Be careful of the company you keep during COVID times

This article appeared in Gulf News on 18/7/2020)

The ‘friend’ rang me up for a chit-chat. We used to meet socially, and although she was not among my closest pals, she was part of the group of who I was a member, and we’d meet occasionally.

Like others living in Dubai, I too have a ‘social milieu’, a group of friends who I hang out with and meet for coffee or for dinner once in a way. Good company, but, barring a few, not people to whom you could open your heart.

Usually, this friend and I exchanged forwarded jokes on WhatsApp, and ‘liked’ each other’s’ pictures and messages on FB. It was rare that we actually talked to each other on the phone, but given the exceptional times we’re living in, and the extra hours we all tend to have, it seemed natural for her to call.

After the usual pleasantries, she started off: of how terrible things were in the world, of how the vaccine would take a couple of years to find, of how we can’t go out, can’t travel, etc, etc.

When I gently reminded her that things were not so bad, and 80 per cent of the people who caught the virus showed mild symptoms, and only 5 per cent developed death-threatening ones, she somehow convinced me that I was among that 5 per cent.

After a harrowing half-hour, I put the phone down, much worse for the call, a jiggling jelly of fear and negativity.

Have such a friend? I’m sure you do. These are the prophets of doom and gloom, the ones who can never see the positive in any situation. They are ubiquitous, such people.

They may be among your friends, they may be in your WhatsApp groups, or they may even be a close relative! Woe betide the individual with a spouse who’s the harbinger of bad tidings, and who seems to relish giving bad news. There’s no way to avoid such a person too, living under the same roof.The best you can do is to inject some positivity into their doomsday prophecies, or else, just turn a deaf ear.

The question is, why do people do this? I think the answer lies in wanting to project. In psychological terms, “projection refers to unconsciously taking unwanted emotions or traits you don’t like about yourself and attributing them to someone else.” (Karen R. Koenig)

Projecting your fears and insecurities on another individual seems to lighten your burden. But hey, buddy, spare me! Find someone else to vent all your fears and frustration.

In contrast, there are some friends who make you happy and cheerful. They are not blasé about the seriousness of the present situation, nor do they underplay it. But they don’t keep harping on the number of dead, the high rate of infection, and the state of the world’s plummeting economy. Keep such friends close.

They talk about other things too, of books they’ve read and music they listen to, even some juicy gossip to brighten your day. Conversation is light and fresh, not deep and heavy.

A friend of mine on Twitter, who is an excellent photographer, always puts up pictures of the sun rising over an urban landscape, or flowers in bloom, or birds flitting around, usually with a happy caption. Such photos lift the heart and spirit. Needless to say, talking to her is also a pleasant interlude in an otherwise dull day.

These are, indeed, stressful times, but, as the old saying goes, ‘what can’t be cured must be endured.’ But at least learn to choose your friends wisely, the chirpy, happy ones, and keep the doomsayers and naysayers at bay.

Soon, this will all be over and we’ll look back on these times as either a blip or a learning curve in our lives. Keep smiling!

— Padmini B. Sankar is a Dubai-based freelance writer and author of the forthcoming book, “The Mother of all Parties”. Twitter: @paddersatdubai

Not DIET and EXERCISE again!

There seem to be two perennial topics in every newspaper and magazine the world over. Diet and exercise.

Yes, yes, I know, these twin topics ARE important, and we all need to know what is the next unpronounceable super food that is essential for our survival. My vocabulary – and my BLD (an acronym for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner, but also perhaps, ironically, a short form for BLOOD)- now encompasses foods my parents have never even heard of, least of all downed. Besides, the prohibitive costs would have made their practical minds think twice before spending precious paisa on these goods. Quinoa, chia seeds, kale, keto diet, clean eating, veganism … and the list goes on.

Exercise – how, what, when – is also another favorite staple. Is it best to exercise AM or PM? What kind of exercise is good for you? How long should you exercise? Is walking the best exercise? Does weight training keep your weight down? Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

GIMME A BREAK! I want to be myself- extra rolls of flesh, downing forbidden foods, keeping late hours, exercising when I feel like it, pretending a stroll with the dog is enough for the day and I’ve done my thirty minutes of brisk walking…

Every time I read another article on what kind of food I should be eating or how much I should be exercising, I reach for a bag of chips and plonk myself down on my comfy sofa, article in hand, smiling villainously to myself and saying to the article- “So there! Preach away for all I care!”

Is this constant bombardment of good health articles a nefarious agenda to give all of us folks who just want to live our life the way we want to some kind of mental health problem? Nowadays, we have so many such issues like anorexia and bulimia and body shaming and so on.

Remember, the latest catchword is DIVERSITY. And yes, round is a shape, and potato chips is a food. So just let me be.