Pause.

For the past 2 months, all my weekends were spent traveling, except for one when I had a Philippine Embassy event.

Today is a very rare Saturday when I’m staying put in Jakarta, and I’m relishing every single second of it!

I love traveling and I always will, but doing it non-stop for both work and leisure wore me down. I felt tired and consumed, day in and day out.

I’m taking advantage of this weekend to sit back and relax, catch up on my reading and writing.

To slow down. To pause.

Literally.

I have so much material for the blog, but unfortunately didn’t have enough time, not even to look at my stats. I have been an absolutely horrible blogger as of late!

The good news about it is that while I have been failing as a consistent blogger, I’ve been winning at recovering and living my life. I’m slowly finding my joie de vivre and my groove back.

It’s not a perfect process and I don’t have a bullet-proof solution. It’s a hit and miss, in fact. There were days that I was at a point of exhaustion that I had to bail on dinners and parties with friends, much to their chagrin and much to my social punishment (I have clingy albeit loving friends, which I truly appreciate).

Lesson learned: Balance. Balance is always key to wellness.  

 

Bella

This Bella is on pause this weekend.

It may sound simple, common sensical even, but a lot of us take this for granted. We pack so much stuff in our schedules, in our mind space and in our lives that we forget to breathe.

This weekend is a glorious time to pause. To breathe and to claim my moment of peace.

To the weekend warriors, have a great one. I’m sitting this one down, armed with my Macbook and a cuppa.

Depression has no face.

When I outed myself and admitted my depression, several friends and acquaintances reached out to me to disclose that they are going through the same thing.

Some people who are the same age as I am thought it’s the phase of us going through our big 4-0 that made us feel this way and that it’s just that – a phase that we have to go through.

You’ll be surprised to find out that those who have sent me private messages on my social media and in my messengers and some who even called me to admit that they have depression, ranged from ages 15 to 40.

I’m not a pro in this and like them, I’m still going through it. All I could offer is my time to listen (I may talk a lot but in moments like this, I’m helluva good sounding board), share what I’m going through or point them to the right direction of people and places who can help them.

I wanted to write about this and share what I’ve been through, what I’m going through and how I’m trying to deal with it, not because I wanted the attention or the sympathy of others. In fact, as much as my friends coaxed me to talk about it, I preferred not to. I gave the dossier to the closest circle of mine when we celebrated my birthday in Bali but I talked about it (at least those that I can share) only once and that’s it. That’s the first and last time that I wanted to talk about the deets.

I wanted to stop writing about it, but in the past few weeks that I was talking to a friend who is currently going through depression, I realized that outing myself paved the way for others to reach out to me, because they found someone who they can relate with, who will understand, who they can trust and who will not judge them. 

What we are going through ain’t pretty and it definitely ain’t a choice because if you ask me, I wouldn’t want to be in this rabbit hole over and over again.

These people I talked to, some of them were the paragon of happiness. At least on the outside. You’d see them laughing, engaged in conversations, sociable, participating and even spearheading social events. Some are even the life of the party, lighting the room by their mere presence. They’re your friend, your officemate, your kumare, your kapatid, your relative, probably even your partner. 

I remember one early Saturday morning, I woke up to an FB message from a friend in Manila asking me to pray for her. She said she was already having suicidal thoughts, plotting how she can kill herself without it looking like suicide so that her family won’t hate her for it. I ended up spending my entire Saturday morning just talking to her and sorting out her thoughts and why she feels like this.

Another friend said she found herself just frozen inside her bedroom, not wanting to move at all, as she stared at herself in the mirror for an hour because she didn’t know what to do with herself. She kept asking: “Why is my life just a repeat of everything? It’s the same thing everyday and I want it to stop.”

She told me that in the office, she found herself just frozen, unable to move and sweating furiously, thinking that if she got up from her desk, her knees will buckle and fall.

