Spring Cleaning

My voice echoes in the two-bedroom house I share with my family. My husband and I are busy sorting through the stuff that we have accumulated over the years. Trash bags are piled on the sidewalk, waiting to be picked up by garbage collectors. Our dogs stare at us, wondering if they’ll be thrown out next.

It’s been three weeks since I’ve read Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and I have no plans of stopping my purge yet.

Kondo’s been popular since 2015 after she broke through the scene with her eclectic way of blending efficiency with shades of Shintoism. I have been a fan of the Japanese culture ever since I went to Tokyo for a two-week study program on Industrial Relations (incidentally, this was also in 2015). I loved how the Japanese people seemed always on the go but never forgot about their manners – even the simple act of wrapping an item bought at a convenience store was done with utmost respect. I was amazed at how much they got done in so short a time without compromising quality. And I was really fascinated at how content they were with their compact houses.

Flash forward to April of 2017. I was on the verge of a meltdown because I could not seem to keep anything in order. I didn’t know what was wrong. I wasn’t having an episode yet I felt empty working at the office and going home didn’t feel like, well, going home. Both my house and my mind felt cluttered. I’ve read articles about Marie Kondo before and her tips made sense to me, but it wasn’t until I read the book that I realized that this lady knows her sh*t.

Devouring the pages in a few hours, I immediately declared Kondo’s book as life-changing. I mean it. It’s right up there with The Stranger and The Bhagavad Gita. Some people find her pieces of advice kooky and obsessive-compulsive, and I can’t blame them. She’s ruthless about defining what stays and recommends saying “thank you” to what goes but this is where the author’s charm lies. So many of us hold on to things because of the memories they represent but that’s precisely the reason they’re called memories, they belong to the past. Expressing gratitude shows that you honor the part they played in your personal evolution and that you love them enough to be of use to others. .

The funny thing is after I KonMari’d my stuff, my husband followed suit. This is a guy who’d hold on to receipts and would wear ratty shirts that look like they’d do a better job of wiping up dog pee so yes, seeing him put his crap away was nothing short of magic. Marie Kondo got my hoarder-of-a-husband part ways with his college f*ckboy wardrobe. I am ready to erect a monument for her.

After we were done schlepping our stuff to junk shops, my mind was clearer. Answers to questions I’ve been ruminating on for days just came out of the woodwork. Decluttering has always had a calming effect on me but this time, it was more powerful. Decision-making got easier. It dawned on me that aside from my home, there were other areas of my life that needed decluttering: health, career, personal relationships. Perhaps they can all benefit from getting the Kondo treatment.

The best thing about getting rid of things that no longer “spark joy” is that it gives you space for things that actually do. So the idea of moving residences, quitting work, or cutting off people no longer fills me with dread but with a sense of excitement and gratitude.

“To truly cherish the things that are important to you, you must first discard those that have outlived their purpose. And if you no longer need them, then that is neither wasteful nor shameful.” – Marie Kondo

Sacred Space

“Let there be spaces in your togetherness, and let the winds of the heavens dance between you.” – Kahlil Gibran

This week had my social media newsfeed teeming with posts of love and togetherness. I don’t mind. I like seeing happy couples, especially those who have been together for many years because Lord knows relationships take a huge amount of patience for it to work. I myself have contributed to the mushy posts when I uploaded a photo of the breakfast my husband made for me on Valentine’s Day (just like last year, he had forgotte that we don’t celebrate it) and when I uploaded a photo of us having lunch together (though truthfully, it was more of a I-need-to-get-out-and-get-sunshine-because-this-weather-is-screwing-up-my-head kind of date than anything else). Anyway, I am not anti-relationship or anti-love for that matter. Are you kidding me? I actually believe that love is the only thing that satisfies the philosophical transcendentals Being in that it is true, good, and beautiful. Love is my religion and as Cher puts it, it is the groove in which we move.

That’s why it’s important that we go beyond romantic affiliations when we think of love. I like that Valentine’s Day gives me a chance to pig out on chocolates but I don’t like how commercialism has made it all about couples. If you grew up in the Christian faith, chances are you grew up thinking God is Love. Am not here to affirm or negate that, but I see the parallelism. If God is an omniscient, omnipresent Being then that is also how I perceive love. It is all-encompassing and understanding. It’s not limited to romantic relationships as we know great love can exist between family, friends, or even acquaintances who share the same wounds. It is not confined within the four mirrored walls of jungle-themed motels. It is neither self-serving nor is it self-annihilating. Love is space.

Sacred space. I believe in love as existing from a sacred space that can flow from within or in between relationships (romantic, filial, or platonic). It’s a tragedy that the line from that Tom Cruise movie has often been quoted without analyzing its negative repercussion on our psyche. “You complete me.” Really? Really?! So up until that moment you met that person, you have been walking around with a gaping hole oozing with God knows what? Have we really been conditioned to think that life is not worth living until other people decide to spend time with you? Mind you, this erroneous perspective is not exclusive to couples. We are also guilty of giving way too much of ourselves for our friends, not understanding that a give-and-take relationship does not mean you give and they take.

It all comes back to honoring your sacred space. Take the time to find out what makes you feel loved and try giving it back to yourself. (Geez, I can already imagine the masturbation jokes that will probably come out of that sentence… Whatever makes you happy, though.) Honor the space that exists between you and your partner. (My husband and I have long agreed that we aren’t each other’s soulmates or best friend and we are soooo okay with that). Honor the space between you and the members of your community/workplace/Tinder network. From that space, let love grow. Come to terms with your own understanding of it vis-a-vis relationships and just marvel at its presence. Celebrate it not only through an overpriced dinner every February 14th but through small, yet still significant ways, daily.

 

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.

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.