Diane Lee - Anxiety about coronavirus

My anxiety about coronavirus (and it’s not what you think)

Yesterday, I woke up with a familiar feeling gnawing at my insides, and it wasn’t the upset stomach that had appeared out of nowhere (and that I attribute to a veggie burger or onion rings from my favourite burger joint in Hanoi). It’s a feeling I’ve not encountered for a while — at least a few months, even with not being able to exit Vietnam when I’d planned, and subsequently sitting out the soft lock down in Hanoi when I really wanted to get back to Australia. I had plans, dammit — but I digress.

It was my old friend anxiety, deciding that now was a good time to show up, unannounced, uninvited and definitely unwanted, twisting my stomach into knots. It’s anxiety that is underwritten by uncertainty — not fear about my personal safety or catching the Stupid Fucking Virus™ and subsequently getting sick and dying. It’s uncertainty that’s been underscored by my inability to predict my circumstances for the next three months at least, and easing it depends largely on my leaving Hanoi. I know it will happen. I just don’t know when that will be.

I’m living in a peculiar kind of limbo that relies on a few things being sorted out in a planets aligning kind of way in order for it to end: governments deciding to open their borders, international flights being reinstated, the ease of exiting Bella out of Hanoi. I’m also anxious about about income and work and expenses, things which are unlikely to be resolved any time soon. And anxiety extends to my relationship with my daughter, which was always precarious and took a nose dive into no communication territory in March and hasn’t been sorted out. Spoiler alert: it may never be sorted out.

Stupid Fucking Virus™ fucking up the world. (Actually, I don’t think it’s the virus but the overblown global response to it that’s the issue, but that’s a story for another day.)

But you know me. I like to get all introspective and navel gazey and unpack why I feel the way I do in an attempt to understand it and deal with it. Note the word attempt, because nothing is ever dealt with.

My anxiety about waiting

I’m not one for waiting. Waiting for anything or anyone raises my stress levels. In Hanoi, people are notoriously late. I’m rarely tardy — even though I don’t drive and have to rely on getting a Grab or other form of transport somewhere, which also may or may not run on time, to get to pre-arranged meetings — so I find it hard to comprehend that my time is not respected. Leave earlier people, because you KNOW traffic and traffic jams are an issue in this city! For fuck’s sake!

And don’t get me started on dealing with the Vietnamese bureaucracy, who are unwieldy, and notoriously difficult and slow, except for the taxation department. They’re fast, but show no mercy, which is par for the course, irrespective of the country. And if a third party, like a lawyer, or other authority tells you two weeks, they mean two months — or longer. I have mentioned before that banking requires hours — and I do mean hours — to be set aside because there is a LOT of waiting involved.

I’ve had to revisit my relationship with waiting and try to make peace with it because waiting is all I can do at the moment.

Now, because of the Stupid Fucking Virus™, I’ve had to revisit my relationship with waiting and try to make peace with it because waiting is all I can do at the moment. I have to wait for borders to open and international commercial flights to happen so I can get my Bella out of Vietnam to start her repatriation back home (which is a two month process — 45 days out of Vietnam, and then two weeks in quarantine in Australia). I don’t know when that will be. And I have no control over it. Actually I have no control over anything at the moment except how I choose to spend my day-to-day life, waiting it out…

So I have had no choice except to make peace with waiting. If I didn’t, I would be bitter and angry and frustrated and driving myself nuts about the “shoulds” and “coulds” and “whens” and “whys” and “ifs”. I have no control over the decisions that governments and airlines make, so I have to control what I can — and that means my attitude and response to things, which is definitely and always and continues to be a work in progress.

My anxiety about the timing of leaving Hanoi

I had picked my dates to leave Hanoi in mid-April on purpose. It was all about precision timing, and the timing was to do with winding up my company. With the soft lockdown, all the things that I needed to do from an an administrative perspective ground to a halt. It was good in one way, because I could just be and didn’t have to concern myself with the godawfulness that is Vietnam’s bureaucracy, but it means that issues may arise that I may need to address that I wouldn’t have had to worry about if I could have left Hanoi in April as planned.

If I am forced to leave, Bella will have to go into boarding until I further notice, which is another added expense.

Issues like having to open another company bank account which I didn’t want to do, for obvious reasons (changes to banking that are being introduced about transferring between accounts will make it more stressful). Issues like finding a new office address (unlike Australia, your home is not considered a legal physical office address in Vietnam) because the co-working space I signed up for last year was made of sand and fog, and the owner talked a good game but didn’t deliver what he promised. Typical. Issues like having to keep paying my accountant — when I have no company income coming in because I’m not actively courting clients — until I leave.

