Hi, people. I have an eating disorder.

(TRIGGER WARNING!  If you suffer from an eating disorder and feel you might be triggered by a detailed retelling, please do not read.)

Hello, people.

Yesterday, I managed to catch the last few minutes of a friend’s radio talk airing on Facebook Live.  There, she discussed whether it’s better for emotions to be hidden or revealed.  I did want to leave a comment but the show ended before I can even complete half a sentence.

But the question hit home and I spent the rest of yesterday’s waking hours thinking about how I would’ve answered if someone asked me face-to-face, “Are emotions better hidden or revealed?”

My siblings would definitely say I’d reveal.  As far as they know, it really is that hard for me to keep a secret.  (That’s why they don’t tell me their secrets because I’d surely tell our mother.)  That’s also as far as I know.  Keeping secrets has always exhausted me, emotionally and physically.  I tend to feel intensely, and one disadvantage of being me is I can’t discriminate between big and small things: for me, everything is a big thing.  It’s exhausting.  Keeping secrets is as if I’m giving something more merit than it’s actually worth.  Putting words to it – either by saying it out loud even to just one person or writing it down – reduces its intensity.  It significantly lessens the burden of having to carry it inside.  Get it?

But one thing that I have hidden is that I’ve been suffering from anorexia for a long time.

For those who have heard it for the first time or know little about it, anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by obsessively limiting the amount of calories taken and encouraging activities to utilize these calories, for the sake of being thin.  According to my research, I fall under anorexia binge/purge subtype.  (I haven’t had an official diagnosis, though.)

And yes, it is a mental illness.  And it kills.

Many times, I hinted or told family and friends that I wanted to see a psychiatrist – because I knew something bad was happening to me.  But mental health is still stigmatized in the Philippines that either they didn’t take me seriously or they told me, “No, you’re not crazy.”  Because I wanted to be liked – and nobody likes to be around sad people – I decided to pretend.  (And also because, honestly, I thought I can’t afford treatment.)

All the while I was suffering and self-hating, but on the outside, I appeared happy and full of sunshine.  In office fellowships, I hopped from table to table, danced, and sang a lot so I could avoid eating altogether.  And if anyone caught me having a handful of nuts or chips or drinking sugared water?  Rest assured my dinner later was a glass of water with two packets of psyllium husk to flush it all out.  My meal the next morning would be two HIIT sessions.

I was the girl who’s scared to get hungry because I brought lots of food on trips, but I’d exercise it all off in the room.  Also, they’re all full of fiber, low-fat, and low-calorie.  And when I get home, the fasting would begin.

I’d be grateful for any situation that kept me from going out with friends or co-workers because it kept me from having to eat.  I’d make every excuse – restroom, need to get something I was pretty sure would be hard to find, too tired – when with my family at restaurants.  Even now that we have started our lunch delivery business, I dread being forced to taste the food and eat the leftovers.  I’m late a lot at work because I would jog 8,000 steps to burn the calories.  My waking hours are 100% predominated by thoughts of food, specifically, how to survive every day without needing it.

You know what makes me happy?  Being told that I got thinner.  Or that they envied my discipline.  Or that they wanted to do what I do.  But then, these doesn’t give me contentment.  Instead, they would push me to go further.  I’d eat less and exercise more to be thinner, to be more disciplined, and to never be beaten.

On the other hand, one thing that distresses me is being told to gain weight.  I remember telling well-intentioned people, “What are you talking about?  I gained an inch around my waist!” or,  “You just don’t see it but I look horrible without clothes.”  The other is seeing other girls losing weight faster than me.  I’ve learned that these two are typical behaviors of eating disorder sufferers: a distorted view of their bodies and competitiveness.

I wish I could tell you how it all started but the truth is, I don’t know.  Maybe it’s going through adolescence getting called ugly and fat, or having feelings that were not reciprocated, or not fitting into beautiful clothes.  Maybe it’s growing up in front of the TV and seeing all the advertisements that said I had to be thin to be accepted and liked.  Maybe it’s all those physical check-ups that required me to line up with girl classmates who were most interested in comparing weights.  Maybe it’s hearing people who make fun of fat people.  Maybe it’s being noticed by guys only when I started losing weight.  Maybe it’s this ridiculous expectation – that may or may not be espoused by the community itself – that vegans have to be sexy.  Maybe it’s all of these and other things I don’t consciously think of.

But I could tell when I decided to stop.  It was a Tuesday night from many months ago and I found myself laughing at a good priest because he is obese.  I stopped, shocked, and I muttered to myself,

“Who are you, monster?”

