The life and loneliness of youth under pandemic restrictions

This First Person article is the experience of Natasha Simon, a 13-year-old student in Winnipeg. For more information about CBC’s First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

“It’s only for three weeks,” I tell myself, “and then school will start again. You’ve had school all year until now. You are one of the lucky ones.”

I am a 13-year-old in seventh grade, and this is what the pandemic has felt like for me. 

I consider myself one of the lucky ones.

I still got to go to school. I still got to see people at school and be around them. Still, it felt like nobody was really there. Usually we sat in a dark room with the lights off and the blinds closed, all of us facing some sort of electronic device, procrastinating and not getting our work done. 

Natasha Simon, 13, shares what it’s like living through the pandemic ‘through a kid’s eyes,’ she says: ‘Adults aren’t the only ones suffering.’ (Donna Carreiro/CBC)

There are no sports teams. No music rehearsals. No drama club.

When I’d get home, the first thing I wanted to do is lay down on my bed and just look up at the ceiling. Every single day. 

I keep saying to myself, “It’s OK because next week will be better.” But the next week was always the same as the last. I’ve learned that now and have given up.  

Occasionally, I would break down in tears and have to go to the school counsellor for help. Some of my classmates have done the same. We don’t really need to talk to the counsellor, anyway. What we need is to hang out with our friends.

The thing that really bothers me is that the adults don’t really understand. They know, but they don’t understand. 

Whenever we’d talk, a teacher would tell us we were spreading spit particles across the room, and that could get someone sick. If we stood up, because we’ve been sitting for five hours straight, a teacher would tell us to sit back down because we weren’t socially distancing.

I still have hope that things will get better, even though it will be a long time before they will.– Natasha Simon

Sometimes I felt like we were living in some sort of hell torture device. We try to escape this torture device by staring at our phones, going on social media or playing games. It is the only thing we can do, but it is making us more depressed, and we feel worthless and lonely. 

We want to escape the loneliness, depression, anxiety and stress, but our electronics are causing more. We waste our time scrolling through TikTok or Instagram when we should be doing work or, after school, playing sports or hanging out with friends. 

But we can’t. I have completely given up trying. 

We always dread tomorrow, even if it’s Friday. There is nothing to do. No one to hang out with on the weekends, so kids spend their time playing video games or just sitting in their room, completely isolated from the world, staring up at the ceiling, wishing for this to be all over. 

And I still consider myself one of the lucky ones. I still got to go to school, even though I wasn’t really allowed to talk to anyone. I still have hope that things will get better, even though it will be a long time before they will.  

But I know we will never get back to the things they were.

We have been told countless times that if we don’t socially distance, stay away from friends, go straight home after school, don’t stay and talk to people, don’t go to busy public places, don’t hang out with friends and stop doing the things that make us kids, that make us human beings, we will cause harm to others. 

Natasha Simon on life during the pandemic: ‘I keep saying to myself, “It’s OK, because next week will be better.”‘ (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

If we break these rules, we are killing our elders and we aren’t protecting them (even though they are already vaccinated). We have been told in a nicer way than this, but this is still the general idea of what we’ve been told. 

Now, kids are scared. If they break these rules they feel like murderers, ungrateful people who are just terrible and selfish. But while following these rules we are killing ourselves, slowly but surely. 

Adults aren’t the only ones suffering. 

The kids are so depressed and lonely that they are attempting suicide and they are being rushed to emergency rooms. Why don’t the adults really realize that we NEED this to be over and we need to live our lives? Kids everywhere are failing in school, suffering from depression, suicide, loneliness and things kids shouldn’t have to go through.

Staying alive means different things for everyone. It doesn’t just mean not dying. It means– Natasha Simon

But the adults keep saying “I know we are all stressed, but this will all be over soon.” 

The pandemic started when I was 11 and I’m 13 now. I never got to finish Grade 6 or say goodbye to my friends. I had to start this whole new middle school and lifestyle without anyone with me to help me through it. I have seen so many of my friends succumb to depression. 

I don’t blame the kids who would sneak outside for lunch so they could talk to someone, or break some rules to hang out because if they didn’t, things would be much, much worse than they are.

Staying alive means different things for everyone. It doesn’t just mean not dying. It means living

For kids, it means talking to people, going to school, being a kid. This is the everyday life of a kid in Grade 7.

And I’m a lucky one. 

If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts or having a mental health crisis, there is help out there. Contact the Manitoba Suicide Prevention and Support Line toll-free at 1-877-435-7170 (1-877-HELP170) or the Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868. You can also text CONNECT to 686868 and get immediate support from a crisis responder through the Crisis Text Line, powered by Kids Help Phone. For more information, go to reasontolive.ca.