I’m anxious about having to explain to the government, if it comes to that, that I’m shutting the company, because that affects my residency. Officials are not known for their empathy, unfortunately, and I can’t bank on them being understanding and cutting me some slack — unless big sums of money are involved. As an aside, you should have seen the surge pricing over tourist visa extensions while people were vulnerable and stressed. If I am forced to leave (I’m hopeful it won’t come to that), Bella will have to go into boarding until I further notice, which is another added expense and I’ll worry about her happiness, of course. These things may not happen, but they may. The uncertainty is not helpful in appeasing my anxiety.

My anxiety about my future plans

When I had thought I was going to be leaving Hanoi, my plans were to a) find somewhere to rent, preferably in the country or somewhere villagey in or near a city and b) find a part-time job. Even though I have my apartment back in Adelaide, I want to keep it was a rental property because it gives me more flexibility. One of the things I’ve loved about being in Hanoi, even though it’s a city of 9,000,000 people, is the village feel. I know all my Vietnamese neighbours. I like that shops and cafes and restaurants and pubs and supermarkets are all within 100 metres of my apartment. I like that I can ride my bicycle if I need to go further. I like that the staff in the aforementioned shops and cafes and restaurants and pubs and supermarkets know me, and I want to replicate that sense of community and belonging in Australia. Obviously, the longer the fallout from this Stupid Fucking Virus™ goes on, the more difficult it may be to find a rental property and build my community.

One of things I’ve loved about being in Hanoi, even though it’s a city of 9,000,000 people, is the village feel.

And while I’ve been mildly successful as a freelancer, I want a part-time job, maybe 15-20 hours per week. I miss having co-workers. I miss the social aspect of work. I miss regular income going into my bank account. I miss knowing exactly what I’m supposed to work on when I wake up in the morning. I miss the structure of having a job. I also like my freedom and my freelance work, which is why I want to diversify my portfolio with part-time work rather than a full-time job. Now, of course, with so many people out of work, I have much more competition than I probably would have. I was out of work during the GFC and I know that I always land on my feet, but this situation still feeds my anxiety. Because I can’t do anything about applying for a job yet. Because I don’t know when I’ll return to my homeland.

What I am toying with is the idea of going rural. Go where people don’t want to go. Go where it’s a jobseekers’ market. Or find a long term house sitting gig. Or hiring an RV and driving around Australia with Bella, and finding casual work along the way. At this point, though, I just don’t know. I have no certainty and no visibility over how this is going to pan out, and I can’t plan for the next stage.

My anxiety about my anxiety

I thought my mental health was in tip top condition — before I came to Hanoi. I was a strong, confident, adaptive, adventurous, resilient woman, embracing curiosity and strangeness and difference, and navigating it with flourish and aplomb. Or so I thought.

This country has a way of holding a mirror up to all your flaws and insecurities and issue and beautiful strengths — and magnifying them.

This country has a way of holding a mirror up to all your flaws and insecurities and issue and beautiful strengths — and magnifying them. If you are here on your own — as I am — as each critical situation arises that demands attention, you have no option except to confront it and work through it in all its ugly, awful glory. If you don’t, it’s easy to be sucked into a vortex of drugs and booze and sex and denial in order to bandaid it and hope that it will all go away. This wasn’t me because I’m resilient and not drawn to bandaiding as a long term solution to anything, but I’ve been here long enough to see it happen to others. It will destroy you if you let it.

My spiral into anxiety started at the beginning of 2018 — a year and a half after I arrived in Vietnam — when I was trying to make sense of a relationship (at least what I thought was a relationship) that ended with a metaphorical slap in the face — and heartbreak. Again. Rejected, by someone who I didn’t expect to reject me. And then, only a few months after that, I dated the lovely, kind, reliable man who almost destroyed me. I clawed my way back to myself, and it was hard. And dark. And scary. I didn’t think I would come out the other end. One year later, I’ve emerged from that hard and dark and scary place, but anxiety has been my close companion since.

I want my anxiety to disappear, but I don’t think it ever will. It’s like a cat, curled up comfortably on the sofa, ready to spring into action at the slightest noise, the tiniest distraction. I’m hopeful that it will lessen somewhat in Australia, because my major stresser of immigration will not be there. Of course, there are other things I will have to deal with, but I won’t have to worry about being deported, and what to do with Bella if I am.

Stupid Fucking Virus™.

What I’m doing about my anxiety

Meditating. Creating. Socialising. Painting. Sewing. Writing. Working. Cooking. Cycling. Watching. Reading. Strategising. Organising. Learning. Packing. Posting. Strumming. Applying. Sleeping. Waiting.

Image by Elias Sch. from Pixabay 

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