Attack Decay Sustain Release

Black holes and revelations

Published on 26 October 2019, in the Philippine STAR.

I think one of the worst things about having clinical depression is the guilt. You want to pretend it’s not there — the emptiness — because you don’t feel like you have any right to it, and you know that there will be people out there who maybe won’t say it to your face, but will be thinking, How dare she? So many people are living infinitely harder lives, and she, with all her privilege and good fortune, has the audacity to be depressed? How ungrateful!

There will be people who will say it aloud, too. In my case, they’ve always been people who didn’t know me at all, and didn’t care to learn. Anonymous strangers on the Internet. Old classmates or distant acquaintances with resentments. And I wished so hard that I could tell them, You don’t have to say these things to me. I already tell myself every single day.

I’m so grateful for my life, and I hate that this illness — because that’s what it is, an illness, real and insidious — makes me feel ungrateful.

Something I wish everyone realised is that no one in their right mind would choose to have this condition. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. It’s not a bid for attention. If I wanted attention, I would post a selfie or a picture of myself in a bathing suit like everyone else on the Internet. And sometimes I do. But when I write about heavy things, it’s because they’re incredibly real to me, and I don’t believe in putting on a positive show for social media if it’s rooted in pretense. There’s already too much artifice out there, and it’s so damaging to those who are already vulnerable or haven’t developed the discernment to see it.

But also, it’s because there’s a part of me that needs to know if anyone out there feels the same, because one of the other worst things about depression is feeling completely alone.

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Attack Decay Sustain Release

Things turning 30 taught me

I’ve begun writing a new column for the Philippine STAR’s Sunday Lifestyle section called Attack Decay Sustain Release. Henceforth, I plan to upload my columns here as well, some time after the original publication date, in order to compile more of my work here (in a format I find pleasing), and also so that it’s more readily accessible.

I think it bears mentioning that the tone of my writing for the paper is a little different from the tone I typically take here. I write here expecting that the people reading my personal work already know at least a little of the context behind the stories, or care a bit about who I am. But when I write for the paper, that goes out the window. I have to assume that the people reading have no idea who I am and are largely uninterested — unless I can make them interested. So the key there is to keep it real, but keep it relevant.

But also, to keep it strictly PG.

This was published on 19 October 2019.

Five years ago, when I was the alarming age of 27, I asked an older friend what it was like to be in your thirties. “You’re going to love it,” she told me. “It worries you now, but when you hit 30, you suddenly just stop giving a f— about so many things, and it will free you.” I didn’t believe her then, but I’m 32 now, and she was absolutely right.

My twenties were clouded by the struggle to reconcile the person I was discovering I wanted to be and the person I believed I was supposed to be (or thought I was expected to be). It was a confusing period in my life; I felt thrust from childhood into adulthood with nary a road map, and spent the bulk of that time feeling lost. I was trying so hard to forge an identity for myself; figuring out how the world worked, and what my place was in it. Real world experience forced me to dismantle old ideas and beliefs, and embrace new ones, which wasn’t always an easy thing to do. My twenties were not easy.

But my thirties have been a revelation. Still not easy, but easier, because I’ve learned some important things along the way that have changed how I look at my life, and how I live it.

Say yes.

Most of the very best things you’ll ever experience in life will come from overcoming your fears and saying yes more often. So many of us are so scared to venture outside of our comfort zones when we are younger. We think to ourselves, this is okay; this is enough, and we hold ourselves back because we’re afraid of the unknown. We shouldn’t be.

Say yes when a good opportunity presents itself, even if you feel out of your depth. Never let the fear of making mistakes keep you from trying. You’re always going to make mistakes. Making them and then getting yourself back up, that’s the best way to grow and learn. When you go through something hard and make it through, the next time becomes easier, because you’ve done it before and you’re stronger for it. And hey, you might just build something amazing as you go.

Say yes every time you get the chance to travel, especially if you get to travel alone. Exploring new places will teach you so much about the world, and exploring on your own will teach you things you never knew about yourself and what you are capable of. Learning to say yes took me on adventures I would never have imagined when I was younger, and I met incredible people on those journeys who made the experience that much richer.

Say yes when you get invited to things, whether they’re simple things like dinner or movies, or crazy things like celebrating Halloween on a private island. (If it’s financially viable!) I used to say no to activities when they mostly involved people I didn’t know or didn’t know too well. But when I decided to give people a chance and say yes more often, I built much deeper friendships than I ever expected with acquaintances that then became close friends, and made so many new friends from all walks of life who, through knowing them, helped me expand my worldview. And I got to do some really fun things, like win quiz nights, hike the Masungi Georeserve, and yes, celebrate Halloween on a private island.

In my twenties, I always felt like I was just a background character in my own story. I felt like I was on the sidelines, watching other people live interesting and incredible lives and wondering why that couldn’t be me. It wasn’t me because I was so sheltered, always so afraid to try. Finding the courage to say yes really advanced the plot. I’m definitely the heroine now.

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Non-fiction, Vignettes

The Two-Year Stand

It’s the ways we fell asleep that I think I’ll always remember.

Sometimes I would close my eyes and press my ear to his chest to hear his heart beating, just a minute or two, before turning over and away. There was a part of me that always understood all too well: I could have it in that moment, but only for a moment. It was never really something I would ever possess.

For a time, that was enough.

Beyond the fire, the little tenderness that always followed. Sleepy kisses on my forehead, on my bare shoulder, along my spine. The gentle graze of fingertips back and forth on my arm, draped across him, as I fell in and out of slumber. The featherlike brush of hands as they traced the curve of my hip, the dip of my side. Memorising with his skin the texture of my own skin. His touch is seared into my memory.

Sometimes he would pull me close, an arm slung over my waist, his hand on my chest, or holding my hand, so close I could feel his breath on the back of my neck. A soft kiss, a whisper.

Sometimes we were face to face, with foreheads pressed together, hands clasped between us.

Sometimes, apart, our fingers twined across the small gap that separated us, holding on to each other as we both slipped away into dreams.

Sometimes I would wake in the middle of the night, or whatever hour of morning or midday passed for night with us, and gaze briefly upon his sleeping face. Lips pursed, brow knit ever so slightly, hair tousled, eyes shut under long lashes, peaceful. Then I would close my own eyes again.

It will always be impossibly strange to me, that in those moments I felt like I had never been so close to — but also so very far away from — another person. So comfortable, but so tense. So safe, but so afraid. So warm, but so cold.

He would plant three kisses on my lips before leaving me in the mornings. Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.

I knew I would always be saying goodbye from the first time that I kissed him and felt it in my chest, in my belly. Every kiss started to mean something after that. Every kiss I gave him was a farewell.

I would sleep in the remnants of his warmth for as long as I wanted to. And when I woke, I would make his bed. I would gather my things. I would gather myself. I would lock his front door behind me, and then I would be gone. Like I’d never been there at all.

It’s the ways we fell asleep that I think I’ll always remember.