LAST week, we had the third anniversary since the first lockdown that marked our long ordeal with COVID- 19. Facebook has been pushing unwanted memories back to my feed the past week: face shields, market passes, lockdowns, Zoom conversations to keep us sane, pandemic recipes – things I would much rather forget, almost like a bad dream. The reality only sets in when you remember all the people we lost over the past years – some who have left the world entirely, some we walked away from when we were forced to ponder on what really mattered to us.
Having recovered after finally getting the virus for the first time in February, I am seeing the world with more confidence and more hope. I was lucky that my symptoms were extremely mild and my age and comorbidities (remember that term?) didn’t prove to be too much of a factor as I am also sure that my vaccination and booster helped.
Looking all around me, it seems the world has gone back to the way it was before the pandemic. In Baguio, Panagbenga came back with a vengeance and so did the Strawberry Festival in La Trinidad. In my son’s school, intramurals are back, complete with a cheer dance competition. He’ll be going to prom in about a month. Reunions among friends and family have been happening again. Concerts, live theater – they are back. I’m happy we are at last getting back to the normal things that made us happy before the pandemic.
But let’s pause and honor and take stock of all that has changed and may never come back. You’ve changed, I’ve changed – in profound ways that we may only be finding out now as we emerge into the sunlight. It’s ok to be blinded a little, just put on the sunglasses and keep walking.
Don’t crawl back into the chrysalis!
I have a favorite cartoon from the cartoon genius Gary Larson of The Far Side. It features a typical scene in a therapist’s office: the good doctor is seated with a notepad and starts with a standard therapist opening: “So Mr. Denton, let’s begin with your mother.” The twist comes in when we focus on the patient, Mr. Denton. I used to just laugh at how absurd and zany looking he is – wearing a seemingly random collection of clothing and accessories that you might expect from a cartoon depiction of someone with issues.
Looking at it now though, decades after I first saw it and with a lot more years behind me, I look at the panel differently. Mr. Denton may just be someone trying his best to put on a festive demeanor – he has a party hat and a funny nose on – despite an almost debilitating fear of water (goggles, raincoat, tube, flippers, being way above the floor and on the hat rack away from where the water might come flooding in.)
It’s just a man, seeing a therapist working through the masks and safety devices he has collected to keep himself from drowning.
Not so different from us normal-looking folks, no?
I used to think Mr. Larson was a little bit disturbed, just judging from the absurd but hilariously funny panels he made. Right now though, I am seeing wisdom and insight in his graphic commentary. Or could it be that I too am disturbed now?
Speaking about therapy and mental health, I finally turned 50 last December. I was a ball of anxiety, excitement and apathy for months leading up to this milestone that I ended up exhausted on the eve of my birthday: I was asleep by 9pm.
I had major plans in my head for my 50th: long slow train rides in exotic places, seeing Peru and Argentina at last, a big party to cap off months and months of celebration. I didn’t do any of that and mostly stayed cocooned in my Baguio doing work that I love but also spending a bit more time in Quezon City in the quiet renovated space I carved out for us in my mom’s old garage. On my birthday I had an early morning dimsum breakfast with a small group of old college friends and then dinner with my mother and some family in the evening. I couldn’t have been happier!
I attribute a lot of being in this good place to embracing therapy in the middle of this year and doing lots of mental hygiene and getting rid of decades of accumulated mental plaque. I’ve got nice and shiny pearly gray and white matter now! I couldn’t recommend it more for my friends who are hitting milestone years too.
As Boy George sings in “Time,” my favorite Culture Club song: “This could be the best place yet, but you must overcome your fears.”
Don’t let mental millstones prevent you from celebrating your milestones!