In Their Own Words

The pandemic tales – striving through despair

The pandemic remains a major challenge to the well-being of youth who became isolated and had limited social opportunities. This was the best, and worst, traumatic experience that I have been through.

When the pandemic began, I was finishing my third year at the University of Toronto. I had finally come out of my shell that I had been locked into for my first three years. I struggled immensely with anxiety, executive dysfunction and poor organizational/time management skills, among other issues, and I had finally gotten to a comfortable place where I was starting to become a leader; it was extremely disheartening when the news broke that we would have to go into lockdown.

I had to move back in with my family. This was terrifying. No one knew what was going to come; I became instantly terrified of becoming sick. I have a pretty weak immune system, and when I get sick it usually results in hospitalization, so the thought of contracting COVID-19 was horrible. I followed public health guidelines. I very rarely left my home; it was extremely depressing. I didn’t have any hope for when things would get better.

On a positive note, the first time I contracted COVID-19 was in May 2022 and by this point I had been fully vaccinated, and only had very mild symptoms.

The lockdown was extremely isolating. I didn’t have any support; I didn’t feel as if I was in a safe space to access mental health support that I desperately needed. Each day felt the same, and I knew that if I didn’t try to occupy myself somehow, I would just continue to suffer. I embraced crafting; yes, a new one each week. I have the attention span of a chicken nugget, but doing this kept me sane, grounded and helped my emotional well-being in addition to enjoying being outside.

I embraced the virtual world as best I could. I became president of an academic society; I co-designed 20+ virtual initiatives to engage with students and keep foundations of community strong during turbulent times. I started taking a real interest in academia and I started to get involved in public scholarship. I was able to support our international students through various culturally relevant programming. I got accepted into graduate school, and I’m only going up from here.

This has not been without struggle. In addition to isolation, I was diagnosed with multiple disabilities, contracted pneumonia (twice) and had a brain injury. While this appears extremely negative, I am beyond proud of my strength. I held despite the circumstances; I exceled, built community, and supported others.

I have developed on a professional, personal, academic and social level by learning to see the strength through my personal struggle and build capacity in a way that is accessible and positive for my wellbeing.

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Lydia C. Rehman

University of Toronto – Second year Master of Public Health Indigenous Health
Toronto, Ontario

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