Writing

Today was a bad day. It was fine.

Today was a bad day. It was fine.

It didn’t start that way. I felt okay this morning, or well, maybe not totally okay. Maybe a little under-the-weather mood wise, like the threat of a fever before a fever: small enough to be brushed off. I’m fine. A little cranky, a little sleepy, but fine.

Dysthymia–the name they call my “baby depression”–is a little like if depression were a flu: when you least expect it (when you have no real reason to expect it, actually), it just…shows up. That fact used to bother me so much, to the point that I spent days picking myself apart in frustration: why couldn’t I just be happy? Why couldn’t I just do the work? Why couldn’t I function the way I was supposed to? 

Nowadays, these sudden bouts of sadness just annoy me, this reminder that I am feeble and human. But while I am young and still idiotic the way young people are (let’s be honest; at this age we’re stupid, but only because we have to be. Because this is the season for learning and honestly we learn best when we make our best mistakes.), I’m old enough to know that being feeble and human won’t change. This is yet another in-between, a sort of emotional second puberty, where I transition from boldly proclaiming invincibility towards acceptance of my inadequacies.

It’s not wrong to not always be enough.

Today was a bad day. But it wasn’t a dark one. I don’t like the weight of that word, darkness, as if clouds don’t lift. Like a cold, this heaviness comes and goes, staying for hours or days or weeks or months but eventually–even if only briefly–leaving. There are times you wake up with the flu. There are times I wake up in the morning and find am wary and defensive, consumed by a need to protect myself from some unnameable thing that will inevitably go wrong.

This is not a “place.” These are simply symptoms. I do not need fixing. I am not broken. My brain is simply telling me it has a flu.

There is no cure for the common cold: it just passes. I drink water. I listen to music. I message a friend–one I know won’t romanticize this, won’t let comfort turn maudlin–and we sigh, accept that sometimes people wake up with bad stomachs and worse colds.

I tell him I don’t want to be kind to myself–I would rather nuke this sadness into submission and why haven’t they made a Berrocca for depressive episodes yet!? He tells me, matter of fact, that I’ll need to accept that I have to be kind to myself, someday. Even if that day is not today.

These things do not necessarily make me feel better, but they make it easier to accept that I do not feel better. That this is what today will look like, for now, and that’s fine.

Sometimes I need the bad days, the way they bring out the worst in me, because I’ve gotten so used to pretending I don’t have issues that I risk letting it get to my head. When I’m having a bad day, the pride and prickliness come to fore, and I am reminded that there are still things wrong with me. That people do have to be patient with me. Eating humble pie doesn’t feel good, but then again I already feel bad, so it’s not like things have changed. Maybe this is what it means, accepting your human frailty: admitting that you’ll still have things to work on, and maybe you’ll never be done working on them.

I can’t work. Today wasn’t as productive as I wanted it to be. The heaviness I feel has me dreading tomorrow, dreading the week after, dreading the endless procession of days the way you do when you face the prospect of having to get up and go even if you don’t feel like it. But that’s life, really: not feeling like going and doing the thing but going and doing the thing anyway because you know you have to. Because it matters. Because knowing it matters means, in a sense, that you want to, and isn’t it nice to know that, in some small way, you aren’t completely a slave to how you feel?

Eventually, I will learn to be really kind to myself. Today is not that day. Today was a bad day.

But it was a start.

~aRT~

DISCLAIMER: This blog reflects my personal experience and is in no way an authoritative account on dealing with mental illness, depression, dysthymia, etc. 

 

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Outstretched Arms, or, My Answered Prayer Was A Gay Atheist

Flashback. It is college.

I–a purity ring-wearing, worship service-attending, raise her hands to praise Christian girl–have my first ever barkada: a group of pious Catholic kids who go to confession every week and attend spiritual formation at a “Center.” Despite some niggling doctrinal differences, I truly believe I had found my tribe.

Three weeks later, I am dumped. Somehow, by being my borderline-manic, socially-awkward, embarrassingly earnest, consistently tactless self, I manage to offend/irritate every last one of them.  In the words of the group’s de facto “leader,” I’d proven “…too much to handle.”  As quickly as I thought I’d found a place to belong…I am alone again.

I’d spent ten years of my life alone. Having gone to a conservative Baptist-oriented school where I was one of the few kids from a broken family (anger issues included), I literally had zero friends from grade school and high school. While not really “bullied” in the conventional sense, I was definitely ostracized, seen for most of my time there as a “problem child” who either needed to shape up or get out. Starved for human kindness, I’d hoped college would be different: here, I could finally have a brand new start.

It appears I am wrong. This is high school all over again, five more lonely years of floating and feeling like I have to apologize for existing, that somehow my very presence offends.  I spend three weeks dodging my ex-barkada–and my whole college block, who also have reasons to dislike me–and discovering every last corner where it is safe to cry.

In desperation, I turn to the Bible. I pray my way through Psalms–David is about as distraught in most of them as I am–beg God to not let me be so alone.  I do this for probably a month, until one day, as I am moping on the couch in the lobby of our faculty building, a boy walks up to me with what is probably the best/worst icebreaker in human history: “You’re a Christian, right? So what do you think about Leviticus?”

(Yes, he means that part of Leviticus.)

After offending what feels like everyone else on campus, by some miracle, I do not offend him. This boy becomes one of my best friends in college, the person who picks me up and swings me around when I make it to the Dean’s List for the first time. Who listens to my first (horrible) attempts at writing songs. Who calls my mother on my eighteenth birthday to tell her he’s buying me my first drink (a tequila rose; I discover I do not like alcohol).

After ten years of being a label, this is the first person who sees me as a human being.

He is gay, and at the time he was an atheist.

