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Author Archives: Christy Barongan

Self-Awareness

I recently finished reading The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult. It is about the sexual assault of Trixie Stone and the secrets and lies that are unveiled in her family as a result. The title is in reference to Dante’s Inferno–part 1 of the poem The Divine Comedy. If you didn’t have the pleasure of taking the class in college, I’ll give you the soundbite version. Dante’s Inferno describes nine realms of hell in which sins are rated in terms of how egregious they are. From least to worst, the sins in each realm are 1) limbo, 2) lust, 3) gluttony, 4) greed, 5) wrath, 6) heresy, 7) violence, 8) fraud, and 9) treachery.

In the novel mother, wife, and classics professor Laura Stone muses that perhaps there should be a 10th circle of hell with a sin even worse than betrayal: lying to oneself. For me, this is the most intriguing idea in the book. On the one hand, lying to ourselves seems so commonplace that it seems like it would be a minor offense, rather than something so treacherous that it that places you even deeper in hell than Lucifer in the ninth realm, half submerged in a frozen lake, suffering for eternity. But then again, it’s the people who lie to themselves about their intentions who can sleep at night even though they are causing millions of other people needless suffering. Like Putin, for example.

This theme of self-deception brings to mind another book I read recently–Dopamine Nation, by Anna Lembke. It’s about a psychiatrist’s work with people who suffer from addiction. This may seem totally unrelated to Dante’s Inferno, but hear me out. Lembke argues that the best way to overcome any addiction is through the 12 step model, with perhaps the most important step being radical honesty. Robert Brault said “every lie is two lies, the lie we tell others and the lie we tell ourselves to justify it.” That is an apt description of what it’s like to be in the midst of an addiction.

Ever since I read Dopamine Nation I’ve made a more concerted effort to encourage clients and myself to engage in more radical honesty. For example, my recent breakup has been a betrayal that comes only second to my first marriage, in which my husband asking if we could have an open marriage in response to my asking him what he thought about having a baby. It’s been very, very hard to deal with feelings of hatred, resentment, jealousy, and regret that have emerged since the breakup. I feel like I’ve become a completely different person, and not someone that I find very interesting. Which is why I haven’t written.

At the same time, when I talk to my therapist about the breakup, she repeatedly tells me that she thought I was the one who broke up with him. So how can I feel so betrayed if I’m the one who ended things? I mean, I guess they can both be true, but still. There has to be some self-deception of my part. Some unwillingness to see how I contributed to the demise of the relationship. Some unwillingness to take responsibility for how I have hurt him.

So I’ve been trying to be more honest with myself about the things I haven’t wanted to see. Trying to remove the log in my own eye rather than focus on what he has done to hurt me. It is painful stuff, let me tell you. The biggest problem I’m facing is that, while lying to ourselves may be letting ourselves off the hook for our sins, the problem with radical honesty is that we run the risk of blaming ourselves for things that aren’t in our control.

I said no when he asked me if I wanted to be in a relationship. My brother was living with me and I was barely holding myself together. I had no personal space in my own home, and even though I was barely able to feed myself, now I had to make sure my brother who just had open heart surgery had healthy meals. My performance at work was suffering as a result. I had to cut back on my hours, which meant less pay, even though I had another mouth to feed. I was not in the head space to be in a relationship. But he wouldn’t take no for an answer. In moments where I tried to be radically honest, I told myself that maybe I didn’t say no often enough, convincingly enough. Maybe it was my own weakness that made me ultimately go along with it even though I wasn’t ready. But in reality, no means no.

Perhaps a more compassionate approach to radical honesty is the concept of self-awareness. Jesus and Buddha both say in their teachings that it is self-awareness that leads us to the most moral version of ourselves. Self-awareness is the goal of therapy, too. To truly acknowledge your thoughts, feelings, and motivations. To have your eyes wide open. Self-awareness means that we recognize that we aren’t better than anyone else. Any sin we can accuse others of is something that we have committed, too. Once you realize this, you understand why you can’t cast the first stone. Hence, you cannot help but have compassion for everyone, including yourself. Because we are all ultimately the same. Just trying to get through life without a road map, stumbling along, doing the best that we can.

And that’s the truth.

