COVID-19 Five-Alarm Panic! (An Anecdote)

Yes, life isn’t going back to normal any time soon…

The world disagrees on so many things but one thing we have in common is that we were all unprepared for the outbreak of coronavirus. COVID-19 has taken the world by storm, disrupting the very pillars of sustainability and leaving countries with immeasurable losses. People have a lot to say about this: some say COVID-19 is a biological weapon engineered in a specialized laboratory; others say it stems from bats and was transmitted through a man consuming a bat in the Wuhan province of China. Regardless of its origins, the outbreak has claimed millions of lives worldwide and I speak for the world when I say that this truly has been a shocking experience. We do not have a vaccine for the virus and the best action we can take is to contain the spread of the virus by self-isolation, quarantine and shelter-in-place polices. We are not certain how long this harrowing situation is going to last – and to me, personally, is the scary part. We are just four months into 2020 and it has proved to be a crazy, disastrous year already. We are not sure what to expect next.

I specifically recall the day when I started to have feelings of dread because of this virus. It was 15th March 2020 (Sunday). I was studying with my friends and I was feeling kind of frustrated. My friends were going on and on about the rising confirmed cases and death tool in Malaysia because of COVID-19 and it was starting to get to me. I had learned about this virus since the beginning of the term, but I paid very little attention to it because honestly it upsets me to think about it. I knew what the consequences would be: shutting down of schools, panic buying in supermarkets, the city on lockdown, etc – and I was horrified to face that. The more I listened to my friends, the more panicky and nauseated I felt because I knew what was coming. We had to act. We had to prepare. My fears were coming true.

We hightailed to the nearest supermarket to stock up food and necessities. And not-so-surprisingly, everyone from the university was already there. I saw people in face masks and gloves swiping items off the shelves and cramming them into the tiniest of space left in their loaded trolleys. Everyone was hoarding staple food, canned food, toilet paper, anything you name it while I was so confused on even where to begin. I live in the dorm on campus and I don’t have any means to cook rice or meat so I just resorted to purchasing bread, biscuits, instant noodles, chips and candy and it appeared as if I was shopping for a weekend hangout other than preparing for impending lockdown. I remember feeling so immature because everyone around me knew exactly what they were doing. Well, granted that some of them were simply bulk buying because they were driven by panic and hysteria. Regardless, they were still doing whatever they needed to survive where I was just wishing that this wasn’t real. Because if it was real – and it is! – life wouldn’t return to normal, at least not for a long time…

The cashier ringed up my so-called supplies and I paid the least amongst my friends (RM 72). I didn’t talk much on the drive back home. I put on music and stared out the window, observing the lonely streetlights on roads which were already deserted. The minute I got back home, I unpacked and thoroughly washed and sanitized my hands and feet because you can never be too careful with this virus. I ate my dinner and I was trying to calm myself down. I was very anxious and scared. Suddenly my phone lit up and the notifications started to bombard my home screen. The university has cancelled all physical classes and switched to online learning. The second I read that my anxiety shot through the roof. This literally meant the university would be closed until further notice and for someone who lives on campus, it meant that this entire place was going to be deserted and empty and I could no longer see my friends – who by the way were severely excited that they had to study from home. I mean I get that. This semester has been really hard on all of us and e-learning might appeal to the majority because you have the added comfort of learning from home and not having to drive or walk to the university. But the life that I have built is here, on campus and now the university is closing; there’d be no more activities and my tight schedule started to seem really loose. I was distraught! For someone like me who struggles with anxiety and depression relies on a routine to escape to. I cannot be left a minute alone with my thoughts because I venture into this spiral where I overthink every aspect of my life. And trust me, that spiral, that twisted ride inside your brain, is extremely horrifying.

I rang one of my best friends up and he sounded ecstatic that the university was cancelled. I literally broke down in tears. I had been holding back tears since we were in the supermarket and I could no longer compose myself. My emotions were all over the place and I bawled my eyes out. Not my proudest moment. And I am a man. So it takes guts to look that vulnerable in front of another man and also to admit that I cried. I’m ashamed because I felt like I could have handled the situation much calmer. But lately, I have the emotional capacity of a teaspoon (obvious Harry Potter reference here) but sometimes crying it out offers a strange relief and lightness. If my masculinity is being challenged here, so be it. I’m just being honest.

My friend talked me down and said everything was going to be alright. He was at a loss for words because my reaction was bizarre. He told me to stop thinking and get some rest. I mean I wish I could but my brain is hardwired to over analyse (and sometimes exaggerate) whatever was playing out in my mind. I did sleep and I did wake up feeling a little bit better. I spent the entire day of 16th May with my friend in his apartment studying and working on a couple of assignments we had yet to complete. We had two tests schooled that week and now everything was online. We as students had so much to adapt and adjust to the shift in the learning environment and I’m sure the lectures were in the same boat with us. I wasn’t pleased with the online classes because there was a lack of interaction. Everyone was on Microsoft Teams and Zoom, all tuning in to the lecture and not saying a word. I am not confident online so I didn’t raise a question or speak either. And there was this infuriating issue with the internet connection. I’m not even going to get started on that.

I was with my friend for a couple of days and he really made sure that I felt safe and that I was okay (God bless him). I returned to my dorm on Friday because all hostel residents had to be present for the nightly roll call and I’ve been confined to my room ever since. All my food and supplies are delivered but on the upside, hostel residents get free meals from Le Quadri Hotel. I have not met anyone for over a month, but I keep in touch with my friends via instant messaging and video calls, which in my opinion, fail as a communication because nothing is better than face-to-face interaction. But there isn’t a choice here. COVID-19 has challenged us. It has robbed us of going to class with our friends, hanging out at coffee shops and frankly, the ability to stay in proximity with someone else in the room. Yes, life isn’t going back to normal any time soon…

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