Of birthdays and surviving October

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Celebrating my birthday in Basque with my favorite tres leches cake

A few days ago, I had lunch with a partner, supposedly to talk about our project. After closing all the nitty-gritty details of our project plan, we ended up talking about life in general.

He told me: “Sometimes, we live life as if it’s an infinity. We assume that we will wake up the next morning.”

It’s not as if I don’t know this nugget of wisdom, as I myself espouse seizing the day and grabbing joy, experiences and opportunities like there’s no tomorrow.

Carpe diem. Always.

But sometimes, life itself gets in the way of living.

October was tough for me. I had to finally admit that I suffered depression, to think that my archetype was not predisposed to that.

Admission was my catharsis. Things got better when I acknowledged it and wrote about it. It helped that I traveled and spent time with friends in Bali. I always knew though that travel and good company, albeit an expensive combination, were perfect antidotes to what I was going through.

It was great to see my friends and celebrate my birthday milestone.

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My friends and I on the streets of Seminyak in Bali

I also realized that despite what I went through, I have no regrets that I experienced it. Like what I said in a previous blog post, I didn’t even ask for it to be taken away.  I asked the Universe for wisdom and grace, that I may strengthen and build my character because of what I was going through.

At the same time, I held on to the virtue of gratitude. In the same breath that I was cursing my situation, I counted the little things – big and small – that make life worth the fight. It becomes pretty impossible to remain depressed, angry or resentful when you have a grateful heart.

I had an amazing team in the office who knew or sensed what I was going through. Despite them not asking questions, I knew they were looking out for me. Love flowed through. Generous love flowed through.

 

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My office: decorated by my team for my birthday

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Some of my CS team members on my birthday

I’m almost out of the woods. My mornings are better. The spring on my steps are back.

In the end, life is always good. It may not be fair, but it will always be good.

Matter of perspective and gratitude.

That thing called funk

I recently blogged about the emotional letdown that I have been going through a week before my birthday. Some of my friends both from Jakarta and Manila have privately reached out to me to check how I was doing.

To those friends: you know who you are. Thank you. 

Although I’m not back 100% just yet, things are getting better. Every day, I’m trying to make an effort to make things better, to feel better. Writing about it was an essential part of the healing and recovery process. First, I had to admit that things were not as rosy as how they seemed to be.

I needed to acknowledge that I was suffering from a form of depression so that I can move on, so to speak.

This whole episode started a few months ago, when I began working an average of 55-60 work hours per week. I felt like a hamster running in circles, with no end in sight, with no gains perceived from whatever I’ve been doing.

Sleep became elusive. Either I had difficulty falling into it or I found myself waking up at 3 or 4 am, not being able to go back to sleep again. I lost my appetite and my usual food cravings where nowhere to be found. If there was one benefit from it, I lost a little bit of the excess weight.

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Image from Pinterest

On most days, I found myself exhausted. Tasks at work that I can do in a jiffy, even with my eyes closed, took longer than usual to finish. I stopped reading my books and it took me hours to peel myself off the couch to do my usual workout routine that I know so well and which I used to look forward to doing.

I lost my joie de vivre. In most parts of the day, it felt like there was a dark cloud hovering above me, following me around wherever I went. This pesky dark cloud did not want to leave me out of its sight.

I started feeling sad for no particular reason, hiding my tears as I locked myself in the bathroom to weep, whimpering as quietly as I can manage so that my husband won’t hear me. I didn’t want him to worry about me and I didn’t want to talk about it.

My friends didn’t know any better, as I never shared what I have been going through. It’s not me to talk about my issues with friends, even with the inner circle.

In the process, I’ve alienated my family and my best friends. They wanted to know what’s going on, but I wanted to shield them from the negativity. I became unresponsive and I shied away from conversations that will lead them to ask what’s been happening.

In a way, I somehow felt guilty getting depressed. I have a great life and for some people, I have nothing else I should be complaining about. My life isn’t perfect but I have a supportive husband, a good job, a happy family life and an amazing circle of friends. Arshad and I are living a good expat life in a market that is replete with opportunities. We can travel and go to places we like, even randomly selecting islands where we can quickly and quietly spend the weekend.

That’s why I never talked about it. To me, it seemed frivolous to complain, to even feel what I’m feeling. It felt like an unfair sense of entitlement, that I had no justifiable reason to get depressed.

An aunt even posted on my Facebook: “April, you are blessed beyond compare.” But in my head, I was asking myself: Am I? If I am, why I am feeling so rotten?

Luckily, some of my friends who have gone through depression have reached out to me privately to tell me that they’ve been through the same thing. Some suffered through it silently, whilst some sought the counsel of friends. Others got professional help.

One of my trusted friends gently told me that I shouldn’t feel obligated to always do everything for everyone, which she felt was what I was trying to do.

She said:

“Even heroes have the right to bleed.”

And that it was okay to acknowledge how I was feeling and my current state of mind.

Denial was a river in Egypt that I had to swim through so that I can finally accept where I am and how I’m feeling so I can properly deal with it. The moment that I started recognizing my depression for what it is and the reasons causing them, the days started to get better.

