Cipriano main image1.jpg

Aishwarya Behl talking with her mother, Geetu, about work 

Survivor
Stories

During Covid-19 – with severe restrictions on face-to-face interactions, especially with strangers – we asked student journalists to instead talk with friends and family members about what was happening in the community during the pandemic. Here are their stories:

 Photo by Margaret Cipriano

Will this ever end? And what will life be like when it does?

A pandemic, it turns out, can be a time for self-reflection and major lifestyle changes. Or not.

By Elizabeth Gault, May 17, 2021

     It is now 2021, and Covid-19 is named after a year that was over 24 months ago. It is hard to remember what life felt like before the masks and contactless UberEats deliveries. Covid-19 will be remembered as the 21st-century super virus that stumped modern medicine, halted globalization, and took far too many lives too soon. However, Covid-19 could also be remembered as the pandemic that brought people together, whether it was singing on balconies in Europe, on social media platforms such as TikTok, or even over Zoom. The truth is, the pandemic will be remembered differently by everyone.
     It is important to appreciate that the memories and experiences of Covid-19 will not disappear with a vaccine. Covid-19 will remain present as long as it lives inside the memories of those it has affected. It has become ingrained in the human experience. It has taken lives, debilitated health, and separated loved ones. However, it is not just the tragic stories that are relevant to the Covid-19 experience. We must listen to each other in order to understand the varying ways our generation has been shaped and changed by this pandemic; 2019-2021 has been a time of hardship, growth, resilience, struggle, and loss. We must read each other’s stories in order to appreciate the nature of the post Covid-19 human experience, and who we all are now. 
     Our Jour 200 (Intro to Multimedia Journalism) class this semester aimed for stories that appreciate the uniqueness and fragility of each individual experience of Covid-19. Our class's stories tune into the more psychological and emotional impacts of the pandemic. The nature of a pandemic being a physical disease means that physical symptoms or concerns are naturally at the forefront of news. Our stories shed light on the symptoms that we cannot see, or the symptoms that are present behind closed doors. Though each story is a personal one, they are all relatable and relevant. Each story, and each voice, highlights an experience that not only shows how all our lives differ dramatically but also what ultimately makes us all human. 

     Margaret Cipriano, for example, has written "Pandemic Productive: A 1-Woman Balancing Act," a story about her friend Elsa Linsky and how she responded to losing her job as a yoga instructor due to the pandemic. Ashi Behl has written "American Dream: Reimagined," about her mom and her struggle away from the work she loves. Megan Ramones' story "Dealing with the Dreaded Quarantine-15?" focuses on her brother’s struggles with weight gain and what she found out about that situation when she reached out to him. Other stories here – Makenzie Olivo’s "Getting Up Again: When All Seems Lost," Noe Nekotani’s "When the Zoom Camera Turns Off, What Happens?" and Megumi Sakuta’s "Too Far, Too Close, Pushing People Apart" – also address feelings and experiences of friends and family. Who better to ask? And who better to tell, than the people closest to us? We hope by telling our stories, we can help someone like you. We can help you relate. We can help you understand. We can help you cope, whatever your situation.
 

ABOUT ADAPTATION:

By Margaret Cipriano

May 17, 2021

Friends talk about what to do when a job goes away 

Pandemic Productive:
A 1-Woman Balancing Act

“The end is upon me. And the stress is, like, on my shoulder wanting to come in, but I'm like, 'You just hang out there a little longer because we're still okay,' and… what was the question?" - Elsa Linsky, on setbacks

     At the start of the Covid-19 shutdowns, Honolulu yoga instructor Elsa Linsky lost her full-time job at The Yoga Room Hawaii. But it was more than just a job or even her primary income that disappeared suddenly. Yoga also represented important aspects of her identity, whether she was paid to do it, or not. So how did she respond? Through more yoga, of course, but also with some newfound creativity prompted by the pandemic. She stretched herself in ways that she didn't think was possible. She tried new approaches to the yoga business. She built her social-media following. She helped the community. In short, she classifies her reaction as “riding this wave.” 

