You are stronger than you believe: A letter to my past self on the first week of lockdown

Dear Claire,

I know how you’re feeling now – plagued with a fear and anxiety you have never felt before, not knowing what will happen tomorrow, the next week, or month.

Earlier this week, on the day the COVID lockdown was unceremoniously declared in Laguna and the rest of the region, and with little time after work before the stores close, you had bought all the food and essentials you thought you would need, only to realize later they were not enough. Rubbing alcohol has also run out in all nearby groceries and drugstores by the time you left for errands. But you had tried your best under the circumstances, as you had to have several breathing exercises and a video call with a friend – good job doing what you needed! – just to calm yourself down.

Now, I know you’re wondering: Did I make the right decision in not going home to my family, not knowing when I will see them again?  Metro Manila’s lockdown was announced in advance a few days before Laguna’s, with time for you to go home should you choose. But you knew you risk catching the virus during your commute and bringing it home to your senior-age parents and your cancer survivor brother with asthma, since hundreds, maybe thousands, would be scrambling to get home, too.

And I know you’re also second-guessing yourself whether you made the right decision in resigning from an organization with a social cause you wholeheartedly support, but with work hours your body could no longer handle. Who knows how long this lockdown would last? Would your savings hold out? Would you be able to find another source of income in time in case?

And in this lockdown where no gatherings are allowed and going outside is not allowed save for essential errands, you wonder how you, who thrive on human connection and time with friends, and who take nature walks for your mental health, would survive. The university with access to Mt. Makiling’s forests, your happy place, is of course indefinitely closed, as face-to-face classes have been suspended.

Usually open, this gate to University of the Philippines Los Baños, the gateway to Mt. Makiling’s parks and trails, has been closed because of the pandemic.

At the background of all these worries and uncertainties is a gnawing fear – fear that you will get the dreaded virus and be one of the statistics of those who do not make it. Fear that you will give it to someone else – maybe to that woman in the fruit stand, or to the bagger in the grocery. That fear is not just inside you, but everywhere – in your conversations with family and friends, in your social media and the news you read, which lately has been about new COVID cases. I know the fear is almost palpable in the air outside the two times you went out for errands this week, and you found yourself bristling and wanting to shout when another shopper came too close to you in the grocery.

It’s ok. Nothing is wrong with you. Those fears, anxieties, and everything else you’re feeling now is normal, especially when the lockdown has just begun.

Your decision to stay in Laguna, where you have your job, is borne out of concern for your family, and that cannot be wrong. And, in deciding not to extend your contract further in your job, you were guided by your regard for your health and well-being, and staying healthy is important especially in this pandemic.  You will understand this with a clarity and certainty much later.

For all your worries and uncertainties, you will find a way. A way to cope when you’re missing your family. A way to connect meaningfully with others even amid the lockdown.  A way to commune with nature even when you’re out for errands – clue: look up!  And later, a way to make an income even amid the pandemic.

And most of all, you will find a way to let go of your crippling fear of COVID while still taking the usual precautions against it.

You’ve already gone through a lot, among them cancer in your family and the subsequent financial hardship, and you will survive this. You are stronger than you believe yourself to be.

While running essential errands, I stopped, amazed, to see a bird flying over this flowering narra in one of Los Baños’ main roads.

It won’t be easy, though. At some point you will think you are already used to being away from your family, and then something will happen – eating food that reminds you of the one your dad cooks, celebrating a holiday you always celebrate with your family – that will make you desperately want to go home, even though you can’t. But you will wipe your tears and attempt to re-create your dad’s cooking, and celebrate holidays your own way. And you will feel your mother’s concern even from a phone screen when you get sick.

You will find yourself crying at random times, especially when you see one death too many among your loved ones’ families and friends, and bitterly realize you can’t be there for them physically because of COVID restrictions on gatherings. You will cry over deaths of people you don’t know because it’s just such a waste, especially if the deaths were preventable, and also because you will understand all too well that those could have been your parents. Your brothers. Your friends. You. Generally, it is heartbreaking to see not just story upon story of deaths every day, but also of people losing their livelihoods and going hungry.  You will pray many more times for family, friends, and fellow Filipinos than ever before.

On the other hand, it will be heartening to see your friends recover from COVID, and their words will be assuring, too. They will be your guide when the virus hits the place you call your home away from home, and this time, you won’t be as scared of COVID, but determined to act in response to the situation. And the virus will come and leave without taking anyone with it.

And, you know what? Help will always come when you need it. You will be amazed by just how it comes at the right time, and how angels take different shapes like a friend messaging to check on you, a delivery of food made with a friend’s love when you’re feeling beaten, and countless offers of prayers and healing.

