Secret messages from Lush

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If you use Lush products, I’m sure you’ve noticed the little stickers that show you the face of the compounder who made your lotion, shower gel, body spray, scrub, shampoo or moisturizer along with the product expiration date. But did you know that there are secrets hidden by most of these stickers? If you peel them back, you’ll see a cheeky little message from Lush.

Let me show you.

(Oh and the products are sitting on a bed of Eco Pops, Lush’s packing peanuts, which are compostable and biodegradable.)

Let’s start with the oldest product I have, this empty pot of Elbow Grease I’m keeping so I can trade it in for a fresh mask.

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Peel the sticker and look!

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I decided to check all the Lush products I currently own for hidden messages. (I just peeled the stickers a little without totally removing them because I like seeing the people who worked on the products that I love.) My perfumes, solid perfumes, lip scrubs, lip balm, Feeling Younger and naked products (duh) did not have secret messages to reveal but the rest of the stuff did.

Like Rub Rub Rub.

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And Ultrabland.

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Sleepy’s secret message made me laugh.

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It really is great in bed.

R&B is more serious.

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I thought that because the perfumes didn’t have secret messages on them, the body sprays wouldn’t either. I’m glad I was wrong.

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It really does smell magical.

I wondered if products in different sizes bore the same message. And it looks like that’s a yes.

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Here are some more:

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I love this one.

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And this one.

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And this one.

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What’s your favorite Lush secret message?

Good sleep, Lush and the absolute magic of self-care

It started with Sleepy.

Actually, no. My Lush love affair started with Lemony Flutter around a decade ago, in the early days of my fascination with all things nails. Back then, I was running the blog Polish Police and I agreed with the countless girls who believed that Lush’s lemony, buttery concoction is one of the best things that could happen to your cuticles.

Here is a photo of my Lemony Flutter from 2011. (Note the old Lush logo.)

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I never could finish an entire pot before it expired though and so I used to share mine with my grandma.

Several years later, I heard about Elbow Grease and how it’s supposed to brighten your tattoos and I bought one… in Hong Kong, I think. I liked it but Elbow Grease couldn’t handle Manila heat. It melted. Which is probably why our stores don’t stock it.

Then, a couple of years ago, I went through a serious bath bomb phase.

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I don’t have a tub at home (I don’t know if that’s a blessing or a curse) but I always bought bath bombs whenever I’d stay in hotels. I love love love bath bomb baths.

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Now back to Sleepy.

In September, I was having difficulty sleeping. I had done quite a bit of traveling in the weeks leading up to those sleepless nights so at first, I blamed jet lag. My body probably couldn’t keep up with the crazy time zone changes, I reasoned. But days passed and I still couldn’t sleep for more than two hours at a time. Maybe it was anxiety? Some days, out of desperation, I popped my one-fourth pill of clonazepam to be able to drift off. But I really didn’t want to go back to taking it daily. I just keep my prescription for emergencies like the rare panic attack.

My coworker Irene had seen me bitching and moaning about my lack of sleep on Instagram Stories and recommended that I try Lush’s Sleepy lotion. People swear by it, she said. But, she warned me, it can be difficult to find. It sells out fast.

The very next day, after covering an event, I called Lush’s Mall of Asia branch and discovered with joy that they had Sleepy in stock. I popped right over and spent a lot of time in the store, testing all kinds of potions.

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I walked out with a big tub of Sleepy, Feeling Younger and a list of products I wanted to look up online.

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That night, I fell in love with Sleepy.

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I loved its pretty pale purple color, its calming scent (a delicious mix of lavender, tonka and ylang-ylang), the super smooth texture, even the silver shimmer on top. But what I loved most of all was that I was actually able to get some good sleep. Was it a placebo? Or was it really working? I wondered. I wasn’t sure. All I knew was that week, I slept better than I had in over a month.

Days later, I had to fly to London for work and because I didn’t feel like lugging my big tub of Sleepy with me, I left it behind. Anyway, I told myself, I was headed to the land of Lush. I could always just run to a store and get a little pot if I really needed it.

Now this is the part that, in hindsight, makes me want to kick myself. During my trip to the land of Lush, I went to only one Lush store—the tiny one at Waterloo station—right before I left for the airport. I had gone in with a very specific list of things to buy—Angel Hair and Coconut Rice Cake shampoo bars and American Cream pressed conditioner—and I didn’t spend too much time looking around.