Honolulu yoga instructor Elsa Linsky lost her job during the pandemic but not her sense of purpose or positive attitude (Photo by Margaret Cipriano).

     In February 2020, Linsky was spending her time teaching yoga and working the front desk at The Yoga Room Hawaii. She was planning trips, seeing friends and exploring Oahu. One month later and everything she knew as normal, was no longer. As soon as Covid-19 reached Hawaii, the lockdowns commenced, and Linsky was forced to adapt. 

     The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a study in June 2020 that showed how people were being affected by the pandemic mentally. Of people in the United States that were unemployed, about 38 percent of respondents stated that they were dealing with “anxiety or depressive disorder.” Linsky decided her way to avoid anxiety and depression would be to focus on self-improvement.

     Linsky did not realize at first that she was going to be unemployed because of this. “I kind of found out through the news first,” she said, followed by an email from her boss. “I got a generic group email that was just like, ‘sorry were closing,’" she said. "That was no problem, I just thought I’d go back when they could open up.”

     This unforeseen change in Linsky’s life would soon be realized by her as the perfect time to propel forward into what she truly loves: her yoga practice and being creative about yoga. There is irony in being laid off as a yoga instructor in a studio only to truly find and strengthen her practice on her own. But that was the primary takeaway from the experience. There was no severance package. There was no going back, as the studio she was employed at was hurriedly sold. “On the second shut down, my boss decided to sell the company to somebody else and there was new ownership," she said. "I just never heard about it. No one told me except the other yoga teachers.

     Out of a job, she applied for unemployment in the last week of March 2020 alongside nearly a quarter of previously employed Hawaii residents. In April 2020, at the onset of the pandemic, the state's unemployment rate ballooned to 22 percent, according to Hawaii’s Department of Labor and Industrial Relations. The rate has dropped since, below 10 percent, but that still is a lot of unemployed people.

     Darren Tom, founder of Hawaii Entrepreneurs, and Kelii Klobucar, co-founder of Hawaii Entrepreneurs, have been focused on helping local entrepreneurs during the pandemic. Tom explained why there has been a spike in entrepreneurs in Hawaii during Covid-19, by saying: “The pandemic gave people time to think about their ‘why,’ it also brought creativity." He added, "Our goal is to help people start that business.”

     While losing a job was not a rare spectacle this past year, what is rare about Linsky’s story is that it turned out to be exactly what she needed. She decided to take a step back to focus on herself. The pandemic forced Linsky to rethink and restrategize her future as a young entrepreneur, creative person and yogi. “No one knew what was happening," she said. "After time had passed and we knew that we had some sort of relief and stimulus happening, I was like, whatever. Lets ride this wave!”

     Linsky has an Instagram page to showcase her yoga practice: @Elsayoga_. But she is currently focusing her efforts on her @yogacoophawaii account. Linsky aims to build her platform and promote “Yoga Co-op Hawaii: In the Park.” She said, “I am kind of falling off of the @elsaeve Instagram so that I can apply more of my time to making cool graphics and making more legitimate posts for the @yogacoophawaii and staying consistent on that; having enough time for that.” Donation-based “Yoga in the Park,” though Yoga Co-op Hawai’i, is an activity Linsky has participated in nearly every day this past year. It has helped her boost her yoga practice and kept the stresses of the pandemic at bay. According to a study conducted by Ruhr-University Bochum, in Bochum, Germany, being outside in the sun and getting UVA exposure has a calming effect on our minds and bodies due to raised serotonin levels. In other words, people have higher levels of calm after UVA exposure, while those who had not yet had UVA exposure had higher levels of nervousness. Linsky’s yoga in the park links to that research, and she claims it helps to calm the mind as well as strengthen the body. 