Self-Care, Part 3

Lately I’ve been reading old blog posts in an effort to reconnect with myself. I have gotten better at practicing self-care. I am better able to recognize when I’m hungry, when I’m anxious, and when I have to pee. Those 3 used to feel really similar for some reason. Now I feed myself. Last week I cooked 3 meals, and I hate cooking. I just came back from the grocery store, which I also hate. My sleep cycle is more similar to the average person, although still night owlish. I don’t go to bed past 1 am, and I don’t sleep past 10 am anymore. I even do chores on the weekend, rather than lie around because I’m too exhausted to do anything. I don’t overstimulate my brain with games in an effort to prepare for some kind of mental apocalypse.

I’m working on taking care of my health. I just went to an orthopedic appointment last week because my shoulder hurts so much that I can’t even swing a racket. When the woman took me back for an x-ray she asked me how long it has been hurting, and I said since January. She was like, that long? What, did you think it was just going to get better on its own? It made me realize that I don’t take my pain seriously. I wanted to get my hip checked out, too, but I have to schedule a separate appointment. It’s been hurting for several years so I wonder what she’s going to say about that.

I also realized that I don’t get to decide what is strenuous enough to require an inhaler. My body decides. I may think it’s pathetic to need to take a few puffs to bring my trash can up and down the hill, which only takes about a minute. Or that cleaning doesn’t count as exercise. But if it makes me throw up, then I have to accept that my asthma is that bad and just take the darn thing.

I’ve gotten better at solitude. In one of my first posts, I talk about my newly single status and how challenging it is to live and be alone. At that time, I had never been without a romantic relationship because I thought being alone was worse than being miserable. I was terrified of something happening to me and no one knowing about it so I played tennis every night just so that people would worry if I didn’t show up.

At the time I figured out that feeling bad about yourself for being in a sucky relationship was not better than being alone. But I had no clue the extent to which boundaries were an issue for me. Now I do, and I feel fiercely protective of my boundaries. My home has become my safe space, and I am happy to have it all to myself. I am happy that everything in it, including the color of the paint on the walls and the art work that I created, is a projection of myself. I am not ready to have anyone in my space. If someone else is in it, then I feel them instead of me, and I need to know what’s me. I need to know what it is that I want. Even if the other person doesn’t ask, I intuit what they want and give it to them anyway without asking myself how I feel.

I try not to beat myself up for my codependency. It’s not my fault that I had to develop this skill. I’ve always told my therapist that I feel like I have a crack in my foundation. That something was broken from the very beginning, although I didn’t know what it was at the time. Recently she told me that those cracks can be repaired. That a house is a metaphor for our personality, and the first floor is our relationship to ourselves. Only after we’ve spent time on the first floor can we move to the second floor.

I do have some advantages this time around that I didn’t have last time. One is that my family lives nearby, so if I’m too tired to eat I don’t have to lie on my couch and starve to death. I can just go over there and let them feed me, which I do with some regularity.

The other advantage is my Apple Watch. Before I used to obsess about throwing out my back and not being able to crawl to my phone to call for help. Because one time my back was in spasm and I couldn’t move for a few minutes. I used to try to remember to keep a device in every room and to tell my friends that if they received a text or saw a Facebook post saying Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up! to take it seriously. They suggested getting one of those Life Alert buttons to wear around my neck, but that seemed extreme. But now that I have my Apple Watch, I will be able to call for help in any room of my house even if I can’t move thanks to Siri.

So thank you, Apple, for making solitude a little less scary.

I Rise

I may fall and fall and fall.

But then, like the Phoenix, I rise.

I am born again.

– Me

I may fall and fall and fall.

I am long overdue for an update. I am so thankful that my existence persists in the minds of my friends, who continue to check on me and send good vibes. But it also makes me feel bad to have to say that things are still…sort of…bad. So I’ll focus on the good news.

Perhaps it is only surprising to me that after 5 months things are still unsettled. In my defense, the decision to move had been a bold step in an effort to let go of everything I had been holding onto and to finally start anew. It’s hard to find that balance between stalling because you think you have time and trying to force things to happen because you think you don’t. The only way I have been able to find balance is by swingingly wildly in one direction, and then equally wildly in the other.

It was almost a year ago to date that I had my gallbladder surgery and my health has improved a lot since then. But my main goal was to get back on the tennis court, and I’m not there yet. While I didn’t get COVID, I had long Covid symptoms that sapped my energy for about 2 months. I am also still coughing even when doing small amounts of exercise, like bringing my trash can up the hill and then walking back down to close the garage door. And somehow, despite not exercising, I have managed to hurt my neck and shoulder and cannot even swing a racket.