Had I known that my rekindled Lush romance would turn into a full blown obsession just weeks later, I would have made time to go to the massive Liverpool store (the world’s largest Lush store) or at least the Oxford Street one (which is also huge and which I could have walked to from my hotel). The crazier thing is in the two months before my Lush obsession kicked in, I had gone to London twice. Twice. Think about the shopping I could have done. (But my wallet is grateful for the unfortunate timing.)

Back in Manila, I tried Angel Hair and American Cream and loved them too. I loved them so much that I wanted to replace all my toiletries with Lush products. I went to Lush in Shangri-La mall where I met Nabs who has become my favorite Lush girl. I had gone in wanting to buy Scrubee (more on Scrubee in a future post—it absolutely deserves its own post) but I ended up with a basket of products including Twilight which, together with my Sleepy lotion, has become my magical bedtime combo.

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I haven’t had trouble sleeping since I started using both. I spray Twilight on my pillows and blankets and apply Sleepy lotion and have delicious, delicious sleep each night. (I haven’t touched my clonazepam supply at all.)

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Over the next weeks, I visited different Lush stores (there are nine in Manila and there’s one just four minutes away from my house), discovering more products to fall in love with. And yes, with the exception of deodorant, sunblock and toothpaste, I have replaced all my toiletries with Lush products.

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I decluttered my bathroom and my drawers, handing over two big boxes of products to my mom—all kinds of shampoos, conditioners, hair treatments, scrubs, lotions, face creams, makeup removers, shower gels, soaps, etc.—and told her to get what she wanted and give away everything else.

At first I thought I was strange for finding so much joy in Lush’s lotions and soaps and scrubs and shampoos but then I realized that I wasn’t alone.

In Lush communities online, I’ve seen so many people talk about how Lush has become an important part of their self-care.

Here are just a few of them:

LUSH was my respite during a period of severe depression for me earlier this year. I watched LUSH reviews and cozied up with Sleepy and Sympathy for the Skin and Softy and many other products. Grounding myself in something that smells and feels good on my skin reminds me that even when my head and my heart are hurting, I can soothe myself in a comforting environment. – lavieenlush

Lush is one of the best things for my depression! Getting me excited about something that’s actually going to improve my skin, my hygiene and my confidence?! Sign me up! Also I buy things to try cheer myself up (and before I’d buy clothes or food and stay in bed and not feel any better, but when it’s bath products I’m buying it gives me an excuse to get moving again and it works wonders) – lushae

I’ve dealt with depression for the past few years. It was always a struggle trying to get myself out of bed in the morning, shower, wash my face, etc. LUSH products actually get me excited to fix myself up. It always feels great taking a shower and using products that smell amazing and make you feel better too. I was horrible washing my face simply because I couldn’t motivate myself too but I tried LTGTR and I’ve actually been able to push myself to do it twice a day simply because of the smell (but my face has mostly cleared up once in my life.) LUSH has been a blessing (even though I may have ups and downs with the product.) Who else can relate? It’s crazy that simply smelling good can make life feel a little bit better. – madiicyn

i’m sure this post had been made a thousand times before but lush made me care about myself again 🙂 there was a point where i didn’t leave my house for 2 months. didn’t shower. didn’t even brush my hair. severely depressed due to a lot of stuff i don’t want to go into. my boyfriend knew i always wanted to go into the lush store near us (1.5 hrs away, i live in canada) and one day he decided to go in for me and bought me some stuff from there. i believe it was big bang bubble bar, flamingo bubble bar, blackberry bath bomb, and more i can’t remember right now. everything smelled so amazing and it made me feel great. ever since he spoils me all the time with lush. i take care of myself, bathe all the time, my hair is long and not a rats nest. my boyfriend tells me he loves it when i use bath bombs cuz it makes me happier and smell good lol. thanks lush for helping me get out of that rut and take care of myself 💖 – alexandriaaah

My husband and I swear on the Twilight scent.

We went through Hurricane Harvey last year, lost almost all of our stuff, including our brand new car. The stress and the fear drove us to not sleep properly for MONTHS, which you can assume what that does to people.
The SA’s at our local Lush recommended Twilight and even gave us each one for free and it helped so much, we both slept like the dead that night. I have a pot of Sleepy next to the bed for those extra restless nights and it does wonders.

