It's difficult to chill and ~find peace~ these days, especially with the ongoing pandemic. Plus, given all the news we see on social media, "to relax" is easier said than done. For Dr. TJ Manalang, a municipal health officer in General Luna, Siargao, it's an experience he knows very well. In fact, he struggled to find balance between pursuing his passion as a public health servant and taking care of himself and his mental health.
In an exclusive interview with Summit OG, he shared that even before he graduated, he sensed that he really wanted to pursue a career in Public Health. He served as Doctor to the Barrio in San Narciso, Quezon Province for two years. After a while, however, he was diagnosed with major depressive disorder. "Marami lang talagang nangyari sa akin during that time. [Andun] yung pagod din of learning na yung dream mo to be a public health servant, hindi siya madadala ng pure passion lang," he added.
He was eventually assigned to Siargao, where he was able to experience serenity. "[In Siargao], you are at peace, whatever happens to you the entire day. Dito ko magagamit yung skills ko, while at the same time, nakakapaghanap ng peace within myself," he said.
When the COVID-19 pandemic happened, the island of Siargao was not exempted. But the community, along with medical practitioners like Dr. TJ, found a way to safeguard everyone from the virus. "Ang mandate sa amin, lahat ng bisita ng Siargao na hindi taga dito, kailangan ma-sure mo na walang sakit," he explained. Dr. TJ, a team of nurses, and a surveillance officer would go around the island checking every hotel and accommodation to make sure no one was sick with the virus.
They also had to deal with stranded tourists—some who were suffering from anxiety and other psychological problems. "Yung anxiety nung entire thing, yung anxiety ng lahat ng nangyayari, ti-nry naming i-address," he tells Summit OG. They would constantly update the community by telling them what they're currently facing, what can possibly happen, and what they're going to do about it.
And although no one knew what they were supposed to do, Dr. TJ said the community stepped up and found ways to help each other during the first few months of the pandemic. Hotels and accommodations that closed offered drives to help anyone in need, while residents did their best to follow government mandates and protocols.
"The pandemic showed that we need to [go] back to our roots, Ang dami sa GL (General Luna) na tumulong and it made our jobs a lot easier," he shared. The sense of community in Siargao helped the residents and the healthcare workers there to manage the stress brought about by the pandemic. According to Dr. TJ, "What compels us to stay is [how the island] brings out the best in you so you can pursue whatever you want."
Watch the video below to know more about how Dr. TJ Manalang's work in Siargao helped his mental health:
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