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.
“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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
We finally settled on one that we liked but then I saw Peggy at the back of their office.
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.
The part about aliens made me laugh.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.”
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.
I loved how my tattoo turned out. (Tattoo Blend did too—they added it to a list of Super Cute Tattoo Ideas For Women).
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.
“Is that a…”
“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.
Well, we’re off to a great start.
Let’s begin the session then.
Wow, Siri is a sweet shrink.
But I need answers, not just words of comfort.
But Siri had no answers to give. And when pressed, she just kept looking stuff up online.
I can do that too, Siri, you know.
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.
I couldn’t help it. I blew my fuse.
Seriously, what kind of practice is Siri running?
I got mad again and then she got mad.
And then Siri the Shrink started giving me attitude.
And then she started trying to get rid of me.
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.
Aha! A more direct approach was necessary. (I really wish Bess and George were here. But not Ned, screw Ned.)
Again with the god damn googling! And then she tried to throw me off with her fake intel.
And that of course led to more arguments.
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?
Oh Siri, you aren’t joking your way out of this.
You’re not googling your way out of this either. We’re talking, Siri.
Damn it, Siri, talk to me!
I don’t think I’m equipped to handle Siri’s issues. She needs a real shrink like I do. A really good one.
She needs Dr. D.
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.
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.
And so I texted her.
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.
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.
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”
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.
When I first went to Dr. D, one of the first things she asked was, “Do you have space for healing?”
It was only a couple of weeks later, after I had moved back home, that I understood what she meant.
Although to call it home would be a stretch because I had never actually lived there. I had a room there, yes, but I wasn’t even sure what it looked like.
It was the house my mother moved into after our family building was sold. It was just steps away from my grandparents’ house.
On the night I arrived, I was so exhausted from moving that I didn’t even get the chance to look at my room.
I collapsed on my mother’s bed (she was still in the States then) and was soon greeted by my brother who was being really really nice. He had called me earlier that afternoon to ask if I wanted a burger and he bought me one.
“Do you want me to heat up your burger?” he asked.
“Yes, please,” I said. “And can you please give me water for my medicine?”
He appeared minutes later with the burger and glass of cold water on a tray. That’s another side effect of depression: it turns your brother into a willing butler.
I dismissed Butler Powie and he went off to play video games, leaving me alone in my mother’s room.
I saw photos of myself that my mother stuck on a lamp and I thought, “This girl doesn’t know what’s about to hit her.”
I ate the burger, drank my medicines and then got ready for bed. You know you’re in a strange bathroom when you almost brush your teeth with anti-itch cream.
The next day, I went up to the third floor to see what I had to contend with.
A bedroom that looked more like a storage area.
But it was a challenge I was ready for. I had a feeling that creating the space for my healing was going to be therapeutic and I was right.
Step one, sort through all the crap and decide which ones to keep, give away, throw out or toss into a garage sale pile.
To decide what to keep, decluttering queen Marie Kondo and her followers like to ask themselves, “Does it spark joy?”
I do no such thing. I just ask myself, “Do I like this shit? Yes? Okay, I’ll keep it.”
I made a Spotify playlist I called Nesting and I played it the whole time I was cleaning.
I started digging through the boxes and found some interesting things.
An old book from my days as a Political Science major.
And inside the book, proof that instead of paying attention in class, I was always thinking about work.
Proof of my hoarding tendencies.
A face that always makes me stop in my tracks.
This hilarious tag on someone’s blouse. I have no idea whose. (And Fu Kiu Too.)
My newspaper articles that my grandma had clipped along with a bunch of dusty documents.
Her clippings included love stories I wrote for Inquirer Libre. Oh yes, I used to secretly write romantic tales in Tagalog for the free paper. And when I was in a bad mood, the couple in the story didn’t end up together. (Shh.)
A lot of rubber ducks. Sadly, I am missing quite a few, including my favorite enormous devil duck.
A ton of notebooks.
A shitload of negatives. There’s a joke in there somewhere but my brain is refusing to make an effort.
A book from my father’s fifth grade class.
My high school P.E. shirt. (Yes, we had to sew our names on our shirts. Like we’d forget them or something.)
There were notebooks after notebooks and diaries after diaries covered with my messy scrawling, letters and scrapbooks from exes, birthday and holiday cards from friends and colleagues, plane tickets and boarding passes and a million and one stickers.
