What kept me going when the world shut down and human connection was canceled.
Photo by: unsplash.com
Illustration by: Simine Azarnoush
400 days and counting
By: Priscilla Silva
Published 19 May 2021
It’s been over a year since a round, spikey, microscopical being took over and shook up the world as we knew it. March 2020 will go down in history as the moment we realized nothing is forever and that everything we once knew would perhaps never be the same again. All of a sudden, we found ourselves isolating at home, keeping a two-meter distance from each other at the supermarket, avoiding our friends and relatives (this time unwillingly) and practically bathing in hand sanitizer. Face masks became the hottest accessory of the season and it was now considered rude to even suggest shaking hands with someone you just met.
It was during this time that I was about to finish therapy. After being diagnosed with Lupus in 2018, I fell into a deep depression caused in part by the exquisite cocktail of medications I had to take everyday which, among others, included cortisone, hydroxychloroquine and, during a few months, even chemo. This is why, thanks to the encouragement of my sambo, I decided to start therapy in the fall of 2019.
Things were going very well. I felt motivated, my school performance improved and it seemed to me like I was regaining control of my life. I even had gotten a part-time job at a hamburger restaurant.
And then the pandemic hit.
Schools closed, restaurants, bars and museums went on hiatus and travel bans were imposed. After having only worked one day, the manager told me they would not be able to hire me at the moment because the business had been hit hard by the current situation. I couldn’t help but feel defeated and was afraid to become depressed again after I had worked so hard in therapy to overcome it the first time. Fortunately for me, I found three things that helped get through this pandemic without losing my sanity that I would like to share with you in case you need some motivation and a reminder that it will get better.
After the Swedish Public Health Agency’s decision to close schools for an indefinite amount of time, I slipped into a permanent state of pajama-wearing, snack-eating comfort I hadn’t experienced since my high school days. Not going to lie, it was heaven on Earth, at least for the first couple of months. However, this honeymoon period was short lived and by the end of May I was ripping my hair off out of desperation. My wake up call came when I had to put on a pair of jeans again after months of comfy pajama pants. As you might have already guessed, the zipper didn’t go up. That’s when it hit me: I had to get moving again.
Dragging myself out of the couch and into the street to start exercising was one of the hardest things I had to do in months, in part because I had gained so much weight and felt too embarrassed to be seen by someone other than my sambo. Apart from my kitchen, the only other place I had visited during this time was ICA Mobilia to do my weekly shopping and get my dose of chips and chocolate.
I began small, first going to Folkets Park and around my block and then moving a bit further away, to Pildamsparken. Just taking a few steps and feeling the wind on my face instantly improved my mood and made me remember how much I had missed the outside. I began by walking only one lap around the pond, but after a few weeks I had enough energy to walk three times around the whole park. Due to my lupus, I was not able to run like I used to, but it was not necessary. A walk was all I needed to make me feel like normality had never left. Walking became a new form of therapy for me. It helps me meditate and it gives me the peace of mind I need in the middle of this chaos.
Soon after I started taking walks regularly, I decided to start going to the gym because I wanted a bigger challenge, a habit I still maintain up until this day (although not as frequently as I did last summer). Every time I train I try to set a new challenge to myself—perhaps lifting an extra 2 kg or doing a slower push-up—to keep it interesting and not quit.
Ever since I moved to Sweden, I had dreamt of getting a dog. I live in Möllan, where the dog-to-human ratio is approximately 2:1 (not a real statistic), so naturally, this only added to my desire to care for one myself. Unfortunately, due to the agitated rhythm of student life—and the lack of a steady income it entails—my wish to become the matte of a puppy would have to wait.
And then the pandemic hit. School became digital and my sambo got permiterad—less working hours for almost the same pay—at his job, and all of a sudden we had money to spare. We saw this suspension of reality as the perfect opportunity to finally add a new bit of happiness to our lives, and this is when we decided to adopt Iroko from Spain last July.
Caring for a dog has helped me keep sane during this pandemic because it has given me the routines that I lost once I stopped going to physical lectures and leaving the house like I used to. It is thanks to Iroko that I continue waking up at 8:30 in the morning to feed him once he gets back from his morning walk with my sambo. When I take him out in the afternoon, I know it is about two hours until dinner. Finally, after coming back from his last walk of the day at 22:00, I know I need to jump into the shower and prepare for bed. In these times of uncertainty, my dog has somehow taken the place of the clock and the calendar in my day to day. Moreover, it is thanks to Iroko and his trips to the dog park that me and my sambo interact with other people apart from ourselves—always keeping the distance, of course—and have even made some new friends.
That’s right. Even though I am trying to be more disciplined regarding my exercise and eating habits, I still allow myself to indulge in not so healthy snacks and take out dinners from time to time. However, food is not the only reward I give myself.
When my therapy sessions were about to end last spring, one of my biggest fears was to lose focus and become depressed again once I stopped going to therapy, since I would not be able to meet my friends and much less my family, who live on the other side of the Atlantic. My therapist suggested I should find something to keep myself distracted, like a hobby to do at home. It was through one of those infamous targeted Facebook ads that I discovered a Japanese watercolor painting course offered online. The next day, I biked to a little art supply store in Triangeln and stock myself up with watercolor paint, brushes in all sizes and watercolor paper.
This new hobby helped me not to improve my mood but also to stay away from my phone and the news about death, sorrow and other disheartening subjects that populated the internet during the worst time of the pandemic. Just like walking, painting gave me so much peace and when combined with music and scented candles, it became like my own little personal mind spa.
These are just a few examples of how I’ve been able to keep my sanity during these 400+ days we’ve been living in this reality. Of course it will not be the same for everyone and perhaps your problems won’t disappear by painting an idyllic cottagecore scene in watercolor, but it might make them more bearable. The key is to find something you love or enjoy and make it part of your routine.
We’ve made it this far. We can’t turn back now.