Graduating high school for some means graduating from the bedroom that took them along on the journey through primary schooling. Going away to college, just as many Knox students have, brought a new bedroom to create memories in. One separate from the family members who raised you. With COVID-19 sending many back to their high school bedrooms, Knox students have felt the impacts of such a drastic change.
“I mentioned to someone recently that being in my childhood bedroom feels like I’m staying in a hotel. It’s my space, but something about it feels unalterable. Even though it’s mine for the time being, at the end of the day it belongs to Lily ages 14-18,” said sophomore Lily Gates, “You’ve become a new person in so many ways, so detached from your fourteen-year-old self. Then you walk into this room and it’s familiar, yours even, but it feels like you’re looking in on someone else’s memories. There is tension and discomfort that comes with reflection. I think we have to reflect on things when we feel ready to or when we have more experience to cope with the past. When we’re uprooted like this we enter into a forced reflection, and it can be really uncomfortable.”
For Knox Students arriving in college, the changes begin right away. Especially for seniors who may not have planned on going back to their childhood bedrooms and instead of moving forward to live on their own, this can be a roadblock in their future plans. For Senior Elizabeth Dehlin, the realization of going back to her high school bedroom was a particularly difficult pill to swallow.
“It feels like I’m regressing. I abided by the rules in high school, played everything very safe, and college is obviously quite different from that. To me, the room means no privacy, there’s nowhere to cry in peace (something I didn’t realize I would need to such a strong degree). There’s certainly been a change in how I interact with the space and my family. It’s very different to be living in this room and house as a workspace, rather than a space for relaxation and doing nothing. I’ve never been home during an academic term, until now,” said Elizabeth.
The four years spent on a college campus are moments that many will tell for years into their adult life. The final term of her senior year was stolen from her –days she thought she would cherish as a final goodbye– now she sits in her parent’s home hustling to finish her final term.
“As a senior, there are so many things to look forward to at the end of your time at Knox – final Flunk, Senior Pumphandle, Senior Week, Commencement. It’s disappointing to be missing out on those things I had been looking forward to,” said Dehlin, “I’m spending hours upon hours in front of my laptop, just trying to finish my degree and make myself proud.”
While Dehlin is picturing her life outside of Knox, many are still trying to move through their beginning years as a college student while also getting reminded of their recent years in high school. Coping mechanisms such as rearranging their old rooms have been proving sufficient. For sophomore Sophia Elswick, moving her furniture and adjusting her living space was crucial to staying sane during isolation.
“I actually got fed up and convinced my parents to let me move things around to make it feel like a new space, one that felt more like my own,” said Elswick, “Before I rearranged it to feel like new, it was hard to be continually reminded of all my mental breakdowns and the times I’ve cried myself to sleep in there. Funny enough, those flashbacks have been reduced now that I’ve rearranged it.”
For others, going back to the same bedroom they spent most of their years before Knox is not entirely possible because of frequent moves and family separation. For freshman Lua Powers, carrying around items that make a room feel at home is key, but with the quick transition from Knox to her parent’s home, not all their items were able to come off the walls. Instead, she is reminded of old memories of harder times in high school.
“I’ve already stumbled across a lot in my house like places I’d go to cry, old clothes, poetry, even homework my mom didn’t get rid of. It’s bittersweet because while I’m glad I passed all that I’m not where I’m meant to be, it’s like a weird purgatory,” said Powers.
One aspect that reigns true with all four Knox students is the reminder of poor mental health in their years before college. Each interviewee mentioned an aspect of regression, feeding back into old habits that they seemed to begin to work on in new environments.
“A lot of the progress I had made with my mental health is now unraveling,” said Dehlin.
For Gates, reminders of her previous encounters with poor eating habits and her body image seemed to sneak back in after two years of progress in a new atmosphere.
“While these habits and thought patterns didn’t disappear, they certainly subsided for a bit. What I’ve noticed though is that when I come home, I start fixating on my body again. I had put on quite a bit of weight again this past year and within a few days of me being home, I noticed those thoughts slowly inching back into my life. Over analyzing what I was eating, feeling guilty about eating, feeling overwhelmed and binge eating, then feeling guilty again, not wanting to eat in front of people, and taking any comment from my family about my diet or body as an attack,” said Gates.
Gates is not the only one struggling with reminders of her mental health in high school. For Powers, quarantine has proved to send negative reminders of her coping mechanisms through her mind.
“In high school a bad coping mechanism for my mental health was isolation. By senior year I was always dying to get out of my house and see other people and it really helped. It’s really rough having to isolate that again for who knows how long it doesn’t really bring back good memories,” said Powers
Powers also noticed a change in regard to academic conversations with her family. With her new-found knowledge from her first year at Knox, she struggles not to bring difficult conversations to the dinner table.
“All the anxiety I was able to shake coming to college came back even harder due to everything happening outside. There are also things like my sexuality and my “talking about race” that I’m going to have to tone down because it’s considered really taboo in my family which sucks,” said Powers.
Dehlin noticed a similar dynamic in her household. Conversations about introspective topics have consistently been pushed aside due to family members not interested in the subjects.
“I have to be careful about what I say. And because I am one of the only ones in my household who has experience with civil discussions and the concept of “attack the idea, not the person” I have to be very careful about what I bring up,” said Dehlin.
No matter the circumstance, these Knox students feel grateful for the ability to have a space to call home. While there are many discomforts in the world right now, these students are reminding themselves that no one could have seen COVID-19 coming.
“People our age want independence, my parents know this and respect this. At the end of the day, the hardest parts of this aren’t my family’s fault. They’re not anybody’s fault. I think I’m able to keep my angst at a reasonable level because I know that no one asked for this to happen. This is just the life we are living, and these are the things that are happening,” said Gates.
Some even noticed a positive change in regard to their relationships with parents and family members. Some noticed with the ability to grow separately, reunited is that much more exciting.
“I’m very grateful to have food and housing security right now, as much as I don’t like being in this situation I don’t want to take my privileges for granted. There are also times where I get along with my family in ways we never did growing up which is fun,” Powers said.
While Gates admitted to having a successful relationship with her family before COVID-19, she still feels that it has improved since her graduation from high school.
“I think my relationship with my family has improved a lot since going to college. I’ve always had a good relationship with them, but it feels more genuine now. Independence has been hard and good for us all,” Gates said.
Yet regardless of location, age, or circumstance, many have been experimenting with new or old ways of coping with the global situation.
“Sometimes I feel really overwhelmed with the uncertainty of everything right now and it reminds me of when I was sixteen and everything was overwhelming and all I really wanted to do was take a bath. Consequently, I’ve been taking a lot of baths,” Gates said.