Before I became a Christian, I understood judgment better than I understood grace. Raised, as I mentioned, in an uber-conservative school environment, I grasped very little of homosexuality beyond the fact that “it was bad:” the sort of shallow theology that, if allowed to grow, leads to justifications of cruelty and violence, to concentration camps and mass shootings. Back then, befriending a gay atheist would have been unthinkable. It is easy–so easy–after all, to demonize a label.

But then, that label saved my life.

Yesterday was, I am told, the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (IDAHOT). A few weeks ago, in celebration of it, I was tagged in a challenge to rock rainbow-colored lips as a symbol of protest against violence perpetrated against members of the LGBTQIA+ community.

I could not take that photo, because I am not an ally, because as a Christian my stand is that homosexuality is a sin, and I cannot celebrate it. But, as a Christian, this is what I know: we are all sinners here. Jesus died for us all. And in that death, he marks us all as being of equal value

The dead in Orlando. The tortured in Chechnya. The shunned in Manila. All of them are worth the death of God himself.  The blood of Christ is the price of every single one of these lives we dismiss as “abominations” in the name of “religiosity” or just plain prejudice.  I can’t be called an ally, but I am a Christian, and that means I try to follow what Christ has to say. And did he not say this, that “…whatever you do to the least of my brothers, so you also do to me”?

This is my stand, then, that whatever is done to a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, it is also done to me. Their lives are just as precious as mine, and honestly—if I think about the things I’ve done–maybe even more so. I may not hashtag #LoveWins, or paint my lips rainbow, or fly a Pride flag, or march in the Parade, but you will not find me picketing on the sidelines, screaming hate and judgment.  You will not find me cheering in approval as my brothers and sisters are thrown into camps or shot in nightclubs or beaten in the streets for sins none of us have any right to pass judgment on. Sins that all of us are guilty of.

Once upon a time, God answered my prayers: he sent me a friend, and that friend taught me grace.  Despite differing beliefs, and–as we would later discover–wildly different yet equally intense personalities, he treated me with kindness.  In the face of inevitable arguments, and myriad opportunities to cause each other offense, he treated me with dignity and respect.

When no one else did, he offered me outstretched arms, and for the first time I was not alone.

I have no idea why we’re still saying this in 2017, but gay people are people. And God loves people, even as he hates their sins.  If I raise a fist, or a voice in judgment, I do not do it in the name of my God, because the God I serve did not come with fists. He did not come with violence. He came with an offering of himself, a baptism in blood that was for everyone, regardless of who they were.

He came with outstretched arms.  

To be honest, my relationship with the gay community is a complicated one: many of my friends identify as LGBT, or else have loved ones who do. I understand how my Christianity–with the beliefs that entails–can often feel like an attack, like an angry mob with stones in their hands ready for throwing.  “Hate the sin and love the sinner,” has been so often misused it’s been reduced to a meaningless cliché, so much so I still struggle to articulate exactly what I mean when I say it.  I cannot offer easy explanations reconciling what seems to be an inherently bigoted worldview with a promise of love and respect.

What I can offer, though, is this: Compassion instead of condemnation. Kindness instead of repulsion. 

Whatever happens, my hands will always be free of stones.

~aRT~

A/N: Because I know a bunch of people are going to ask: No, I do not support conversion “therapy.”

[travelogue] Coming Out of My Cage (And It Feels Just Fine)

A/N: Submitted this as an entry to World Nomads’ travel scholarship competition. I didn’t win, but it felt like a piece of travel writing worth sharing.

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It’s June.  The night is humid, glowing amber in the lights of Armenian Street.  I’m twenty-three, and girls much younger than me have done this before—wandered off at night in search of adventure—but I’d always been the “tame” one.  At home, they call me tita (aunty), lola (grandma). The girl whose idea of partying is having tea in bed after work.

Certainly not the girl who’d be rounding the corner of a graffiti-covered alley at half-ten at night, the remnants of a sangria buzzing in her blood.  But it was my last day in Singapore, and I’d found myself wanting to live a little.

Emphasis on a little.  There would be no shared drinks with strangers.  Instead, I was looking for new music, and Timbre at The Substation was supposedly the best place to find it.

Back home in Manila, I balanced a responsible, serious job as an agency strat planner with a self-proclaimed “career”—profitability be hanged—as a singer/songwriter for a rock band.  When my bandmates heard I was traveling to Singapore, they’d filled my head with stories of underground gigs with inspiring acts.  It was this promise that got me to wander a foreign city at the oddest hours of night.  I’d tried to find it in Clarke Quay, but the bands there sounded professional when I was looking for raw.  A quick Google search for “indie music gigs Singapore” pointed me in the direction of Timbre.  

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Several attempts at a cab ride later, I’m elbowing my way into the dark, open-air club, dodging a bunch of finance-looking bros nursing beers.  I grab a stool near the bar and, just as I catch my balance, there’s that familiar screech of an electric guitar being sound-checked.  Then, the mics crackle to life as a raspy mezzo-soprano (just like me) launches into the familiar first line of The Killers’ hit, Mr. Brightside.

Soon, it’s midnight. Though the sangria’s worn off, I might as well be drunk. I’m dancing in my seat, shout-singing along with those finance bros through a series of pop-rock hits. Later, I’ll notice my phone battery is dead.  Later, I’ll catch my first ever bus.  Later, I’ll huddle, scared, at a deserted taxi stand in a different part of town (How did I get here?!) until an off-duty cab takes pity on me and brings me back to my hotel.  

Later, I’ll wonder what possessed me to wander around at night, in an unfamiliar city. But, with rock music blasting from crackling amplifiers, later hardly matters.

For the first time, I’m coming out of my cage, and right now, it feels fine.

~aRT~