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Saturday, March 26

On Sadness

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This is a series of stories that is part of my own healing. I welcome you to read along, or not, but I'm going to write it anyway. I hope you take something good from it, and I hope I do too.

If you have thoughts of suicide, please call 1 (800) 273-8255 to reach the National Suicide Crisis Hotline, or call 911. Please know, admitting help is not a failure. Life can be beautiful, you just have to live it first.
I’m learning that emotion is a spectrum. It may seem strange, at 28, saying that I’m learning “how to feel,” as perhaps it’s more fitting in the cognitive development of say, a toddler or child. Yet, here I am, learning.

It never occurred to me that sadness could be a slow, steady drip. Sadness could be a trickle of water flowing down a road after a rain storm. Sadness could be a babbling brook, the still waters of a spring.

My sadness seemed to me more like a rip current - moving invisibly beneath the water, waiting for a moment, for a careless misstep, for a limb to get too close. I could get lost in it, sucked in before I even knew it was there. And yet the movement of the current beneath the surface could be familiar and calming; a sweet and salty lullaby. And before I’d know it - body limp and hypnotized by the movement of the sea - I would find myself in an ocean so deep that light could no longer reach its floor. My sadness was a creature that called the underbelly of the Earth its home.

I am learning now that feeling sad is okay.

Feeling sad is okay. That’s new to me. Not quite sure where to go from here. Still learning, it seems.
Tuesday, March 22

On Choice, Loss, Grief and Dying - Part 1

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This is a series of stories that is part of my own healing. I welcome you to read along, or not, but I'm going to write it anyway. I hope you take something good from it, and I hope I do too.

If you have thoughts of suicide, please call 1 (800) 273-8255 to reach the National Suicide Crisis Hotline, or call 911. Please know, admitting help is not a failure. Life can be beautiful, you just have to live it first.
Certainly one of the more difficult parts of having been diagnosed with mental illness is feeling like I can no longer be trusted to make decisions for myself.

I find myself this afternoon thinking of my Mama.

I read Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal while on vacation in the Philippines. In it, he ponders the many studies done on the health and well-being of the elderly, aging and terminally ill. He proposes a philosophical approach to aging and end-of-life care. One of the biggest themes in the book is the power of choice. Through studies, stories and his own experience as a doctor, he finds that emotional well-being of aging and terminally ill patients was tied directly to their ability to make their own choices - their feeling of independence and control over their own life.

It truly is a wonderful book and should be read by any and everyone. I can’t recommend it enough.

At first, the book resonated with me as someone who had lost loved ones to terminal illness. Later it would resonate with me as someone who contemplated my own death.

My aunt was like a second mother to me. In fact, my sister and I never called her Aunt - we called her Mama. My mother tells me a story about how when I was born, my aunt asked my mother if she could adopt me. Whether this story was in jest, or whether it was real, I had heard it enough times in my life that I figured there had to be some truth to it.

My aunt never had children of her own. The cause was never diagnosed as infertility treatment was a fairly new medical endeavor and not around - at least, not popular - in the early 70s and 80s. Anyway, she and her husband divorced not long after I was born.

Rather than having my aunt adopt me, my mother happily shared my sister and I with her. We called her Mama and spent summers at her home in Chicago, with a few snowy winters here and there, too. She would buy us toys and sugary cereal, and when we were budding pre-teens, would let us watch music videos all day.

My aunt was diagnosed with uterine cancer shortly after I graduated high school. She was still living in Chicago and was undergoing treatment which included chemotherapy and a hysterectomy. I visited her in Chicago shortly after her treatment was done. She had lost her hair and was wearing wigs, but she was in good spirits - as she always tended to be - and was dating a new man.

She spent many nights out, continued working and traveled quite a bit after her treatment was finished. She had always been social and had a love for travel. She worked as a Nurse in management at an elderly care facility. My mother said her co-workers always knew that when she was marching down the halls towards their offices, she was going to stir up trouble.

She always had a way to get the things she wanted and needed for her patients. She was resilient, persistent, driven.

She traveled to Florida to visit us the Summer after her chemo was done. I drove down from Tallahassee, where I was living for college, to see her. It only strikes me now how heartbroken I am that I don’t really remember much of that summer or the days we spent together. I don’t know what we did. I don’t know what she said. I just remember seeing her. I’m sure my mind was somewhere else. I regret that now, even in the knowledge that I cannot change it.

Two semesters would go by before news came that she was in the hospital again. This time, the news was not good.

It turned out that the cancer had spread. It either went away and came back or never went away in the first place. The answer is not so clear. You see, during those months (or was it a year?) after my aunt completed her cancer treatment, she led all of us to believe she was in remission. I don’t know - or at least I can’t quite say - whether or not she outright lied, whether or not someone asked her “Are you cancer-free now?” and whether or not she said yes. Or maybe they just asked, we just asked, “How are you? Are you okay?” and she simply said, “Yes.” In that sense, I don’t know and can’t quite say that that was a lie.

Along with being resilient, persistent and driven, my aunt was fiercely independent. After her divorce, she never remarried. She was never interested in remarrying. She worked and lived independently, quite happy to do so, and traveled the world without trepidation.

In her cancer treatment, she chose to take the well-traveled path of independence and resilience. She mustered through chemotherapy and a hysterectomy with outward bravery and humor. In fact, she showed us her different styles of wigs - happy to try a new look after all these years.

At some point, the cancer either came back or remained - we’re not sure which. What was certain was that it had spread to her liver. In secret, and without the knowledge of her brothers and sisters, or me, she chose not to continue treatment.

She was heavily medicated with painkillers and bedridden by the time my mother got to Chicago after hearing she was sick, again. It was only then that my aunt allowed the doctors to share with her siblings that her cancer was not gone and that now, it was terminal.

My mother flew back to Florida, so that she, my sister and I could travel together to Chicago.

I was in Tallahassee studying for a Marketing final. I told myself I couldn’t leave because, well, finals were important - life and death for a 20 year old. My mother comforted me, telling me I shouldn’t worry; to focus on school, finish up my finals and drive home. We could then fly to Chicago together to see my aunt.

I even scheduled an interview for an internship in Chicago. I planned to spend my summer there, at my aunt’s house, while interning. I told the HR department that I would be there in a few weeks, and could interview in person.

I was fully entrenched in my own life, 100 things on my mind, and just trying to function.

The summer my aunt came to visit us after her chemotherapy was done remains a blur to me. One particular day, a late afternoon some time in April, is too vivid. I think of it reluctantly, though it persists in my mind whenever I think of my Mama.

I left my Marketing class - having confidently aced the final, and walked to my car less than a few yards away, parked by the campus Starbucks. I called my mom and said I was on my way home. We would leave for Chicago the next day or the day after, to visit my aunt in the hospital.

She told me to drive safe - be careful, and see you soon.