     Linsky has been a certified yoga instructor for years, but it was not until this pandemic that she truly realized how strong she was. Now, Linsky is able to hold intense yoga poses that before, she would just dream about, which was made possible with her extra free time while on unemployment. She was unaware of what her body, and her mind, were capable of. The time that she used to spend focusing her yoga flows around other people's needs and capabilities in group classes, she now spends on growing her own practice every day. She sees herself in finesse poses that she never thought possible. Linsky, in her regiment, swears by consistency, determination and push-ups. 

     “It was a gradual process," she said. "I was able to do some things that I just really didn’t think were going to happen for a good five years, so I am like, cool! What will happen in the next year?”

 

ABOUT JOBS:

By Aishwarya Behl

May 17, 2021

A mother-daughter talk about joys of employment

Gettu Behl taking a work call during a lunch date with her daughter (Photo by Aishwarya Behl).

American Dream: Reimagined

A first-generation immigrant recounts her job opportunities in the U.S. before and after Covid-19

     Geetu Behl used to wake up every morning to the smell of bitter coffee and cigarettes. And she liked it, because she likes to work, and the United States gave her opportunities to do that as much as she wants. Although not glamorous gigs, one of her earliest jobs in America was a part-time position at a convenience store in Milford, Conn. She described it as a favorite, because of the regulars. “I’d get up every morning at 6 a.m. and the same people would come in every day, order the same coffee the same way. They probably grab the same newspaper ... and same brand of cigarettes.” This unwavering pattern transformed the mundane tasks of selling nicotine and lottery tickets into something special, she said. It was a relatively low cost for pursuing her American Dream.

     Behl became a mother at 18 years old and subsequently decided to move from India to America to give her child (the author of this piece) more opportunities. A new mother. An immigrant. A non-English speaker. The hardships that would undoubtedly chip away at one’s motivation only ignited her drive to succeed. There exists a prominent narrative in the United States that immigrants are poison for the prosperous American economy. They oversaturate the job market, stealing opportunities from “natural born” Americans. They use up resources, deal drugs and commit crimes, abuse our welfare, and depress our wages. Statistically, though, this could not be further from the truth.

     Immigrants are consistently and disproportionately represented in high-risk, low-paying jobs, especially in the food-production industry, like the jobs Behl has worked. Immigrants make up more than 23 percent of the nation’s nearly 8.2 million workers in food industries, reported the Pew Research Center’s Jens Manuel Krogstad, Mark Hugo Lopez and Jeffrey S. Passek.

     The disparity of immigrants working high-risk jobs has grown during the pandemic, including the more than 40 percent of the nearly 2 million frontline workers in the food processing industries that kept functioning through the pandemic, according to a recent report by Susan Ferriss and Joe Yerardi for The Center for Public Integrity. In other words, they are the backbone of the nation’s food supply chain and are characterized as essential workers. Yet the CARES Act passed by Congress and signed by the Trump administration in March 2020 made sure that these workers were excluded entirely from any Covid-19 stimulus due to their immigration status. So they are actively working the most dangerous jobs in the most vulnerable sectors, with no form of government support to even fall back on.

Behl infographic image6.png

Infographic by Aishwarya Behl.

     Shree Maharaj, a business owner who studies immigration employment patterns at Temple University said, “There is this widespread misconception that immigrants are hurting the economy when in reality they lay the building blocks for rapid socio-economic development, They have this deeply ingrained economic incentive to work damn hard and succeed. Hell most of them break their backs trying to achieve the immigrant pipe-dream of starting their own business. I know it’s what I had to do.” Maharaj immigrated from India to America in 1995 and is now the proud owner of a chain dry cleaners based on the East Coast.

     Behl described her own struggle to get on her feet in a foreign country, starting with her first job at a Cinnabon in 2006. “This was right when I moved to America," she said, "and I needed money quickly. To save on rent, I lived in a dirty cramped apartment with three roommates. And I had a child.” She found this apartment through a fateful Craigslist listing. It offered four small bedrooms, and she shared one of them with her then 4-year-old daughter. 