But I have some good news. My new pulmonologist thinks that my old pulmonologist was wrong and that I do, in fact, have exercise-induced asthma, so I’m trying a new inhaler. I got my blood work back today, and my lipid panel and autoimmune markers were normal. And I have an appointment with orthopedics next week. So there’s still a ways to go before I can play, but I’m moving in that direction. Hopefully.

I have really been struggling with my job. My thoughts and feelings swing wildly on a day-to-day, sometimes hour-to-hour basis. I am obsessive one day, crunching numbers and changing payment amounts while I lie in bed. The next night I’m citing the Serenity Prayer. The next night I’m uploading my resume and applying for jobs. Serenity Prayer. Fuming with anger and writing anonymous job reviews. Serenity Prayer. You get the idea.

But as of today (yes, today was a busy day) I signed 2 job contracts. One that will allow me to work full-time in Tennessee, and one will allow me to continue to see a handful of clients in Virginia. Together they are so perfect that I am too stunned to fully appreciate how suddenly my job situation has changed. In a rare moment of flexibility, I was able to swing between determination and trust in God with just enough grace to score a win.

It’s funny, before I moved here I was so worried about not making friends, but now that I’m here, it hasn’t really been a priority. But something happened last week that leads me believe that things may be changing. My childhood friend and next-door-neighbor reached out to me out of the blue. I had actually been thinking about her the day before, and then the following day she said she had a dream about me that morning and felt compelled to contact me. Is it possible that thinking about someone makes them think about you? Anyway, she had all of these detailed memories about my family and me and things that we did to mess up our neighbor’s landscaping and get ourselves into trouble. It was clear that she had cherished these memories, so I could not help but feel cherished, too. It was almost like an angel whispering in my ear saying it’s time to make new memories.

The best part of moving to Knoxville has been being close to my family. Especially my niece Sadie. I knew that this part would not disappoint. I knew that it would be good for both of us to be around each other for more than a few weeks out of the year. Yesterday was reminiscent of the days we shared when I would visit over holidays. We went to brunch, did some shopping, sang in the car, and watched a movie. Tonight was a typical night in our new routine. We told each other about the highs and lows of our day. I told her my idea for a blog post. She read me the latest from her short story. She is the girl who I asked to stay 5 years old forever, the teenager who is wiser than her 15 years, and so much more. Although I already treasure every moment with her, I still hear an angel whispering, reminding me to take it in. Remember this. This is why you’re here.

Perhaps it is only surprising to me that after 5 months things are still unsettled. In my defense, the decision to move had been a bold step in an effort to let go of everything I had been holding onto and to finally start anew. It’s hard to find that balance between stalling because you think you have time and trying to force things to happen because you think you don’t. The only way I have been able to find balance is by swingingly wildly in one direction, and then equally wildly in the other.

It was almost a year ago to date that I had my gallbladder surgery, and my health has improved a lot since then. But my main goal was to get back on the tennis court, and I’m not there yet. While I didn’t get COVID, I had long Covid symptoms that sapped my energy for about 2 months. I am also still coughing even when doing small amounts of exercise, like bringing my trash can up the hill and then walking back down to close the garage door. And somehow, despite not exercising, I have managed to hurt my neck and shoulder and cannot even swing a racket.

But I have some good news. My new pulmonologist thinks that my old pulmonologist was wrong and that I do, in fact, have exercise-induced asthma, so I’m trying a new inhaler. I got my blood work back today, and my lipid panel and autoimmune markers were normal. And I have an appointment with orthopedics next week. So there’s still a ways to go before I can play, but I’m moving in that direction. Hopefully.

I have really been struggling with my job. My thoughts and feelings swing wildly on a day-to-day, sometimes hour-to-hour basis. I am obsessive one day, crunching numbers and changing payment amounts while I lie in bed. The next night I’m citing the Serenity Prayer. The next night I’m uploading my resume and applying for jobs. Serenity Prayer. Fuming with anger and writing anonymous job reviews. Serenity Prayer. You get the idea.

But as of today (yes, today was a busy day) I signed 2 job contracts. One that will allow me to work full-time in Tennessee, and one will allow me to continue to see a handful of clients in VA. Together they are so perfect that I am too stunned to fully appreciate how suddenly my job situation has changed. In a rare moment of flexibility, I was able to swing between determination and trust in God with just enough grace to score a win.

