Someone in the building was believed to have been infected by the virus, so our boss told us to work from home beginning the following day. It was Thursday, March 12, 2020.
Adapting to the abnormal
On the morning of March 13, though it was still technically a work day, I decided to go home to my family 12 kilometers away from where I’m staying. On the road, I felt fear, anger, anxiety, stress and despondence. I’ve always been one to go with the flow and find thrill in unknown situations, but this is going too far.
I stopped by Landers for a quick grocery shopping for the family, thinking there would be a few people on a weekday. Was I wrong! Apparently I was one of those who went panic buying. Lines toward the counters snaked around aisles. While waiting, I went on a quick call with management on the company’s next steps, not knowing what the government’s move will be. It took 2 hours before I finally got my turn at one of the open counters. I dropped off the grocery to my family, gave them a few reminders on how to keep themselves safe and protected, before heading back to my own place to finish the workday.
On Saturday, March 14, President Duterte announced the first lockdown. I was trapped. I should’ve stayed with the family, I thought.
The following days were nerve-racking and discombobulating, what with the government quarantine regulations creating more questions than assurances and directions. Social media was noisier than ever. Mainstream media scrambled for answers. The situation became political as much as it was a health concern.
I limited my movement, scheduling my grocery day only twice a month. In spite of assurances from the government that supplies will not run out, you can’t blame people from hoarding. It took me a month before I got hold of a medium-sized bottle of isopropyl alcohol.
In the succeeding weeks, the line that I experienced at Landers was a breeze compared with the lines I went through at nearby supermarkets. The first week was the worst. I waited in line under the unforgiving heat of the sun for two hours, another two hours in the shade, and an hour and a half in line for the counter. The actual grocery shopping was only 30 minutes since I stuck to my list. By the time I got home, I felt like I was getting sick myself. I reeked of sweat, dust, smoke and heat. My head was throbbing and my throat was parched.
Sanitizing the grocery items once I get home was tedious and painstaking. I started with a disinfectant spray for a while before discovering disinfectant wipes. These days, I would just spread the items on the floor and leave a small UV lamp in the middle for 30 minutes.
I prefer to be alone…to be left alone. So you might think it was easy for me to deal with the lockdown. I thought the same thing in the beginning. However, after a couple days of uncertainty, I realized I needed human interaction. Physical interaction.
Browsing through social media and the news on TV was not helpful at all. I fell deeper into depression just watching and reading stories about people getting infected, frontliners suffering from exhaustion, patients dying, workers losing their jobs, businesses big and small being forced to close shop, passengers getting stranded, or derelicts wandering aimlessly out of desperation.
I began questioning why I still have a job and live comfortably while there are people losing what little they have. I felt guilty. I tried to help with donations here and there to compensate, buy from friends’ small businesses (there are too many of them), provide snacks for our property maintenance and security teams…but the more you give, the more you know it’s not enough. It’s never enough. It came to a point when I would just give without letting the recipients know, so much that I began to lose track of everything.
Then days turned into weeks, and weeks into months. I started fearing for my own situation. Will I still have a job tomorrow? Can I still pay my mortgage? Did I make the wrong investments? Do I have enough savings? I got selfish and started thinking of my own survival. Then I remembered something similar that happened to me before. Just when I thought I was down and out, the Lord came up with something to lift me back up. He always provides. The barrel will never be empty. I’m okay.
Well well wellness
Since I moved in to my own place, I only cook my own meals during weekends. On weekdays, I would buy lunch and dinner out from various sources and eat in the office. For exercise, I would do quick 10 or 15 minuters in the morning, at least three times a week.
The pandemic, of course, changed all that.
It’s difficult to cook for one. When you do, you end up eating the same dish more than once in a day or two. But I knew I had to start cooking for myself, which often lead me to cooking the easy ones: fried, canned, instant. After a week, I thought this will not do. I felt heavy and sluggish. When I stepped on the scale, it affirmed my fear: I gained weight.
I knew I had to start taking better care of myself. I wasn’t feeling good physically and mentally. There were times when I would get paranoid at the slightest sneeze, headache, or allergy. What if I got COVID? What if I die here, alone? I think I just imagine them sometimes. Anyway…
So I gave up cooking and ordered my healthy meals from Gourmade. I also started monitoring my weight, muscle and bone mass, water retention, and all that jazz. In the latter months, I switched to all salad and protein from Isabel’s. From three times a week, I jacked up my exercise routine to 5 — 3 days strength training, 2 days cardio. On weekends, I would do yoga, or nothing at all. The endorphins I produced from these exercise helped me a great deal. Some people call it “toxic positivity”. I call it “no one’s forcing you”.
I turned to photography to keep my sanity, lapping up the beautiful sunsets in the early weeks of the quarantine. When the rainy season came, I chose to see the wonder of thunderstorms and dark clouds to get over the gloomy mood these bring. But the most surprising is my newfound ability to grow plants. Well, at least the ones that require little maintenance because I still can’t grow a proper plant even if my life depends on it. I also picked up my ukelele, sometimes my guitar, to will myself to sing. Anything to keep me sane.
When quarantine protocols were eased, I prepared myself to come home and check in on my family. Paranoia was there: am I healthy? Am I carrying the virus? Is this worth the risk?
Seven months of not seeing my octogenarian mother is long enough. The video and voice calls would no longer cut it for me. So when I finally stepped inside the house and met her eyes, I wanted to run to her and give her a tight embrace. So this is what an OFW feels like, I thought.
I would then come home every two weeks, sometimes longer. For the holidays, I told my brother to ride with me. Commuting is absolutely not an option. I don’t want him to risk picking up the virus from a cab. So even if I had to drive a total of 70 kilometers to pick him up and go all the way home to the family, the effort was worth it. Thankfully, the drive was a breeze. Sana ganito lagi.
End of season 1
It took a lot for me to write this, and that’s a big deal because I’m a writer by profession. I had been trying to write entries for this blog, only to find myself giving up. Not for lack anything to say, because my mind was filling up too fast. It was almost as if I could hear myself think, with too many voices trying to outdo each other at the same time.
To be honest, I’m still not happy with my storytelling for this one, but it’s a start. The important thing is, I got this going again. Hopefully, this ignites a momentum.
I keep reminding myself this pandemic is all temporary. No one knows for sure when and how this will end, but I’m giving this virus the finger right now. Let’s pray that season 2 gives us all a better story.