1/10/2020

Losing people is hard. (Understatement of the year and yet it’s only January!) I’ve lost a handful of important people in the entire course of my twenty-something years, each one a different level of heartbreak. I think a piece of you goes with them wherever they go. Or maybe that piece dies. Either way, you grieve and mourn for it. You have to. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about my uncle’s death lately, how it made me feel so powerless and dumb. I didn’t know how to help him get better. All I could do was hold his hand as I watched him wither away. When he told me he’s tired and he wants to give up, I just nodded. Because I’ve been in this situation many times before and if my person wants to leave, I can’t do anything about it. I’m powerless, see? 

And so he passed away and it’s been months and I’m still grieving. I’m scared of holding onto people and letting them hold onto me. Because everybody leaves at some point.

I’ll always be in mourning.

When Self-Isolation Backfires

(Content warning for depression, dissociation, and suicide) 

I called it a “social cleanse” back in college. I uninstalled all social media applications, including messaging apps. Granted, I left out Skype (so my then-girlfriend could reach me) and other apps that allowed me to anonymously scream into the void (i.e. Tumblr, Reddit). But that was it, I told myself, that was all I needed. 

At the time, I didn’t realize how depressed I actually was. I convinced myself that going on this “cleanse” was for my own good, that it was for the improvement of my emotional, mental and spiritual health. (This was before I realized that I did not care at all for spirituality or divinity.) As I watched my relationships drop dead like flies, I told myself “Great! Weed out the counterfeit and the weak. I don’t need them and they certainly don’t need me.” 

I’ll be fine with what I have left to nourish. These people—my people will be more than enough. And they were, for a while—the idea of them anyway. It wasn’t exactly easy for them to be there for me when they had no idea how or where I was. Still, I deluded myself into thinking that the relationships I had were fulfilling despite the lack of true intimacy between us. 

For months, I was okay with performative vulnerability: joking around about how terrible everything was, attributing it all to college and our awful major, knowing full well that these people ought to be spending their time with someone who actually cares. I felt deceptive, fraudulent. The only comfort I had was that in five years or so, I could be their lesson learned, a model of what not to be, or if we’re lucky, just a memory. I was fine with becoming a memory.

And then my girlfriend and I broke up. 


I don’t know about most people but breakups can really shatter me. Bad ones, most especially, have a way of stripping me off of any sort of certainty and stability. That’s not to say that I didn’t know who I was without a partner; it’s just that I get confused about whether I deserved how I got treated or not, or if I deserved to have that partner at all. And so I’m left feeling so much shame for being abandoned, for not being good enough, for not being sure if I was ever even worth anything. 

These cyclical thoughts sound ridiculous in retrospect, but in my defense, I should at least know these things, right? It just seemed like such obvious things to objectively know, factoring in as well the amount of work I regularly put into learning and reflecting about it. But no, regardless of how hard I tried to fight it, I became so devoid of certainty that I couldn’t help but slip back into suicidality.1

So predictably, since I’ve pushed away every person who has ever given a shit about me and robbed myself of anyone to turn to, I attempted to kill myself. I survived, clearly, but only to emerge into this empty room only I myself occupy. I was still convinced that everyone else would have gone on with their lives without so much as a stop-by for my funeral. I don’t know how long it took for me to push myself out of bed and go to a clinic but I eventually did. That saved my life; nobody else did that for me.2 

Flash-forward years later and I find myself in the same place. Death and loss can send anyone careening. But now I know that my mental illness can be very strong and that I shouldn’t underestimate it. I am not well, but I work hard everyday to keep myself going despite the overwhelming urge to completely disappear. 

To clarify, I am currently not on social media. This has triggered a lot of feelings for me, knowing that only a handful of people actually give a shit.3 I feel a lot of anger and resentment and shame (my favorite feeling, apparently), but I also feel gratitude. Few people have gone out of their way to reach out and tell me I don’t have to go through this bullshit alone. I have never asked for anyone to carry me even as I struggled to get back on my feet, but I am no longer too prideful to let someone help pull me up. I have learned to be gentle with myself, realize that self-isolation is not healthy for me and keep challenging my depression’s counterarguments for it. 

