An isolation state of mind

CTALK - Cito Beltran - The Philippine Star

It was April of 1998, a week before my birthday, when my wife Karen asked what my plans were for my birthday. I automatically replied “none really” since we had just moved to a tiny rental house. Karen replied by pointing out that it had been four years since my dad Louie Beltran died (1994) and I had not had a birthday party since.

I was really surprised by her observation and the fact that it never occurred to me. This happens to many of us who are affected or traumatized by unexpected events or loss. Mourning takes on different forms and behaviors and can extend to as long as 10 years if not more.

Oftentimes, it is a subconscious reaction that we miss and needs to be pointed out by someone close or trusted or who knows us well enough. After that moment of realization, we moved on to plan a small birthday dinner to break the prolonged mourning and gloom.

Recently, the same realization struck me as the month of April 2024 rolled in. The first week of the month was really bleak with four friends dying one after another from natural causes. But that did not ease the darkness that built up. In fact, I once again “forgot” my father’s and brother’s birthdays and was about to let my birthday simply pass by.

Thanks to divine intervention, a good friend from Iloilo visited unexpectedly and we asked him to stay with us for a couple of days just to catch up. There is a saying that “if you want to clean up your mess, invite guests over or throw a party.” Trust me that saying is almost gospel truth.

With only a few days to prepare, I was on my knees scrubbing floors, Karen and I were back to “resort mode” preparing beddings, checking the bathroom, etc. That was when we discovered much needed home improvement work that we never gave much priority to.

Before we knew it, we were hosting our guest and a few friends for dinner. Having learned from the pandemic, we simply ordered in. Next thing I knew, all that was followed by two more unplanned get togethers with other friends and family.

That series of events made me realize that many of us are in fact suffering from unaddressed and untreated PTSD or post traumatic stress disorder resulting from the COVID pandemic and are still in an “isolation state of mind.”

All the activities associated with revenge traveling and revenge buying are just symptomatic of the effects of long-term lockdowns. Ask anybody who has been detained or imprisoned and chances are they have at some point walked for hours, drove for hours and went away for days or weeks.

It is the “flight” response from capture of lockdowns and uncertainty of the pandemic. What I have recently been discovering from the younger generation is that many of them are suffering the most in the form of “mental illness” but talking the least about it because they did not grow up in war times, famines or martial law.

Even among adults, many of us are not aware of our “isolation state of mind.” Many people I’ve talked with have admitted that they have not really entertained guests or hosted gatherings at pre-pandemic levels. The fun in parties has been forgotten while the human connection in catching up is disregarded as essential. Even the “home improvements” have been shelved under “pointless.”

People say they are lazy, uninterested, too much work, want to save money for a COVID day, etc. What are the chances that it’s not “all of the above” but the fact that having been disconnected for years, you have become uncomfortable or unsure? Relationships require nurturing as much as hosting events require effort, but the outcomes are fun or beneficial.

If, like me, you drive or direct the algorithm on social media platforms to feed you information on health, food, positivity and similar materials, you will learn that “community” or having a regular circle of friends, family and associates is a top contributor to longevity and positive mental health. A good Netflix documentary to watch is “Live to 100/the Blue Zones.”

Like many people who used to attend Sunday services regularly and in person, I too struggled with going back to attending “in person” church service. Online was just so practical, manageable, you could limit your screen time to just listening to the Word or pause and play at your convenience.

Short of assuming a fetal position, we have in effect gone into withdrawal. From neighbors, family, friends and even our faith-based communities where we are supposed to get the bulk of encouragement, hope and wisdom as well as fellowship or being with others who will support you.

Instead, the only person you ever see online are the people on-cam. You don’t get to see friends, meet and greet other attendees and build up new relationships. The worst thing about it all was that church service was meant to be “Me time with GOD,” not MY time – My Choice.

I spent a couple of weeks reflecting on this and now I am campaigning for everyone to join the fight. Yes, join the fight to reclaim our lost “life,” reconnect and rebuild our communities and social connections that were lost to the COVID pandemic.

We are not doing this to have “fun” or to “party.” It’s personal, it’s generational, it’s mental and, incidentally, it’s fun. Personal because we cannot allow the past to dictate on our quality of life and emotional connections. It’s generational because if we don’t revive our zest for life, the Filipino spirit of celebration and appreciation of life will not be passed on. Mental because our resiliency as a people is fueled by our sense of community. Enjoy and God bless!

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