The extensive pandemic has caused stress, anxiety, exhaustion, and loneliness for so many of us. Although we can keep ourselves busy by working from home or doing new hobbies, no one can deny that staying connected with other human beings is crucial, especially for those who live alone.
Under normal circumstances, I enjoy living alone. In fact, I love it! I can wake up or go to bed anytime I want. I can organize my space in the way I like. I can leave my place messy and nobody complains. The pandemic, however, has turned that joy to loneliness and turned the comfort to insecurity. It has made me want a human connection much more than ever before.
I’m not a sociable person by nature, but still lucky enough to have best friends. Even though I’m very close to my family, I only talk about certain things that won’t make them worry about me. Therefore, best friends are whom I can be brutally honest with when things are bad and when I’m not doing ‘fine’, especially in this period of global crisis. I have been so grateful for their existence and would like to take this chance to share with you how much my friendships mean to me in this unprecedented time.
Who are they and what do we talk about?
None of my best friends know one another because I met each of them in a different phase of life. It’s unbelievable when I think about how these friendships have survived despite life-changing situations and geographical distances. Each of us live on four different continents.
The first friend is my high school friend, who now lives in Australia. We have known one another for almost 15 years. As we were in an all-girl high school during our teenage years, all we focused on was studying hard and getting into a good university. Therefore, it’s interesting to watch each other grow and share our experiences of pain, mistakes, guilt, realization, and reflection from adolescence through adulthood. Despite the uncertainties caused by COVID-19, we still talk about our dreams. I used to dream of becoming a barista after spending a year in Australia, where coffee culture is huge. I told her how my interests and purpose have shifted to programming and solving environmental problems. Many times, I doubted my abilities and asked myself if I could make it through and survive in this challenging field. The clarity hit me when the pandemic happened. Most activities, if not everything, transitioned to online. The demand for technology and online related skills jumped high. Then wildfires took place in many parts of the world, temperatures have risen, nature has been ruined. Our environment has become the worst in history. There is nothing else I’d rather do than use my skills to help fix the problems. She was happy for me that I have found my path. On the other hand, she has been trying to navigate through her own career frustration. Arts and social issues have been her big interests for years, but the reality is she spends most of her time working at a restaurant to get by. Things got tougher during the outbreak and unsurprisingly, her interest in the arts was pushed aside by current urgency. She then tried to nurture her cooking skills, hoping to make it her future career. Both of us are foreign girls in a foreign land, who try to grab every opportunity to stay in the land that allows us to flourish. Even though COVID-19 rocks us so hard, we’re still fighting – against all odds.
The second friend is my university friend, whom I have known for over ten years. He’s Thai and lives in Thailand. Not long ago, after losing his job due to COVID-19 and still on hold for the new job’s interview for the same reason, he shared with me about his e-commerce business ideas and how he would market the products. This time around in our country, similar to the US, millions of people lost their jobs and are struggling to find another one, specifically those who lack on-demand skills. A lot of them shifted to online business, selling products on social media. He followed the same path. The challenge here is that online business never gives anyone peace of mind nor security, at least, not in the beginning. There are many barriers to get through: high competition, the maze of the social media world and the myths of offering what people want. It could easily add even more stress on top of the existing ones. After all, we both agree that it’s better than not taking a chance and relying solely on applying for a job. I gave him a list of software tools that could be helpful and told him my past mistakes of doing online marketing so that he can learn from them. What I admire about him so much is his strong spirit when facing hardship. He takes actions fast, learns from the mistakes, and never stops fighting. We landed on random topics often. One time, I told him about the mysterious, loud moaning of a lady in a nearby building, probably having sex, and how much it bugged me. He kept mocking me that I was jealous. Perhaps, I was. At least, amidst the overwhelming outbreak, some people are having a good time.
The third friend is a man I met through a dating app while in Melbourne. He is an Aussie scientist who is now working in the UK. It was a unique start to a friendship, which miraculously survived through years of changes and discoveries. Regardless of the extensive crisis, he manages to stay active and healthy by either running or cycling to work and having vegan food. Which, to me, I found it difficult to keep that discipline. Imagine when I spend the whole day studying and working on my laptop, my body remains passive while my brain works nonstop. I remember that one week; it was a nightmare brought to life for all international students in the US when the Trump administration’s enforcement took place in July. I was so scared that I might have to go back to Thailand. Like we didn’t have enough to worry about; my anxiety doubled and the fear drove me crazy. I told him that I had to ask my instructor for a homework postponement because I couldn’t wrap my head around it. Fortunately, the enforcement was dropped, leaving us to deal with the existing crisis. I constantly worry about my income not covering the next rent and tuition and may not be able to send it back home. Those concerns give me a headache and keep me awake at night. Chain effect: I become restless, lack energy and only crave junk food. The last thing I want to do is sacrifice the rest of my energy outside of home by adding more stress to my muscle. This shitty cycle repeats – on and on. Knowing deep down that exercising is what my body needs most because it helps release stress and improve my sleep routine. Therefore, hearing how he lives his life gives me a good kick in the back; the biggest reminder to take care of mental and physical health before it’s too late. Because at the end of the day, crisis or no crisis, rich or poor, living here or living there, it’s only me who controls my own health and wellness. It’s the asset that no one can build or possess; one that allows me to do more and dream more. Without it, I can do nothing at all.
The reflection after the talk
The first thing I feel after each conversation with friends is relief. It’s a big relief like draining away the heaviness that my heart carries. Second, the appreciation of the presence, kindness, care, and integrity we share. Third, the sense of resilience, strength and perseverance each of us learns from one another. Lastly, the encouragement we give and receive in order to move forward in our chosen directions regardless of the good, the bad, or the storms.
Although speaking with my friends doesn’t always solve the problems I’m having, especially the complex ones, it’s a good reminder that they are someone I can talk to, open-heartedly. Therefore, it’s okay to reach out to them and ask for help. Likewise, when my friends reach out to me, I can’t always help solve their problems, but I make sure that they know I’m someone they can talk to with total honesty and trust.
A lot of times, our friends don’t need us to come up with solutions to their problems, all they want is someone who listens to their crappy day uninterrupted. They want someone who allows a safe space for them to release emotions, to reveal their vulnerabilities, and to know that it’s okay to cry. When we take time to notice the stress, pain, or misery we bear, we learn to accept them as a part of the human experience, not as a sign of weakness. This is how we heal. This is how we grow and can move forward. It’s hard to do all that on your own, specifically during the pandemic, which is why we need our friends now more than ever.
This is the time to reconnect with your friends, let them know that you are here for them, show them how much you appreciate their existence no matter what, let them know that they are the reason that you can move on with bravery and resilience. Stay in touch with them in every period of life. Truth is, we can’t get through a crisis without one another.