The whole world is struggling with the Covid-19 pandemic. While each citizen can debate differently on the efficacy of the measures being taken, what was the beginning and what will be the end, the common factor globally is the impact on individual and collective wellness during a difficult time like this.
The economical impact, the stress and anxiety of being locked in, the fear for your near and dear ones and more so the feeling of uncertainty and helplessness. This is not a post about how to deal with it. I have no magic mantra, I am one of the millions who feels all of the above at different times. This is more so an expression of what I and a lot of us are feeling at this moment. And as I love lists, it’s also not so short record of what has and hasn’t worked for me. 🙂
The whole situation wasn’t shocking for me. Maybe it’s a mix of my Masters in Medical Microbiology and of a big bag of cynicism, I expected it to get bad to worse. The way we are encroaching into the wilderness, a pandemic was bound to happen sooner or later. I had a friend’s birthday party in the second weekend of March, way before it became a government concern in India, and I got worried when the gathering turned from a select few to a biggish bunch. A lot of new people and parameters that I knew nothing about. I confessed to another friend that I was worried to attend that event. My family called me a hypocrite too because I was already locking everyone in. Not letting my son go for his Tennis classes, yelling at my dad if he went to the supermarket, and arguing with my husband if he needed to go to his workplace that often (his job doesn’t need him to).
In the next couple of days the state wide lockdown was announced. I was glad and relieved but, watched myself and my family closely for the next 21 days hoping that I hadn’t contracted it at the party. Being me, I was mentally making a list of the people I would have to call and inform if I got the sickness. Luckily, I didn’t. Not yet. I told everyone at home from the first week of March to be prepared for self isolation (as the government hadn’t announced yet) till mid to end June, if not more. Sadly, looks like my prediction is coming true.
The first few weeks of watching the panic and sharing of irrelevant, unsupported and baseless news on various social media platforms was enough to stress me out. Arguing and fighting with conspiracy theorists, trying to debunk myths was giving me no peace. Rather my anxiety levels were going up thinking, “What is wrong with the world? Where is the grey matter?!” I chose to step back and not converse or indulge in a discussion with anyone except for my close circle. People I know I can talk and express my opinions comfortably with. Which honestly is not even a total of 5 people. This also meant me going radio silence on a lot of groups. Well, there was another factor to it, which I will address soon.
I have been battling depression and anxiety for 6 years now. I think and would like to believe I have quite a grip on it now. Of course, I have bad days, but nothing I haven’t learnt to cope with. But suddenly, I started having severe panic and anxiety attacks from January this year. And I just couldn’t figure out why it was happening. My usual triggers were out of the picture, all that could trouble me, wasn’t troublesome for now. The last time I had gone to my therapist was April 2019 and while talking to a friend a few weeks ago, I was wondering if I should go to her every few months, as just an investment in my well being. Not wait for me to need her. By mid march, the anxiety got way out of control and I stopped sleeping. I slept a total of 7 hours in 5 days. If you have had anxiety, you know how that is. I would still be bright eyed, highly wired but barely functioning. For the first time, I genuinely got worried for myself. My heart rate was way too high from my usual numbers and I know enough to anticipate the kind of complications that could crop up if I didn’t handle it soon. And the fact that I couldn’t go and see my therapist because of the lockdown was making it worse. Luckily for me, she responded as soon as I texted her and we got on a video call.
I had the access and the support to reach out for her when I could. There are millions out there with mental health issues locked in, which probably is making their condition worse.
I am a creature of habit. I need a schedule, I need some kind of structure to my day. I am frazzled and extremely agitated and irritated if I am just whiling my time away. I am a fitness trainer by profession and even before the lockdown was announced, I had moved my clients online. I had work but I had a lot of time too. No driving around and battling traffic, no up and down to school and other activities for the kid. I had too much time. It would have been perfect to Netflix and chill except for the fact that I had a 9 year old at home all the time and almost nothing I wanted to watch was appropriate for him, and mainly because I can’t sit and watch stuff like that. What does that mean? I am someone who can’t sit and watch movies or shows without doing something else productive at the same time, unless it is absolutely engaging and I need to watch and hear every frame for it to make sense. Maybe this is a side effect of my anxiety. I have a hard time going to movie theaters and watching one. Some of my friends sometimes comment that I don’t “enjoy such stuff”. Only if they knew. 🙂 So now, it was watching kid friendly movies with my laptop working on whatever else I had to.
But still, there was too much time. I still woke up at 4, which gave me 15 hours a day, If you exclude the online classes and other commitments, I was still left with 8-9 hours easily. I enrolled in multiple courses online, attacked my long, never ending “To do list” with a vengeance, planned and started working on various other business ideas I had, started prepping all that I could so that when the lockdown ends, I would be way ahead of the curve. The punny usage hasn’t lost on me, and the curve I am talking about is my own idea of what I should be doing. Trying to achieve as much as I can is my way of dealing with it. Doesn’t mean those who aren’t working hard at this moment are not disciplined or are just wasting their time. This is a difficult time and we cannot ignore the psychological effect it is having on the others. All in all, I am making sure I am as busy as I could be.
