Let’s talk about mental health and idol worship.

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I was 15 when I first tried to kill myself.

I just came home from school and the house was empty. I can’t remember what prompted the action (if there was any recent event that triggered it), but I do clearly remember wanting to end my life so much that I downed x number of anti-depressants all at once.

I woke up some six hours later in the same room. I tested my body; I wriggled my toes and pinched myself to see if I’m still alive. To my disappointment at the time, the answer was yes.

I was 18 when I tried to kill myself for the second time.

This one has been more ‘planned’ for the lack of a better term. Farewell letters were written, a last ‘will’ that includes notes for which possession goes to whom after my death, a goodbye text message was sent.

The letters were, ultimately, scrapped in the end. The attempt failed.

Still, I told myself I’ll never make it past 20.

 

Three years later, I’m still alive. I’m already three years past the deadline I once imposed on my life.

I’m in a much better headspace now, I think. I still get episodes but the ‘urge’ to want to end my life is no longer stronger as before. There’s still that voice that lingers at the back of my mind — the what if’s — and I don’t think it’ll go away completely, but at least I know better now, or maybe I can handle my demons better now than say, nine years ago.

I’d like to believe I have already come a long way in terms of strength.

 

From those days I battled depression and anxiety as a teenager up to this day as an adult, there has been another constant: idols.

It’s safe to say I honestly don’t know what it’s like to not obsess over an idol. I’ve gone from worshipping American emo rock stars, to fangirling over j-pop idols about 20 years older than me, to loving j-rock icons, to stanning kpop idols again.

Not many can understand, but those who do know the feeling too well of finding happiness and comfort in simply watching an idol you admire. The pure, unadulterated joy of seeing them succeed and achieve their dreams, watching them soar and improve even more as the years go by.

For almost nine years, I experienced the simple joy of watching them from afar through constant updates. I was used to seeing their photos almost everyday, seeing their schedule for the week, watching them bag awards while they hone their craft. Perhaps, that’s the reason why they feel closer to me than say, Western celebrities, even though I’m essentially nothing more than a stranger to both.

Perhaps, this is also the reason why Kim Jonghyun’s death affected me as much as it did.

As someone who suffers from depression myself, I know the feeling all too well. His battles are different from mine, but I understand the feeling of spiraling into that crippling loneliness, succumbing into that pit of utter hopelessness until you start feeling numb and thinking there’s no end in sight but death.

This doesn’t lessen my grief. If anything, it makes it even worse, because there’s the knowledge that a man I admire so much went through so much pain and I, as a person, wasn’t able to do anything to help him.

The juxtaposition of being an idol — a profession that involves making other people happy by entertaining them through their music and art — and being the one of the loneliest people in the world.

As a fan, it really hurts, because Jonghyun was one of those idols who once helped me cope and gave me comfort in the days I felt like I had nothing left. I wish I could do the same, because now I realize that I can’t even give back half the happiness that these idols give me, even though they don’t know it. It’s a reality I have to deal with.

 

What I could do at the moment, though, is to spread awareness. Jonghyun’s death is another prime example of why mental health should never be undermined and should be given just as much importance as physical health. I think everyone needs to realize that compartmentalizing the mind and the body shouldn’t be the case. Our thoughts could affect our physical health, in the same way our physical health could affect our mood once strained. These two are part and parcel of who we are as one human being and we should take care of both in all ways that we could. Workplaces in each and every industry should hire an in-house therapist or make psychiatric services more accessible for their employees at the very least.

Depression is real. It bears no name, no status, no age. It’s not a matter of who can handle themselves better or who has a ‘higher’ EQ. Instead of contributing to the stigma, let’s take the time to talk more about it and put more effort in understanding it.

 

If you or someone you know is feeling emotionally unwell, don’t hesitate to call the HopeLine Hotlines at (02) 804-HOPE (4673); 0917 558 HOPE (4673). Alternatively, you may want to check out these self-help apps:

 

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Pacifica is an app that provides daily tools for you to handle your stress and anxiety better. This is my favorite so far, and one I’ve been using religiously since my anxiety relapsed again this year. It checks in on you by letting you track your mood each day, lets you reframe your (negative) thoughts, and also contains relaxation resources (their meditation feature that allows you to listen to peaceful sounds while guiding you with your breathing is my absolute favorite). It’s basically an all-around resource for helping you manage stress.