I never thought I would say something like that.  Growing up looking different, I knew how painful it is to be judged for something I have no control over and I can’t change.  I made the decision a long time ago to see only the beauty in other people.

Then, I laughed at someone for not being thin.

I realized, painfully, that I have been looking at others that way for some time.  He got fat.  She lost weight.  Her arms are huge.  She’s so thin.  I know I never wanted to be like that.  I never wanted to be this vile person who defines someone else according to her/his weight.  It was unacceptable.  That’s when I decided to put a stop to this.

You may ask, if I’ve been aware of my eating disorder for a long time, why haven’t I stopped it at the onset?  TRIGGER ALERT again.  I’m going to be brutally honest: I didn’t because the eating disorder is like a badge, a trophy.  Every step further down is a testament to my discipline and determination.  Most people can’t achieve what I have achieved.  Most people can’t do what I am able to do.

In my case, it was also sort of an illicit relationship.  It’s like the eating disorder is seductively whispering, “Look, everybody thinks this is all effortless.  But only you and I have to know of all our hard work.  This is our dirty little secret.”

But secrets lose their intensity once we put words into them.  As words, someone else can see them.  Now, we can see them as they are.  They lose their illusion.  They lose their seductiveness.  They lose their power.

I haven’t recovered yet, mind you.  I still find myself binge eating and purging.  I still find myself obsessively exercising to burn every possible calorie I have taken in.  My relationship with food is still unhealthy.  I still find myself labeling food as good and bad.  I still find myself finding excuses to skip meals.  I still feel bad that I ate at all.  I still look at myself in the mirror and want to change parts of myself.

But I’m trying.  I’m trying really hard.  And it’s hard.  There are times – like right now – that I cry because I have to go through this illness and ask myself why I can’t just be normal and carefree like everybody else.  There are times I doubt if I even do want to recover from my eating disorder, if I’m ready to lose all my gains now that I’ve gone this far.  But I remind myself that my mental health is most important right now.  My eating disorder made me acceptable to other people, but it cost me my self-respect, happiness, and what would have been beautiful memories.

I’m relearning to respect myself, to nourish my body, to accept my genetics, to accept the fact that I’m never going to have a social media-worthy bikini body, and that’s okay.

Typing this post had been hard and painful… but honesty is supposed to hurt, right?  I hope I made it clear how important it is to be honest with our feelings.  Others may not understand.  Others may not accept.  Others may judge.  Still, say it.  Our peace and happiness are worth much more than someone else’s reaction.

So, to answer the question, definitely, to reveal.

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And then I’m thirty.

Looking back, I was always excited to turn thirty. I know, that’s weird. Other women get offended when asked about their age. Me? Throughout my twenty-ninth, I told people I was thirty, sometimes by mistake, most times deliberately.

I’d envisioned my thirtieth birthday as a grand celebration. I didn’t have a grand debut. On my eighteenth birthday, I was in college, and I just had KFC delivery – I wasn’t vegan yet – for me and some friends. Also, my parents didn’t have the money and they didn’t raise us to expect grand celebrations. But since I’ve now been working for almost nine years, I thought I could finally have the Disney princess party I’d always dreamed of.

I didn’t.

Instead, I woke up to cook food for our lunch delivery business. Francis did surprise me with a dozen vegan donuts from Green Bar – and I’m eternally grateful for his effort of traveling thirteen hours to get them. It’s the first time someone gave me that much effort. Then, I set off to get my professional license renewed but failed to accomplish that. I went home, washed, and slept, accomplishing nothing but getting another year older.

I don’t get it. I never really felt anxious about my age before. But now, I kind of hate myself that I am thirty and I am still… this, here.

I haven’t been to Japan. I haven’t seen Hey! Say! JUMP. I haven’t worn bikini in Bali. I’m not a millionaire. I don’t have a camera. I still haven’t reached my dream body. I haven’t published my romance pocketbook. I haven’t even changed my darned bed.

It’s like, now I have to have different, more serious goals for my life and yet I haven’t accomplished anything.

Now, my body doesn’t like Japan’s weather. Now, I’m too old to fangirl for Japanese boys. Now, I’m afraid no matter how I work out and eat healthy my metabolism is starting to slow down and I won’t ever reach my dream bikini body. Now, I don’t think the romance book publisher still accepts manuscripts. I even cringe at teenage romances now.

Now, I don’t even know what I’m supposed to want.

Now every February, you’ll be my Valentine

It’s our first anniversary month. Last year, I posted a list of things I love about you on my blog. I still love all those things but of course things change in the course of one year. So… why do I love you?

