My Experience with Parting Virtually

Because we’re in the middle of code: RED global pandemic.

If there’s an end to this global pandemic and someday when HR staff asks me in an interview about “What’s the hardest thing that you’ve experienced in your life?” I would probably answer, “Surviving a global pandemic while maintaining my mental health.” I wish I could answer this by altering something negative to be positive. You know, like when HR people ask, “What’s your weakness?” and you’re supposed to say something like, “Oh, my colleagues say I’m a perfectionist. I have extreme attention to detail.” But no, surviving a global pandemic while maintaining my mental health sounds about right.

I tried to recall what other big crisis I have faced in my life — the death of my childhood friend, the end of my 11-year relationship, my parent’s divorce, every time my unstable mind takes over my day, when I was appointed to be Acting Chief Editor, the time I had to let go two of my team members because the company asked me to, the time when I had to tell the team that they were about to lose the job since the magazine about to closed down, the dreadful months when I worked in a toxic workplace, the early months of me being toyed by one of my co-workers, then this global pandemic. While the others are categorized under ‘slow burn,’ this COVID-19 situation is tagged as too ‘fast,’ ‘too abrupt,’ ‘too sudden.’ Everything and everyone is racing against time.

As a result, it’s hard to define time as time itself has lost all of its meaning. Night and day, Monday and Sunday, they’re all blurred. I don’t and can’t even keep track of what day it is today. My bed becomes my work desk, and my work desk becomes my dining table. Suddenly my comfy outfits rotate more than my going out outfits. Strangely, my calendar is busier than ever. To this date, as I’m typing this, I’m still wondering why the hell my work pace is faster if not the same as before the pandemic?

The virus and time are not the only issues. Subsequently, the economy is crashing. Almost (if not all), any industries are impacted by this — including my current workplace. I’m currently working at a travel startup, so according to this article and for an apparent reason, my workplace is in the red zone/high exposure. So I know that lay-offs or salary cuts are very much likely to happen — but not this fast.

At the end of March, the company laid off several people including 3 of my valuable team members; one is one of my closest friends in the office who sat next to me, one is my 3 pm -talking-slash-daydreaming-buddy who sat in front of me, and one is one of the kindest, most patient guys when it comes to explaining complex UI stuff to me. My gut reaction when I found out about this was cursing the upper management for being incredibly transparent and honest about everything (this is sarcasm if it’s not obvious). Second, the big wave of grieve struck me. Lastly, my trust and respect for my lead and upper management are nonexistent.

In the first three days, nobody talked about this, not even my lead, making the situation was exceptionally uncomfortable. The team was literally divided into:

  1. The ones that knew the details (because we’re close with the affected),
  2. The oblivious ones who didn’t know anything, who didn’t even know the affected parties’ email and Slack channel suddenly deactivated,
  3. The ones that found out about this from their research/underground chit-chat.

So basically, nobody was talking to anybody, it was so frustrating!

In those three days, I cried A LOT, I couldn’t sleep, I kept waking up at ungodly hour and stayed up until the sun rose. Anger, disappointment, sadness, confused, scared, and lost were all that I felt in the first three days. I kept talking with the affected parties, and they were super accepting, which made me even sadder because they didn’t deserve this silent treatment.

On the fourth day after the lay-off, our Whatsapp group chat became quieter than usual. It was suffocating. The first one who broke the hellish silence was one of the affected parties. At this point, everyone seemed to find out about it already, and everyone seemed to try hard to joke around while knowing damn well some of us were no longer with the company.

The next day, in our weekly team standup, our lead was asking everyone “How are you guys feeling lately?” and since we took turns alphabetically, I went second. I was almost crying.

“How am I feeling lately, you ask? Here it goes, in 4 days, I lost my friends, I lost a significant amount of sleeping hours, I didn’t want to work at all, it was hard for me to focus knowing that I would not see the affected parties even after the pandemic ends in the office. I’m disappointed in how the company and YOU handle all these things. Aren’t you ashamed that the one who started a conversation on our Whatsapp group was one of the affected parties?! How could you stay silent, it baffles me. Are we not acknowledging that our friends were departed?? Yeah, that’s all from me.”

