Smash The Bell Jar

 

Smash the Bell JarOn my back is a tattoo of the Christogram ChiRho. It is believed to be the symbol that was shown to Constantine before going into battle. The sign was supposedly accompanied with the phrase “In hoc signo vinces”. In this sign, conquer.

I had the tattoo done last November. I had no plans to form an empire but I had every intention to conquer that which was slowly trying to kill me.

It is no longer a secret that I have battled with depression and anxiety. When I first wrote about it, I was afraid of how people would react. It’s difficult to admit to mental health issues in a culture that prides itself on resilience and the ability to smile while a storm is raging, literally. I was afraid of how this would affect my job, as well. Then I realized that this fear of being labeled cuckoo for cocoa puffs was the one thing I had to overcome if I wanted to help myself and other people. So I made a pact with a good friend to come out of the closet together. We blogged about our condition on the same day and hit publish together.

Within a few hours, my blog had a lot of hits and I was receiving messages of support from friends and strangers alike. They said it was a relief to find out that they were not alone, that there are people like them who also had difficulty getting up in the morning not because they had a good time the night before but simply because they saw no reason to rise from the bed. One friend said that she felt I had written her inner monologue.

The feedback surprised me. I was not expecting the outpouring of love and appreciation from so many people. I also did not realize that a handful of my friends and acquaintances have had to seek professional help to cope with their own mental health issues. Admitting to everyone that I had a black dog cleared a path for me, one that I never thought I’d be treading.

It suddenly dawned on me that my purpose in life is to promote mental health awareness and help people break their bell jars. Don’t get me wrong, I am not forgetting my role as a researcher, unconventional mother to my son, and personal bombshell to my husband. It’s just that when you’re in the throes of depression, none of these roles or titles are important. You can’t tend to your responsibilities efficiently because there is a vortex of dark emotions (and sometimes, nothingness) that sucks the pleasure out of everything. I think of depression as a thief that robs people of their birthright to enjoy life.

To serve as support system for people who battle mental health disorders is a daunting task for me. After all, what do I know? I’m not a doctor. I don’t have a psychology degree. Heck, I myself work at keeping my black dog on a tight leash. What I do know though is that depression is not something that a person should have to go through alone. This was made even clearer to me when a friend who suffers from bipolar disorder told me about the dark thoughts that were swirling in her head. I sometimes feel anxious because I’m not physically there to help her. There are also times that I’d get emotionally exhausted at having to feel so much but as my husband pointed out, “When you commit to someone, you don’t give up when you’re tired. You rest and then you get back up.”

So I’m committing myself to mental health awareness. I promise to keep my lines open for people who want to talk about what’s bothering them. I pledge to set aside 5% of my earnings to subsidize treatments. I promise to be gentle with people who don’t understand what it’s like for people like us and freely use the terms “saltik, baliw, may sayad” to describe us.  These people suffer not from disorders but from ignorance and educating them should be part of mental health advocacy.

My sledgehammer is ready. Let’s smash some bell jars.

Mind Games

 

“It’s all in your head.”

How many times have I heard that before?

Just because it’s all in my head doesn’t mean it doesn’t infiltrate every fiber of my being. Many poignant pieces have been written by people who have gone down this route and each essay, poem, blog post, or whathaveyou has been praised as brave and authentic and hauntingly beautiful… but there is nothing beautiful when you are the one battling demons.

On paper, your life is good, you have a job, family and friends who love you back, and hobbies that should be keeping you entertained, yet there are days when you don’t want to get out of bed and nights when you think it won’t be much of an issue if you don’t wake up tomorrow. You are afraid to tell others because they may not understand and you just want to convince yourself that nothing is wrong with you. That this, too, shall pass. You get mad at yourself for feeling this way because other people are financially worse off but seem to manage better. Or maybe they are just as good as hiding it as you are. You go to Church, hoping for a miracle but you feel stupid and a failure as a Christian because you cannot seem to appreciate the life that has been given to you. So you keep it all to yourself until it becomes too much and it boils over to the surface. One minute you are okay, the next you are raving mad at someone for failing to get your order right. Sometimes you cry just because the crumpled paper you meant to shoot in the trash bin misses its mark. Every emotion is magnified and you are desperate for a way to release this pain from your body. You finally decide to tell others. Most of them are sympathetic, others not so much.

“It’s all in your head.”

Yes, it’s all in my head and that’s what makes it more frightening. The fact that it’s inside me and I cannot challenge it to a duel or a wrestling match or a flip-top battle.