A fifteen year old girl who I didn’t personally know gave me access to her private blog to show me her writings and illustrations on how she sees her depression. She told me she stopped school for a while and is currently on medication. We don’t talk about what she’s going through. She just wanted me to critique her writing and her drawings.

Very recently, another friend of mine spoke to me that she had to confront the invisible elephant in her room and admit that she’s depressed. It took her almost a year to finally admit it to herself.

Another guy friend – and this one surprised the hell out of me – came out that he’s having panic and anxiety attacks, to the point that he’d bail on social obligations because he’d rather be alone. Most of our friends think he’s just a flaker who didn’t value his social commitments to our circle. He was recently diagnosed with clinical depression. I’m the only one who knows.

In conversations, we normally end up comparing notes.

“Ganito ba talaga? Minsan ayaw mo na lang magising. Paulit-ulit na lang. Nakakapagod na.” [Is it really like this? Sometimes, you don’t want to wake up anymore. Everything is just repeating and it’s exhausting.]

“Minsan, ayaw ko na bumangon. Iiyak na lang ako buong araw.” [Sometimes, I just don’t want to get out of bed. I’ll just cry it out the whole day.]

“Ayoko maligo. Ayoko kumain. Ayoko matulog.” [I don’t want to take a bath. I don’t want to eat. I don’t want to sleep.]

In trying to make light of the situation, sometimes we’d end up laughing at the silly things we go through.

Personally, I swung back and forth. There were times that I’d barely have 2 hours of sleep. At times, I slept my way through for 14-15 hours, which wasn’t normal for me because my average is 7.

That time when you didn’t want to do anything, not even take a bath? Yes. Gross but I went through it.

Until now, I catch myself (or my husband does) biting my fingernails when I’m feeling anxious, and the littlest and most mundane things can be a trigger.

There will be days, weeks and even months that things will be fine, until one day, I just wake up in the most miserable state of helplessness and hopelessness. 

Believe you me, I try. Except for medication, I tried everything to make things better. I got into yoga, I went back to weight and cross-fit training with a personal trainer, essential oils (helped me regulate my sleep) and I openly deal with my bouts of depression. I pause and try to declutter my cobwebs of thoughts whenever I go through it again.

The people who came to me to talk about their situation are the toughest nails and most resilient that I know. You wouldn’t even know when you come across them that they’re going through it.

A girlfriend told me that her friends were surprised that she was depressed. “Hindi ka mukhang depressed,” [You don’t look depressed] they said.

Well, people, the thing is, depression has no face. If you see me and if you know me personally, you wouldn’t think that I went through it.

Would you think of this person as depressed? Yep, ‘didn’t think so.

Depression has no face and depression can hit anyone – even that someone who seems to be the happiest person on earth.

This blog post’s message is more for those who are going through it and those who reached out to me in confidence.

To you:

Thank you for trusting me. We may not be that close or I may not be your best friend, but you found comfort in reaching out to me.

What you’re going through is not easy and I know there are days, and there will be moments that you will feel you want to give up. 

Don’t. 

Tell yourself this, and believe me that it is true and it will be true: 

You will be alright.  

Even in the worst of worst days, tell yourself in the mirror: You will be alright. 

Make that choice everyday. Amidst the hopelessness, make that choice everyday. In moments that you think you can’t anymore, ask for help from someone you think you can trust. 

But it all starts in making that choice. Everyday. 

You will be alright. 

New Year 2018: Of Living and Loving Well

Happy New Year! Live well, love well, love life.

It has become a tradition: I welcomed the New Year in KL in the company of our extended family. We prepared our dinner feast and Media Noche of salad, seafood and steak (for the boys), played games until we toasted champagne to welcome 2018 and hugged each other good night.

I opened 2018 in a simple way: with my partner, our family and friends and good sleep. It’s a simple but perfect way to usher in the New Year. 

The night before New Year’s Eve, I was with Arshad in Private Room, a wine and whiskey bar that has become our default place here in KL. We had a long day of traveling and running errands and we wanted to just hang back a little bit and chill.

