On emotional health, coping, and “kasiyana”

Emotional and mental health have somewhat been foreign concepts to me for the most part of my life, having been raised in a community where being emotionally delicate is dubbed as “kapoy” (weak) and the mentally-challenged are stigmatized. We are reared with the expectation to be always “taraki” (capable and strong) otherwise you won’t be able to find your way in the world, much less survive everyday struggles. For this, I am eternally grateful. I can confidently say that I was taught enough resilience and soundness of mind to enable me to somehow cope with the various trials and tribulations that have shadowed different stages of my life…or so I thought.

But human emotions have their limit. Like there’s only so much love one can give, only so much tolerance one can bear, and only so much loss one can accept to be fair. While we are all battling with the madness of this pandemic, I had to suffer back to back personal losses that set back my fortitude to the lowest notch. I had to personally experience fathomless grief and pain, not just once, but twice, to have full awareness of the decline of my emotional health and how it can drastically affect one’s well-being and functionality.

I had to learn the hard way that forcing yourself to be okay does not make things get better. I had to convince myself a lot of times that I am allowed a pass to be not “taraki” this time around. And then I had to acknowledge that I was undergoing the word that has never been readily recognized by the environment that I grew up in–depression. I believe that was the first big step towards coping, accepting that I am not vulnerable to this emotional state that is plaguing millions of individuals the world over.

Understanding the triggers to my emotional setbacks means attempting to accept these personal tragedies as an effort to reconcile with reality, no matter how agonizing it is. I find out that some days are easier than others, and I have no control over these much as I want every waking day to be better than yesterday. And there are definitely no shortcuts. I attempted going back to work after a brief leave with high hopes that sticking to my routine would establish a sense of normalcy that would ease me back to the daily grind that I’m accustomed to. But I was just not ready. This is something that just cannot be rushed. I realized that I have to be kinder to myself. That I need to allow myself to fully experience these tsunamis of emotions—repeatedly, and who knows how long.

Coping isn’t always a promising progression. One day I feel more like my old self, the next I just want to curl into a ball and exhaust myself bawling my heart out. But regression perhaps needs to be a part of it. One has to feel all these emotions, let them all out lest you burst or self-destruct.

Through it all, I needed to be reminded everyday that I was not alone. And though sometimes it works communing with just myself, most times reaching out to a kind, non-judgmental ear works wonders. Self-therapy, physical therapy, pet therapy, meditation, nature therapy, professional therapy–there’s not a single cure. I seek for that stalwart figure or figures to be my ready shoulder while being resolute in reconnecting to my dependable old self.

Here enters “kasiyana”. Loosely translated to mean ‘it will be okay’, “kasiyana” is that one term in our vernacular that encompasses an array of meanings and unspoken words of reassurances. It is like a big, warm hug, a very reassuring pat on the back, a firm clasp of the hand, and a hundred words that tell you, without literally telling you that somehow, it will really be okay. It’s a single word, but very heartening when one believes in it.

The same community that taught me and molded me with all these beliefs and values ingrained this basic but very powerful word. It makes me believe in silver linings. Because at the end of the day, with all the losses and the grief and the emotional torment, what else do we have left but faith. Faith that indeed, everything will get better. Faith that you will be alright. That you deserve good things after being denied some.

The first few times I heard my elders say “kasiyana” and implied the aid of the “adi kaila” ( the unseen), I never really bothered knowing if they referred to God, the deities, otherworldly entities, the cosmic forces, or maybe a bit of all. But whatever it was, I realized it was helpful to have something to hold on to. Religion, cultural beliefs and the values I have been grounded in are all crucial in somehow keeping me afloat day after day. These days it’s already an achievement to get through a day. Little steps. And it’s okay, because I have faith that one day I will get there. We’ll find happiness again, fleeting or long-lasting, it does not really matter. Kasiyana.

Finding the courage in accepting my vulnerabilities and limitations, much so opening and writing about these is actually scary. But knowing that being “kapoy” and doing something to overcome it—no matter how and no matter how long is I believe bravery in itself. I’ve been told by friends numerous times that I am stronger than I think, I would have to believe that. Like I have to believe in better days, in rainbows after storms, in laughter and happiness being so much stronger than anger and resentment, in delayed blessings. I have to have faith, because that’s all I have. Again, kasiyana.

