Student - Northwestern University

College has always been my escape from home. It’s not that I don’t like my family — actually, I love them. But the freedom of living on my own and pursuing my dreams is what drives me. At college, I can focus on what I want to do with my life without the worries that stem from living at home. On campus, I’m not expected to fulfill the responsibilities of looking after my dementia-stricken grandmother or caring for my nonverbal uncle. On campus, I don’t have to share a single laptop with five other people or fret that my Internet will disconnect while I’m writing a paper. And on campus, I have the luxury of being alone in MY quiet room. The value of having a room of one’s own is unknown until such privilege is taken away.

Anyway, it’s been about a week since I’ve returned home to our two-bedroom apartment. My brother and sister—also college students—are back, too. Now, I was surely happy to see them, and a few tears of joy were shed, but I knew that the next few weeks were going to be rough. We’d have to plan a schedule for looking after my grandmother and uncle, figure out when each of us would have access to the laptop, and determine rotations for buying groceries. No way were we going to let our parents, who had both been laid off, go shopping. With pre-existing respiratory issues, they were undeniably a part of the high-risk group. Heaven forbid what would happen to my mental state if either of them fell victim to the virus.

With regards to school, my brother and sister have started online classes. Thankfully, I am still on break. The two of them haven’t yet figured out an appropriate schedule for sharing the laptop, so I’m not sure what will happen when I start e-learning as well. I don’t want to think about it. And frankly, I can’t.

What I’m most worried about isn’t school. I’m terrified about how my family will stay afloat financially. The state recently announced a shelter-in-place lockdown with only essential business operating. Dad, who is a chef, and Mom, a seamstress, are out of work and probably will be for the next few months. Sure, we’ve been frugal all of our lives, so we do have some savings, but it’s undeniably not enough. The emotional toll hasn’t helped, either.

I can’t sleep at night. Honestly, who can? My mind is completely wrecked. Fear about the future suffocates my thoughts. To try to alleviate the burden, I turn to meditation and yoga. It helps, but again, it’s not enough.

This whole situation is crazy and sad, and I want to believe that my family will push through, but sometimes I feel powerless. That doesn’t mean that I’ve given up, though.

After all, first-generation, low-income students are strong. For prevention measures, my siblings and I are limiting the number of times we go out to buy groceries. We’re practicing good hygiene and wiping surfaces with disinfectant, too. To lessen the financial burden, we’re purchasing only what is necessary and making food like bread from scratch. And most important of all, we’re keeping mentally sane through sharing our concerns and tears with each other. In the most stressful times, family is precious. Joining online support groups has definitely helped as well. Sometimes, our efforts feel like they’re not enough, but that’s all we can do for now. Every small step matters.