Over the weekend, I had one of my "munimos", a cute term my mom and I call our muni-muni moments, and I thought about what my twenty-year-old self would say if she knew I was: 1) living with my parents again and 2) no longer in Metro Manila. Before the pandemic, I was living in a tiny studio in Q.C.—and that's been the situation since I moved out in 2016. This was something I've always been particularly proud of: I was doing all the work by myself, making it happen, learning as I go, etc. etc. I was exhausted...but that's normal, right? (Wrong.)
When COVID-19 hit, a part of me thought it wasn't going to last longer than the two-week lockdown. When it did, I convinced myself that I could still survive on my own. That didn't last very long: I made the decision to move back in with my parents—who just happened to live in Pangasinan...four hours outside of the city.
So what changed? For one thing, it made more sense financially: My electricity bill was SO INSANE, it ate up most of my salary. I was home all day and started learning how to cook (on an electric stove) so you can just imagine how I felt when that first bill arrived. And with so many companies putting their projects on hold, that also meant no longer having freelance work to cushion my expenses.
More importantly, my mental health was in the gutter. This was the hardest part for me to accept. As an introvert, I honestly thought I'd handle the isolation better, but I was randomly crying in the grocery, unable to sleep properly, and just trying not to break down at work. Now, when I try to recall the beginning of the pandemic, it's almost like those memories have a weird filter on them: dark, blurry, hopeless. More than the place, though, that version of me also seems unrecognizable.
My life in Pangasinan is much slower
If there's one word to describe what my life was like in Manila, it's "fast-paced." I was always in a rush. Every Saturday, I had to do this, this, and this (mostly chores 'cause I did not have the energy to do them during the work week) and if I didn't accomplish half of my to-do list before noon, I would feel unproductive—like I just wasted so much time...being slow. It's much different now. For at least 20 to 30 minutes in the morning, I stare into nothing and just let my thoughts flow. Sure, sometimes my mind naturally goes to what I have to do for work, but it's easy for me to mentally push that away until I'm sitting in front of my laptop.
Part of the reason I can take my time is because my parents have been taking care of me. That's such a weird thing for me to say because I had gotten used to not receiving any help. But these days, for example, I don't have to think about what I'm eating for lunch or dinner because my dad cooks for all of us. Laundry is another thing that no longer takes up my time because my mom insists on doing it (you guys, I HAVE OFFERED TO CLEAN MY OWN CLOTHES, do NOT come for me, lol). Of course, I am cognizant of the immense privilege of my situation; many have to endure the pandemic away from their families.
I take comfort in nature
My condo in Manila has one window and when I look outside, my view is of three very tall, concrete towers. My unit's located in a corner that gets the least amount of sunlight; this was a deliberate move to keep the space cool even during the summer. But in the time of COVID-19, that means being in a space that barely gets any sunshine and everything looked and felt bleak because of it.
Living in my parents' house gave me a newfound appreciation for nature. We live within walking distance of a park and the beach, so on a particularly awful day, I find comfort in these two things.
Walking under massive, lush trees and feeling the wind in my face gives me a bit of perspective—like my problems seem small compared to what's around me. I've also never been a beach girl—I know, you're disturbed—but sitting on the shore quiets all the thoughts in my head.
When I have a busy day ahead and I'm unable to go for a walk, sometimes just standing in our yard for 15 minutes boosts my energy and untangles the knots in my head. I let the sun touch my skin and watch my dogs live their best lives. I use this time to tap my "inner observer" and ask myself how I'm doing. Here are the questions that go through my head: Are you okay? No, really, are you okay? Does something feel off? Does your chest feel heavy? Are your fingertips tingling? Do you want to cry? Are you tired? Should you get more sleep? What do you want to eat today?
I don't worry about money as much
Because everything—and I do mean everything—is much cheaper here. My parents and I agreed that I'd cover most of our bills as sort of my "ambag" for the house. I was mostly worried about the electricity bill but it turned out to be cheaper than I expected, which shocked me to my core, haha. In an attempt to save money while I was living alone, I used to time my aircon use (just five hours at night), I didn't own an electric fan, AND STILL, my bill was ridiculously high.
This is a pretty big deal for me because my asthma is triggered by two things: heat and stress. I have attacks when I get too hot and when the weather changes, that anticipation stresses me out. I used to have coughing fits from April until August—yeah, for MONTHS. Pre-pandemic, it got really bad and I had a panic attack on top of my asthma attack. I booked a Grab and took myself to the hospital.
I haven't had a serious asthma attack since I moved to the province. I also don't feel bad about using the aircon because I know the electricity bill won't cripple my finances.
My food preferences have slightly shifted
The last time I lived with my dad and enjoyed his cooking (consistently) was probably in 2009, right before I went to the States for college. After that, I lived with my brother and cousin for a bit before spending time in Singapore. Admittedly, I don't crave Pinoy food often. I almost never asked for it whenever he visited me in Manila. These days, however, I ask for adobo almost every week. I catch myself hoping we have tocino for breakfast. I always want sinigang. And an inihaw na baboy and pinakbet combo? *chef's kiss!* I know my parents have noticed this change because they share a look when I request for Filipino food, lol.
I'm able to focus on my mental health
Asking and accepting help from my parents has been the biggest game changer for me. For the longest time, I fed into this idea that working until your cup is empty and succeeding by doing it all on your own is you know, #goals. A part of me also thought that moving in with my parents, after living independently for so long, was a step back. But spending all this time with them actually reminded me of how cool they are, haha!
I enjoy talking to them about work, friends, and even all the shit that's going on in the world. We also share cute stories about the funny things our dogs do, and those make my day. Even though I still experience work-related stress, kasi 'di naman mawawala 'yon, I'm able to let it go before I end my day. I don't lose sleep over inconsequential matters anymore—that is tomorrow's problem, I tell myself. I'm also less angry about things that I can't control (like other people's actions).
I used to wish for things like waking up in a chic condo in Makati that's located right next to my favorite cafe and going there every morning before I start my ~*busy*~ day at work. And while a part of me wants that still, I've been making a little room in my heart for a new dream—one that starts and ends at home.
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