To say that 2020 is the longest year of our lives is quite possibly an understatement. To go so far as to dub this year as the "Year of Losses" may even be accurate. From losing jobs and thereby livelihoods, losing the freedom to look at a person coughing without fear of what they might be carrying in those cough droplets, to losing loved ones…. almost everyone and every family has gone through some form of loss. Some have lost more, while some have lost less, but big or small, a loss is a loss.
For me, the last few months have been unimaginable. From being terrified for my parents and in-laws to waking up to the news of a favourite cousin, who was young and healthy with seemingly no health issues, leaving us forever, to watching helplessly as close relatives become infected with Covid-19 and unable to help any more than suggesting where to buy oxygen tanks for their home and asking if they need anything, to waiting helplessly while my brother suffers from severe pain and await surgery… everything seems to be happening in just these six or seven months; though it seems like six or seven years.
Every day, it feels like we are surrounded by news of deaths; and saying or typing "May s/he rest in peace" has become exceedingly frequent.
In the midst of all this, when you feel like your brain cannot concentrate on anything, when you feel nervous every time the phone rings, is the stress of work. At work, everything else in life should not matter. Because nothing else matters except the work that you are supposed to do, what you are responsible for. Yet, for many people, working in the midst of all this has become a source of extra stress. But, people's livelihoods depend on doing that work, and whatever else happens, the work must go on.
It feels like the world is waiting for something. And that something is vaccines. The race to find the vaccine that will "cure the world" (in terms of Covid-19. I do not think there can be a vaccine for all that is wrong in the world) is on, with several lead contenders, and the world is waiting for those magic words – "The vaccine is ready! It works!"
I am normally the person who loves to look at the positive side of things, and who loves to laugh. Lately, however, I find myself only thinking negative thoughts. Laughing, or even smiling, has become work. A lot of people around me have become the same way.
Today, however, I found out something interesting. Four simple words uttered by the right person was able to change my entire outlook. I had been having a worse day than normal and it seemed like nothing could go right.
A little while ago, when I felt it was all becoming too much, I went up to my father and asked him to say those words. Now, my father is not a man to just say things. I had to explain to him why I wanted him to say those words and in what context.
While my frustration was reaching its peak, he decided to give me what I wanted, and said those words – "everything will be alright".
I cannot begin to describe what an impact those few words, no matter how much time and effort it took to extract them from his mouth, had on me. I released the breath I hadn't realised I was holding, and my chest suddenly felt a lot lighter, shedding the weight I had not realised I was carrying. Perhaps it was because those words were so hard-earned, or coming from my father, or even coming from a person who does not say anything lightly, they had an amazing impact on me nonetheless.
Something else that can elevate stress is when you can share that stress with a willing listener, and who is going through the same thing. Or when you read about something you are going through and realise that you are not going through it alone.
For example, a friend of mine recently shared an article called "Are you suffering from 'Covid brain'? You are not alone". It talks about how people are having so much difficulty focusing on anything or not being able to absorb any new information; it is like having "cotton brain". When I read it, I felt so relieved to know I was not the only one going through this. A few friends, who like me are avid readers, commented that they are not even able to read their favourite storybooks.
Toward the beginning of the pandemic, there was a lot of guidance available on how to deal with staying home, such as following the routine of "dressing up" before sitting down for work to feel as if you are actually at work. After a while, however, those voices became silent. People started putting their comfort first (honestly, it is not comfortable to do household chores while wearing office-wear), and even the people who strictly maintained those routines started relaxing those edicts.
I do not think this was good. Having to "dress up for work" and then changing to home clothes at the end of the workday made it seem like there is a change in the regular day, and each day is different from the next. Now, however, it feels like all the days are blending into one long, never-ending week.
There are a lot of "self-help" materials available, most of which tell you to focus on yourself, do something to make yourself feel better, look in the mirror and say good things about yourself to your reflection. I know several people who follow those mandates and are happy.
In the current negative world, I wonder if that is enough. Maybe telling yourself that everything will be alright is not enough anymore. Maybe, like me, you need to find that someone who will tell you those words, and make you believe them.
Immita Manal Amena is a senior analyst.