It’s funny, before I moved here I was so worried about not making friends, but now that I’m here, it hasn’t really been a priority. But something happened last week that lead me believe that things may be changing. My childhood friend and next-door-neighbor reached out to me out of the blue. I had actually been thinking about her the day before, and then the following day she said she had a dream about me and felt compelled to contact me. Is it possible that thinking about someone makes them think about you? Anyway, she had all of these detailed memories about my family and me and things that we did to mess up people’s landscaping and get ourselves into trouble. It was clear that she had cherished these memories so that I could not help but feeling cherished, too. It was almost like an angel whispering in my ear saying, it’s time to make new memories.

The best part of moving to Knoxville has been being close to my family. Especially my niece Sadie. I knew that this part would not disappoint. I knew that it would be good for both of us to be around each other for more than a few weeks out of the year. Yesterday was reminiscent of the days we shared when I would visit over the holidays. We went to brunch, did some shopping, ran some errands, sang in the car, watched a movie. Tonight was a typical night in our new routine. We told each other about the highs and lows of our day. I told her my idea for a blog post. She read me the latest from her short story. She is the girl who I asked to stay 5 years old forever, the teenager who is wiser than her 15 years, and so much more. Although I already treasure every moment with her, I still hear an angel whispering, reminding me to take it in. Remember this. This is why you’re here.

What Love Is Not, Part 2

I recently read the book It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover. If you intend to read it, you should probably skip this post for now because there are spoilers. The book tells a love story about Lily and Rile that initially seems like a fairy tale. Lily is young and beautiful and has a successful floral shop. Rile is a handsome neurosurgeon resident. They are madly in love. The one little snafu is that Rile is physically abusive. Not all the time. He is Prince Charming 98% of the time. But sometimes he becomes violent when he’s jealous. And he knows it’s a problem. He had a traumatic event for which he has sought therapy since he was a child but the episodes of rage persist.

Lily’s father had also been physically abusive, and she swore that if she were ever in a relationship with someone who hurt her she would leave right away. She would not be like her mom. But when it happened to her, she realized that it’s not so simple to walk away from the person you love because of the 15 seconds he was someone else. Rile was horrified the first time. He said it would never happen again. Shouldn’t she at least give him the benefit of the doubt, rather than throw the whole relationship away? After the second incident Lily found out about the trauma. Maybe she could help him control his anger. Help him walk away before things got too heated. After the third incident, they had just gotten married, moved into an expensive apartment. And while Lily was in the ER, she found out she was pregnant.

Lily hides the abuse from her mom initially because she assumes that her mom will take Rile’s side and tell her to stay in her marriage and make it work. Instead, her mom tells her that if Rile truly loves her, he wouldn’t let her come back. And ultimately that’s what Rile does when Lily asks him what advice he would give to their daughter if her boyfriend were abusive. So he must really love her.

Colleen Hoover wrote this story because her father had been abusive. And when she was 3 and her sister was 5, her mom left her father even though she didn’t have the financial independence that Lily had. They lived on beans and mac and cheese for a year. Her dad still claimed that her mom was the love of his life.

I’ve written a blog post about the famous love verse from the Bible. To paraphrase:

Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not envy. It does not boast. It is not proud. It does not dishonor others. It is not self-seeking. It is not easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs. It does not delight in evil. It rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

In that post I wanted to see how my love measured up to this standard. I got a low C. Which at the time I considered failing. So at least I have grown enough to accept being average. In rereading the post it was discouraging to see that my faults then are still my faults now. But like trauma, which cracks the foundation of your development, the scars of having my heart broken remain. So loving again is never a smooth path.

But I believe that God does not expect us to be perfect. That is the way I understand original sin. Even if this verse outlines the love that we are meant to strive for in giving to others and ourselves, we don’t have to score 100. So perhaps it’s not fair to say of people who hurt you that if they really loved you…. We are not perfect, so our love is not perfect.

I have wrestled with what this means in real life, rather than just philosophizing about love. If people can love you but hurt you, then even though the other person may love you, sometimes love is not enough.

Salon Therapy

I’m not gonna lie. Things haven’t been great. Which is why I haven’t posted anything. But I want to write something without giving the rundown of all of the crappy things that are happening to me. So I decided to write about a true story. Something that happened to me yesterday.

I went to the hair salon because short haircuts require a lot more maintenance than long hair. I had my hairstylist for 17 years so going to her was more like a therapy session. But I don’t have the energy to drive 5 hours to get my haircut, so I had to make a random appointment with this hairstylist I’ll call C.

