When the President declared Metro Manila’s first COVID-19 lockdown, it was the evening of March 13, 2020 and I was sitting on a public bus headed for my home province. It was exactly like every other bus ride I’d taken during my monthly visits home — only this time, it wasn’t. My weekend backpack had turned into a suitcase, the stranger sitting next to me now terrified me for new reasons, and this time I was fleeing, or at least that’s how it felt.
The announcement didn’t come as a surprise, however. I’d been watching the news closely enough to surmise that a lockdown was imminent and, after receiving a text from a friend who confirmed my hunch, I haphazardly packed a suitcase, texted my boss, and left. All I knew then was that I couldn’t spend quarantine boxed up in a condo alone.
It’s been over nine months since that day. To say it’s been a disorienting time would be an understatement. Almost overnight, the world went from business as usual to a complete upending of everything familiar — public systems halted, streets emptied, and life as we knew it was put on hold. What I thought would be a three-month stay in the province turned out to be a temporary uprooting of my life. My condo lease has since been terminated, and all of my possessions have been shipped out and unpacked in my new, indefinite home. I don’t see myself returning to Manila until things go back to normal. I can hardly complain — I’ve never been much of a city person anyway. But, as with any big shift, there were and still are growing pains. Most of them have to do with simply figuring out how to cope.
Early on, I learned that this cliché is true: communing with nature is a way of healing.
Being in close proximity to sprawling natural spaces has been my greatest privilege in quarantine. During the first few weeks of lockdown, my family spent many mornings eating breakfast at the (man-made) lake near our house. It’s the only place we feel safe enough to be outside, with few visitors and plenty of open air. Sure, it’s still within the boundaries of our private subdivision, but it gave us some semblance of freedom at a time when the world was swiftly being stripped of it. Back in Manila, I had been living in one of the city’s busiest business districts, where nature was limited mostly to sidewalk shrubs. So, this drastic change in my environment was one I embraced wholeheartedly. It’s no wonder so many people have turned to fostering house plants during quarantine.
Caring for something other than yourself provides both a sense of accomplishment and personal fulfilment.
My parents are natural green thumbs — a trait I appreciate but unfortunately didn’t inherit. Noticing their reverence for everything that grows out of the earth has been a lesson in caring. For the first time in my adult life, I’ve been home long enough to witness the full life cycle of the garden they so lovingly tend to. They dote on their plants and coo over new blooms with the same affection many people only reserve for their pets. By pouring energy into our immediate surroundings, they’ve ensured that despite the confines of our home, it is still a sanctuary. This is a concept I’ve been able to apply in my own corner of the house, too.
Building myself a safe space within isolation has worked wonders for my mental health.
For the first eight months of quarantine, I didn’t have my own room. This quickly took its toll on me, though I didn’t notice how much it affected me emotionally until I was finally able to negotiate my space. Then, I went on full nesting mode. For an entire week, I spent every free minute repainting the walls, clearing dust in every nook and cranny, rearranging my possessions, installing warmer bulbs, and even got myself new bedsheets. The night after it finally came together, I slept better than I ever had since the start of quarantine. But more than that, it helped me set better boundaries with my loved ones. Tending to my space gave me back some of the agency I felt I’d lost at the onset of the pandemic.
It was in this room where I sat when 2021 rolled in, feeling disenchanted by the strange holiday season that preceded it. I could see the fireworks from my bed and hear our neighbors blowing horns in the street below. In a half asleep daze, I thought about how others might have buoyed themselves through the emotional whiplash of 2020. I look up to those who’ve taken it as an opportunity to create abundance — in their businesses, advocacies, passion projects, or personal wellbeing. I've tried to focus mostly on the latter two. But between bouts of intense productivity and crippling burnout, I’ve learned that just feeling okay and sitting with the discomfort is an achievement, too.
Maybe 2021 will be better and maybe it won’t. Either way, we are still here and we are still trying. Maybe that is enough.