The virus can affect mental health while in isolation —for 14 days or more. I base that observation on my own battle with COVID in July. Many of my friends who have had COVID have also shared that they experienced mental health issues while in quarantine.
COVID, even when mild, will always want to take over the body and when it is unsuccessful, it will seep into the state of mind of the patient.
In my case, I felt extreme anxiety on my fifth day of isolation. It was the fear of being alone. It was the full knowledge that the virus was treacherous. I feared sleeping because I thought that I would wake up with more symptoms.
That was the time I started to rewire my thinking. I needed to tap on my “crazy, creative” side to win. I prayed that night that I would not allow COVID to win over me.
Here are some of the armaments that I used to battle anxiety while I was in isolation:
My fun and funny side
Laughter is still the best medicine after you have taken your anti-viral meds. My being “crazy” saved me from the mental issues caused by COVID isolation.
The crazy things I did were all recorded. Fear and faith figured prominently in my daily account. As well as hope. In my notebook, I wrote: ‘I don’t want to die. Not yet. Not now. Not while there is a pandemic.’
One night, I wore my gray suit and had a candlelit dinner for two — with my shadow as my date. I brought out some nice plates in my brother’s house, which I occupied alone. The white Sperma candles intended for my father’s gravesite were repurposed and provided illumination on my Kuya’s wooden, oblong table.
My dinner:tochong bangus. I played some ambient music on my phone. I enjoyed my dinner even if my taste buds were playing a trick on me: Food tasted like cardboard or metal or rust. Rice tasted likepulbura ng posporo. But it was a memorable dinner.
Dancing with or without music
On the fifth day of my isolation when I felt it was most difficult to get up from bed, I fought back by amusing and entertaining myself. I took a shower as soon as I opened my eyes. I was obsessed with taking a bath because I was hoping, wishing, praying that I would be able to smell the Irish Spring soap because COVID stole my sense of smell, too.
On my way to the shower, I played music in my mind. I danced while taking a bath. I was genuinely happy as I laughed at my own folly. I did my mini-fashion show while in the shower. Or when I was not dancing, I was counting the pink square tiles in the banyo: 129 in all.
Every time I got out of the shower, I felt refreshed and renewed. One time, I danced toMadonna. I went up the kitchen sink and did Vogue.
Watching movies on YouTube
I’m not a TV person. I survived my isolation in my brother’s house even if his TV set had been out of order for years. I hardly watched anything on my phone — until my isolation. YouTube became a handy BFF.
One night, I did role playing. I must have watched a lot of Nora Aunor movies because I pretended I was one of the characters she played. I was an NPA hiding from the military. All my “flat ones” in Theater Arts in UPLB came in handy.
This is very important. I made my COVID journey public in the hope that the stigma associated with contracting the virus would be shattered. Every night, from Day 1 to Day 14 of my isolation, up to Day 21, because I added seven more days to my isolation before I fully communed with my family, I treated Facebook as my online journal.
The crazy things I did and the weird experiences I had were all recorded. Fear and faith figured prominently in my daily account. As well as hope. In my notebook, I wrote: “I don’t want to die. Not yet. Not now. Not while there is a pandemic.”
Loving my mother all the more
My mother did not show a single molecule of fright or nervousness whenever she talked to me on the phone. (Later on, she told me that she was a ball of nerves while I was battling COVID.)
It helped that she had her distinct sense of humor. Like, she would cut our conversation short when her favorite soap, Probinsyano, was already showing. “Cardo na. Tatawagan kita ulit kapag commercial na.”
Talking to equally “crazy” friends
I kept a small group of college friends that I talked to every night during my isolation. These were happy, jolly souls. And every night, I looked forward to “dying of laughter” withLarcy Jarmin,Dayday Cabrera,Alex Ochaves andMulong Palison our group video call.
And when I still couldn’t sleep, I would call my student in my Sunday Writing Class,PJ Morante, who became my friend, to read me a poem while he was on BPO duty.
Keeping a grateful heart
Because I made my COVID journey public, people started sending me well wishes. And food. I felt Gulod, my beloved barrio, loved me to bits as, every day, food was delivered to our house by my friends in the neighborhood. From sinigang sa bayabas na buto-buto to sinuam na mais, to pesang dalag with patis, calamansi and sili as sawsawan, I felt pampered by loving kindness.
When they learned from my FB posts that bangus, my least favorite fish, was the only food I could taste well, friends started sending me bangus dishes — from tocho to sinalab to sinigang sa bayabas. For that, I was more than grateful for having the virus. Really. That was how I felt. Theirs was an expression of love —as sweet as the many cakes sent to me while I was in isolation.
Consulting with my doctor and cracking a joke or two with him
When Dr.Ely Obillo, my pulmonologist, told me that he would put me on aggressive treatment, I did not blink an eye. The virus, he told me, was treacherous. In his experience, he saw patients with mild symptoms became critical. Since I was not yet ready to die, I wholeheartedly opted for aggressive treatment.
Every day, I reported to him, including the crazy things I did while in isolation. “No need to tell me,” he said. “Everything is well documented on your FB.” And that included the time I was battling boredom so I danced with a rooster on the calendar to the tune of Madonna’s Holiday.
Believing that God is the Greatest Healer saved me.
There was an afternoon that I made a conscious effort to dress up while listening to an online Mass. Gray slacks. Folded pink long-sleeved shirt. And my python-skin black shoes. I felt I had to be presentable to God that day. God remains the No. 1 cure. And I have never been this pious in my life until I had COVID. God is truly wonderful.
Even God witnessed that my being “crazy” saved me from the mental wages of COVID.
Photo Illustration by Jimz Abecilla