I Promise To Notice When I Am Happy

THIS WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED VIA TINYLETTER ON DATE STAMPED

LONELINESS

I wrote my first story in second grade. My mom accidentally got her hands on it and told me, “Anak, go and be a writer instead. That way, you’ll get rich and travel the world.” Ever since then, I have never stopped writing. If I didn’t finish one thing, I would always start something else.

I reached a point, though, that the only motivation I had to write was being in a dark place. I told my Victory group leader it was hard for me to be happy because I felt like a part of me didn’t want to be. I hated (still do) cheesy, inspirational quotes and called them empty, detached to reality. I felt like the only way to be in touch with myself, to be authentic, to truly be self-aware was to be lonely. I owed it to my writing to be true. And so while stumbling upon loneliness wasn’t my own doing, the sulking I did voluntarily. Imago had a line about it for a significant other but it was a line I sang to myself:

Sinuyod ang distrito ng iyong lumbay / para hanapin, / para hanapin ka

Sundo, Imago

Over the years, I’ve gotten used to not being okay. I like to pick on trauma and suffering and a good metaphor would tell you that is how it wouldn’t heal. But just lately, I had my dentist pick on a tooth with early signs of decay, cleaned it, and put tooth fillings so we wouldn’t have to perform a root canal or extraction. That metaphor makes much more sense to me.

Thankfully, I did not stay lonely. But the process of getting out of that state wasn’t pretty as anyone would be quick to assume. It was ugly and painful. Loneliness became so comfortable that anything outside of that was scary. There was always the risk of being in a worse place contrary to a better one. That appeal makes loneliness a dangerous state to be in. It’s easy to be a frog in a casserole filled with water, gradually boiled to death.

DIAGNOSIS

If it’s not somewhere in Alabang, we would be at the New World Hotel for our usual late night meetings. Sometimes, it stretches until 4 in the morning which I would attribute to offtrack discussions that ranges from dating to travel to finances and so on. I kid you not, one time my boss boss made us answer an IQ test online in the middle of the meeting, far from crossing out those listed in our agenda for the night.

I have an above average team here,” he says matter-of-factly after we all finished the tests.

Then he proceeded to say that that should make us a little mad in the head somehow. Like a sickness is a trade-off for being brilliant, if that’s what it means for him to have an above average IQ.

He pointed to my direct supervisor and said, “This one has.” like he actually knew. I wouldn’t be surprised if she told him since they were pretty close. Then he looked at me and said he was pretty sure I have a psychological condition, too, before asking the last person if she has anything of the like as well. He wasn’t wrong about me. I like to think he reads people very well and not because it shows.

I always knew something was up— I mean, I had strong attempts and weeks I chose to lived in solitude. But it was not until early 2018 that I officially got a diagnosis. It was after midnight when I cried and screamed in my boyfriend’s car ’til I could no longer. It would be hard to tell if I was only drunk and emotional. Except my head was throbbing, my whole body was trembling violently, and I couldn’t stop either. The next day, my boyfriend drove me to the hospital for a check-up. I told the truth to my bosses and they wouldn’t let me back without a medical certificate in hand. So I stayed in the car in that basement carpark for as long as I could— curled up, seat reclined, and the smell of cheap pizza quickly filling up the air.

Three thousand in cash and the longest wait after, the psychiatrist diagnosed me with Anxiety Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). I think it was Dani Nakpil who said it. “Diagnosis is the first step to getting treated.” It sure did relieve a great amount of anxieties I had in me. I did not just fool myself into believing my own theatrics. But diagnosis wasn’t everything.

HAPPINESS

Unlike its friend, anxiety has never been comfortable. It’s your heart pounding in your chest, like it’s about to rip it open and jump out. Sight, clouded and senses, spiked: this is what survival instincts are made of. Except it’s likely you’re not about to die and you never move on from the panic until the episode decides to finish. Sometimes, it stretches and stipples but it’s never as comfortable as loneliness. Having my cynicism prove me right doesn’t help. My senses are up and I’m always doubting other people’s intentions. I read into the slightest change of treatment, probably a little too much. I am Doctor Strange’s cousin and I could list all the million ways Bandersnatch could end badly.

I have made active ways to cope with anxiety, though— deactivated my Facebook, opting to a more private Tinyletter rather than a public blog, cutting off certain people, decluttering as much aspects of my life as I could, and setting clear boundaries in my relationships, both personal and at work, to name a few. Plus, my boyfriend helps a lot in trying to keep me level. (Operative word being ‘trying’.)

And I have to admit that the quality of life I’ve been living has also improved immensely over the past few years in terms of material possessions, the people I allow to surround me, finances, health, and shelter. The thing with anxiety is that if it doesn’t cripple you, it makes you move and I have. I have communicated my allowances; people understand and there had been very few people who try and cross the limitations I set. I no longer do premature purchases for substandard quality nor purchase good quality at a price that would hurt my budget on a daily. I have comfortable homes both in the South and in the Metro. I have eaten good food my tongue should thank me for! I have honest and vulnerable relationships with no allowance for any hint of shade. I am in the process of getting rid of any chronic inconveniences and pain that affects the quality of rest and life I have.

One time, the clouds passed by me, maybe momentarily but enough to make me see what I could not see under the shade. I am happy but was unable to enjoy it because I’m always on guard for the otherwise. I have read the statement, “I promise to notice when I am happy.” in one of Isabel Garcia’s pieces of writing. And ever so constantly, I try to remember to keep that vow to myself. Because when you’re under dreary shades, it’s not always easy to notice that you are happy, you are safe, and you are living. There is a lot of life around me and waiting for me. I anticipated the future with so much fear and yes, it has kept me safe. But it’s such a darn way to live.

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