Confessions of a student during Covid-19

Dear Diary,

I never thought I’d be writing to you, trying to wrap up the last 19 months in a bow. I wanted to write an article on mental health and students. Given how difficult it feels, writing it like this might be a nice change of pace. So here goes nothing.

February 2020

I keep on hearing whispers about this new virus called Covid-19. However, I am far too busy in-between helping out with the Sexual Health, Advice and Guidance week going on at the university. There’s no better way to increase your confidence than talking to students in a silly mascot costume (an eggplant one no less).

We’re told that the best way of preventing an outbreak of Covid-19 is to simply wash our hands. People are concerned about this new virus and the government acknowledges it. However, I honestly don’t have the time or willpower to care about this. This is all going to be over soon, the media are overexaggerating it, everything is going to be fine.

March 2020

I am done. I’m tired, I’m miserable, I’m sick to death of everyone and everything. I’m relying on McDonald’s breakfasts featuring coke in order to get through these pathetic 9am lectures. I don’t want to wake up at 7am anymore, I don’t want to go to another lecture or seminar. I’d rather be left alone, I’m done!

I ended up in the position that a third of fellow Freshers end up in, showing signs of a mental health condition. This doesn’t mean that all of those Freshers have a mental health condition, but the fact that this was prevalent amongst students even prior to Covid -19 suggests that something needs to change in the structure. No more 9am lectures would be a nice start!

Boris announces lockdown on the 23 March 2020. My university announces a shift to online teaching a few days prior.

My life is over. Everybody is going to forget I ever existed. Somebody wake me up from this nightmare.

I remember being in the bath at home when this happened, and I got out as I thought I was going to have a panic attack. What a lot of people forget when it comes to discussing the mental health of university students is the mental health of neurodiverse students such as myself. Autistic students including myself are ten times more likely to drop out of university, at 60% vs a 6.3% overall rate. I am also one of the many autistic students that live with anxiety, and a key trigger of this can be an unexplained change in routine.

The next few months would all blur into one. I remember restrictions being lifted gradually, but I stayed at home for the most part.

September 2020

Helping out with Freshers Week has definitely been a highlight of a year of sheer misery so far. To see people again, be part of a community and to do something that allows me to focus on other people who aren’t myself is amazing. Sure, social restrictions were announced half way through the week, but we have been in worse positions.

An old friend created a group chat about sorting out something for their birthday. This person has never once checked up on me this year. Out of everyone who checked in on me (old friends, new friends, people who I barely knew before now and people who I thought were out of my life forever), this person wasn’t there. Come to think of it, why am I still friends with people who are more obsessed with controlling me than loving me for me.

It has been common for old friendships to end as a result of the pandemic and a shrinking of friendship groups. Our priorities have shifted, and our groups have often decreased in size. Mine has only expanded however, and that means more room to cut the toxic people out of my life completely and maintain my boundaries.

4 January 2021

Screw you Gavin Williamson, screw you Michelle Dolan. Just, screw you both.

In January, a post-Christmas lockdown was announced. What made it different from the previous lockdown in November is that educational provisions, including universities, were required to transfer back to online learning. It was around this time that I decided to start Schools Matter UK, using my anger for something productive.

2 July 2021

I’m Department Rep next year? The interview was successful? THIS IS THE BEST DAY OF MY LIFE IN MONTHS!!!!!

Becoming programme rep this year has been the best thing about the year. It’s prevented me from disengaging with my work, it’s strengthened my social relationships, and it’s stopped me from being in the position I was at the beginning of March last year. Deadline extensions happened because of me and that really boosted my confidence. I can’t wait to  represent students across the entire department!

24 July 2021

I’m walking the dogs with my mother where my grandparents live. I’m so glad that they’ve survived everything and I can still see them. Something happens towards the end of the walk. I start getting flashbacks to April of 2020, when we would walk that particular route so we could buy food for my grandparents as they couldn’t leave the house. This is the first time that this has happened.

Trauma isn’t just PTSD after a violent event. Mass trauma has been a documented phenomenon following global unsettling events and pandemics, and the World Health Organisation warns that Covid -19 has resulted in mass trauma on a larger scale than World War II. People losing jobs, access to education and losing friends and family to Covid -19 is enough of a cocktail to induce a traumatic response in anyone.

However Connor, you’ve made it. You’re surviving and you’re thriving. Here’s to the future.

Love,

Me

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