A frog in your own hole of struggle

Photo by Nandhu Kumar from Pexels

Vietnamese idioms have one expression, “a frog sitting in the well", which means when a frog sits inside a well, the biggest truth it sees is only a fragment of the sky above. Its point of view is narrowed by the limit of the mouth of the well.

I heard the expression thousands of times before truly understanding it, in the pandemic. Many people have been struggling for almost a year with their problems of job and family and lockdown and healthcare situation. I am no different. I cannot return home from an afar foreign country. My visa expiration stops me to move to safer places to shelter. My school started in a less favorable way, online learning. For several months, I opened my eyes each morning by blaming the stranded situation. I went to sleep in a deep grudge with the world, with governments, and the bureaucratic immigration process. After a while, I literally ruined my days by anger and constant anxiety about what would happen next. One day, I bursted out crying when all the embassy emails I received refused my request to enter a new country. I decided that was a tipping point of an unavoidable breakdown.

I don't want to live like that, especially since the pandemic is not likely to end any time soon. The worst thing is that I am destroying myself before any disease or lockdowns burns me out.

Just like the frog under the well, I sat in my little room and narrated the world in my anger. The world narrowed down more, especially with emotional disturbance. Consciously, I did not want to be a frog.

Deciding to break the vicious circle of anxiety and anger, I started with changing my daily routine some months ago. Normally, I woke up late at 11 am and started writing, having lunch, reading, talking to my family, making dinner, and repeat the cycle. My day often ended at 3 am, when I finished reading something else.

Making life different in a space of 20m2 required a huge load of imagination, especially in lockdown. By reading the local regulation, I noticed that people were allowed to move around a radius of 2km. I set out a route and went running for 5km (repeatedly around the allowed space). Instead of sleeping until 11 am, I woke up at 7, making a hot coffee and a serious breakfast. By serious, I meant googling a difficult breakfast recipe and tried it in the early morning. Sometimes, I spent two hours in the kitchen and made enough food for both breakfast and lunch. Instead of sitting in a monotonous room, I walked up to the rooftop of the rental room and did some morning yoga under the Sun. The heat and light energized and lifted up my emotions. Sometimes, I slept on the rooftop for 30 minutes, called it a sun-bathing, and felt satisfied to spend time “in nature". In the afternoon, I went for a walk around the area and practiced some martial arts in the abandoned lot next to the room I rented. Nobody was there. Sometimes, by walking, I met somebody from the higher balcony and waved at them, said hello to them from afar. These brief contact actually helped my mental health instead of keeping my mouth shut and struggling alone in a strange country. I called it an achievement if I managed to wave at someone who noticed me from their second floor when they watched the sunset.

I stopped wondering when the borders are open or when life comes back to normal. Overexpecting creates over-disappointment. Disappointment fuels depression and anxiety. Eventually, your physical health suffers from all of the invisible burdens. I tried not to think of going home. Instead, I called my parents and talked to them as if I were home with them. We discussed miscellaneous things about household and daily life. They helped me to imagine that we were living at the same pace as if I were home. Instead of dragging my anger and put them on my boyfriend's shoulder [we were separated because of the travel ban], I meditated and reminded myself to limit the amount of complaint I told him every day. We were not different when it came to the sufferings caused by the lockdown.

Sometimes, I gathered a group of friends and asked them to make dinners at home and do a video call to “eat together". It turned out we had many things to discuss, from work, daily errands, conversations with others, family matters… We discussed as if we often went out for lunch in person every week a year ago. From that first video call, we maintained the weekly video dinner as a way to keep ourselves sane and update on each other. The video calls also built up my sense of security [although I was so fed up with video conference from work and school, this was different]. I noticed that when being assured by close friends, I got a better picture of how things were going on, instead of imagining everything in my head alone.

I stopped reading the stuff I often read, which circled around my normal way of thinking. I asked some friends who have completely different tastes in reading for some suggestions. It led me to some light and enjoyable books, some simple scientific titles that helped me to understand the topics I often did not care about. By opening the circle of reading, I felt the world was not so doomed [as I often read]. There are other living topics that are interesting enough without causing reader distress.

By breaking the normal cycle of surviving in the pandemic, I added colors and some simple habits beyond work and school to make myself optimistic about whatever comes next. The lockdown time has not ended. Some days I still suffer from anger, but grudge became less frequent. I remind myself it is no use to blame everything to the world. The attitude does not help. I have a choice to continue believing that the world is as small as the sky from the mouth of a well or persuading myself that one day I could jump up to the surface to see a bigger sky.

At the end of the day, I can choose. And I have chosen to feel better.

Khai Don

A surfer, newbie climber learning to be a writer.

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