Cabin fever

Written last 21 March 2020

I’m writing from my favourite cafe again this Saturday morning, bypassing my original plan to stay at home amidst fears of the pandemic. I’ve only been staying at home for three days and cabin fever has already set in. Restlessness, irritability, the urge to get out and stay out – cabin fever is real and is rearing its ugly head.

My partner and I are attempting to be more creative in this dilemma of staying indoors. On day two of the attempt we realised we are, in fact, not very creative, as we have already spent more money than we anticipated. We’ve bought a Blue Yeti microphone (for all ASMR-lovers out there, watch out for my Youtube channel) and two Nintendo Switch games. Being bored could be expensive.

I’m very aware that I’m speaking from a point of privilege. If your main problem during this period in history is how to kill time and how you’ll keep from going crazy indoors, then you’re incredibly lucky. Boredom still is a problem though, and during this extraordinary time, it is an issue for many.

Here’s how I keep cabin fever at bay:

  • Establish a routine – If you’re spending all day thinking of what to do, then you’re doing yourself a disservice. Establishing a routine keeps your day structured. Not to mention, a routine will eventually set you on autopilot, which means your brain power can be allotted to more important things.
  • Meditate – I attest to this. Healthy mind = sane mind. If you’re staying indoors for long periods of time, decluttering the mind is necessary.
  • Put your music on speakers and dance – OKAY, this sounds like something your single aunt with ten cats would say. But keeping things light in the time of coronavirus helps. Not to mention, dancing is a form of exercise, so you’re hitting two birds with one stone.
  • Exercise – I have two resistance bands which I use often to exercise. There are also tons of videos on Youtube on indoor circuit exercises and cardio.
  • Video chat with family and friends – Now is a perfect time to catch up with your loved ones. I’m sure they will be glad to hear from you!
  • Learning or practicing a new skill – I will admit that it can be a bit of a pain, but learning a new skill is a great way to spend your time. On my own list is: learning to do ASMR (lol), watercoloring, and writing some more.

What do you do to keep from being bored?

100 new experiences

Early this year, I found a list on the back of my journal that went all the way up to a hundred. Having no idea what I could have it as a list for (100 grocery items I need in the house? 100 must-use table topics?), I settled for “100 new things I did in 2020”. I knew from the beginning that it’d be asking for too much, but I wasn’t too bothered.

Three months on, I’ve still only listed down nine items, the last one being two weeks ago. At this rate, I’m sure I won’t fill up the list. Still, it feels satisfying to have some experiences written down. I have a tendency to forget how I spent my time, so I greatly enjoy being reminded through my journal.

Here are the new things I’ve done thus far:

  1. Get a matching tattoo with my family – this is extremely special because it involves my family (sans my dad, he doesn’t like needles!). We’ve been planning it for over a year, so to have it come to fruition was unforgettable and quite touching.

  2. Submit a proposal for freelance work – I’ve always liked the idea of freelancing, but I’ve never taken the first step of selling my skills. Finally submitting a proposal was satisfying, because it felt like I broke a wall. (By the way, the proposal was unsuccessful. But still, I already took the first step!)

  3. Attend a Toastmasters meeting – I’ve mentioned this here, with the goal of curbing my social anxiety. I plan on joining the club this month, which, once I accomplish, will be another first!

  4. Played petanque competitively – I don’t mean this in a professional way, no – I just played petanque with my boyfriend, hah. But he’s pretty athletic, so I felt competitive still. It was also my first time actually playing a full round of the sport, so there’s that.

  5. Cooked stir fry veggies – The first attempt, and a successful one, at that! Stir-frying veggies with garlic, pepper, soy sauce, oyster sauce, and cornflour produces such good results. Eat it with rice and you’ve got a winner!

  6. Buy my own domain – you’re reading through that domain now!

  7. Made kale chips – This was a fail; it ended up so salty that it was inedible. Still, I tried. I’m keen on trying a whole lot more of new recipes, so many of the items on my list will be probably be cooking-related.

  8. Made a Fiverr account – bent on having my first freelancing gig, I joined Fiverr and created a decent profile. Fingers crossed that I’ll have the first gig by this year!