As silly as it sounds I owe a lot to Lush for my mental well being sometimes, being able to feel and smell beautiful is a real mood booster. – Aristraza

I remember how, during my first few appointments with Dr. D, she would comment about how good I smelled before telling me that hygiene is usually one of the first things to suffer when someone is struggling with their mental health. It’s true. When you are in the throes of depression, when even just getting out of bed is a struggle, getting yourself to shower can feel like an insurmountable task. You feel bad so you’re neglecting yourself and you feel even worse because you’re neglecting yourself. It’s a horrendous cycle of guilt, self-loathing and the inability to move.

I turned to Lush in my quest for good sleep but I got so much more. It has done wonders for my mental well-being. Showers feel more like a treat than a chore. I’m always excited for my next bath. I smell good all the time, my skin is super soft and, most importantly, I feel better than I have in months. It’s truly a gift.

I’ve been spreading the Lush love on Instagram but I have so much more to say so I have decided to add a Lush Life category to this blog. Expect more stories and reviews in the coming days. We’re just getting started.

Drowning Girl Club

I’ve long been a fan of @fidjit not just because of her art and tattoos but also the work she’s been doing to help people struggling with their mental health.

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Fidjit’s no stranger to the struggle too. “A lot of my work is based around mental health problems because that’s really quite a big part of my life,” she told Folks in an interview.

Her drowning girl tattoo—a depiction of Virginia Woolf’s death from a flash sheet inspired by the suicides of female authors—has resonated with so many of her clients and now, those who bear the design have become part of the Drowning Girl Club (and no, it’s not just for girls).

I’ve been wanting to join the club and almost did last year but I was, yes, drowning while I was in London. The fog had descended, my dog was back home sick, the miserable weather didn’t help and I spent a lot of time under the covers in a dark hotel room, leaving only when I absolutely had to.

This year, I returned to a sunnier London much happier. And I was lucky to be there on a week Fidjit was doing another flash day. She was tattooing drowning girls all day at Dharma Tattoo London and all proceeds were going to Rape Crisis Scotland to support another cause Fidjit feels strongly about.

Naturally, I went and I’m so glad I did.

That day, Fidjit tattooed 64 people for nine hours straight without stopping for food or drink. And she raised £3335. I’m honored to have been a small part of it.

Fidjit‘s Drowning Girl Club has over 2400 members now. And I’m one of them.

People get the drowning girl for different reasons. As a reminder. A declaration. For healing. For closure. To celebrate. To belong. To reclaim their bodies.

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My drowning girl is a promise. To keep my head above the water. To not be engulfed. To never surrender. Even when the rocks in my pockets want to pull me under.

Hello again

Last week, at the Philippine Readers and Writers Festival, I did a panel on Writing (as) Self-Help in the Age of Anxiety. I resisted at first because of one reason: I’m no self-help expert, I don’t even like the genre.

But they wanted me to talk about how writing and reading are coping tools for me in dealing with anxiety and depression—and it’s true, they are.

While preparing for the panel, I went through my journey once again and realized two things.

One, your self-help book doesn’t have to be something you find in the self-help section. These past few years, my version of self-help has been reading books by people like Heather Armstrong, Jenny Lawson, Allie Brosh—people who are going through similar struggles and who write about their experiences with honesty and humor. Oh yes, humor is essential.

The other realization was more selfish, something not of any use to the people attending the panel: I now believe that my brain was the healthiest when I was writing regularly about my life.

I have never stopped writing, even when I disappear from my multitude of blogs for months or years. Writing is how I make a living and so stopping isn’t really an option. But writing stories for the paper and for the consumption of others is different from what I used to do. I used to chronicle my life obsessively. No thought, no experience was too insignificant to jot down. There were people reading it, yes, but I was doing it mostly for me. It was fun. It helped exercise my creativity. And, I didn’t realize it then, but it was keeping me healthy. But I stopped doing that. Life took over, deadlines got in the way, other interests eclipsed that fervent need to write and write and write and write. And I had no idea then that by giving that up, I was losing a very effective way of processing everything that was going on in my life.

