My Story: Coming Off Autopilot


On March 13, 2020, I had just turned 15 years old. Now, I am nearly 17. 

Before the pandemic, if you asked me to recall the most important memories or moments of my life, I wouldn’t have known what to tell you. I know that I once got in the car on my way to the first day of high school. I know that I once danced in my first performance on stage. I know that once upon a time, I looked at my newborn brother’s face for the first time. But I don’t remember the feelings those experiences brought up in me. I don’t remember processing them and reacting. I don’t remember the nerves, the excitement, the happiness. 

I wish I did. I wish I could have bottled up those feelings and kept them for when I needed them. I wish I could have remembered them as I processed and reacted to new experiences. They would have helped me make sense of myself and my world.

During these past 22 months, as I spent more time alone, being pulled along an arduous, never-ending stream of sameness, I felt as though my emotions became amplified. Whenever I didn’t feel bored, I felt extremely happy or extremely anxious or extremely upset. Any slight alteration or tangent to the repetitive timeline triggered a sense of freshness and newness in me. In the past, my memories often seem to be tied to the settings or the life-changing experiences. Now, my emotions began to fill that role and flood the way I remembered them. 

June 2020, my best friend, who lives in California, flew to Michigan to spend the summer with me. Years ago we’d met at camp, where we had water skied, sailed and swam in the lake. Now, we just sat in the backyard talking. We spent hours listening to music and talking about our lives. We talked about our passions, our hobbies, our dreams, all while stationary, in a hammock under a tree. It was one of my favorite summers ever. Every day, I laughed until my stomach hurt, and cried more than I ever have. 

With her, and even alone throughout the pandemic, I found emotional fulfillment in stillness. I define the memories of that summer as the memory of emotions, not simply events or places. The experience allowed me to come off of an emotional autopilot. I got to know myself. I got to understand what makes me happy and what makes me sad. I learned to explore them on their own, without being pulled from one activity to the next.

Through its imposed stillness, this pandemic has built up my emotional awareness. It has taught me to stop and sit in special moments and has helped me gain an appreciation for the world around me.