After 2 years of pandemic school, I took a year off for my mental well-being
This first-person article is the experience of Malcolm Parker who is a student at the University of Ottawa and lives in North Cobalt, Ontario. For more information on CBC’s First Person Stories, please see the frequently asked questions.
Being a high school student is not easy. There’s the pressure to fit in and make friends, maintain a social media presence, and the ever-present focus on grades. Somehow, you have to figure out what to do in life after high school – never mind that you still don’t know who you are!
I was juggling it all. I have always been a good student and my teachers complimented me on every report card. But I was also struggling with social anxiety in 10th grade. So I saw a counselor and was prescribed medication. It did wonders for me, and I finally stopped seeing it.
I did fine for a few months. At that time, I was in 11th grade and working most weekends and nights after school. That was almost 20 hours a week while I was also balancing a full course load to save for a school trip to Italy and France. The trip cost $3,000 and my family couldn’t afford it, so it was up to me to pay for it myself. I didn’t notice it at the time, but I was getting exhausted quickly. My grades plummeted and my report cards once again went from praise to concern. It was one of my lowest points mentally.
When Christmas came, I started to feel better. My report cards and grades rebounded in the second semester. I had managed to save up for my one-time trip over March Break and had so much to look forward to.
We all know what happened at the start of 2020. My trip, which I had worked so hard to save money for, was delayed. Eventually it was cancelled.
It crushed me. All the sacrifices I had made, the hours I worked, were for nothing in the blink of an eye.
Schools have finally implemented online learning during the pandemic. The social isolation was painful. I tried very hard to keep up with my school work, but I was exhausted. And it didn’t seem to matter anyway. The school gave students a lot of leeway because they recognized that school in a pandemic was difficult. Our grades would be mostly unchanged whether or not we handed in assignments, so why bother?
After a short summer break away from the chaos, I returned to school with a bizarre new schedule for my senior year.
We had one class at a time, every day all day, for a month straight to avoid mixing with different classes of students. It was a disaster for me and many of my friends and classmates. You can only do math everyday for so long before your mind rebels!
Things were dragging on and my resolve was slowly failing. In December 2020, I recognized that I was again on the verge of collapse and was determined to avoid it. This time, I went back to see my old adviser. With his help, I kept my head above water, but barely. But suddenly he resigned from his post.
I tried to find another counselor but failed. There is a shortage of mental health professionals in northern Ontario, and I was alone. I kind of held on and felt lucky to have good friends and a wonderful girlfriend supporting me. They helped me feel sane.
Vaccines became available for my age group in May 2021, and there seemed to be some hope. It felt like the world was getting better and going through the pandemic. Still, it was hard not to feel that sense of loss when prom and graduation were canceled.
I decided to take a year off to save for college and earn more. I have taken the time to read, spend time with my loved ones and work during this past year. I sometimes feel envious of my friends who have moved on and not taken a break like me. It’s hard to see people moving on to new things while you’re hanging back. But then I hear them complaining about online classes and social isolation and I feel reaffirmed in my choice. This fall, I am a student at the University of Ottawa and I feel ready to face the world.
I often feel like there isn’t much recognition for what the students have gone through. It’s not just about a canceled prom or a school trip for me. It was about what we as a generation have lost and will never get back.
Many students like me are exhausted by it all. Those who have fallen behind need help to catch up. I was able to take a gap year, but that’s not an option for everyone. All I want is a stable world to grow up in, even if that seems increasingly unlikely.
Yet, I continue. Because what else can we students do?
If you or someone you know is having trouble, here’s where to get help:
Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 (phone), live chat on the website.
Let’s Talk Suicide Canada: 1-833-456-4566 (phone) | 45645 (text between 4 p.m. and midnight ET).
Do you have a similar experience to this First Person column? We want to hear from you. Email us at [email protected]