I really don’t like small talk. I mean, I can do it obviously, but it’s tiring. Fortunately, C was quite the entertainer. Super upbeat and high energy. He was dancing and styling at the same time because he said that when he hears a good beat he can’t help himself. Even if the music is just in his head. Which it wasn’t in this case. There was music playing. I totally get what he means though, because I feel the same way about a good song. You just gotta sing, even if no one else can hear it, you know what I’m saying?

He was pretty uninhibited until he asked me what I do for a living and I said I’m a psychologist. This is one of the annoying things about being a psychologist. People think that you are analyzing them so then they get self-conscious. So I tell them I’m off duty, blah blah blah. And then they relax and tell me all their problems. And because I’m a good listener and would rather have a meaningful conversation about people’s personal lives than small talk, so I guess I encourage it.

This was an unusual “therapy session” in that C had more of a psychic problem. His friend wanted to have a seance for fun one night, complete with Ouija board and everything. After the Ouija board didn’t work, and even though he was not a psychic expert and really didn’t think anything would happen, C had everyone hold hands in a circle and started inviting spirits to communicate. And a boy and girl did show up, although C was the only one who could “see” them in his mind’s eye.

The boy wanted to give a message to C’s friend, the seance-thrower. This boy, who I’ll call D, wanted her to know that he’s OK and she doesn’t have to feel guilty. It’s not her fault. The usual message that spirits seem to want to communicate to us. So the seance-thrower starts crying and freaking out, because when she was in EMT training she had tried to save a little boy’s life who was in a car accident and thought it was her fault that she couldn’t resuscitate him.

For some reason, this incident didn’t freak C out. But afterwards the ghosts kept coming. Like something out of The Sixth Sense. Or Ghost. He could hear voices talking to each other in his house even though he lived alone. He thought he might have been losing his mind. He could sense things about people that he shouldn’t have known and felt compelled to ask them questions like, did they ever find out who murdered your cousin? He almost lost his job because he was freaking people out.

Finally C told a friend what had been going on and his friend asked C if he had been messing with an Ouija board. C told his friend about the seance and his friend said that he needed to close the seance. C said the steps were weird but they worked. I didn’t ask what they were because if this is the part that he wasn’t willing to share the details about I figured they must have been really bizarre.

So his questions for me were, do I think he’s crazy? Is there brain science that would explain what happened to him? Should he consult with a psychic? If he gets in touch with these psychic powers, will he lose touch with reality?

I have to admit, this is not my area of expertise, but a lot of people in my family see ghosts. Fortunately, I am not one of them. I do, however, read a lot of books on near-death experiences (NDEs). And the most recent one I read called Proof of Heaven is one of the better ones because the person who had the NDE was a neurosurgeon named Eben Alexander. He’d had many patients tell him about their NDE but figured it was just some brain thing that scientists hadn’t figured out the answer to yet. But then one day he got meningitis out of nowhere and went into a coma for 7 days and was completely brain dead. Right before they pulled the plug, he woke up and his brain was working perfectly normally. He’d had a longer than usual NDE that he remembered quite vividly, and after that he quit his day job and now uses his NDE experience to help people understand their own trips to heaven.

So to make a long story short, I told C that I didn’t think he was crazy, and that what he had was a gift (and sometimes a curse, but most gifts are like that). That people who are high in empathy like therapists also have to create boundaries to make sure they don’t lose their minds, so talking to a psychic expert might help. And, most importantly, that science can’t explain everything that happens to us and that he should check out Proof of Heaven. He was so excited that he said he was going to go to Barnes and Noble right after our appointment and buy it. And that we could talk about it the next time I came in.

He also gave me a little advice when I said I didn’t have anywhere to go to show off my haircut. He said the night was still young but to stay away from Grinder because they don’t even ask for your name.

Oh and I had to pay for my haircut, whereas I listened to him for an hour and gave him free advice.

So I ask you, who actually had the salon therapy?

A Downside to Optimism?

I was talking to a friend today about how much harder starting a new life has been than I expected. My new job has misled me about a lot of things that will result in working longer hours for less pay. I thought that when they pre-approved you for a loan, they couldn’t revoke it on the day you were supposed to close. I’ve never spent 6 weeks unpacking before. I still haven’t touched a racket yet. I still don’t have any friends.

In retrospect, I don’t know why I thought all of these changes would be easy. I was so focused on how great everything was going to be that I had completely forgotten I had a mental breakdown during my last move just 3 years ago. Such is the nature of my optimism.

