Four Years Later: My Reflections on the Pandemic

Writer Marisa Panella reflects on the good and the bad of the COVID-19 pandemic.

March 13, 2020.

I was sitting on my couch on the phone with a friend gabbing with excitement after our school district announced we’d have two weeks off of school for some sickness people were getting, talking about all the fun things we could do while school was out. 

I was a junior in high school at the time who had just started at a new school — we had no idea what was to come. 

In the four years since, there have been 6,866,673 hospitalizations and 1,183,143 deaths caused by COVID-19 in the United States according to the CDC as of March 12, 2024.

Since March 2020, I’ve had COVID-19 three times. First in February 2022, second in December 2022 and third in September 2023 — the same week I turned 21. I was vaccinated in April 2021 in a roller rink-turned-vaccine center. I got my second dose as soon as I could and have kept up with my boosters since. 

When we had those first weeks off school in 2020, I was naive or perhaps optimistic. I hoped that a few weeks separated from our germ-filled high schools would help things to settle — at least enough to return to daily functions. After those two weeks ended, we received a second email moving school online indefinitely. My friends, family and I had a new set of discussions on how we would protect ourselves. 

My parents bought masks and stocked up on groceries as we watched the news showing people across the globe panicking as this virus we knew so little about took over. It was a period of unimaginable loss and devastation for so many, but also one of immense change. 

With a tragedy such as the COVID-19 pandemic, there is no linear way to move on. It takes resilience and strength to overcome, adapt, cope and — with luck — grow. 

I’m still struggling to process all the ways I’ve changed over the past four years. In many ways, I’m still grieving, thinking about the person I used to be and the things I used to love. I question if I changed for the better or if I was forced into growing to make up for all the loss. 

I’d been struggling with my mental health and being at a new school wasn’t helping in the ways I’d hoped. By the time March rolled around, I had 14 absences in the span of just two months. 

When we first started classes on Zoom, I saw it as a blessing in many ways. It made it easier for me to succeed academically when I didn’t have to physically be at school, and it gave me additional time to focus on getting better. 

For the first three months of lockdown, my life was almost better. My family and I spent more time together going for walks, trying new recipes and binging new shows. My brother even adopted a French bulldog puppy. In my bubble, it seemed as if a simpler life could be something good. 

That certainly comes from a place of privilege where I was fortunate enough to have a safe home to quarantine in and access to technology I could use to do my school work and stay in touch with my friends. I know there were countless people in situations where they didn’t have the same needs met. 

My heart still aches for the students unable to attend school because they lacked Wi-Fi or computer access, the children across the globe who had to quarantine in unsafe situations whether it be physically or mentally and those who didn’t have access to healthcare.

I was lucky enough to be protected, but I still suffered losses of my own. I was unable to see my grandfather for more than two years and shortly after it was deemed safe enough to see him, he died suddenly. I lost countless friends, the boy I thought was the love of my life and developed an anxiety so aggressive I sobbed when my mom took me on a 20-minute drive. 

As my social circle shrank, a spotlight shone on the people who truly belonged in my life. I developed an entirely new set of dreams and realized there is so much more for me outside of the town I grew up in and the people I was beating myself up to impress. I gained a deep appreciation for life, a gratitude for simplicity and a fondness for the little joys in life. 

It’s time I’ll never get back. I can’t make light of it. But in order to cope, I must accept it. Sometimes I miss who I was and I reminisce on the experiences I never got to have, but I try to keep my head up. 

I went into the pandemic as a moody, selfish teenager obsessed with trivial things and four years later, I’m grown. My reflection is one of a woman who has gained insight and wisdom that could only be achieved through loss. 

Feature image by Violet Miller / The Phoenix

Marisa Panella

Marisa Panella