The drive from Tallahassee to my house is about five hours, if you go the speed limit. Four if you go 95 mph, like I routinely did.

Somewhere after exiting the turnpike, 4 or 5 hours after leaving my final, my mother called my phone.

I answered.

She said, “She’s gone.”

We were still on the phone when I rolled up to my house. My mother was standing in the front yard watering the grass. I parked, got out, walked up to her, hugged her, and we cried.

The next time I would see my aunt, she would be in a casket.

I didn’t cry at her funeral. I couldn’t. I just stood there. I didn’t believe that was really her. The color was drained from her cheeks. The light in her eyes hid behind closed lids.

I wrote the following things after her death. I will share them here now, as they are still relevant.



Loss
April 28, 2008

Death is a funny thing.
I have already grown accustomed to these motions.

First, the jarring, numbing shock.
Not so much disbelief as it is the inability to wrap your mind around how fast something so complex as life can simply cease to exist.

Then, reality strikes; cold and ruthless.

Then comes something you cannot begin to call acceptance because the word cannot begin to describe a grief so palpable, it falls to the pit of your stomach.

R.I.P.

I do not know how many more times I can feel this way.



Thoughts as they come
May 4, 2008

I suppose that I am selfish in my grief, convinced that another could not have loved - there it is, past tense - her the way I did. I am pouring over old pictures hoping to catch a glimpse of her face, hoping to remember the sound of her laugh or the feel of her skin when it was warm, pulsing, supple & alive.

I keep searching for something I might have missed about her hidden in these photos.

There are moments, surely, that I want to fall to the floor in a fit of weeping but I do not. I have not yet given in to this urge to mourn and only mourn. I'm not entirely sure why.

Somehow I don't want to. Somehow when the grieving ends, all of this will too and I will have to say a different kind of goodbye; one I won't say, if only for the unbearable finality of it.

[+]

As I watched you, I could not help but think that life cannot end here. In a box, in a room, surrounded by people whose names you have likely forgotten & faces whose familiarity you can no longer place. Life cannot end this way.

& all I could do was stand & stare at you & take pieces of lint from your shirt or hair. I could not touch you. I did not want to. I'm sorry.

I did not want to know what this felt like, this form in a box that looks like you.

That wasn't you.
Just some empty shell of what you were.
She looks like you but you are somewhere else.

A place I cannot get to,
one I cannot find.



Counting
June 21, 2008

i found myself counting the days but from what i am not sure.
somehow, i am here - is it forty-seven, 47 days? or am i mistaken. -
either way, here i am counting.

beginnings are blurring with endings, though i am not even sure either has occurred.

i am only sure that i am in the midst of grief;
neither met with its arrival
nor relieved (or otherwise)
by its retreat.

just being.
just grieving.

because this has not happened yet.

yet.

yet, i am in this place
here:
where grieving exists in response to events that i have refused to confront
in hopes that refusal might entice the earth to move backwards
might coerce the clocks
to rewind in sympathy for my losses.

but it does not.

instead the second hand continues to tic.
tic, tic, tic.
& the days keep moving.
sunrise, sunset.

taunting, meticulously executed reminders
that everything is moving, but me.
& that i can do nothing

but count.



My mother tells me that before she left my aunt's bedside, while my aunt was in a deep, medicated sleep, floating somewhere between the here and there, she said to her, “I know you are waiting to see Joanna and Kristine. I know you are in pain. It's okay to let go. They will understand.”

My mom left to meet us in Florida so we could fly together. My Mama passed peacefully into the eternal night while I was somewhere on a highway, racing to see her. I regret so many of my own choices in the years and months leading up to her death. But I find comfort in knowing she made a choice, too. In life, in health, in sickness, in death. The choices were always hers. There is no greater way to live than that.

I miss you Mama. Our love still remains. In that way, you live on forever, in the stars, in my dreams, in my heart. I love you.



Saturday, March 19

On Gender, Sexuality and Identity - Part 1

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This is a series of stories that is part of my own healing. I welcome you to read along, or not, but I'm going to write it anyway. I hope you take something good from it, and I hope I do too.

If you have thoughts of suicide, please call 1 (800) 273-8255 to reach the National Suicide Crisis Hotline, or call 911. Please know, admitting help is not a failure. Life can be beautiful, you just have to live it first.

Fun Fact: In elementary school, I had a fairly equal distribution of male to female friends, all of various racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Of my closest friends in elementary school, both male and female, slightly more than half (57.1% to be exact) would go on to “come out of the closet,” so to speak, later in life.

I find this fascinating. While it’s not an objective scientific study, it does shed light on my relationships with other children while growing up. This was not a conscious intention on my part.

I suppose I was fairly naive.

As I child, friends were other children or adults with which I simply got along. All I knew at the time was “boy” or “girl”; “old” or “young”; “nice” or “mean”; “engaging” or “annoying.”

Race was not a factor as far as relationship building was concerned, and neither was perceived gender. I say perceived because, as an adult, I know that biological, physiological and/or psychological gender is one that cannot be assessed on sight without further investigation.

As a child, I never played the “I’ll show you mine, if you show me your’s” game. In fact, I didn’t even know what a penis looked like until I was 16. So, as a child, if another child looked like a boy/girl and if he/she elected to tell me he/she was a boy/girl, I just believed him/her. Why would a child lie about that?

It goes without saying that sexual orientation was not a factor, either - because I didn’t even know what it was.

The naivete fostered quite beautiful friendships, I must say, as many of my friends have been my friends since a young age. I love them dearly. Hello, you beautiful people (should you happen to be reading this).

The question here, I suppose, is what made us gravitate toward each other? Why were we such good friends? What attributes fostered our relationship and strengthened our bond?

Most of the adults I knew were in heterosexual partnerships, including my own mother and father. I learned from observing the families of my friends that parents could be any sort of thing - multi-racial, single parent, divorced, re-married, adoptive, biological, foster, etc.

When I say I went to a diverse elementary school, I really mean it.

This continued into middle and high school as my mother encouraged my sister and I to spend our free time doing community service at local children’s homes and homeless shelters.

To me, there was no such thing as one standard for what a family should be. In fact, I knew very young that there were children and people who didn’t have families or did at one time and no longer do. Family was a fluid concept.

Nor did I get the cisgender (i.e. “gender normative”) social influences that some children (most children?) might have gotten. It was all a spectrum to me.

Most of my friends whose parents were still married had either stay-at-home mothers, or mothers that were secondary income earners to their husbands. My mother was the primary income earner in my family. She remained the primary earner until the day she retired. Furthermore, she worked as a Pathologist for the Department of Agriculture. She was a scientist.

A primary earning female-scientist-mother-wife was an anomaly in my observable world. In fact, only 29.3% of married women earned more than their husbands in a dual-income household as recently as 2013. Only 17.7% of women earned Bachelor’s degrees in Science or Engineering in 2011. That figure drops to 14.2% in Florida, where I grew up and where my mother worked. Of those, it’s likely that only 15% will go on to later be employed in a science or engineering occupation - and those are statistics for women living in this decade!