My friend, who is full of words of wisdom, many of which I have included in previous posts (e.g., sometimes you can try too hard; surgery is not a competitive sport), told me that there’s a downside to optimism. We both pride ourselves on never giving up. 0-6, 0-5 in a tennis match? Then channel your inner warrior! Don’t turn off the TV, even when there’s .9 left on the clock, because it is still possible to win (e.g., see UVA basketball vs. Louisville in 2018). Knit that complicated dress! Solve everyone’s problems! Get 2 surgeries, quit your job, sell your house, buy a house, start a new job, and move to a new state!

Perhaps it wasn’t just that I was being optimistic. Perhaps I was being ever so slightly delusional.

Almost every day after some new disappointment I do the “move math.” What if I had stayed in my job? What if I had stayed in my townhouse? What if I had stayed in Virginia? Could I have made it work? And every time the answer is no. These are the changes I had to make to have a chance at freedom.

On the plus side, I’ve gotten a lot of steps from unpacking my house. I’m saving a lot of money on food by eating at my brother’s house and taking all the leftovers. My house feels more peaceful than my 2 previous townhouses did. I save a lot of money on gas because I work from home. And I don’t have to get one of those “Help! I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up!” buttons because I’ve told my family to check on me if they haven’t heard from me in 24 hours. And I have an Apple Watch.

Sometimes my inner critic uses a lot of gratitude shaming to try to make me “feel better.” What are you complaining about? Your house could have burned down. Someone you love could have died. You could have a broken leg and not be able to walk up and down your stairs. All true, but definitely not compassionate.

But I’ve been practicing genuine gratitude to put things in perspective. My friends check on me and tell me that they miss me. My family here has supported me financially, emotionally, and socially. God cares.

So it’s going to take longer to have a life here. That’s OK. My relentless optimism is what has helped me survived all this time. Yes, there’s a downside to it. But even when I’m down, I can still get a blog post out of it.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Boxes

We all have aspects of our identities that have been rejected or belittled. One of mine was being Filipino. I grew up in a small rural town in Southwest Virginia where there were only a handful of Filipino families. When I was in elementary school, the other kids would call me names. They would say I had a pig nose. That I was ugly.

Once I wore a sleeveless dress that I got from our trip to the Philippines. I thought it was beautiful. It was red and had a pleated skirt, so you could twirl in it and the skirt would make a circle. It had this beautiful embroidery of flowers in the front. But my Kindergarten class was not impressed. Everybody said I was naked and didn’t want to play with me. Granted, it was winter, so they were all dressed more warmly, but nakedness was a stretch.

Kids would also say I wasn’t American. I wasn’t sure what it meant to be American so I asked my parents if I was one, and they said I was an American citizen. But I didn’t really know what that was, either. Maybe no one knew–the kids, their parents, my parents. Even to this day, people debate what it means to be an American.

Once when we were on vacation, my brothers and I sat near a fountain in a mall while my dad did something. I can’t remember what, but hopefully he had a good reason for leaving us there. My youngest brother had ice cream all over his face and some adult guy came over and wiped his face off. Then he hung around and asked us a bunch of questions. Where are we from? Norton, we said. I mean, where were you born? New York. Where were your parents born? Oh. The Philippines. Ding ding ding! Right answer!

When my dad came back the two had a good laugh about it. I was too young to be offended, and really I never have been offended when someone asks about my ethnicity. But sometimes it does take you by surprise when someone reminds you that you stand out.

I would also get questions when I ran into other Filipinos, and honestly, those questions made me feel worse. They would ask me if I spoke Tagalog in Tagalog, because they assumed that I did. No. Eat Filipino food? Sort of? Do you at least go to the Philippines? I did when I was 5. I got this really pretty red dress. Oh, you’re one of those Americanized Filipinos. Even my parents would call me Americanized because we preferred McDonald’s over my mom’s homemade meatballs.

Real Filipinos have gigantic wooden spoons and forks in their kitchen. They have a picture of “The Last Supper” in their dining room. They eat rice with every meal. My friends and brothers would joke about this, but it’s really true. It gives us this common history now and it helped us to make sense of being bicultural. But back then I felt like I was failing at being Filipino.

Back then, people didn’t talk much about being bicultural, or bi anything for that matter. People need to be able to categorize. Our brains are designed to do it. Sesame Street teaches it. (Which of these things is not like the other?) It doesn’t make a person bad if they need to know what box you fit in. But the more cognitively complex we become, the more we see that people fit in many boxes at the same time. Even boxes that seem mutually exclusive. My spiritual guru, Richard Rohr, calls this nondualistic thinking, and it requires some soul searching to get there. So when you don’t fit in, maybe that gives you an advantage. I am an American. I am Filipino. It can look just like this. There is no wrong answer.

