the last day…?

Today marks the official end of the 8-week circuit breaker period.

It is the first day of June, and the start of the last month for this first half of the year. Five months have ‘Zoomed’ past us, with ‘Zoom’ taking on a newfound meaning in many of our lives as a lot of us were suddenly acquainted with this videoconferencing app/facility which not many of us knew about or use prior to Covid-19. All too quickly, we have been forced to become adaptive to how rapidly the situation evolved and some of us, probably counting myself within the statistic, had been a victim of mal-adaptation.

What happens after today? Is there any palpable difference, with the myriad of advisories from the authorities about returning to the workplace? As much as I am rather glad to be away from the office, because I honestly do not miss my colleagues a single bit, it could be a reprieve from the current state of ‘lockdown’ I seem to be experiencing, forced to put up with ridiculously inconsiderate behaviours of people living in the units around me. I don’t know if the change in scenery, and a renewed routine of going to the office again, will have any positive bearing on my mental health and well-being. I hate being negative and fatalistic; I hate having to be ranting and whining all the time, and dissolving into a sobbing heap of mess when the pressure gets too overwhelming arising from a single email or string of disturbing noises.

Has my psychological state caused the hypersensitivity to noise? I don’t think I ever recalled myself being so prone to feeling irritation and annoyance, or having such a major penchant for quietness and peace. Is it because there is too much ‘noise’ in my mind that any further extraneous sources of noise just makes everything too much to bear? Why can’t people be more considerate and ‘human’? It sometimes feel as though I am living within a zoo of sorts, with monkeys and elephants staying in units surrounding me. Are these not human beings residing in dwellings that were actually built for humans?

I can’t help but to engage in such talk. I admit. It’s deplorable.

So I have been feeling a lot of resentment (as usual) and disgruntledness over the last few days arising from some work-related matters – no surprises there. In our corporate world, it never pays to do something well because you end up being taken for granted and saddled with more work because that’s the easiest course for the boss to take to minimise any pain on the boss’ side to deal with the non-performative ones who were originally tasked to do that thing. Presenteeism is also something our work environment here in Singapore will never get over, despite all this talk about ‘telecommuting becoming a new normal for workplaces here’. To put it crudely, it’s bullshit. Employers love ‘face-time’, and they don’t care that employees may well be putting in long hours at the office engaging in non-productive work as long as they see them physically there which they naively construed as ‘doing work’, as opposed to letting employees work-from-home and feeling all manner of insecure that employees are actually skiving, even if demonstrable higher productivity results.

What happens next? What will I feel next?

We just have to take it a step at a time, a day at a time. I am just glad that I can now visit my parents! Although at this moment, I can only do so without having my brother’s family there since we are not from the same household.

My past posts have all been annotated with photos of that same place which has become my favourite go-to destination during this period. Let me break it up with something more frivolous – circuit breaker “cooking” – which really is just a fried egg. So much for cooking.

sliding

I didn’t realise that it had been a fortnight since I last posted. I thought I would be writing more, either here or on a micro-blogging app I use on my phone. On both counts, I think I hadn’t. It’s definitely easier to post on the app because I can just do it on the go and upload photos directly from my phone, if I wanted to.

But the inertia that I feel sometimes just makes writing elude me. I feel like writing but everything that my fingers tap out is just pessimistic, angry or frustrated. I get so tired of being so angsty, ranty, whiny and sad.

It seems to feel like this is a so-called new normal that we have to adapt to, which is what I keep writing about and advocating or encouraging people to do, in some of the work that I do. Yet, I feel like such a fraud. I don’t embrace change like I should, I don’t embrace this ‘new normal’. If anything, I feel a sense of desolation and aimlessness. It is like there isn’t anything palpable to look forward to at all, anymore.

Some days I reminisce the trips that I made to Tokyo or Hong Kong. These seemed so long ago, yet it was about … 6 months since I visited Tokyo. I don’t know when I will ever get to go to Tokyo or Hong Kong again, even if borders are open would I feel comfortable stepping onto a plane? Would I be willing to pay the expectantly higher airfares and put up with the longer wait times and inconveniences of airport clearances? I don’t know.