Despite packing my day to the hilt, social media was still playing games with me. Being active on social media is part of my work. Posting, responding and engaging isn’t just about passing time. It’s work for me. Now, watching some people post about how “they were making the best use of this time” with the cooking, the new skills of inversions and anything else was making me feel useless. Like I was wasting my time. This was crazy because, I myself was doing all that too! Social comparisons can just ruin you if you let them. I actively decided to ignore a few accounts to stop the comparisons and just focused on my day.
Around one month into the lockdown and I still wasn’t eager to get out and meet people. This made me wonder if there was something wrong with me. Why am I not missing my friends? Why am I not looking forward to drinks, dinner, dancing. Things I usually enjoy. I was in touch with a select few people and was quite content with that. And then I realized, I had friends. A lot. It’s just that I was one of the types who always had a very tight circle around her and at a time like this, I wanted to just hold on that circle and let go of the frills. And it was ok to do that. For the last two years, my social outings were almost non existent, thanks to my lifestyle and schedule. Early mornings and early nights doesn’t really set well with a happening social life. So, it wasn’t a surprise that I wasn’t missing something that wasn’t a part of my life!
What I miss is some alone time. I want to be able to watch TV peacefully. To be in an empty house for a bit. Have no noise, questions or demands. I miss getting out and driving. I miss being in my car with my thoughts and music.
The hardest part of this period is handling my 9 year old. All that energy with no outlet. How long do you make them cycle inside the compound or on the terrace? How long the home schooling, the DIYs, the books, the TV or the video games?? There was some major rebellion brewing and honestly we had no idea how to handle it. Fortunately, I got some expert advice. Most importantly, it was important to remember that even if they are kids, this is a big disruption to their routines and life too. Their reaction was not unwarranted.
Wait. Did I say the hardest? I take it back! Hardest part is dealing with the guilt of complaining about anything. I am well aware that I have it so much better than the vast majority out there. I am privileged to have a roof over my head, food on my table, entertainment, loved ones despite being in these difficult times. I have no source of income currently but that doesn’t affect if I am fed and sheltered. How many people can say that? I had to constantly remind myself that my struggles and feelings are valid. I am better off than most but that doesn’t make my difficulties irrelevant.
It’s a little more than a month now and I have finally decided to take it a little slow. Force myself to relax and try and do nothing or do something which is not necessarily on my “to do list”. Trust me it’s really hard. 🙂 Starting with 30 mins a day, I either watch TV or read a book and try to savour and me present mentally in that moment. This will probably need another review as we continue longer in this situation.
Things that help me navigate this time and maybe will help you too:
- Routine: I am more or less following my usual routine. The waking and sleeping hours, meal times, working hours and down time. This gives me a semblance of normalcy which keeps anxiety and sense of helplessness at bay.
- Filter the news: Yes please! Don’t read everything and anything that comes your way. Follow two or three trusted sources and only a specific time in the day when you indulge in it.
- Exercise: A bigger yes! Multiple benefits with this. Firstly, no matter how disciplined you are with your meals, in a time like this when your usual physical activities are shut down, you might not be able to manage your weight and health very well. Secondly, even 30 mins of exercising a day will keep up the happy hormones which will up your mood and help you deal with the day a lot better.
- Involve in an activity: We all keep talking about how we don’t have the time to do what we want in our normal routines. If you feel upto it, this is the time. Enroll in a course, try your hand at cooking, sketch, write music, learn a new skill. There is no end to this. Keep your mind stimulated, trust me this will just rejuvenate you!
- Sleep well: It’s very easy to let go and sleep and wake up when it suits us. Sleeping right is extremely important for our physical and mental well being. It’s not just about the number of hours but also when! Follow your body clock and the sun and sleep at a specific time every night. No 1 a.m. nights!
- Eat healthy: It is important to eat clean and healthy and not give into junk bingeing. What we eat doesn’t just affect our gut health but also our mental health. Eat in moderation, eat on time and eat healthy.
- It’s physical distancing not social: We might be physically cut out from a lot of people, but in this day and age there isn’t a lot stopping us from being in touch. Text, call, write, video call. Keep in touch with the ones you want. Get on group video calls. Have a drink together, share what you have been doing or going through. Remember, you are still socially connected.
- Ask for help: All the work at this time could be quite overwhelming. Cooking, cleaning and if you are working from home, that too! Assign roles to all the family members and make them help you out. If you are alone, have specific time and days for these activities so that you don’t feel like you are just on your feet all day long.
- Alone time: If you are quarantining with family and friends and have a hard time finding time for self (like me) please try and find a few minutes to be by yourself every day. Maybe when everyone else has gone to bed, or you can just go into another room and let everyone know that you aren’t to be disturbed. You can indulge in any activity you want to. Maybe do nothing and just lie around!
You have to understand that while this situation is not permanent but it definitely is long term. It is important to take care of ourselves physically and more so mentally. Don’t let things come to a standstill waiting for the world to come back to normalcy. Make this your normal as much as you can and keep moving forward.