Sunsets are beautiful. So is life. (Lake Danum Sunset, 2020)

Cry. Breathe. Repeat.

Who out there never had that sudden pang of ache when a painful thought, memory or emotion is suddenly relived? Because I get that, one too many times. But a feeling, whether new or old, is just one of those things you can just control. True you might be able to suppress it, but you can’t just will it away for your convenience.

A personal loss that caused immeasurable torment made me redefine yet again what pain was for me. And even though I convince myself that I’ve hurdled through the seven stages of grief, suddenly remembering this particular experience resets me right back to step one, like the tragedy just happened yesterday.

We learn the hard, long way that time has always been a friend when moving on. I stay positive that time will remain kind as I slowly heal. And that along the way, I recognize the silver lining why a tragic circumstance had to be experienced.

After this misfortune, it has then been my personal quest to prove my resiliency (for my own sake) and having a very formidable support group of friends, family and loved ones had been a huge factor towards this endeavour. Immersing myself in work, books, flour and eggs, and anything to keep my mind occupied have made the weeks pass by in a blur. Yet the lull that the quiet hours and nightfall brings still prove to be difficult. Those emotions are revisited. I feel those twinges of pain or during worse times, I get agonizingly unconsolable. It has been a process. Crying. Breathing. Again. But I know. It will be okay.

By Mom is Art


We heal and move on differently. No one can dictate how you should do it. It’s okay not to be okay right away. You are entitled to be weak sometimes. Seek out solace in the ears and arms of those who truly care. One should go by his or her own pace of recovery, because it’s all part of the process. Find your own way to heal.

For me, I reached out to loved ones to unburden my woes. I started loving my husband fiercer than I did before. I try out new recipes every week. I started to get my high from running and yoga. I listened to a lot of Avril Lavigne, I don’t know why. I ate tons of ice cream. I get ten times more cuddles from my dogs. And now, I write to share. I do what I can to move on. And throughout this whole undertaking, I try to seek and acknowledge the silver lining, understand and accept His greater plan, and remain positive in being immensely blessed with rainbow babies. Life is good.

A year at a time…

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A hatchling fell from its nest a couple of days ago and Dalifer brought it home with the hopes that we can nurture it back to health until it gets strong and old enough to fly that we can release it back to the wild. It was with us for two days then it dropped dead. That broke me. I grieved for it thinking we might have done better, or we thought we were doing what’s best for it but we managed the opposite. I consoled myself with the thought that it somehow knew we cared deeply, and that we tried.

What is it with passing away that leaves such a void in our souls? The chasm I still have in my heart almost a decade after my old man died is still as empty as it was that fateful day he left. People die, we grieve, and we ought to move on. But sometimes, no amount of toughening up, time and change,  is enough to say you’ve totally healed after your loss. I believe part of the misery comes with the regrets we harbor. The ‘what ifs’ and the ‘what could have beens’ make it harder for the soul to mend. Knowing you could have done better, done more, then maybe it won’t be as painful.

But we can only look back in hindsight. In my case, I allay my sorrows with the thought that I did not have the wisdom of age. But however way I look at it, there should be no excuses for me not having been kinder. And God knows I wish I’d been that–kinder. I wish I’ve been more forgiving. I wish I’ve been more compassionate and understanding. I wish I have been more.

I was not spiteful towards him. It’s just that I thought we had more time, and I knew time mended things. Time has the ability to make things better, and we can make our relationship better with time. But that was what escaped me, the fact that time was not something I had control over. It is not generous, it’s fleeting and we can only do so much. So now I can only live with regrets as I bear my grief, my loss, and my pain.

There’s truth in what they say that fate can teach you the hard way. And it did, I learned mine the painful way. So as I drink to my father’s memory today, I pray that even if I missed out in showing it, that he somehow knew he was loved until his last days. That to this day, I hope I made him proud.

Tintin the hatchling (yes we named the bird) was with us briefly before he succumbed to death. It took another bit of my heart away with his passing despite the short time we spent together. The bird flew to his final plateau. I pray he knew he was loved. I know we showed it.

But you, Dad, I hope you knew you were loved. Take it against me for not knowing how to show it, that will forever be on me, but you were.

Be Kind, Be Inspired

There was, or there were junctures in the past when just about anything can inspire me to pen a jumble of either nonsensical, profound or passably read-worthy thoughts. Riding a cramped bus, the feel of gritty sand cascading through my fingers, the sunset, or even just a broken pencil–a lot of things used to switch on for that tap of words to spew forth.

