“Softie-Toughie”

Recently, my husband noted that in just one week we had heard stories that spun around mental health from our colleagues and friends.

Mental health problem, along with it’s awareness campaign, have been a controversial issue all over the world. And now, it is even more highlighted due to the ongoing home quarantine where people are left to their own devices to keep their sanity intact.

Socializing with friends and travelling (even when you’re alone) tremendously helped us in our sanity check. Some made it even into a lifestyle. So imagine the horror of suddenly being deprived of the life you were so used to. It felt like being stripped naked in public and you don’t know what to do or where to go. Helpless. Restless.

Then there’s paranoia. The uncertainty of the unknown. The “what if’s” of the future and the regrets of the past. Your deprivation from your comfort zone plus the duration you are left vulnerable to these perturbed thoughts is a nasty equation. An equation that might require an expert’s intervention to solve.

I’m an outgoing person. I love travelling, going to the beach, watching a movie in the cinema, dining out, having coffee with friends. This is my lifestyle. And just like that, in a snap, it suddenly wasn’t. Like everyone else, I haven’t done any of these in the past four months. Like everyone else, I was vacuumed out of my comfort zone and into an unknown territory.

It was not easy. In the first three days after the weekend when enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) was announced, every inch of my body was itching to go out. In just the first week of quarantine, I have already completed all the chores that I had put off during my “busy days”. There was still a lot of spare time even with work from home (WFH) arrangement during ECQ since there’s no need to prepare or travel to get to it.

There’s a lot of animosity in social media. There’s a lot of blaming, shaming, even bullying and discriminating, some blatant, some discrete. Fear and panic are so widespread, that even if you pretend to not care, it will still manage to creep in to your veins like a deadly poison, slowly but definitely surely.

To be honest, I’m not sure what it takes to keep your sanity intact when everything else is going crazy. Is it a strong will and instinct for survival? Is it a strong heart and mind to shun negativity and imbibe positivity? I. Don’t. Really. Know. I wasn’t even able to answer that question when somebody threw it at me.

But upon giving it some thought sometime after, I realized that, indeed, you need to be equipped with all the facets of being STRONG – your will and instinct; your heart and mind. But unfortunately, being strong in all these facets is not developed overnight. And if you did not managed to be one before this pandemic, you’d feel your world will go crumbling down.

I can’t bravely say that I have a strong will and instinct nor do I have a strong heart and mind (for sure, not a strong body). And to be fair, we each have different interpretations on what being strong means and what it takes to be one. But I would say that my life experiences molded me to be a what I would call a “softie-toughie”. Yup, I know sometimes I really am a walking contradiction, but hear me out.

I believe that being a balance of both has kept me attuned to my sanity and my wellbeing. You see, I’m a crybaby. My eyes would swell at the sight of any tear-jerker, real life or film, even cartoons! And as much as I am easy to cry, I’m also easy to please (well, depending on how much you know me, that is). That’s my soft side. On the other hand, me being a toughie means: 1. I don’t get to be too stressed out by little things like, say a**hole drivers. I’ll just turn on the stereo and turn off the hostility. 2. I get irritated by stupid things and equally stupid people (by my own subjective definition), but after venting it out to someone or something, I became okay. 3. I don’t look back. I look for ways, for answers, for solutions. I was taught early in life that I have to find a way to get out of a certain bad situation. Sometimes it’s okay to cry at first coz you don’t know what to do, but then you can’t cry or blame somebody else forever. You get back up and find solutions.

So in summary, me being a softie-toughie translates to two things: reaction and resiliency. First, reaction. You live your life by how you react. I’ve heard from somewhere that life is just 20% stimuli and 80% reaction. If you care too damn much about everything and everyone, you’re gonna end up being a looney. Choose your battles. Choose them wisely. I know it’s a hard pill to swallow, I, myself, is sometimes not consistent with this as well. But in my defense, sometimes you’ll never know you’ve picked the wrong battle once you’re actually in there. Lol.

Then, there’s resiliency. I was endoctrined at an early age that I shouldn’t give up and always look for solutions. As my favorite poem would go, “Coz it’s when things seem worst, that you mustn’t quit.” Again, another hard pill to swallow, because it is really easier to just give up and succumb to defeat. Just put the blame on someone, get bitter, get grumpy, and get wrinkles. Easy peasy. But would it help you? If you’ll not end up being a looney, you’ll be a bitter old person full of regrets and hate. Or, you’ll commit an unforgiveable sin and be selfish to blame others “who forced you to do it”. Don’t be bitter or selfish without even trying not to. Life is hard. Trust me, I know. But of course, it’s way harder if you don’t find ways to make it even a wee bit easier. So to both you and me, let’s not give up, let’s always try so we could always be better each time we do.

These are tough times. Let’s not make it any harder by reacting poorly or by just simply giving in to paranoia and helplessness. We are better than that. If you think you lack the experience of being strong or at least a softie-toughie like me, then use this experience instead to be one. I forgot to mention that having a strong support system is also a great help. I would not have survived all these without my dear family and close friends, who gave constant support and encouragement, albeit remotely. So while you’re on your way to becoming strong, know that you are not alone in your battles. You will always have people to support and lift you, whoever they may be. So to you, my dear reader, let’s survive this pandemic, one softie-toughie moment at a time.