This terrifying purgatory

As we were stuck inside the house on the sixth day of our voluntary isolation, I realised I have been on my obsessive drive again.

This is the pattern I recognised I had unintentionally adopted years while working my previous role — whenever I worry about work, I throw myself into more work and assign myself as many tasks as possible. Then I would compulsively tested and tried the tasks, until I soon burn out. I remember my previous coworkers noted one time, that as they signed in to work after long Eid holidays — still sluggish and still trying to shake off holiday mode — I already flung myself into work the first hour I set in. To others, I am this super productive coworker, always reliable and ready for challenges. Then after my 2016 Major Work Burnout, I was diagnosed with high-functioning anxiety, and my perspective widened. I realised that my ‘productivity’ manifests out of my worry about losing control, and in order for that not to happen, I would make a point to devise smaller tasks which would give me an illusion of a better control. But I soon realised a lot of things were not solely my individual responsibility (like a flawed work culture that can be improved, or capitalism!) and in extension, not solely my fault, so in time I learned to take things easier and to forgive myself whenever I ‘slack off’.

This pattern returned.

I had been on voluntary isolation two days before the government imposed the movement control order (MCO), yet when it was made formal — there’s this official body with questionable governance (remember this is a government borne out of the recent coup) telling you to stay home — it slaps harder and differently. The first day of the MCO, I was at the brink of devastation, but I could not understand why (I do now). The second day, author and friend Hanna, totally as helpless, decided to compile a thread of initiatives to donate to during the MCO (official website), and I helped to spread the word. My friend A, of whom I am eternally grateful for, decided to check in with me through texts every day. I decided to return the favour — in emulating the viral spread — by checking in with other friends through small chats every day. More so than cat videos, more than general memes, this was a check in intended to see how everyone cope in these trying times. I am currently reading two books at the same time, and a third one arrived yesterday. I decided to start another Coursera course, and signed up to multiple online book clubs. I read and wrote (but never published) for hours every day. I cleaned and disinfected every corner of the house, till I grew tired and fell asleep on my own.

This is the pattern I adopted to replicate any semblance of order, because I have no control of what’s going outside. The world inside the house and outside are two contradictory worlds — inside, we are trapped in the monotony of our daily lives, while outside, the news and the spread of the virus itself is careening out of control. I am scared, and I know there are millions of others who are too because we talk about this every day and even if we don’t, we hear each other as our voices reverberated and coalesced across social media and voice calls and video calls.

The world out there is not OK, and I learned to recognise this. I also learned to recognise that it is never going to be the same after this — months, years, decades — after all of this terrifying state of purgatory subsides. I learned to recognise that this whole situation demands more than cleaning and rearranging and disinfecting every corner of my house, or anyone’s house for that matter. It requires reconstructing the whole universe we are in, and in these times we should start to think about which societal pillars of ours worth rebuilding, as millions of workers lost their jobs, as millions of tenants worry about their rent, as millions of people beg for ventilators and hospital beds as the number of virus casualties arise — while the rich get to escape away in an island with their personal nurses, for instance.

This is not OK, I learned to recognise this. We are currently facing a deadly virus that manages to imbue itself within the healthy to infect and kill the sick and the weak, and for now there is no way for us to know if we the healthy carry it unaware. This is why it’s the time for us, the healthy and able, to revalue and strengthen our moral compass so we don’t unknowingly harm the sick and the weak.

I learned to recognise this is not OK, but for now I take comfort in the smallest gestures, such as our check in texts every morning. We still have each other.

Coronavirus-related reads:


  • Reading: Rebecca Solnit’s A Paradise Built in Hell, and China Mieville’s The City and the City. Chanel Miller’s Know My Name also arrived yesterday, so that’s going to the TBR list.
  • Viewing: Stop whatever you are doing now and watch these penguins!
  • Listening: How an astrophysicist works remotely from the South Pole.
  • Food & Drinks: I made out of the house today to restock on groceries, but it was eerily calm and quiet and I was so heavily sanitised my palms are taut. I haven’t thought of what to cook yet, but the pantry supply is enough for a month at least, and I am grateful for that now.

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