But when you’ve ridden too many cramped buses, witnessed so many sunsets and broken a lot of pencils, you get jaded. Everything becomes unimpressive that you seem to blend with the dull. I still tried to write by resorting to refer myself in the third person. I got my dog to do it. Imaginative–not.

With the monotony that I managed to accept as life, hours can be killed by drowning into my secret abyss. Tuning out literally and figuratively from everything alive that’s happening around. People in buses stopped being interesting and sunsets became monochromatic.

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@ Renfrew & Hastings

 But some things just happen to awaken the dormant mind. A stimulating conversation, waking up on the right side of the bed, that encouraging prod from someone close to you. Suddenly what seemed normal becomes engaging. Like this sign that I’ve mindlessly passed every morning to work for the past 202 or so days, it spoke to me for the first time. It had meaning again. I just had to see.  It reminded me that next time I get on the bus, I would offer my seat with extra kindness. Not that I begrudged before but this time, do it wholeheartedly. I can start with that.

Maybe if I knew music, I’d create. Or if I knew art, I’d Cezanne myself my own “Boy in the Red Vest”. But no. So I must write. I must revive the appetite for searching things which are beautiful and be compelled to imprint them in words. To remind myself that humanity is interesting and thus I ought to be kinder. And that every sunset is different from the one yesterday and that I ought to be inspired.

I can restart with that.

T2 Reverie (15th May, ’17)

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One of Mab-an’s many outtakes during our little excursions.

An airport is either the happiest or loneliest place. I sit here contemplating the obvious with a half-eaten, overpriced hotdog sandwich and a lukewarm cappuccino that would have otherwise been downed in a jiffy under different, happier circumstances.

It’s not the first time I said goodbye to family and friends. Been through this heart-wrenching process a lot of times already but every single farewell seems to be a first. You succumb to this dragging drift of misery as you question yourself yet again why you had to leave in the first place.

I’ve been looking forward for the longest time to 30 days in sunny paradise. It came and went rapidly. So fast that by the time it was over, I was in complete denial. Still am. Lugging my belongings into place was a harrowing, dreary task. I went through airport queues in a trance while replaying vivid images of my teary-eyed mother and Byte cluelessly yawning as I blew him kisses through the car window.

The whole procedure of goodbyes and reassurances that we undergo takes an emotional toll during the days or even months that come after. We know the heartbreaks and chest constrictions that come with it but we willingly submit ourselves to this in exchange for fleeting escapes from routine that is our life. We let ourselves be subjects to such arduous pain because we know it is more than worth it.

This summer’s indulgence with the sun as I basked around the love of family, friends and home made me reconceive that every single moment is immensely significant. Even sleep was a costly option as every moment should be a waking one. I literally bought a day or two more by rebooking flights and cancelling reservations. Time is pricey. That’s why it is meant to be savored.

I certainly don’t anticipate dealing with jetlag that involves eating rice meals at two in the morning and bingeing on cooking shows during ungodly hours, while reminiscing all those moments that I wish I could freeze.

So with the stoutest heart I could muster, I walk the jetbridge that would literally disconnect me from the sun and all the love it has brought me during the last 30 days towards the reality of routine, bills and adulting. Till next time.

22/09/16

Today I woke up feeling apprehensive. I’m a year shy of hitting the big three-O and I feel like the forces are mocking me today; reminding me of those long-forgotten things I jotted in my to-do-list way back yesteryears.

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Last vibrance of summer.

Bold and ambitious, I used to dream about globe-trotting, having a job that won’t be confined to a desk but nonetheless earn enough to afford me a beat-up truck that would enable me and my one-eyed St. Bernard trips to countrysides. I could not wait to skydive, win at a casino, make love with a dashing young man on a hot air balloon, do all things outlandish–live the life.

With youth comes the gifts of vitality, idealism and ambition. But as the reality of life starts biting you past mid-life, one tends to gradually lose these. Work, bills, slowing metabolism, and adding up to the years submit one into an unremarkable routine of waking up to finish a day that would more or less repeat itself the next one. The best things have become catching up on sleep, a new release on Netflix, clocking out after a shift, finding a pair of old jeans with buttons that don’t unexpectedly pop and those rare alarm-less mornings.

