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Tag Archives: Filipino.

The Dilemma of Being Human

I am currently reading The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, which is awesome! It’s about this guy who decides to walk several hundred miles to visit an old friend who is dying of cancer because he believes that it will keep her alive. His walk is a form of penance for all of the people he has failed, including himself. To make up for his passivity, he decides to take a leap of faith that he can walk 600 miles in yachting shoes without a cell phone, a map, or a plan, and be redeemed.

I like this book because it explores how loss and grief can change us and our relationships with the people we love. It has always bothered me that someone who had once been so important to us can become someone who we can’t stand the sight of. Even though it’s less romantic, I would prefer to think of love as a weed that sticks around no matter how hard you try to get rid of it rather than some high maintenance flower like a rose that is easy to kill.

I also like the book because I’ve had this fantasy of walking the Camino de Santiago because some Catholics believe it will halve their stay in purgatory. I don’t know if I believe in purgatory, but if it does exist, I would definitely like to shorten my stay there. I can see why a pilgrimage would be therapeutic. It’s like self-therapy with a rigorous physical activity component.

Along the way, Harold meets people who share their own sorrows, which he feels both comforted and burdened by. The other night I read a line in the book that gave me pause: “Harold cold no longer pass a stranger without acknowledging the truth that everyone was the same, and also unique; and this was the dilemma of being human.”

This statement is at the heart of what my blog is about. I have always felt different from others in a way that makes me feel alone in the world. For being Filipino and for not being Filipino enough. For thinking too much and for being too shallow. For not being married, for being divorced, for not having children. For having depression and anxiety. Even without these specific differences to point to, I have felt fundamentally flawed in a way that I can’t quite put into words.

But as I blog about my flaws, I realize that other people feel just like I do–alone in their craziness. The details make us unique, but the pain of feeling separate from others is universal.

So in a way I feel like I am Harold Fry, on my journey to self-acceptance, but with a much less rigorous physical activity component. And as I tell my story, I give others the opportunity to reflect on their own story so that we can share the joy and pain of being human together.

The Dilemma of Being Human

Photo: Maria Roman

Vacation

I’m in the car with my brother and his family, on the way to Florida for vacation. We’ve been on the road for 9 hours, and we still have 4 more torturous hours to go. My niece almost had a breakdown in the restaurant when her dad told her how much longer it was going to be, and I have to admit, I had to restrain myself from throwing a temper tantrum, too.

But when I think back to when we were kids, I really have nothing to complain about. The four of us are seated comfortably in an SUV that seats 7 people with a DVD player, multiple tablets and cell phones, hot spots, satellite radio, and knitting projects to keep us entertained. My friends are texting, emailing, and calling with tennis updates so that I’m not out of the loop. Everyone can listen to or watch whatever they want without bothering anyone else. No sharing required. Nothing like the forced captivity of what I faced as a kid when my family went on vacation.

Back then they didn’t have SUVs that seated 7 people. Instead, 7 of us traveled in a sedan that sat 4 people. How, you ask? Luckily, Filipinos are small. Still, we had to be resourceful. My youngest brother would be on the floor at my mom’s feet on the passenger side in the front. My overweight grandmother, 2 brothers, and I would all be scrunched up in the back seat. All of us couldn’t sit back at the same time, so one of us 3 kids had to rotate sitting forward on the edge of the seat every hour or so. On trips that sometimes lasted 10-12 hours. I don’t know how we did it without killing each other.

And instead of having individual electronic devices that allowed everyone to enjoy their preferred music or movie, we listened to whatever my dad wanted to listen to.  For awhile it was this one cassette that came with his car and featured an assortment of the kind of instrumental songs you would hear on “The Lawrence Welk Show.” But I also remember listening to hits like “Rhinestone Cowboy,” “Honey,” and “You Needed Me” several hundred times. Ask any of my brothers the lyrics to these songs and they can sing them to you word for word.

But even back then, we were better off than the families that traveled out west in covered wagons. All they could do to entertain themselves was talk and sing to each other for months. But maybe they didn’t have a lot of down time since they had to try to stay alive and all. I read once that families were so worried about making it before winter that they wouldn’t even stop the wagon when one of the kids fell out. Which kind of traumatized me. Maybe that’s the intimidation strategy they used to keep kids quiet back then. “Don’t make me come back there and throw you out of the wagon!”

My brother and I were just telling Sadie about what it was like for us back when we were kids to keep her from whining every 30 minutes about not being there yet. I’m sure we just sound like adults sounded to us when we were kids, with their tales of how hard life was before all the modern conveniences that kids have today.

Still, she did start watching another DVD so that she didn’t have to listen to us anymore. So that’s something.

Snow Days and Olympic Dreams

Today we finally got our big snow day.  Enough for sledding, snow ball fights, building snowmen, and everything.  But I am stuck home alone with no one to play with, so I didn’t go outside, except to take a few pictures.  I’ve mainly been knitting a sweater–which I finished–and watching the Olympics.

