While we are all stuck in our homes unaware what day in the week it is anymore, awaiting the day we can freely walk outside and exchange hugs with loved ones, there is absolute madness going on across the world. The deadly Covid-19 flu + pneumonia combo caused by the coronavirus that completely crippled China for about four months now has not only made it to our shores here in Malaysia but has proven to be inescapable globally. As the number of cases and death tolls rise and most countries not even reaching our supposed viral peaks yet, there is no way to disengage from being hypervigilant– of the news, of the increasing number of infections, of the increasing death toll, of daily MHO updates, of which famous person has been tested positive. This, as a result, is bound to trigger the general feelings of anxiety and depression amongst many. However, if you’ve lived your entire life fearing falling ill and touching cooties, this is an absolute godforsaken living nightmare.
Case study: Me (22+, F). I’ve been a germaphobe for as long as I’ve known what germs are. I remember feeling grossed out when kids ate things off the floor in kindergarten. I remember refusing to use the washroom in the primary school because public school toilets were an experience, even if you weren’t terrified of bacteria. I remember thinking to myself that I would rather spoon my eyeball out than touch a public sink; my friends had to always help me turn the tap. I forced myself to grow out of it though, because fuck it, microorganisms are everywhere and if I can’t enjoy a nice hot plate of char kuey teow all just because there are a pair of rats in the drain next to me fighting over a Ramly burger bun that’s turned green, I ain’t living. Malaysia Boleh. I only disinfect my phone once in 3 days now (pre-corona). And so what if my eczema-prone skin is dry and splitting as a result of me washing my hands and sanitizing them 5 times an hour?
My fear of germs mutated itself in my little head and manifested in a different way as I grew into my young adulthood though. By this time I’d seen both my grandparents on my mom’s side get diagnosed with cancer. I just lost my dad to cancer not even a week ago, at the current time I am writing this. My dad’s dad, who I’d never known also had cancer and passed away due to sepsis back in the ’70s. I am a hypochondriac, my dudes. I’ve managed it well but that’s still what I am. How can I not be, when I’m constantly reminded of the body’s ability to just malfunction? Let me give you the context of how health anxiety has affected my life; one time I had durian at midday and met up with my friends at night at a bar. Naturally, I’d ended up drinking. But while I was there, drinking and sitting with my friends, instead of engaging in conversation, I took my phone out and started googling if I would die from mixing the durian I had HOURS AGO with alcohol. Thanks a lot, chain Whatsapp messages from Grandma that I received a year ago. After realizing what I was doing, one of my friends snatched the phone out of my hand to tell me I was acting looney and started laughing at me. The laughter was just exactly what I needed to ground my ridiculous thought pattern. I started laughing at myself too, “what an IDIOT”, I thought.
Everyone is anxious right now, but especially for those of us who have already been dealing with health anxiety and obsessive-compulsive behavioral patterns, being constantly bombarded by alarming news and talk of the virus has been dreadful. If most people who don’t even usually feel this way have given in to panic buying and sanitizer hoarding, it can mean losing sleep at night for the rest of us. I found myself googling COVID symptoms every time I got chest tightness from anxiety. Let me tell you, calling it counterproductive would be a massive understatement. I frantically waited and counted down to the two week mark of different events- the last time I took a Grab, the last time I went out at night, the last time I went to class- just in case the virus was in me incubating and I just didn’t feel it yet. Having to visit the hospital during this time was mentally torturous as well, as you’d imagine. However, if you need reassurance, here it is- this is a tough time but your emotions and thoughts are manageable. You are not alone in feeling this way- there are literally so many people in this world who are feeling like this right now. And that can be equally frightful as much as it is comforting, yes, but the bright side of that is people can understand what you are going through.
Personally, what’s kept me sane is keeping my intake of news to a minimum. I check MHO updates once a day, at noon. I refuse to wake up to it and I refuse to go to sleep thinking about it. If you need to stay off Twitter, do it. If you need to mute the buzzing family group chat, do it. If you want to stay off your phone completely and binge-watch Grace and Frankie, freaking do it. It’s hard enough to stay cooped up at home as it is, you deserve to be able to spend it in the calmest state of mind possible.
If you need a productive distraction, this is also the perfect time to up your fitness game. Not only is there an endless number of youtube workouts to choose from but most of your favorite gyms are probably scheduling Instagram live workouts every single day. Heck, even your favorite dancers have been teaching online classes and if you’ve been too intimidated to step into the studio to give it a go, this is the best opportunity to have a taste of what that’s like. Odds are you will probably have loads of fun. Breaking a sweat boosts your immune system, releases endorphins, and helps focus your mind in the present moment. Also, your friends are also equally as bored, so if you feel like you’re losing it, please reach out. They love you and I promise they want to help.
The best you can do right now is cherish this and try to view this positively; the slow passage of time, which is so different from our usual too-busy-to-breathe lifestyles. The air is crisper and mornings are more serene. Instagram content is so much more wholesome with everyone cooking, working out, and filming tiktoks. There is a calming sense of togetherness, even globally. I think the hardest yet most liberating thing you could do right now, is to accept that nothing is certain. I’ve most certainly had to come to terms with that in the last month, losing my dad while a fucking pandemic is going on. You can just do your part and do your best. Stay the heck home, practice good hygiene, and take your vitamins. This is so much bigger than you and me, but we’re in this together.