‘Be gentle with yourself’

CTALK - Cito Beltran - The Philippine Star

Today’s title and subject came as a thought, perhaps a reminder, maybe even a stern warning: “Be gentle with yourself.”

In the past couple of years, I have made a conscious effort to keep my mind and senses open to the leading, words, thoughts that I attribute to God and I have greatly benefitted from the countless times when I listened and moved where directed and lately, what I have observed is that people have been dwelling on medical diagnosis on social media.

Blame it on Dr. Google but more and more people have been thinking and talking about “mental health,” anxiety and, perhaps because of my age group, Alzheimer’s, which in reality is just all about forgetfulness with age and not the dreaded disease half of us can’t spell on the first try.

Whether it’s about an elderly parent or a spouse, people worry. A friend recently shared his concern that his wife may not have it all together anymore. So, I asked what exactly changed. He said that his wife could no longer deal with being around a lot of people and so they stopped inviting guests or going to parties and family gatherings.

I sympathized with my elderly friend and told him that he might have read his tea leaves wrong. Lest we forget, senior citizens and children are the two populations that were the most affected by the forced confinement called “lockdown.” As necessary and protective in nature they might have been, the fact is senior citizens were practically targeted and excluded from mingling with the general population.

Aside from the forced isolation, they were also deprived, robbed or relieved of their decision-making powers and position of leadership in families. By a simple declaration of government, they were classified as high risk, endangered, practically incapable of caring or looking out for themselves. We were robbed of our independence.

After months upon months of such deprivation and isolation, one does not simply go back out and act normal! In case we’ve all forgotten, there is the term we all learned in college called “culture shock.” I experienced this, three times in my life; the first was when I lived for over a month with fisherfolk while writing a paper for an elective subject.

After that brief but deep immersion, I returned to UP and in a matter of weeks I got into a brawl after someone kept taunting me and making fun of me all night. Under “normal” circumstances I would have gone tit-for-tat annoying the person, but my immersion changed my mindset and triggered the wrong response.

The second time was when I moved to the US and after five months found myself floating and floundering and confused in my interactions with the natives. I always assumed that my exposure to many things US had prepared me for the real thing, but I was wrong and only after my friend’s wife said the words “culture shock” did I realize the fact.

The third instance was after all the COVID restrictions had been lifted and my wife and I started to attend necessary events such as a funeral, a wedding, etc. As long as I kept my distance from groups, I was fine, but when people started to come up or rush forward, I instinctively turned to the side or stepped back. I had no problem talking to the camera for two years but face-to-face or crowds was weird!

It was the strangest feeling ever. It was like relearning how to walk after being bed-ridden. I could talk one-on-one but when a group started to form, I started to get defensive or evasive. Of course, it all had to do with the lockdowns and that was what I told my friend concerning his wife.

I suggested that they try a different approach. Engage with fewer persons at a time. Family reunions and screaming grand kids are stressful on ordinary occasions, imagine how it feels to someone coming out of isolation. Invite a son and his wife, or maybe a couple you really enjoy and feel relaxed with.

Don’t ever jump to conclusions based on something you just read on Facebook or asked Dr. Google! A few months ago, I found myself experiencing mood swings that were out of the ordinary. Some of my friends even asked why I suddenly soured even before the party started? After blood tests I discovered that my sugar level had gone down on those occasions and once I have a glass of soda or something sweet, my disposition enchantedly transforms. We ain’t like we used to be!

Someone else had a different behavior pre-COVID and post-COVID. Pre-COVID the lady would be charming, polite and pleasant. She, however, was selective with whom she spoke and only on topics of personal interest. Coming out of COVID, the lady took part in almost all conversations, engaged anyone on the topic at hand and on occasion spoke at great length to the point of  being chatty or dominating the floor without meaning to or unaware that she was doing so.

After some time, the lady came to realize that it was the ill effects of COVID lockdowns during which she also missed out on the social interactions and being with many friends. Once she realized this, the lady has since started to be more aware and has reconnected with different persons, associations and groups to catch up on the human connections more than the chatter.

Going back to today’s title which comes from Desiderata, the previous text teaches us:

“Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.”

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