It was like my life was flashing before my eyes as I went through the boxes.
On weekends, I worked nonstop from morning to the wee hours, with Lola Lydia just sending over trays of food to make sure I was eating.
I was constantly dirty and dusty but I didn’t mind. It was good to keep moving and to keep doing things. One day, I didn’t stop cleaning from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. I don’t think I sat down once. I asked Dr. D if that was a cause for concern. “How many times did that happen?” she asked.
“Just once,” I said.
“Watch out for signs of mania,” she told me. That could mean I was bipolar instead of depressed. But I didn’t have any more manic episodes.
On weekdays, heading home meant heading straight to the third floor for more digging and dumping.
It took days and days before I was left with these: the things from the boxes that I actually wanted to keep. (Yes, Marie Kondo, they spark goddamn joy. Happy now?)
But I had more stuff to deal with: everything I brought home with me. And there were so many things that Yaya Delta had to take three car trips.
I knew from the start that I didn’t want bookshelves, I wanted to build a book wall. And so I started.
My original plan was to have it beside my bed but I soon realized that I wanted to wake up and see a wall of books instead of a wall of shoe boxes.
Soon, my room transformed from this storage area…
Not bad, huh?
This is my bed and instead of a real bedside table, I stacked a couple of storage boxes—one that’s full of my old notebooks and diaries and another that’s full of fresh ones that are waiting to be used.
Beside my bed is my tower of Doc Martens. I love Doc Martens boots, especially the eight-hole ones. Often, when I travel, I don’t buy any souvenirs, I just pick up a pair to remind me of that trip. My friends have joked that the boxes might fall on me as I sleep. I’ll take that chance.
Beside the shoe tower is a stack of lunch boxes. It’s funny how the pile has grown. I only remember buying the green Buy More lunch box from the NBC store and the red one from Kate’s Paperie in New York. But I got more as gifts. The two on the bottom are my washi tape keepers, I have crafting and beading supplies in the black one, the red one is practically empty, the green one hides a ton of elastics for my hair along with Konad stamping supplies and the blue one has all my depression-related documents including test results, prescriptions and medicine foil packs.
In the midst of my attempt to organize everything, Yaya Delta told me that he found an old shelf that I might want. It was discarded after the move from the family building, he said. I looked at it. It was brown but yes, it looked like something I could use, so he painted it white.
And it has now become one of my favorite parts of my room. It stores my trolls, my Polly Pockets, my Smurfs, artwork created by friends (I would never commission an artwork with my face on it but these were all presents and I love them), my magnetic poetry collection, my pile of Lucky Peach, Frankie and Cherry Bombe magazines and my watches, bracelets and accessories.
Those of you who are familiar with my nail polish obsession would already have seen my Helmers. These little metal cabinets from Ikea are the perfect size for storing nail polish bottles. I also use them now as my vanity table. This is usually my last stop before leaving the house, where I grab my lipstick (although I’ve been using YSL’s glossy stain more these days) and my cheek tint and I spritz on perfume before exiting.
I hung the bags I use most often on a hook on my door. Clearly, I’m a backpack kind of girl.
This was the second version of the book wall. (And that’s Jason’s painting of me cradling a Doc Martens boot. It now hangs over my Helmers.)
I was happy with my wall but then I decided to pick up my books from Lola Charit’s house. And I realized that there were a lot of them.
There were so many books that I realized I was going to have to redo the book wall.
And that’s what I did. And I decided to make it the craziest book wall ever.
I consider it a victory that it toppled over only three times while I was working on it.
I was pleased with how it turned out.
I love my book wall a lot. But I realized it was missing something.
This. One of my most treasured possessions as a reader: an inflatable brain Chuck Palahniuk gave me at his event at Cooper Union in New York. I got the very last brain by asking Chuck a question that made the people in the packed auditorium laugh. He threw it my way and I caught it. The fact that it is a brain holds so much more meaning now.
My bedroom was done but my bathroom wasn’t. It needed quite a bit of work so we brought in a plumber. I felt like an adult when I went to a store to buy adult things like a shower heater, a toilet seat, faucets and other random bathroom stuff.
And then I stopped feeling like an adult because I chose a shower heater based on its model name: Olaf. It was so hard choosing between that and Katniss. And Peeta.
And also, I don’t think adult bathrooms are supposed to have a ton of rubber ducks. But I don’t care. I like them.