Depression is real and ugly. I wish I didn’t know this from first-hand experience but I do. I’ve been there and hated every minute of it. I hated feeling powerless over my thoughts despite the number of self-help books I’d devour to make myself feel better. I hated dealing with people who told me I should quit being so dramatic. I hated not being able to tell anyone at the risk of being judged. I hated myself for being weak and ashamed of my condition. I was known as a strong, independent woman and while the rest of the world saw that, my mind only saw myself as a helpless soul chained by depression.

But then the time came when I couldn’t take it anymore and had to choose between my desire to live and the thing that was eating me alive. And so early this year I sought therapy. Some friends thought it was ludicrous, the idea of paying someone to hear you talk. A few even volunteered to be my sounding board if I just pay them instead but there is no substitute for a real professional. The money I spent in therapy was the best money I ever spent in my entire life. I hated the first two sessions because they brought to light the deepest pains and angst I thought were safely buried in a long-forgotten place but there can never be true healing without probing. With each session, I felt better and more in control of my thoughts and my reactions towards the rest of the world. My mind became a friendlier place to live in and I became more at peace with the thoughts that take place in it every second.

But it is never over. One simply isn’t just “done” with therapy because even though my therapist said that I was good to go, my work to choose more positive thoughts is to be done daily.

Why am I sharing this story? Because I found out that a former classmate has succumbed to her battle with depression and it breaks my heart knowing that someone so beautiful and smart and vivacious has had to fight with demons. We never went beyond hi, hello, and good morning in class yet I could relate to her because of her pain. If this post can encourage at least one person to seek help, then I have served my purpose.

People who are battling cancer and other illnesses are praised for being courageous but the world isn’t as supportive to those who struggle with mental illness. If you feel that your most of your days are bleaker than usual, I beseech you to seek help. You are a beautiful creature worthy of a happy life and no matter how you may be feeling right this minute, YOU ARE LOVED. I am just a text, tweet, message, or e-mail away.

10 Thoughts that Ran Through My Mind as I Followed the Twerk It Like Miley Trend

1. Wtf is this?!
2. Hmm… some of these guys are kinda cute. I wonder if they’re straight.
3. Nope. Definitely not.
4. Oh, who cares? They’re still cute.
5. Note to self, show this to Pao.
6. Should you really twerk like Miley? Doesn’t Riri do a better job at it?
7. Crap. I’m gonna be LSS-ing to this the entire day.
8. Okaaay! Ugly guy alert! Next video please!
9. If my husband uploads a topless vid of himself singing to this or ANY song at all, I’m filing for annulment.
10. I give up. Boy Landi, save me please!

Forever, For Now

 

There seems to be a mania sweeping the nation. Day in and day out, I see my Facebook contacts mulling over the concept of forever. The source of this conundrum remains a mystery to me. Was it brought about by a movie or by hours of sitting in the Manila traffic during rush hour? Either way, it is a concept that divides people into Team #mayforever and Team #walangforever. I myself have joined the bandwagon at one point, cracking a joke that my son believes “may forever” as he told his grandmother “Bebe hindi tayo maghihiwalay. Forever mo akong apo”. (It sounded like a threat to Mama, and she is still recovering.)

What is forever and why do we obsess over it?

A salvo of words immediately comes to mind when we are asked to provide synonyms for forever: eternal, endless, for always are just a few. But are these the really the things we pertain to when we sound off our thoughts on forever? Forever means exactly that: forever. It transcends time, death, mood swings, and diarrhea. It does not cease the minute your cellphone battery dies. Forever has existed way before you did and will continue to do so after you die – which makes the the idea of mortals going after forever a little absurd. We yearn for forever yet our existence remains finite.

Crushes, flings, friendships, even marriage, all these connections are temporary because we ourselves are temporal beings. The finite nature of relationships is what makes it more special. We plunge into a relationship and embrace the ecstasy and pain that come with it because we know it has an ending. This does not mean that we are masochists or idiots, this only means that we are human and that our mortality makes us long for that which is eternal. We must remember though, that the infinite is in the finite of every moment. We don’t have to kill ourselves in our search for “forever” because “for now” can be just as wonderful.

The Hesitant Mother

 

The world just celebrated Mother’s Day last Sunday and I enjoyed every bit of pampering I got from my husband and took pleasure in responding to every greeting that was sent to me via Facebook and text messaging. But let me confess one thing: I have not always enjoyed motherhood.