I still take little notes about my life and they’re scattered in the Notes app of my phone, sandwiched between lists of things to do, walls of hashtags, interview questions and drafts of articles. They’ve piled up, waiting to be turned into narrative, into full stories.

I need to go back to telling full stories.

This is me trying. Hello again.

How I fell in love with Traveler’s Notebooks

Every year, around November, I start thinking about what planner I’ll use for the following year.

Yes, I still use a planner. Keying appointments into my phone doesn’t cut it for me, I need to see my schedule in black and white.

For well over a decade now, I’ve used only three brands: Moleskine, Leuchtturm1917 or Frankie.

But for my 2019 planner, I decided to broaden my search.

I still looked at my old favorites. I considered this Marauder’s Map Moleskine planner.

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The 2019 Frankie journal

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The 2019 Leuchtturm1917 planners

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But I looked at other brands too.

Like kikki.K

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Kate Spade

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MiGoals

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I loved the look of Hardon Epoch’s WTF planner

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and came really close to ordering this beauty from Easy, Tiger.

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But I forgot about all of them when I wandered into Scribe in Megamall. I was working on a Christmas advertorial and Scribe was one of the stores they wanted me to include. I spotted the Hobonichi planners which I’ve heard so much about. “Hmm, I can add these to the story,” I thought, so I started asking the salesgirl about them.

Then she pointed to a display of Traveler’s Notebooks. “These sell as well as our Hobonichis too,” she said.

I was intrigued. What were Traveler’s Notebooks?

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That night, I looked up the brand and discovered that it’s a system of leather covers with different inserts that you can use and modify according to your needs. People use their Traveler’s Notebooks (formerly known as Midori Traveler’s Notebooks) as notebooks, travel journals, sketchbooks, bullet journals and yes, planners.

Ding ding ding! We had a winner.

But I was leaving for Hong Kong the next day and had no time to run back to Megamall. “That’s okay,” I thought. “I’ll look for my Traveler’s Notebook at CitySuper.”

But I wanted the blue one and couldn’t find it anywhere in Hong Kong.

So weeks later, back in Manila, I proceeded to call every single Scribe store in search of the blue Weekly Memo Diary Pack.

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And I went to Glorietta to get it.

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I picked up some extra inserts too, of course.

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And then I assembled my planner for the year. And got stickers and brought out my washi tapes so I can personalize it.

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There are so many things to love about it: your ability to make it your own, the fact that it looks even better as it ages, the craftsmanship, the endless possibilities.

And suddenly, one didn’t seem enough. After watching a lot of YouTube videos, I decided I was going to get a passport-sized one as a wallet. I saw the Traveler’s Notebook display in Rustan’s and went a little crazy.

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I couldn’t resist picking up the 10th anniversary mini notebooks too. (And now I’m on the hunt for the camel one. That’s the only one I’m missing.)

I chose the camel passport.

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I’ve been using it as a wallet for a couple of weeks now and I love it.

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And that’s how I fell in love with Traveler’s Notebooks.

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There are three Traveler’s Factory stores in Tokyo and I cannot wait to visit them. I booked a trip to Tokyo months ago and now it looks like my trip will turn into a Traveler’s Notebook trip.

 

 

Sleep monster

Many years ago, I was asked to design a shirt for an exhibit. Because my art skills are practically nonexistent, I used what I’ve always used: words.

“I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” my life motto, stenciled in white, cut across the otherwise black expanse of the shirt.

And that really was my life motto. I was young, full of energy, eager to do everything, everything all at once. Sleep was a waste of time, I believed. And so I tried to avoid it. I could function for days on end with no shuteye. Sure, the sleep collectors came barreling through the door sometimes, demanding I pay my debt, knocking me off my feet, causing me to crash for hours and hours only to wake up later not knowing where I was, what day it was.

Fast forward to now. That shirt is long gone and, along with it, my youthful energy. If my younger self could see me now, she would be shocked. I used to shun sleep. Now, I embrace it. Cling to it, like a desperate toddler clings to her mother. Some days, it feels like all I could do is sleep. I sleep even when I know I don’t need sleep anymore. I sleep even when there are things I should, I could, I want to be doing.

They call it hypersomnia. I call it a goddamn curse.

I don’t know anymore if it’s still a side effect of my medication (but why? all the others have faded away), if it’s a symptom of depression, if it’s a coping mechanism, or if it’s just become who I am. Maybe it’s all of the above.

