In this past year, many of us have experienced more pain, growth, hope, and sadness than we could have ever imagined. Months into our new year, COVID-19 continues to affect our lives, and it is becoming increasingly evident that the world will never be the same. I hope that my story, as a 16-year-old girl, will inspire you to take a look at your own life and think about who you are and what your story is.
My name is Kayla and this is my story.
It has officially been over one year. An entire year that we have relinquished to COVID-19, forced to spend our time confined to the seclusion of our own home. Throughout this past year, we have all wondered; why? What makes this life, this endless journey, worth it? In the beginning, I thought it was the constant laugher shared at school, or joining any and every club for a momentary escape from the darkness within my head, begging to be seen. I thought that putting a smile on this face – a face that was slowly breaking after countless nights trying to calm my mind – would solve everything. So why wasn’t it working?
Despite my best efforts, this darkness kept beckoning for me to come closer, and closer, until I succumbed to it. I never thought that my pleas to be free from this chaos of school for just one week would turn into months – months of days consumed by Tik Tok and the newest Netflix series. Days in which school seemed like an option, and I made the effortless choice of just….not doing it. Nights were now used to aimlessly consume myself with the next big online trend, wondering why my life wasn’t as perfect as these characters I saw on my app. Each day, my already fragile mental health was becoming progressively worse, fragmenting further day by day.
Jump to four months later: it’s a rainy Florida day. I walk out of my house, extend my arms, and for a few moments, let the rain envelop my skin and the wind caress my face. I felt an urge to let it wash away all the limitations I had put on myself. It occurred to me that I had a power that I hadn’t considered before: I could try a revolutionary thing – being happy.
I realize now that sometimes if the sun doesn’t shine down, allowing you to bask in its safety, you need to learn how to dance in the uncertainty of the rain. I was in control of my thoughts, and I had the power to take radical responsibility for who I was, and who I wanted to be.
Over the next few months, I began to realize that the key is using my strength to fight, not against this relentless world, but against my self-imposed restrictions so I can continue to experience life’s utterly perfect moments. At the beginning of 2021, I built up a strength that exceeded anything I would have ever expected, but I had one massive fallacy: I could do it all alone.
One beautiful Florida day, I took a trip to the place I go to escape: the beach. Everything was perfect – the weather was warm but not too warm, it was windy, but not too windy, and the waves were begging me to join them. And so I did. I went deeper into what I thought was all I needed: the waves and myself. I was slowly going farther and farther away from my true safety. My anchor. My shore. For the past few months, I was under the misguided notion that I could build up enough strength to fight the waves alone, not realizing that the current was pulling me into the inescapable expanse.
The strength of the waves, which I once admired, was now relentless in its attempt to pull me in. My legs never quit kicking as I attempted to unleash myself from their grasp. Moments when I thought I had a momentary cease from the fight, another wave would crash, submerging my flailing body and extinguishing any naive hope I harbored. Each wave would barrel towards me, pulling me out deeper and deeper. My tired legs didn’t want to fight, and a part of me wondered if anyone saw me fighting to stay up, to survive. Dread pulsed up but I forced it down, not letting it consume me.
I realized that though I have been keeping my head above water alone, I desperately needed someone to bring me back to shore. So I kept fighting. I realized that I couldn’t take on this beast alone, and that’s ok. I waved my arms praying that someone saw me. I kept my head above water even when everything was pushing me not to, so I could be strong enough for someone to bring me back to shore. That day I realized that it’s ok not to be ok, to ask for help, as long as you keep working to hold your head above the water.
To this day, I never stop fighting against the waves, and if I get too far away from the shore, I wave my arms beckoning for help. Life is tough, but we are tougher. In this arduous life, things often have to go wrong in order to go right. My hope is that everyone realizes that you have the strength to fight the waves, or at least keep your head above water, even when everything is telling you not to.
Kayla Bello is a rising sophomore at Fort Lauderdale High School who is passionate about creating equality whether that is environmental, food, racial, or voting equality. She is an active member of Speech and Debate, as well as many environmental organizations. Kayla is also a Youth Council leader for Fuel Up to Play 60 where she leads students across the country, and works to solve many social issues such as food inequality. She wants to create systemic change by working with businesses and nonprofits to help people around the world. Outside of school Kayla loves to bike, run, and find any opportunity to watch the sunset on a lake or the ocean. She recognizes that Gen-Z is the first generation to have the privilege of widespread access to technology, and with that this generation can make real lasting change. She wants to leverage the immense amount of power this generation holds in order to truly make a difference.