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7 cups is another app I recently discovered. If you ever feel the need to talk your feelings out, I highly recommend this app. It connects you with trained listeners and therapists for free, and even has sub-communities for discord (I downloaded this precisely because I didn’t know where to talk about my feelings about Jonghyun’s death).

 

Help is available. But ultimately, I wish for everyone to have more strength and for the world to lessen your pain, despite how unforgiving it may be.

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もう一人で歩くことはありませんよ.

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Lately, my dreams have been filled with images of my lola. I love to think it’s really her visiting me in my sleep because I’m sentimental like that, even though at the back of my mind I know it’s probably because of me thinking of her – clinging to my memories of her – in my subconscious. It’s been months since I started dreaming of her. It’s also been months since she’s passed away. I don’t think I’ll ever stop dreaming of her.

I had plenty in the past few months, but last night is probably my favorite. Unlike the ones I had before, the lola in this one is the lola I grew up to and love to remember: healthy, happy, and smiling. Not that she wasn’t happy in my other dreams, but she was already thin, frayed, and looking like her sick self in those. This time, she looked like her ‘normal’; she looked like how she was when I was 13.

In my dream, lola was shouting at the gate; her loud, booming voice letting us know she was already home. I came rushing to her, just like the old times when she would come home from the supermarket and I would help her carry the groceries.

But in this setting, my lola just got discharged from the hospital. Nonetheless, she looked healthy and good, like she hadn’t been sick at all. We instantly served her food she loved. Everyone was gathered around the dining table, laughing and eating, happy to finally have her back home. She was smiling when she pinched my arm and told me, “Pumayat ka yata.” I remember smiling back and wanting to tell her “Tumaba ka, lola.”

Yet even then, I remember thinking about what would happen next. I remember worrying that she’d be gone soon, that I should spend time with her more, that this is all too good to be true.

And after that, I woke up from my dream and soon bursted into tears.

No matter how my dreams about my lola went, I always woke up crying.

It is not so much of a bad dream as it is of wanting to never wake up from that reality. At the end of the day, I’d always choose the reality where my lola is alive and with me, laughing and smiling.

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My mother told she’s also been dreaming about my lola too. But her never dreams were always the same: my lola holding my hand, walking with me to somewhere she doesn’t know. Inaakay pa rin ako. Mom said it’s probably lola’s way of worrying about me, even in the afterlife.

I like to think it’s her picking me up from this reality and finally bringing me with her.

 

 

 

 

across the universe

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It’s a little crippling, you think, how you can have these hundred universes and characters in your head that are waiting to be written yet you can’t find the time to give them proper justice, to breathe life into them, as you struggle to find the proper place and time to transfer them onto paper. When all you just want to do is be at peace and write but you are hindered by time constraints, deadlines, and what feels like a hundred responsibilities on your shoulders. You want to get lost in their world – your world that you have created – but before anything else, you have to take care of things in the events unfolding in your own reality.

You think it’s funny and sad at how, even after spending nine hours of your day telling the stories of brands you aim to promote in the digital space, at the end of it, your tired fingers are still itching to write. There is just so much to tell about.

These days when you tuck yourself to sleep, you don’t think about the places you haven’t gone to yet, unlike before. These days before you close your eyes, all that haunts you is the thought of the 40,000 words you haven’t written yet. It’s a little frustrating and thrilling because it reminds you of the days when you were still 12, always itching to write new stories before you can even complete one.

 

*

“I wanted to take a break from writing,” you remember telling one colleague when asked about why you chose to enter an industry completely different from the one you just came out from. But as fate would have it, your job title still ended up bearing the word writer and you begin to think that maybe, this is it, this is all I’m cut out for.

 

You secretly you wish you have more hobbies and interests. Photography, drawing, sports, even. If writing can only help burn calories, you would have probably reached your target weight long ago.