Footnotes

  1. Which of course brings me more shame. I work so hard on managing my mental illness, on being grateful for the life I have been given/burdened with; getting suicidal over a breakup seems like such a defeat. At least from my perspective, regarding myself. I am aware that my self-loathing brain imposes double-standards for this. How do you force yourself to practice self-compassion? 
  2. I think it’s worth acknowledging. I did it once; I can do it again. 
  3. It’s also possible that my depression’s warping my sense of reality again, resulting to this black-and-white perception of other people. I understand that things can be complicated and not showing up for other people doesn’t necessarily reflect how you feel about them. But if I dwell on this for too long, I start calling myself a selfish bitch and invalidate all of the feelings I have ever felt ever. I’m the crazy one so I’m automatically in the wrong, right? God I told you it takes a ton of work to rewire your thinking patterns, and recognizing the abnormalities is just the beginning so have some compassion for yourself, you inconsiderate ignorant scum. (I’m talking to myself again, sorry.)

It’s Been Tough Lately

“It’s fine. I just need to let some stuff out. I’ll be fine again after this.”

It’s always the same thought pattern, you know. I wonder sometimes if I think this way because I’m too naive to recognize when I need more than a 5-minute cigarette break, or because I’ve gotten quite hopeful over this past decade of dealing with my less-than-ideal brain. Either way, it keeps biting me in the ass. I keep thinking if I do these small tasks, I’ll be back to normal again—you know, whatever my “normal” may be. But it’s never that easy. The roadmap keeps changing, and I’m getting a bit burnt out trying to figure it out each time.

The truth is: I am not well. And it might take a while for me to get better again, given everything that has happened.1 

Recently, I’ve had to make some decisions to allow myself the time and space to recover and I’m still hoping—waiting for it to pay off. So far, I think I’ve done an okay job at pulling myself together enough to keep a full-time job. 

And isn’t that all we can ask for from ourselves, really?2 

The other day, I arrived in Makati 30 minutes earlier than usual and my feet automatically brought me to the same café I had been going to for the past two weeks. That overpriced decaf coffee drink comforted me, reminded me of days long gone when I would go buy the same drink with my then-workmates while talking about our own respective bullshit (relationships, art, philosophy, whatever Netflix show we were watching, our bosses). 

Or maybe it’s the sugar, and how that’s been the only reliable thing I’ve ever really had to comfort me recently. That hasn’t really been entirely good for me though because it’s made me gain so much weight, to the point that it has become both my mother and my anxiety’s favorite subject. 

So I decided to cut down on that weeks ago. I went straight to the nearby park instead. 

It was really early so the sun wasn’t beating down yet. Perfect time to go jogging, I thought. But it wasn’t like I would ever really do that. Jogging was among the many other things that I wish I could do and actually like doing but never could. I like the idea of it, so I try it sometimes but I would always defer to walking (while feeling sorry for myself, among other negative feelings)3

I walked further into the little park, found a nice bench and sat. I then proceeded to cry, trying very hard to keep it as quiet as possible lest I alarm any jogger. I looked up at the trees and remembered how becoming a tree after death was the only thing that made me feel at peace when I was a suicidal fifteen-year-old, how that’s still the only thing that makes me feel at peace now, as a woman in her early twenties who should be in a better place but isn’t. I have been trying so hard my whole life to be like these city trees: a stable, comforting presence, indicative of humans’ remaining concern and compassion for nature, who has only ever wanted to live in harmony with other living things. 

I cried because I was so tired of the heaviness I’ve been carrying for years, because I’ve tried to ignore them and set them aside to please the people I love, because I’ve willingly let myself take another risk that backfired immensely and now I don’t know if I can ever be warm again. 