Imagine how unlikely it was for me to come across another child who also had a primary earning female scientist as a mother in the 1990s.

So, yes, to me, in my world, my mother was an anomaly.

Certainly it goes without saying that at this point Disney had yet to make a movie about a woman who was a scientist but also probably a Princess rescuing a man in distress living in hiding from his evil step-father, the King - who was jealous of his beauty - all while he sang with magical woodland animals and lived in the care of seven women with dwarfism who spent their days mining natural resources. The man, obviously, should be in an endless state of longing for a mate, preferably a Princess, that would make all of his dreams (mostly dreams about just, like, being married to a Princess) come true. (Patriarchy, amirite?)

Obviously my mother existed. Obviously other mothers existed. These were things I knew. I concluded very early on that mothers, more specifically women, could be quite literally anything they wanted to be - married, single, re-married, divorced, working, stay-at-home, Princesses, non-princesses, mermaids, humans, and the list goes on.

Quite a budding young feminist I was.

All that to say that my parent’s relationship was for the most part egalitarian. In no instance were they not equals. They shared cleaning, cooking and caretaking responsibilities equally. Both had jobs. In the one instance in which my mother was primary and my father secondary (finances), it and its significance went unnoticed to me as a child until much later in life.

My father was my primary caretaker and drove me to school, since my mother worked days and he worked nights. This was also an anomaly in my little universe.

I knew then that fathers, more specifically men, could be anything, too. But more importantly, I learned that fathers (men) were gentle, loving, and protective. Those were characteristics my own father had. My mother was the disciplinarian. Loving and protective in her own way, but disciplinarian none the less. Harsh, stern - a contrast to my father’s more gentle parenting approach.

My parents were not openly affectionate with one another. I can count on one hand the times I’ve seen them kiss or hug, and most of those instances happened before I was in middle school.

Though my father was a gentle parent, he was a far less delicate husband to my mother. He had, and has to this day, an explosive temper. Both of my parents can exhibit harsh temperaments when angered, but my father’s was and is characteristically explosive - 0 to 100 in seconds - and wildly unpredictable. He could be terrifying.

While he never directed that anger to me (and I mean, literally and virtually never), I witnessed a few incidents when he directed it at my mother. My mother could put up a good fight of her own though. The altercations I witnessed were primarily verbal, save for one which I won’t enumerate on here.

This affected me greatly, in ways I’ve just now come to terms with. My parents only fought in Bisaya - not English - which I could neither speak nor understand. I had no context to explain why they were fighting. All I knew at a young age was that they fought, and every time, it broke my heart.

My models for relationships, gender and sexuality were quite different from those of my peers. Because of this, I had little to no standards set for what sexuality in general “should” be. As a consequence, I learned to accept most things, so long as I didn’t see them as harmful, or hurtful.

A young Kristine knew only the following things:

  • Love was important.
  • Happiness was important.
  • When I loved people, and they loved me back, I was happy.
  • Love was always kind, gentle and accepting.
  • Boys could be kind or cruel. But the good ones were always kind.
  • Girls could be kind or cruel. But the good ones were always kind.
  • Both boys and girls could go to school.
  • Both boys and girls could get jobs - any job. I knew were male and female police officers, teachers, principals, doctors and yes, scientists.
  • Boys and girls, then, could be anything they wanted to be.
  • Families could be two parents, or one, or none.
  • Marriages could be happy or unhappy.
  • Marriages could remain in tact or end in divorce.
  • Parents did not necessarily have to be married.
  • A woman did not need a husband to have a child - I had friends raised by single mothers, and family members who had children before marriage. Even if I didn’t know sex was a thing, I knew babies could be a thing without marriage before I was 9.
  • Some children did not have biological parents, or they did at one time but they no longer did - they were adopted, or in foster homes, or in the care of their grandparents, aunts and uncles, or older siblings.

By about age 6, and certainly by age 7, I knew my mother would no longer entertain my incessant questions about why the world was the way it was. So, I learned to just accept things as they were, but remained curious - a curiosity that has yet to dissipate, even in adulthood.

Before I knew it, I had all the foundations that would later lead me to the following conclusions:

  • Gender is fluid.
  • Sexuality is fluid.
  • Identity is fluid.

All that matters is that you are kind.

Tuesday, March 15

On Race and Identity, Part 1

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This is a series of stories that is part of my own healing. I welcome you to read along, or not, but I'm going to write it anyway. I hope you take something good from it, and I hope I do too.

If you have thoughts of suicide, please call 1 (800) 273-8255 to reach the National Suicide Crisis Hotline, or call 911. Please know, admitting help is not a failure. Life can be beautiful, you just have to live it first.
I had a good friend of mine recently ask, “When was the first time you realized you weren’t white?”

I had never been asked a question like that before. I imagined that I was caught off-guard in the way LGBTQI people feel when someone first asks them, “When did you know you were Gay/Trans/Bisexual/etc?”

Invariably the answer is always, “I just knew I was me. I didn’t know that was a thing that I should doubt, until someone told me I was different.”

I grew up with one older sister. Most of my memories, though, are of me playing alone while she was at school and my father slept. He worked nights, while my mother worked days in order to split caretaking responsibilities and save money on child care. This meant that when I woke up from my nap to a still sleeping father, I would routinely sneak off the bed, and quietly commence playing - mostly with things I wasn’t supposed to play with like my mother’s sewing supplies and makeup. My most fond memories are those when I pretended I was a teacher to a classroom of stuffed animals. I taught them cursive - really, just one cursive letter, “e,” in continuous loops across a small notepad.

I was just me, and I never thought anything of it. Even the few times my mother would drop us off with a babysitter and I would see children of other colors (mostly white), I just thought of them as other children. I just wanted to play, all the time, as much as I could and I really gave no care to who was around to play with me. I just wanted to play.

I started school with Pre-K, which at the time was new. Now they have things like VPK, Pre-K 3-4, actual Pre-K, and then Kindergarten. Pre-K at my school was a new program and I knew this because my sister started school in Kindergarten, and I remember the distinction of having known I went through Pre-K and she hadn’t.

I went to the neighborhood school which was incredibly diverse. In my class were children of all colors. White, Black, Hispanic. My best friend in Pre-K was Pakistani. She told me her father called her “Princess,” and that was because she “was a real princess.” I didn’t believe her, right off the bat. Why would a princess, a real one, be at a school with me, a non-princess? My inquisitive mind would not rest. Obviously this was a pet name her father gave to her, and my 4-year old mind would have none of it. I let her keep her fantasy of being a real princess. I wasn’t in the habit of crushing dreams, at least not at 4.

