[OPINION] I was trying to heal from trauma and grief – and then the pandemic happened
The past two weeks of the lockdown may seem like a lifetime for many. But for people like me experiencing anxiety and grief, the past weeks have not been so different from my life before all this happened.
Five months ago, my life was normal. I was the executive director of an environmental non-governmental organization. I was managing projects and engaging with civic groups in national and international spaces. I was also pregnant and about to give birth to my firstborn baby girl.
But last November, my baby died upon birth due to an undetected gestational hypertension that led to placental abruption (you can Google this, I also didn’t know this before), and my life was changed forever.
Since I underwent emergency caesarian operations, I had to stay in bed for weeks. Crying was normal. I could still remember every detail of the day I was rushed to the hospital, how the doctors told me the baby was gone and that I'd also almost died, as I'd lost half the blood in my body. I had no time to mourn because I needed to focus on my physical healing first.
Then the new year came and I wanted a fresh start. I resigned from my NGO. I needed more time to heal from the tragedy. I still wanted to serve the people, but I could only do that after I made myself whole again.
I started regaining my confidence after two months. I started volunteering in another NGO. I met up with friends, learned how to bake, and even started a plant-based diet. I still cried occasionally, but I had started developing a positive outlook.
And then the pandemic came, and suddenly, the future was bleak again.
A community anxious and grieving
A few days ago, I read an article about collective grief during the pandemic. The article said it’s okay to grieve as we are in a state of uncertainty and anxiety. I would like to agree with that. People are scared, anxious, angry, and even lonely, as physical distance becomes a universal rule. We are mourning over all deaths, over all the sick, and over all the poor who are most vulnerable to this pandemic, and we are also mourning because our government is not capable of providing us with the most basic thing we need: the assurance that we will soon be okay. (READ: Can PH cope? Mental illness cases tipped to surge during pandemic)
When I was still healing from my caesarian operations, my husband, family, and friends became my assurance that I would soon be okay, that I would heal and recover, and that things would get better. This really helped me a lot to keep a positive outlook and not give in to depression.
But we don't have that assurance during this pandemic. Things are getting worse, and the community is becoming more anxious and insecure each day. (READ: This organization is offering free psychologist consultations over the phone)
From personal to collective action
I still have a long way to go to heal from the trauma and grief of my firstborn’s death. I still haven’t seen her things, or even the photo of her when she came out of me. But I know that one day, I will be okay. I found baking, yoga, cats, and volunteer advocacy work helpful in the process.
This may not be the case for our collective healing, however. The fight against COVID-19 is still on, and this is not just a fight against the virus, but also a fight against an oppressive and abusive system. The most vulnerable to the virus are the poor; same as in other disasters, the poor are on the front lines. They remain the most marginalized, with no access to health care, decent housing, and jobs. They are more likely to be killed by diseases and calamities. (READ: [ANALYSIS] The Philippine gov't should get cash into the hands of the poor, now)
Furthermore, our health care sector has been neglected for decades, the budget has dwindled year after year, and public hospitals are forced to privatize in order to still operate. The neoliberal economic model of development has been destroying us for a long time.
Ironically, however, this is the best time to act. We may be limited to our homes due to physical distancing, but this should not stop us from voicing out and being critical of our community and our government in this pandemic. Collective action is still possible.
I can’t say I’m fine now. I’m still grieving, and this pandemic will not stop us from getting better – not just as individuals, but as a society. – Rappler.com
April Porteria is a Sociology graduate and activist. She was former executive director at the Center for Environmental Concerns-Philippines, a former Asia Pacific Civil Society Representative to UN Environment, and author of “Making Money Out of People’s Misery: Has Disaster Capitalism Taken Over Post-Haiyan Philippines?” She is also a furparent to two lovely siamese cats, Dilly and Lemon.