The last thing I worked on was organizing my closet. It involved hunting down wooden hangers at various branches of Japan Home (4 for P88, what a deal!).
Clearly, I need more black clothes.
And this has been my space for healing.
It’s a little (okay, a lot) messier now than the pictures show but it’s still my sanctuary.
In such a short amount of time, I have made a lot of memories here. It’s where I rest after a long day at work, it’s where I collapse after a really long run, it’s my place for creating and for writing, it’s where I curl up on bad days, it’s where I take phone calls that leave me smiling, it’s where I nurse the pain, it’s where I try to cry even when the tears still won’t come, it’s where I cured my fear of the dark, it’s where I listen to music that makes my soul come alive, it’s where I’ve learned to accept the changes and the challenges, it’s where I’ve started to build new dreams and cling to new hopes.
I created my space for healing. It isn’t perfect but it’s mine.
Powie refused to believe I was getting a tattoo. I think his reaction when I told him was, “Ulol! Seryoso?”
His needle-hating sister willingly paying to be pricked not just once but multiple times? That was never going to happen. That was as likely as the Care Bears coming to life.
So when the tattoos were done, I texted him.
And when his shock wore off, he gleefully waited for shit to hit the fan.
And by shit to hit the fan, I meant he was waiting for my mother and grandmother to react to my tattoos.
For you to fully understand, we need to rewind to October 2002, when a then-17-year-old Powie got his first tattoo: a tribal tramp stamp. I repeat: my innocent 17-year-old brother got a tramp stamp. A tribal one.
But he wasn’t really that innocent, not when it came to doing crazy things to his body. He was 15 when he got his eyebrow and nipple pierced, 16 when he got his tongue pierced and 17 when he stretched his ears so he could wear tunnel earrings.
And just like getting his first tattoo, he did those things without warning.
When his school’s assistant vice principal found out about his eyebrow piercing, Powie was summoned. “Patrick, alam mo ba ginagawa mo sa sarili mo? Pinapatay mo ang sarili mo!”
And if you think that the assistant vice principal was dramatic, you need to hear how my mother reacted when she found out about the tattoo.
I remember that morning clearly. My mother found a tub of petroleum jelly in the bathroom and was trying to figure out whose it was. I was in her room when she walked in, waving the tub, looking both disgusted and amused. “This is your brother’s! Do you think he’s masturbating?”
I rolled my eyes. “Ew, Ma,” I said. But I knew the real reason Powie had been lugging petroleum jelly around. He was using it on his secret tattoo.
I left for work and later that afternoon, my mother called me at the office. She was hysterical. “Your brother has a tattoo! He’s killing me! Talagang papatayin ako nito!” She kept sobbing on the phone.
“Oh my god, Ma. Stop. Your tears aren’t going to erase his tattoo,” I said, eager to get back to work.
Four years later, Powie got another tattoo, one on his arm that was so big it took two sessions to complete. My mother did not want to see it so for years, Powie couldn’t wear sleeveless shirts at home.
Lola Lydia kept quoting Biblical passages, telling Powie that in the Bible, only the bodies of slaves were marked.
Now you understand why Powie was expecting theatrics after my tattoo session.
My mother had come home from the States the day I got my tattoos and when I greeted her, I flashed my right arm, showing her the typewriter one.
“Bullshit!” she said loudly and I laughed.
And then, probably thinking her cowardly daughter would never get a tattoo, she said, “Is that fake?”
“Nope, it’s real.”
She glared at me. And that was that.
Powie missed that exchange and really wanted to see some action. So the next time he saw us together, he tried to get her riled up. “Ma, what did you think of Pam’s tattoo? Are you going to jump out of the window?”
She just glared at him.
Powie continued, “Aren’t her tattoos worse? At least if I wear a shirt, you couldn’t see mine.”
My mom said, “Pam’s tattoos are small.”
And I chimed in, “Yes, they’re small because I want a lot of small tattoos. I’m going to keep adding to them.”
It was my turn to get the glare.
Truth be told, I was more nervous about Lola Lydia’s reaction. So when I had lunch at her house, I used only my left hand to eat. She didn’t notice the tattoo.
But later that night, as I was on my way home, I realized that she had liked the photo of the typewriter tattoo that I had posted on Facebook. I was waiting for the inevitable comment. “In Jesus’ name,” I thought I would read. Or “Terrible!” (I could almost hear her voice saying it the Spanish way.) But there was no comment. The silence was terrifying.
