My heart sank. Notifications popped up on my cellphone stating that an event was canceled. I told myself everything was going to be just fine and that maybe the other planned events would still occur.
I held on to the small string of hope that no other events would be canceled. However, I slowly grew discouraged. Gradually, the isolation that came from the cancellations started to eat me up inside.
March 13, 2020, is a day I will never forget. On this day, everything started spiraling downhill for me because of a single virus. Despite the tragedy this virus brought upon the world, I am grateful to have learned the importance and necessity of self-reflection and vulnerability. I am grateful to have learned the importance of rest and mental health.
My parents are immigrants from Mexico. Before I was born, they had one goal in mind. They wanted the American dream and an opportunity for success and prosperity.
Being the firstborn and a first-generation student (meaning I’ll be the first in my family to attend college), I felt that the best way for me to pay my parents back was through the hard work and results. I felt the need to show I was capable of accomplishing anything. I believed I had to be the best version of myself, which made me believe I had to be the best in everything I did.
Deep down, I wanted to show others what I was capable of despite the obstacles that some would never know about. As a result, before the pandemic, I was focused on dedicating every second, every minute, every hour of my life to school. I soon realized I let school define me. I felt as if I was alone and trapped in a dark room. There was always a way out, a door waiting for me to go through it, but for some reason I hesitated.
One Sunday after church, Marisol Sandoval, my youth leader at the time, reached out to check on me because she hadn’t seen me in a while. As I explained to her the never-ending tasks I needed to complete, I could see the sincerity in her eyes as she gave me words of encouragement.
As someone who went through the same treacherous journey in high school, Marisol recommended that I take time to rest and give myself a break. Most importantly, she emphasized that I needed to pray whenever I was struggling and to lean toward God just like He wants us to in times of trouble. I took her words into consideration.
Throughout the pandemic, I realized I could step out of the dark room in which I had isolated myself and walk through that door on the path that led me to grow closer to God. I learned about self-reflection. I realized that school is only one part of me and that it does not define who I am.
In the grand scheme of things, we will all fail. But that does not make us less worthy. There is true value in the lessons learned from a struggle. Through this change in perspective, I found more peace and less stress.
As I reflect back on the past few years, I recognize the role the pandemic played in helping me find a better way to live my life. It helped me realize that the way I was defining myself wasn’t quite right. It helped me realize my future career path.
As I contemplate pursuing a career in education, I want to share this message with those who struggle with stress in school and guide them to a healthier mindset. At the same time, I pray that I am able to shine the light of Christ through my actions and lead my future students to Christ.
Nievez Montanez, a 2022 National Acteens Panelist, is from Garland, Texas, and attends Freeman Heights Baptist Church.