Lockdown and Mental Health: A Laid-Off Young Journalist in Chennai Writes

When the first phase of a countrywide lockdown was announced on March 25, little did I know that we were about to wage one of the toughest battles our generation has seen.

While the novel coronavirus was (and still is) spreading at an alarming rate, claiming lives of millions over the world – we also had to deal with deteriorating mental health due to the lockdown.

As an independent woman and working journalist in Chennai, the introvert in me was bursting with joy when work from home was made mandatory and my human interactions were limited. While sharing my two-bedroom-hall-kitchen flat with two girls, I experienced the best of both worlds – I would  occasionally engage with them and I also had the liberty of not being criticised for not stepping out of my room.

While it was fun for a couple of weeks, reality seeped through as I started feeling lonely – my relationships were beginning to feel a strain, and I was fretting over my productivity. I have had a history of depression for a couple of years, but the local train rides that I took to work, meeting colleagues at the newsroom and the nature of my work kept my depression in check.

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Then came what I would call a cruel twist of fate and my first setback – my flatmate decided to leave for her hometown in April before things got more serious in Chennai.

While office work kept me busy, my off days passed scrolling through social media profiles of friends who baked cakes, immersed themselves in fitness regimes, gardening and other activities – all of which painted a rose-tinted image of their ‘productive’ lives.

As I started reporting stories to keep myself busy and ‘productive’, my second flatmate decided to leave for her hometown in June. I was now living alone in the city. The days passed and I became the only occupant on my floor as other families started to leave for their hometowns.

Things started going further downhill. I often found myself crying and wallowing in self-pity. For several days, I was confined to my room, whiling away the time in a world full unpleasant thoughts. I was battling bouts of depression that reared its ugly head at the slightest instance – from a small fight with my loved ones or an argument over a small misunderstanding.

Work remained my constant source of escape.

Then, after witnessing their tenant’s death due to COVID-19, a loved one found themselves caught in a web of paranoia, assuming they had contracted the virus and that it would be the death of them.

At this point, not only did I have to fight loneliness and depression, but I had also muster up the strength to give them moral support and hold them together. It was a heavy weight to carry. Occasional fights broke out, emotional outburst had to be handled and I tried to hold myself in one piece.

Also read: ‘Thinky Pain’: Trying to Figure out What’s Real Anymore

And that is when the last blow came.

On June 26, my editor informed me that my company had laid me off. It had decided to downsize due to losses incurred because of the lockdown. The only thing that had kept me sane through all my inner battles was now being cut off.

Suddenly, I was stripped off my individuality, my independence and the only thing that I could call mine – my work.

I realised that I could no longer afford my rent, and with my flatmate gone, I would be broke in a couple of months. With no choice left, I had to return to my hometown, a place I dreaded going back to as I would have to face pressure from my family to get married and leave journalism since it did not “yield anything”.

I write this in midst of the process of vacating my house and leaving Chennai. With each box I pack, a piece of my heart goes in too. I had come to this city with eyes glinting with hope and a belief that I could achieve something in this big town.

I never expected the pandemic to turn out this way. It has flipped people’s lives and messed with their minds. I now know how it feels to have been made to feel a victim of the pandemic. It has dashed my hopes in so many ways, it’s indescribable.

While there are many who have lost their lives, family members and loved ones, and there are doctors and other people working around the clock, let us not forget a section of people who suffer silently, haunted by thoughts that drive them to inexplicable negativity.

Anusha Sundar is a Tamil Nadu-based journalist who writes on environment, gender, culture and mental health issues.

Featured image credit: Natalia Y/Unsplash