And what else is there on the horizon? I struggle to cobbler together a new routine in my life now that I don’t get to attend yoga classes or spinning classes, which were a daily fixture of the recent past that also seemed like a lifetime ago. It has been about 2 months? Since I last had a spin class or a hot yoga class. I try to practice yoga, an hour daily, following teachers on IGTV or YouTube but the motivation is often lacking because I have little discipline in pushing myself when it is just me on the mat, and also because I have not found it in myself to join a Zoom yoga class with strangers ‘zooming’ in for the class. It is silly to sign up for a live Zoom class and disable the video because it is as good as practising yoga with a recorded video. Yet the vulnerability of having several pairs of eyes watching you and the possibility of the video being recorded… I have trust issues in that area.

Everyday as I go about the ‘new’ routine, it just feels like life is slowly chipping and seeping away. I don’t know why there is a constant pounding and stomping from people who live in the units above and beside me, and why the walls of HDB flats are so paper thin that I just cannot bear the continual lack of peace. Maybe only when I wake up at 4am in the morning is the time when there is this silence that feels so breakable and precious, the tranquility and stillness that do not carry any sounds of slamming doors and iron-cast gates, grating voices of neighbours of a certain nationality (it is ok if you think I am xenophobic, maybe I am but I just abhor the shrill sounds of their voices piercing my ear drums), screaming kids who are overly hyperactive and cannot stop jumping up and down.

My mind is a constant whirl of thoughts and yet there isn’t anything grounding or anchoring. Everything seems to be and have spun out of control and I can only derive comfort from the very thing that also bring a deluge of post-consumption guilt as I worry about the inability to control my weight.

My body is breaking from the broken sleep and disrupted sleep patterns. It is breaking from the sudden introduction of a new activity that it is not used to and built for. My mind is breaking from the avalanche of thoughts going in all directions that threaten to tear it apart. I cry. I implore God for help. Anyone. But am I the only one eventually who can help myself?

pages from the D file

When I read about others’ accounts of how they went through bouts of depression that were either short-lived (thank God) or protracted and expressed their heartfelt gratitude for having so-and-so people in their lives to get through those episodes (for those who have walked out of it, usually postnatal depression), I truly feel happy for them that they had a support network who was able and willing to lend a hand to pull them up and out.

Why “up and out”? Because depression somehow just connotes a mental image of being cast into a deep dark and endless well, a pit of quicksand that sucks you in and renders you completely helpless on your own to get out unless someone proffers a helpline for you to grip onto and either then you somehow climb out while hanging on to that line, or they yank you out from the viscosity that is the quicksand pit.

Depression is a lonely condition. It is a condition that no one can emphathise with and understand because it is unique to every sufferer of it. Nobody can guess or know what goes through another person’s mind, and even two persons who are depressed cannot profess to say that they understand exactly what the other is going through because each of us are just wired very differently. Our brains function differently and react to stimulus and thoughts differently.

In such times of social distancing, circuit breakers or lock-downs, the effects of depression are accentuated. We experience the depressive episodes more, particularly when we lay encumbered by living spaces that may not be the best conducive environments for staying in for long periods of time. Over the last few weeks especially, when we are not supposed to be out of our homes unnecessarily, I have undergone more episodes of breakdowns and meltdowns because the noises that are ringing all around from inconsiderate neighbours make me just want to open the window and haul myself over the parapet. I cry and I scream, I lodge complaints with the authorities, I post on social media, but nobody seem to be able to offer any help.

Back to the support network. Over the years when I have sort of come to the terms that I may actually really be depressed, I have shared fairly openly about it with people around, close enough, in the hope that I can be able to build that support network and have them understand that some of the things that I do or say are due to the this condition. Some friends have unfortunately bore the brunt of my sharing and I am eternally grateful for their presence at certain times when I really needed someone to talk to.

Yet… in my own supposed closest circle of family, nobody was willing to ever offer any support. I had not told my parents about it because being traditional parents who never understood my frequent job switches, this would probably break their hearts and I wasn’t sure what they could and would have been able to do. I told my sister-in-law, I told some of my cousins, who may also have been able to guess as much from the posts I make on social media, but nobody wanted to acknowledge that. They took it as ‘ignorance is bliss’ and that what isn’t mentioned isn’t acknowledged and isn’t there. It hurts. And it feels extremely lonesome. I wished I could also be a testimony where I give my gratitude for people who helped me out of it. Sadly, I am not out of it. I don’t know if I will ever be out of it.