I cried because I wasn’t well, and because I feel a sharp sting followed by a cold heaviness within my chest each time this plays in my head: “When you’re falling in a forest and there’s nobody around, do you ever really crash or even make a sound?” 

The kid in that musical4 got better by the end but that’s more implied, I think. Who knows how he’ll be a few weeks, months, or years after that? If he’s anything like me, the pain probably won’t go away long enough for him to notice.

It’s inside of us now, that feeling of falling off a tree, wishing and waiting but also knowing that no one will come to get you.5

Footnotes

  1. Death, loss, bad depressive episode. The works.
  2. No, not really. Of course we have a million other things we expect ourselves to accomplish, maintain, lose. No wonder we’re one of the only species to get burnt out—aside from therapy animals whose burn-out we cause with our own mental issues. 
  3. Depression, amirite?
  4. Dear Evan Hansen.
  5. Of course, someone did come to get him eventually.

A Somber Note

Emails and letters are a lost art. Messaging is so instantaneous now, and that has its own perks but for someone like me, who likes to reminisce with “artifacts” from the past, long-form letters are still king. I like both the act of writing and re-reading them, feeling like my very own historian. (Peak narcissism, sure.)

The following is an email I sent to my friend this October 11th, 2019. I’ve edited out parts that pertain to my friend’s identity. But this explains a little bit about how I’ve been feeling lately and why I’ve been so MIA, so I thought I’d share.


Hi M— ,

I hope it’s okay for me to send you this. Here’s some content warning in case you’re not in the right head space right now for whatever I’ve written below: death, anxiety, depression, etc. I’m having a real hard time right now, haven’t really been talking to anyone because everyone’s too busy. I just thought it might help if I tell someone. I don’t even really need you to respond so please take your time with things. I know you’re going through a lot as well.

Please remember I love you a lot, and feel free to skip the rest of the email if you don’t think it will be good for you.

Yesterday, I had an important thing to go to after work. It was particularly emotionally taxing thinking about it the whole day so I gave myself a few minutes to just breathe. Like I said, it was important so I couldn’t go around getting anxiety attacks while I was there. 

So I walked ten minutes into a park, decided to fuck it, lit myself a cigarette and just stared at the trees. People in suits and pencil skirts were powerwalking their way to the nearest bus stop, trying to get ahead of the rush hour. An older man was angrily talking to someone through his earpiece; someone had fucked up with the supplier. A man my age was walking hand in hand with his girlfriend. He tried to kiss the side of her forehead and almost missed because they were both hurrying to catch a jeep. A woman accidentally dropped her shoe bag. (It’s like a big drawstring pouch for shoes. There’s a lot of walking here so people would opt to wear flats or flip flops when they’re out of the office.) She cursed “Tanginang ‘yan,” before picking it up and almost sprinting towards the bus stop. 

Everyone’s just trying to get home.

Everyone’s trying to get home, and here I am, smoking under a tree. It feels like everyone has a place to go — everyone knows where to go, except for me. Since my post-breakup breakdown (from my first job and first boyfriend, cool), I’ve been feeling like the loneliness I’ve been afflicted with my whole life has continued to grow exponentially stronger. It has gotten very hard to ignore. And being around other people just amplifies it further. So I’ve just been keeping myself company for now. 

It’s fine, It’s fine. I’ll rejoin society once I’ve fixed myself. 

It’s been a couple of months since my previous public crying session (drunk, beside a garbage can, outside a mall, no biggie), and since then I’ve actually been given what my friends have been calling a “fresh start”. I mean, I guess so? Completely new environment, new job, new workmates, new city — except for me moving back in with my parents, I guess. It should have felt liberating, and I actually say that to people now when they ask about how I feel about all of this, but frankly, it’s only a little bit of that. Mostly, I’ve just been feeling extremely spaced out. Detached even. I don’t really feel like I fit in with any of these pieces. For instance, I’m not familiar with this fancy park, or even this city that I’ve dreaded working in my whole teenage life. (In high school, I thought working in this city would mean me finally succumbing to the corruption of third-world capitalism. I was… weird, but I guess not wrong? Idk.) I’m not even familiar with the body I have now; it has blown up after cutting down smoking to weekly puffs and getting off my antidepressants (couldn’t afford it). It was all too much all at once and I just wanted everything to stop for a second — maybe stop throwing so much shit at me that I need to adjust to. I really really need time to acclimate because otherwise I’m going to break the fuck down. Again. 

