Illustration of COVID-19 anxiety. (Shutterstock/eamesBot)
Somewhere along the line, I had guessed that one of the most realistic ways to survive was to be “flexible” and stop demanding an ideal situation. No matter how hard you try, there will always be moments when you get disheartened, as much as there will also be things that make you happy. However, I obviously didn’t think of adding a pandemic in my late 20s onto any of those lists.
When I turned 27, I thought that if I could somehow survive all my hardships, they might lead me into great self-discovery. I was curious to see how I would fare, given that 27 is often regarded as one of the most difficult ages in someone's life. Arguably, this could be an ideal age to finally stop being a pretend adult. At the same time, this could also be the age where life finally feels too heavy after a series of quarter-life crises.
However, it has been far from what I had imagined. By the second half of 2020, we are still busy trying to find a way to win against the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of us went from being fervently told to stay at home to being forced to go back to work. And despite all the efforts made by those who care, Indonesia has surpassed mainland China in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases. On the other hand, more people are also losing their jobs.
In a report by The Jakarta Post, it was stated that 3.06 million Indonesians had either been laid-off or furloughed as of May 27 -- two months after the country confirmed its first COVID-19 case. It was also reported that the government predicted 5.5 million workers could lose their jobs while 4 million people could fall below the poverty line in the same year.
And now, the middle class -- those who are categorized to be living on Rp 1.2 million (US$82.15) to Rp 6 million per person per month by the World Bank -- are also staring into the face of danger. More and more businesses are either closing down, cutting off salaries, or letting go of their employees. Despite all the efforts to keep the world running, there is simply no guarantee for anyone, not when we could be entering the first recession since 1998 in the third quarter of the year.
For those with more experience, this situation perhaps will just be another phase in their life. Especially if they’re somewhat sure that they'll be able to get out of it relatively unscathed. However, as an ordinary 27-year-old middle class person facing a pandemic for the first time, it certainly does not feel that way to me.
In a few months, I went from questioning the meaning of life to scrambling down to retain a sense of security. To put it mildly, it did force me to rethink my decisions and to adapt a new way of living, all to make sure that I wouldn’t need to let go of the ropes I’m still holding in my hands.
It definitely does not mean that I am having it harder than everyone else, but it does not mean that I am having it easier either. As with the other ordinary -- if not somehow mediocre for their lack of astounding accomplishments -- middle class workers in their late 20s, I was slowly transitioning into the mid-career life when, suddenly, this pandemic happened.
Quite unsurprisingly, I tried to gain a sense of control by keeping myself busy. Maybe I am getting too used to it, but it feels that being productive will help in this kind of situation. While it could feel like trading off your sanity at times, we could agree that having to suffer with options will always be better than having to suffer with none. “So, grit your teeth harder and complain less, because everyone is having a hard time, too.”
Yet, navigating in a pandemic will never be an easy task. Nowadays, younger job seekers are facing fierce competition with the experienced workers who have lost their jobs in the pandemic. The competition brings the risk of a longer unemployment and when they finally get the job, there is also the risk of being trapped for longer in a low income.
In a conversation, my friend and I discussed whether there could be a system to somehow back us up, should the middle class fail to cover for ourselves this time. The government did set aside a Rp 4.85 trillion stimulus for businesses and they’re also running the preemployment card program, which is expected to aid workers and small businesses affected by the pandemic. However, it remains to be seen whether these can be of effective help. Especially, as the economic challenges continue to exist. Even if there is a cushion to dampen the fall, it does not mean that these workers are immune to damage.
That being said, it is understandable that this may continue as a tough time for many people. And in such a situation, what can we do to make it better? What should we do to at least survive?
This may sound cliche, but perhaps the only option we have is to carry on. In normal circumstances, suggesting someone carry on while they’re already having a hard time would probably sound like an insult. But in this kind of situation, we must not lose focus. It will probably not be easier anytime soon, so we should never let go. And because we will most likely need to rely upon ourselves, we should try not to compromise ourselves either. We could set a goal and try to pursue it, invest in ourselves, do proper self-care, or simply do whatever there is, in a responsible fashion, to make this situation more bearable. However slow or fast, that’s up to us to decide.
But, remember that it does not always have be so extreme. Sometimes, finding joy in mundane things will help in lessening the burden. As a poetic fellow once illustrated, "Oh to wash the dishes in the middle of the day in front of a window where the sky lies open and the breeze gently touches your face, and to feel the warm water suddenly turn pleasantly cool on your hands.” Perhaps, it is never grand. It also provides no direct solution for our problems. But maybe, it’s all that we need. (kes)
The writer is a former lifestyle reporter who currently works as a freelance writer. Some of her thoughts can be found here.
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.