We all know the pandemic hit everyone hard; it’s difficult to imagine someone that managed to escape it – either physically, mentally, or emotionally. I was lucky and privileged enough to be able to stay safe over the past year. I’m living with my parents, so I didn’t have to worry about bills or other household issues. My future went from being certain to very murky. The lack of direction or stability was a stressor for months. Couple this with a harsh lockdown where I was stuck outside my home country made it chaotic. 

To preface, I live in Dubai, in the UAE (United Arab Emirates). I’m from India, and though I grew up in Dubai, I attended college in India, too. It was a pretty fun experience, and I wanted to visit my college friends in India – I made the trip in March. I decided to stop by and see my grandparents for a week, and then spend a blissful few weeks with my college friends at their apartment.

After living with my parents for a year, I was looking forward to the freedom and relaxation. Cue a harsh national lockdown, complete with closed borders, set in India from mid-March to July. Suddenly, I found myself trapped in my home state, with my cousins and uncle, with no end in sight. 

The lockdown was a confusing, depressing mess.

It was confusing and depressing. Though I enjoyed living with my cousins, the lack of certainty and stability, coupled with no clear end in sight, made things very difficult. Out of the blue, I had lost an entire year. I couldn’t look for a job, continue my education, or even see my friends. I was losing control of a lot of things, and I didn’t know what to do.

My cousins were vegans, sugar-free, and were honestly pretty fit and active. I, however, was not. I have asthma, which I used as an excuse to avoid exercise. College life did not spur me to activity either. By the time I graduated, my schedule and diet were shot. Living with my cousins, I found it easier to adhere to their diet than demand meat and sweets. It led to a harsh cut-back on meats, on sugar and dairy, and some form of exercise every day.

Because stepping outside was frowned upon (back then, even outdoors exercise was limited), I resorted to working out from home. It felt good because I had something to work on, something to look forward to. I built my routine around fitness, and it gave me something to control again. It felt like I was in charge somehow, and it made things a little better. Exercise, and the establishment of a routine, was a way for many to get their life back on track – people have used the pandemic as a way to get healthier.

Watching what I eat during a pandemic was a luxury few could afford.

I know that being able to watch what I eat and exercise at home was a luxury, one that a lot of people could not afford during the pandemic. I was lucky to stay with my uncle who was well-off enough to house me (and his kids) for months, to provide us with ingredients for good food, and space for recreation. I’m lucky that I got to stay with cousins who helped me change my habits, and for the company during the lockdown. 

The pandemic made me hyper-aware of my privilege, and of the chance I got to change my lifestyle. I was partly motivated by my own desire to become an ‘after photo’, and I am grateful that my cousins were with me. I forced myself to stay healthy, knowing that I couldn’t spiral down in someone else’s house. Funnily enough, courtesy stopped me from developing an unhealthy relationship with food and exercise and forced me to hold it together till I got the chance to go home. 

I’m not going to lie; the lockdown was mentally taxing – being stuck outside my house was so much worse. I was incredibly lucky to have the time and resources to take care of myself, something I know many others could not afford. I’m also grateful for the weight loss from exercise, and not stress. Losing weight during a pandemic is a dicey topic, and is difficult to approach – I’m glad I was given the space to tackle it the right way.

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  • Natalia Ahmed

    Natalia Nazeem Ahmed is a budding writer and editor with a BA from Symbiosis School for Liberal Arts in Pune, India, with a major in English Literature and a double minor in Philosophy and Film Studies. An avid reader, her goal is to build a career out of her fiction and non-fiction writing. In her spare time, she loves to knit for her loved ones.

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