As we sat at the bar, we bantered the night away by looking back and reflecting on what we learned in the year that just passed.

2017 was not a smooth year for me, but it wasn’t terrible either. It had its share of rough and tumble, but I would still count it as a milestone year wherein I achieved a lot of things and scored high in terms of accomplishing goals.

But that’s the thing that 2017 taught me: Life is not just about scoring high. Living life to the fullest doesn’t just mean ticking off checkboxes of things to do, milestones to meet, successes to accomplish. 

I ticked off a generous amount of targets in 2017 when I went through my list, but I also realized that although this made me successful in the way that I defined success in 2017, the whole journey also weighed me down.

I went through depression in the latter part of the year. I went through this despite my accomplishments and the good life that I have been living. Looking back now, I realized that I went through it because I pushed myself too hard, much to my own detriment.

Year in, year out, I always set the bar higher. I did well in 2015, I should do better in 2016, 2017…and on and on and on.

But until how much can I take? A new year will not add more hours in a day. It will not extend my energy, my time and my attention.

I became more cognizant of my finite resources, so to speak, and I learned that it’s not a bad thing.

Adding to my bucket list will make the bucket full to the brim, until it just couldn’t take anymore. The bucket needs to be emptied out again at some point.

Achieving, making goals, listing down targets: they’re not a bad thing. However, there are also certain things that need to be done:

Spend some time to rest and recharge. Slow down. Reflect. Sleep. Breathe. Find the little joys of everyday living. 

With all the goals we list down, it helps to ask ourselves: in the end, after checking all the boxes, are we a better person? Are we a better person to ourselves and to others?

This 2018, I still have my bucket list and my goals, but it’s no longer about exceeding and over-achieving. It’s about valuing what’s important and nurturing them. It’s about being a better person by being kinder to myself and to others.

To all of us,  may we usher the New Year with renewed hope and with fire in our hearts. May we be kinder to each other. May we be more generous. May we live more by loving more and judging less. 

Less hatred, more love. I fervently hope we see this happen this 2018.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Live well, love well, love life.

Monday musings: Of Contemplation and Mindfulness

Monday musings_Contemplation_Bella Expatria

The consequence of a well-traveled life (not that I’m complaining) is very limited time for contemplation and mindfulness.

This entire month of December, I will be spending the weekend traveling. My weekdays, too, have been spent flying in and out for work. Just last week, I had to fly out twice in a span of 5 days for work.

Amidst the frenzy, everything needs to be deliberate. Planning, organizing, even moments to just sit down and think.

I like ending every year in moments of contemplation: to stop and think about how my year has gone and what I should be doing and preparing for in the year to come. Much as I would like to have peaceful moments when I can just sit down in solitude on my window sill, armed with a hot mug of brew, this scenario will remain a fantasy.

Seven days before Christmas, two weeks before the new year. Despite the craziness at work, I intend to stick to the plan. Some moments spent in silence to look back and reflect. Some moments of solitude to draw the game plan for next year.

I urge you to do the same, as it worked wonders for me for the past years. Right smack in the midst of our busy lives, there is always value in reflection.

Bellaism: Sense of Entitlement

Sense of Responsibility

It’s a common comment that I hear amongst my friends and colleagues lately: they meet people or worse, they work with several who have very high sense of entitlement but very low sense of responsibility.

That’s quite paradoxical, isn’t it?

Sense of entitlement gets a lot of flak because of some people who wrongfully use it.

Entitlement should always come with effort, with the hard work required to deserve it. 

Before the granting of “special rights,” it merits to be more self-aware, realistic and more in tune to others.

Sometimes, we just need that realization: the world does not revolve around you. 

Truth. We all can use a reality check every now and then.

Of birthdays and surviving October

birthday1

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.

birthday3

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.

 

birthday4

My office: decorated by my team for my birthday

birthday5

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.

dark clouds above

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.”