I really want to be an Olympian.  I don’t care about winning.  I don’t even care if I come in dead last.  I just want to wear the USA uniform.  I want to attend the opening and closing ceremonies.  Stay in the Olympic Village.  Exchange pins with other Olympians. 

The main obstacles standing between me and my Olympic dream are that I’m not that athletic or talented.   And I’m too scared to do flips in the air or go high speeds.  Which pretty much eliminates all of the events except curling.  But that seems really boring.

I could imagine myself as an ice skater.  But I didn’t grow up near an ice skating rink.  And apparently you have to wake up at 5 a.m. to get your practice in, which would have been hard for a night owl like me.  Even if I had been motivated enough to do it, I probably would not have been able to talk my parents into taking me to the rink every morning, what with my lack of talent and all.

I’ve tried to think of ways to get around the lack of talent thing.  Maybe I could do one of the events in the Summer Olympics, like badminton.  I don’t play badminton, but how hard can it be to get good at it?  It can’t be harder than playing tennis.

I thought I could also increase my chances of qualifying by competing for the Philippines.  I might even get to carry the flag since they only send about 4 people.  That’s a 25% chance.  I would need dual citizenship, which would probably mean paying taxes in the Philippines or something.  I barely have enough money to pay my bills, so that would be a problem.  Without the talent to attract sponsors, I would at least need money.

Plus, I bet even the badminton players are in good shape.  I couldn’t even talk myself into exercising for 30 minutes today, so I might lack the necessary discipline to be an Olympian.  Even if I were disciplined, my allergies, GERD, and exercise-induced asthma make it hard for me to engage in sustained physical activity.  It’s hard to be competitive when exercise makes you throw up.

Hmmm.  Maybe there really isn’t any way I can be an Olympian.  Maybe I’ll just have to settle for  knitting and watching the Olympics on TV.  I hear the accommodations in the Olympic Village are terrible in Sochi, anyway. 

Sophie drew this picture for you.

 
 
And here’s the sweater I knitted.
 
 
 

Addiction

I’ve been thinking a lot about addictions lately.  Even before Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s death.  I have never been the addictive type.  My history is so clean I would have made a great political candidate, if I didn’t dislike politics so much.  But Richard Rohr, my spiritual guru, says that everyone is addicted to something.  So I’m trying to be honest with myself about what that might be.

At times my hobbies have been like addictions.  When I first started knitting, I would crank out so much stuff that I made all my Christmas gifts in a month and still had scarves to give away.  Same thing with making jewelry.  I sold a lot of what I made, but all my profits went towards buying more beads.   And I can sing Karaoke for hours.  I hosted a small Karaoke party over the summer and we sang for 6 hours straight.

But knitters tend to be fanatical bunch.  Jewelry makers can be, too.  And for a Filipino, my Karaoke usage is average, at best.  Plus these hobbies tend to go in phases.  I’m in a knitting phase now.  I would describe my interest in these activities as obsessive rather than addictive.

The next addiction candidates would be tennis and sugar.  These two things are a consistent presence in my day-to-day life, and I cannot imagine living without either of them indefinitely.  Giving them up would require some kind of intensive inpatient treatment program, and even then the probability of relapse would be high.

But playing tennis and consuming desserts has not significantly impaired my functioning, and I’ve been able to cut back.  I am only playing 3-4 times a week to prevent injury.  And I don’t eat 3-4 desserts a day any more.  So I would classify myself as a heavy user but not an addict.

As I was thinking about this post, one of my FB friends messaged me and asked me to write something about codependence.  And that’s when it hit me:  I am addicted to unhealthy relationships.  Ostensibly because I want to help people, but needing to be needed is a form of addiction, too.   In the post on solitude I talked about how ashamed I feel for tolerating so much crappiness to avoid being alone.

Based on my experience as a therapist, I know that many people have the same problem.  Often clients come in for a relationship addiction.  Their friends and family are sick of listening to them.  They know they should break it off, but they can’t.  They live in secrecy because they’re still in contact with the other person.  If someone came up with a detox program for unhealthy relationships, they could probably make a fortune.

I guess in a way I have completed my own self-imposed detox program.  And for the first time in 30 years, I did not use another relationship to ease the pain.  I rank this accomplishment right up there with defending my dissertation.  Maybe even higher.  Because after my dissertation I got depressed because there was nothing left for me to accomplish.  But as far as relationships are concerned, it’s all up from here.

Interestingly, I started this blog right before the breakup.  It wasn’t conscious, but I guess at some level I decided that the energy I was investing in my relationship would be better spent writing.  And blogging helped me tremendously during the breakup process.  I don’t think I could have made it this far without it.

So until someone comes up with a detox program for unhealthy relationships, I would highly recommend intensive blogging as a treatment strategy.

As Seen on TV

In my post on midlife, I talked about how I formed my plan for coping with aging by watching TV commercials.  Sadly, I also used TV ads as a guide for how to be normal.
 
I have always been rule-abiding.  Hence, the good grades, the fear of going to hell, the obsessing about following guidelines for sleep and stress management.  And because I grew up in a small town in the middle of nowhere, I was sensitive to the fact that my Filipino family did things differently from other people.  To children, different means bad, and I didn’t want to be bad.
 