This struggle is not unique to me. Everyone has something about them, or their upbringing, or their family that makes them different from everyone else. We all have to make the journey from being put in a box and judged to understanding that we’re not supposed to fit. We can have a box all to ourselves that no one else gets to be in. I still struggle with self-acceptance, but every now and then, I really like my box.

I Haven’t Moved Yet and Other Updates

It’s June and a lot has happened since my last post. Inquiring minds want to know.

First, after another semester in COVID, surgery #1, and obsessing about all of the things I have to do for the move, I am finally feeling better! While I was going through all this, I knew it was bad. But I guess you can’t fully realize all of the things you had to do to survive while you are in the process of surviving. It’s only when you look back that you realize you’re stronger than you think.

The other thing about depression is that when you’re in it you think, was there a time I wasn’t depressed? My boyfriend was always trying to get me to go outside to get sunlight, but I was too tired. But then I began to doubt myself. Did I like sunlight at some point? Maybe I’m just making excuses. But I vaguely remember playing tennis. And watching my team play tennis. And I remember thinking it was fun.

But then when you’re not depressed you think, did I really just crash on the couch after work every day in a comatose state? Did I really have that little energy? Wow. Thank goodness that’s over with.

The other update is that last week was my last week of work. 19 years. That’s longer than any relationship I’ve had. But I always knew I’d be better at work than marriage. I still have to pack my office and transfer files, but I’ve said my good-byes to clients and colleagues. We had a nice get-together during a work retreat last week. That was the first time I had seen most of my colleagues in over a year. In a way, I’m glad I’m leaving during Covid. I wouldn’t have wanted a bunch of people coming up to me saying good-bye. I may seem sociable, but I’m really not.

My next update is that I am able to do a lot more stuff now. Like

  • play tennis again–it’s starting to come back to me
  • ride my bike–managed not to crash
  • see the Star–with a short hike uphill after playing tennis to boot
  • rollerblade–not very smart but it did inspire this haiku

As I laced my last

rollerblade I remembered

I’m too old to fall.

I didn’t fall. But hopefully I won’t try to do it again.

Most of the time these things were done without coughing, and I’ve only thrown up a couple of times. I’m getting a little less rusty and out of shape, but I’m still getting old. My body can’t do what it used to do. And there’s nothing that can fix that. So, I’m trying to focus on being grateful that I can be active at all. And I’m putting that self-care commitment I made in my last post into action. I spend a lot of time resting, icing, stretching, massaging, and doing yoga. All things I didn’t do before because I thought they were a waste of time. Hence the neglect of my body.

Which brings me to my next update. I had to take a bunch of tests to see if I needed surgery for my GERD, and one of them was a pH test. You have to get this tube inserted through your nose and down your esophagus and wear this big monitor where you had to indicate if you were eating, sleeping, or taking a pill. For 24 hours. But I still went outside for a walk, as indicated in the Rocky-like picture below.

The cutoff score for high acidity was 14, and I had a score of 80! My surgeon said it’s the highest score she’s ever seen! So I’ve been bragging that I have the worst GERD ever. I know I said I wasn’t going to be competitive about health stuff anymore but that one is just too good.

Plus it makes me feel vindicated. When I was watching my team play a few months ago, I noticed how quiet it was. No one was coughing. Why am I the only one? I was worried that when I moved to Knoxville no one would play with me because they’d probably think I had Covid. But now that I’m having surgery, maybe things can get even better. Maybe I’ll be cough-free by the time I meet people to play with. Maybe they’ll want to be my friend.

Thanks to all of you who prayed for me last time. If you think of me on June 18, feel free to send some healing vibes my way. This time I’ll have to spend the night for observation, which makes me a little nervous. I haven’t stayed overnight in the hospital since I was 5.

This brings me to my final update. I haven’t moved yet. In retrospect, I should have said in that initial post that I am moving months from now. Probably in August. Ever since I wrote that, people keep coming up to me saying, what are you doing here? I thought you moved. I don’t think they’re disappointed or anything, but I just want the rest of you to know, in case you see me in the near future.

Competitive Healing

Photo by Julia Kuzenkov on Pexels.com

In case you were in suspense, my gallbladder surgery went well. I didn’t have to use any pain killers, which makes me feel tough. Like maybe I have a high tolerance for pain. Like I really am a warrior.