     “I had to wake up at 7 a.m. and take a two-hour bus to the city every morning,” she said. “I hated it because they gave me s– hours. Each shift was only four hours, so I would commute four hours to work four more hours, for next to nothing.” She left this job after six months because she found something that paid better: Wetzel’s Pretzels. It was right next to Cinnabon but offered her longer hours for a little bit more money, which made it a worthwhile switch.

     “I learned how to make pretzels, which I absolutely loved,” she said. “What I thought was I would take this skill and go back to India, open a pretzel business with my name on it. When I look back on it, it was so naive of me. I guess that’s the immigrant dream that never comes to fruition. Though, I worked here for six months because I wanted to move out of the s– apartment.”

     She continued to grab any job she could to make ends meet. The jobs were never too prestigious and neither were the paychecks, but the work skills they provided her became invaluable. Behl wove her basket of professional skills and fostered them with devotion. She learned the ins and outs of people skills, clerical work, software applications, and even the English language on the fly. 

     Her next job was at the coffee and cigarette convenience store, which she loved rather than loathed. The store was right around the block from her new apartment, so accessibility was its most prized attribute. After a year, Behl moved again to a small town in Pennsylvania. Here she started babysitting, so she could spend more time with her child. It paid poorly but “a little money is always better than no money,” she said. The next move resulted in a job at a sandwich shop called Quiznos. “I loved this job because I learned how to make yummy sandwiches,” she said. “I was also pregnant with Gigi at the time. The smell of meat made me gag and be nauseous, so I would have to go to the bathroom and vomit often during my shifts.” In hindsight, it wasn’t the most favorable set of conditions. But Behl states how $7 an hour was a lot of money for her at the time. 

     Quiznos seemed to be a magnet for peculiar occurrences. Behl described witnessing one of her coworkers, Jay, get arrested for some undisclosed illegal activity. “I remember being so in shock,” she said, “and one of the customers got mad because the arrest was delaying his sandwich order. Soon after this happened, I remember Jay calling me from jail but I didn’t know how to take collect calls, so this confused me. I asked my manager to help me take the call, and Jay ended up telling me about how the food in jail sucked because it was all meat, and he was a vegetarian.” 

     Behl left this job at the arrival of her second child, Gigi. She stayed at home to take care of her for the first six months, relying on child-support checks from her ex-husband but also itching to go back to work. She used this time off as an opportunity to learn how to drive. She bought a cheap run-down Honda with some saved up cash and started driving around without a license. It was a 2002 Honda Accord with dents decorating both sides.  “I knew this was risky but it was something I had to do,” she said. “I was so lucky I never got pulled over.”

     Soon after, she finally found a daycare that offered discounted rates for single mothers, providing her with the opportunity to return to work. She was hired at a DollarTree. “This was the first job I did not have to take the bus for,” she said. “I loved this freedom. But the neighborhood was really scary. The crime rate was really high, and one time I got off work and came back to a vandalized car. Somebody scratched up my car while I was at work, and I couldn’t afford to get it fixed.” Even when the circumstances were not ideal for Behl, she said, she had a limited array of options because these jobs came out of financial necessity, and she had two kids to support.

     “Nearly two-thirds of Americans say immigrants currently in the country mostly fill jobs U.S. citizens do not want,” Krogstad and his associates wrote for Pew Research. The immigrant employment plight is one that Behl knows well from personal experience. All her jobs involved hard labor for long hours and little pay, and there wasn’t much she could do about it. Behl still works five jobs today. Her heavy workload is not out of financial necessity any longer, though, she said. Instead, it is an extension of her curiosity and sense of freedom.

ABOUT DEPRESSION:

By Mackenzie Olivo

May 17, 2021

Friends talk about the dark days and loneliness

Sophia Urizar struggled to determine the point of pandemic life (Photo by Mackenzie Olivo).

Getting Up Again:
When All Seems Lost

College students across the country were forced to delay their dreams or take online-only classes

     After Sophia Urizar had stayed in her pajamas for five days straight, she started to wonder about what her life had become during the Covid-19 pandemic. And where it was headed.  