I was not ready when I had Josh. I was angry, depressed, hurt, scared – I was a lot of things but happy when I found out I was having a kid. Motherhood was something I had never envisioned for myself. My goals were to graduate with honors, get a masters degree, get a law degree, be a polyglot, and travel the world. I did not see myself saddled with domestic responsibilities. One moment. It only took a moment for my life to take a 180-degree turn. As I saw the two strips turn bright pink, I cried knowing that things will never be the same again. The entire nine months went by in a haze of crying fits and bouts of morning sickness. I was miserable. Even more so when I gave birth to my son after 10 hours of labor. The minute Joshua was placed on my stomach, I tried hard to look for that spark of maternal instinct but there was none. I felt alienated from my own child. I did the things that were expected of a mother – staying up late, anticipating bottle feedings and diaper changes, working while studying to make sure he has milk and nappies – but I did them out of a sense of obligation, not love. I thought I was a horrible monster to not be as attached to my son as other mothers are to their own children. Looking back, wish I had been easier on myself. Truth is, the bond between children and mothers doesn’t come immediately for everyone. I blame Johnson & Johnson’s commercials for feeding us with the idea that mothers automatically turn into Donna Reed the minute their child grabs their pinkies – that carrying them in your womb for three trimesters automatically ascertains your falling in love with them. In my case, it took about six months for me to appreciate the little creature who inherited my eyes and my temper, and another year to realize that I love him. The bond doesn’t always come instantaneously and I’m sending a big digital hug to mothers who are in the same place as I was back then. Forgive yourselves for not being the perfect mother that society expects you to be. It’s okay to feel sad, to feel different, to feel tired.

Motherhood is exhausting and scary, yes, but it also opens you up to the idea that no matter how long it took or will take you to get there, you are capable of loving someone other than yourself and your shoe collection. Prepare yourself for the toll that it will take on your physical and emotional well-being but also be ready for those times that your kid will you with gestures that make rethink their age. I was fortunate to have such moment this morning when my son sidled up next to me, intertwined his fingers with mine, and whispered, “Nanay, I love you.”

It may have been six days late but it was the best Mother’s day greeting I’ve had so far. Some things may take longer than usual but it doesn’t make the result any less beautiful.

Of Coffee Cups and Pyramids

The message came from a high school classmate I have not talked to in years. “Free ka ba ng Monday?” she typed. Thinking it was a message meant for another person I replied, “Wrong send ka yata?” She said she wasn’t mistaken, that the message was meant for me and that she wanted us to meet for coffee. Being burned one too many times by invitations such as this, I bluntly asked her “What for?” to which she answered, “May ipe-present kasi ako sa iyo baka magustuhan mo.

Just as I thought, another Multi-level marketing (MLM) pitch. I graciously turned down her invitation and resumed my office duties.

Two things can be taken from the paragraph above: One – I should not be opening my Facebook account while in the office and two – MLM is a pandemic that shows no signs of slowing down. I am pretty sure that one in three of my Facebook friends have been propositioned for a coffee meeting and perhaps some of them might have even been gullible enough to take the bait. I can’t blame them, these people seem pretty sincere when they’re asking you how you are and telling you how they are excited to see you after all these years. You might even enjoy the conversation, but then comes the sales pitch and you find yourself doing all sorts of diva hands just to reinforce that you are not interested. “But it’s a pretty foolproof way to earn money!” they argue. “I have not even been doing this for two months but I’m earning thousands of pesos per week.” For chrissakes do not, under any circumstances, give in to the get-rich scheme. If that person really has been earning tons of cash per week, then he/she should be inviting you to a steak dinner and not to measly cup of coffee with no refills. I do not blame the Juan de la Cruz who gets sucked in to MLM scams. Every one of us dreams of being able to pull in millions without so much as a sneeze. But you have to draw the line between dreams and reality.

Weeks ago, I was talking to a co-worker who said she has joined a lot of networking businesses. I almost fell out of my seat laughing when she said that one of the products she had to sell were special sanitary pads. Now I’m a person who hoards sanitary pads and I use three types per cycle so you can say I have no problems doling out cash for breathable covers and wide wings, but the product she mentioned was ridiculous. It claimed to regulate hormones, prevent pimples, and all sorts of stuff. Maybe it even prevents cancer, I can’t be sure as I was too busy laughing. On a more serious note though, the extent in which some people stretch themselves for multi-level marketing has gone borderline cult-like. My co-worker was lucky to have snapped out of it early enough but others are not so lucky. Here are people who do not care if they burn connections as long as they tell anyone and everyone on Facebook that their brand is the holy grail of health/weight-loss/skin-whitening/vagina-tightening products. They’ll even cite celebrities to back up their claims. Though I do not doubt that these celebrities use, and at some point, endorse their products I don’t think they do it as zealously as some of our Facebook friends. To be fair, the products these people are selling are quite good (hence, the expensive tag price), but the manner in which they are distributed is kind of shady if you ask me. Instead of focusing on selling the products, the heads of MLM schemes prioritize the recruitment of people who need to cash out for membership and training. Then, when they’re on the inside, they are also tasked to recruit other people who, depending on the program, may or may not contribute to the upline’s (recruiter’s) income. This system really perturbs me, what happens when they hit market saturation?

