The Life of a 14 Year Old during the Pandemic

Benjamin Zumbansen | July 21, 2020

I. Is “online school” normal? Is it even a normal word?

The last few months have been crazy for everyone. One went from complaining about going to school or being bumped into in stores to it being all one wanted and longed for. I had never realized how important touching is when communicating, and in everyday life. Not being able to hug someone when you see them or not being allowed to touch your friends when you’re hanging out with them can make such a big difference. It can make you feel sad and lonely even when you’re surrounded by people.

The first few days of self-isolation were fine. The idea that this would last way more than a couple of weeks wasn’t even in many of our minds. Students in Canada had been told that there would be 2 more weeks added to spring break so that the families coming back from vacation could quarantine. After a week or so it started to look like the chance of us going back to school after those two weeks were becoming slimmer and slimmer. When this started to become clearer things started becoming harder, especially mentally. A lot of people have struggled with their mental health during this pandemic. From things not getting better to having to isolate from your friends to the anxiety surrounding the people in your life who could severely be affected by the virus, mental health was and still is one of the biggest things that has affected young people during this pandemic. A study conducted by the Canadian Center for Mental Health and Addiction in Toronto, Canada [CAMH] through interviews of 600 people between ages of 14 and 27 found that the pandemic has had a strong, negative impact on their mental health, with 39% reporting “significant problems with mood and anxiety”, with a rise in youths having sought mental health support before to now 68%.

“Online school” – now an everyday word – was another big struggle for me during the last few months. After a few weeks, motivating myself to do my work and make an effort became harder and harder. If I woke up late, I would never do enough work because I would think it was too late anyways. If I missed a deadline, I wouldn’t be able to sleep well because I knew I would have to do way more the next day. In school, you have your teachers and classmates making sure you hand in your work on time and motivating you but with online school you have to rely on yourself. You must rely on yourself to make deadlines and to do the best you can and not to just hand something in that took you five minutes. Taking a day off was easy until you realized how much work you had piling up for the next day. Taking days “off” was something that you couldn’t really do with online school. Even if you were sick and wanted to just lie in bed, you could never relax because you knew that if you didn’t work today you would have a massive amount of work to do the next day. I also found that when I knew that I had a lot of work to do it was way harder to focus. When I knew I had a lot of work it would stress me out a lot and make me procrastinate because I didn’t know where to start. Instead of just starting with the first assignment I saw I would get distracted and start doing something completely different which I would sometimes then do so long that I barely did any of the work. That way, even more things would pile up for me to do on the next day. The last month or two of school I finally realized that this would just keep going until I made a reasonable schedule. I set myself the goal that I would wake up no later than 8:00 and be done with all of my work by lunch. This schedule worked because I knew that If I had all my work done by lunch, I would have the entire rest of the day to relax or to go outside. This was the motivation and push I needed to stay focused and work harder.

II. Lock-Down and How (not) to go insane.

There were a few things that made me feel way better when I was feeling sad or stressed. One of the main ways for me to cope was – and, is – through music. Listening to music before bed or while doing work and learning to play new songs always made me feel happy and calm. Another thing that sometimes made me happy was watching episodes of shows or watching movies that were funny and in which few sad things happened. These movies and shows often transported my mind away from other things I was thinking about and they were very relaxing. The last thing that made me feel way better the last few months was watching videos, reading or listening to songs that were about how people were feeling during the pandemic that I could relate to. These things made me feel less alone. Often one thinks that one is the only one going through certain things and emotions but then you find other people sharing their stories through songs or social media and it makes you feel so good because then you know that you aren’t alone and that there are people going through the same things as you. A lot of the times there are way more people that feel exactly like you do than you might think.  

Recently, then, actually just after my last term in my now “old” school had ended, I saw a film that a grade 9 student, Liv McNeil, had made on how she and many other people in her age group have been feeling during this pandemic and with online school. Because Liv manages in her just over 3-minute short film to capture so many different emotions and thoughts, it really struck me. I am still amazed at how well she is able to portray how many of us have been feeling in such a limited stretch of time, using no words. At the beginning of the film one sees Liv, sitting (already? still?) on her bed and looking at Polaroids of her and her friends, at other pictures and memorabilia, a trophy or award of some kind. These Polaroids bring back all of the fun memories and things she did with her friends when things were normal and easier. One then sees her sitting in front of her computer looking at the screen that lists all the assignments she must do. She looks clearly overwhelmed. I think a lot of people who have been doing online school in the last couple of months can relate to this scene. Seeing all of the assignments you have to do or maybe even the assignments you didn’t do can be massively overwhelming, especially when all you see is a long endless stream of assignments and overdue work that you still have to complete. In the next scene, Liv is sitting on her bed, in front of her computer. Suddenly, one sees her, sitting in that same position every day, the only thing that changes are her clothes, this part of the film moves really fast and as the days go by one begins to realize that she is no longer sitting there simply with a serious face, but instead with each new day comes more pain into her expression. Each time I watched this film the more details I noticed. For example: at the beginning of the scene where the days start flashing by, that happens quickly but when her facial expressions start to reveal pain, the days go by slower..

One notices this in everyday life, too. The bad days are always longer and the better the days always seem to pass by way quicker. This film exhibits this perfectly.

This film portrays a lot of different emotions that many of us are feeling right now. It portrays loneliness (when she looks back at all the memories with her friends while sitting alone in her room, not being able to see them ), it portrays sadness and pain ( in the scene when the days flash by) and it portrays anxiety and stress ( when she looks at all the overdue and upcoming assignments). By showing all these different emotions, Liv makes the movie relatable which, as I mentioned before, can make you feel way better because you then know that you are not alone with the emotions you feel in situations like these.

III. Numbers one cannot take, and the ‘return to normal’

When the pandemic first started, I checked the news every day and I made sure to always check how the cases were going down or up in the countries it was impacting the most or the countries where people I knew lived. This made me feel way better most days. I was staying informed and after a while the cases seemed to be going down in most places. After a few weeks of doing so I began to notice that in many places it was starting to just get worse. In countries like the U.S, instead of the cases going down they were rapidly climbing. In the news, I saw articles about how stores were re-opening and how rules were being relaxed. This just made it worse. Many people were happy about this, “the world was returning to normal” as they said. But every day the cases were rising, everyday there would be a new peak in cases worldwide and in countries around the world. The countries where cases had gone down almost all the way the weeks before were being hit by a second wave and yet, still, everything was reopening. In the last month, the U.S. have jumped from 25,000 to 75,000 and the number of cases are getting higher with each new day. For a while I thought that if I neglected the news a bit more and didn’t check on the curve daily it would help, but it didn’t. For those few days where I tried that, I hoped that when I checked the cases the next time it would all be better, but it was worse. The cases had jumped so much since I had checked just a couple of days before that I understood that neglecting what was happening would not make it better or give me a more positive attitude.

IV. Chin up. Right?

In about one month, I start high school. High school has been something I have looked forward to for a very long time. Meeting new people, making friends and making new memories. I was so excited knowing that I would be attending a school where I learn so many new things in academics and in the arts. When I now look at how I might be starting high school, in the same exact place I ended junior high, my emotions have changed. I am still beyond excited about learning new things but when everyone is at home, making new friends amongst your classmates is hard. I still can’t wait for my first day, who knows, maybe it’ll all work out in one way or another.

Benjamin Zumbansen | Toronto | July 21, 2020

Published by pzumbansen

law professor.

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