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.
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.