I remember there was a small blonde girl, smaller than me (and I was pretty small), who could speak Spanish. I suppose this was the first time I tried to reconcile Race and Language. Why could this girl, who seemed in all aspects a white girl, speak Spanish?

I posed the question to my mother and I can’t remember clearly her answer, but it was essentially flippant - I asked “Why?” incessantly and by this point, my mother had taken a habit of her own: Answering my “Why?” with “That’s why.”

While this didn’t satisfy my curiosity, I learned to accept this white girl speaking Spanish as a fact in the world in which I lived. She was just the way she was, because she was that way, and that was that.

Only later, as an adult, did I grasp the biological and sociological aspects of her identity. Spanish people looked all sorts of different ways and non-Spanish people could speak Spanish. She was likely one of those people, of Spanish or Hispanic heritage, or not, and could speak English and Spanish because she likely grew up in a bilingual household.

Why does no one explain these things to 4-year olds? I really could have handled the answer by then. It wouldn’t have crushed me.

I just would’ve accepted it as fact, and moved on to my bigger concerns like, when is the next time I can spin for hours in my mother’s sewing chair?

(I did this once until my nose bled after having woken up from my nap, and I ran crying to wake my sleeping father. Imagine waking up to your child, shirt soaked in blood - my nose was running with blood for quite awhile, but I kept spinning. “Papa! Papa!” I cried. He immediately ripped my shirt off of me, obviously thinking his 3 year-old had stabbed herself or something. Imagine his relief, realizing she just had a penchant for spinning in circles and got a little carried away.)

My father was fluent in Spanish. He could speak three languages. Bisaya (a Filipino dialect), English and Spanish. So, I knew all types of people could speak all types of languages. Spanish people weren’t the only Spanish speakers, and not all people who could speak Spanish had tan skin and dark hair. Some of them were blonde, some of them were Filipino, some of them were Puerto Rican, some of them were Mexican. I knew this because there were children in my class that fit these observations. By 4, I had concluded that language was not an indicator of who a person was. It was simply one of many aspects that made up “them.”

I was me, and they were them, and that was that.

My best friend in Kindergarten was a boy. I would tickle his hands with my pigtails and he would laugh the hardest laugh I’d ever seen anyone in my 5 years of being alive, besides my father, laugh. I relished in this. We were great friends. I did realize something at this point which was novel to me. I realized most of the girls played with other girls, and most of the boys played with other boys. I just wanted to play. It struck me then that I was at least slightly different than most girls. I knew I was a girl. I knew my friend was a boy. I knew he was my friend, and that was all that mattered to me.

It never struck me that we were of different races. He was white and I was Filipino. He never brought it up to me, and I never brought it up to him, and everyday he’d sit next to me and I’d tickle his hands with my pigtails until he would laugh so loudly we had to be separated.

Kindergarten was the first time I learned there was such a thing as “boy” crayons and “girl” crayons. A boy told me this. I didn’t believe him. Colors were colors and this boy was dumb. I was 5 or 6, but I knew when someone was just full of shit. I colored with whatever crayons I wanted because I could and no one was stopping me - least of all, a boy I thought was dumb.

I also learned in Kindergarten that children can be quite cruel.

I remember standing in line for lunch in the cafeteria. A boy was behind me, and I turned around to him. He had taken his fingers and pulled at the corners of his eyes and said to me, “Ching chong ching chong,” and laughed.

I was perplexed.

What did these words mean?

Why is he contorting his face?

I concluded something was intellectually inept about this child but I couldn’t shake the cruelty of his voice or his actions.

Why did he do this? What does it mean? Why did he do it to me? Why did he think it was funny? Why did it hurt my feelings?

I didn’t cry. In fact, I rarely cried at school. I just took in my experiences with the heart of an observer, and came to conclusions based on my previous experiences.

This child was a boy, and I had a friend that was a boy. He was white, and so was my friend. Not all boys were cruel, not all white people were cruel and boys could be friends with girls, too. Clearly, this boy was an anomaly.

I wouldn’t dignify him with a response.

I turned my back to that boy, but in my heart was still a feeling of uneasiness.

This was my first experience with racism, and though I didn’t know it at the time, it was the first moment in my life when I realized that something else about me made me quite different from the rest of the children I knew.

That boy wasn’t in any of my classes for the duration of elementary school. Besides him, I didn’t experience much racism, if any, ever. I forgot, over time, how different I was.

As far as demographics were concerned, I was the only Filipino at my school, besides my sister.

In 1st grade, another Filipino girl began attending my elementary school. She had an accent and spoke Tagalog fluently. I had an American accent and could only speak English. She was Filipino and I was Filipino, this I knew. But I wasn’t quite like her, and she wasn’t quite like me. I learned then that Filipino children were different too. We looked different, we sounded different, and we acted differently too. Maybe we were like Spanish and Hispanic people; different with some things the same.

I accepted that we could have one thing in common, but not all things. And that was okay. I could exist, and so could she, and we could both be Filipino, and that was that.

I had many friends in elementary school. The majority of them were Puerto Rican, because that was the predominant demographic of families where I grew up. I also had black friends, a bi-racial white/Chinese friend, a gay friend, a bi-racial Puerto Rican/American Indian friend, of course my Pakistani princess, and I loved my teachers too - so I had old friends and young friends.

I was tested and classified, so to speak, as a Gifted learner so once a week I would be shipped off to another elementary school to attend class with other Gifted children. There, I saw all types of children who were advanced students like me and I accepted that all types of people could be “Gifted.”

I just wanted to be with friends. Nothing else really mattered to me.

It wasn’t until middle school when I realized what race was and that it was a thing people used to be divisive.

Sunday, March 13

And So, Love Remained.

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I spent a moment, reliving my own life, reading my own words, and traveling back to the moments that seemed all encompassing.

Such beauty was there. I lived each moment trying to capture it, like wild fireflies dancing in the night - and me, a wide eyed child chasing after them, breathless, suspended in joy, and hoping I could keep them forever, locked in a jar.

Then, silence. And I disappeared for awhile.

I didn’t want to write the ugly things. I did not want the ugly things to be real.

Should ugliness be real, beautiful dreams - the selfish dreams, the unrelenting desire, the incessant hunger, the yearning for light - all the dreams were really dead. They sighed to me, one last breath before defeat.

The dark called out to me, stripped of dreams, clinging to hope - it grabbed my arms, shook my being, and yelled into my face “I exist, too.”

And I ignored it for awhile.

I fought the dark and refused to surrender.

I traveled across the world, on a search for myself and for beautiful things. You see, I was so sure that I - me, the one that dreamt, and believed in beauty - still existed. I was so sure beautiful things were real - more real I suppose, than anything else, because you see, “beautiful” I could feel and darkness, ugliness, the cold silence of the pitch black night, I had managed not to feel for what seemed like a long time.

And I thought I had won.

Grief.

