[OPINION] This is not okay

I wish I could say I'm okay, that I'm a bearer of good vibes. I wish this was just another inspiring story of coping well in the pandemic. But it's not.

This year started with me achieving my dreams. Early morning of March 13, I woke up to an admissions letter from my dream school in the United States – with a generous institutional grant to boot.

I started checking out apartments in Manhattan, chatting with my fellow admitted students in our WhatsApp group, and meeting my prospective professors via Zoom calls.

“We are very excited to finally meet you in person in the fall!” they’d say.

The coronavirus was just something happening in my periphery, even when, clearly, it was all over the news. I was in denial that something so major could hinder me from attending my dream school in my dream city this year. “Nope, I am still going.” I was unstoppable. 

And then the bad news started to hit me. The epidemic turned into a global pandemic. The world entered the worst economic recession in recent history. My mother lost her job. I had just resigned from my five-year journalist job. I left my Manila life and moved in temporarily to my parents’ house in Laguna. My best friend had to cancel their wedding, and my other best friend had to give up a job offer from an international NGO (his own longtime dream). Some of my friends and relatives had gotten COVID-19 – one of whom died. We were in a dystopian world. Terrible things just started to pour out like water from a broken faucet.

Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months, and months turned into quarters. What I thought was going to be a few weeks of mawawala-rin-‘yang-virus-at-matutuloy-rin-ang-mga-plano-ko turned out to be a major phase in my life where I would lose so much. Not only did I lose my job and source of income, but I also decided that moving to the US this year was just not a good idea. I had to give up on my dream.

I was at peace with that decision. But not with what came after.

Since then, it has been so hard waking up every day, knowing that my parents see me with nothing. Their 28-year-old firstborn has no job, no money, no sense of identity and purpose. Who is he? What is he going to do? How is he going to survive without us? Papa and mama, I'm sorry but I also don't know.

Yesterday, I made the stupid mistake of opening the student WhatsApp group after weeks of muting it, and I saw messages about flights to New York, class registrations, and moving in to apartments. I would be lying if I said it didn't sting a bit. Of course it did. I should have been with these students, too.

I hate that I am typing this for the nation to read, but I have developed an insane amount of insecurity and anxiety these past few months. Where then do I draw strength from, when I know that even my family and friends are struggling with their own battles?

I recently started new hobbies I never had time to do before, such as biking, listening to podcasts, playing video games, working out, and taking care of plants. I wish I could say that they've provided a silver lining to this pandemic, but I can’t. Because while I have recently become a Champion in Pokemon Sword & Shield after having obtained all Gym Badges, when I go back to bed, I still feel doomed. “No, Juju, you are not a champion.” And then I sleep. And then I get bad dreams. And then I wake up not wanting to leave my bedroom because, dear Lord, I am praying to you, this cannot be another day when my parents see me doing stupid hobbies.

This year, which started with me achieving my dreams, is turning out to be a year of finding a more meaningful purpose. Because if there is anything to take away from all of this, it is that a person can lose everything, and all that’s going to be left is his sense of purpose, whatever it is.

If you ask me, my purpose has always been to teach and inform, which I believe I have successfully done in my previous career in journalism. Right now, I am about to enroll in a Professional Teaching Certification program because I hope to get a professional teaching license next year. I am also applying for a new job in teaching and humanitarian work – the two career fields that I had always wanted to pursue besides journalism.

So far, however, the silence from employers is killing me. They cannot even acknowledge my application. Am I not getting a job this year? Am I going to be stuck with my parents? I guess that is the “second wave” I fear.

I would like to believe that I'm not alone; many of you are probably still recovering from your own individual defeats, too. There may not be a manual that could tell us what to do in these trying times, but let us be reminded that it is perfectly valid to feel down and miserable. After all, we are now living in a not-okay world. The government is not saying it, but I am saying it: this is not okay.

Maybe, hopefully, 2021 is going to be better. Let us just cling on to that hope, because what else is there?

As much as I wish to wrap up this essay by saying that I am already coping, I still can’t. I still feel defeated, though I remain hopeful. I know it is typical to end essays in an inspirational manner, but essays, more importantly, should be truthful, and this is my truth. – Rappler.com

Juju Baluyot is a former segment producer for a news magazine show on GMA Network, where he worked for 5 years. He’d love to hear about your own not-okay stories through jujubaluyot@gmail.com.