Thomas Jefferson

High School | Home of the Spartans

COVID Diary #16

Posted 11/20/2020 by Nicholas Neuhalfen

graphic by Nakya Castille


Am I who I want to be? As quarantine rages on, I find myself returning to this seemingly easy yes or no question on almost a daily basis. I’ve made it my goal to find an answer or at least develop a foundation with which I can work towards an answer. Before quarantine started, I was in a really dark place mentally. In fact, I feel as if quarantine saved me. I was constantly mad, depressed, anxious, stressed. I used to sit in class, hold my hand in front of me, and watch it shake. I would go into the first period feeling okay, or at least telling myself I felt okay, yet every day I would walk out of eighth period feeling more empty than the day prior. School was honestly becoming a routine mental torture chamber for me, yet going home in the afternoons was no better. I started to feel as if I was losing touch with myself, almost like I was being overtaken by some outside force I could not see or control. I was terrified. I could almost sense myself breaking down and self-imploding. So, when I first heard the news that school was canceled for two weeks, (or was it three? I can’t even remember at this point) I was ecstatic.

Before I get all deep and emotional, well, more deep and emotional, let me first touch on how impactful March 12th and March 13th of 2020 was on all of our lives. I will never forget the mood when everyone got the news about sports being canceled. I was the only one in my friend group not playing a spring sport, so the news of sports specifically being canceled didn’t impact me badly, but what really impacted me was the idea that this was all really happening. Sports getting canceled was the first sign of the thought: ‘Oh shoot, this is real.’ COVID-19 was, in all honesty, a joke and a meme leading up to March 12th. Nobody took it seriously —and many people still don’t— until sports were canceled, and even then we still thought the district was not 100% serious. People were crying in the halls, leaving class early, and flooding the mental health team’s offices. Even students like me, who didn’t play a sport, were still in complete shock and dismay. You couldn’t help but just hope that this was all some sick joke and that the next day we would walk into school with all the teachers yelling “Surprise!” Nope.

The next day was even worse. Sports were canceled on Thursday, March 12th, and the following day, Friday the 13th, how about that, was the last day of in-person school. Walking into school on that Friday was a feeling I will never forget, and probably never feel again. Nobody knew what to say. Some teachers were out due to health concerns. Even some students didn’t show up, but those who did will never forget the energy surging throughout the building that day. Every class was the same: join the teacher’s Google Classroom, Remind, and memorize their email, and that was it. Two of my friends and I ended up skipping sixth period that day. We told our parents and the teacher said he was not expecting full attendance so it was somewhat okay and we were not sure when we’d have lunch together again. So, we did what any other sophomore kid would do when ditching class and looked for toilet paper at Target. We had seen the news headlines about people buying toilet paper in surplus, and we didn’t think it was true. Lo and behold, there was literally no toilet paper left, like two full isles of toilet paper gone. The store was packed too, which really made me think about how odd it was that people were rushing to stores in mobs, all cramped up together amidst a pandemic that spreads by close contact. Anyways, leaving school that day was like nothing I’ve felt before. I felt a mix of excitement, joy, anxiety, sadness, confusion, and a whole bunch of ignorance. As I said my final goodbye to friends I wouldn’t see again for over half a year, I still couldn’t help but feel a twinge of guilt as I was looking forward to the next two weeks of freedom.

In the days following our final day of school, my friends and I continued to hang out as if nothing was abnormal, but there was still weird energy following us as if we knew what was going to happen next but didn’t want to say it. Sure enough, after a nice three days of acting as if everything was normal, we were put into full lockdown for the first time. 

The first few days of lockdown I actually felt great. All the negative feelings I felt during school magically faded away, and I was genuinely excited for quarantine. The first couple of weeks of quarantine actually went pretty well. Everyone was stuck inside, and although we were apart it felt comforting to be able to text my friends all day knowing we were all going through the same struggles. Although the gyms closed down, I was still working out at home and going on daily runs, which greatly improved my well-being and quickly became an obsession. This positive feeling didn’t last long though, and after about a week and a half of quarantine and expecting to return to school as soon as possible, we got the news that schools would be closed for even longer. We would likely be at home the rest of the semester. At first, this news only made me feel better. We were getting to be at home for the whole rest of the semester! What’s not to be happy about?