I’m a sleep monster. Sleep has become my superpower. I would sleep forever if you let me.

And then I’d feel guilty about it.

The last time I was at my shrink, I brought it up.

“Doc, I can’t stop sleeping.”

“Maybe you’re tired.”

“No, it’s really too much sleep.”

She wants me to stop feeling guilty about sleeping. She wants me to be kinder to myself. She wants me to listen to my body. But sometimes, my body is an asshole who lies.

Depression makes me sleep too much. Sleeping too much makes me depressed. It’s a vicious cycle I need to end. I actually have a plan. Now if I could only stay awake long enough to carry it out.

I finally got the Shrinking Ninja tattooed

The last time I saw El, he touched my Wimpy Kid tattoo with his finger and said, “Another new tattoo and still no Shrinking Ninja?”

El had created the character for me when I was diagnosed with depression. He has supported me through this journey, going with me for runs, spotting me at the gym, cooking for me (soup week will always be a precious memory) and being a constant presence even during times I would disappear into my shell. We didn’t know then that it was a battle he too would face just over a year later.

It had always been my plan to get one of my ninja selves tattooed, I just hadn’t gotten around to it. I thought there was plenty of time. But six days after he reminded me of my missing tattoo, El died in his sleep. He was just 28.

I gave his eulogy days later, ending it by apologizing to my grandparents and my mother (they’re not a fan of my tattoos) and telling everyone at the wake that I am finally getting my ninja tattoo.

I did it weeks later, on the eve of my birthday. I braved the rain and the Friday night traffic to make it to 55 Tinta.

Over the past weeks spent missing El and mourning, the Shrinking Ninja’s meaning has changed for me. She is no longer just a girl fighting depression, she’s a symbol of my cousin’s extraordinary ability to keep putting himself before others (something we’ve heard again and again and again from everyone who’s been around him) and the lasting magic of his big, big heart.

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Thanks to @alvinscene, my Shrinking Ninja is now permanently a part of me. I love how he added his touch—those pretty splashes of color—and how the tattoo became a collaboration between him and El.

 

Sand, Spam musubi and my paper clip tattoo

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I was on the tail end of what had turned out to be an incredible trip to Hawaii. I had spent days hanging out at different beaches, exploring Honolulu, eating amazing food, meeting really interesting people and revelling in the joys of being a solo traveler.

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“You’re so brave,” many locals had told me, when they found out I was there on my own. What they didn’t know was that it was also my first solo trip after my diagnosis. It didn’t feel brave, it felt absolutely natural, freeing.  Most days I woke up with no plans and I ended up just following my gut, my heart, my feet (and okay, Google Maps), as it led me to adventures strange, delicious and wonderful.

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It was my first time in Hawaii, a place that had almost instantly felt like home, something I had never experienced before. There are cities I absolutely love—like New York and London—but despite that love, I never felt a desire to move to those places. Hawaii was different. There was instant attachment. I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to live there. (I still do. And I will. I know I will.)

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I was sad that my trip was coming to an end and I wanted something to remember it by. A tattoo! It had been around a month since I had gotten my first ones and I had been itching to get a new one.

I Googled “best tattoo shop honolulu,” read a lot of Yelp reviews and decided on Tattoo Hawaii, a shop a lot of people were recommending. The bigger question was if they could squeeze me in. Most tattoo places in the US require a consultation and deposit before you can actually book your tattoo appointment. I called while waiting for the bus that would take me back to my Airbnb.

Me: “Hi, I was wondering if you accept walk-ins?”

Tattoo Hawaii guy: “You have to have an appointment.”

Me: “Even if it’s a really small tattoo?”

Tattoo Hawaii guy: “What did you want to get?”

Me: “A tattoo of a paper clip, the size of an actual paper clip.”

Tattoo Hawaii guy: “Come in tomorrow at 1 and let’s see.”

That was good enough for me.

The next day, after having yet another crazy beach moment and basking (and baking) in the sun, I walked from Ala Moana Beach Park to Tattoo Hawaii.

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I walked in and saw Dave and, I must admit, I was intimidated when he asked if I had an appointment. When I told him that I had called the night before, he told me to talk to Peggy. I loved her instantly. She was so warm and funny.