Remember those Aqua-Fresh commercials, with the stripes for extra cleaning action and breath freshening?  I made my mom buy that toothpaste.  And I tried to swirl it on my toothbrush exactly like they did in the commercials.  My mom scolded me for using too much toothpaste.
 
Now that I think about it, this was probably a ploy to get you to use more toothpaste so that you would run out sooner.
 
My first husband–the one who referred to himself as a poor, half-breed, bastard–was also sensitive to being different.  He, too, was influenced by the Aqua-Fresh commercials and also tried to create the swirl that used too much toothpaste.  This is sufficient evidence to convince me of the detrimental psychological effects that TV commercials can have on children.
 
You would think that knowledge of these detrimental effects would make me immune to their ploys.  But no.  I still owned the Ab Crunch.  I still use Oil of Olay.  I hear that Crest is coming out with a chocolate-flavored toothpaste.  At least I’m not falling for that one.
 
Often the makers of these products justify their ads by saying that they’re just giving consumers what they want.  No one wants to see fat, ugly, old people.  Those images don’t sell products!  Since I did research on body image, I can say with some authority that advertising may not have created our insecurities, but they definitely exacerbate them.
 
And there really isn’t a good solution to this problem.  Avoiding advertising is like avoiding oxygen; ads are ubiquitous.  The best I have been able to do is to limit how much advertising I expose myself to.  I no longer buy beauty magazines.  I primarily watch TV for sports and the news.  I don’t pay much attention to celebrities.
 
As a result, I didn’t know who Honey Boo Boo and Kim Kardashian were for the longest time, but media illiteracy is a small price to pay for self-acceptance.
 

 

Boundaries, Part 2

As I reflect on my day in Big Stone Gap, I am reminded that parents often do know best. Here are just a few of the reasons why it was good to come home:

  1. It is rare for all of my brothers to be here at once, and when I’m with them I feel like I did when we were kids, no matter how old we get.
  2. Karaoke.
  3. I got to carve a pumpkin with two of my nieces, and now they want to make it an annual ritual.
  4. They’re filming the movie “Big Stone Gap” on location, and one of the locations is my parents’ neighborhood.
  5. Lechon.
  6. The entire Filipino community is reading my blog and they aren’t mad at me.  In fact, I’m probably going to get a lot of gigantic wooden spoons and forks for Christmas.
  7. Birthday cake.
  8. It turns out that blogging about not being assertive is a good way to let people know that you don’t want to hear that you’ve gained weight.  
  9. I got to take some great pictures.
  10. Sometimes my family drives me crazy, but at the end of the day, they are also the people who love me the most.



Boundaries

When I was in grad school, everyone talked about how important it was to have good boundaries.  At first I thought, boundaries?  What are those?  I guess that was a sign that I didn’t have good ones.

In my defense, Asian cultures have a different definition of boundaries than American culture.  For example, it’s perfectly acceptable for any Filipino adult to tell you that you’ve gained weight and look fat now, that you should have a baby, that maybe you look fat because you’re about to have a baby?  OK then you’re just fat.  This is one of the downsides of having all of those aunts and uncles that aren’t actually related to you.

These kinds of conversations are difficult for many people, and this is where therapists are supposed to be helpful.  In assertiveness training, you learn how to say things like, it hurts my feelings when you say things like that.  Or I’m not comfortable with this conversation. 

However, in Asian cultures, you are expected to be respectful of your elders, so they can say whatever they want to you, but you really don’t get to say whatever you want to them in response.  I have found this difficult to explain to my therapists.  Sure you can!  Just tell them.  No big deal.  Except it is a big deal. 

In fact, it’s because of this power differential that people engage in passive-aggressive behavior.  You’re not allowed to say, well you’ve gained 20 lbs. yourself!  I guess we’re both fat.  Instead you might do something like ask in your most sincere voice, how is your son doing?  The one who got a DUI?  Is he out of rehab yet?  Then they get to be the ones who feel bad about themselves.

Another option is to be completely passive and not go to any Filipino functions.  Or leave early.  Or hide in some room somewhere with your siblings who also don’t want to have to answer rude questions and only come out for food.  This is actually the route that I’m more likely to take.

This weekend I am going to a mandatory family gathering.  Since it’s so hard for all of my brothers and me to come home at the same time, my parents have decided that they are going to force us all to come home for my nephew’s birthday, and no amount of inconvenience is an acceptable excuse. 

I’m nervous about it because my dad keeps asking me if I’ve lost weight (I have not) and if I’m taking the appetite suppressants he gave me (I am).  I talked to my brother this weekend and my dad is telling him the same thing–that he’s fat and needs to eat less.  I think this sudden interest in our weight gain is because he has gained about 20 lbs., but like I said, I’m not allowed to point that out.

I am sure that there is some way to set boundaries even in Asian cultures, but I haven’t yet figured out how to do so.  So I’m just going to grab my food and hide out in the TV room and play with my niece.