 

*

 

You’re far from being a best-selling author, that much you’re sure. In fact, at this point you’re not yet even sure if you can still achieve that childhood dream. But as long as there are stories to tell, as long as there are universes to get lost into – you know you’re not going to stop any time soon.

You still have a lifetime worth of stories waiting  to be written.

Japan: Lost in a Dream

A  few months ago I flew to Japan to spend my Christmas vacation with my family in Tokyo. The trip had long been dreamed of, with my mother expressing her ambition to take me there for the past 18 years or so, but the dream did not fully materialize until the year 2014. Despite being only two weeks long, it was a trip that meant so much to me and my family, and I want to remember it as much as I can before it completely falls into the void of my (declining) memory stash, so here we are.

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December 23

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Day 1 was a morning of anxious nerves. The trip being my first time to fly out of the country alone was a factor, but it was mainly due to excitement to see my dream country. Much of it was spent trying to find definitive ways to kill time while being 38,000 feet off the ground and sour-graping that if I could handle four hours worth of travel time from my workplace to home – thanks to EDSA’s world-class traffic – then I could definitely handle another four hours of being in a plane. They were the most torturous and yet the most thrilling; time suddenly seemed to have gone by so fast when the captain finally announced that we had already entered Japan’s airspace and Fuji-san came into view.

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I was greeted by a snowflake on my window, a cold yet pleasant welcome that was preemptive to the many pleasant surprises that were still waiting for me.

I landed at Narita by 12:05 pm, five minutes shy of my supposed landing time. By the time I reached the arrival lobby, I was literally freezing my ass off, but the cold was temporarily forgotten when I started to see the warm smiles of my family, huddled together and eagerly waiting for me.

I started tearing up out of joy the moment I hugged my mom and so did she. My stepdad hugged us along with my two sisters. We probably looked ridiculous in the near-empty Narita arrival lobby at the time but we couldn’t care less. Other people who were present in the area probably thought we were a family finally united after several years (and it was partly true) because I remember seeing a woman smile at us when mom asked me and my sisters to pose for a picture, the first memorabilia of my trip taken at land.

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I spent the next hour admiring the view of the streets we passed by, the kanji on the signage of the nearby buildings were the constant reminder that yes, I am finally in Japan, as I found myself sometimes staring in disbelief. It took 20 years in the making  – what was only yesterday’s dream was now happening in real life.

Our first stop was at Asakusa Shrine, a Shinto shrine in Tokyo and a common place for locales and tourists. The place first reminded me of Singapore’s Chinatown, but this one is more colorful and is busier, with several stalls lined up along the path to offer various Japanese souvenirs for tourists. The cold was no hindrance to the continuous bustling of activity in the area; tourists continue to flock the shrine while locales went with their business as usual.

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It was a series of firsts. A first visit to a Japanese temple, a first immersion to the culture. A first try at amazake, a Japanese sweet drink made from fermented rice – a delightful treat in the freezing weather. A first attempt at calling my stepfather ‘Papa’ after several years of separation, offering him my own cup of amazake after noticing he only bought cups for me and my sisters. The relief of knowing that he welcomes the title entirely. It was long overdue anyway and he was probably waiting for it more than I was practicing to say it.

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The day ended with my first proper Japanese meal for the trip: yakiniku, a personal favorite since I was a child. Maybe it was a coincidence, maybe it was the result of the same blood flowing in our veins, but Papa happily recalled that it was also yakiniku that mom first asked to eat when she started residing in Japan, remarking that there’s really no denying that mom and I are related.

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December 25

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 Christmas was simply celebrated by decorating and eating cake, feasting on yakitori and salad, and exchanging toasts of pretend-wine. To any Japanese household, the Santa-adorned strawberry-cake is usually the highlight of the noche buena. However, in my case, what truly captured my heart was this baby below:

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Prior to cooking this, Papa told me, “I’m going to serve you high-quality beef,” and he wasn’t lying. Wagyu beef is a term that I often see in food articles, and the mere mention of the name is usually equivalent to a rave review of the dish and now I know why. It was the show-stealer of the night; the soft meat almost melting in my mouth, the yakiniku sauce seeping through the meat generously, the richness of the flavor enveloping my taste buds all at once. Every bite was like a one-way ticket to food nirvana. The instant I took my first bite, I thought to myself, “This is the kind of meat that food writers rave about.” And here I am. I don’t even eat cooked fat, but the meat was too delicious and cooked really well that this meal had to be an exception.

