A Lockdown Tale

76 days of total lockdown and the struggle that came with it

Empty street of the Makati Central Business District during the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), photo taken from The Straits Times

It was a rather confusing time. Various messages were going around on social media, each with a varying degree of severity on the proposed lockdown to be imposed on the metropolis. People were on panic mode, with queues lined up in supermarkets, and stocks running low. A lot more were rushing to bus stations with the hopes of being able to leave the capital and be in the provinces with their respective families. Then came the announcement. The entire Metro Manila, also known as the National Capital Region, was placed under community quarantine on March 14.

Metro Manila was the epicenter of the Philippines’ coronavirus outbreak which was spreading the world over, so it didn’t end there.

March 16, the President declared that the entire island of Luzon was to be placed under enhanced community quarantine or ECQ, which is effectively a total lockdown. Virtually all stores, apart from those that provide essential services such as hospitals, markets, drugstores, plus banks (in selected branches) were allowed to open, but on a strict limited capacity. Only one person was allowed to step out for each family, only for the purchasing of essential goods or due to medical emergencies.

It was unprecedented. Crazy, even. The bustling metropolis was brought to a standstill. The once crazy traffic was replaced with empty streets. The noise that once reverberated across Metro Manila was reduced to silence.

It was a silent, dystopian world, brought to its knees by a virus that, arguably or otherwise, came from bats. It was a threat that we all took lightly at the onset, but actually proved to be a most formidable one.

The first week or two of the lockdown was all fine and dandy (yes, it really was for me). I felt like I finally got to have my moment of peace and quiet, just to clear my head of whatever’s going on. Some of you might go, “Talk about privilege.” But I honestly felt that way, just to allow myself a room to breathe from all the hustle and bustle of life before COVID-19.

Photo of Metro Manila’s skyline with the Sierra Madre mountain range on the horizon, sign of improved air quality during the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), photo taken from ABS-CBN News.

As the lockdown went on, things started to change. The feeling of comfort and peace was changed to restlessness, uncertainty, fear, and anxiety. As if that wasn’t enough, the limiting movement, the 150 sqm space that should feel spacious becomes seemingly constricting, making me start to feel claustrophobic. I would feel as if the numerous thoughts in my head which I want to release and let go of end up bouncing back at me because of the walls surrounding me, and they end up jumbling in my head, as if there’s no elbow room to move around.

That’s when things started getting worse. Many times during the course of the lockdown, I would feel dizzy. It would be difficult to breathe. I felt like my surroundings were choking me. My chest was tightening, and I started becoming lethargic, or, worse, completely unable to move. The feeling of anxiety running through my body was definitely crippling and paralyzing. It’s definitely a challenge to recover from those bouts with anxiety, as I ended up sapped of any energy left in my body. I’d end up sleeping more than I should, just to try to recuperate and gain back what I felt I lost, only to hit another low after a few days and go through the process all over again.

My only respite was the weekly grocery shopping, which would be the only time I could step out of the house to purchase goods for our family. The chance to walk the virtually empty streets of Chinatown here in Manila as I go to the supermarket was both timely and welcoming. There was still a lot of uncertainty in the air with the lingering pandemic, but the general feel of silence brought about by streets bereft of almost any form of activity allowed me to just take in all that air and open space I could afford, before locking up again for the rest of the week.

Binondo, or Manila’s Chinatown, during the enhanced community quarantine, photo by Mark Daniel Q. Demayo, taken from ABS-CBN News.

Other than that, other short breaks of embracing the open space involve going up the roof deck just to catch the setting sun, or a glimpse of the empty street down below.

Photo of the skyline from my home

It was difficult. I felt I didn’t have any outlet for those pent-up thoughts and emotions. There were even instances when I would just want to hit someone or something just to release whatever’s simmering inside of me. I would even just stare blankly at the sky, only to feel as if my insides were already crying. Social media wasn’t helping at all. In fact, it was aggravating the situation. All the hate and vitriol that people spew online under the guise of freedom of speech was adding to the demons that I’m already having a hard time fighting. The news reports coming from mainstream media and otherwise was also exacerbating the anxiety that was already eating me up from within.

I eventually resorted to cleansing my social media feeds. I had to unfriend a lot of people online just to preserve whatever’s left of my sanity during those times. To date, I have actually unfriending more than 150 people, and unfollowed a few more. I also unfollowed all online news outlets. To some, it may seem like me just trying to contain myself in a certain bubble, oblivious to the new realities brought about by the pandemic. To me, it was my only means of making sure I get to live another day, to fight another battle and win it.

All this went on until the government finally shifted to a general community quarantine (GCQ) starting June 01. Being a more relaxed quarantine, I get to finally step out a little more than usual, of course following health and safety protocols. But one good thing is it allowed me to have some moments to take a walk during late afternoons when the crowd is very thin, and physical distancing was a hundred and one percent possibility. I have to admit, the anxieties are still there. There are still days when I’d struggle with it, when I’d hit a low, and suddenly come back manic. But they’re no longer as bad as they were during the 2.5 months under ECQ. In fact, I can better manage them now and I’m able to get back up faster than during the ECQ phase, and I hope this road to recovery continues all the way for the better.

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