Published: June 2, 2021

An essay left undone, the same forty-three songs on repeat, cookies burning in the kitchen because not a single one of us feels the need to get up. What started as a pandemic has become a prison.

When the lockdown started in March of 2020 following the upsurge in Covid-19 cases in the United States, the feelings I had surrounding the virus were mainly positive. I recall laughing with my friends during class and saying, "Someone take one for the team [referring to getting the virus] so we can stay at home." In hindsight, our ranting and raving about how horrible going to school was might have been a manifestation of some sort. Be careful what you wish for, I suppose. Even after we discovered that the break from school would be longer than two weeks, we were reasonably excited. I didn't realize the severity of the situation until long after it had spiraled out of control.

Initially, the workload from school, my basketball team, and my other extracurricular activities and clubs decreased significantly. The assignments I was stressed over before the lockdown were no longer critical, and I felt liberated. My family was forced to get along, or at least pretend to, as our country launched into emergency procedures. My friends and I planned sleepovers and hangouts as the days lapsed into weeks, happy for the change in our monotonous routines.

It's the fact that we were so agonizingly in love with our newfound freedom that reality became (always was?) an afterthought. My mom always says, "If it seems like it's too good to be true, something's wrong." Unfortunately, we didn't realize that until it was too late. My dad's cousin, a doctor in New York, was diagnosed with Covid sometime near the beginning of April. Our excitement came to a screeching halt. He was hospitalized, ironically, in the same hospital he worked at. He passed away on April 16th, and as my family became increasingly paranoid, the truth started to sink in. The pandemic wasn't a blessing in disguise. It was a disaster.

I used to finish all my work in the middle of the week, and while procrastination wasn't foreign to me, it wasn't routine either. A year later, I'm doing all my assignments a few hours before they're due, including the bulk of this essay. Earlier today, I was sitting in math class, and my math teacher asked if we needed any clarification about the topics we'd reviewed in class. I didn't know how to tell him that I needed him to teach everything from the past four months again because I understood absolutely nothing. I'm constantly stressed and frustrated, but I can't bring myself to find the motivation to do better. Even in the classes I'm doing okay in, my work ethic has become significantly worse.

I can't remember what I've turned in and what I haven't. I have no idea what's due and when. I don't even know what the date is, most of the time. Standardized testing is coming up, and regardless of how many times I'm told that it doesn't determine my intelligence, I know that the number of points I drop will come up at the dinner table.

Most of my mom's family in India has contracted the virus in the past few days or is in danger of contracting it due to the distressing situation of the country. Every time I complain, I feel guilt eating at me, knowing I'm fortunate enough to be in a safe and financially stable household. I know I need to do better, and I have countless to-do lists and Pinterest boards meant to motivate me and point out my blessings, but all they do is serve as a reminder that life will never be the same again.

I find myself lashing out at the wrong people and bottling up all my emotions because I have no idea what else to do with them. I noticed this element of isolation in the Wuhan diaries, as well. "But even if you keep pushing forward, there are still going to be times when you can no longer hold in that oppressive feeling inside you," the author of the Wuhan Diaries writes. It's so disorienting to feel distant and disconnected from everyone around me and reality itself. I often become irritated over small things, such as my sister spilling soda on the floor or discussions in class leaning towards a sensitive topic. I've noticed an increasing divide between my parents, and while I definitely don't enjoy it, I can understand it. It's suffocating to stay with and talk to the same few people for months. I wrote a poem about this a few weeks ago in my journal, so here it is-

the air is heavy and thick with humidity, or maybe that is just from my own bones trying to suffocate me. i am spilling out of my ribcage and i cannot be contained in this disaster of a home anymore. i feel claustrophobic, like this cardboard box filled with silence and expectations is holding me hostage but i do not know why. there is a clumsily wrapped bandage slipping down my neck and my jaw aches from holding back all the things i would like to say. like would you please stop looking at me like that and i'm sorry for never being enough and yes, i would like to feel comfortable in this house with its chained doors, closed curtains, and constant competition, but that would mean collapsing into myself once again and i am tired of fitting into spaces i am not meant for.

A sense of impending doom clouds even the happier moments, like my grandmother winning her battle against cancer or my sister getting first place in an essay competition. You wrote in your diary on March 13th, 2020, "I'm sure we'll all come back in a few weeks totally fine, but how many of us will be changed because of a loss? I have a flair for the dramatic, but what if?" I feel the same way, the weight of existential dread pressing against my chest. "Every morning leaves me with a mouthful of sorrow and overflowing lungs. I tell myself it's because missing my old life is like a permanent ache but that's not entirely true: I miss it, I do, but more than that I miss the person I was back then," I wrote in my diary in February. Restless. I'm restless, and it's exhausting.

My essay will get haphazardly finished. The music will fade into radio silence. The cookies will harden in the heat, and my mom will throw them out tomorrow morning because it's not like anyone wanted to eat them anyways. I can't sleep, and my motivation is diminishing quicker than my anxiety medication. Everything feels incomplete, like constant pressure on my chest, like hands wrapping around my throat. My homework and cookies and music are supposed to be reminders that things can be good again, but most of the time, they're just another incomplete thought and responsibility. This is the new normal, everyone says, but normalcy feels just as impossible as going outside without wearing a mask, and I don't know how to be okay with that.