Instead of being a freshman in college classes at the University of California Santa Cruz, which she had planned to attend last fall, she was binge watching “The Simpsons,” eating her meals alone in her room and only leaving every so often to use the bathroom.

     The television shows distracted her from the depressive thoughts she had, during the ten-second pauses between the two seasons. 

She focused on two questions:

There’s no movement in the world so why do I have to keep pushing forward? What’s the point?

She had been full of hope before the pandemic hit. She was graduating from high school, attending a good college and even had a summer road trip planned to celebrate. All of those plans seemed elusive now that the world had stopped to deal with Covid-19. What finally pulled her out of her bed was a therapy appointment via Zoom. The day before the meeting, Urizar was afraid of what her therapist of several years would think of her — the same therapist who helped pull her out of her depression that she was diagnosed with in seventh grade. 

     Depression is common among college students and has grown more so during the pandemic.  In a survey of students at a large public university in Texas, one month after the initial stay-at-home order, in April 2020, more than 70 percent of the 195 students (138) reported having experienced an increase in stress, anxiety and depressive thoughts. In a follow-up study at this same university, a month later, with a much-larger sample, researchers found that of the more than 2,000 students who responded, nearly half of them showed a moderate-to-severe level of depression, about 40 percent showed a moderate-to-severe level of anxiety and almost 20 percent, or one in every five of the respondents, had suicidal thoughts.From these studies and the findings of Mental Health America’s online screenings,  there is a notable number of individuals nationwide whose mental health is in crisis during this pandemic.

     “More people are dealing with mental illness than ever before," wrote Paul Gionfriddo President and CEO of Mental Health America. "At Mental Health America, we had 2.5 million people take an online mental health screening in the first year of the pandemic, compared to 1 million in 2019. And, in general, the results of their screenings tended toward greater severity than they did in 2019. In addition, federal data suggest that nearly half the population experienced a diagnosable mental health condition in 2020, most commonly depression or anxiety.”

     There are many experiences that have altered the college norm. A manuscript by Nahal Salimi, Bryan Gere, William Talley and Bridget Irioogbe, in the Journal of College Psychotherapy, for example, stated, “The ongoing novel coronavirus, has magnified college student’s mental health challenges, and as a result, there are additional considerations, as college students are now required to adapt to a virtual learning environment, make behavioral changes such as social distancing, and deal with socio-economic uncertainties.”

     While the pandemic has been detrimental to many, it also has been beneficial for others. For some struggling with diagnosed mental disorders, such as social anxiety and severe depression, the pandemic has forced people with mental illnesses, such as Urizar’s challenges with depression, to address their issues head-on. The opportunity to prioritize and confront their disorders, she said, gave them power; the power to know and respond to emotions accordingly. She added, “The fear of losing one of my family members terrifies me and has given me more logical situations for my anxiety to burst off.” 

     While the initial shutdown brought Urizar into a major depressive episode, it also gave her a chance to prove she could pull herself out of it. She wanted to live the life she had imagined before the pandemic struck. From that moment of realization, she began taking steps toward improving her mental health. For her, this meant taking her medication, establishing a routine and seeing her friends again. She took a step back from news intake and slowly noticed her depression becoming less severe. She remembered the experiences and memories that were awaiting her outside of her room, and in her first therapy appointment, after her low point, she was given tools to live a Covid-safe yet mentally healthy lifestyle. 

     After months of slowly transitioning back into a more normal life, Urizar has found a job and began rekindling any lost relationships with her peers. She is now an on-campus freshman living in dormitories at UC Santa Cruz and spends her days taking walks, focusing on her biology degree and staying in touch with her closest friends. She hopes the worst is behind her. 

 

ABOUT DEPRESSION:

By Noe Nekotani

May 17, 2021

Friends talk about digital distractons as unfulfilling

Kaleikaumaka Downey found comfort on her front-porch couch (Photo by Noe Nekotani).

