Connecting for Life During a Time When Connection Seems Impossible
By Lilly Thygeson, Student Activist
For the Class of 2020, college decision day, final spring sports seasons, the senior prom, in-person graduation, the wild graduation parties to follow, and unforgettable memories, all slipped through our fingers and never came to fruition. Spring semester for high school seniors is supposed to be one of the most memorable periods of life. It is romanticized by coming-of-age movies, reminisced upon by older family members, and supposedly represents a closure of one’s childhood and transition into adulthood. Before we knew it, we were thrown into college, the working world, or whatever path we chose for after graduation, and expected to navigate our newfound independence and adulthood, virtually. Despite the challenges that lockdowns, quarantines, and a new reality pose, I do believe that there are still ways that we can connect and take care of our social health!
For two years of high school, I was president of WEforum’s Connect for Life Campaign, the WiseUp Teen Advocacy Group. Our mission is to empower the younger generation to connect with people in the community and beyond face-to-face, rather than through social media, or other technology platforms.We also candidly present the negative side effects that social media can have on physical and mental health, particularly for today’s youth. I feel lucky to have grown up without the influence of social media or advanced cell phones! The days of calling your best friend on the landline, of course having her home phone number memorized, and planning to meet up are over. Without access to smartphones, we were able to enjoy the company of our friends, face-to-face, much more often. But today, phones are often the first thing we wake up to, and the last thing we look at before going to bed. We carry them with us EVERYwhere. Most of my friends check their phones and social media before interacting with their family, eating breakfast, brushing their teeth, or even getting out of bed in the morning. We have all felt that sense of panic when we can’t find our phone because it has essentially become an extension of our being.
The expression, “you don’t realize what you have until it’s gone,” is so pertinent to our human interactions before and during the pandemic. We lost a sense of normalcy and those glorified last few months of senior year. I lost the lacrosse season that I had been looking forward to for ages. Perhaps most importantly, we lost the ability to connect with each other. Within a matter of weeks, the WiseUp TAG went from engaging with huge crowds at school-wide assemblies, preaching the benefits of connecting face-to-face, to not even being able to leave the house.Once I could barely see my friends and family in person, technology and social media became the only way to connect, but scrolling through Instagram didn’t feel as exciting, and I longed to be physically around others again. I learned that I had even taken face-to-face learning for granted.
This pandemic has challenged me in more ways than one, and I have felt an incredible amount of loss in the past year, but even at my lowest, I realized that I had to dig deep and practice what I preached to thousands of middle schoolers over the past few years. I had to advocate for my own health and take care of myself. This is what this entire experience has taught me so far:
Do not feel guilty for feeling down or anxious! You are entitled to your feelings, without guilt. I didn’t think that I deserved to feel this broken, especially when my family, my friends and I were all physically healthy and safe and had not contracted the virus. I felt lucky in comparison to all the other families that were physically devastated by the effects of the virus. Just because others are suffering in different ways, it does not mean your sadness is not valid.
Be an advocate for your own health. Even at my lowest, I realized that I had to dig deep and practice what I had preached to thousands of middle schoolers over the past few years, during the Connect for Life campaign. I needed to be an advocate for my own health and take care of myself. That means making your wellbeing your top priority.
Take a break from social media and fill your freed-up time with new stress-relieving hobbies. Social media certainly was not helping my mindset and wellbeing in any way, shape, or form, so I decided to take a break from it. I will not lie, it was hard to step away from something that I spent so much time on every day, but I filled the freed-up time in my day with new hobbies. I tried paint by numbers, healthy cooking, and other “quarantine trends”, but ultimately felt best when I was doing yoga. Yoga has been an amazing outlet for me and has great benefits for both my physical and mental health.
REACH OUT! There are people that want to be there for you.I gained so much awareness about mental health in high school, partially because of the amazing health curriculum at Red Bank Regional. Because of this, I never hesitated to tell my parents, friends, and family how I was feeling. They were 100% supportive and really helped me through a dark time. Most four-year colleges and high schools have free, confidential (and sometimes underutilized) counselling services.
It is okay to deviate from the “normal” path. This one was so tough for me. I have always followed the “normal” path, and four-year college was on that path. Mental health struggles were the first thing that really knocked me off this path. I ended up coming home from college to be around my established support system, and I did the rest of the fall semester from home. For the spring semester, I decided that it was in the best interest of my health and wellbeing to take time off from my four-year college and enroll in a few courses at the local community college. I am on the “long route” right now, and it might take me a little longer to find my way back to the “normal track.” While I am home, I decided to do a 200-hour yoga teacher training. I am finding happiness and connection in ways I never thought possible, all because I chose an alternate path in order to remain an advocate for my own health.