I forced myself to read my books and deliberately searched for literature that can help me deal with this. I slowly clawed my way out of my misery by picking up my fitness routine again, with the hopes that my endorphin levels will shoot up and give me quick bursts of happiness.

For the close friends who were incessantly badgering me to talk about it (they have the best of intentions for me, God bless them), I made an effort to share with them, albeit in general terms, what has been happening.

The crying bouts became less and less frequent, although I still get melancholic every now and then. Whenever I feel that I’m going to crash again, I take a moment to acknowledge the emotions and deal with them. I realized there was no point in trying to shove it down further. It only made me feel worse.

My productivity started picking up again and I can think more clearly. When I spend time with friends, I genuinely enjoy the company and the conversations. Oh, my appetite came back (darn it!).

As I walked home tonight, I looked up and saw the star-sprinkled sky, which is quite rare these past few nights in Jakarta as it had been raining. I whispered a small prayer of thanks and told myself:

“It will only get better from here.” 

I’m not okay, and it’s okay to say it.

It’s a week before my birthday and I’m feeling…off-kilter.

All my close friends know me as the Queen of Birthdays. I always give hand-written letters or birthday presents to close friends and for the past 3 years, my inner circle and I stuck to the tradition of posting what we call a “birthday collage” on our Facebook walls. The birthday collage is simply a montage of our photos together with the birthday celebrator with our heartfelt birthday messages.

Arshad always teases me for celebrating my birthday for an entire month, with all my brunches, dinner parties and celebrations across my different circle of friends.

This time around, perhaps because of the circumstances surrounding my birth month, I’m feeling not just a tad bit blah.

I’ve been having a lot of sleepless nights, I have been working longer hours yet I feel like a hamster running around in circles, pretty much not going anywhere.

Still, I go through the motions every day. I plaster a smile across my face and tell myself things are going to be fine because I have to be fine.

Today is a Monday and I woke up at 3am inundated by waves and waves of thoughts. Knowing that I couldn’t go back to sleep, I opened my Macbook and began typing away.

I realized, perhaps it’s about time to say it out loud.

I’m not okay. And it’s okay to say it.

I feel like my world is caving in. For all the things that I’ve done, amidst all the milestones, I feel inadequate. I feel I have not done enough, I have not given enough.

Much as I would like to do more, give more, at this point, I have nothing to give. Because I have totally drained myself.

For the longest time, I have repressed moments like this. I didn’t want to revel in negative emotions and I never, ever reached out to anyone for help, because the world is not friendly to people feeling sad, depressed or just simply feeling crappy about a situation.

At the same time, in my circle of friends here in Jakarta, 9 out 10 of my expat friends and office colleagues are men, which makes me the lone lady expat in a group of people who share the same industry and profession.

Well-meaning friends and people tell me to just snap out of it. Don’t you think someone like me isn’t trying to? Don’t you think for the past two months, that’s exactly what I was doing?

And this morning, there was that moment that I had this epiphany. I should stop denying it.

I’m not okay, and it’s okay to say it.

Emotions are signals in our lives that there’s something wrong. We have been accustomed to repressing the way we feel because of a host of personal, social and cultural reasons but then I realized, emotions are feedback mechanisms and to deny these is denying our way out of this rut.

And I want to get out of it. So this is my step 1.

Perhaps my pain serves a purpose. It’s a feedback mechanism for me to start sorting out through the cobweb of my emotions.

I do want to get out of this, but I should start acknowledging that I’m going through this phase, in the first place. Perhaps, for some, I’m being a wuss, but if this is the way for me to climb out of the deep rabbit hole, I’m hella climbing it.

The reality is no matter how successful you are, no matter how great your life is or how good it looks on paper for some people, there will be moments when things will just suck and everything will feel like crap.

No one talks about it because it’s not a pleasant area of discourse. In fact, people try to evade it. Generally, no one likes to talk about the shit they are going through.

The thing is, people need to start realizing that everyone goes through this phase. Even Little Miss Sunshine.

The difference lies in how we deal with it. In my case, I go through the suffering when it’s for a purpose and if the reason is worth it. Perhaps it’s my way of “suffering better.”

This morning, when I said a little prayer, I didn’t even ask for this pain to be taken away. I felt like I’m being unfair to even ask for it. I asked for wisdom and strength to deal with it better, with more grace.

And perhaps with this admission, I may be exposing my vulnerability, but if that’s what it takes for me to deal, then I’m taking it.

I’m not okay, and it’s finally okay to say it because I don’t intend to dwell in this longer than I should.

Travel and Anita

travel_anita-roddickIn my early twenties, I had the privilege to work for Dame Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop.

Anita is one of my heroines. Rare for someone to be able to say they met their hero/ine in flesh and blood, much more work for them! This is one gig that I’m truly proud of, even until now.

Anita was a human rights activist, an environmental advocate and an entrepreneur. She was one of the pioneers of ethical consumerism. She increased awareness against animal testing and strongly advocated for fair trade.

I saw how she worked day to day. I was a witness to her discipline, her passion, fire, and conviction. She spoke her mind. She stood her ground for things she strongly believed in.

