2019, You Were One Hell Of A Ride!

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

So, here I am again writing away about the year that was 2019. When I woke up this morning, I found myself absent-mindedly staring at the ceiling, perhaps thankful to be alive to face another year full of surprises. Then I looked at J who was sleeping like a child beside me. I felt a sense of gratitude because despite of our differences, we are still together- stronger than ever. Afterwards, I went to the gym because I wanted to start the year right and  have the motivation to stay healthy at least.

On my way to the gym, I became unintentionally mindful of the world around me. I surveyed my surroundings- Leicester Square on the left, Piccadilly Circus on the right. Somehow, it felt surreal again to realise that I am actually living in a place where a lot of people would want to holiday in. I was thankful for the opportunity to live here and experience such a beautiful chaos on a daily basis. 

When I got home, I made a video call to my family. They all looked well, apart my mother who is currently experiencing some pain on her back. My father, sister-in-law, my nephew and my niece were in the house, seemingly happy. My brother also called whilst I was on the phone with them. 

After that, I looked at my phone and read messages from my friends all over the world. Then I pottered around and felt relaxed looking at our small but bright and airy flat. We have food in the fridge that will last us until Friday at least. In fact, we have everything that we need and more. For once, I was in the moment and being mindful made me realise only one thing-

I have enough.

And whilst 2019 has been quite unkind, I can't deny the fact that the good things still outweighed the bad. So, yay!

Personally, I constantly battled with some mental health issues in 2019. I was functioning normally, but there was this persistent bouts of insecurities, doubts, fear, anxiety and low mood that only I would ever understand. I also went through a traumatic experience which could have potentially damaged me permanently- mentally and emotionally. This was the most fearful experience I had to go through since Keith's passing in 2012, and this experience will forever be etched on my memory.

2019 also gave me false hopes. What could have been the realisation of my biggest dream became a moment of yet another acceptance that this dream may never become a reality. Sometime in July, I thought I was pregnant as I was delayed for two weeks. I had all the physical signs of pregnancy, so I was convinced that I was pregnant. Unfortunately, all eight pregnancy tests that I took were negative. This caused me a lot of worry because then I thought that it was either I had some problem with my reproductive system, or I was nearing the menopausal stage. It was quite daunting having to go through some tests to ensure that I was okay. Luckily, all tests came back negative. I may have potentially expected too much and perhaps being pregnant was something that I created in my head, but I still felt sad, disappointed and er, bitter because I have been wanting to have a baby, and trying has been quite trying. So, I was hoping that this would be it, but obviously, the universe has other plans (yet again). 

I know I only mentioned two challenges, but trust me, they were enough to make my year quite difficult because of their impact on my mental health. Coincidentally, we also had opportunities to unwind last year- some of which were unexpected. J and I travelled a fair bit in 2019. This allowed me to reset my life (well, some aspects of it), reflect on my existence and to reconnect with the world and some of the people that matters to me. Our trip to Alsace, California and Canada helped me forget about my worries albeit temporarily. 

Professionally, I finally managed to stabilise the ward after a stormy year in 2018. What consumed my time and energy in 2019 was the clinic, which until now remains very challenging. Whilst I thought I have gone through the worst in people management in 2018, 2019 proved me wrong. My patience was continuously challenged by some people, which compelled me to make a drastic decision before the year ended. I also learned how to distance myself from people that I trusted, but were the first ones to throw me under the bus. Whilst I remain supportive to my staff, I understand that some people lack genuine compassion and are only there to do a job and therefore, I really can't expect anything more.

It was as if I haven't had enough to deal with already in 2019 that in December, we were told that there has been some changes in the company business plan, and that there will be a potential redundancy. We were given a month to three months to be officially made redundant. It is very unsettling, but hey, such is life. My only consolation is the fact that I have resilient staff who have good skills (in life and clinically), who are well experienced and who have great knowledge. Therefore, whatever happens, I am confident that they will be okay. In my case, I really have something to think about.

So here I am, at a crossroads once again.