And as I am one of the unfortunate species with a brain that reminds me of all the bad decisions I made in my life before I get any chance to fall into oblivion during the end of the day, I often get to think about the current life I am leading and question every single thing. I finally succumb to troubled sleeps with a resolve that I would do something extraordinary the next day but then wake up feeling uninspired. I guess I’m growing old. Or not.

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Afternoon beach walk with Kaidu.

Everyone around me seems to be having babies and growing toddlers while here I am wanting to get another puppy. That does not make me forget that ten or so years ago, I said to myself that if I turn 28 and I’m still single, I would Angelina Jolie a baby of my own. Today though, all I could think of is adopting a rescue dog or cat at the local shelter. Interesting how the years can change you.

I catch Pokemon and give them weird names. I share the bed with my husband and occasionally with our handful Kaidu when he decides the sheets are not as tasty as bacon. I have not started to eat more responsibly; our cupboards hold a full section of food that have the same nutritional value as that of a cardboard which we indulge in ever so often. I’ve reached the age when jammies feel sexier than cropped fitted tees, and my idea of a fun night is  watching medieval war movies with a tub of Ben & Jerry’s. I guess I’m growing old. Or not.

Then there’s that guilty excitement of buying new cutlery. A house ware section beckons me more than a clothing department does. I like buying plates at the plate store. I like our salt shaker. I like the sound of our pepper grinder. My Amazon account boasts not of shoe purchases but dog tags and leashes. So adult. 

But although I’ve been independent since I left the University, I still have that urge to look for Mama when stuff becomes unpleasant. I guess I’m growing old. Or not.

Now I’m thinking of that way overdue bungee-jump (times ten) and that spontaneous trip to Machu Picchu. If I wake up one of these days feeling less conventional, spontaneous and impulsive, things might start happening, again.  And with newfound determination, I end this day. *snuffs candle out*

 

Pinay Diaries: Going Dorothy (There’s No Place Like Home)

Life now. :)
Life now. 🙂

It’s been a month. After making that fateful decision of starting a new life away from what I’ve grown accustomed to for more than two years (albeit not comfortably as I would have wanted to), I now find myself smelling like a dog, gaining more than a few unnecessary pounds, being a freeloader under Mama’s roof, and basking in the pressure-less lifestyle of the unemployed.

The ultimate resolution to come home was a choice that was spurred both by circumstances which I don’t have control over on and the personal resolve that I mulled over for countless sleepless nights. But I am not writing this to justify whether I made the better decision or not. I write this for the sole reason to emphasize that nothing will ever come close to the bliss and contentment of being home with your loved ones.

 For the past weeks, I’ve occupied myself with spending time with the family. I’ve devoted myself to the idea of making the most of home as I realized how much I have missed the simple yet irreplaceable joys of family and being home.

 Each day is met with luxuriating under the covers while the hairs of my ears prickle with the morning chill. Nothing says good morning better than the sound of roosters crowing and the familiar smell of Arabica coffee. The rest of the day is spent juggling hours among trekking, biking, walking the dogs, some house chores, making myself a bit useful in my sister’s shop (though I could only do so much), and struggling to steal internet connection that has drastically been evasive since I came back.

 Life back in my hometown has never seemed so busy and exciting. Knowing how easily I tire from routine, I anticipate my butt to start itching probably when I reach the second month mark. But for some reason or reasons, I don’t fear the uncertainty. That of which has always plagued me to my wits’ end before. The uncertainty I’m expecting nowadays has never felt safer. Strange, but yes. I’m welcoming the ambiguity with open arms. This decision has obviously paved me a blank slate so I could start with anything—either it be the most expected next step or a completely unforeseen one. Whatever the next stride would be, I’m sure it’s going to be awesome.

 The best thing about being back home is the feeling of security and safety. Being assured that your loved ones have your back, even physically this time, is just priceless. So yes, I’m not saying I’ve closed my doors to the possibilities of life outside my comfort zone. New is good. Change is good. Foreign is good. But not now. Till then, I’ll be very happy filling out my diary pages with how green the hills are, how crazy the dogs can get and how delicious ‘daing’ is especially when you eat it with your bare hands.

I Will Fix My Broken Pen

The Irony
The Irony

Confucius said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” I chose my current job for this main reason but unfortunately such is not the case. I feel deceived.

I realized that when I write just to write, I am happy. But when I write because I am required to, it feels oppressive.