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We started by looking at pictures of paper clips online and she explained why some wouldn’t work—the lines were so close together that they would bleed.

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We finally settled on one that we liked but then I saw Peggy at the back of their office.

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She had found an actual paper clip and had scanned it to create my tattoo stencil. It was so awesome of her to go the extra mile. (And I love the idea that somewhere in Hawaii is the paper clip that my tattoo was based on. It’s a little connection to a place I so deeply love.)

Soon, it was time for paperwork.

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The part about aliens made me laugh.

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I handed the paper to Tattoo Hawaii’s desk concierge Sean who then asked to see my ID. Holy shit! I had left my passport at the Airbnb.

“It’s okay, you have time to get it,” he said.

“Wait! I have a scan of it in my inbox, will that work?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “That’s a good idea, I should do that too.”

I was in for a bit of a wait and I spent time looking around and talking to a girl who was there for a consultation for her first tattoo.

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Then it was my turn. “Good luck,” Sean said. Luck was not needed. I spent the entire time chatting with Dave while he tattooed me.

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We had such a fascinating conversation about the history of tattoos, Sailor Jerry, tattoo conventions and crazy cover-up stories that I barely felt the needle.

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“They say wild women get tattoos,” Dave said at one point. “And if you think you’re pretty wild, the more tattoos you get the wilder you get, so you’re in for some good times.”

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I found it funny when Dave told me that women had a higher threshold for pain than men. He said that in his 35 years as a tattoo artist, only seven women got sick or passed out while he was tattooing them.

“And how many guys?” I asked.

“Two a month.”

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On my way out, I told Peggy that I loved their “No Whining” sign. She said that sometimes people go to the shop asking for anaesthesia. “Pussies,” she said, rolling her eyes.

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I loved how my tattoo turned out. (Tattoo Blend did too—they added it to a list of Super Cute Tattoo Ideas For Women).

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And I guess it looks super real because the next day, at the airport, as I went through security screening, the TSA guys actually stopped me to check what it was.

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“Is that a…”

“Tattoo, yes.”

“Of a paper clip?”

“Yes, I just got it yesterday,” I said, grabbing my bag and walking off in search of my boarding gate.

“But what does it mean?” a TSA lady yelled after me.

“Keeping it together!” I said, before waving goodbye. I had a plane to catch.

Recovery, recurrence and finding myself in Finding Dory

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I can’t believe it has been over three months since I last updated this blog. So many things have happened. I had an unforgettable trip to Hawaii (can’t wait to go back; dreaming of moving there).  A month later, I returned to the US and had incredible adventures in LA and California. I went to Singapore for a couple of days. I got a lot of new tattoos. (Yes, a lot!) I’ve reconnected with so many wonderful people. I’ve made some new friends. My band has gotten back together. (We have a gig at Route on the 23rd, see you there?) My cousin Fifi got married. (I was one of her wedding hosts and I had so much fun). I wrote personal pieces about mental health for the paper. And yes, I’m still learning to live with depression.

Three months ago, I was in a really good place, well on the road to recovery. I believed my first depressive episode was behind me and I thought that if depression hit again, I would be equipped for it.

Then, two things happened.

First, in May, I skipped my medicine for one day—one day!—and went through withdrawal. It was hell. (Lengthy post about that soon, I promise.)

And then, weeks later, in June, my second depressive episode hit. I was wrong. I wasn’t ready for it. In fact, I had no idea it was even happening until it brought me to my knees. Depression doesn’t always look or feel the same, even to the same person.

My first episode made me numb. My second one made me feel too much. I couldn’t stop sleeping (which derailed my plans of going back on Rivotril but more about that later). I felt exhausted all the time. I was irritable. I was miserable. I swam in negative thoughts. I would hole up in my room for as long as possible. I had crying spells.  Still, I managed to work. I fulfilled my social obligations. During those few weeks,  no one knew what was going on except me, not even Dr. D.

It took me weeks to send an SOS to Tita Marie in Seattle who tried to help me figure out what was going on. She told me to cut back on sugar and alcohol and she agreed that I should schedule an earlier appointment with Dr. D.

But before I could do that, I woke up one morning just feeling better. Refreshed. Like the storm had passed and the fog had lifted. I felt like myself again. Normal. I was excited to work. I had a lot of energy (which meant more time in the gym, yay!). I was eager to see people. I didn’t feel like hiding in my room anymore.