Grief happened. And so too, mourning came to rear its head. And I felt guilty, because I didn’t think the grief was mine to have. And maybe it wasn’t, and maybe it still isn’t, but I still cried, and I felt the break - the pieces of me, the pieces of him, the pieces of all of us - I felt us break. And I knew I couldn’t ignore it anymore.

So I traveled across the world, holding onto scraps of who I could’ve been, hoping I could be that person again.

I saw my aunt while I was there. The marble tile of her grave glistened in the hot tropical sun. And I cried for her, for the first time, after nine years of denying myself a chance to say good bye. You see, at some point I had convinced myself that death was just a concept. Yes, we all die, but so? Where do you go? And who are you when you’re gone? And what of your skin, bones, beating heart, dreaming mind, aching soul? Where do they go? Who are they? What do they become?

And I left that question, in front of my aunt’s casket, so many years ago, and I told myself it didn’t matter - because that wasn’t her. And I wouldn’t cry.

But what I didn’t understand at the time - what I probably don’t understand now - is that loss reverberates. It ripples through the waters, chipping away at those of us who thought we could bottle up light, and keep it forever.

But I still loved her.

So love remained.

I thought about returning to the Earth. Our bodies turning to dust, and the Earth living on.

I thought about my own death, and the ones who went before me. And I looked over my grandmother’s land in the soft daylight of a rising sun. And I thought, how beautiful this is, to return to this, this beautiful place on which many hopes and dreams had passed through the night. So too, many hopes and dreams withered away here, and life, it still remained.

Did it remain because we loved it? Did life cling to this land because there was love there?

I met a woman who knew my mother, my aunt, and all their brothers. Her wrinkled skin and silver white hair, and still, a light in her eyes. She could laugh and she could dance, and she seemed to love me I think. She didn’t know me, she had never met me, and she seemed to love me still.

And I wondered, how did love remain?

Over decades, over oceans, over war and fear and dark. Over rolling mountains, and endless seas. Over life and time and all that passses us - how did love remain?

I laid awake. And I let life happen before me. And I refused to dream. You see, life was like a dream. I had felt love - I was sure. And I had felt loss. Yes. But for a moment, loss, the reverberating sound of love passing in the night, seemed like the only real thing.

And then, I lost myself. Love, lost. And I lost.

And for a moment, darkness won.

I begged, for days, for nights, for sleepless, endless, dreamless nights. I begged the dark to let light exist too. And I couldn’t eat. My body felt empty - physically, mentally, emotionally - empty. I leapt into the void, and I felt it, because - I don’t know why - a hopeless, dreamless, sleepless me wanted to know the void for what it was.

So I looked into it’s wretched face and I dared it to overtake me. I dared it to reduce me into nothing, so that I could see, what would remain when it was all stripped away?

And many days passed. And many nights, I struggled to sleep. And then the days blurred with the nights, my watch stopped ticking, and so did I.

Awake I stayed. Naively, I reasoned with the dark. And I begged again, please let light exist.

And after four days, the dark convinced me that I didn’t exist. It told me nothing was real, not even me, not my life, and not the things I loved.

And I broke. The darkness broke me. And I cried. My body shook, my breath fell empty, my eyes begged to close, and I did all but scream so to not wake my sleeping husband.

And then I remembered. I remembered how much I loved him. I remembered how he filled all my darkness with his light. I remembered how he pieced together a me that was broken - not quite like this - but he did. He picked up the broken pieces, of a poor child that wanted love to be real. And he looked into my crying eyes, and I remembered he said, “I love you.” And I remembered, how once I had confessed all the dark ugly things to this beautiful person, and I felt vulnerable and feared he would be scared. I remembered laying in bed with him, years ago, crying, telling him the dark and ugly things, and we sat in silence.

And still, he looked at me, and said, “I love you.”

And love, remained.

I knew then, the dark was real. I knew in that moment that the void had pulled me in. But in the void, love cannot exist. And I knew then, it was because love was bigger. And love was stronger. And love could outlive even death itself.

And I knew, sleeping peacefully in our bed on the other side of a bathroom door, laid a man, a real one of flesh and bone, who dreamed still, and hoped still, and believed life could really be good. And I knew he was real.

And I knew our love was real, too.

Even if I wasn’t real, even if nothing was, I knew. Even in the dark, in the endless void that stole my dreams, I knew.

And I laid there, empty. Body empty. Heart, broken. And I accepted Love could be real.



I woke up, as myself, almost three days later. Fed, rested, yes, medicated too.

And I called my husband, from a hospital phone, and I told him I loved him. And I smiled for the first time, in a very long time. And I heard his voice say, “I love you, too.”

And our love remained. So I did, too.
Saturday, March 12

I Think I’m Ready to Talk About the Philippines

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This is a series of stories that is part of my own healing. I welcome you to read along, or not, but I'm going to write it anyway. I hope you take something good from it, and I hope I do too.

If you have thoughts of suicide, please call 1 (800) 273-8255 to reach the National Suicide Crisis Hotline, or call 911. Please know, admitting help is not a failure. Life can be beautiful, you just have to live it first.

This post might also be titled “I Write in Tangents So Thank You for Reading” and “I’m Pretty Sure This Makes Sense, but Probably Not.”

Hi, Hello, How are you today? I hope you’ve made good choices.

A few things coalesced at a very pivotal moment in my life. A perfect storm, so to speak.

In nine days, I will be celebrating my one year wedding anniversary with my amazing husband. Our wedding was truly a dream made real. I had never felt so surrounded by love in the way that I had when we stood together and exchanged our vows, seeming to me as if we were the only two people in the entire Universe. I was loved, I was love, we were love together. I truly felt infinite.

In these last 365 days, we have been lost in the rapturous ecstasy of being newlyweds while precariously gripping a swinging pendulum of emotions. Such is Life bound inextricably with Time. We celebrated new beginnings with our many friends and their growing families, mourned and drowned in grief from a devastating and unexpected loss, celebrated new opportunities in the professional life of my husband and on a personal level, I have been dealing with the declining health of my own father, stress from changes at work and contemplating making a career change.

(For a more poetic and eloquent recollection of the last year, this is a wonderful post that truly captures my mindset at the time, and a mindset that presently persists.)

I felt a personal pressure to embrace being a wife, and head enthusiastically in the direction of becoming a mother. After being off of birth control for more than a year, and still - if you haven’t already noticed - no baby to speak of despite plenty of characteristically newlywed effort on our part (a lot of sex), I cried over things I didn’t have to begin with because on some level, I had felt my body was failing me.

I was/am slowly encroaching upon a new decade, my 30s, by which I thought I would certainly own a house, have a baby, be making six figures, and loving everything that I was.

Wow.

Life is sure full of surprises.

I was angry, devastated, bitter that life did not turn out the way I thought it would. I was a newlywed and fully expected for this year to be full of nothing but joy. Joy was here, yes. But so was Grief, Devastation, Failure, and their friendly cousin Darkness.

