Mental health in circuit breaker times

Ever since Covid-19 came into our lives and turned the world upside down, so many changes have happened so swiftly in ways that many of us never expect and are not prepared to handle.

At the beginning, Singapore was adopting a more laissez-faire approach where the authorities have tried to rely on the civic responsibility of its citizenry. That did not work with a populace that has grown accustomed to freedom and developed a strong sense of self and entitlement. Stricter measures were meted out and they got progressively tighter that started to make it really difficult to live a life like normal.

From the middle of February, I had been put on an arrangement to work-from-home. It worked fine for me for a while because suddenly I had flexibility over my working hours/time (although that was not how it was supposed to be but I think my employer trusted me to be responsible and I endeavoured to deliver over and above which somehow I think led to issues for me now).

I don’t think I spent 8 full hours or more working in a day, but the work I was asked to do, I did it quickly and spread it throughout the day during my waking hours, as I scheduled my other usual ‘outside-work’ activities within those hours. That arrangement benefited me for a while, because I hadn’t really enjoyed sitting in an office where I didn’t feel a sense of belonging with the colleagues, and where I spent countless moments trawling the web aimlessly.

Until it came to a stage where we were being told to stay at home, and eventually the circuit breaker was implemented where we weren’t supposed to head out with a few exceptions.

With a large part of the nation ‘working/study-from-home’, it meant that all the neighbours are at home, the whole day long. I have had issues with all the surrounding neighbouring units – next door, and the 2 units above me. I don’t know why sounds that they make, whether walking (I don’t really think they walk but rather they stomp), closing (slamming) doors/gates/toilet seat covers, talking… the list just goes on. It doesn’t help of course, that all of them have young kids and I don’t get why kids have voices louder than adults and seem to weigh like elephants because they have so much energy they spend the entire day jumping around. Each jump and thump reverberates and sound like an atomic bomb landing on my unit, that I wonder if by the end of this circuit breaker with us all being cooped at home for almost 24 hours a day, would I go crazy, or resort to suicide?

My body clock has been screwed up and for the last few days that make up about half of the circuit breaker period thus far, I have woken up at 3.30 am despite going to sleep at about 10-ish or 11 each night, waking up intermittently during the midst of that slumber. With that little sleep I get, and without any peace that I can get during my waking hours, especially when I have calls to take during the daylight hours, my sanity is wearing dangerously thin. I have been breaking down into tears each day because I feel so sorry for myself and I don’t know what to do. I have went upstairs to speak to both units once each, but the situation hasn’t changed. Months before, I had already written to the town council who had referred my email to HDB but they just weren’t very helpful. I went online to check and found that the police can’t intervene either.

Each day I pray to God that He will turn the situation around for me and make things better for me but with each day that things remain the same, I just get so hopeless and helpless the only thing I can do is to cry and scream at the air, not caring if anyone actually hears.

Right now I just wish that I could die.

different folks, different paths

In the course of our work, I am sure we have all come across this concept of maturity curve, maturity models, or [insert term] life-cycle. Basically, it just means how different entities or persons are at different stages along a defined pathway.

Applying this similarly to our current situation, we see that the different countries of the world are at different stages along the curve in dealing with and coping with the virus. Some had implemented strict lock-downs much earlier and achieved positive results, while some have done it on a progressive or delayed basis, with varying rates of success. Of course there are various other factors that influence the effectiveness of each country’s policies with no right or wrong, although I must say once again that I am proud of what our authorities have done and is doing. Despite that the increasingly restrictive measures have caused a rather severe impact on me in more ways than one, like what most are saying, this is necessary and ‘for the better good’.

It has also been said that ‘things will get worse before it will get better’. I wonder how true that is, but probably we are seeing its manifestation now, with us into Day 9 of our circuit breaker and the past few days have seen record numbers of infections being recorded, probably a result of a last ‘tryst’ before the breaker kicked in, or probably it could also simply be a result of more rigorous testing being done – with more being tested, the incidence of infections being detected would invariably be higher than if lesser testing was done, wouldn’t it?

Needless to say, each day when the number is being reported, my heart beats with trepidation and sinks further and further when the prospect of life returning to a semblance of normalcy stretches further and further away. As much as there is more than a camp in terms of coping with the stay-home advisories, with some electing to stay home as much as possible – not going out for several days on end, there are also others who just need to get out of the home daily even if it is just for a grocery run, or a walk/run/jog. We do it also for reasons more than one, which could either just be the need to have some fresh air, get away from the other people sharing the same residence, or to continue getting our daily dose of exercise.

