regular English and math classes. I especially struggle with math.

I liked my English class because writing is something I can devote my emotions and feelings to. It is my home for unjudged expression.

I also loved my professor. He made the class interesting by assigning books in several genres, including coming of age, horror, and nonfiction biographies. We read work by Sandra Cisneros and Malcom X, and even comics! He talked about the books with emotion and attitude, which made me excited about reading them.

Energy in English; Anxiety in Math

He also explained clearly how to prepare and write our essays for our finals. We needed to write out our essays in a special format, and he broke it down so we all understood how to do it for the finals in his class and future classes. He made me feel like a confident college student who could earn a degree.

Math class, however, was hard, even with the extra help. The classroom had no windows, and my teacher wouldn’t give us a break to go outside. I got anxious staying in there.

I started smoking weed on my lunch break so the day would seem to go by faster. Math class was after lunch, and being high for the class lessened my anxiety and boosted my attention span. Without weed, I would shake in class.

Assignment deadlines stressed me out. I also gave myself deadlines for all of my studying, and that made me more stressed. I didn’t always understand the explanations in the classroom, so when I studied at home, I was confused and frustrated. My teachers noticed how quickly I got angry if I didn’t understand as much as my peers did, so they would let me take breaks.

CUNY Start only lets you miss seven days of class or you’re dismissed from the program. So even if I was crying or upset, I showed up for class. I was mad at myself; I thought a college student should be able to handle her emotions better.

I began to leave school earlier and earlier. My friends outside of school noticed because they knew that school was a huge priority for me, and they asked why I wasn’t there. I explained to them that my mental health issues were distracting me from focusing on my class work.

COVID-19 Was a Tipping Point

I was already teetering on the edge when coronavirus shut everything down. Now, being stuck at home, I’ve become very depressed. I am lucky to have a loving foster family, but I’ve only lived with them for a year and a few months. I cannot connect with them the way I do with my friends; there are things I can’t tell them.

My friends have seen me at the worst and best points of my life. If I need to confide in them about something, they are honest with me. They can be blunt and they can be encouraging.

My friend Tiana says things like, “God gives his hardest battles to his strongest soldiers; he did not put you in college to fail. You got this.” This made me feel strong enough to try again with math problems.

I am not used to staying home and not being around my friends. Throughout my life, I’ve run away from home and stayed out all night. I cope with stress by going outside. So I feel very trapped now.

Texting isn’t the same. I miss meeting up and the laughter and joy of hanging out. I miss the hugs my friends give me when I’m feeling down. I miss being able to be my complete self without feeling like I’m being judged. The connection with friends over the internet is not as thorough as in person.

I can’t be as open on iMessage or FaceTime or social media platforms. You can’t really tell private information on there.

My school struggles have gotten worse. My homework is all through email and video chat, and that makes it harder for me. I understand better when teaching is in person. Classwork online is more complicated and not as effective as in the classroom. I have been staying up all night trying to understand the material I need to pass my math class.

We’re using a program called Blackboard in math class, and handing in assignments is a big hassle. There’s often an issue with uploading your work. Also, the Blackboard website sometimes malfunctions so it looks like we are leaving the chat room in the middle of class.

Students were separated into different class groups, and my group had people at all levels. I was used to classmates who were on the same level as me. Since the shutdown, people have progressed at different rates, and I’ve fallen even farther behind.

English class is better because we use Zoom and the assignments are self-explanatory. Plus, I enjoy English, and writing is easy for me.

I’m Not Myself When Trapped at Home

But that’s not enough to keep me stable. I’ve become so sad I often do not leave my room all day. At night, I go to the kitchen to get snacks and then back to bed. I cry all day and beg God to answer, Why don’t I feel like myself?

My foster mother says this might all be over soon and that we just have to pray. She’s concerned that I only eat at night and sleep through the day. She says, “At least come out of your room for some new oxygen and speak to your family from time to time!”

She uses Sunday dinners to get me to come out of my room earlier. I usually join them because Sunday is when my foster family comes together to talk about each others’ week. Plus my foster mom doesn’t ask for much, so that’s the least I can do for her.

Even in my depression, family time makes my heart feel happy. But I still don’t come out of my room because I don’t want my sad energy to rub off on anyone.

My foster mom and my foster siblings have tried to cheer me up with food and funny conversations. My family knows about my diagnoses, of course, but they try not to mention it. They’re trying to make me feel as comfortable as possible, and help me feel like myself again. I appreciate that.

My agency’s director has reached out to set me up with home therapy with my old therapist. I like her, and I am excited to talk more about how I feel.

Despite this support system, last week I wanted to swallow all of my prescribed anxiety pills. I felt as if I did not need to be on earth anymore and I did not have a purpose.

Suicide had not crossed my mind this much for about five years. I had begun to get used to being alone, and I did not have energy to get on FaceTime with my friends, or go outside for a walk, or even to get high.

Friends, Foster Parents, Prayer, and Podcasts

Fortunately, I have my friend James. He regularly picks up the phone to talk to me, so most days he keeps me going. He tells me that I have a purpose in life and to always remain positive. He tells me that I’m beautiful and that I am going to go places in life.

But when I am not talking to James, I sink back down into depression. I am starting to feel as if there is no point in going to college. I still do my homework occasionally, when James tells me not to give up. On other days, however, I just sit around, sleep, and cry.

Sometimes I sit in my shower and cry and just beg for all the pain to go away. I imagine a future where school is only online classes, which would be horrible. On those days, I give up on school.

Besides missing being with people, there is tension in the classes because everyone is progressing at a different rate. We don’t meet as a class to discuss the work. Working on our own, it’s hard to ask each other questions or for help.

I’m not sure why this has been so hard, but it might be because I am an extrovert. I still love being around my loving foster family, but life just doesn’t seem right at the moment. The epidemic and the quarantine have caused me to give up on my goals.

I realize I got a lot of my motivation from being with other people, and I’m too depressed to create new motivation myself. I am also not very good with being alone or social distancing. Having others around me boosted my ego and gave me joy and laughter. Alone, I can’t feel those things.

Still, there have been a few bright spots during the quarantine. Talking to James. Uplifting podcasts by Joel Osteen, or The School Of Greatness by former pro athlete Lewis Howes. Affirmations from my motivation app. One that helps me is “P.U.S.H.: Pray Until Something Happens.” Praying helps me feel more positive. Writing this story has helped a little.

More recently, I have been able to reclaim some of that connection of being around people. I am going out more. I hang out with friends, making sure to stay six feet apart. I’m caring for my physical health, while caring for my mental health. I’m grateful for the friends who’ve helped guide me through this tragic pandemic. My foster family has also been supportive. They know that I am not always OK, and knowing they’re still there for me lightens my mood.

I’ve stepped back from school. I will go back next semester, but for now I’m working on being mentally happy with the life I was given.

There is tension in my online classes because everyone is progressing at a different rate.
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