By Matthew Rodriguez
Every time I unlock my phone, the negatives seem to pile up — the worldwide shutdown, the increasing number of deaths and the seemingly endless supply of bad news.
However, I try to focus on the positives — the extra time I have to play videogames, the FaceTime calls with my parents and the times I sneak out of quarantine to watch romantic comedies with an old fraternity brother.
I can’t do much else.
Prior to being locked-up in my West-LA apartment, blocks away from my favorite restaurants and a few miles away from the beach, I struggled with anxiety and depression from a mixture of failed relationships, post-graduation woes and my mother’s diagnosis of breast cancer. Sadness filled my daily life and nothing I did to lift myself up seemed to work. Oddly, it took a global pandemic to change my mindset on life.
On March 16, my parent company, Times Publications, based in Tempe, Arizona, decided to empty the office and have us all work from home to stem the spread of the virus. The writers, designers and salespeople from the three newspapers — The Argonaut, L.A. Downtown Weekly and my paper, Pasadena Weekly — all said goodbye and held false hopes that we would be back in the office by the end of the month.
Roughly a week later, the company laid off most of the writers and designers after money dwindled from the lack of advertisements. Those remaining took a 20 percent pay cut. While I didn’t lose my job, one of my coworkers did, leaving me speechless. The managing editor of the Argonaut Joe had just had his first child, Leia. I held him in high regard. He jump-started my career in journalism by publishing my first cover story “8 Unspoken Rules of Being Homeless in Venice.” He took a chance on a doe-eyed college senior interning at the Argonaut. He welcomed me into the newsroom and now I had to say goodbye through email.
I had no idea why the executives decided to spare me: perhaps because I was getting paid so little it wouldn’t really save them much money. Nonetheless, I now felt on-edge. I believed that any mistake — a typo, missed an email or any decrease in productivity — would get me fired. It got to the point where I thought I might be better without my job.
Feeling lost, I went to the one person I knew who could set me on the right track, my mom. My mother survived childhood in one of the poorest areas of the Philippines. She survived moving to America knowing only my father. She survived breast cancer. My recent struggles paled in comparison to hers, but I knew that she wouldn’t fault me for struggling. She would do what she has always done, help me.
“Matt-Matt, you have to look on the brighter side,” she said in her high-pitched Filipino accent. “You still have your job, do you know how lucky you are? You are still doing what you love. You still have us, your family. There are people who are sick and dying. Be grateful for what you have.”
While I understood the sentiment my mom was trying to instill in me, I couldn’t rewire my mind to look at the brighter side. The sadness and despair of the world added to the darkness that already surrounded me. My brain didn’t click.
I spoke to Joe a week later, expecting a cold and depressed man, drowning his sorrows with a six-pack of Bud Light. I got the opposite.
The conversation started with a text from Joe imploring me to submit my first cover story for an award.
He typed, “Matt, you have a winner sitting on your lap if you submit it!” We exchanged a few niceties, then I asked him how he was handling the layoff. To my surprise, he was happy. He got to spend more time with his wife and daughter, describing the whole thing as an extended baby leave. Unemployment gave him an opportunity to spend some time with his family before finding a new job.
That’s when my brain clicked.
In the darkness, it was easy for me to see just that, darkness. It wasn’t until I specifically looked for the light that I began to find it.
I began to look for the positives in every situation, and to my surprise, I found several. With all the free time I had confined to my apartment, I made an effort to connect with my friends and family virtually. My friends and I squad up every day to play Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. We chat about our days, tell jokes and laugh until it hurts. I do the same with my family, sending constant text messages, memes and good wishes all day, every day. And when I feel rebellious and long for physical human interaction, I binge-watch romantic comedies with an old friend bonding over our constant search for our soulmate.
I looked for the positives. Within them, I finally found some ways to manage my anxiety and depression that has plagued me for almost a year.
It only took a global pandemic to change what I was looking for.