Obviously, to the camp who have chosen to adhere strictly to the advisories, there are some who have expressed disdain for this latter group. It is easy to brandish imperatives such as “You shouldn’t…”, “You should…”, etc., when it comes to staying at home or not, but have these been said with due consideration given for what these other people are experiencing? It is almost like telling someone suffering depressive symptoms to “You shouldn’t think so much”. For some of these people, that act of stepping out for a run or jog or grocery run, is a much-needed reprieve to maintain some level of sanity during a period where uncertainty reigns high and anxiety shoots through the roof. Of course we need to be mindful of the precautionary measures to take, such as wearing a mask (based on the latest advisory), avoiding social interaction as much as possible i.e. crowded places, refraining from loitering i.e. get what you need to do done and head home; that still constitutes social responsibility.

At the end of the day, we don’t want the circuit breaker to create a larger group of people who suffer psychological conditions. While most of us would definitely be emotionally scarred from this episode, some to a greater extent than others, we also do not want to see a spike in the number of suicides.

Week 1 done and dusted

7 days have passed since the restricted movement measures were put in place officially, with stricter measures being announced and implemented with immediacy progressively, because of blatant flouting of rules by people who were trying to find loopholes around them. I guess it all stems from the fact that in Singapore, it is hard to make people stay at home for a protracted period of time. It can be said that we are privileged and spoilt, because in times like these, we are still being self-centred and thinking only of our own needs to be out and about, to live life as normally as possible, despite the gravity of the situation.

I am not absolved from that. Before circuit breaker kicked in, I was still insistent that I wanted to go for group classes, although the studios were doing their best to adhere to prevailing advisories to ensure the safety of everyone. Even now, the anxiety pertaining to being cooped up at home, without getting my 10K steps logged daily, without getting any kind of exercise or activity daily because my hot yoga and spinning classes that have conditioned me to think that those are the ways I can sort of try to keep my weight in check, is too much to bear. Plus the uncertainty with which the duration of this period could be stretched beyond the original target date of 4 May, exacerbates it. As the number of infections hit record highs, 4 May seemed almost improbable, and for those of us having that kind of anxiety in us, our hearts start to sink deeper, and each impending video message that the PM is about to make further raises the trepidation we experience – are the measures going to be tightened even more?

It helped a little that there was a public holiday on Friday. Not that it made much difference now that all of us are supposed to stay at home as much as possible, and days just seem to melt and blur into one another – there are days I would need to check my phone’s calendar to know what date it is. Not many plans could be made, but without the need to power up the laptop to check work emails, or think about work – which is the furthest thing from my mind now, on a daily basis no less – it meant that I could be a little more flexible with my timing to head out. Yes, I still need to go out for movement and fresh air, but I try to do that at a time and place where it wouldn’t be too crowded.

Perhaps, the good thing about this is that it forces me to break some habits and routines to make new ones, or adjustments to the original ones. It hasn’t been easy for sure, and I do not know if and when I will ever get over that anxiety during this period. But it has made me explore the outdoors more, and instead of sweating copious amounts of perspiration in hot yoga (which should not be an indication of how hard I have worked in class or how many calories I have burned) or pumping my heart rate up in spin class, I am forced to walk, because I am not used to running/jogging outside or regularly, and it will no doubt take time for my body to start getting conditioned to it.

Other than logging some of my thoughts about the week that has passed, I don’t know what else this post was meant to say. Maybe I should try to write more instead of once a week, for then I can perhaps put more of my thoughts here.

In this period of uncertainty, it kind of feels like everything is in a huge state of flux and work-wise, there has also been a state where I’m not sure what exactly I need to do because there are some things pending and there are days when the mailbox is suspiciously quiet. It doesn’t help of course that I’m just impassioned about it even though I’m trying hard not to keep complaining about something I’m not or unable to do anything about the situation. Day to day, I really don’t know what lies ahead and I can only just put a foot in front of the other as I take one step at a time.

Sigh.

This is the sunrise we’re all waiting for?

the trip nobody really wants to take

It’s been a week or more since I last posted. It is a bit unusual, when I had been keeping up a rather regular habit of journalling since the beginning of the year, particularly when I began telecommuting since mid-February. As I mentioned (I think), it isn’t as rosy as some may think or imagine, or I am just not managing it well enough or making it work for my benefit while balancing that with my responsibilities as an employee.

Nevertheless, things have seemed to be spiralling southwards, and just a few days ago, the cusp of a weekend no less, our Prime Minister delivered a sombre speech that confirmed what many of us had been suspecting or expecting. We are an entitled and spoilt bunch who needed the stick to be wielded before we would comply. Even then, the government has not been entirely harsh to impose a total lockdown, with the various exemptions to ensure that our tiny city-state stays operational in key and essential services and sectors. As a small state, we cannot afford to just shut down like what some other countries have done, because we have too much at stake. This makes it much more challenging for the government to balance economic feasibility and the health and safety of the populace.