2019, you were one hell of a ride but thank you. Because of the challenges you brought me, I have become more aware of my own mental health and of those who are close to my heart. I now have a full understanding that my mental health is as important as my physical health and therefore, I will do my best to protect it in 2020.

2020, I am going to lift everything up to the universe. But whatever it is that you have in store for me, remember that you are dealing with a true warrior. 


On How I Started on Social Media and The Reasons Behind My Posts

Saturday, 21 December 2019

My blogging history goes back way before Facebook and Instagram took over the social media world. In 2006, I started blogging through the now-defunct Multiply blogger site for only one reason: to share my fundraising events for Bantay Bata 163. But then I started dreaming of becoming a fashion blogger, so I thought I'd utilise the platform to give fashion tips and ideas to other people. Unfortunately, it didn't take long before I realised that I wasn't really fashionable enough to do this. I love dressing up yes, but there is definitely a difference between being plain stylish and being a fashionista, so I gave up on this dream straight away. Besides, I wasn't prepared to spend so much time and money in buying clothes, shoes and bags just so I can tell what other people should buy or wear. I didn't think I was credible enough at that time, and I still don't think I am. When I joined blogger in 2011, I thought I'd give fashion blogging another chance but I terribly failed. I could not possibly tag every single item of clothing that I was wearing, hence I gave up for good.

Eventually, the success of my fundraising events apparently became a source of envy to some Filipinos in the community. They started what it seemed like a movement against me at that time. I had to endure attempts of character assassination but I didn't confront any of them. Instead, I used my blog to express my anger and frustration. It was then I started to openly share my thoughts and feelings on social media. It was liberating and until now, I still enjoy this freedom of expression - very much so that I already got into trouble at least a couple of times for being reflective and honest.

And then I started travelling and found new passion in sharing my surreal travel experiences with my friends, initially on Multiply. Then I was introduced to Facebook in 2008. I liked the layout immediately and how it was easy to navigate, so I eventually slowly moved away from Multiply and found myself posting more on Facebook. 

So, why do I post what I post on social media? I would be a hypocrite if I don't say that at one point, I used social media to get back at those who talked behind my back- to fuel their envy. I posted my travel photos to give them more reasons to dislike me perhaps, because the best revenge I believed (and still do) is to show your "haters" that you are happy. Don't get me wrong, when I was travelling a lot (between 2009 and 2012), I was at my happiest so there was sincerity in those happy photos.

Then I started writing captions on my photos on Facebook and writing about my travels on Blogger. At this point, I have matured enough to let my haters hate all they like, and focused on sharing my story with those who cared. I started receiving comments and private messages from friends and some strangers, telling me how they enjoyed looking at my travel photos. I guess what inspired me the most was when people told me that they also felt like they have been to the places that I have been to, by just reading my story. Some people also asked for itineraries and referred to my blog when planning their own trip. This encouraged me to write more, even if to be honest, I am not a good writer.

You see, I came from a poor family and growing up, travelling was very far from my mind. Besides, society made me believe that travelling was only for the rich people. So all I ever wanted was to get a degree and work abroad to give my family a better life. Travelling came late to be honest and it came as a blessing. 

When I started travelling, I started to see the world differently. I was no longer the ignorant girl who was scared of so many things, including talking to strangers and trying new food. I became more confident and most importantly, less judgemental. I became more understanding of people in general, more appreciative of different cultures and more interested in experimenting with food. Travelling taught me a lot about life outside my comfort zone and greatly about myself.

And for people, especially the younger generation, to tell me that they are inspired by my travels and that they also would like to visit those places one day, gives true joy to my heart. I am a true testament that even the things that you never dreamed of come true if you believe you can, and if you listen to your heart. Perhaps the message I want to get out there is the fact that although everyone is not entitled to travel, everyone is entitled to dream. My dreams gave me the inspiration to work hard, learn more and do more, hence I am where I am today. I'm sure anyone can dream and do this, too. I am confident that one day, all the dreamers will be where they have always wanted to be. 