And also… there is no empathy. There are some people who may know that you have a condition of sorts and they can’t begin to understand why you do some things you do, or say some things you say. They start to judge you, and hurl allegations about what you may be trying to do. They don’t understand that sometimes it’s just a way of coping, a way of reaching out, but that it was construed as something else that was negatively received and that therefore then earned me/us a bad impression. Well, it certainly isn’t a case of ‘it takes one to know one’ in this situation, and yes although it doesn’t matter what others think of us because that isn’t something I can control and instead I can control how I react to that, but I can’t deny that it hurts to be wronged. It always hurts to be thought of negatively.

extended.

It was announced earlier in the week that the Prime Minister would address the nation. That instantly brought about an ominous feeling in the pits of my stomach because it does not usually herald anything good, not that I think badly of him but usually such addresses were made to announce some negative news, in light of the virus situation.

Indeed, it was announced that the circuit breaker, that initially had 2 more weeks to run, would be extended for a further 4 weeks until 1 June, effectively prolonging the misery that I am facing to a grand total of 6 more weeks. It really made me want to cry because I had been looking forward to a little more normalcy, hopefully having a little more freedom if fitness studios are allowed to operate again, and people are allowed to start social interaction once more.

It has been trying. It has been challenging, not just dealing with isolation, not just coping with noisy neighbours, not just struggling with sleep and the resultant brain fog during the work days that cause lethargy and an inability to focus on anything, but also a deepening anxiety and reversion to disordered thoughts that I hadn’t had time to climb out of ever since they began to fester in my mind from… 2014?

During those few years, my life underwent a series of major changes that I wasn’t able to cope with, and the loss of control led me to spiral into a mess. At some point, I thought that I could be making headway in recovering but the last two years, and then the last months particularly with the sudden changes revolving around Covid-19, has pushed me back into that abyss.

There are moments where the build-up of pressure from frustration and helplessness has made me breakdown into a sobbing mess, and there are nights I lay on my bed after being jolted awake by sounds created by the neighbours, tears streaming down my face. I cried out to God, wondering why He is putting me through this hell that I wished I could just put an end to by ending my life.

The abundance of time coupled with a general lethargy of not wanting to do anything productive like learning a new skill, reading a book, cleaning and decluttering the home, or even just calling up my folks, led to a deep sense of boredom that made me keep pacing back and forth the home and also foraging the fridge for food to keep me entertained. That created even more anxiety within that the overall lack of activity and increased consumption of unhealthy, processed food will cause a weight gain that I would not be able to shed thereafter.

I am not dealing with this well, I would admit. It isn’t as simple as whether one is able to ‘work-from-home’ or not. This isn’t ‘working-from-home’. This is almost like being put on a pseudo house arrest, with little activity happening outside in the community as malls are deserted, fitness facilities are shuttered and many so-called non-essential shops and businesses are being made to close, including businesses that cater towards comforting us in gastronomic ways. I have a sweet tooth, and was dismayed to learn that shops no longer can sell things like cakes and cookies because these are non-essential. True. But in such times, nobody really has the mood to ‘eat clean/healthy’. Everytime I am queuing to make payment at the supermarket, everyone has some kind of snack in their baskets/trolleys, whether chocolates, chips, ice cream or cookies. The tidbits shelves have gaping holes where popular brands are out of stock, and baking supplies like flour and yeast are also in short supply.

Furthermore, at a time when many countries in the region are starting to consider re-opening their countries and economies, suddenly we are seeing 3-digit and 4-digit daily increases in confirmed infections, it almost feels like we are the Spain/Italy of this region. Granted that we do not have that alarming rate of fatalities as them, it is just depressing when the regional countries are showing signs of the virus tapering off but we seem to be experiencing a huge wave of infections as the measures to restrict our movements to curb community spread becomes progressively stricter and make us sink deeper and deeper into depression.

And during this time, I still wonder why psychiatric/psychological consultations are not deemed as essential services.

Today marks Day 20. It is April 26. We have another 36 more days to go through. What will I become when 1 June comes? Will I still be around? Will I still be me?

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?