I am quite proud and impressed with the agility of the authorities, despite many naysayers, at every single initiative they put out. From a total turnaround of the budget that would have been approved and ready to be delivered by the Finance Minister in February, the virus probably caused that to be discarded and I shudder to think of the overnighters that many involved have had to pull to put out a whole new budget in record time, for three support packages that have been announced.

The ‘circuit breaker’ is due to kick in tomorrow. In the lead up to 7 April, most and myself included, have been in a frenzy to create a stockpile of sorts (yet again) to prepare for the stay-in. Despite that the authorities have relentlessly tried to assure us that there is zero need to stockpile or hoard, we also want to comply with their advisories to minimise heading out too often and therefore social interaction, hopefully that during this one-month period, we can help to flatten the curve of infections. It is disconcerting that since a couple of weeks ago, the numbers have been rising rapidly despite the safe-distancing measures announced.

I was among the statistics that remained stubbornly adamant on being part of group exercise classes, although the numbers in classes have been drastically reduced. It doesn’t reduce the risk of spread though because we see different people in each class we go, especially when we do not just visit one yoga studio since most these days partake in a variety of fitness regimes. What about those who had regular social gathering with different groups of friends, colleagues and of course, family? There is just so much potential for an asymptomatic person to become a super-spreader. For that, I have been careful, to reduce meet-ups with friends (almost none) and family. I no longer have interaction with colleagues since February so that is one channel closed.

While I was preparing for 7 April, I was buying stuff that I thought I may be needing this one month which I can avoid heading out to restock should they run out. Things I can’t stock would of course be perishables, and that would also give me the opportunity to head out and get some air, aside from the regular daily exercise I can make myself stick to.

The feeling I experienced in the lead-up felt familiar; it was like those times when I was scheduled to travel to some faraway foreign country for the first time, some unknown city that little is known about by myself or people I know, and not knowing what is there and what I should expect. In the past when I was scheduled for audits in such places, I would then be stocking my luggage with items that I may potentially not be able to buy when I am there. It kind of feels that way, only this time, it isn’t a trip I look forward to (not even with trepidation); it’s just something I do not want to be on yet I do not have a choice.

Is this further isolation, and at the end of it, what kind of person would I emerge as?

It is a lot of uncertainty and fear I won’t deny. I understand now how even for people are supposedly introverts, community interaction is still fundamentally important. What more, I am not entirely an introvert. Maybe an extraverted introvert?

ups and downs

I gingerly but boldly stepped into 2020, as I recalled how on the very first day of the new year of the new decade, I told myself I wanted to be rid of certain thought patterns and behaviours, and proceeded to order brunch that included creamy scrambled eggs and smashed avocado on toast. Despite that it appeared in a rather disappointing fashion, I think taste-wise, it was still rather delicious. In the not so distant past, scrambled eggs, connoting cream and lots of eggs, maybe even sugar, were something I would have never allowed myself to eat. It was a sad sight, thinking back, even if I have yet to fully let go and not even coming anywhere close to that, of how I really scrape at the food that I eat. Thinly-spread peanut butter on a single slice of multigrain/wholemeal/whole wheat/whatever-grain bread, never any of those fancy (and yes pricey) bakery buns that contain anything remotely described as custard/cheese/cream… you get the drift.

Eating wise, it definitely is a long and arduous journey, not unlike that of a roller-coaster ride, which I have never been fond of and do not imagine that I ever will be. It is just like any other forms of recovery that involve the psychological state isn’t it?

Myself aside, the year in itself, almost 3 months and a quarter that has just sped past, we have witnessed so many occurrences in the world in such a short span of time it seemed like history has been compressed in this period. Curve balls have been thrown left, right and centre, impacting on practically every single part of our lives and every nook and cranny of the world.

The week that passed has also thrown me into a state of disarray and heightened anxiety and stress levels. I thought I had settled into a fairly comfortable routine, ever since mid-February when there were some adjustments in the work schedule due to the virus situation. But what transpired in the week definitely was not within expectation (yet again demonstrating how unpredictable and sudden things can happen and change) and once more everything was tossed up into the air like a pile of dried leaves being ruffled by a strong gust of wind.

It was extremely challenging and stressful trying to navigate the changes, and try to once again put some order into creating a routine for myself to draw comfort from and restore a bit of sanity that I so badly need. I need control, which explains the situation(s) that I have gotten into, and this is definitely not good where control is concerned.