When the Zoom Camera Turns Off, What Happens?

Online education has its place and its advantages, but not everyone is ready to make a full transition to it

      Nestled outside her home in the Kalihi valley, Kaleikaumaka Downey winds down on her porch after a long day of attending both in-person and online classes. Her sanctuary: A small navy cloth couch with a patch of discolored cloth. She had sewn the patch on that spot to fix an uncomfortable lump. This couch has become a crucial space for Downey to wind down.

     Prior to the pandemic, she had spent her senior year of high school prepping for college, getting her scholarships in order, as well as her figuring out her financial needs. As the virus gradually made its presence known in Hawaiʻi, Kalei found herself like many others struggling to adjust to the new normal.

     “When you’re not in-person, there's still that like 'OK, I can just turn off my camera and mute, and do whatever,'” Downey said. “But in class, you’re still just stuck in class. For me, I’ll just do that in my head. I’ll still break focus in my head and daydream or zone out. It’ll still happen like that. That’s why I couldn’t focus in school.”

     Downey said she surprisingly enjoyed talking to her classmates and making a few friends along the way through her distance learning over Zoom. For Downey, it was the in-person classes that felt lonely with the physical boundaries, such as mask-wearing and social distancing, atop of not knowing how comfortable her classmates were with their interactions. 

     “It’s a whole 'nother atmosphere that we have to get adjusted to and adapt to," she said. "That I haven’t well-adapted to.”

     The hardships the pandemic has brought down the road for many students may have ranged from simple Internet connection issues or Zoom fatigue, but for Downey, the pandemic served as a time of loneliness and rumination. She assumed that in-person classes would run similarly to how they operated at her high school. But they were different in the pandemic, filled with restrictions and awkward situations. 

     Downey is not alone in her struggle. Moving from in-person to distance learning has proven to be a challenge both mentally and physically for students in many ways. The added difficulty of being at home brings up issues one would never usually consider a bother, such as the distant sound of a lawn being mowed, the honks and sirens of oncoming traffic or the occasional visit from a four-legged friend. At school, students are able to engage in their studies mostly free of distractions, something Downey feels she didn’t appreciate enough before the pandemic.

     “Before the pandemic, my family was scattered (across the islands), and I can’t really be with everyone all at the same time, like how anybody would want to be with their family,” Downey said. “I guess during the pandemic, I got to go and see part of my family, but it was still… I felt the same feeling, I still had family on Oahu.”

     Downey’s sanctuary feels something like this: Surrounded in a sea of vibrant and dark green patches of foliage, a chilling breeze sails through the valley. The fresh smell of rain shocks her senses as she emerges from the stale air of her home. She is at times greeted by a visit from the local invasive parrot population or Java Sparrows. As this sensory overload floods her senses, she finds herself drawn into her phone.

     “I feel like before I already had the idea that I couldn’t connect as well if I didn’t have social media or was on my phone as much,” Downey said. “But even more so now that the pandemic is happening, and I can’t see my friends in real life or really even go to school or do the same things that I would normally do. Being on my phone is one of my only options to keep up my connections with others to catch up and to socialize.” During the interview, Downey would often ignore how her spot would be disrupted by the sound of a sharp chime, or the glaring red dot from an application drawing her attention back to her phone. 

The pandemic served as a time of solitude and rumination for Downey, she said. As the days slowly dragged along, she realized her bubbling loneliness hadn’t been only an outcome of the virus. This loneliness had been a preexisting condition that laid dormant long before the pandemic. 

     In this wondrous age of technological advancement, nearly anyone with a cellular phone is able to instantly connect with anyone and everyone at their fingertips. Having this power should seemingly eliminate our loneliness, but for Downey, it only seemed to further the chasm.

     Downey like many others found solace in being able to stay connected with friends and family during the pandemic through social media. But with this short-term relief came a dependence upon her phone, spending her private time at the beck and call of her notifications. She began to understand the hold social media and her phone held over her. The pandemic has in a way forced many to adopt social media in order to stay connected to our social circles. Downey catches herself at times, realizing how frequently she uses her phone, so she purposefully sets aside time to take a break and live in the moment.

