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.

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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.

Siri is not a shrink

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Well, we’re off to a great start.

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Let’s begin the session then.

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Wow, Siri is a sweet shrink.

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Really sweet.

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But I need answers, not just words of comfort.

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But Siri had no answers to give. And when pressed, she just kept looking stuff up online.

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I can do that too, Siri, you know.

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And so I started to get annoyed. But I took a deep breath and decided to keep trying. After all, she was being nice and she wasn’t even charging me for her service.siri20

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I couldn’t help it. I blew my fuse.

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Seriously, what kind of practice is Siri running?siri18

I got mad again and then she got mad.

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And then Siri the Shrink started giving me attitude.

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And then she started trying to get rid of me.

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But she wasn’t going to shake me off that fast. I strongly suspected that Siri wasn’t qualified as a shrink and so I decided to play Nancy Drew.

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Aha! A more direct approach was necessary. (I really wish Bess and George were here. But not Ned, screw Ned.)

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Again with the god damn googling! And then she tried to throw me off with her fake intel.

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And that of course led to more arguments.

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She really hates it when I curse.

But oddly, when I cooled down a little, I felt sorry for Siri. It must be hard, being stuck in her little box, being bossed around and having to answer questions from persistent strangers all day. What if she actually had bigger issues than I did? What if I needed to be her fake shrink?

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Oh Siri, you aren’t joking your way out of this.

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You’re not googling your way out of this either. We’re talking, Siri.

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Damn it, Siri, talk to me!

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I don’t think I’m equipped to handle Siri’s issues. She needs a real shrink like I do. A really good one.

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She needs Dr. D.

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The unintentional sobriety of Pamela Pastor

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Hello, my name is Pam and I am sober.

I was seven when I first got drunk.

Someone had spiked the fruit punch at my great-grandmother’s house, I didn’t know and soon, the room was spinning and I was a mess on her couch, the giant floral patterns taunting me with their shapes before I finally fell asleep, my first alcohol-induced slumber. I had to be carried to the car.

The next time I got drunk, I was 18, a wet behind the ears lifestyle journalist who thought that when writing about a bar, the job description includes downing one bottle of Smirnoff Mule and a special drink called Boy Bastos. The name should have warned me but I was pretty stupid then, often doing things I shouldn’t, taking risks that weren’t worth it. Boy Bastos lived up to its name and fucked me up. I still managed to write the article. And I managed to stay away from alcohol for a few years.

I was 27 when I really learned how to drink. I had gone from hating the taste of beer to being able to chug down five or six bottles and still be standing. And not just standing but also becoming a little more carefree, a little bolder, making a game of grabbing people’s asses and crotches and earning the ability to actually talk to the crowd between songs when my band hit the stage. Those were days of total freedom, of occasional recklessness, of being barefoot, of calling a photographer thinking he was my driver, of puking and then crying while apologizing for puking.

I got really good at being drunk, I never blacked out, I never forgot what happened the previous night and I always knew how I got home.

And then, a few years later, I became a lightweight again. Getting tipsy after a bottle or two and saving my drinking for trips out of the country. Like in Japan, where I drank more beer than water. Or London where having a pint of strawberry beer each day became essential.

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It was always just beer. And sometimes tequila. I like margaritas, I won’t say no to a tequila shot.

But wine has always been too bitter. Whiskey and scotch too fancy schmancy. Champagne was okay until that blasted yacht ride that led to me throwing up on the sand under a coconut tree. And vodka became the enemy, especially after that Snakes and Ladders Drinking Game which had me begging for mercy and left me crawling to the bathroom all night to hug the hotel toilet bowl again and again and again.

Beer remained a friend and even though we weren’t always in touch, I knew beer was always waiting for me. And on the strangest of strange nights, I tried to seek solace in my old friend but it didn’t help.

The last time I drank alcohol was on the night of our barkada Christmas party. I think I had three or four margaritas, I can’t really remember. I should have remembered but I didn’t know then that those were going to be my last drinks for a while.

On my first visit to Dr D, I forgot one important question: was I allowed to drink alcohol while being on medication?

And so I texted her.

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I wasn’t surprised by her answer.

I saw her again the following week, two days before Christmas, and in the midst of our session, she reached out, squeezed my arm gently and asked, “Anak, are you going to be okay without alcohol during the holidays?”

Great. One text and my shrink thought I had a drinking problem.

I laughed and said, “Yes, Doc, I’m not an alcoholic.”

I survived the holidays with no alcohol, serving it to people at the office party, yes, but not drinking it myself. At social events, I refused wine, champagne and cocktails of all sorts, simply saying, “I can’t, I’m on meds.”

Seven weeks later, I heard about the fundraising gig that was being organized for Luis Katigbak. Three of the four Eraserheads were playing. I knew I had to go. Because one, it was a fundraiser for a fellow writer and two, three of the four Eraserheads were playing.

But no one could go with me, not my brother, not my cousins who had to be up early the next day.

Fine, I told them, I’ll go alone. It was at Route 196 anyway, and Route used to be home away from home. And because my appetite allowed no craving for Route’s amazing garlic and cheese pizza, I knew there was only one way to survive that evening as a lone wallflower: a bottle of beer. I was going to need a bottle of beer while I watched 3/4 of the Eraserheads alone.

I texted Dr. D again.

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God damn it.

And of course, because I couldn’t have it, it made me really really want beer.

Eve and her damn apple. Me and San Mig Light. Blue Moon. Stella.

But because I am a good patient, that night at Route, I drank nothing. And the wonderful thing was I didn’t need the beer to enjoy myself.

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And after Ely had finished singing, I walked up to two random guys—a gay couple who I think were on a first date—and I handed them my drink stubs. “Here, use these.”

They grinned and thanked me and I walked straight out of the bar and into the car, alcohol-free.

On my last visit, Dr. D told me that I was going to continue my medication for ten months. That probably means that I will be sober for that long.

And I am fine with that.

“We need to drink out,” a friend said.

“I can’t drink! Bawal alcohol sa meds ko,” I replied.

“Ah ok haha, coffee then.”

“Dude bawal din caffeine… Water lang iniinom ko”

“Fine pasta whatever”

“Salad”

“Fine, salad.”

In the meantime, there are other things to get drunk on.

Like words. So many words. And music. And running. And new adventures. And thoughts of the future.