How To Cope With Unemployment, Delayed Graduation, And Corona Gloves

How do we cope with mental health struggle as creatives? Some Chicago youth share their thoughts on this unexpected life change impacting us all, in this new audio documentary by Ty’Kira Smalls.

“I kind of agree with the social distancing thing? I also understand the quarantine, like why we’re doing it, but I also don’t like it.”

Sophia, 18, lives semi-alone with her rabbits. Before the shutdown, she was a hostess.

For young Chicagoans, COVID-19 is their first pandemic. Some are still working, some are in school, and some of us find ourselves completely isolated during Illinois’ stay-at-home-order. So, how are my peers and I coping with this global crisis?

“Life now, just feels like one very long day,” Sophia said. “When I have memories of the day, how do I know it’s not the memory from the day before? Memories are melting together.”

It’s no secret that isolation can be unhealthy. Reported by the American Psychological Association, social isolation can lead to depression, poor sleep quality, impaired immunity, and inability to handle stress; amongst other effects.

“My mental health before isolation wasn’t that great anyways. I don’t go to a therapist when I should, and my uncle died recently. I think forced isolation really impacted my mental health. I hate being in the house now, more than usual. Also the only people I can visit are my family, which suck, they’re bad for my mental health.”

Shutdowns began early to mid-March, leading into spring break in the U.S. In Miami Beach, Fla., the Winter Party Festival was being held, despite an active outbreak. Those who stayed inside were upset that Spring Breakers extended the quarantine, when​ illnesses and deaths had been reported after the festivities.

“Some younger people, if not most from what I’ve seen, are following the rules. I haven’t seen the whole spring break video. But I do feel that sometimes, sometimes man, I just hate being indoors, I wanna go play tennis.”   

While being outdoors is discouraged, Adrian, 21, is taking this time to slow down. Pre-shutdown, Adrian was a server and studied traditional animation at Columbia College Chicago. He lives with his sister.  

“I lost my job and my school all in the same weekend.” Adrian recalls. “You always hear in history about large groups of people being laid off, and​ ​I just never saw the restaurant industry taking a turn for the worst.”                       

Sophia, Adrian, and I lost our jobs in the restaurant industry due to the shutdown. ​After crowds in Chicago celebrated St. Patrick’s Day against better judgement, restaurants and bars were ordered to be closed. Only take-out, delivery, and curbside pickup are permitted.

[Before quarantine] “I was barely making it to the next place I had to go to. Go to work, go to school. Now I can finally do my work the way I want to do it, and not race against the clock of other stuff I have to juggle,” Adrian said.               

Adrian was scheduled to graduate in May. Columbia College Chicago is still holding remote classes, but the in-person graduation is cancelled.

“I’m a first generation student. I’m the only person in my family to go to art school like this, and I’m doing something that I want to do. It is shitty that I don’t get to graduate, but I really like the content I’ve been making.”

Essential businesses remain open, mainly grocery stores. Jordan, 22, is a freelance illustrator and works at a large grocery store in Chicago. Her roommate works at the same store. They both lost their second jobs, which were in the food industry.

“I almost wish I was fully quarantined.” Jordan admits. “I wish I could sit at home and work. I don’t want to be here on the front lines. I would rather not have to deal with this man coughing in his mask.”

Stores attempt to flatten the curve too, from shortening hours to limiting their customer capacity. Some customers follow guidelines, others do not.

“They’re treating it like a vacation. That’s why I can’t gauge how serious the situation is. I see people in hazmat suits, but then I also see people in shorts, no mask, just hangin’ out.”                   

Many cannot afford to stop working, so they risk their health to continue. Outside of social interaction, Jordan sees her life as business as usual.                   

“I feel like other people are suffering, but I’m an introvert. I’m perfectly okay with talking to someone over a video camera.”               

As news about the virus updates hourly, young people find it hard to discern their emotions living through a pandemic.

“I think I’m definitely sad, but I also process things weird. I don’t exactly understand what’s going on. I’m also panicking because I don’t have health insurance. So if I get sick, I will just die,” she laughs.

As a 22-year-old living solo for two years, I cycle between being okay and struggling during this time. I lost my job mid-March, and income has been a major stressor. I see myself as more introverted, so I react to social interaction (or lack thereof) a bit differently than others.

But I’m learning about myself more, and building a better self-relationship. I wish the term was physical distancing instead of social distancing. It’s nice to know I’m not alone in this, but in many literal ways, I am alone, aren’t I?       

It’s painfully cliche, but right now the only thing I can do is remain positive. Keep making tiny tasks for myself and keep my mind/body busy. It’s essential to keep going.

“If you’re really struggling mentally, try to do something creative. I feel like creativity will lead you somewhere happier than your brain will.” Adrian suggests.               

“I think it’s time for a revolution. I’m so serious! I hate it here. I don’t think the government is handling this situation well at all. Also, free healthcare should be a thing.” Sophia insists.

“I’m hoping that they realize that all these people still working are essential people who need to make more. Also stop leaving your nasty gloves everywhere. I’m tired of picking up corona gloves.” Jordan pleads.

If you find yourself in any sort of mental health crisis, reach out to any of these organizations/sources.

Editor’s note: Please comment if you know of any other resources local to Chicago.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255

Crisis Text Line Service: Text HOME (4663)  to 741741

NAMI Chicago: 312-563-0445

NAMI Chicago Crisis Resource List (including finding healthcare and alternative hospitals)

NAMI Chicago Resources (including housing and shelters)

CDC COVID-19 Tips for Coping with Stress and Anxiety

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