The Pandemic: Zahra’s Story:
About the Author:
After moving from New Jersey shortly after birth, Zahra grew up in South Florida. From a young age, she was happy to dance all night long. Leading into middle school, her first play revealed she also had a knack for acting. But it wasn’t until middle school that her skill in singing revealed itself. Utilizing these three abilities, Zahra eventually earned a musical theater scholarship to a prestigious private high school, and just graduated this year! As she continues her artistic endeavors, she’ll be pursuing a degree in Global Studies (during her years prancing onstage, she was also learning to read, write, and speak Mandarin Chinese and cultivated a love for learning about all things international).
Life Before The Pandemic:
Q: Describe your everyday life before the pandemic hit. Include aspects of your life such as work, school, extracurricular activities you did, and other social aspects of your life.
On weekdays, I attended school. After earning my driver’s license, I’d sometimes drive myself to and from my school’s remote parking lot using my mother’s car, then catch the shuttle bus to campus. A few days a week, during lunch or after school, was rehearsal for the upcoming state thespian competition. For the school’s last production of the season, I was selected as part of the costume crew. As such, I carefully steamed many layered, ankle-length dresses, pinned many size-too-big vests, and scavenger hunted for misplaced cowboy hats or the single foot of a shoe or whatever the lucky item of the day happened to be. All in good spirits, of course. These things happen in show business. Dress rehearsals? Done. Show week came and went like the wind and soon enough, I and my classmates stood on our high school stage for the last time, honored with a bouquet of flowers and a farewell applause. About a week later, school closed, automatically meaning there would be no state competition either.
Reacting to COVID-19:
Q: Describe how you initially reacted to COVID-19 and the social distancing.
The beginning stages of COVID-19 felt nearly fictional, even as it was very clearly spreading around the world. Until school closed, I don’t think I felt its presence, for lack of a better word. Contrary to most students set to graduate this year, I did not resent losing the privilege to party at prom, let loose at grad bash, or even attend my own in-person graduation. Although I understood those sentiments, one reality vastly outweighed the other. Social distancing was fairly easy to get used to. And as an introvert, I already preferred to #stayhome.
Life Changes & Adaptations:
Q: In what ways did your life and schedule change as a result of the coronavirus?
Remote learning had it’s pros. I was much calmer, for one. And I wasn’t aware that I could be. I felt I had much more mental space than in-person learning had afforded me. It may have partially been my empathic tendencies getting a break that caused me to feel this way. It also had it’s cons. If my camera wasn’t required to be on during a call to attend class, my mind would sometimes wander instead of focusing on class material (more often than when physically present). Talking with school friends was also surprisingly difficult at times. Although we were able to meet for a couple of scheduled lunch video calls, communication wasn’t an everyday occurrence as it used to be. I listened to their tales of erratic sleep schedules being the cause of falling asleep during class and missing a lecture. Their struggles saddened me, and I hoped they’d be able to adapt.
Q: What have you had to do in order to adapt to these circumstances?
It hasn’t felt like I’ve adapted to a new lifestyle, although I suddenly feel flustered if I step out of the house without a mask on. When I go to Target for the weekly grocery trip, I empathize a bit more with the employees who constantly have to answer, “Can I take this one?” referring to if a cart is sanitized for use.
Depression & the Coronavirus:
Q: If you are neurodiverse how has this pandemic affected your condition(s) and/or has your condition(s) affected how you’re dealing with everything?
For the past couple of months, I’ve exhibited depressive symptoms. In public — at school, mainly — I had the mindset to not draw attention to myself. I felt that if people saw me, they’d somehow see the depressive symptoms as well. I was feeling pretty low as it was and didn’t want to be pitied or bring down the atmosphere. In some ways, being at school and forcing myself to focus in class did relieve my lack of motivation. I knew my biggest responsibility was to complete my studies well and graduate with a strong finish, so I was diligent when a teacher’s eyes were on me. While learning was remote, I attended all my classes and completed online assignments, quizzes, and tests in a timely manner. At home, those social walls don’t exist. I feel much more relaxed to be myself than when I was at school, although still depressed. I’ve been combating my depression the same way as before the pandemic, and am gradually feeling better.
Coping With Change:
Q: What coping mechanisms are you using in order to deal with these strange times?
Stretching, following different dance workouts, swimming, listening to self-help commentary, audio journaling, eating a lot of oxtail/shrimp/oatmeal raisin cookies (my faves), cooking new recipes for family, learning mandarin, solo karaoke sessions, etc. How often I do any of these varies week-to-week; I just make sure I feel good.
Life Lessons & Advice:
Q: What have you learned about yourself and the world around you from these circumstances?
The relationships that stay strong and consistent no matter what are to be cherished! Connecting is different now and I’ve experienced some of my relationships dim in that aspect. Some relationships are born out of convenience, and that’s okay– humans were made to connect wherever they go. But even more fulfilling are the relationships that travel with you past the stage of convenience.
Q: What advice would you give to someone like yourself that’s currently dealing with similar circumstances?
Prioritize your health, both mental and physical. One way to do this is by sticking to your personal boundaries. Especially now, people have varying opinions on what’s best. But they are just that– opinions. If you’ve come to a different conclusion on the kind of lifestyle you want to live based on credible research and personal circumstances, stick to it! No one knows you better than you, believe it.
Story by: Zahra
Interviewed by: Julia
Interviewed on: July 2020
Julia Futo was born on August 5th, 1999, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She faced difficulties early on in life with trying to perform everyday tasks. Before she was five years old, she was diagnosed with two learning disabilities: Encephalopathy and developmental coordination disorder (DCD). She struggled in school for a long time, but that changed when she took journalism in high school and learned how to become an advocate. She is currently in college and hopes to help others find their voices.