Instead of diving head first into the joyful ecstasy of love, I was drowning in a dark cloud of depression and anxiety and taking it out on everything around me, and myself.

I suppose I was primed for an all encompassing and cataclysmic existential crisis that would, as is my nature, present itself in a paralyzing panic attack that would result in a full psychotic break.

And then I went to the Philippines.

Only now am I able to reflect with a clear head (as clear as someone can be and also hear voices) the mental and emotional state I was in when I embarked on a trip to discover my ancestral homeland.

Up until this point, I was so sure of who I was. I was Kristine. I was headstrong and stubborn, a dreamer, a lover, artistic, poetic, thoughtful, empathetic and passionate. All of those things, in extremes and to a fault, but I didn’t care. I was me and, as Kristine would say, fuck it to the haters ‘cause I’m gonna do me.

Me.

I wasn’t aware how malleable of a creature “Me” truly was. I forgot I was human. In many ways, I thought I was invincible.

I had all the gall of a warrior heading into battle having only weighed the consequences of victory, never giving thought that maybe I would fail. I wasn’t afraid of death. That is a fact. I wasn’t a thrill seeker - I didn’t seek to do things that might bring about an untimely end, but I wasn’t afraid. I was determined to live life with a blissfully ignorant vigor. Death be damned if I should ever meet him. In fact, I was sure I’d met him before, at 17 standing alone in my kitchen contemplating which pills in the cabinet would usher him closer to me without inviting pain. Well, I was 28 now, and I thought I’d beaten him.

And so, I wasn’t afraid.

I wasn’t aware that I had never truly felt fear of death. Fear of death is real my friends. And it is an ugly beast.



I want to pause and describe to you what it’s like to contemplate your own death because it’s quite different from being fearful. I want to preface this by saying that these are my own thoughts, and I acknowledge you, all of you, who have either thought these things or not, and say that our experiences may be different, but maybe they are not and so, I hope you don’t feel so alone. Please, if you do feel alone, know that you are not. Do not be afraid to call for help. Saying “Help” is what saved my life. There is hope. Do not give up.



Suicide is a double edged sword. Death and loss is deeply upsetting. When a person ends their own life, it sheds light on what was perhaps a deeply upsetting life too. There is a sadness there that is unimaginable to many. It is a sadness that no longer feels like sadness. It no longer feels like anything. It is a darkness so deep that nothing can illuminate it. A heart so broken into such tiny pieces that there is hardly any hope of piecing it back together.

All that remains in that dark space is the thought that an end might be release. The darkness is so suffocating, that the idea of no longer needing to breathe seems like heaven in a relentless, unrepentant hell.

To the onlooker, it seems an act of cowardice. Selfishness.

In my own thoughts, I had often felt the onlookers would do better without me. My darkness was a magnetic monster, a black hole in which nothing was reduced even further to nonexistence, a gravitational pull that would suck in and annihilate anyone that came too close. In that sense, my death was merciful. To me, to the onlookers, to everyone who would never have to know me.

My Sadness had two edges, equally sharp and equally dangerous, and when gazed upon too long, became an irresistable Siren - hypnotizing and pulling me sweetly to a deep sea that knew nothing else but to drown me.

That is suicide. That is the difference between contemplating death and fearing death. Fear is a fence that keeps out a rabid dog. Contemplation is a sweet song you learn to love, even when that love turns rabid, sinking its foaming teeth into your fragile skin and feasting on your weakened flesh.

So yea, those were the thoughts brewing in my 17 year old mind, that day that I defeated death (or so it seemed). I didn’t know then that death could be terrifying, especially when you desperately want to live.

Despite this past year being tumultuous, it still remained that the Me that left for the Philippines wanted to be alive. I wanted to breathe and love and dream. What was it to be Alive? What was it to Live? What dreams could become real? What did I love? Could I manifest that into a reality worth living? Could I really feel alive? Could I really want to live?

And then I went to the Philippines.

And maybe I’ll tell the rest of that story on another day. I’m tired of writing for today, and realizing there is still so much to write, so many more stories yet to tell.
Wednesday, March 9

Dear Mr. Sanders

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I want to take a moment to tell you why I’m voting for you.

All of us are given choices.

None of us chose to be born. We did not get to choose to be descended from slaves. We did not choose to be descended from colonialism. We did not choose to be descended from people, cultures, tribes who were wiped from the face of the Earth. We did not choose to be descended from immigrants. We did not choose, yet we, these descendants, are the fabric of America.

Me, here, now - I choose this. I could have left here, years ago. I could have started a new life in another land far away. I could have chosen a new path. I am so acutely aware of what a privilege this is.

My mother left the Philippines and landed in Honolulu, Hawaii in February 1980, with $20 in her pocket and a dream. Her mother, my grandmother was forbidden by her father - my great grandfather - to go to school. Why, after all, should she and her sisters need an education? My grandmother was resilient. She moved south to Mindanao, to a small town called Tampakan. She purchased land and farmed it. She raised seven kids, without her husband. He died when my mother was 9. And yet, she carried on. She instilled in my mother the same resilience and planted in her the same seed that would someday grow into a grand dream.

My mother did not choose to be descended from farmers. But my mother, resilient as she was, chose to live. She chose to be alive.

So, she left the Philippines, she left the only place she’d known, in search of something better. And she came here, because this was where “something better” could really be. A dream could be real here. $20 and a dream. A dream of something better, a dream of a better life, a dream to be alive.

Seven years later, in November of 1987, I was born. I grew up believing the American Dream was real. Anyone could have it, if you wanted it bad enough. If you were willing to work hard, do well in school, if you were willing to try your best, there was nothing you couldn’t do.

So, I did. I graduated college in 2009, one year early, with my Bachelor’s degree, three internships under my belt, and writing as a freelance editor for a fashion blog in San Francisco. As you know, the Spring of 2009 was probably not a great time to enter the job market. I was unemployed for nine months, and took a job - a contracted position - across the country for the equivalent of $18,000 a year. Minus taxes, I was expected to live on the equivalent of $12,000 in a vibrant metropolis. I was overworked and underpaid, and quit. I was so unhappy, it almost killed me.

And still, I believed.

I learned a vocational trade and was successful. I could support myself and I enjoyed what I did.

But this job did not afford me health insurance. Neither did my last job. In fact, I had been without health insurance - save for a few months when I took a job at the mall to make ends meet - since 2009. Because of a lack of insurance, I like many Americans left illnesses untreated. It was a choice between food and treatment, and I, like many others, chose food. Only now, am I aware that I had severe mental illness left undiagnosed and untreated, for what I can only approximate to be 15 years.

I only now have health insurance because I found a wonderful man who would become my husband. I love him. He makes me happy.

Together, we are navigating the complicated maze that is our healthcare system, in an effort to continue the lifesaving treatment given to me at a local hospital just less than one month ago.