It is easy for someone to tell me to let go, let God, because He is in control. I know that too, but head knowledge vs heart knowledge – we know which usually emerges triumphant. It shows that my heart is not fully immersed and in belief of His provision, and it is hard. It would take a massive amount of trust and faith to really commit one’s whole life into His hands. My mind is crowded with a million darting thoughts and progressively it is getting noisier; this week was exceptionally bad, which probably also explained why I had been quiet here, because I didn’t have the headspace to put into words what had been darting through and around my mind, even though journalling is meant to help. I just did not have the energy to sit down quietly and write.

It is a Saturday morning. I am allowing myself to breathe a little as I try to think about how to readjust my weekly schedule, both weekdays and weekends. We may not need to control our lives so much, but some form of routine is always helpful to keep us sane and grounded. Particularly in times when we really are being forced to live day-to-day and planning has almost become irrelevant.

Instagram has always been lauded as being toxic but it probably also takes conscious curation to maintain that hygiene over who we follow and what content we allow ourselves to feed on. I’ve spent hours mindlessly scrolling through it and I wouldn’t say it’s the best but sometimes we do find gems.

pause for a bit

Just read something sad. And again it makes me wonder why we all seem to take life for granted. There would always be times when we, or at least I can speak for myself, have wished that God will just bring us back home to be with Him with immediacy, yet there are people who have their lives cut short, while they were supposedly in the prime of their lives. When such things happen, we begin to question the indolence we exhibit towards life and fate, the extravagance with which we throw away our lives, not cherishing each and every living moment or be grateful for that extra breath that we get to have.

When we have something that seems like it is in abundance or that we do not have a view of its impending end, we tend to get complacent and think we have it all. But that’s not the case because life is unpredictable like that.

Anyway, this post was meant to be lighthearted and as a record of what I had recently.

It isn’t the first time I ordered this breakfast item at Starbucks, and in fact it is one of my favourites from what they currently serve – the Rosemary Chicken with Emmental Cheese croissant. The flavourful mashed chicken mayo-style filling with a peppery taste gives it an added dimension, that pairs so well with the buttery croissant. While it isn’t the best in terms of croissant, because it is not freshly-baked after all, in fact this particular one I had that day looked a tad sad and limp, but overall it still made for an enjoyable breakfast.

associated emotions

It is funny how emotions of humans beings (talking about me in particular, yes me again who else right) can be stirred and affected by a myriad of random things.

Just the other day, arising from the announcement by our neighbouring country up north about the lock-down that included us, a second wave of panic-buying albeit to a lesser extent maybe ensued. Despite that it was not as bad as when the DORSCON was raised to Orange when I was shocked by how people reacted and emptied all the shelves in supermarkets and minimarts, it was evident that people are stocking up on the usual necessities such as toilet paper (apparently this is a global phenomenon), but this time even things like bread, rice, biscuits, etc., were being snapped up.

In the first round, people were mainly stocking up on dried foods and things like instant noodles and canned food disappeared from the shelves. With Malaysia being a major source of food supplies to us, I guess people were concerned about the staples running out so more different things flew off the racks. As much as I did not join in with the buying because I think I shouldn’t be stock-piling or hoarding things that would ultimately expire (and result in me eating even more expired stuff), seeing those shelves that laid bare and empty somehow left a feeling of emptiness (too) in me. A wave of sadness arose in me, and it is weird because I described it as ‘sadness’ but why do empty shelves stir up such feelings of dejection and sadness?

It is similar to the kinds of feelings I experience these days when I see the setting sun at dusk. Although sunset is often lauded and admired by many for the beauty of nature when the brilliance of the setting sun casts magnificent masterpieces that many have captured and posted on social media, the setting sun that gradually leads to a darkening sky seems to invoke that same sense of sadness. I inferred that this could be linked to the feeling that something is coming to an end, just like the bare shelves signify a similar sense of forlorn, the heaviness that weighs on my heart is undeniable.

In my ‘past life’, I went through a hedonistic phase where night fall on weekends, sometimes even on weeknights, meant a renewed lease of life as I spent hours in clubs/pubs, imbibing copious volumes of alcohol of all varieties, lost in the pulsating loud music and alcohol-induced high. These days, I think I have become the exact opposite. I may be able to appreciate the beauty of the night sky, but I much prefer the break of dawn, when the rising sun creeping up slowly from beyond the horizon lights up the world as life starts to stir and awake.

 

On to happier things on a Friday. Happy food, happy belly, happy mind maybe.

I don’t think the number of call-meetings I had this week was more than last, but I don’t know why I feel more tired this week as compared to last, and have not been more glad that it’s finally Friday.