Now, at this time I still was not fully comfortable with being alone. All throughout quarantine in March and the beginning of April, I would obsess over where people were, what people were doing, and what people thought about me. I was on my phone day in and day out checking Snap Maps, responding to people right away, and looking at people’s Snapchat stories. To my surprise, my friends and people I know were hanging out with each other on a daily basis, at the height of the pandemic, while I was stuck inside. Originally, seeing my friends hanging out together confused me. This confusion turned to anger, and that anger turned into harsh depression and resentment. Instead of working out and going on runs, I would spend my days laying in bed, on my phone, obsessing over where everyone was. I hated my friends, hated my parents, and most importantly, hated myself. I felt terrible. All the negative feelings I felt during the school year came back, only this time it was as if they were working out during their time off and it hit me like a train.

For weeks, I didn’t want to leave my room. I had all this time to work out, write, read, learn, better myself, but instead of taking this free time to make a positive change for myself, I wasted my days wallowing in self-pity wishing everything would just stop. Before quarantine, I had reached lows in my life on many occasions. I had been to therapy four times, missed months of school because of anxiety, isolated myself from friends and family because I didn’t feel good enough, and been face to face with negativity. Each time I backed down and lost. Quarantine brought me lower than I’d ever been before, but this time I had no distractions. I was locked in my room, with only myself and my thoughts, and I had nothing else to do but confront them. For the first time in my life, I legitimately thought I would be better off dead, and I’m not saying that to get a rise out of anyone or dramatize things; I legitimately saw no other options. I had no choice but to dig deeper into my mind than ever before and confront the true root of my problems: myself. I know that probably sounds corny, but all my life I had been trapped in this cycle of blaming my issues on external things such as school or friends or genetics or society when in reality I’m the one letting all those things affect me. Now, I’m not saying that external factors don’t play a part in issues such as depression and anxiety because they 100% do; all I’m saying is that a lot of us don’t realize how effective having a positive mindset and strong self-discipline is in combating these negative feelings. 

It was in no way easy for me to realize where I was lacking. It took me ruining multiple friendships, forgetting who I was, and living in total darkness and mental anguish for me to realize that I’m as much to blame for my problems as anything else. There was about a week in April where I didn’t want to move. I couldn’t sleep because I didn’t want to wake up the next morning. I didn’t want to work out because I had no motivation to get out of bed. I didn’t want to listen to music because, for the first time ever, I felt as though there was no use. Music has always been my secret remedy. Whenever I get anxious, I put in an earbud and focus on the music. Whenever I get depressed, I put in an earbud and remember that I’m not the only person who feels this way. In fact, it was music that really got me out of this hole and helped motivate me to get my life together. 

I don’t know what it was, but I woke up one day and was just tired of feeling the way I did. I was tired of letting negativity get the better of me, so I put on my favorite album, Man On The Moon by, guess who, Kid Cudi. I genuinely credit this album for helping me out of every bad place I have ever been in. Music became my only source of motivation. I had to repeatedly tell myself that I was stronger than whatever was holding me back. I took a long hard look at myself and for the first time in my life I asked myself, “Am I Who I Want To Be?” The obvious answer was no, I was nowhere near who I wanted to be. I, in no way, felt happy. In no way felt accomplished. In no way felt proud of myself. I started to have conversations with myself, in a self-motivating way, and started to really dissect why I felt the way I did. From there, I started off by making subtle changes. I started working out again, going on walks and runs, focusing on online school, and staying off my phone. I didn’t know it at the time but these were my first steps into reinventing myself both physically and mentally. As quarantine continued and my motivation returned and intensified, I started working out harder. By my birthday in May, I was doing over 300 pushups a day and running over 25 miles a week. It really does not sound like a lot but to me, those were the greatest statistics in human history (huge exaggeration). 

All the negativity I previously felt didn’t magically disappear. I still had, and still do, have bouts with depression, only instead of playing the victim, I have learned to turn that negativity into motivation. I used the extra time quarantine granted to focus on all the things I was grateful for in life as opposed to all the negatives. We all tend to fixate on negatives in every situation, whether that be your physical appearance, social status, or even something as simple as your grades. We all block out the positives and solely focus on what we see as bad. Regardless of how good or bad you might feel, we can all benefit from taking time to really be grateful for life itself. At first, I saw COVID-19 and quarantine as an extreme curse, but by taking this time to focus on improvement and finding myself, I’ve come to realize that all negative situations give off an underlying positive.

I saw a post the other day that related perfectly to this diary which read, “If this pandemic never happened, this version of you right now would never have existed.” You could take that one of two ways. The first being that you are unhappy with who you’ve become, and the second being you feel blessed as to who you have become. Regardless of what you answered, but especially if you responded with the first reaction, I strongly encourage you to take time to ask yourself if you are who you want to be.