And still one thing remains.

I am several tens of thousands of dollars in debt having pursued education in the belief that it would lead to gainful employment. I now have hospital bills to treat mental illness that perhaps would not have reached the severity it has, had it been diagnosed at its first onset 10-15 years ago. I live with a stigma everyday from those who don’t believe mental illness is real. We are working middle class Americans, my husband and I. We are educated, employed, insured. I still have yet to find a psychiatric facility that will evaluate my condition in order to continue lifesaving treatment.

Mr. Sanders, this was not my American Dream.

And yet, I still believe.

We do not choose to be born. I did not choose to be descended from two resilient women. Women who carried on, in search of a better life, because they believed they could. Two women who believed they could really live someday. Two women who believed they could really feel alive.

One of those women, came here, gave birth to me in Chicago, Illinois and instilled in me the same resilience, instilled in me a new dream, an American one, one that could only be real, here.

I think there is only really one of you, one candidate, who still believes in the same dream I do.

I think you believe that we all deserve to dream. I think you believe we all can achieve our dreams, if encouraged and supported. I think you believe in us, so I believe in you.

What matters to me is not whether or not every idea you have, every proposal you make, every change you believe in - it does not matter to me if all of them can come true. What matters to me is that you are the only candidate, the only person I’ve heard that seems also to hear me.

You believe in public education.
You believe in health care for all.
You believe in improving infrastructure.
You believe in reducing corruption.
You believe in reducing debt.
You believe in making us stronger.

You believe in our dream.

I have spent many years feeling like the life I long for will never come true. I have fought an uphill battle, and bought into a system that promised me that I could have the life that fulfills me. I took out your loans, and I went to your schools, and I worked at your jobs, and I crumpled in defeat. And still, I still believe. I still want to attend your schools, pursue another degree. I want to spend my life researching, to save lives, to help people like me.

You see, you are the only one that knows that this system has failed me. You are the only one that knows that I am not the only one. You are the only one that looks at us, all of us, and recognizes that we are here, trying to dream and trying to live, too. You are the only one who believes in our American Dream. You are the only one who believes that dream belongs to all of us.

Mr. Sanders. I am descended from resilient dreamers, whose only wish was to feel alive. My grandmother farmed to raise seven kids, including my mother. My mother spent 25 years at the Department of Agriculture to raise my sister and me. My uncles served in the United States Navy to raise my cousins. I am descended from people who believed in a dream. They believed so much it could be real. They left the only lives they knew, in a land across the world, to come here, because they believed here was where that dream could be alive.

I believe that too. And I think you believe it also.

You ask me to believe in the future. The only future I can believe in is one where we all can dream. The only future I can believe in is one where we all can make those dreams come true. The only future I can believe in is one where we all can feel alive. What is a life without passion? What is a life without dreams? What is a life without love? What is a life, without anything to live for?

So, Mr. Sanders, I’m voting for you, because I believe in you.

Please don’t stop believing in us.

Sincerely, and forever dreaming,
Kristine
Tuesday, March 8

We're On A Train

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When You watch people on a train
Neither here, nor there

A family man without his family
A working girl not yet to work

Floating faces in a floating space
Neither here, nor there

The Ground rumbling beneath their feet
The Street buzzing over head

A sea of a million faces
Neither here, nor there

And are You, you?
Here, in a train, surrounded by strangers
And feeling a bit strange yourself.

Separated and connected
Little ants in a box
A million faces on a train

Telling different stories
Living different lives
Passing through the night
The other faceless faces
Passing them
And passing You.

Are You, you?
Here, now?
There, on a train?
Is that you?
Is that me?
Am I me?
On a train
On a train
Am I Me
on a train?

And where are we going?
And Why are we going?
and What when we get there
and Who will we see
and Who will we meet
and What will we be?

And then what?
And whereto next?

Somewhere, not here.
Somewhere, in between.

Is that me on a train?
Am I Me, on a train?

On a train
On a train
Am I Me
on a train?

and Where
and Why
and What
and Here
and There

is it ME?
am I Me?
is this ME
on a train?
Friday, March 4

The Descent to Madness

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This is a series of stories that is part of my own healing. I welcome you to read along, or not, but I'm going to write it anyway. I hope you take something good from it, and I hope I do too.

If you have thoughts of suicide, please call 1 (800) 273-8255 to reach the National Suicide Crisis Hotline, or call 911. Please know, admitting help is not a failure. Life can be beautiful, you just have to live it first.

The hardest part about healing is the moment you realize that the thoughts never went away - they’re still burrowed deep within you waiting for the right moment to peek their heads out of the ground and catch your glance with their hollow eyes.

The other hard part is when you hear the thoughts and some other part of you remembers how much sense they made from the very beginning.

And then there’s this part, the “me” part, that doesn’t want any of that to be true.

Yesterday was a hard day for me. I spent most of the afternoon calling Blue Cross and Blue Shield, two different psychiatric offices, as well as one to which I was directly referred by my primary care office on March 1. I was hung up on twice, and redirected several times, always to an incessantly ringing line with no avail, no answers. I spent easily 20 minutes on hold with one office, only to be later told that they would not take my insurance.

Listen, as much as this makes this story interesting, I really hate that this is my fucking story. I cannot begin to grasp why getting treatment for mental health is so difficult for someone who was diagnosed in a hospital, prescribed meds in a hospital, received treatment in a hospital, and simply wants to continue it because something about it is working.

At some point, I’m going to put together a comprehensive timeline for what I’ve been doing to try to continue this treatment. It still remains that I cannot renew two medications that I believe are saving my life. One is an anti-psychotic, the other is anti-anxiety/anti-seizure medication. From what I’ve read in my own books about Bipolar Disorder (yes, I have several books - I have, after all, spent many years trying to treat this myself) these are commonly prescribed for someone with my symptoms.

The trouble is, seeking continuance of treatment is literally driving me mad. I had a panic attack yesterday that resulted in me sleeping for four hours and renouncing my will to continue trying. I said, “I’m done. I’m not making one more phone call. That’s it.” Tears streaming down my face. A defeated child.

I reached my breaking point.

Tragic, ironic, that seeking treatment would drive a person to madness.

I’m still at my breaking point. In fact, I’m going to hold steady to my word that I won’t make another phone call.

Lucky for me I have a husband that won’t let any of that happen. He really is my bedrock.

It struck me, the importance of having a support system that won’t let you give up. I hope some of you have that - maybe this blog is that for you. Maybe this blog is that for me.

It’s so much easier to tell someone else that there is light, things will get better, life is worth living. It’s much harder to quiet all of the other thoughts in your own mind that tell you they make a lot more sense than what you’re saying outloud.

Right now, what’s helping is reminding myself that this reality is real, that I’m real. That’s easily the most persistent thought in my mind. I didn’t think I would ever think like that again. Besides, the days leading up to my hospitalization (February 2-February 13) were the first time in my life I had ever had that thought.

