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Three weeks into telecommuting, I called a psychiatrist

Working from home. Yes, I cleaned up the room and got dressed for the shot. (Lim Jeong-yeo/The Korea Herald)
Working from home. Yes, I cleaned up the room and got dressed for the shot. (Lim Jeong-yeo/The Korea Herald)
As a journalist, my job is to get around. The ideal rut of this job is to be constantly on foot, meet people, glean information, fact-check, and package the story in a way you, reader, would find relevant and stay to read to the end.

But truth be told, like many others in South Korea right now, I haven’t been getting around much. Not since the COVID-19 outbreak here took a serious turn for the worse.

It will soon be a month since I started telecommuting and social distancing. I’m still working through whatever remote measures can be used. Press conferences are now on Zoom and YouTube. Interviews are done over the phone. We’re still churning out news every day and delivering it to your doorstep. (If you have subscribed to the physical paper, thank you).

Working from home is great. For a week or two, maybe. With the commutes cut out from the routine, I suffer no traffic jams, which saves a lot of time that can be used instead on housekeeping. But being involuntarily kept from socializing can be wearisome when the solitude continues for over three weeks.

In the end, I called a psychiatrist. To be exact, she was a volunteering professional whose number I obtained through the centers for disease control. The association of certified psychologists had offered to give free consultations to people suffering from through cabin fever. Admittedly, this was partly for work -- checking out new stuff the government is up to.

I wanted to know if my condition sufficed the prerequisite for a consultation -- apparently yes.

Under an oath to protect secrecy of whatever I said, the psychiatrist asked how I was feeling these days, in the most understanding voice imaginable.

I fused. This was a person I didn’t know who wished to get to know me. A refreshing knock in the somber times.

What’s weird is, the days I have been spending were perfectly normal. Since I was at home all the time, I cooked more than before. It was all organic and healthy. I was a more responsible housemate to my cat.

But I craved for hot food that someone else had put on the table. Food that I could pay for in a crowded space in the company of others.

I wanted to resume my daily morning run at the gym where I had been keeping my New Year’s resolution. I needed to get out.

The initial fear of infection had dissipated somewhat. But I knew I had to keep myself quarantined to the best of my ability, not just to protect myself, but for the sake of those more vulnerable, to not be the transmitter and to “flatten the curve” of the outbreak.

With guidance being that being outdoors is less conducive to infection, one day, I wore a mask, washed my hands before leaving the house and drove to a park instead of riding public transportation. Despite it being a Saturday, the roads were empty. But once at the park, I saw people. Only eyes peeking out from above masks, but people walking and talking in a reassuringly normal setting. Parents with children, couples on a date, friends chatting.

So the world had not ended.

It’s now working hours on a Wednesday. With the window open, I can hear the screeching of buses as their drivers hit the brakes. I know that restaurants and shops are open as usual and that self-employed shop owners have been raising concerned voices over a plummet in sales due to COVID-19.

We all wish to return to normal.

Will the brief change in our habits stay? The cooking at home as opposed to dining out, the walking in parks as entertainment instead of going to PC rooms or karaokes? Only time will tell.

But while the telecommuting lasts, we may focus on how to stay healthy through this time. I don’t mean just avoiding the virus.

I offer myself as an example. See, I am writing this in my pajamas and it’s nearing 4 p.m.

The perk of telecommuting is that you don’t feel like you ever turned up to work. The downside of it is that you don’t feel like you ever shut off from work, either.

This is for me as much as it is for you, reader, if you’re also working from the comfort of your lair -- let’s shower and get dressed for the day. And once it hits 6 p.m. it’s time to switch off and properly rest. Give a round of phone calls to close ones. You are not alone.

Sent from my living room, to yours.

Lim Jeong-yeo
Lim Jeong-yeo

By Lim Jeong-yeo (