I called Powie. “Holy shit, Lola liked my tattoo photo. What the fuck does that mean?”
Powie started laughing. I kept talking. “I feel like she marked it to remind her to scold me.”
Powie and I arrived at Lola Lyd’s house almost at the same time. And again, he really wanted to see tattoo-caused theatrics. So while I tried hiding my tattoo, he kept trying to get Lola to notice it.
“Pam, why are you wearing your watch on your right wrist? Don’t you usually wear it on the left?” Powie asked loudly.
I gave him my powerful evil stare. I noticed Lolo Bojie looking at my typewriter tattoo and I put my fingers to my lips.
“She’s already seen it,” he said.
But Powie wasn’t done.
“Yelo?” Lola Lyd asked me, adding ice to my glass of water.
Powie said, “Lola, hindi yellow. Green!”
Again, I widened my eyes at him. He kept snickering. But Lola said nothing about my tattoos.
Instead, as I washed the dishes, she started talking about how Jesus had already healed all our diseases when he was nailed to the cross. All diseases, she said, “including migraine, depression, hilo.”
And all of a sudden, her silence about the tattoos made sense.
As we walked out of my grandparents’ house, I nudged my mom. “Lola knows about the depression, huh?”
“I told her,” my mom said.
“I knew it!”
So apparently, in my family, depression gives you a tattoo pass.
It took a couple of days before Lola Lyd finally brought up the tattoos.
“Why did you get tattoos?” she asked me.
“Because the only thing stopping me was my fear of needles and it has disappeared.”
“And what does two-zero mean?”
“A new version of me,” I said.
A version of me who can get tattoos without shit hitting the fan.
“I’m going to ask for complete bloodwork so we can rule out other conditions,” my psychiatrist said.
“Okay, Doc. Can we do it now?” I responded, surprising myself.
I have spent my entire life terrified of needles. As a child, my regular vaccinations always resulted in soap opera-worthy theatrics. I was weeks away from turning thirty when I shamelessly threw toddler-level tantrums in the emergency room after finding out that I had to be hooked up to an IV. And during that dance with dengue, which involved two blood tests a day, after the 6 p.m. blood draw, I would stay up all night in fearful anticipation of the 6 a.m. one. At each blood draw, I would dramatically cover my head with a bunched-up hoodie, refusing to see my own blood. Sometimes, tears were shed. Powie found the whole thing so hilarious that he documented it on video.
And now, all of a sudden, I was offering myself up for total bloodwork willingly and nonchalantly? Fuck, I thought. Something really is wrong with me.
Dr. D looked up at me and asked, “When was the last time you ate?”
I couldn’t remember. “Umm, over 24 hours ago?”
“You overfasted, that would make the results inaccurate.”
A few days later, I returned to the hospital, this time to the lab. “Blood test please,” I said, as if I were ordering fries at McDonald’s.
“What time did you start fasting?”
“Umm, 2 a.m.?” I said, not bothering to mention that what I had in the middle of the night wasn’t a full meal but just a couple of forced bites.
“That was 13 hours ago. You overfasted,” I was told again. I sighed.
Yes, the girl who used to love eating was rejected twice by the blood test gods for fasting too much.
A couple of days later, I was back and I had made sure that I had eaten just ten hours prior. The nurse typed my information into a computer and when I told him my birthday, he exclaimed. “Ay ma’am, magka-birthday tayo!” We smiled at each other.
And when it was time for my blood to be drawn, I asked the nurse, devoid of any feeling, “Right arm or left arm?”
“Right,” I was told. And I offered it to her, feeling absolutely nothing, no fear, no nervousness. You want my blood? Fine, take it, whatever. I even watched as she transferred the blood into vials, marveling at the thought that the crimson liquid had come from my body.
“Okay na po,” the nurse said.
I thanked her and got up. I had more feelings about how much the blood test cost than the actual pricking.
Seriously, how can one damn blood test cost almost P9,000? I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the bill. “Tangina ang mahal maulol,” I texted my friends.
Jason texted: “So wait, so di ka na takot sa injection? #ultimateproof”
I replied: “Yes exactly, as in dedma, ‘right or left?’”
He replied: “SHEEEEEEEET”
But because I remain an optimist no matter what my mind says, I found a silver lining in the sudden disappearance of my needle phobia:
HOLY SHIT, I CAN NOW GET A TATTOO!