This was just last week.

Tonight, I watched Finding Dory with my mom and I was stunned by how much I could relate to Dory. Her frustration with her mental disability. Her ability to accomplish tasks despite her issues. Her stubborn determination.

Seeing her trying to navigate through the deep sea reminded me so much of swimming through the darkness of mental illness. The confusion, the setbacks, that feeling of being lost were all totally familiar. It can be a lonely struggle… but only if you make it one.

And maybe that is the biggest lesson that I needed to learn tonight. That while my murky head can make me feel like I am fighting this on my own, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Dory has Nemo and Marlon and Hank and Destiny and so many others… and I have so many people rooting for me that listing them all would be impossible. And I am grateful. I just need to be able to remind myself of that during the bad days.

And you should do the same. After being so vocal about my battle against depression and anxiety, I’ve heard from so many people going through the same thing. I always tell them one thing: it doesn’t matter what your issues are, you are not alone. We are not alone.

Let’s keep fighting, and, like that mighty blue fish, let’s keep swimming.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Triggers and signs

One of the most difficult things to understand about my depression is that there was no trigger.

“No way, something must have happened,” people kept saying over and over.

“I swear, I was really happy one minute just staring at Conan O’Brien and then I walked out of the door and all of a sudden, I was an alien version of myself.”

“Maybe you were stressed at work.”

“I’m used to the stress at work. I relish the stress at work. Those crazy deadlines? I actually like them. If stress at work was the cause, it should have happened long ago.”

“Were you sad about anything?”

“I really wasn’t.”

“So nothing triggered it?”

“Yeah, nothing. It just happened.”

I’ve had variations of that conversation again and again and again.

I get it. People want a reason. People want something to blame it on. My condition will be easier to understand if there was a person, a thing, anything to point at and yell at, “You! You did this!”

But there’s nothing. And to them, it’s alarming.

Because if it hit me seemingly out of nowhere, does that mean it can happen to them? To people they love?

On my very first session with Dr. D, she explained very gently, “Anak, some people get depressed because they’re going through a breakup or they’re mourning the death of someone they loved. But your case isn’t like that. I suspect that it’s genetic. You were predisposed… there’s a chemical imbalance in your brain.”

Aunt Marie agrees. She says that sometimes, anxiety or depression can be self-made from habits or habitual ways of thinking. But that’s not my case.

Sometimes, people can be predisposed to anxiety or depression but if they’ve had “a perfect life of sorts,” they may not manifest it at a clinical level.

Aunt Marie also said that other people who are predisposed only need one or two successful trigger events to plunge them into full-blown clinical anxiety and depression. “A break up, a death in the family, not getting a promotion, being unemployed” were some her examples.

And then there’s me. Depressed, anxious trigger-less me.

Aunt Marie wrote, “Sometimes, just like a panic attack coming out of nowhere, a major depressive episode may suddenly be an unwelcome visitor such as you experienced… When one has a pretty satisfying life and lots of support, as you do, and anxiety and depression grow, that’s a different type of anxiety and depression than simple neuroticism; it strongly suggests predisposition and speaks more to neurochemistry.”

And now that I know what I know, I realize that I was like a ticking time bomb depression-wise.

Aunt Marie calls me genetically loaded. “That’s just how the dice roll. It’s nobody’s fault,” she said.

I never blamed anyone for my depression—not myself, not my family, not the people around me. In fact, I don’t think I spent a single second trying to look for someone to blame. I didn’t waste time looking for nonexistent triggers either.

I did, however, dig into my past to look for signs. And there were a handful.

Sign #1: This weird conversation with Lolo Osing 

When my depression first hit in November on my way home from the States, I remembered a strange conversation I had with Lolo Osing when I was 18 or 19. I wrote about it during my flight from Korea to Manila.

 

My grandfather summoned me to his hospital bed.

He wasn’t dying. Yet. I think he died weeks or months after, I’m not really sure. But whenever it was, I fear that he took a part of me with him to the grave.

He didn’t call me to his side for expressions of love and the beginning of goodbyes. Everything else he said faded and only one thing stayed: “You will find it very difficult to make your life happy.”

It wasn’t a warning, it wasn’t advice, I hope it wasn’t a curse. He was stating it, like it was sure, like he was sure, 100%, that his granddaughter, the only one he met, was going to have a miserable existence.

