The World Will Never Be The Same- A New 'Schizophrenia' on Covid-19 Lockdown!
Sajan Mathews was known to me since my school days in Thiruvananthapuram and had built up a successful career in space physics. He went abroad for post-doctoral studies in USA and UK and obtained fellowships. His return to India was guided mostly by a desire to be near to his parents who were in their seventies. He was neither an extrovert nor an introvert and that suited my more introverted nature too. He had a fascination for sci-fi books and movies and I was often amazed at the kind of knowledge he had about Astrophysics. Now settled in Bangalore with wife and two kids, we used to meet while he came to Kerala or while I went to Bangalore. We were expected to meet last month as he was coming for a conference in Kochi. However, that did not take place.
The other day, I got a frantic call from his wife Susan at night. She said her husband was waking up at night and simply crying or scratching his head and walking outside the house. With much difficulty she and children brought him inside the house. He was unable to go to office as they were working on minimal strength. Yet he was managing some work from home and having Skype or Zoom meetings with his colleagues. He was showing irritation even with his children with whom he was always friendly. His son and daughter always looked forward to his arrival even if a bit late in night to hear his stories. Last two days, he woke up suddenly and called his wife telling her that he was hearing strange sounds in his head. He felt he had fallen from the sky.
I didn’t feel unusual about it as I have also fallen like this on bed several times! On another day he felt he was suddenly attacked by a swarm of strange looking insects and as he tried to escape, there were other people wearing face masks and gloves running for cover!
Before the lockdown, he worked over time on some days and used to reach home only by 8 pm but he was generally healthy and happy in those times, his wife said. She said it was better if I talk to him over phone. He was not in his usual mood, when I called him. He was all the time asking when this lockdown will end and about how the economy would be affected. I could understand that he was not in his usual cheerful spirits when talking about anything. He asked about the Kerala situation and seemed to be disgusted with the TV talks on data privacy. "What are those jokers talking?" I initially tried to ask about his job and personal life but thought it was better to wean him away by describing some of my online activities and about the books that I read during lockdown. But I could understand that he was watching some business channel and he kept referring to some report or the other that gave some bleak forecasts. Later he also whatsapped some charts and data but I didn’t want to comment on. Then I realised it was important to give a positive tone but at the same time not dismissing any of the forecasts outright. " You were a market analyst appearing in channels and writing reports, what is your take," he messaged me. I said there is no reason to compare the pandemic economy with the financial crisis of 2008 or before. Industries could recover and there is latent demand, although recessionary trends were there in Indian economy.
Then he again said in a melancholic note- it is going to be terrible if lockdown is extended. Then realised, if he was to continue, I might also lose whatever strength is in me. I tried to cheer him up saying that it was important not to lose hope at this stage. But I couldn't get any clues why he was depressed. In the evening I messaged him to remain positive and promised to talk next day. However, the same night I got another frantic call from Susan as he again showed the same symptoms of anxiety, waking up suddenly at night and crying. Her friends told her that it might be some kind of 'panic attack'. He also began to get irritated without any reason. He seemed have banged his head on the window bars a few times. He refused to take water or go back to sleep. I realised it was beyond my capacity to understand his problem or do anything remotely. I told her to take care of him while I get in touch with some of my psychiatrists and psychologists.
They said he was showing signs of Schizophrenia and asked whether he has a genetic predisposition to it. I was no doubt shocked and thinking how soon I may also develop some problem like this! They said it was important to get in touch with him directly or on phone. Even a psychologist and a psychiatrist were lined up in Bangalore if he was willing to see them. But he refused and he was always hesitant to go to hospital even otherwise and any talk of meeting a psychologist will further anger him. This struggle continued for one or two days before my friend ultimately talked to a psychologist. Later, they also arranged a meeting with a psychiatrist. They had a couple of sessions and was advised mild medication -anti-depressives. A week later, Susan called to thank me for the help. She said her husband was constantly hearing the words, the 'world will never be the same once the lockdown was over' which upset him. No point blaming him, I am also sick of hearing it! But there were some specific reasons for his 'schizophrenic' behaviour. He had resigned from his job last month and was serving notice period. Earlier he had hopes of going abroad with a lucrative offer from a University or still better he was optimistic about starting a research and training consultancy but those seemed to be dashed to the grounds now. The EMI on his housing loan was also a cause for concern if anything bad was to happen. He was also worried about his children locked up in home for extended periods and the difficulty of teaching them online. To make matters worse, Susan had also resigned from her job seeking a break and wanting to spend more time with kids for atleast a year. He couldn't meet his aged parents who were in Kerala which also added to his worries.
All is Well
A few days later, I received a call from Sajan and he appeared to be happy and didn't have much concerns about the economy as he had before! As they say an economist who says the level of unemployment in an economy is still at acceptable levels is saying so because he still has a job! But I didn't ask anything about what happened. Later, Susan clarified that the company was willing to reconsider his resignation while she had opted for online teaching in a private university which was the need of the times. " Is the world going to be the same after lockdown?" I asked and she said "Who knows? We are not bothered about it anymore!"
(Disclaimer: No infringement on privacy of anyone, names changed and story weaved out of interactions with different people!)