A Difficult Year

(+) I’d like to think every generation has their own struggles, their own history-defining moment where, collectively, a particular memory is generated and imprinted upon those who survived through that event, only to be forgotten, then misremembered, and then forgotten again. I always though 9/11 was that defining moment for my generation. It turns out that I was wrong.

(-) I was supposed to leave for my Ph.D this year. My husband and I had attempted to plan what we would do when I leave — we were staring at the barrel of the gun of a long-distance relationship, and knew that we had to deal with matters of both practicality and the heart. We were afraid of loneliness, of the inevitable sadness that would steal our breaths away. He was afraid of being shut in, retreating from the world, not wanting to connect with others. I was afraid of sinking, of wallowing in the moment, of becoming so embedded in the present that I would forget the future. Even though I had to defer my Ph.D because of the coronavirus, these fears still happened. We were shut in an interminable quarantine, the longest in the world. I had sunk into a kind of anxiety-riddled depression. But we were not lonely, because we had each other, which became a beacon against the darkness of the world.

(+) Because an untethered mind is a mind prone to succumbing to the void, I ended up filling my pandemic year — a year in which plans had fallen away, to be replaced by the walls of our small, one-bedroom apartment and an interminable sequence of online orders from Lazada and Grab — with work. Work soothes my mind, and helps me create structure out of chaos. I completed and revised a novel, submitted and received edits for my second collection of short stories, published a children’s book about my grandmother. I wrote and presented in international conferences from the comfort of our small dining table (which now doubled as our workspace), churned out thousands of words for class materials in an effort to make the semester easier for my students, attended and conducted online writing workshops, and received wonderful offers for projects that will (hopefully) come to fruition in the next couple of years. All of this has helped my mind calm down, finding rigor in self-imposed systems, and control in a slowly spiraling world.

(-) Being a workaholic is not without its downsides. My sleeping schedule shifted because of anxiety, and I found myself teetering on the edge of exhaustion during early mornings, usually falling asleep just as the sun was coming up. Our diets were similarly disastrous. Already overweight even on the best of days, the pandemic became an excuse to eat poorly and to channel our anxieties through food, exacerbating our already bad eating habits. Coupled with a worst-case-scenario mindset, we descended into blob-ness, our bodies slowly succumbing to gravity. These days, we are trying to be better in terms of our health choices… but alas, the void is still there, waiting, hungry for our despair.

(+) The brightest spot of the year has to be my husband. Quarantine will make or break one’s marriage, and we had read so many op-eds, and heard about other couples breaking up, getting together, or simply drifting apart over the course of the longest ongoing quarantine in the world (which has done almost nothing to slow down the damn virus). I’d like to report that despite one or two incidents of rising tempers (that’s me; that’s all me), I am very grateful for my husband for being the calming presence I need to survive.

(+) I fell into a Nintendo Switch gaming hole in the middle of the year, when the most intelligent husband in the world bought me a handheld console — the first one I had ever owned in my entire life — and a copy of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. As someone who loves open world games (Sim City, The Sims, Civ V and VI, Stardew Valley, etc.) this was right up my alley. And as I explored the potential of console games during the pandemic year, it became a welcome mental break when teaching was becoming too overwhelming. This is also the first time I found myself sobbing over a game’s ending (Spiritfarer, in case you were curious), catharsis flooding through my system like a balm.

(-) In 2016, my anxiety was at an all-time high, to the point where I would persistently check the locks on our doors, and use a chair to barricade our front door because I was so afraid of some masked men barging into our house and killing us simply because we were teachers at the state university. (We teach in the English department, for god’s sake — it’s literally the most bougie department in the college!) I realized that the main trigger for all the anxiety were my social media feeds, which I had carefully cultivated, as an early adapter, since the early 2000s. What was once my window to the world became the walls that hemmed my mind in, my thoughts spiraling like a maelstrom until I felt like I couldn’t breathe. So I tapped out and deliberately distanced myself from my Facebook and Twitter, deleting the apps from my phone and making them difficult to access on my laptop. Though it rendered me ignorant from the minutiae of national and international affairs, as well as the daily affairs of friends and acquaintances, it also freed my mind from this social media trap, and forced me to find other ways of keeping in touch with friends.

But now, when all of us are shut in, I had to (carefully) peek and check what was happening to people I cared about, as well as keep myself abreast of what was happening in the world. Unfortunately, this also wrecked havoc on the carefully constructed defense systems I had cobbled together in my head, which made it more difficult for me to filter information that was necessary for my survival and information that only served to mess with my head. It’s still a difficult balance at the moment, but I’ve gotten better.

(+) Sometimes I wonder what we will learn, collectively, as the human race, once the vaccine is widely available and Covid-19 has become something we have survived. Will we learn about our collective strengths? Will we harness it for the betterment of our future? Or is it just going to be another blip on our radars, something to reminisce about, to remember, but also, to forget?

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