Food is another thing that I post regularly on social media. I have no reason for it apart from the fact that I love eating. Perhaps, sometimes I go over overboard and try expensive food, but I guess I deserve it, too? To be fair, I started taking photos of my food as part of my travel stories,  even before everyone started doing it on instagram and facebook. Besides, I have friends who love food too, and my posts actually give them ideas on restaurants or cafes that they may want to try when they visit the places that I have visited. Posting food on social media actually inspired me to do better in the kitchen, too. Whilst I was not very keen on cooking before, I now make extra effort for my food to look and taste good for the gram. Haha. Seriously speaking though, I gained a new skill in cooking and my food is now more appreciated by my loved ones. In fact, it has become my language of love. 

Lastly, I post my thoughts, feelings and emotions on social media because I find it very therapeutic. As a frustrated writer and a TED Talks speaker- lol , writing somehow gives me that opportunity to realise my dream to empower and motivate other people. I may not have that strong "influence" as many other people have, but the fact that some people actually appreciate my honesty and the authenticity of my posts is enough inspiration for me to continue writing. There have been a few followers, friends and readers who have expressed their gratitude to me, for sharing my life experiences because my experiences apparently resonated with them. Some of them were empowered to open up to me because they were scared of being judged by other people, including their own family and friends. It also humbles me when someone reposts my personal quotes or share my blog because - who am I at the end of the day? It is very inspiring to know that somehow in my own little way, I can touch other people's lives, too.

I guess it is fair to say that in using the social media platform, I found one of my purposes in life- to openly share my life, dreams, experiences and my heart in order to help (some) people to 1) realise their own dreams, empower them and inspire them to believe that one day, they will be able to get even farther than where I am today 2) understand that authenticity is the key to get to where you want to be in life 3) believe that it is okay to be human- admit your mistakes, be honest and apologise, and 4) believe that life is not perfect, and it takes a lot of courage and bravery to admit life's imperfections on social media.

And with this, I want to share a message sent to me by one of my followers on instagram whom I don't know personally. Messages like this empower me to be brave and honest about everything in life:

"You are such an amazing brave woman and I am so moved by your ability to take charge of your life and speak the truths about life! So often social media is just a platform to share what we most "desire" to be or "aspire" to have- very rarely does the surface meet the realities of what lies beneath...your struggles and basically life to date have made you a woman I can look up to...I know that no matter what happens we can still be the best version of ourselves. Thank you for sharing Cristine."


Bullying Is Not Cool

Thursday, 28 November 2019

The news that my niece was being bullied in school compelled me to write about my own experience with bullying.

I only fully understood the seriousness and effects of bullying when I came to the UK. It was also then I only realised that in fact, I was bullied too- as a child and perhaps as an adult.

You see, I grew up in a country were teasing other children in school was and still is a norm. What a lot of people didn't and still don't realise is that teasing can actually be a form of bullying. Children often take advantage of other children's weaknesses. They laugh at other children's disabilities. They find joy in calling other children nasty names. They physically hurt other children to show them they have power over them. All of these seemed to have been accepted by the society that I grew up in. It is very shameful to admit that even grown ups did and said things that they didn't necessarily knew was bullying. In short, there was not enough (or none at all) awareness on bullying where I came from. Nowadays though, with the amount of people claiming to be social media "influencers" and some celebrities, at least more and more people are raising awareness on bullying by sharing their own experiences and/or of people they personally know. 

Bullying as defined by gov.uk is repeated behaviour intended to hurt someone either physically or emotionally. There are a few forms of bullying which include verbal (teasing, name calling), physical, relational and cyber-bullying.

My own experience on bullying started when I was in kindergarten. My classmates would call me, almost on a daily basis, "Farinas Banyas". Baniyas is a type of lizard in the Philippines. I remember getting annoyed with it and I would answer back but of course, I thought that was normal. The same group of children would call my other classmates names, too.