Everyone finally spewed what’s been in their minds lately. Almost everyone cried; some turned on their cameras; some were choked up on words. I definitely cried, but I muted the mic. It was a new type of pain. I have never felt such distinct grief, and this grief was fresh.

It felt surreal. It didn’t feel like it happened, but every time I went to check the affected parties’ Slack handles and emails, I was reminded that it happened. The reality felt disconnected, yet I was highly attached to my emotions and fondness for them.

Parting virtually was strange, to say the least. On a Sunday, we threw a farewell brunch party with our affected friends. It wasn’t proper, we knew. But it was the only thing that we could do. We couldn’t do our “ exit interview” tradition because… they were asked to go, not by their own choice. No usual hugs, no typical “Let’s take a pic in rotation!!!”, just us separated by distance, giggling at each other through the metal devices. It felt cold.

Nonetheless, we still went for it and we were glad we did. Each of us finally had the chance to tell our amazing friends directly how much we appreciated them, how much we cherished our time working together, and how different our team would be without them. For some times, it really felt like we were together. The distant feeling melted away for a bit and we cried when one of the affected parties spoke up about her feeling. On a clear Sunday afternoon, we cried together, and I think it shows how empathy and friendship could make even the strangest even felt familiar.

Actually, it wasn’t the first time I parted virtually with someone or people in my life. But the times when I parted virtually were if I had a fight or simply when I hated the person so much that I chose not to see them.

Yet, this time was different. I was parting with my colleagues during uncertain times. This time the parting made me thought and realized a lot of things. I couldn’t help but think of them and their loved ones (one of the affected parties have a wife and two children), I thought about how they couldn’t go out, reach out to their closest friends and talked about this, how suffocating this might be, I thought about their journey to find a new job in the middle of global pandemic and economic crisis, I thought about what if I’m next? I heard that the pandemic is predicted to last until next year, so I realized that I could be next, and when it happens, what would I do?

Update: The second wave of lay-off happened on a sunny Tuesday mid June. It affected me more than I thought it would. After all, it wasn’t my first time? I really believed that I’d just be sad for a couple of days and forgot about it.

Was that what happened? Joke’s on me. My mental health deteriorated very quickly and I couldn’t think straight for a week. On the first day, I didn’t cry at all. The next day however, I cried at irregular intervals. I opened a project document then suddenly bursted into tears. I was eating my lunch when I paused, eyes went aimless, then cried. I cried so many times. What’s even more fun… my back pain came back and within the stressful week, I had two days when I woke up at ungodly hours and couldn’t move my body.

I became a bit hysterical in a group chat with some of my co-workers. I told them about voluntary lay-off and how I’d really offer myself to be the first one to apply (turns out my country doesn’t adapt this law lol so yeah, crossed that off of my wish list). I confronted my manager to speak up about the issue and other issues on a Zoom meeting. I almost deleted WhatsApp. I uninstalled Slack from my phone. I blocked my manager for a week. I completely flipped out.

After an online session with my therapist, she told me that what I was feeling at the moment was completely normal and I didn’t have to find ways to “be normal” quickly. “Let it sink in. Take your time. Embrace your sadness and disappointments. You are allowed. Do not let other people tell you how you should feel or act. If they come up with an advice, free your mind from it. Their ways won’t work. And if people wonder why you’re sad, just do not respond to them. Your sadness, the way you’re grieving, they’re not measurable. Nobody can dictate it really,” she said. We both acknowledged that the second wave affected me worse because my mind was actually still coping from the first one. Also, I learned to accept that I’m an empath and I’ll always be it, so I don’t need to question myself if I suddenly feel intensely. Lastly, I learned to acknowledge that my pain stemmed from the disappointments that I have towards my workplace; they have been mounted. So, if you’re an empath, and you’re confused as to why you’re feeling so much when it didn’t even happen to you… well, embrace it. It’s kinda your own super power.

I’m still in a process of accepting things. Slowly, I’m picking up my pace. I’m reassessing what I want to do in life, especially in my career path. Why? Because… I’m planning to resign from the workplace! What’s exciting lately is… I’m taking an online graphic design course with a dear friend of mine! Both of us are in a rut and we’re thinking of getting back to the creative industry. I think, taking me away from a creative and highly visual world was such a big mistake and I’m on my way to redeem it.



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