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Fear and loneliness struck many who found themselves struggling to live with the isolation, away from loved ones Image Credit: Illustration by Seyyed Llata

More than a year into the pandemic and the cobwebs of the lockdown have yet to completely blow away.

While some yearned for the daily work routine that gave them a reason to climb out of bed, there were others who secretly struggled with an existential crisis that had them question whether the new normal would be the only normal they would ever know.

Perched on this slippery slope between anxiety and loneliness, the lockdown showed us a mirror that reflected more than we sometimes wanted to see.

Addressing the elephant in the room: How COVID-19 destroyed my solitude

Sharon Benjamin, Features Writer

I have a pet elephant. He doesn’t do much; he just stands on top of my chest and does what he’s told to do. My mind is his master, so naturally, there’s no one else he’d rather listen to.

I got him on April 25, 2020. A month after India declared the first lockdown. I was working in Chennai at the time and shared an apartment with my friend. Naturally, my friend booked her tickets to go back home [Kerala] before the lockdown had come into effect, and I ended up being the sole resident of the apartment.

I was fine in the beginning — knowing that I’ve stayed alone — because after all, how bad could it really be?

The first few days went by like a routine. My parents spoke to me every day and my grandparents as well. As the pages on the calendar kept moving, questions of ‘how are you?’, ‘what are you doing?’ became statements ‘if only you were here’, ‘I wish you had come home before the lockdown’.

Soon after the country had declared a curfew, I ran out the next day to walk to the nearest supermarket (which was 15 minutes away). I’ve seen post-apocalypse movies, this was no different.

And that’s when it started to really sink in. I was alone. In the company of no one but myself. Slowly things started to escalate, three meals became one, and my neighbours took their travel passes and went home. There came a point when it was just me in a two-block vicinity.

I was just scared altogether. And it was, basically, because I was alone.

The nights were longer than usual, so eventually I just had my thoughts to keep me company. And they weren’t the kind of thoughts you’d want to hear when you’re alone. With each comment my mind made, my elephant got bigger and stronger. He was light at first and I could handle him, but as he grew bigger I found myself sinking into the ground beneath.

There came a point where all his feet were on my chest at the same time, and all I could do was cry about it. Past mistakes and decisions came flowing in; I lost my self-esteem. That was the first step. Over the next few days things went from bad to worse. It’s true what they say after all, an idle mind is a devil’s workshop.

I used to pray to calm myself down when my anxiety was at its peak. It helped for those few minutes, but the second after I open eyes, the loneliness creeped up on me stronger than before.

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A lot happened in those six months. With each ease in lockdown, I quit my job, sent a cargo for all of my friend’s stuff and I vacated my flat. I tried to keep myself busy. I even moved into my cousin’s house for two weeks with my elephant, till I finally got a call.

“We got your visa. You’re coming home,” my mother exclaimed over the phone.

The wait was over. Six months and 2 weeks of solitude had finally come to an end. I felt like I could finally breathe again.

Every day was a struggle, but it gets better over time. There are days when I can’t control it. It comes out in the form of asking a thousand obvious questions. But that reassurance every time is relieving and exhausting at the same time. It’s comparatively better, now. Being around my family, with my colleagues at work and occasionally meeting my friends, has helped me battle my demons better.

As for my elephant, most importantly, he has taken just one foot off my chest. And that’s made all the difference.


Why COVID-19 has made me crave solitude

Bindu Rai, Entertainment Editor

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The pandemic taught us to recognise there's a thin line between isolation and loneliness Image Credit: Illustration by Seyyed Llata

It took me seven attempts to write this piece. All while waging a battle to avoid being drawn into the latest office gossip, while lunch menus were being discussed overhead.

Solitude, how I crave it. Life during the peak of a pandemic-enforced restriction was hard for many, separated from loved ones while facing their darkest fears trapped in the confines of four walls.

Yet, pregnant with twins and stuck at home with my husband for months, there was still a strange, but comforting routine that had entered our lives. When the babies came home, the bubble increased just enough to include them and a nanny who would take charge when the work mode switched on.

The new normal, however, was shattered when our time in solitary confinement was up.

It’s been two months, three weeks and five days since I’ve returned to the office and as much as I love my colleagues, I fear COVID-19 has turned me into a secret introvert, trapped in an extrovert’s body.

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It’s been two months, three weeks and five days since I’ve returned to the office and as much as I love my colleagues, I fear COVID-19 has turned me into a secret introvert, trapped in an extrovert’s body.

Lockdown loneliness is perhaps the technical phrase for this but when have I ever conformed to textbook reasoning?

Struggling with this conscious awakening of new personality trait, I pushed the boundaries of my own making and decided to go out on the town with my girlfriends one night. Sitting in front of the mirror while my mind drew up its own pros and cons list, I heaved a sigh of resignation that there was perhaps some truth to that fact that I was struggling to re-integrate into society.