The problem is, trying to be tough is why it took me so long to realize I had an angry gallbladder. Over the last year, I’ve had 4 gallbladder attacks that lasted about 8 hours. At first I thought it must be Bob, because they usually happened on the first night we saw each other. But I didn’t break up with him or anything. The last one was so painful I thought dying might be a better alternative. I contacted my doctor the next day to ask about the most powerful drug I could take if it happened again, and he told me I was having gallbladder attacks. I was relieved that I was not being wimpy and was ready to get rid of that sucker as soon as possible.

My recovery went well. Except for not giving myself enough time to recover before I went back to work. Which, in retrospect, makes no sense to me at all. I really enjoy rest. I enjoy doing nothing. And that’s what I was supposed to be doing. But some tennis friends told me that it only took them a few days to recover, and I wanted to recover as fast as they did. So I only gave myself 5 days off instead of the recommended 2 weeks. 

Five days was enough time for the physical pain to subside, but I was super tired no matter how much sleep I got. I could barely make it through a day of seeing clients. Which did not seem warrior-like. It turns out that the anesthesia can make you groggy for up to 2 weeks! Powerful stuff! And kind of scary. But I did feel less wimpy.

I told one of my tennis friends about my competitive approach to healing. She was actually one of the people I thought I was competing with. But it turns out her recovery wasn’t so speedy after all. She has played on my teams and knows all about my warriorism mentality in the face of competition, and she told me this was not the time to imagine that you are a soldier in the trenches of the jungles in Vietnam. 

I guess recovery is more of a self-care thing rather than a competition. Funny I didn’t realize this earlier, because I talk about self-care all the time with clients. I’m just not so good at doing it myself.

I may have another surgery for my GERD. I’m still in the process of taking some tests. I’m actually hoping I do have surgery, because the problem I had originally sought help for is throwing up on the court and not being able to play tennis. While the gallbladder surgery has helped a lot with bloating, eating, and unbearable pain, it has not helped with coughing during physical activity.

I’ll let you know what happens. But rest assured, I will take the full 2 weeks of recovery time if I get the surgery. More time if I need to. And if you are one of the friends who checked on me repeatedly after my last surgery, for which I’m thankful, feel free to remind me to rest if I have surgery again.

Freedom

I have an announcement to make. I’ve decided to move to Knoxville. This decision may seem sudden, but it has actually been a long time in the making. I’ve been trying to figure out how to have more freedom in my job for a while. I don’t want to wake up early, be on call, or commute. We had an extra long break this term because of COVID, so I had more time to recover, but it took me about a month until the aftershocks of being in a constant state of fight or flight finally subsided.

My new job is remote, and full time with benefits is only 25 hours a week. This puts me 9 years ahead of schedule. Maybe I can become minimalist and have more time for sleep, tennis, travel, and Bob.

My physical health hasn’t been good. I’ve been struggling to control my GERD for a while, and in the process of qualifying for surgery I’ve had to do all these tests–pulmonary function, sleep apnea, interstitial lung disease, autoimmune disease, liver and gallbladder imaging. It turns out I need to get both gallbladder and GERD surgery, but I’m glad. Perhaps that will let me be free to play tennis without throwing up. And having a less stressful job will give me more time to play, which is almost impossible to do during the semester.

My gallbladder surgery is on February 12. If you think of me then, maybe you can say a prayer for me.

I’m excited about being near my family. My niece Sadie, the twin to my inner child Sophie, is 14 now. She keeps reminding me of how much she’s growing, despite my wishes. Can you believe I’ll have my learner’s permit next year? That I’ll get to vote in the next election? You told me to stay 5 but I didn’t listen.

My brother and sister-in-law are excited about me being there. They’re planning weekly dinners and vacations together. I’m already in the rotation for picking up Sadie from school. I’m doing Wednesdays.

But I am also sad. I’ve lived in this area for over 20 years. My tennis friends are like my family. I just bought a place that I love in a neighborhood that I love. I’ll miss my clients and my colleagues. I feel like I’m in a constant state of preparing for loss.

But knowing that I will be leaving also motivates me to really take everything in and be fully present–to my friends, my house, my neighborhood, my surroundings–whereas before I was in a passive, foggy state of isolation. When friends tell me that they are sad but happy for me, the COVID fog lifts and I remember that I am not forgotten.

I get why they say freedom isn’t free. There are costs. Fear, uncertainty, loss. You have to be willing to give up everything for it. I’ve spent decades figuring out how to reduce my stress enough to prevent a mental breakdown. It’s time to put myself first.