A friend surprised me with this delivery of a cookie cake she baked during my lockdown birthday.

You will learn to give room for both grief and joy, because you will realize that in spite of all the losses, there are still many things to celebrate – your safety and your family’s, the adopted family and the supportive community you have gained during lockdown, the healthy food you have access to, the kindness of people amid the pandemic, and nature’s daily gifts like sunshine and rain.

You will consciously do things good for your mental health, because you will come to know that your well-being is your best protection against COVID. Fueled by grief and joy, you will reclaim your personal writing and your poetry, which you haven’t done in years. You will be able to go on your nature walks again with the easing of COVID restrictions. While your usual sanctuaries in the forest are still closed, your feet will lead you to other enchanting places, and people you meet by synchronicity will also guide you.

One of my soul-nourishing nature walks
Lush greenery during my walks is a therapeutic sight.
Mountains in the distance! One of my favorite views in my nature walks. I discovered a vantage point to see these through some friends’ advice.
While walking with a friend, we met someone who would later suggest that we go to this waterfall we never heard about. He asked kids we also just met that day to guide us.
I call these surprise sunflowers. They were surprisingly planted during this pandemic in one not-so-obvious area in the university where I walk, even when there are only a small number of people who will see them as students and teachers are not having face-to-face classes.
Sunset in Laguna de Bay, as seen from one of Los Baños’ shores. I came here for the first time when the local government allowed visits.

More than a year from now, you will emerge stronger. Grateful. Hopeful.

I wish I can tell you the pandemic is over or close to over from the place and time I am in now, but I can’t. As I write this, new variants of COVID are appearing and COVID-related problems continue. Last week I personally encountered an ever-present problem many people have in this pandemic – finding a hospital with a vacant room amid the many COVID cases. It is a situation that will test you in the future and I warn you of now, but I assure you in advance that with the support of our adopted family and our communities, I – we – weathered  the crisis, and everything worked out in the end.

While the future remains uncertain, I have faith, and it’s not just because of the introduction of vaccines. With our strength that has been tested many times, and with the support of our family and chosen community always, I believe we will be able to face whatever lies ahead.

Love,

Your future self, 16 months later

Sunrises always give me hope. Photo taken during one of my morning walks.

This story is an entry to ComCo Southeast Asia’s “Write to Ignite Blogging Project Season 2: Dear Survivor”. The initiative continues to respond to the need of our times, as every story comes a long way during this period of crisis.  The initiative aims to pull and collate powerful stories from the Philippine blogging communities to inspire the nation to rise and move forward amidst the difficult situation. The “Write to Ignite Blogging Project” Season 2 is made possible by ComCo Southeast Asia, with Eastern Communications and Jobstreet as co-presenters, with AirAsia and Xiaomi as major sponsors, and with Teleperformance as sponsor.

22 thoughts on “You are stronger than you believe: A letter to my past self on the first week of lockdown

    • Yes, that was quite an experience for all of us going through this pandemic. Thanks and take care, too!

  1. ‘You will consciously do things good for your mental health, because you will come to know that your well-being is your best protection against COVID.’

    – This pandemic has been really tough but I’m glad that you prioritize your mental health over anything. I really enjoy seeing photos of your nature walks in LB! 😊

    • Yes! Mental health, and not just physical health, is wealth, especially in these times. 🙂

      Wishing all the best for your health this pandemic!

  2. Hi Claire! Thank you for writing your experiences and how you are coping in this pandemic! Your words encouraged me to see the future with more hope. Your blog needs to be read by others too! Will share it with my friends.

  3. Kakaiba talaga ang nangyari sa ating lahat for the past year. But one thing’s for sure, we continue to survive through our storms, and laugh (kahit mas madalas umiyak) and live for another day. One day soon, magkikita din tayo Claire… we will continue to pray na one day soon, this will all be behind us now. Pero para sa ngayon, kapit na muna tayo and extra ingat pa! God bless. 🙂

  4. Thanks for sharing your heart with us, Claire! Mental Health is very important nowadays. Good thing that we have our friends and family who supports us in every way. God bless us always!

    • Yes, we are luckily blessed with loving families and friends. 🙂 Ingat lagi and God bless din!

  5. What a meaningful way to experience this ongoing crisis. It reminds me of the 2 Chinese characters that represent CRISIS it means danger and opportunity. While you acknowledge and feel the emotions/feelings that come with the “danger” due to COVID virus you have opened yourself up to opportunities of growth like new ways of being in the moment.

  6. Thank you for this amazing letter to self. The latter part on words of encouragement and reassurance made my day 🥰 a small glance at the light of tomorrow’s hope goes a long way. Sending love, Ate Claire 💕

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