It was strange. And I walked out of that hospital confused, not telling anyone what he said. But I’ve always been stubborn and so his words had one effect on me: I was determined to prove him wrong.

I’d like to think of myself as a happy person. I find pleasure in all kinds of things, big or small, I find thrills and adventures in the everyday.

But sometimes, sadness rears its head. Sometimes, things feel extra hard. Sometimes, my emotions are a mixed bag that I couldn’t explain. Sometimes, it’s like you have to dig and claw to find the happy underneath a mess of crap. Sometimes, I wonder if I’m going crazy.

And during these moments, I am transported to that day, in that hospital, sitting on that white bed, wondering what the hell this old man was telling me.

The scene comes flashing back when I am swimming in misery, when I feel like I’m about to make bad life decisions and would still go ahead with them.

And I thought of that scene again as I walked and walked and walked in the streets of Los Angeles late one night, fighting the urge to cry, letting the cold wash over me because freezing was the only feeling I understood.

It better not have been a curse.

I still wonder what made him say that to me. Did he see something nobody else did? Did he notice depressive symptoms? I will never know. But my grandfather was an architect, not a psychologist. What did he know? And I am still stubborn. I am still determined to prove him wrong. I am unwavering in my belief that I can be happy despite being depressed. In fact, I can honestly say that I’m happy right now. I love my grandpa but screw that conversation and screw that day in the hospital. I refuse to let it kill my joy.

Sign #2: My addictions

Those who know me well know my tendency to get… obsessed with things. Trolls. Penguins. Havaianas. Nail polish. Lipstick. A collector, if you want to be kind about it. An addict, if you wish to be blunt.

I wrote to Aunt Marie: “Looking back, I believe that I did develop addictions and obsessions with things because of the condition that I didn’t know existed yet. When the depression set in, I felt really bad about amassing so many material things. I even had the urge to start giving things away and I kind of did.”

My brother and I both believe we have the addictive gene. This is why I’ve never tried smoking or, with the exception of pot brownies that brought me to Super Mario’s warp zone and caused me to have really profound thoughts about sour cream and onion potato chips, doing drugs. After those pot brownies which I ate at a party, I said, “Never again.” And I have stayed true to my word.

But just because I don’t smoke or do drugs doesn’t mean I have been entirely kind to my body. I drank alcohol, although not to excess, and I ate bad food without giving it much thought.

Aunt Marie wrote: “A lot of my work was with people with eating disorders and addictions.  Often, people predisposed to binge-eating or drinking or drugging or gambling or sexcapades to excess are really responding to the body’s craving for something to straighten out the chemistry. In the case of gambling and sex, they are the purest form of addiction as no external chemicals are ingested. Thus, it’s really important to treat the anxiety or depression or people become predisposed to the addictive behaviors.”

I believe her because since my diagnosis and being on medication, I haven’t bought any of those things I collect. (I still use my nail polish and lipstick and flip flops, yes, but I haven’t been itching to buy new ones like I used to.) And I’ve been eating healthier food. I still buy a lot of books though. But an addiction to reading is the best addiction there is. And Dr. Martens. Dr. Martens are not a symptom of my strangeness, they are awesome.

Sign #3: My 365 Days Project

In 2009, like many other people on Flickr, I made several attempts to complete the challenge of shooting creative self-portraits for 365 days. My longest run lasted 183 days. And it was only years after that I realized how sad most of my photos were. I mean, look at these pictures:

 

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I look at them and wonder: what was going on with this girl?

I showed them to Dr. D and asked, “Could I have been depressed then without knowing it?”

“You could have been, on a subclinical level.”

Sign #4: My numerous fears

I have mentioned fear of death and my fear of needles in the past. And I still have quite a bit to say about fears but I think they deserve their own post.

That’s what we have. No triggers but several signs.

But while I spent some time looking back for explanations, I have really dedicated most of my attention to the present and the future. What can I do? What can I change? How do I deal with this? What will I do next?

And Aunt Marie thinks that’s a good thing. “Clearly, you’re doing much better as you’ve got motivation back to think of the future…”

She’s right. And the future looks bright. Bright and hopefully free of obsessions, irrational fears, sad photos and strange conversations in hospitals.