Is this really the way to earn money now? By being “exclusive distributors” and by building pyramids where only the people on top get to enjoy the riches? Should we dedicate an entire business program in colleges to study this format? Is it just a fad that will run its course or is it something we will all catch, one coffee cup at a time?

First of Many

My son just confessed that he has a crush on someone. I don’t know how the topic came up. We were just watching episodes of 7th Heaven when I suddenly felt the urge to ask him if he liked someone in school. A sheepish smile broke across his face and my heart stopped a little. “What’s her name?” I asked. “Or his name”, I added for good measure. He replied that the girl’s name is Zayna… or maybe it’s spelled Xena as you know parents cannot be trusted with giving their kids uncomplicated names.

So kailan ko siya makikilala?” the nosy mother in me asked. “Punta ka ng school para makilala mo siya“, he answered. Poor boy, he doesn’t know what he is suggesting. He went on to say that we should keep it a secret and I agreed.

Some secret it was, he told Aaron and Mama five minutes after. I asked if he already shared his “secret” with any of his classmates and he nodded his head… there’s that coy smile again. Drat. He told Zayna/Xena herself. “Anak, wag ganun. Girls like it when you keep things cool.” I advised my son. Just then, my mother piped up, “Hindi, okay lang. If you like someone, you let that other person know.” I looked at Aaron to back me up but he was engrossed with his tuna carbonara that time.

Man, I wasn’t ready for this. I thought he’d start having crushes while he’s in grade school but the heart wants what it wants eh? Oh well, in a couple of years we’re going to have “the talk”, whether he’s ready for it or not.

Oh, and Zayna/Xena? We shall see each other soon.

Ten Signs You’re Getting Older

 

I just celebrated my 28th birthday and while everyone was reminding me that I am two years shy from hitting the big three-oh, I kept a demure smile and told them that I still feel 23.

At times though, certain things remind me that I’m not as youthful as I would like my cells to believe. In my opinion, the following items are experiences familiar to people inching towards their 30th year:

1. You can no longer pull all-nighters.

Remember when you crammed a semester’s worth of lessons into three hours of rapid studying and memorizing? Yeah, so do I. You probably had time to party after the exams. Try duplicating that while you’re making a presentation for your boss and see if you’re not asleep after the first hour of cramming.

2. You get exasperated at kids who don’t dress their age.

My eyeballs immediately roll at tweenies dressed like twenty-somethings, forgetting that at one point, I also tried to pull off the party girl look while waiting for puberty to hit.

3. Sunday is becoming your favorite day of the week

I used to hate Sundays because they herald the coming of busy Mondays yet now I appreciate the sense of laziness that comes with this day.

4. Fast food is something you avoid as you can immediately see its effects.

Don’t you just hate that you can no longer eat a burger without it showing on your gut?

5. You forego the hip and trendy club for something more relaxed.

Who cares if they are offering beer at 50% less? Well, I don’t drink so this never mattered to me… but yeah, I want to be in a place where I can actually hear the other person talk!

6. You take more chances…

…because you’ve seen people your age die and you realize you’re lucky to be alive, you should be making the most out of life.

7. You begin to realize that your parents have their own life stories.

I went through the whole “My-mother-does-not-understand-me-at-all” phase too but now I am beginning to see that my mother has her own history – her own reasons for being who she is, for thinking what she thinks, for saying what she says. I used to respect her (grudgingly) for being my mother but now I respect her as an individual.

8. Your role during the holidays has changed.

The feeling of  getting excited over Christmas Eve dinner and opening the presents are now distant memories of your childhood. You don’t know exactly when or how it happened but you suddenly became in charge of cooking dinner and shopping for presents.

9. You don’t feel the need to read every book that is trending on social media.

Who cares if the author is being touted as this decade’s Dan Brown. If it isn’t your genre, you pass up on buying it and letting it collect dust bunnies on your bookshelf.