And then yesterday, last night, and even the day before, the thought crawled out of it’s dark hole and burrowed back into the thoughts of rational me, trying to disguise itself as a thought that had been there all along.

That terrifies me.

I have a fear of sleep. I have a fear of not sleeping. I have this fear that if I sleep, I’m really dead. I have this fear that if I don’t sleep, that I’ll die in this reality. Either way, in either scenario, it ends up with me being dead. I have this fear I’m already dead. I have this fear that my memories aren’t real. I have this fear that I’m not real. I have this fear that I died a long time ago. I have this fear that all of that is more real, more true, than anything I can see with my eyes open to the world around me, here, because here is not real. And I’m not real. And I haven’t been real in a long time.

Yea.

I know.

That shit is heavy as fuck.

And I hate it.

The hardest thing is fighting those thoughts while trying to make phone calls and getting rejected over and over and over again. I feel like I’m the only one in this world that wants “me” to get well. I know that’s not true. I know I have my husband, I know I have you that have sent me so many kind words of encouragement.

But I guess I’m writing this because I don’t want you to think that it’s been an easy road for me to find my “okay.” It’s been agonizing and terrifying, defeating almost everyday. And I’m still here fighting because I want so desperately for the things that make me happy - for love - to be real.

It would be disingenuous to continue blogging, pretending that everything’s okay now, because the truth is it’s not. And I know - if you’re anything like me - that you’ve reached those points where you thought everything was okay too, and then something hit you like a big truck and reminded you that it’s not. It’s not okay.

I suppose I keep going, I keep writing, I keep doing this - whatever this is - because I’ve seen those moments where I’m okay, where life feels okay, in fact, when life feels better than okay.

One of those days was my wedding day. One of those moments was the first time my husband kissed me.

I think there’s something about love that saves me from the madness. Sometimes the madness wins but love always remains.

I have to believe those moments were real. I have to believe that those memories are real. I have to believe that this, here right now with my husband just a few feet away from me, I have to believe that this is all real.

Because I know, I know the madness is real. I know all of the darkness the madness tries to drown me in is so, so real.

And I just believe, for no other reason but because I want it to be true, that there has to be light too. I’ve felt it before, and I know I can feel it again. And I need that to be more real than anything else.

Until then, I suppose I’ll walk a line somewhere in between, trying not to descend too deep, to a place where light can’t reach.

Wednesday, March 2

The Power of Shame

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This is a series of stories that is part of my own healing. I welcome you to read along, or not, but I'm going to write it anyway. I hope you take something good from it, and I hope I do too.

If you have thoughts of suicide, please call 1 (800) 273-8255 to reach the National Suicide Crisis Hotline, or call 911. Please know, admitting help is not a failure. Life can be beautiful, you just have to live it first.
I know there are people out there that would question why I would make any of this public.

If I were diagnosed with cancer, if I broke my leg in a car accident, if I won the lottery - and if I shared these experiences, I want you to consider if you would be asking me the same question.

You see, you are uncomfortable because you think this is something I should keep secret. You think this is something that I should keep between myself and maybe my family. You think this is something I should keep quiet because some part of you thinks that I need to be ashamed.

Well, what this says about you is that you are ashamed. And that, unfortunately, is your own battle to face.

The fact is, I have spent most of my life being ashamed. At the first onset of my depression, I cried myself to sleep almost every night. A 14 year old girl, not a care in the world, and I couldn’t fall asleep without a cry first. I never told a soul. I thought, this is my burden to bare. I shouldn’t be this sad anyway.

Every time I would have a panic attack, I would retreat somewhere, calm down, or at least put on a mask that would help me make it through the day. Because that panic was mine, and no one else needed to know about it.

Every time - every single day - that I contemplated ending my own life, do you know who I told? Not a single person. Not my parents, not my school psychologist, not my social worker, not my counselors, not my teachers, not my sister, not one single person. In fact, I didn’t tell anyone until 11 years later.

Do you know why?

I kept it a secret because I was ashamed that I had let life spiral so out of control for me, that I had lost control of my own life, that I couldn’t just “get over” being sad, or anxious, or full of fear and panic. I was so ashamed that my brain was fighting against me that I kept it to myself.

I would have rather died in silence, kept my secrets, and been over with it.

I want you to think about that.

Think about the power of shame. Think about the things that you say to people who are suffering from mental illness. Think about your desire to coerce them into silence. Think about your desire not to even acknowledge them at all.

Think about how you are rejecting their entire existence - you are saying to them that their feelings are not valid enough to be shared. You are telling them they are not valid.

And you wonder why they want to die.

I can’t speak for the millions of people that have committed suicide. I can’t say why they do or they don’t.

I can only speak for me.

And Me is telling You that shame is a divisive, corrosive, ugly little parasite that eats away at you, it eats away at me, it eats away at everything. And how awful is that, how tragic is that, that shame would win over life itself.

So you know, to you out there that thinks I should keep this a secret, that thinks I should continue to suffer silently (as if I haven’t already done that for decades), to you I say, sorry.

I’m sorry that my pain and suffering has caused you so much shame. I’m sorry that my openness has caused you some uncomfort that doesn’t allow you to continue on with your daily life. I’m sorry that my way of healing has made you so uncomfortable that you would rather try to silence me than to hear me out - rather than to call my phone and maybe ask for five fucking minutes if I’m okay today.

I’m sorry that you can’t accept that sometimes the answer is no, I’m not okay.

And I’m sorry it makes you uncomfortable that it took me a full psychotic break to even admit to myself that I needed help.

It’s all very, very, uncomfortable.

But I will never be silenced because of shame. I will never stop telling my story. I will never stop doing the life saving work that I think needs to be done in this country to repair a broken health care system that leaves people like me behind - suffering in silence and shame until they no longer have the will to live.

So, sorry, that your shame prevents you from feeling comfortable for a few minutes of your day.

My shame, our shame, all of us who suffer - this shame has eaten away at us our entire lives until literally nothing is left.

And I refuse to live that way anymore. And I refuse to let a single person feel that way too. We shouldn’t have to feel this way.

We are sick. We need healing. We need help.

And I will never be ashamed of that.

To those of you, you beautiful, wonderful people, who have sent me such kind words of encouragement and thanks. You are the ones that keep me hanging on. I do this as much for myself as I do it for you. I truly believe there is a way to make this world better. I truly believe there is so much work that needs to be done to heal people like us. I am more willing than I ever thought possible to do this work. Because truly, I believe that you are just like me, I’m just like you, and We are Us. And I think there’s a way to live life better, there’s a way to be happy, there’s a way to be healed. So thank you. Thank you for who you are, and what you give to me. I will never forget that and I will not abandon this passion of mine.

I will never be ashamed of trying to make the world a better place.