  9. Win three consecutive pool games against my boyfriend – My partner is a skilled pool player, having honed his skills from the many backpacker hostels he’s stayed in. I’ve always been frustrated over not winning against him. Imagine my joy when I finally did, and won three consecutive rounds of pool! (Okay, he wasn’t in his best form at that time and kept making mistakes, but still, victory tasted so sweet!)

What are your novel experiences thus far for the year? Let me know!

Body image

Every day, before going to the shower, I take a long, hard look at my naked body. I scan its every bump and roll, making a note of those that disrupt the normal flow of my curves. There are too many for my liking. I’m fat, I almost always conclude.

I always find ways to criticise my body. Call it a default setting; I’m so used to doing it that’s it become my norm.

As a kid of three years, I was a chubby girl who had no concept of body image. All I knew was that pork fat was to meal to be savoured, and rice was a life-sustaining staple. Everyone pinched my cheeks and call me tabachingching – a way of saying someone was fat, adorably so.

A few years later I would still get teased, mostly by my well-meaning extended family, and they would do so on a regular basis. They no longer called me tabachingching, but just taba, fat. It made me embarrassed. It was then that my initial image of my physical self began taking shape – I was fat, and fat wasn’t desirable. It resulted to me being teased for the sake of entertainment. I stopped eating pork fat then.

As time passed my weight would yo-yo between normal and overweight. I observed that, if I was the former, I wouldn’t receive any comments about how I looked. If it was the latter, though, people made sure that I was aware of it. High school came and I saw girls my age with svelte bodies. Teen magazines showed slender models pulling off the trendiest outfits. A thin body became something to aspire for, and dieting became the norm.

I remember cutting out the bodies of the Candy girls and Cosmo models, sticking them all over my room and replacing their face with mine.

Now, a bigger form of insidiousness is taking place. The ideal is no longer directly advertised, but is seeped and ingrained into the public space. Women with ridiculously curvy bodies, faces blessed with chiselled jawlines, luscious lips, anime-esque eyes and thick lashes: these images define “the norm.” I feel pressured to conform, and I’m certain that millions of girls and women are, too. Our bodies are just not enough.

And so my default setting is to criticise my body. Pointing out my flaws is something I’ve lived with since I was a kid. I look at my frame in the mirror, looking at every curve that isn’t supposed to be there. It’s a few curves too much.

But to be honest, I’m confused.

I’m confused because the desire to look better is not 100% there; there is a disconnect with what I think versus what I feel. Could it be that I am, for once, actually satisfied with my body?

I try to understand what could lead to this satisfaction. There is the lifestyle change: I exercise regularly and try my best to eat well. There, too, is the social influence: my friends and my family, and all the other people I surround myself with, seem satisfied with themselves and their bodies. How we take care of ourselves, and the people we surround ourselves with, look to be great contributors to our self-perception.

But I’ve noticed another thing, as well: I’ve never heard, in a long time, my loved ones berating themselves or others over how fat they are. The people I am with – my colleagues, my friends, my partner – they don’t comment about looks. It’s as if they couldn’t care less about it. I didn’t know how freeing it could be, to not care so much.

The final thing about this satisfaction probably has to do with growing up. As I grow old, I’ve become more accepting of who I am. I understand that all the images around me – all the Instagrammable bodies, the latest diets, and the societal expectations – are all a big consumerist ploy. I know now that I should put behind all the teasing from my childhood and teenage years, because they’re too shallow to take to heart. They’re definitely too trivial to construct my self-image around.

I’ve still got a long way to go. Whenever I look at my naked body in the mirror, I still feel a twinge of frustration. I still berate myself over how much I’ve eaten and makes notes about how much cardio I should do. It’s an in-built system that I’ve followed for a long time.

I’m glad of the progress I’ve made, though. Many times, I see that I am, in fact, fine. The road to acceptance is a long, looping, and loopy (!) one. Does it have a final destination, I wonder, or is it a never-ending road full of pit stops? Whatever the case is, I’m happy I’m further into it now than I ever was before.

Old friends

One of the promises I’ve made to myself this year is to catch up with 24 long-neglected friends. Since moving to New Zealand, I’ve had a poor track record of communicating with my peers. Many of us, naturally, have drifted apart because of this. This emotional distance doesn’t make me miss their company any less, though; if anything, it makes me miss them even more.