This is seriously breaking my heart. Crumpled papers and broken pens (or make that blinking cursor on an empty page) have become familiar sights recently.

Writers have blocks. But this is not it. This is more like a flare reduced to an ember and then an ember that’s doused with water. Yet I refuse to believe that the passion’s gone. A true love can never be gone.

This is me convincing myself that it may just be the work environment. That the idea of being tied to a chair all day long while you squeeze your brains out for a decent write-up just does not cut it. (Not to mention other unfortunate factors and circumstances that made me break my pen. But that’s another story.) 

So yes, I am not contending the great mind behind the adage. Unfortunate, bordering to tragic, circumstances have just blown my writing confidence and passion out of proportion. But like everything else, this too shall pass. This too shall pass.

A Probinsiyana’s UPCAT Story

Dear Ole 'Oble' (lifted from the UPFI page)
Dear Ole ‘Oble’ (lifted from the UPFI page)

This year, approximately 85,000 to 88,000 hopefuls took the University of the Philippines College Admission Test. Though an alumna, I still find the numbers overwhelming. That is to take into consideration that  a couple and then some years ago, I took the same exam without the foggiest idea that thousands after thousands try to get into the country’s premier state university yearly. I did not know who Oble was much less the existence of the word oblation. I was that clueless and ignorant.

Coming from a town where it was more or less a given that  high school graduates either go to the nearest city or the province’s capital for college, I somehow expected the country’s Summer Capital to be my next home for the next four years or so. So three or four months before graduation, all these universities and colleges visited public and private high schools to bait new fish into their institutions. Those that required college admission tests even went as far as to bring the exams to a common testing center in the province, to save us from taking the six-hour bus ride to the city just for this.

I never really had clear plans for college. All I knew was that I’d probably enroll in a good university and take up Nursing because that was what my mother said. And I was cool with that.

I loved school. Strange as it may sound but I loved doing home works and reports and exams. But at the same time, I took every opportunity to get a break from school. If taking college exams meant a very valid excuse to be off school, I took all those exams. UPCAT included.

So yes, I took UPCAT for the sole reason that I wanted to have a day off school. That was how much of a numb skull I was with regards to making decisions for college. I was so clueless about the opportunities, growth, and edge an Isko will have with UP being the final step before starting in the real world. Some even enroll in review classes purposefully for the test, which I came to learn later on. Kumbaga sa Hunger Games, sila yung careers. And there I was who only saw the exam as a means to skip classes. But I guess all the ancient gods and demi-gods of my tribe smiled down on me that day. And yes, I probably paid attention in most of my subjects. That too.

That was basically how I underwent UPCAT. Armed with sheer confidence (or not), two packs of Nagaraya, and the bliss of skipping school that day, I leisurely took the exam and shaded those boxes without any pressure, and noticing every now and then that the proctor was cute.  After the long hours, I was just so glad to get out from the testing rooms and was excited about my next meal. I remember it was raining that time and it was hard getting a pedicab ride to the eateries so my classmates and I crowded around this sari-sari store near the school instead. It was chi-chiria and soft drinks galore till we had to take the last jeep back home. It was a well-spent day away from school and I never really thought about the test after that.

The school year was about to end. Everyone had decided where to enroll to already. My mind was 70% made up that I will take veterinary medicine in another state university. Then it was summer. Someone said I made it. I was cynical as I never received any mails (we live in the mountains hence maybe the delay). Days passed and there was still no letter to confirm so I went to one of the few internet shops in town just to check, (again, we live in the mountains and the internet access back then was close to nil). I checked my name and there it was. I was happy. But my mother was happier.

So yes, from Nursing to DVM to being a bona fide Iska at University of the Philippines-Diliman’s College of Mass Communication, that’s how it went.

A couple and then some years later, I still proudly wear my University shirts, I follow UAAP updates,  rejoice and cry with the

Kasya pa!
Kasya pa!

Maroons, I subscribe to every UP page on Facebook and hope to someday see my kids study in the same school. I would maybe encourage them to review and thoroughly prepare so they could get in as Oblation scholars (ambisyosa lang, haha) and not just pass the qualifying exam by a hair’s breadth like their mother.

To those who will soon be sharing their UPCAT stories, hoping the odds were in your favor during the  test and that such will still be the case for the bigger test after–once you become an Isko or an Iska.