My little silver lining to the COVID-19 clouds of anxiety
An armed military soldier sat at the front of the car with the driver. Two policemen each sat at opposite corners of the second and back rows of the car. This car was spacious enough to accommodate 10 people, but in order to observe social distancing as proposed, only 3 passengers were in this car, accompanied by 3 armed soldiers. We seemed to have driven a long distance and I felt we were close to the destination when we were stopped again by another road block mounted by the state’s task force on COVID-19. This was not the first time we were stopped in our journey; but this seemed to be different as the governor of the state himself was on duty. The other passengers tried to explain that they have been at work and were going back to their homes in that state. He did not listen to any explanation and before I knew what was happening we were ordered down. Even with our face masks, hand gloves and conspicuously displayed alcohol hand rub, we were found guilty of flaunting the lockdown rules and were informed that we would be sent on a 14-day isolation and be tested for COVID-19. I tried to explain that I have a baby at home and as I was still nursing her, I could not possibly stay at any detention center without my baby. I was desperately trying to get the attention of the governor and was close to tears when I was awakened by the cry of my baby. This was the second time I was having such a nightmare.
Flashback to November 2019….
I had just received an email from my supervisor to check on my progress and he informed me that the proposal I was working on needed to be submitted and the ethics clearance done by February 2020.
Two months into it, I was still seriously behind schedule and the thought of it made me unhappy. Though my PhD study has been online, it’s a full time program and I am expected to keep working on it. I intentionally hadn’t informed my supervisor about the arrival of my baby as I didn’t want to use it as an excuse for not meeting expectations. But by the end of January when I was still lagging far behind, I had no choice but to inform her about it. Kindly enough, she replied that while she would receive my work and assess the progress, she wasn’t sure if I would be able to complete this in the short time that was left.
That reply was like calling me to a challenge. I was determined to give it all it takes and meet the end-of-February deadline. I didn’t want to see nursing my baby as a limitation. My best times to study were very early in the morning after the midnight baby rounds or late at night when she had just been laid to sleep. But then, when do I get to sleep? I decided that for a month, I would have to manage with snatching a few hours of rest during the day when the household chores were done, or when my husband or other family members are around to help with the baby. I was determined not to miss this deadline and set up a concrete plan to work toward my goal.
The first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in my country on February 27th 2020 and around the same time, two South African nationals were also confirmed to be positive. I go to school in South Africa, but live in Nigeria; and most of the time, I interact with my supervisor(s) online, do the practical or laboratory work (when required) where I live and only have to travel to school if necessary. This should mean that COVID-19 should not really disturb my work, right? Well, I rejoiced when I could finally hand in my proposal on time, although it wasn’t as good as I had wanted it to be. Unlike before, it took about a week to get her reply. And of course, it said that my proposal needed rework and I had received a deadline extension to end of April. I had enough time now I told myself, but at the same time I could sense an uncomfortable feeling deep down. Everywhere around the world, things seemed to be drawing to a close as COVID-19 cases increased and the incidences generated concern. I heard of lockdowns being proposed around the world but somehow never imagined it could happen to me.
Before the end of March, however, total lockdown was declared in the state I live in. To make things worse, this happened at a point when when my husband was on a business trip outside the state. With a sinking feeling, I realized that there was no way he could come back and that I would have to manage my work and my baby all alone as even friends coming to support me was out of question.
This was when I started getting the nightmares.
I was trying hard to cope. Wherever I turned, I was surrounded by COVID-19 news: the latest increase in cases and fatality rates, the pressure on the healthcare system, increase in crimes and other vices due to the tension caused by the lockdown, security officers trying to enforce the lockdown rules and reports of arrests being made - the list seemed endless and was pulling me down a little each day. Concerns about my safety and that of my family, if the stock of groceries at home would be enough, what if the cases never go down, what if my husband can’t come home for months,: questions like these flooded my mind, in sleep and in waking. The frequency of nightmares increased and I would wake up all nervous and sweaty, feeling hopeless and desperate. My head was somehow cloudy and I was close to depression and losing interest in everything - even my research. But the silver lining in my cloudy sky were the regular smiles (and cries) I would get from my baby; they kept hope alive and kept me going. One of the nights, after putting my baby to sleep, I was thinking of how taking a ride around town with my husband and baby used to be fun and how now that that seemed so far away now. I also wondered if my husband would ever come back home again and warm tears started flowing down my cheeks. However, my blurry vision quickly spotted the depleting stock of baby diapers and brought me out of these depressing thoughts to reality and the immediate needs of my baby. And as I closed my eyes, I was planning on how to go to the grocery store the next day to buy more of diapers as well as other necessary things.
I was troubled by the nightmares, but it felt nice to be woken up by the familiar cry of my baby to realize it was just a dream and kept me hopeful that like all my bad dreams, this dark phase would also pass. Thankfully, my baby and my PhD studies occupied my mind and prevented me from worrying obsessively about my husband. I could only just pray that he finds a way to come home soon even when there seemed to be no way.
My prayers were answered and my husband was able to come home safely. More importantly, he did not display any symptoms of the virus even after being home for several days beyond the specified manifestation period, and we are all well, safe, and healthy. As for my research studies, I’m able to make more progress, as I have my husband now to share my worries with me and encourage me too. We all need a little push in form of support from a caring friend don’t we? Especially in trying times such as this.
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