And I knew exactly what I wanted. Just a small black “2.0” on my wrist.
For weeks, people kept telling me that I was going to be fine, that if I took my medication, I would be back to normal. But I didn’t think that was going to happen. I had changed so much in a matter of days and I was sure those changes had left indelible marks on me. And the truth was, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go back to who I was.
A friend who has been depressed said, “One of the biggest things you have to accept is that you may never go back to being the person you were. And that’s okay.”
It was such a relief to hear that and to have it echoed by people crucial to my healing including my psychiatrist. “Anak, think of it as a new chapter,” she said to me.
“It has changed you,” Nico said. “And maybe you can’t change back into Pam-Before-Depression. But you CAN become Better Pam. Pam 2.0.”
2.0. I wanted my tattoo to celebrate the new and hopefully better version of me.
I kept bugging Tatin, a veteran with four tattoos, about my desire to get inked. “Taaaaaats I want a tattoo,” I would text her at random hours.
She booked an appointment for us with illustrator and tattoo artist Wiji Lacsamana.
Naturally, I began stalking Wiji on Instagram. And when I saw the incredible colored tattoos she creates, I realized I was in trouble. “Uh oh,” I told Tatin. “I have a feeling I will end up getting two tattoos.”
Days later, Tatin and I arrived at Wiji’s tattoo studio.
I loved how clean, cozy and comforting it was. Not scary at all. She even has a wall you can stare at to relax you while you get inked.
Tatin was getting a tattoo of her beloved poodle Tank’s face and she and Wiji tried to figure out how big it should be.
I love how Wiji uses printouts so you can choose the size of your tattoo.
“Mabibitin ka dyan,” they told me as they looked at my tiny “2.0” design.
“I know,” I said, while staring at stencils of beautiful tattoos Wiji has done. “I think I’m going to get a second one.”
“Go first,” Tatin said as Wiji prepared her tools. I was a mix of courage and nerves.
“I’m going to start by shaving the area,” Wiji said.
Then she applied stencil gunk. (I forgot what it’s really called.)
And she used a pink Sharpie as we tried to decide on the exact placement of the tattoo.
Then it was time for the needle. “You need to stay really still,” Wiji said. Apparently it’s a must when you are getting letters or numbers tattooed.
“Wait!” I said. “I need music and my book.”
“You’re not going to have time to read,” Wiji said, laughing. “This is going to be really fast.”
But because I’m stubborn, I grabbed Augusten Burroughs’ Possible Side Effects anyway. Then I popped in my earphones, opened Spotify and started playing M.I.A.’s Bad Girls which has officially become my tattoo jam.
“Ready?” Wiji asked.
“I’ll start with the dot.”
I loved how quiet Wiji’s tattoo machine was, it was practically purring. I felt no pain, just a little pressure.
Then she started on the numbers. And I felt a little pain but it wasn’t bad at all.
“Kaya, kaya,” I kept saying and they started laughing because they said it sounded like I was trying to convince myself.
Wiji was right. The tattoo was done so fast that I didn’t even get to finish my song.
And they were right, I wanted another one.
So while Tatin got Tank’s face tattooed on her wrist, I thought of possible designs.
I knew I wanted something that symbolized my love for words, writing and reading. A book? A notebook? And then it hit me: a typewriter!
We began the process again. Shave, gunk, stencil, placement, Sharpie.
This time, I was able to finish the song. Multiple times, actually. I could have even chosen to read if I wanted to. But I did not. The typewriter tattoo was bigger and more detailed than 2.0 and so it hurt more. But again, kaya, kaya.
Strangely, getting those tiny little keys done was my favorite part. At some point, you get used to the pain and hardly feel it.
The most painful part for me was when Wiji started coloring the tattoo. But I think it’s totally worth it.
And what shoes did I wear when I got my first tattoos? My tattoo Doc Martens, of course.
I woke up the next day still absolutely in love with my tattoos.
I have 2.0 on my left arm.
And a typewriter on my right.
I also got a tin of Good Lovin’, which Wiji makes for her brand Radioactive Mushrooms In The Forest. I’ve been using it to care for my tattoos while they are healing.
“Welcome to the dark side,” Wiji joked when I expressed joy about finally getting inked. And like I told her, the dark side is a magical place full of possibilities. In fact, I’m already planning my next ones.