     “Life is all about (Covid-19) right now," she said. "It’s not that we should move on, but we should carry on. Endure. Not hide and shrink away or wait for something, because nothing's gonna happen unless we all do what we have to do.”

ABOUT WEIGHT GAIN:

Siblings talk impact of fewer activities, more food

By Megan Ramones

May 17, 2021

Ramones_Audio versionMegan Ramones Audio Version of Quarantine-15 story
00:00 / 03:54

Dealing with the Dreaded Quarantine-15?

If you have put on a few pounds during the pandemic, or had trouble getting extra weight off, you're not alone

     Zach Ramones grimaced at his reflection in the bedroom mirror. 

     “Ugh, here we go again,” he sighed, as he focused on his belly bulge. He was 160 pounds a year ago, before the Covid-19 pandemic worsened. On this particularly unsettling morning, though, he was up to 185. Zach had been even heavier once before, and he was afraid of where his sudden weight gain was headed.

     More than 60 percent of U.S. adults reported undesired weight changes since the Covid-19 outbreak, according to a 2021 American Psychological Association survey. Similar to the well-known “Freshman 15,” people are referring to pandemic weight gain as the “Quarantine 15.” In this new normal of not being able to go outside, many have been coping in unhealthy ways, like binge-watching Netflix or endlessly scrolling through Instagram.

     Andre “Pono” Riddle, an internship coordinator at Chaminade University recalled, “as the months progressed, (people) developed cabin fever because everything was shut down, except essential businesses like grocery stores." That means food was a primary source of entertainment for months. 
     The pandemic made it challenging for Ramones to maintain his health, a period he traced back to when former Gov. David Ige signed a “Stay-at-Home” order in March 2020. Gyms were a hotspot for Covid-19 clusters and were closed down indefinitely. Like many, Ramones was a gym member, at 24-Hour Fitness, but soon, he had to make do with what he had at home. Ramones said, “Honestly the weights is just kinda sitting in the corner of the living room. I’m just too busy to balance anything right now.” As a full-time Pastoral Assistant at Resurrection of the Lord Catholic Church and a full-time Kinesiology student at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, finding a work and home life balance was stressful. Exercising wasn’t the same anymore. To cope on most nights, Ramones said he drank a bottle of Corona Extra and unwinded watching his favorite Korean drama, "Descendants of the Sun."

     Seeing 185 pounds on the scale was a wake-up call for Ramones. He started a dietary supplement called Nutrifii along with a high-protein ketogenic diet. “Basically I have to avoid all carbs at all costs," he said, "that includes rice, chips, even alcohol (like beer) but I mean, I make exceptions once in a while, on cheat day.”

     A diet is one approach, but there are many ways to return to form from the pandemic weight gain. Kawika Schwab, the Fitness Manager at 24 Hour Fitness in Kapolei and a trainer for 23 years, said, “Main thing is being active. ... Doing low-intensity workouts. It’ll definitely help you from a mental capacity. And lastly, too, nutrition. Making sure (you) stay away from the extra sugar, calories, and stuff like that.” 

     Once Ramones began to pay more attention to his health, he said, within less than a month, he had lost 14 pounds, down to 171 pounds. He stands proud now at the mirror, admiring his progress and telling himself, “This isn’t the end. You can do this.” 
 

At first, Zach Ramones put on a significant amount of weight during the pandemic (above), then worked hard to take it back off. (Photos by Megan Ramones).

ABOUT LONG-DISTANCE RELATIONSHIPS:

By Megumi Sakuta 

May 17, 2021

Friends talk about keeping people close from afar

Too Far, Too Close, pushing people apart

With restricted travel worldwide, couples were forced to be together or away from each other

     Yoshimi Hata burst into tears as she made the call. He had wanted to talk with her, and urgently. She knew what it was about.