I know I need rest yet here I am, smoking under a tree, waiting for the cab I called to pick me up and take me to my uncle’s wake. 

So yeah, my uncle died three days ago. Tuesday morning. When I visited him a few days before that, he actually looked stronger. He looked like he was recovering. But in my mind, I knew that it was that pre-death energy surge. It’s very common from what I’ve read. Plus I looked up his diagnosis and it’s fatal once the respiratory muscles give out. Although I’m glad I got to talk to him and thank him for all the summers I spent living in his apartment. He took good care of me when I was younger. And when the news about my psychiatric diagnoses broke out among family, he was the first person to assure me that I was loved, even if it didn’t feel that way with everyone else pretending like they didn’t hear anything. 

He was a nice man, liked to joke around, moved through life with good intentions. Even when life struck him down, he kept going — which is why it broke my heart when he told me, through weak scribbles (the tubes prevented him from talking), that he was pagod, tired. “Pahinga,” he wrote. He wanted to rest. My dad told me he pulled off his respirator the night before, fully intending to die. He cursed at them when they reinstalled it. 

I took his hand and held back my tears. “I know, Tito,” I wanted to say out loud. Instead I waited until his partner left the room. 

“Okay lang, Tito. Magiging okay lang kami,” I told him. We will be okay. 

I cleaned him up after he fell asleep, then left. A few days after, he was gone. We’re burying him tomorrow morning, near his father’s grave. 

I remember going there for All Souls’ Day when I was younger. We tried to leave early to visit our dead relatives but we underestimated how bad the traffic would get so we ended up arriving at around noon. It was very hot and very crowded; good thing one of our more wealthier relatives built one great aunt a cozy mausoleum, otherwise we would all have gotten untimely tanned. I asked a lot of questions as a child, and that day, I decided it would be interesting to ask my uncle about each relative minding their own dead selves in their graves. He answered each question patiently and laughed at my comments on some old-timey-sounding names. 

I noticed that some graves weren’t named. My mind immediately jumped to the concept of secret agents and war heroes. I asked my uncle and instead of responding, he just chuckled and led me back to the rest of the family. He then proceeded to tell everyone else about my theories, and to this day, I remember how hard everyone laughed. 

“My pamangkin talaga, so smart!” he told me. “Malayo mararating nito. (You’ll go far in life.)”

He always had such kind words for me and my family. In his eyes: my dad was the most hardworking man he knew, my mother was the greatest cook he has ever met, and me and my siblings? We were the wittiest, funniest, nicest bunch of rugrats — up until he adopted his own wonderful boy. 

‘Wag mo ‘kong kakalimutan ha? (Don’t forget about me, okay?)” he told me on the day of my college graduation. I honestly don’t think I ever could. 

Funfact: Those unmarked graves were actually for my dad and his siblings. They bought it when they were younger, when the prices were lower. They wanted to be buried near each other so it would be easier for everyone else to visit them on All Souls’ Day.

Tomorrow, one of those graves will finally get a gravestone. I think I’ll share a short eulogy and I’ve been trying to write it since last night. I hope I get to finish one in time for tomorrow morning. Right now, I’m just extremely tired of the rug repeatedly getting swept up from under me. This funeral is the only thing keeping me busy so I’m a bit worried about what will happen to me after. I’m worried I’ll fall apart and whatever progress I’ve made will be undone. 

I’m exhausted, I guess. Really, very exhausted. 

I apologize again for this somber note. I hope you’re doing well. I miss you a lot. I wish you all the good things. 

I’m in so much pain but I’m okay carrying it if it means peace for him.

Love always,
D