by Nimisha Ajaikumar

Author’s Blog: https://silent-stigma.blogspot.com/

The current situation has everyone locked away in their homes, due to the risk of catching the virus. Self-quarantine and social distancing has led to more people feeling lonely, depressed or anxious. They mistake this boredom for loneliness and prefer to dwell in self-pity rather than utilising this “time- period” to catch up on their hobbies.

As an introverted homebody, quarantine was initially my form of paradise. I finally had a reason to stay home instead of frying under the scorching Dubai sun. A few weeks after my well-deserved and much craved alone-time, I began twitching. I began to get sick of my own company, something I was experiencing for the first time during my 19 years as an introvert! For the sake of my mental health, I began to wake up on time, to feel like I was doing “at least something.” But eating and sleeping on time was not enough. I worried if I would forget how to drive or interact with humans. I had to do something productive to pursue a meaningful life.  And that was when I signed up on an online platform that helps me anonymously provide support to emotionally distressed individuals. Due to the pandemic, a lot of people lamented over their deteriorating mental health and reached out to me through this platform.

Some people reached out to me, saying they were worried about catching the virus and ‘dying.’ One woman specifically mentioned that she has a ‘phobia of death’ (don’t we all?) and was continuously panicking from dawn to dusk. My first impression of the woman was that she was afraid of losing her job due to the falling economy. Several people are in despair, questioning where life will lead once the outbreak has been subdued. But when she mentioned her existential anxiety, I realised that her concern arose from health and not economical factors. She begged me, “Please help me overcome the  panic!”

I asked her, “What precautions have you been taking to avoid the virus?” She replied that she has stayed at home all this while and uses sanitizers for clean hands. I raised my eyebrows. How are you supposed to catch a virus if you don’t leave your premises? Maybe the feeling of anxiety is addictive for some people because they think it keeps them safe. Worrying too much is a flawed coping mechanism that helps them assume they will not be harmed. After all, it is the ignorant person who fearlessly approaches the ghost that dies first in a horror movie. But aren’t they wasting the precious minutes of their lives stressing over something they have little control over?

Speaking of control, we have all taken the necessary precautions within our reach. We are washing hands regularly, practising social distancing, staying holed up in our rooms and wearing face masks during the once-in-a-blue-moon trips we take to the supermarket around the corner. What more can we do? We have to trust our efforts. Rest is up to our fate and there is no point worrying over things that happen by chance. We have done our best to reduce the chances of contracting the virus by taking these immense precautions for which we fail to give ourselves credit. 

Some of my relatives have stocked up on all the groceries to last the next few months and sanitizes them religiously before using. This is the classic example of Terror Management Theory, a morbid concept that links our self-esteem with our existential anxiety. We engage in exaggerated consumer behaviour and hoard grocery items in the face of a pandemic. Feeling prepared, we are able to sense an increase in our self-esteem as we feel that we are ready to face the pandemic. Having bought all these face masks and sanitizers, we are strong and capable and will definitely not die in this pandemic. Apparently such consumer behaviour confirms our survival even during a zombie apocalypse. However, it is pitiful that we humans need grocery items to improve our self-esteem and not intrinsic motivation to reassure us of our ability to escape death.

One of my students, a teenage boy, gave a public speech on The Other Side of COVID-19. Rather than complaining about being jailed at home, he mentioned this experience as an eye-opener. He was able to learn new languages and like me, actually entered the kitchen and followed recipes. My younger students also appreciated not having to wear uniforms for their online classes as well as having both parents at home for maximum family time. I remember whining for a kitten in April, and lo and behold, I rescued a Simba lookalike three months later. Watching her scratch my sofa, paw my forehead and bite my brother made the quarantine boredom almost entertaining.

A teen I was talking to kept stressing over the fear of dying of a virus that is lurking outside even though she is confined to the four walls in her home. She said she didn’t want to be stabbed by the sharp knife of someone younger than her. I asked her how old she was, fearing that she must be a senior citizen or somebody with a terminal disease. But then she revealed that she is the same age as me! People of my age do not have any conditions like kidney failure or high cholesterol that could accelerate the risk of contracting the virus! I have taken the same precautions as her and I really don’t care about dying because it’s not going to happen to me! Most of us who catch the virus will exhibit the symptoms of the common cold and recover soon. The reason we have to be quarantined for two weeks is because we shouldn’t act like carriers and harm the elderly. It’s only if you contract a heavy viral load in Wuhan that you really have to accept the doors to the final destination. 

I lashed out at this person for having no awareness of the virus and simply letting her fantasies get the better of her. She whined that the local news stations have misinformed them that anyone and everyone is capable of dying of the virus. When the news network is the only platform we have access to when quarantined, it is their duty to ensure that the citizens access accurate information and do not succumb to panic attacks. So much precious time could be spent worrying about other things rather than a virus that is weaker than SARS and swine flu. There are people worried about the economy too as they are tensed about whether they will be thrown to the streets after a few months. 

The only thing we can do is take all the precautions and think positive about the situation that is out of our control. Both positive and negative thinking patterns are flawed but at least the positive thoughts keep us hopeful rather than pushing us into a black hole of despair and anguish.