By Himashi Jayasundera:
There is an internal question that is answered throughout the course of one’s lifetime. There will always be an instance where this question will come up and each one of us will have to answer it. When will things get better? However, answering this question is further complicated because we are afraid of being judged as selfish if we prioritise our mental and physical health and perhaps depressed if we do not.
The status quo says that succumbing to one’s emotions and spending time with one’s self is unconventional. The reasons as to why self-contemplation, self-care, and self-prioritising are discouraged is because we have this looming perspective that “self-anything” is bordering on the lines of being selfish. That is not necessarily true. In order for us to serve a greater purpose and impact the community, we must, ourselves, be stable and healthy. Taking care of yourself in all aspects of life is the key component in caring for those around you. Think of it this way, if you are not healthy and stable, how can you possibly provide the same to another person.
This understanding is especially prominent during our present situation. Covid-19 has forever altered so many of our lifestyles. People we used to see face to face on a daily basis have now become lagging FaceTime or Zoom calls. Family members that we used to visit every weekend have to be restricted to socially-distanced conversations on the driveway or air hugs through a screen door. So many things that used to contribute to a slice of happiness after a busy week have been stolen from us.
It is only natural that people are affected to some degree because of these compromises and sacrifices that have to be made for the greater good. I have talked to people from different generations regarding the impact of Covid-19 on their lives. Even though the answers and people’s outlooks on the adaptations they have assumed varied, one answer was shared by each and every person. It was the undeniable fear of both their immediate and long-term future coupled with the overwhelming presence of sadness. Individuals featured in this article are a part of the most impressionable age groups. The professional and personal decisions they make now will have a profound effect on their futures.
I would like to introduce a young individual, who for personal reasons has chosen to remain anonymous. She is a 16+ year student in Sri Lanka who will be sitting for her Advanced Level exams in the early summer of 2021. Like many students her age, she is harboring an ample amount of academic and personal stress. In a normal scenario, students would attend tutoring, school, or even host study groups with their friends. When asked the nature of her greatest sacrifice, she answered,
“I come from a family that is very strict in cultural and academic ways of life. My mindset on education and life is the complete opposite from what my parents believe. So, to distract myself, I relied on being able to go to school and see my friends. I never realised until now how much I would miss such a small activity as my lunch break at school or even P.T. (physical training) class. Both of those segments of my days involved hanging out with my friends. I just miss having that small yet effective moment during my day to forget about grades, sports, university, and parents and just be happy. I don’t know, I just miss it and I know it’s something small compared to what many other people have given up, but it was my safe space. I no longer have that, and I’m scared to face what's ahead without some normalcy in my life.” (Anonymous).
Another hopeful adventure she is looking forward to is, “going off to university locally or internationally.” Unfortunately, that stage in life might be compromised because of Covid-19 as well. Having that milestone taken away from her for the foreseeable future instills a powerful mindset of defeat or lack of purpose. The one thing that she has been preparing for during the entirety of her early education is now in the hands of a future that is determined by this pandemic. A more clinical and fearful way of describing such a mindset is depression. Even more so than before, currently we find vulnerable and impressionable adolescents, who have yet to see the world, sink into various stages and forms of depression.
Young adolescents in this stage of life need to know that they are not alone in any of the emotional and physical tidal waves they may experience during this pandemic. Unfortunately, society tends to stigmatise depression. Depression, sadness, lack of motivation, emotional spikes, etc. is not a weakness or a flaw. It is a normal human reaction when attempting to adapt to an unforeseen situation with no time to prepare.
For those of us who recently graduated university with hopes of pursuing further studies or jobs, the pandemic blues have determined otherwise. My best friend and I graduated university this past June of 2020. I am so grateful that he was fortunate enough to have a job lined up post graduation. However, there are some of us who did not share the same luck. There is the added pressure of a struggling economy and limited job opportunities. In-person work is close to nonexistent. Companies who offer remote work are not actively hiring because of budget constraints. Simply stated, we have graduated into a recession. That being said, having a job or an internship lined up does not mean that you are completely out of the woods. As my best friend mentioned,
“Even though I did have a job lined up, I was still nervous because the job was not high enough in pay which meant that I was not going to be financially stable to live on my own. As a result, I moved back in with my parents. Yes, quarantining by myself was definitely worse, however, adjusting to my old life back at home in the beginning was an undesirable challenge. I certainly had my fair share of arguments, especially with my dad; but time and patience took precedence. Eventually my mother, father, and I adapted to living together again and having to compromise aspects of our past lives.”
It is important to acknowledge the shared hate towards the outcomes of the pandemic. A very dear friend of mine, Jeff Sadecki, has shared with me his own challenges which he is successfully overcoming since the start of this crisis. Prior to the dangerous state of this outbreak Jeff had been planning to switch his careers within his field. After graduating university two years ago, he landed a project accounting job with a Chicago based IT company. Until March of 2020, Jeff’s luck with gaining job experience and broadening his capabilities had been inevitable. There were always opportunities for professional growth and comfortable financial stability. However, his progressing career path had come to a stop this past May of 2020.
“I found myself blowing through my checking account and my savings account. Rent, student loans, car loans, groceries, etc. they all started piling up and it all seemed to be never ending. I was at a state where I literally had close to pocket change to my name. It immeasurably compromised my mental and physical health. I lost motivation to keep up with my daily schedule. I didn’t want to workout, I didn’t have an appetite, and all I wanted to do was sleep. Eventually I had enough. I knew that if I didn’t do something about the way I was feeling, I would entirely lose control of my life. My motivation came from really wanting financial stability. I started using my deprivations in my personal and professional life to motivate myself to do better and to maintain my mental health for the sake of those of whom I love and who genuinely care for me. I applied for 200+ jobs and just hearing back from even two jobs shared motivation and demotivation equally; I knew I had to stop lamenting and regressing and keep pushing forward. I didn’t have the luxury to do otherwise. The one realisation I want to share with people is that when you think you’ve reached rock bottom, don’t let up, there will always be further to fall as there is to rise. Someone has to get you to where you want to be and that person is you. Find comfort in the avenues available to you.”
An interesting aspect to keep in mind is that though this pandemic is an uneven balance of bitter and sweet, so many of us, if not all, have been given the gift of time. Everyone always wants more time whether we are aware of it or not. Yes, we are in the midst of a life-threatening crisis however, we have also been given an unconventional opportunity to gain some perspective on our lives. With that in mind, we should take a moment to properly use this time as a blessing in disguise to weigh all our options. We should commit a majority of our headspace to much needed self-care and personal betterment in every respect. Now that we suddenly have more time, let us learn how to use it to our best advantage, to regain control of our lives. We can take a step back, strategise our next moves, whether personal or professional. Doing so can restore the very control we were stripped of when the pandemic started.