Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining...

“Yay, No more School!” I heard my sister, Shreya, holler as she danced excitedly. I missed seeing her lately; she was always busy since Middle school started. “There is a lockdown because of a virus,” she said. I didn't really care because I was happy that everyone was home. It was like a dream come true! But soon, everything became harder. Whenever Mom said, “Raj, time to log into Zoom school/therapy,” I got nervous. I could feel my jaw clenching and my hands sweating. I loved school, but online school was hard for me, and slowly, I started “shutting down.” I missed seeing people, eating at restaurants, playing with friends, but most of all, I missed my routine. To make things worse, I had to wear a mask anytime I went outside. I hated the mask; it was hard to breathe. But Mom kept saying, “It keeps you safe.” My family always talked about something called COVID-19 that was causing all the changes. I was so confused; What was this disease? Why was everyone so scared? I didn't understand what it meant. There were so many questions swirling in my head. However, amid all this chaos, I was looking forward to only one thing, or so I thought... Every year, for summer break, we go to India, and I eagerly await it! But this year, Mom said, “Raj, we can't go to India because of COVID.” What?! I thought to myself. But we always go to India! That's not fair! It made me upset and anxious. Suddenly, my body felt a big void; I couldn't explain. I frowned at Mom and reached for the chewy tube that was hanging from my neck. I rubbed it against my fingers and moved it vigorously from my left to right hand. My chewy tube was my go-to fidget when it was hard for me to process things. I just stared in disbelief! Change has always been hard for me. Diagnosed with Autism and Down Syndrome, my brain is wired differently than typical kids. While I learn everything, I have my own pace and way of learning. Things are hard to understand sometimes, but I never quit, and most importantly, my family never quits on me. Certain things that typical kids “take for granted” are challenging for me. I like routine, and change throws me off-guard. This change of not going to India was one of them, and I felt a strong pain that I could not express. This virus was changing everything that I was looking forward to. I vaguely remembered the next few weeks. I withdrew into silence and lethargy with overwhelming sadness and anxiety. I disengaged from virtual therapy and learning. I remember my family cheering me with new toys, going on drives, taking me to the park, and trying fun things to make me happy. But it all seemed pointless; I only wanted to go to India. Recognizing the severity of my condition, my parents consulted a neurologist, who suggested a change of scenery to offer some relief. “Wake up, Raj, we are going on a beach vacation,” Shreya exclaimed. Usually, vacations make me happy, but this time, I was not thrilled. I dragged myself into the car. Before I knew it, we reached Padre Island. The next day, we went to the beach early. I was hesitant and clenched tightly on my chewy tube. Settling into a beach chair, I observed my family playing in the water, luring me into joining them. Yet, it was the serene melody of the waves, relentlessly kissing the shore, and the sight of birds gliding gracefully in the sky that captivated me. "Shall we build a sandcastle, Raj?" Shreya persisted, a question she asked each day until, on the fourth, I found myself nodding in agreement. Hand in hand, we approached the waves, stepping into the refreshingly cool waters—a welcome respite from the sun's relentless blaze and the scorching sand. Immersed in play, we leaped and splashed, each droplet of water igniting a spark of joy within me. That evening, when we went on the deck, the sky looked beautiful with deep orange, vermillion, purple, and blue. Eating my chocolate and Twix-flavored ice cream, I realized how beautiful Padre Island was! Before I realized the week was over, it was time to head back home. As our vacation concluded, I no longer felt sad or anxious; a sense of calm and readiness to return home had settled within me. I still had a lot of questions. I was still confused about the virus and wanted to visit my family in India. But I also knew that even if things change, my family is always by my side. I am learning that it's OK for things to change. My family helped me find my silver lining through the clouds of anxiety. So, on our drive back home, I asked my mom, “When is our next vacation?” Inspired by my brother Raj's story, I aim to voice the struggles and resilience of those with disabilities facing mental health challenges during COVID-19. It's crucial to shift from stigmatization to raising awareness about mental health. Awareness fosters acceptance, which paves the way for kindness, empathy, and support. So, let's support people-with-disabilities and help them focus on ways to promote good mental health and find their silver lining!

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IT Student passionate about writing

Kyiv, Ukraine