Her discipline was admirable. We were up and ready at 6am for her hair and make-up as anita-roddickwe thoroughly pored over some of the questions she needed to answer for the media. I was walking her through the sales figures while the stylist was meticulously doing her hair.

I witnessed her compassion. Her generosity. Her gentleness. She was passion and compassion personified.

Fierce. This woman was the epitome’ of fierceness.

She was also tremendously inspiring. You know when you describe someone as larger than life? Dame Anita was that for me.

Travel is like a university without walls.

This is one of her favorite quotes that I took to heart. Travel opens your eyes and widens your horizon.

It changes you.

Looking back, Anita was my major inspiration why I wanted to travel and work at the same time, why I wanted to be an expat in the first place.

Anita traveled all over the world for The Body Shop. She went to the nooks and crannies of Africa in search of suppliers for the brand’s raw materials. She brought back with her wisdom and experience that made her the courageous woman that she was.

Every now and then, when I look back to recall how it all started for me, I always think of Dame Anita.

Then and now, she remains to be my “travel heroine,” my inspiration and my source of passion,  which I hope every girl and every woman could have in their lives.

To Dame Anita, thank you for igniting the fire and being my role model. I remember you every now and then, and you continue to inspire me in my advocacies, which seeds you also planted within me.

Welcoming 2017 with mindfulness

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“The days are long but the years are short.”

I have to quote Gretchen Rubin in her book “The Happiness Project,” as it perfectly encapsulated my exact thoughts.

Over the Christmas holidays, I was driving through the streets of Manila feeling nostalgic about its nooks and crannies that I so dearly miss, when I found myself asking: “Where did time go?” It felt like it was only yesterday that I was driving through Manila’s traffic gridlock, grocery shopping in S&R, or sipping coffee in one of my hidden happy corners.

Now, it’s been fifteen months since my re-expatriation back to Jakarta, although it was as if I left just very recently.

I had a major epiphany a few years ago that remains to be a perfect reminder today:

Time can just slip by if you are not mindful and deliberate.  That being said, grab life by the horns, live in the moment, live out your purpose. Fulfilling your life purpose is the only obligation you have to yourself.

That Biblical advice and prayer, to teach us how to number our days (Psalm 90:12), takes a richer meaning in this context, as we acknowledge the frailty of human existence.

We have this tendency to wait for the New Year to craft resolutions. Perhaps, we need that psychological stop-and-start, because nothing really prevents us from doing this anytime of the year. Somehow, the pressure to restart is always ON when a new year begins, so much so that within my circle of friends, it became a running joke every year when we see these hash tags on Facebook: #NewYearNewMe and #balikalindog (return of the allure). Every. Single. Year.

This coming year, amidst the writing and re-writing of resolutions, I think the most important decision that we can make is to live our lives with deliberate awareness that we don’t have unlimited time, and that every morning that we wake up is another chance to do that one thing that we’ve been aching to do but we keep on putting on hold.

Ask yourself. What’s the best thing to do today?

Wear your expensive perfume. Wear that special dress. There is no special occasion than today. Take out the china from the cupboard and use it. Call your parents. Call a long-time friend. Write that book. Take up a cause. Volunteer. Paint. Eat well. Go take that pilates class. Run the marathon. Cook. Ask someone out. Hug a friend. Say I love you. Pack your bags. Travel. Wander with wonder in your mind and heart.

Pursue your passion.

Peel yourself off the couch and just do. Netflix will still be there tomorrow, but don’t live your life vicariously through others. Or worse, through a TV series.

My wake up call (or calls, for that matter) for me to realize these things came through close friends who were cancer survivors, or who are still trying to survive it.

See, that’s the thing. Why do we need drastic wake up calls to get on our asses to do what we’ve always wanted to do?

This happened 3 or 4 years ago, but I still vividly and fondly remember it today: A friend of mine who courageously survived the big C was in my apartment for a small dinner get-together. One of my incense candles exploded and the oil stains reached my white ceiling. While I was fussing over it, she just gently reminded me:

“April. Live.”

From that day on, whenever I fuss over the tiniest, most mundane things or when I procrastinate and tell myself I will do what I need to do tomorrow, or the next day or the day after that, it’s as if there’s this subconscious alarm that clicks in my head and I hear my girlfriend tell me, once again, one more time, with feelings:

“April. Live.”

Everyday, I remember. And everyday, I became mindful because of her and what she said.

So this year, in the here and the now, how ’bout we all give mindful living a run?

“The days are long but the years are short.”

2017: Do what you love. Do it often.

First, thank you, 2016. There were a lot of challenging moments, but there were also enormous moments of triumphs worth toasting to.

Let me open 2017 with renewed hope and refreshed energy, and let me share with you my favorite Life Manifesto:

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Whenever I need a push and burst of inspiration, I read the Holstee Manifesto over and over again. This has been my life’s mantra for years now and it has guided me back to my true north in moments that I go astray.

This has been my constant reminder that I want to share as we all welcome 2017.

“Wear your passion.” Indeed. Everyday.

I wish everyone pure joy and wonder this New Year. Let’s have an amazing 2017, people! =)