Lived experience

Zakir's story - An unprecedented struggle

By COSMO on December 9th, 2022.

Sutton Trust COSMO Youth Panel member, Zakir, speaks of the difficulties he faced during the pandemic.

Zakir is a member of the Sutton Trust COSMO Youth Panel.

The COVID-19 pandemic presented immense struggle for us all to overcome - from families struggling with the burden of losing a loved one, to parents suffering from the challenges of economic immobility after being made redundant. Many children were faced with an unprecedented struggle of having to bear witness to these events unfolding whilst having to battle with their own mental turmoil, which for some, only ever intensified. For me, this came from the tragic loss of my Father and later my grandfather, experiencing covid abroad with my mother, and sitting my GCSE exams. 

Experiencing loss 

At first, many people were skeptical about the danger that COVID-19 posed, to say the least. I’d never even thought much about it. This was until my dad got COVID. He was living away from home for a while, so I’d only see him so often. When he was diagnosed, I was naively unaware about how bad his condition was going to get. I can’t even remember the time span from his diagnosis to when he went to the hospital, it all just happened so fast. However, I do remember messaging him when he arrived. Whilst tearing up I was relentlessly messaging him on WhatsApp waiting for a reply – he was online speaking to my mum. When we finally spoke, he kept reassuring me how he was okay and he felt great in fact, his last ever message to me was ‘your dad is a fighter nothing can beat him’. After three weeks of fighting my father passed away April 16, 2020, just a mere 10 days after my birthday. I was meant to celebrate it when he got out. The pain of losing a parent isn’t describable, you only understand when it happens to you.  

I was in year 10 at the time, my penultimate year before my GCSEs. I wasn’t too concerned about my exams as I had too much going on, on top of that I was a smart kid before, so I didn’t worry much. In lockdown, my teachers were really understanding as to my ability to meet deadlines so gave me my space. However, even with my dad’s death and my grandfather’s passing 4 months later, I was determined to go against the odds. I did well in my December mocks - got practically straight A’s and above with English as the exception. I did well regardless of what had happened the year before.  

Travelling abroad 

After my mocks, the Christmas holidays began, and my mum decided to take us to Dubai. We got stuck there as we had COVID and then it was a red list country, this meant to come back home would cost around £10,000. This was far beyond what we could afford as you can imagine. When my mum had COVID she had to go to the ICU, and I felt alone. It was just me and my little sister. I didn’t know if I’d hear from my mum the next day. My mum thankfully, recovered though with some complications, however there was still the problem of being in a red list country. Luckily Pakistan wasn’t relisted. Therefore, me and my little sister flew to Pakistan for 10 days to be able to come to the UK without having to pay a fine and be in isolation, and we tested negative the whole way. I came home a month before sitting my final basket of assessments. I had so much work with such a small window of time. After 2 months of stress, I was finished with exams. However, my Straight As fell to straight Bs on results day with a few exceptions. 

I did it. No matter what anybody says I did it.   

Looking to the future 

My mental health took a serious toll as everything began to catch up with me, the stress, burnout, and grief snowballed into a wave of sadness I couldn’t overcome for months. However, with the immense support from my family I managed to be able to have a level of closure - dealing with the loss of my father, overcoming the disappointment of my GCSE grades, and doing well in sixth form after.  

The COVID-19 pandemic impacted us all but the choices we made determined our position after it subsided. Through perseverance we can truly accomplish anything.