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This is not okay

/ 05:03 AM September 24, 2020

I wish I could say that I am okay. I wish I could be the bearer of today’s good vibes. I wish this is another inspiring story of coping amid the pandemic. Spoiler alert: This is not.

This year began with achieving a dream. On March 13, I woke up to the arrival of my admission letter from my dream school in the United States, with a generous grant to boot. Have you ever dreamed of something so hard that you prayed for it every night?

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The prospects of moving to my dream city seemed within reach. I checked out apartments in Manhattan, chatted with other admitted students in our WhatsApp group, and met my prospective professors via Zoom calls. “We are very excited to finally meet you in person in the fall!” they said.

The coronavirus was just something happening in my periphery then. I guess I was in denial that something so major could stop me from attending my dream school in my dream city this year. “Nope, I am still going.” I was unstoppable.

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And then the outbreak turned into a global pandemic. The world entered the worst economic recession in recent history. My mother lost her job. I had just resigned from my five-year media job. I left my Manila life and moved temporarily to my parents’ house in Laguna. My best friend had to cancel his wedding, and my other best friend had to give up a job offer from an international NGO (his longtime dream). Some of my friends and relatives would eventually get COVID-19, and one of them would die. The world became dystopian. Terrible things just poured in like water gushing from a broken faucet.

Days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months, and months turned into quarters. What I thought would be a few weeks of coronavirus grief encroaching into my plans became a major phase in my life where I would lose so much. Not only did I lose my job and source of income, I also ended up deciding that moving to the United States this year was not a good idea. I had to give up my dream.

I was at peace with that decision. But not with what came after.

Since then, it has been so hard waking up every day knowing that my parents are seeing me with nothing. Their firstborn has no job, no money, no source of income, and no sense of identity and purpose anymore. Who is he? What is he going to do?

Yesterday, I made the stupid mistake of connecting with our WhatsApp group after weeks of muting it, and I saw the other members’ messages about their flights to New York, class registrations, and moving into their apartments, among others. I would be lying if I say it did not sting. Of course it did. I should have been doing those things, too.

I recently started new activities, such as biking, listening to podcasts, playing video games, working out, watching all episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy,” and tending plants. I wish I could say these are enough for me to think that the pandemic has had good results for me somehow, but I can’t. While I recently became a champion in Pokémon Sword and Shield after having obtained all gym badges (the main objective of the game), when I go to bed after another day of doing these fun hobbies, I am still besieged by the thought of nothingness: “No, Juju, you are not a champion.”

And then I sleep. And I get bad dreams. And I wake up not wanting to leave my bedroom.

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This year, which began so brightly for me, has turned out to be a year of trying to find a meaningful purpose. If there is any takeaway from this, it is the thought that a person can lose everything — everything — and all that will be left is his purpose, whatever that is.

If you ask me, my purpose has always been to teach and inform, which I believe I have done in my previous career in journalism. I am about to enroll in a certification program because I hope to get a professional teaching license next year. I am also applying for a new job in teaching and humanitarian work—the two career fields I have always wanted to pursue outside journalism.

I would like to believe that I am not alone; many of you are also probably not yet recovering from your individual defeats. There may not be a manual that would tell us how to go about these trying times, but let us be reminded that it is perfectly valid to feel down and miserable. After all, we are living in a not-okay world at this point. The government is not saying it, but I am saying it: This is not okay. Our life this year is not okay.

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Juju Z. Baluyot, 28, lives in Cabuyao, Laguna. He is a former segment producer for a news magazine show.

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TAGS: coronavirus pandemic, coronavirus philippines, COVID-19, Juju Z. Baluyot, pandemic life, Young Blood
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