Christmas in Japan was quieter and much simple than the extravagant and colorful celebration of Christmas in the PH, but definitely livelier than the dull celebration that I’m used to at home.

December 28 

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The day was spent taking in the beauty of a white blanket covering the mountain range of Hida, a short trip to Shirakawa-go, a small village famous for its traditional farmhouses built 200 years ago. It was my first time to see snow in the flesh, but it was my mom and sisters who were probably even more excited for the experience than I was. We were stuck on traffic when my mom went out to grab a handful of snow from nearby and placed some on my hand to let me feel it for the first time. My sisters, on the other hand, immediately took turns on throwing snow balls at me the moment we stepped out of the car and entered the village.

December 31-January 1

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Takahatafudo, a place I used to only read about in history books due to my fascination with Hijikata Toshizo and Shinsengumi – now viewed from my own eyes. As 2014 gave way to the new year, the temperature drastically dropped, the first onset of snow in Tokyo heavily hovering in the air.

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We were on our way to Takahatafudo when the snow really started to fall. The entire street leading to the complex was packed, but I was too busy being amazed by my first snowfall to pay any mind. Plus, crowds during winter were not much of an issue when all of us were seeking for more warmth anyway.

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My mom dubbed it as a blessing since the weather did cooperate and let me experience snow during the remaining days of my stay. Here she is in the corner of the frame, frantically trying to take a video of me as commemoration for my first snowfall experience. An extremely cold yet fascinating welcome for 2015. 
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Japanese festivals are something that I’ve always been fond of, especially from glimpses that I’ve seen on anime. Characterized by a bustling crowd, numerous food stalls, and various forms of entertainment – it was something I’ve always wanted to experience first-hand. My mom warned me of the cold and the crowd, asked me several times if I really wanted to go, but I answered ‘yes’ every time. Our schedule for the day was initially limited to shopping, but I insisted on going to Takahatafudo again because I simply cannot miss out the core of the Japanese new year celebration – the Hatsumode, the first visit to a Shinto/Buddhist temple. It was extremely cold indeed but every second I spent out in the below zero weather was utterly worth it.

January 4

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As my vacation came to its end, I spent my remaining hours in Japan admiring the country’s sunrise, the sky a beautiful gradient of dark blue transitioning into a rich orange. As the city continues to sleep, the backdrop of the city begins to show the signs of life for the day. Yet the dark does not fully give way to the day yet, but the beginning of the day continues to edge its way in. This tension gives way to the middle ground – to the transition of dark to light and vice-versa – and it perfectly defines that time frame when it is too early to get up yet but already too late to sleep, to that feeling when it is time for you to go but you still don’t want to leave.

Japan was a lot different from what I expected. Although not entirely, there was a great gap from the image I had formed in my head due to the representations I’ve watched from what I personally experienced, but the difference was not unpleasant at all. It’s just that Japan is more peaceful, more reserved, and definitely more beautiful.

Also, this trip, if anything, solidified my relationship with my loved ones and showed me the definition of a family that I may have always been secretly looking for. As Papa and mom accompanied me to the airport with Papa carrying my luggage, I felt like a kid all over again being sent to school by her parents. Except that I no longer was a kid and instead of going to school and going home to the company of my parents by the end of the day, I was leaving for another country – to my home country – and the next time that I would come back to the comfort of my parents is left uncertain. It may take years, months if I’m lucky.

As this dream eventually gets crossed off my bucket list, I find myself wondering, what now? Where to? When I told Papa how happy I was because Japan has always been my dream, he told me, “Dream bigger.” And this trip taught me just that – sometimes life just gives you the things you’ve been longing for, regardless of the wait, sometimes they do come. I would be waiting until the time I can finally come back, but until then I will be dreaming of bigger things until these bigger things also materialized for my next trip.