COPING WITH CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) – FROM A CHILD’S PERSPECTIVE. By Ryan Okemwa – 11 years old

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. This was my immediate thought when I first heard of Corona virus. A virus that we can’t see, yet it has caused so much disruption all over the world. It hit us from all directions at once.

The reality begun to sink in the day our school was closed in March last year and I sat at home with mixed feelings. Feelings of anxiety, uncertainty, fear of the unknown and of change. It all seemed so surreal. We were being pulled from our normal routines and activities into a state of just being stagnant. The government and people we relied on were giving us mixed information that is constantly changing and unstable. Upon speaking to my family and friends who had no answers to my questions and were as confused as I was, it was at that point that I realised I needed to manage my fears and anxieties before they took a hold of me.

Faced with constant bombardment of negative news, job losses, companies shutting down and figures of the increasing infection rates across the world and sadly the growing number of individuals who have lost their lives, it dawned upon me that we are dealing with a serious global threat that it isn’t going away anytime soon. Covid-19 is no respecter of person. Irrespective of your educational, political, ethnic or social background, anyone could be affected by Covid-19 and with no cure, we can only hope for the best.

With this realization in mind, I knew I had to do something. The first thing I had to do was to come to terms with my feelings. Some days I would be optimistic and some days I would be scared or anxious wondering whether we would ever go back to normality. This was fuelled by when there was a little glimmer of hope back in the summer of 2020 when we came out of lockdown only to return to another lockdown shortly after. I realised that the best way to regulate my feelings and emotions was to identify them. When you name it, you can tame it. I also allowed myself to recognise that it is ok to not be ok. The rollercoaster of emotions we all felt was normal. The best way to handle this is to be kind to yourself especially when it concerns matters that are beyond your control. I also recognised that the best therapy is to speak to someone about how you’re feeling and asking for help when you need it which is what I did on a few occasions.

The next step was to acknowledge what we can and can’t control. I encouraged my friends and family to stop focusing on the things they can’t control and focus on what they can control and that is “YOU and I”. We can control how we act, what we say, what we do and how we react to things and situations. My faith teaches me that God cannot give you something you can’t handle. Therefore, irrespective of the various challenges we face in life especially in the light of the pandemic, I realised, that there will be a light at the end of the tunnel and these dark times will pass. Today, we are facing some long term hope and positivity with the introduction of the Covid-19 vaccines which are giving us some anticipation that we will return back to normal one day.

I am very active and heavily involved in football, hockey, rugby and swimming. Therefore, to not be able to train during the lockdowns with my coaches and peers was a sad reality. However, rather than sink in sorrow, I decided to create a Whatsapp group with my friends whereby we would challenge each other to different exercises and activities to enable us to practice and get better in our sports. We learnt from each other and it was a good opportunity for us to support and encourage each other. We are still very active with this and it has greatly helped improve our mental health collectively and it is a great distraction.

I used the last few months as an opportunity to also take on new challenges and learn new skills. For instance, we are learning French and Spanish at home, baking, gardening, playing the drums and piano and I have also used it as a way to bring my wider family together. We created various Whatsapp groups with family members that we haven’t spoken to in years across the world and this has greatly increased our bond as a family unit. We’ve learnt so much about each other and laughed so much. We really look forward to our regular calls and I would suggest to you to get involved in group calls/ activities with family or the wider community. Utulivu ran weekly calls on Zoom that have truly been educative and encouraging during this period. I have joined a few of the calls and I really felt empowered, motivated and recharged.

Most importantly, Covid-19 has taught me to practice gratitude. Being grateful about being alive, your job, education, family, friends, good health etc can improve psychological health, reduce toxic emotions and increase empathy. Every day I wake up and take a few moments to just count my blessings and be grateful.

I have also taken a lot of time out to practice self-love. Treating myself to a favourite meal, going for walks, meditating, reading the bible, watching movies and doing the things that make me happy. I have learnt to filter negative and bad things or people from my life and making a conscious decision to be happy every day. I learnt that I can’t rely on anyone, my environment or circumstances to make me happy, only I can do this. This can happen if you have the right attitude in life. A positive and grateful attitude.

I have also taken a step back and refocused on my goals and aspirations and re-evaluated on what really matters in my life. The things I want to achieve in my lifelong term, and I have set a plan and timeframes on when I will achieve these goals.

Covid-19 has taught us that although we need the material things, we have to make our lives better, these things don’t really matter at the end of the day. What matters are the simple things, family and strong relationships with loved ones, good physical, emotional and mental health, developing a winning attitude in life and looking after yourself. 

Although Covid-19 has presented a spectrum of mixed emotions in us, feelings of anxiety, fear, anger, confusion, hopelessness, boredom and uncertainty, let us remain enthusiastic that we will overcome this. despite there being greater pressure and stress, it is important to be aware that how we react to this is what will make or break us. Unhealthy coping mechanisms can lead to mental, emotional and physical issues. Stay positive, have a winning attitude and be happy.

Ryan Okwema

Ryan Okwema