Portrait of pensive black woman standing beside window

By Racquel Coral, Contributing Writer, Chicago Defender

I, like many people, did not believe the severity of COVID when first learning of it. I thought it was a fear-mongering tactic by the media to put us in a constant state of panic. Dismissing their updates and shaking my head at people for wearing masks wherever they went. Thinking that this was something that would end soon after it started. But on Friday, March 13, 2020, I began to take it a little more seriously.

Now, I am not sure why, but something in my spirit told me to take that day off of work. Maybe it was because it was Friday, the 13th, and I can be a little superstitious. Or maybe it was because I needed a much-needed mental health day. But something deep down inside told me to notify my manager on that Thursday that I would not be in the next day and to take my laptop home with me.

On that Friday, while having brunch with one of my girlfriends, I received a text from my manager. In it, she said that effective immediately, we would all be working remotely for the next three weeks. At first, I was relieved to have a break from commuting to and from downtown. To not have to wake up to the sound of my alarm. And to not have to dress up, put on makeup, or several layers to protect me from the harsh winter weather.

Those first three weeks seemed like nothing compared to what was coming. Because once they ended, and no one had an exact date as to when we would return to the office, I realized that COVID was a much bigger issue than I thought. On top of grocery store shelves being bare, toilet tissue and disinfectant products shortages, and weekly changes in executive orders, I became saddened learning of businesses being shut down, nationwide lockdowns, and worse of all, rising deaths. It became apparent that life as I once knew it would not be the same. Forcing me and many others to pivot to a “new normal”.

A normal that consisted of wearing masks all the time, social distancing, constant testing, and not being able to freely spend time with family and friends. I can remember doing a wellness check on my aunt, who was sick. But because of COVID, I had to leave the items I purchased for her outside of her door, when all I wanted to do was take care of her. That same day, I took supplies to my grandmother and could only talk to her from her driveway. No hugs, no kisses on the cheek, no invitations to come inside.

I had three siblings set to graduate in May of 2020. My sister getting her master’s degree, and my younger twin brothers completing their undergraduate. But because of COVID, their graduations were canceled. Taking away two opportunities to not only travel but to reunite with my family.

Homecomings. Birthday gatherings. Weddings. Festivals. Concerts. All canceled due to COVID. Favorite bars and restaurants closed due to COVID. Spending unlimited hours inside the house and not being able to go outside the same as I once did, abruptly stopped due to COVID.

This pandemic has cost me my sanity, impacting my mental health, and triggering massive amounts of grief. Grief from having my social life stripped from me. Grief from not seeing and spending time with my loved ones. Grief from constant sadness and loneliness. Grief from being forced into a life that does not align with my extroverted ways. All-around collective grief. Mourning what once was with no closure or any end in sight.

And while I am grateful to have a home to live in, consistent income, and no shortage of anything during this period of uncertainty, I grieve my old life. My life BC (Before COVID). My life where I did not have to fear if someone stood too close to me. Or side-eye anyone for sneezing, clearing their throat, or coughing. My life where if I saw someone wearing a mask, I would think they looked strange, and not the other way around.

Two years into this pandemic, I am still struggling. Because as soon as things started looking up, this new variant swooped in, forcing us to go back to where we started from. In the house with limited interaction with the outdoors. Missing out on important moments. Altering life events. And paranoia over potentially contracting this virus and inadvertently spreading it to others.

No amount of Zooms, FaceTime’s, therapy, journaling, mediation, prayer, or virtual events, can make up for what COVID has taken from me. COVID has taken away my freedom. The freedom to live. My freedom to be that carefree Black girl that I once was. And that freedom to live my life in a way that does not send fear and panic through me the moment that I step outside my door.

Contributing Writer Racquel Coral is a national lifestyle writer and journalist based in Chicago, Illinois. Find her on all social media platforms @withloveracquel.

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