     “The good times we have with each other are not making up for the fights we have together," she remembered her boyfriend, Wolf Hendrikse, telling her. "We need to consider breaking up.”

     Hendrikse told her that he felt overwhelmed when they argued. He couldn't concentrate on his exams. So he needed to make the "break up call." Hata tried to reason with him, taking the blame for the fights and saying the stress of the tests was talking. The heated call was cut short when Hendrikse had to leave. They managed to calm down that time and gave themselves another chance, when they called again, on the condition that they both agreed to one week of solitude and no contact with one another. 

During the good times, a selfie of Yoshimi Hata and Wolf Hendrikse . (Courtesy of Yoshimi Hata).

"If we didn't stop the call at the moment, I think we might have broken up over the phone," Hata said laughing slightly. 

     As the Covid-19 pandemic spread worldwide at the beginning of 2020, many countries decided to close down most of their borders and created movement restrictions for their citizens whether it be going out to school or shopping. Hata was one of those people. 

     Hata, a Japanese college student studying in the U.S., has a long-distance relationship with her boyfriend in Amsterdam. They had been dating for about four years when her first ‘break up call’ dropped into the relationship. She blames the pandemic, because when it started, and school started shutting down in March, Hata moved back to her parents' home in Japan and resumed school online. Although she had continuous assignments for her school work, she imagined that she had more time on her hands, like she did during the holidays, since she was at home all the time. Holidays equaled more time for Hata and her boyfriend to meet and talk to one another. So she quickly set up a plan to visit her partner in the Netherlands. 

     At that point, Netherlands still allowed visitors from Japan, so she created a visiting visa for three months, mid-summer. During the three months of her stay, though, the last two months were spent living together with Hendrikse in a small one-room apartment. This might sound romantic, but there were difficulties when living in such close proximity for long periods of time, with the world around you closed for fun.

     Whenever she had met up with her boyfriend before, she said, it was during the holidays, when they were free to only think about each other. But during this visit, they had constant academic stress, plus the obligatory thoughts of having to be with their partner, in a perpetually fun way, because they had more time. This situation created friction between them. They would fight over small things such as the delegation of house chores. 

     In the end, Hata left the Netherlands on a slightly negative note, but their relationship returned to a peaceful state. However, the "break up" call came around February, after a week of small fights that came from their miscommunication and doubts about one another. 

     “It's been about six months since we’ve seen each other," Hendrikse said. "It's pretty tough. It's uh, after you don't see each other for a long time it gets harder to communicate, and you feel farther away from the person.”

       Hendrikse mentioned that some texts, like those with sarcasm, do not translate well over a screen. Hata talked about how they would overread each other's texts and self-conclude what the text meant. They then would argue over the miscommunications. 

     Beth Cipriano, a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, who has helped many couples throughout the pandemic stress, said the treatment on miscommunication between couples is to first recognize that they are having miscommunication. 

     “A lot of times couples don’t even recognize that they have this pattern of (miscommunication) because it has become a habit," she said. "Helping them to recognize they are doing this (is a start, followed by) helping them to recognize what triggers that dysfunctional communication style, having them look for and point out times when they are able to communicate in a really healthy way and look at why they are able to do it sometimes and yet not the other.”

     As of May 2021, Hata is still in Japan completing her last year of college online, and she is uncertain when she will be able to move back to the U.S. or travel to Amsterdam to see her boyfriend. The Netherlands has removed Japan from their list of safe countries, only allowing people with residence permits or specific occupation plans to stay in the country. Hata, who is only dating Hendrikse, will be treated as a tourist in this situation, so denied entry.

     However, they have moved a step into fixing their relationship from overseas by acknowledging the miscommunications between them and reducing their interactions to create more time for themselves, they said. By keeping a set distance such as limiting their phone calls to one hour every two days, rather than every day, they can calmly analyze the situation before rushing into a conclusion about what they are communicating to one another.

     Hendrikse said, "It gives each other space and also more topics to talk about when we are actually talking with each other."