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Behind 4 walls: This Malaysian woman has already been social distancing for years before the pandemic

Behind 4 walls: This Malaysian woman has already been social distancing for years before the pandemic
PHOTO: The Straits Times file

For the past four years, she has spent her days within the four walls of her home, with her four cats for company.

Juno (not her real name) refers to herself as a hikikomori, the Japanese term for a recluse. Somewhat similar to most Malaysians when the Movement Control Order (MCO) was imposed to curb the spread of Covid-19 in March, she doesn't leave the house unless necessary, she revealed to online magazine In Real Life.

She shops for her clothes, food and household supplies online, needing only a couple of clicks and a few extra dollars to pay for the delivery. When she's not working on her freelance projects, she spends her time listening to music, reading novels or playing games.

But unlike most Malaysians, this way of life was something she chose for herself a few years ago and has relished ever since.

According to Juno, the only times she leaves her home are doctors appointments and when she can't get something online.

"It's like I have a very short mood bar. When that gets filled up, I get upset and moody, and I must go home and unwind."

In fact, she found it amusing that others were struggling to cope with staying at home during the first two weeks of the MCO.

"I had to hold back my laughter as I watched people complain about being home with nothing to do," she wrote. "I just kept working, kept living my life."

While Juno is rather introverted by nature — always rejecting her former colleagues' invitations to socialise — what spurred her to make the switch from a corporate job to freelance, and subsequently adopting a stay-home lifestyle, was being made a scapegoat for a failed multimillion-dollar project at work.

Between legal proceedings against her former employer and job hunting, her mental health took a dive. Working from home helped it improve, she said. 

While Juno flourishes in solitude, she understands that the hikikomori life isn't for everyone.

Social isolation isn't everyone's cup of tea

"Other people would find it hard because they have a more sociable lifestyle and they need human interaction," Juno added. "I have been living the so-called 'new normal' for a long time."

Faced with various safe distancing measures, including telecommuting, limits on social gatherings and even lockdowns, for the foreseeable future, some aren't coping with the pandemic nearly as well as Juno. 

Revenge spending, also known as revenge dining, shopping or travelling, has been observed in the region as those suffering from cabin fever as a result of the lockdowns seek an outlet.


But that’s not all. For some, social isolation can have adverse effects on their mental health and wellbeing. 

A 2009 study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behaviour found that social isolation has been associated with lower levels of happiness and life satisfaction, among other negative health effects.

As it is, hundreds of Malaysians were arrested in recent months after they were caught flouting Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) — a slightly relaxed version of the MCO — safe distancing measures.

Just last week, a whopping 482 individuals were nabbed in one day for various offences under the CMCO standard operating procedures, while another 577 were caught in a day a week prior.

Several groups of people have also made headlines for illegally gathering at an entertainment centre and even a yoga class. Meanwhile, across the Causeway in Singapore, similar reports have surfaced.

According to Dr Geraldine Tan, director and principal registered psychologist at The Therapy Room, safe distancing should not equate to emotional distancing

“Emotional connection helps during this period because physically you are confined in a small space. You feel very isolated.

“Your brain needs to understand that there is some human touch — some humanity — somewhere.”

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