A freelance creative on coping with COVID-19 and the circuit breaker: The good, the bad, and the in-between
Stages of the CB
Three weeks into the circuit breaker and it already feels like a lifetime of Zoom and gloom. In between binge-watching Community on Netflix and finally filing my taxes, the questions beg: How many dressy blouses does a freelancer need to wear to actually qualify as #WFH? Does Monday even mean anything anymore? Will this ever end?
Confession: I started staying home four days before the circuit breaker kicked in. The first week felt rather abysmal, if I may be honest. As a freelancer working in the arts, I am used to working from home. What I wasn't used to, however, was the lack of actual work to do. The nationwide cancellation of events since we entered DORSCON Orange-mode in February was one thing, but the closure of non-essential services altogether was quite another. Suddenly, it felt like all my contingency plans needed new contingency plans, and it was unnerving to say the least.
In the beginning, it felt like the world as I knew it was ending. In a way, I guess it did. Work woes and a dwindling income aside, I found myself waking up into a strange new digital dystopia. In this world, pants and productivity bear zero correlation, death tolls are reported in the news like some kind of accolade, and everybody has suddenly morphed into a TikTok 'influencer'. The funny thing is, people seem to be somehow thriving in the realm of social media. Whether it be a level up in the sourdough department or accomplishing a push-up clap for ten consecutive times. Over-sharing is the new normal. And I get it — people need to be seen and heard to feel like they exist. If not in person, then at least via their social media handles. Intimate glimpses into home lives bubble to the surface more than usual, and everybody seems to be doing a lot.
But the truth is, I'm not okay, and it's okay not to be okay. These are difficult times, and in fact the most apocalyptic Singapore has ever been.
I spend most of my days in bed, don't cook my own meals, and the only kind of runs I do is to the grocery store. I don't know the TikTok moves nor have I tried a Dalgona coffee. I watched six entire seasons of Community in a single week and spent a grand total of fifteen minutes on the yoga mat. Am I... doing life wrong? Is it crazy that I feel digital peer pressure to fit into this existing COVID-19 society? Why do I feel so lousy about myself?
Then, the second week rolled around. After a week of acclimation, things started to become bearable. In fact, some work opportunities came knocking at my door again, and I found myself busy with a few online tasks and (gasp) video conference calls. Lo and behold, I was productive again. It felt like I was finally being initiated into this fancy new club, locked and loaded with social media ammunition and that-meeting-could-have-been-an-email bragging rights. Fueled by the high of imagined societal acceptance, I filed my taxes after months of procrastination and successfully applied for a Temporary Relief Fund from the government (full list of grants available here).
I started seeing the bright side of staying home: No time squandered on the dreaded commute, I am spending significantly less money than usual, and even the Earth seems to be healing from the lack of man-made activity. Friends have been checking in with one another and we are spending quality time #togetherapart. As an introvert, I must admit that this indoor life is right up my alley. And as a freelancer used to working from home, I am in the advantageous position of already knowing the tricks of separating work from life within the same four walls. In fact, without the need to dress to impress, daily life feels so much less stressful. It might actually even feel okay. Well, if one discounts the fact that we are essentially in an almost-lockdown and people around the world are dying from a pandemic, that is. Am I... actually suffering from a bizarre strain of Stockholm Syndrome? Is it crazy that I actually am starting to enjoy this downtime? Why do I feel so guilty about it?
Here we go, the third week into the circuit breaker. A 'new normal' is slowly but surely emerging. I no longer find myself rolling my eyes at Donald Trump every other minute, am ceasing to spend hours obsessing over infection rates and death tolls, and am learning how to stop equating productivity with self-worth. So I started to make progress: I created a four-hour quarantine playlist, contributed $40 towards the #HOMEFORALL Migrants initiative (which is just enough to feed one migrant worker with two hot meals daily for 10 days), and I reflected on my own privilege.
This is not the time to bemoan #firstworldproblems, I tell myself. Nor should we shame and blame the people who do. We are all only human after all, and we are all trying our best within our individual limits. Let's find compassion to forgive each other and ourselves for our imperfections. Yes even that guy who was jailed for flouting a stay-home notice because he wanted to eat bak kut teh at a hawker centre. There are some blessings still left to count of being a Singaporean and living in such safe and comfortable conditions at home with my family. I am thankful.
Now with circuit breaker measures further extended till June, it's hard to keep the good vibes flowing within. And I'm not even one of the bubble tea crazed. We are in the middle of a pandemic, and nothing about this is 'normal'. But if there is any time ripe with opportunity to turn inwards, to practise gratitude for the abundance that already exists in our lives, it's probably now.
Still, I'm not okay. Not a hundred percent, at least. Most days, I manage to make the most of this downtime and create some sort of meaning for myself. But some days are simply just... not great. On those days, I get by with an iron fistful of hope and faith that this too shall pass, like all the days have before. To quote the wise Krista Tippett, "Hope, like every virtue, is a choice that becomes a practice that becomes spiritual muscle memory. It's a renewable resource for moving through life as it is, not as we wish it to be."
It is with this knowledge that I practise hope daily, with the steadfast faith that when each day breaks, a new day of opportunities emerge. Even if they all seem to be blending into each other and I can't quite tell which day it is anymore. And most especially when the moments right before dawn feels the darkest — that's when hope matters most. At this point, I am beyond thankful for the support systems in my life that are just a WhatsApp group text away. These active friendships represent a much-needed safety net for me in such uncertain times.
However, some people might not be so lucky. They might not be doing so well. Reach out to a friend. Reach out to a family member. You never know for whom that extra dose of T.L.C. might mean the world; it might be exactly what some people need to make it through this extremely challenging time. Let's all learn to find grace amidst adversity and take this opportunity to take care not only of ourselves but also one another. When this eventually blows over, may things never go back to 'normal' — that's how we landed here in the first place. May we find ourselves awaken in a kinder, more gracious, and more conscious world, starting right this moment.
If you or someone you know isn't doing so well and needs extra help, please reach out to these helplines:
- National CARE Hotline: 1800 202 6868
- Institute of Mental Health's Mental Health Helpline: 6389 2222
- Community Psychology Hub's online counselling
- PAVE Integrated Services for Individual and Family Protection: 6555 0390
About Melina Chua
A tiny individual with big ideas who survived eight years in the corporate world of media and music. Following a spectacular burnout and a restorative sabbatical, fueled by copious doses of courage, she is currently freelancing in an uncertain but hopeful reality. Her days are spent making wooden things at Studio MU YU, providing creative and marketing consultancy services, and embarking on explorations of meaning.