On Twitter, I came across someone who said that around this time a year ago was the last week of our normal lives and none of us even knew it. The actual tweet was written in a more eloquent and poignant way so that I yearned for my pre-pandemic life.
It’s been a year since my last dinner out, and I used to eat out a lot. March 9 last year, I had an impromptu dinner with my one of my best friends, Joy, whom I bumped into at Estancia after my desk duty in Rappler. While people hoarded tissue paper and canned goods in the grocery, Joy and I headed to our favorite chicken place. I told her I wanted to celebrate Min Yoongi’s birthday with a nice dinner. I actually wore my Shooky shirt that day. Min Yoongi is Suga, 1/7 of BTS, and Shooky is his cartoon alter ego. As always, Joy indulged me.
My pre-pandemic life was not even enviable, but at least I could scratch my nose without worrying that I might end up in the hospital two weeks later. I could enjoy my time doing errands and not pack them all in one day like I was on an Amazing Race episode. Plus, I didn’t have to clean my hands with alcohol every 10 minutes until my fingers got wrinkly.
Before March 2020, I didn’t have to spend hours disinfecting grocery items before bringing them inside the house. In the last 365 days, I have gone out of our house only around 30 times, and only for very important reasons.
I thought I could embrace the new normal or what the more optimistic ones say, the better normal. But after a year of trying not to get sick of COVID, of trying to survive, I just want a normal normal.
But as I write, all I could feel is melancholy
My plan was to write an optimistic piece to mark the first-year anniversary of this global upheaval; that despite the world turning upside down, we continue to hang on. After all, positivity is the essence of essays about survival. In my head, I have a list of things that helped me get through the year, and in my heart, I am grateful to be alive.
But as I wrote, all I could feel was melancholy.
It doesn’t help that we don’t even have small victories to celebrate (did we even truly flatten the curve?). A year since government imposed the hard lockdown, the number of COVID cases is on the rise. The UP-OCTA research group has warned that the number of cases might reach 6,000 daily by the end of March. Seems like we’re farther away from the light at the end of the tunnel.
It doesn’t help that the pandemic response of our national leaders has not inspired confidence. Remember when days after the lockdown, they ganged up on Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto for allowing health workers and patients to use tricycles to get to hospitals? They claimed it violated a ban on public mass transport. National government expending energy on tricycles. As they say, only in the Philippines.
It doesn’t help that the vaccine roll-out in our country is one of the slowest in the world. I continue to turn down invites for meet-ups, no matter how small the gatherings would be. My Dad, who has Alzheimer’s Disease, must not live under the threat of infection. I leave the house only for grocery and bank errands. I’m lucky I’m able to work from home.
Going to the salon and the nail spa was one of my pre-pandemic indulgences. For the past year, I have dyed my own hair. I haven’t had a haircut, though I might try cutting my hair one of these days. I’ve been watching tutorials on YouTube. I’m hoping I’d be able to soon book the mani-pedi home service Sharon Cuneta had recommended on Instagram because the nail technician wore a PPE. This is the only pampering I will allow myself to have after a year.
It doesn’t help that I couldn’t find a reliable second caregiver for my Dad who needs to be watched round-the-clock. In the past year, I’ve only had decent sleep for a month and a half—split between two caregivers who I eventually fired (one was unfortunately unhinged; the other had so many issues or hanash sa buhay, as the colloquial term goes). My family is extremely lucky that Dad’s caregiver for the past two years is still with us. The two of us just couldn’t do the shifts because I have to work during the day.
I think I’m also acutely burned out as a journalist
The past days, I’ve noticed that I’m a lot more sensitive and I cry easily. The stories I wanted to share about how the pandemic has taught me to be more patient, kinder, and made me discover the joys of cooking didn’t sound as exciting and interesting anymore. I read the news to keep myself updated, but my news consumption is so much less than before. I think I’m also acutely burned out as a journalist.
I started writing this piece on Sunday. It’s now past midnight of Thursday. In between has been a roller coaster of emotions for me. I’m bouncing between being happy (thanks largely to the chaotic fun that BTS bring via their reality show, Run BTS! and their surprise live online engagements with fans) and being extremely tired, hopeful, or sad.
But then I found myself going back to my original purpose, why I volunteered to write a piece for TheDiarist.ph to mark the first full year of the world dealing with a full-blown pandemic: I wanted to share a story of positivity and faith.
‘Don’t think that problems are yours alone’
I have the book, I Decided to Live as Me, by South Korean author Kim Soo-hyu which I bought because one of its English translators is my friend, Bae Kyung-min. And also, Jungkook, the youngest member of BTS, was seen reading this and its sequel. (The book is available at Fully Booked Metro Manila branches.)
The book is mostly about how to love yourself for who you are and not seeking validation by comparing yourself to others. But parts of it resonate with trying to survive a pandemic: “Don’t think that problems are yours alone.”
This brought me back to my senses. I think my own sadness over the pandemic has led me to play the role of a victim. While I was carrying a heavy burden, I wasn’t the only one with problems. My Mom is trying to be strong but I know she’s deeply affected that she can’t come home and help me with Dad.
My family is lucky that none of us has gotten sick, but other families have lost loved ones. What could be more devastating than that? While I’m in hiatus as a journalist, I am fortunate to be working in a company that offers financial stability, and more than that, my current job is exciting and fulfilling.
Each one of us carries a burden during the pandemic. These are abnormal times, but the fact that we are all still here means we have a fighting chance to survive until this nightmare is over.
“I conclude that life, after all, means coping with uncertainties,” the author, Kim, wrote.
“Stability in life isn’t achieved by removing the uncertainties in life but by facing them.”
When it became clear that the pandemic was more serious than we all thought, I believed I was strong enough to be primarily responsible for Dad and our home while Mom was away. I was actually surprised that I started feeling exhausted and I was dealing with all these emotions.
My friend, Camille, told me about “moral fatigue.” She sent me a link to a Rolling Stone article about it. It’s basically about becoming worn out from doing the right things to keep one’s family and community safe because we believe it is our moral responsibility.
It’s time to face the uncertainties again with a stronger heart and mind. I still want my pre-pandemic life back but I know that one day, I should start to let go, little by little.
I want to be grateful for the small blessings that continue to come my way. There’s a reason God made tomorrows.
I must focus on surviving because I want to live a long and happy life. I want to be able to hug my family again. Maybe still find the love of my life, regardless of how old I’d be when that happens. And yes, I want to watch another BTS stadium concert. I want to travel and see the world again.
I think it’s a good enough post-pandemic to-do list to keep me going.