I’m going to be perfectly honest here. I was one of those people who failed to properly consider all the implications of the community quarantine when it started. “For the love of all things holy, I need to restock my cupboards,” was the first thing that came to mind. Of course, there was also the question of whether I should travel back to the province or not.
I go home on weekends to spend time with my family in the province even if I’ve been living alone in Manila. I decided against it in the end, considering that my mother has a pre-existing condition and I might be an asymptomatic carrier. “Besides,” I remember thinking back then, “It’s only going to last a month. Surely I can manage that.”
I think it was during the first Friday night of the community quarantine that I started feeling odd. Now, I’m the farthest from being a social butterfly, but still, I felt hollow after finishing my work shift. Hell, I couldn’t even bring myself to open my laptop and watch Netflix. And it WAS a Friday.
32 square feet of space
It was at the end of the second week when I finally realized that there is something wrong. I haven’t been sleeping well and I constantly felt heavy. My mood was fluctuating so much as well. My perpetually noisy upstairs neighbors would grate on my nerves more than usual because I had to deal with them 24/7. It also didn’t help that all the news being churned out sounded hopeless and grim. Locked in 32 square feet of space with no one to physically talk to, I became a living, walking anxiety bomb ready to burst at the slightest trigger.
I knew I needed to do something when I started losing more sleep. There were times when I would get three hours maximum of rest which started affecting my mental health. I was stuck in a repeating loop of anxiety hell. I couldn’t sleep because I was getting agitated with everything that is going on around me. But I couldn’t detach myself from them as well. My options to de-stress were limited because I was pacing in the same small space. I have to choose between keeping myself plugged to be in touch with what’s happening or entirely shut everyone out for my sanity. People are dying all around. I miss my family. What’s worst of it? It didn’t seem like things were going to end by the time the initial quarantine deadline was over. In other words, I felt like I’ve completely lost control of my life.
The thing is, you are only left with a few choices if you’re left cornered on a dark space. 1) You let the situation eat you whole and 2) You find ways to cope. I went with option 2 because going crazy in a pandemic isn’t a palatable option for me.
The first thing I had to do was acknowledge the fact that things are out of my control. There’s nothing I can do about the virus regardless of how much I worry about my family. I can’t entirely influence my neighbors to be quiet because maybe, the disturbances were a result of them being restless, too. Even if I was desperate to come home, I couldn’t and I wouldn’t for the sake of my mom.
Second, I had to accept the fact that it’s okay for me to feel the way that I do. I’m better off than a great portion of people who were left jobless, hungry, and homeless by this situation. What’s my right to feel displaced?” I had to fight hard to allow myself to freely acknowledge my feelings, but at least I arrived at a new resolution in the end. That I should acknowledge my privilege, then allow myself to feel human.
The next step for me was to accept the reality that I needed help. My anxiety had overtaken my health at this point, and I knew I at least needed someone to know. Living alone during this time can take a serious mental toll on anyone because we’re left to deal with our thoughts on our own. Sure, we can reach out to our loved ones easily with technology now, but having someone there with you physically is still different. I decided to work on three things in the end: get honest emotional support, change the way I was dealing with things, and find an outlet.
Finding ways that help
I worked on the first one by taking my chance to call Hopeline Philippines, a local suicide prevention and emotional crisis intervention hotline. They promptly answered my call. The operator at the end of the line was very patient in listening about my thoughts. They also gave gentle reminders of how I can cope (meditation and setting up a particular time to browse the news instead of gluing my nose to my feed 24/7). They even referred me to other hotlines and emotional support to social volunteers. Most importantly, they assured me that what I’m feeling is acceptable. “Everyone is allowed to feel down. You’re allowed to have those feelings regardless of what you have or don’t have.”
I picked up my pace from there. I can’t emphasize this enough, but owning your shit and asking for help is the most important step of all. Sure, I still felt like a heavy cloud has temporarily taken residence over my head, but there was also a silver lining there that has inspired me to do more.
For example, I started feeling more motivated to change the way I react to things. As cliché as it sounds, the only things we really have total control over are our actions and how we react to things. I meditated using Youtube videos. I tried to practice mindfulness so I wouldn’t act all snappy and emotional. While there are days when I still get overwhelmed and throw half my progress out the window, I also started having good days, too.
I also started exploring a new outlet for my feelings. Mine is writing but my mind felt so tired that stringing one sentence took so much effort. So I got back to making art again as an alternative—a hobby I’ve put in the back burner for years because “I got too busy.” I found that the approach felt much more healing for me because I can just transfer all my worries to the picture I’m creating.
So, do I feel better? Not 100 percent, I will admit. There are days when things get the best of me. But there are times when I feel more hopeful and alive. Struggles not considered, I did learn a few good things about life:
First, there is always something that we can do no matter how helpless we feel.
Second, taking care of yourself is not always beautiful and inspiring. It can also be messy and frustrating, but it is ALWAYS brave.
And third, a helping hand is always there if we seek for it. Whether it is other people offering it to us, or us reaching out within ourselves.
* Do you or a close family member/friend need someone to talk to? You can call Hopeline Philippines’ 24/7 hotlines via these numbers:
2919 (toll-free for Globe and TM)