Before the pandemic, I was an artist, activist, teacher, director and producer – living fully, despite having had blood cancer for 10 years. Today, I am classified as “A3” (a person with comorbidities) in the Philippines. In the UK, I am classified as extremely clinically vulnerable.
I don’t believe in labels, yet all of a sudden, I am one. Although I am fully vaccinated and boosted, there are no guarantees that the vaccines work in a body that has a suppressed immune system, like mine.
So I continue to isolate and shield in place. Largely alone. Before, community was my life. Now, loved ones are cautious about seeing me without isolating and testing beforehand, as they don’t want to put me at risk. In the Philippines, where we have no free tests, this is a big consideration. Freedom comes with the ability to pay.
When two friends committed to quarantining and testing before spending time with me by the sea, I fell into their arms weeping when they arrived. I had almost forgotten what it was like to be held. Remembering hurts, and keeping that memory from fading is exhausting.
What happens to the body after two years of no touch, no physical community, while managing a blood condition? It is in constant pain. I have always had cancer side-effects, but they eased in the arms of loved ones – in shared laughter, activism, movement building, dancing and adventures. The loss of a life that was free, that this body used to know, is heartbreaking. A life with touch, hugs, intimacy, pleasure, love, exploration, fun, joy, wildness. A body in isolation is sorrow. It is a deep longing, searching, endless waiting, and loneliness.
People talk of herd or natural immunity, of fewer quarantine days, of more relaxed protocols. But I can’t visualise what that looks like for someone like me, and for the millions of people around the world with autoimmune diseases. “Mild” Covid is not something we can count on. As waves come and go, “freedom” still feels like a possible death sentence for us. Then you begin to live with another kind of pain: the pain of being left behind, while the world is moving on.
But inside the sorrow of this body’s isolation remains the possibility of life. I manage the pain and loneliness with kundalini yoga, meditation, Tantra and divine feminine practice; by playing with my dog and learning to be a child again, creating art, beauty and sacred spaces in my home. My work as an activist and artist with One Billion Rising keeps me going. Every day, I get up, contribute, connect, reclaim and rise, to make this body a vessel of hope. These are my radical acts. One day soon, we will all be dancing together again.
Monique Wilson is an actor and women’s rights activist, as well as the global director of One Billion Rising