Pandemic Epiphany

Pandemic Epiphany

Eva Goldthwaite, Contributing Writer

March 12, 2020, may go down as the strangest feeling day of the century. This was the day that lives around the entire world changed. My life and my precisely laid out schedule were uprooted suddenly from beneath my feet with no warning. Within one day, I went from being a high school senior who works every day, to not being in school and not having a job at all. 

Before the pandemic, I went to school five days a week, interned for a state representative, and worked at least five days a week after school and on the weekends. On top of that, I was in charge of running multiple extracurricular projects, took weekly dance lessons, was a member of the school council, and had hours of nightly homework. I barely had time to eat, and doing things for myself was a rare occurrence. My college applications were finally submitted, and days-long anxiety ensued, waiting to hear back. Every night, I would collapse into my bed from exhaustion—my favorite part of the day because I could finally relax—only to wake up a few hours later and do it all over again.

Since my junior year of high school, I’ve had recurring stress nightmares about school. I’d fallen into a monotonous unhealthy and stressful lifestyle, and there was no way out: I needed the money, and I needed to graduate and maintain my good grades. Even the activities I used to enjoy became like chores to me because I never stopped going. I was suffering every day and collapsing under the stress and anxiety, yet I couldn’t change anything. I was helpless and stuck. And what’s even worse is most of my peers were going through the same exact experience. 

For the first few days after March 12th, I was engulfed by a mass of confusion and disbelief. For the first time—in I don’t even know how long—my schedule was wide open. It was bizarre. The entire world was spiraling into a panic, yet I didn’t know how to feel. It didn’t seem real—I felt like I was living in a dystopian movie. 

Just being home with my whole family felt weird. But why should it? This is how I grew up: I was homeschooled for 10 years, so I’ve spent more time with my family than most. What changed from my childhood until now that makes it feel so strange? 

My dad asked me to come and stay with him for a while. I rarely get to see him because he lives far away, and I always have to work or go to school, so normally, I can only see him for a few hours once or twice a month. I packed some clothes and he brought me up to the farm. I spent a week playing with animals, riding horses, binge-watching Netflix, and just relaxing. I was living a fairytale. Finally, I had unlimited time to do what I wanted to do–not what others wanted me to do. I did a new makeup look every day using the eyeshadows I made myself. I practiced my music, wrote some stories, and learned how to read tarot cards. Some of my teachers posted optional assignments, which made me laugh out loud at the thought of doing schoolwork during this time. For the first time in my life, I said no to school and said yes to myself. It was incredibly empowering. 

After sleeping in until I felt like getting out of bed, I took the dogs on an adventure. I had no destination in mind—I just walked and they walked with me. I closed my eyes and breathed in the warm spring air and felt the sun shining on my skin. I couldn’t remember the last time I was outside enjoying the weather. I reminded myself that I had absolutely no obligations for the day: no homework, no chores, no job. I put my phone away and sat down under the tree, just watching. I watched the clouds floating effortlessly by above me, the insects crawling slowly in the dirt underneath me, the dogs running playfully around me. I was free, so unbelievably free. 

I thought about how my life had been before the pandemic. Before all of this happened, my life was a chaotic and stressful mess. I had lost control of my own life and was letting other people and pointless rules determine how I lived from day-to-day. I thought about how it had reached this point, and I realized the true culprit. 

Public schools are a foundation of systematic rules and regulations, many of which are outdated, and few actually help the students. My high school has held me back and stopped me from achieving my goals and exploring my interests by forcing me to take classes I don’t care about and have nothing to do with the career I will pursue in the future. I was pressured to take honors and AP classes to boost my GPA, and I suffered through hours every night of meaningless busywork that had no helpful impact on my learning.

I would be much more successful with my life if I hadn’t wasted so much time. That realization hit me the hardest: I have wasted so much time. Think about it—all the pointless busywork assignments, the notetaking, the information learned just to be forgotten after a test, the cramming for midterms, the extra credit just for a few points, the sitting in a classroom literally doing nothing every day because the class is off track. 

No one needs to be in a classroom for 7-8 hours a day for 180 days a year. No one needs to force so much information into their heads just to regurgitate it on a test and then forget it. If it’s so important, why are we taught to speed through and cram instead of to retain? Public schools have completely lost the meaning of education amid the mass of strict regulations and requirements put in place by the overbearing government. And on top of that, students are expected to have a job and do extracurricular activities to look good for colleges. No wonder I felt so stressed and helpless! This is how we are brainwashed to think, act, and feel. We are conditioned to conform at the expense of our mental health and our personal happiness. 

I am disappointed that the public school system has failed me—but I’m more disappointed in myself because I let it fail me. I went along with the rules I didn’t agree with because I was scared to get in trouble. I took the classes I didn’t care about because I needed the credits to graduate. I kept my mouth shut and did the busywork assignments because the teachers told me to. I stayed up late to do my homework and study for tests when what I really needed was to rest. But I am just one of the countless victims of this unhealthy conditioning loop. 

I’m terrified—and not because of the virus—I’m scared of returning to school and my monotonous, stressful life. School should be a safe place to learn and thrive, but it’s not. I should enjoy my job, but I can’t. I should have time to take care of myself, but I don’t. 

I’ll do the rest of my work, get the credits, and take my diploma, but I can’t go back. I’m done wasting my time—it’s time to move on to bigger and better things. I’m going to live my life for me and take care of myself. Life is too short to play by everyone else’s rules. Among the panic and chaos following COVID-19, I found my peace.