For someone who has battled depression in her lifetime, it is important to recognise the thin line between isolation and loneliness. Social behaviour can be adjusted but finding yourself alone in a crowd is perhaps something that requires further reflection.

As the discussion over ‘Mandi Mondays’ heats up at the office, I look around in exasperation but find myself laughing a little louder every day.


Work-from-home: I missed the office and the camaraderie

Shyam A. Krishna, Senior Associate Editor

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Despite productivity being high, distraction became a reality for some in lockdown Image Credit: Illustration by Seyyed Llata

Working from home would be fun. That was what I thought. But the coronavirus-induced stay-at-home period was anything but fun.

When the pandemic unended our lives, home became my office. I loved it. I didn’t have to hurry through the routine of ironing, shaving and showering before a hasty drive to the office, dodging the Sharjah-Dubai traffic. Life became easy. I would start work with a coffee and take breaks whenever I wanted. This was too good to be true.

As days became weeks, the cracks in the work-from-home routine began to show. I realised that there were no start and end times for office work. There was no routine. Family life and office work merged into one seamless day. The short breaks away from the work-station didn’t help. And I worked till the work was complete, which would be way past 9.30pm.

This certainly was not the work-from-home plan I had in mind. It was disruptive. There was no spare time. No me-time either. No time to go for a walk. I couldn’t catch an episode of ‘New Amsterdam’. I didn’t have time to unwind. And I began to add inches to my girth; my frequent trips to the kitchen didn’t help.

Friends provided tips to cope. Have a routine, have a separate office space, they said. None of them worked for me. I juggled housework and office work, and that left me exhausted.

My productivity was high, but I was often distracted. My daughter would have endless doubts and queries when I’m in the middle of writing a piece. When I’m struggling to string together a lead paragraph, my wife would announce that the kitchen pipe had sprung a leak. They didn’t seem to understand that I’m in the “office”, and I was working.

I began to get annoyed easily. Irritated, when my concentration was affected. Angry, when I was chasing a stiff deadline. I started to hate working from home.

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I began to get annoyed easily. Irritated, when my concentration was affected. Angry, when I was chasing a stiff deadline. I started to hate working from home.

Fact is, I missed the office badly. The banter, the laughter, and the camaraderie: I missed them all. That was office for me. Work is more satisfying when colleagues are around, and teamwork helps improve the quality of work.

When I returned to the office, everything clicked back into place. I loved the routine of getting ready for the office. The traffic didn’t matter. The beaming faces, the chatter and the yelling at the office all made me feel alive. We are back to normal, I said to myself.

Masks have become the norm. Sanitisers occupy a prominent place at everyone’s desk. The socially distanced canteen look odd. But I will take that.

I’m back in the office. That’s what matters.


Days of WFH are over. Good riddance

Omar Shariff, International Editor

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Post lockdown, there were those eager to return to work and return to a routine Image Credit: Illustration by Seyyed Llata

It was when the dart hit the laptop screen as I was editing an article on Kuwait that I realised things had gotten out of hand. I was in the middle of a war zone.

The eldest, armed with a Nerf Strongarm, was firing at the second one from the corridor into the living room (where I was working). The second one, carrying a Nerf Wolf LR1, had set up a barricade (stool mounted on a chair, covered with a bedsheet). Displaying impressive military tactics, he asked his baby brother to fetch ‘bullets’ littered on the floor, promising to provide ‘covering fire’. No, working from home was not for me.

Guess what? Those days are over. For about two months, I have been WFO (working from office) — just as nature intended. While I like spending time with the family — my wife, and our kids, all boys aged 14, 11, 2, and 0.5 — I need a proper workspace, with colleagues around, and a newsroom environment.

Did WFH cause me anxiety? Not at all. Mood swings? No. But, the monotony was making me feel disoriented.

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Did WFH cause me anxiety? Not at all. Mood swings? No. But, the monotony was making me feel disoriented. Wake up, shower, make Turkish coffee, log in, (10 hours later) log out, limitless YouTube, sleep.

The kids’ e-learning didn’t help either. They would be up before me, logged into Microsoft Teams. The three of us would sit in different locations in the living room where the internet reception is the best.

I discouraged them from putting on headphones, as you never know what they might get up to during class hours. (Once caught the older one playing Dirt Rally during Geography). But no headphones also meant the irritating soundtrack of pupils and their teachers constantly trying to talk over each other.

What about the commute, I hear you say. Yes, it’s a 60km, 60 minute drive. But, I see it as well deserved me-time; a chance to listen to Stromae, collect your thoughts, and prepare for the day. An important interval between rising up and starting work. Which was missing from the equation for more than a year. On the way back, it’s time to unwind, and look forward to dinner with family.

I like the world this way. The way it was meant to be.