10. There’s a particular thing you spend a lot of money on.

For others it’s shoes, for me it’s perfume. It’s not about being pasosyal, it’s merely realizing there is one thing in your life that you won’t make compromises with, even if it means shelling extra dough .

The Ugly Side of Love

 

She looks at you from across the room, your heart beats just a little bit faster while you recall the lovely afternoon you spent by the seaside. A slow smile spreads across your face as she mouths the words “I love you.” Right that moment, you feel everything is right in this world… and that there’s no way you’ll love like this again.

Seven months later, you’re cursing the day she was born. This, ladies and gentlemen is not a story of love gone bad. This is the true story of love, with all its fats and trimmings. If you’re sixteen and still optimistic about the idea, do yourself a favor and stop reading this; you’ll just be disillusioned. On second thought, maybe it will do you some good to stick around and learn a lesson or two. Brace yourself, oh innocent one, you’re in for the shock of your life.

Many definitions have been attributed to romantic love. We have the oft-repeated slam book phrase“Love is like a rosary, full of mysteries”, the highly-clinical “it is a feeling commenced in the hypothalamus”, the cynical “It is the best excuse to make a complete ass out of yourself” (oh wait, that’s my personal definition), and the one lifted out of Antoine de Saint Exupery’s book, “looking together in the same direction” (mostly used by men who want to sound smart while trying to get into your pants). I won’t even get into the details of the different levels of love by Plato because this is a blog, not Philo101. What am I trying to point out here? Your definition of love may not always be in congruence with that other people. For example, I know of a woman who is happy even though her husband has fathered children outside of the marriage. As long as she and her family are well-provided for, she is content with the idea that her husband is a loving and responsible man. What may seem like utter foolishness to you is sweet, tender love to others. Just like religion, it’s useless to argue about it. We each have our own ideas. Don’t think that this is the ugly part yet, I’m merely reintroducing the basics.

After establishing what love is for you, you decide, or maybe not (good for you!), to experience it for yourself. Perhaps the warning you got from your parents or your already-hitched friends weren’t enough, or maybe you’re into self-inflicted pain, I don’t know; but you still go ahead and plunge into the world of relationships. Excited, you can’t wait for that first hit of love. As is often the case, you take the first thing that remotely looks like love and take it for the real thing. Sex is usually the main culprit why you stick around for something fake even when your friends are telling you you have the cheapest taste in women or that you’re in need of new prescription for your eyeglasses. After a while, you get a hold of yourself again, and you call it quits. It hurts, and you make a big deal of showing it to other people. They, however, aren’t sure if you’re really in pain or bemoaning the fact that you won’t be getting laid until further notice.

But the the gods are good, and you find yourself falling again. With renewed vows to make it work this time, you pour all your energy into making sure your partner feels what you feel. Everything seems so beautiful. The sun is shining just a bit brighter. There is a spring in your step. You forgive people easily, even wishing them a good day as they mutter apologies for smashing your face with their bags while getting out of the MRT. You feel that the moon is casting a glow on your face just to mirror the radiance within.

You insufferable narcissistic twat. Not everything is about you, as you will learn in the succeeding months. You’re in for a very rude awakening.

I will let you in on a little secret that rom-coms conveniently leave out in the script: Love is a messy inconvenience. Yes, despite the headiness that you feel during the first few dates and the rush of excitement that comes after finding out you listen to the same bands, you will still come into the realization that love is ugly. If you can delay this as much as possible, well and good. But once you stumble upon this revelation, there is no turning back. All the things you once found attractive in your partner become the very things you will hate his/her guts for. Then comes the make or break part. You decide whether you can leave with these imperfections (because if you are anything like the deluded cretin writing this post, you would assume that all  the issues in your relationship are through no fault of your own), or you can decide to stay and wade through the muck.

Love is ugly and you know what makes it uglier? The fact that you would have to go through crap like this many times before finding someone who is willing to stick it out with you despite your own hideousness. And even if you are lucky enough to find that person, both of you will still go through repugnant things that will make you question your sanity.

Why am I telling you this, you ask? Because I feel like finishing a draft that I made three years ago, that’s why. Also because I feel it is my duty to remind humanity that except for Meryl Streep, nothing is perfect and everything needs work – including you, me, and relationships. So whether you are posting “Single Is Sexy” status updates to convince us (more like yourself) that you’re okay with being single or wearing one-half of a couple’s shirt (in which case, I am judging you), please be reminded that having a Valentine is more than someone give you three pieces of Ferrero. It takes utmost courage to plow through the ugliness of a relationship to finally see its beauty.