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Why 'Just Going Home' During the Coronavirus Outbreak Can Be Heartbreaking for Students

It’s no surprise the coronavirus (COVID-19), the new viral strain in the coronavirus family that affects the lungs and respiratory system, has been top news this week. In the midst of it, hundreds of colleges and schools have been sending their students home for indefinite amounts of time. Some public schools are closing for a week or two, some colleges are moving online for a few weeks and some places have announced students will not be returning to school at all and the rest of the semester will be virtual. While many may be excited for “extended spring breaks” and getting to be reunited with family and pets, many may not be. And we need to talk about it.

Being forced to go home is a scary, unfortunate and heartbreaking reality for some. Students who may not have a home, who rely on school for meals, who are from abusive households, who support themselves financially by working at school, or international students are all populations significantly affected by this mandate.

I am one of those people. When news came out my college would be canceling classes the rest of the week and moving online for two weeks after spring break, I was crushed. However, specifics had not yet been announced absolutely requiring students to go home; at the time, it was just highly encouraged. I found hope in that and started preparing for the inevitable fight with my parents about why I would be staying at school instead of returning home for the next three weeks. The next morning as my phone buzzed and when I looked at an email from our residential life services, my heart dropped. My breathing quickened, tears fell and hopelessness washed over me in a way that quickly led to suicidal thoughts.

“Out of an abundance of caution for our community, the University is requiring all students to depart by noon by Saturday, March 14, 2020.”

Looking at that last half of that sentence highlighted in bright yellow, I truly did not know what I was going to do. My phone was buzzing with group messages spreading the news, but I couldn’t bring myself to look at them. This wasn’t a blessing, this wasn’t exciting — this was heartbreaking. My senior year. The last semester. I had come so far and made it through so much … and now I was going to be forced to move back into a place with so much emotional trauma.

Living with a toxic mother who triggers my depression and suicidal thoughts like no other, parents who are both on diets and carelessly talk about them constantly with the full knowledge their daughter has an eating disorder, and knowing every second I was home it was going to be expected I spend it with family — I could not bear the thought of it. Many people texted me throughout the day, aware of my situation, offering their houses as places of support and refuge. I am so thankful to have such amazing friends. But as soon as my family got the news, I knew there was no way I would be able to get out of spending the three weeks at home without completely cutting ties with them. And I thought about that — with the amount of money I’ve saved (though I would have to get my parents off my account in case they drained it), I could be OK for a little bit even if they kicked me off every plan and took anything that was remotely tied to them. But I don’t want to have to do that. I don’t think I have the emotional bandwidth to do that right now. Ultimately, I have decided if things really do get too unbearable here, that’s the route I’ll have to take and I’ll deal with that then.

For now, I’m still battling intense suicidal thoughts, my depression is worse than it’s been in a long time and I’m just trying to make it through. I don’t know how long this is going to last, and the more I think about it, the more hopeless I become. People are hurting, our nation is hurting. And while I know things will return to normalcy once again in time, it’s OK to acknowledge right now hurts. In fact, while holding onto hope as much as we can, I think we need to acknowledge the pain.

So, please be a little kinder than usual to the people around you. Stop and think before you comment on how “lucky” all these students are to be home for so long. Consider the people you may not think about who are affected by new announcements as they continue to come out. Offer support as you’re able, take care of yourself and be honest with the people around you. We need each other now more than ever.

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Getty image by ablokhin.