A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

Lost freedom: quarantine in a toxic household

James Cornell, Special to The Oak Leaf
Reading pillow, noise-cancelling headphones covering headphones for Zoom classes and my bed make up my “classroom.”

As someone who dives into new adventures while maintaining a busy schedule, I use my freedom to exude toxicity. A toxic home life, to be precise. One ruled by narcissistic rules and walking on eggshells.

When I arrived to work one day in March and heard the news that the Nike store was closing because of the coronavirus pandemic, I knew things wouldn’t be the same.

 The Past

I used to bike 10 miles roundtrip to high school because my parents worked early in the morning and I did not have a car at the time; for me, freedom came as a privilege. This privilege became a getaway ticket from a house that is owned by a step-mother who does not see the need to compromise. 

As I felt the plague of the toxic environment consume me, I found myself gasping for a release with the additional juggling act of work and school. I found solace in weekly bowling nights — venting to trusted friends and family — consistent exercise classes at Santa Rosa Junior College and, with the help of one of my managers, productivity at work. These life elements helped me develop a well-balanced though busy routine.

 The Pandemic

For many, the onset of the shelter-in-place order diminished the idea of normality and prompted boredom. For me, it drowned my mind. As the order constricted, days began to blur, and without the routine aid of diversions, I realized how the toxicity within the house was as strong as ever.

 The pernicious feeling of being confined consumed my mind.

Being one who abides by rules and regulations, I complied with the order — but the enablement within the house did not change. The step-mother’s teenage son is enabled to get away with being lazy and messy, among other things with very little discipline.On the other hand I had to abide by her ways or else she would be displeased. In addition, when the shelter-in-place order took effect, reality did not seem to change for the son; he was allowed to freely leave the house for non-essential things on a daily basis with no restrictions. Yet she was adamant about cleaning the house and adhering to some of the prevention strategies of keeping the virus away. 

Banned from my go-to diversions by the order and confined to a house that is overrun with intolerance, I found myself relying on uncommon amounts of video games with no motivation to leave my room. I felt as though I’d lost interest or was just going through the motions with online lectures and Zoom classes. Even using the garage for a well-adapted Zoom boxing class, there was a part of me that felt out of it. At first I thought it was because the smell of cat litter-filled garbage bags but I realized it was much bigger than that. 

As the hours spent on video games rocketed, coinciding with lack of motivation, my mental health began to plummet. The eggshells I walked on became more prominent and irritating. Anxiety of not wanting to deal with the stepmom or her son rose, and the feeling of isolation sank in. Not only did I feel confined to my room but, mentally I was raging a war without bullets. 

Since the toxicity would not change, I knew I had to. 

The Future

The world-renowned Walt Disney once said, “We keep moving forward, opening new doors and doing new things because we’re curious, and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” I let my curiosity flourish and opened myself to new interests.

I learned a few yoga poses and at home workouts to help with stress and better the body. I took time away to reflect and become self-aware of issues I had been neglecting to improve.

Once in a better state of mind, the light at the end of the tunnel flickered on when I was accepted to San Jose State University for Fall 2020. My mood and outlook improved with the news. 

The Battle

Toxic quarantine life is an unpredictable daily battle. Although I could not have anticipated it and don’t  know when restrictions will ease, what I do know is that the only person who can change is me.

The hardest part of any change is taking action, and I figured the diversions away from home would help sedate the toxins. 

Many people are forced to live in a toxic environment or with toxic people, some longer than others, but no matter the duration of the battle, it’s important to be self-aware. Taking the time to think, develop and dream are key tools you can use to better yourself until you are free.

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