Happily, I’m right on track with my commitment – and boy, how rewarding it has been to chat with old friends!

The first catch-up I had was a four-way video call with my friends from childhood, D & Jo, as well as our college buddy, Jun. I felt so lazy before the call – I almost didn’t want to push through! But call we did, catching up on all of the lost time. We talked about all the things that spun our orbits, from our mutual friends and our personal projects, to our individual crises. I told them that I felt lonely and bereft of company. To my shock, they felt the same. We were all lonely, we realised.

Sharing our loneliness with each other, surprisingly, made me feel less alone. However, it was an irony I welcomed. Whole countries and continents separated us – New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and the United States – and yet, despite this, revealing our sentiments made me feel like we were all in the same room. I was transported to our teenage years, days when we would hang out in D’s apartment, eating bags upon bags of chips while making fun of each other. Chatting with the three of them reminded me of simpler times, when company was easy and life was abundantly joyful. What a treasure our conversation was!

The second catch-up, meanwhile, was with my former colleague, Ness. Ness’ blog served as an inspiration for this site, so I thought it was high-time to ask her about how she was.

It’s not often that we get to have deep conversations that go beyond the ordinary. The conversation with Ness was nourishing: we talked about what inspired us and what we aspired to be. We discussed our personal projects, short and long-term goals, and our hopes for ourselves and for each other. We were each other’s cheerleaders. The hour and a half-long conversation itself inspired me to do more and to follow through with the goals I set for myself.

Old friends are precious because of how deeply they’re rooted to our lives. D, Jo, Jun, and Ness: they have known me long enough to understand who I am. We’ve known each other for so long that I feel comfortable talking to them about anything and everything. My old friends are part of what keep me grounded, and for that, they’re invaluable.

I’ve still got a long list of friends to call and catch up with. If four friends could make me feel this good, what more would a total of 24? I can’t wait!

Talking to monsters

Please don’t ask how many times I socialised last year, because I’m ashamed to admit that it’s a single-digit number. Having moved from Auckland to Wellington, I said au revoir to all of my friends and was back to square one. Suffice to say that I haven’t made an effort: since moving to another city, I’ve made zero friends and skipped most social events.

Letting go of opportunities to socialise is understandable, but less so when you decide to let go of all of them. I could list down the reasons why I decided to skip out, but it all boiled down to anxiety. I expected the worst in every scenario. What if I say something stupid, or if I’m too boring? What if I can’t understand the banter amongst strangers? I had zero confidence in my self; if anything, I was confident that I was going to blow it.

By the last quarter of 2019, I had given up. I was trapped in my own thoughts. I turned my focus to saving money for my trip to the Philippines, because surely, socialising in my homeland would be easier.

I’m having none of the excuses this year. I’m so tired of running away and curling back into the comfortable. Something needs to be done, even if I’m reluctant to do so.

The first plan of action is to join a club. It’s easy enough to join one, as there are tons publicised online. It was through one of these platforms – Meetup – that I found out about Toastmasters, a group dedicated to public speaking, leadership, and confidence-building. It sounds like a good place to start.

With excitement and a hint of reluctance, I went to my first session. Thoughts dominated my head while making the journey there: what if I’m asked to speak to an audience or to deliver an impromptu speech? Perhaps I’ll stutter or emit a nervous energy. Won’t they think I’m boring?

Thankfully, everything was alright. I was not forced to do anything, rather the members allowed me to sit through the whole session and learn about what they do. Everyone was friendly, and the space we occupied felt safe. The monsters in my head dissipated. My first social event for the year wasn’t bad; in fact, it was rejuvenating. It felt good being around people again.

Every day, I have to remind myself that the monsters in my head are just that: monsters. The anxiety, fear, worst-case scenarios: they are not real. They are born with the sole purpose of messing with my head, and they will be there to constantly challenge me. What is life if I always cower in fear of monsters?

So far, the grand total of the times I socialised in Wellington is two. It’s less than I expected, but I’m not ashamed. After all, it’s, more or less, already the same number as last year’s.