Then in second grade, one of my classmates leered at me constantly. I never found out why. Then one day, perhaps she could no longer contain her anger. She grabbed my hair from the back and pulled it so hard until she managed to get a handful of hair, then she stopped. I didn't fight back. I went home crying and told my mother about it. My mother comforted me but didn't do anything. However, she advised me to tell her if it happened again. She reassured me that kids who acted that way were jealous of me. I took her word and went back to school the next day like nothing has happened.

A group of classmates repeatedly emotionally "tortured" me in grade school. They would invite me to climb over a high fence and jump into a vacant bushy lot, then would hide from me. At times, they ran away too fast that I wasn't able catch up. I always felt like a loser and went home with a heavy heart, at times crying.

One of the boys was constantly name-calling me. I had a curly hair at one point and he would chant "kulot baboy" (curly pig) everytime he saw me. He scared me one time and my eyes went big because of fear. Since then, he called me "bungaok" (owl) because my eyes were so big. 

But I guess the worst act of bullying I experienced (if I may call it that), was when somebody deliberately pushed me while walking on a fence of an empty pond. I was in second grade and was lured into playing in an area where I wouldn't normally play. I was a coward as a child and wouldn't really do anything that I knew would hurt me, unless someone forced me to it. So, I fell down and my chin landed on a steel bar. I didn't feel any pain but I saw blood gushing through my pearly white dress. Until now, I still can't remember anyone helping me. Instead, I hysterically ran to my brother (who was in 6th grade at that time). My brother went into a panic, he brought me home straight away. The next thing I remember, I was having a few stitches under my chin. This experience sometimes crosses my mind so vividly that I still become emotional about it. I can still feel the scar under my chin, which to me now is a reminder that I was brave and strong as a child.

None of the experiences I shared above were taken seriously as far as I am concerned. It is because that's what children did during my time. They played, pushed each other, called each other nasty names and all was normal. "They're just kids", grown-ups would say.

Lucky for me, the bullying didn't affect me in any dangerous way nor did it hinder me from achieving success. During those times that I was being bullied, I was consistent in the honour roll (2nd honours) and I was academically inclined. I managed to make and keep a lot of friends from all grade levels and even from other schools- some of them I am proud to still call my friends.

Reflecting on the impact of bullying on my emotional well-being, perhaps it is fair to say that all those emotional battles at a very young age prepared me for what was to come. I grew up emotionally equipped to take on many challenges in my life- some of them were fairly painful experiences that required strength and resilience. From the death of my closest cousin, to family issues, to Keith's passing, to battle with infidelity that led to divorce, to being treated badly by my own community and at work,  and all the other emotional challenges in between.

I suppose one of the most important things I learned from being bullied at a young age is not letting it change the person that I was. I never sought revenge. I didn't use this experience to bully other children. The more that I actually treated other people with kindness and respect. At a young age, I learned how to put my feet in other people's shoes, hence  I reflect on my life and my actions far more than a lot of people I know. 

Bullying has to stop because of its negative effects on most people. People who have been bullied at a young age (or as adults) tend to develop anxiety and depression. It affects their confidence and self-esteem. They develop social anxiety which makes it difficult for them to relate to other people.

If you're a parent, a brother, a sister or a friend of someone being bullied, please be vigilant and don't judge your loved one. They need your support. If you see them quiet and not talking much, please don't assume that they are just having a "drama". If they don't like to go school or making excuses not to go to school, please don't call them lazy. If they are wetting their bed (which I did when I was being bullied because I was having nightmares), don't scold them or tease them because they might have had a bad dream. If they are being angry, suplada or suplado at home, talk to them instead of telling them off because they need your reassurance. Remember, communication is the key. Check up on them as often as you can. Make them feel that you are there for them. Be generous with your time and listen patiently. Make them feel that they are not alone.

To the bullies out there, bullying is not cool. Please remember that karma is real. What goes around comes around. 

To anyone reading this, please always be kind. Kindness is the only thing that the world needs from you right now. Don't judge. Every person you come in contact with is going through something. Be generous with your smile especially to strangers. Compliment them when you can. Your kindness may just save a life.

Be kind. That is all.


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