1. You sacrificed your obsession with cheese for the animals, for the Earth, and for the greater good of all mankind.

2. You’re loyal to the things you believe in. Even if that means you will not shake hands with the mayor. Or sneer at other frats. Or go into arguments with anti-Catholics. Once you even spat out the mock tapa I cooked because you thought it was for real.

3. You can make fresh coconut milk using your hands. I can only imagine the endless possibilities in homemade plant milk career

4. You have this enchanting public speaking voice that turns my knees to vegan jelly all the time.

5. You put God first… just almost everytime, because on some days we oversleep.

6. You’re so adorable when you show appreciation for yummy food.

7. You’re my type of funny.

8. You don’t shy away from correcting my mistakes, but only do so in private.

9. You think highly of your mom, which is always very important.

10. You cook better vegan kaldereta than astigvegan. And you don’t use boullion. Hahaha.

11. You’ve seen my Sleeping Ugly before yet you still chose to love me.

There’s still a lot more, you know. Don’t think for one second this is all. But I’ll reserve the other elevens for the next gazillion anniversaries we’re spending together.

I love you.

Confession

Today is First Friday and I want to confess about burnout.

As some of you know, I haven’t been back to the Catholic church for long (just since December 2014) and have been reading at the Mass for much shorter than that.

Some of you are living testimonies of how I loved it.  There was a time I felt everything else – daughter duties, work, leisure, relationships, self-love – was sagabal to my service, and if I could only be in church every minute of my life, I would.  I could stand not eating on Sundays.  I bought books that taught how to read and practiced everytime I can.  I researched the context of each reading to properly convey the right emotion.  My copies of Sambuhay had marks indicating emphasis and where to have eye contact, pause, or stop.

But I’ve lost it.  It’s only been two and a half years but I don’t love it anymore.

Today, getting myself to wear the uniform I once thought were the most beautiful pieces of clothes ever designed is a struggle.  Dati, I would spend half an hour doing my face and my hair so I would look at least presentable (and hopefully sophisticated) but now I just don lip balm and tie my hair in an effortless ponytail.  There were even mornings in the recent past that I don’t shower or even wash my face.  Now I don’t even polish my black heels.

At our monthly meetings, I’d rather stay in the back, wishing I were somewhere else.  I’d wish we’d just go straight to the schedules and adjourn.  Then, when I see how many serves I have, possibly more than anyone, I’d curse inwardly.  Always on the verge of crying and breaking down, I secretly (but not anymore now) hate that I’ve been doing First Fridays ever since I learned how to.  I’d scream inside: ano bang tingin niyo saken, walang pamilyang kailangan asikasuhin sa umaga?!  Or, alternatively, kayo lang ba ang busy?

I learned to despise Kuya Sarsi’s “lika n holy hour ngaun” messages.  When I used to be at church at least twenty minutes before the Mass, I’m now a buzzer beater.  I don’t even have time to, or bother to, pray the Panalangin Bago Magmisa.

Then came the judgments.  It turns out, for some, I’m not good enough.  In the beginning, I only cared about the idea that God was smiling at me for what I was doing.  I didn’t care whether I was appreciated by people because I knew God appreciated my efforts.  But later the criticisms and gossips and parinig and sumbong just turned too much, eventually alienating me, numbing me, making me think, if you’re so good why don’t you do it?, making me wish they’d just kick me out instead.

And then came the envy.  I started to envy the people who have lives, who own their mornings and their weekends.  I envy the anonymous parishioners who have the freedom to be at the Mass without the fuss.  I even started to envy those who do my much-needed yoga… because apparently Catholics must not.

Gone is the reader who Father Peter praised to be “very good,” coupled with his happy smile and two thumbs up.  In her place is this spiteful, empty robot who can’t even remember the readings of the day when she leaves the church.  In her place is this person who wishes she can go back to the invisible anonymous churchgoer.

I’m so tired.

Today is First Friday.  On First Fridays, we confess.  This was what I confessed and I’m confessing this again now.

I’m sorry for feeling this way.

I’m sorry for being ungrateful.

To Inoo, My Prince

You should’ve turned eight yesterday, my love. I should’ve made a cake for you. I was saving the carob for yesterday, because dogs can’t have chocolate, and Chloe Coscarelli has this recipe for pupcakes I was dying for you to try. But I didn’t bake. I didn’t even cook your favorites. I don’t know, my prince. Not a lot of things interest me anymore since you flew to heaven. Most of the time I dread going home because you wouldn’t be there to welcome me. Or waking up because I wouldn’t be seeing you anyway. Truth is, I also find it hard to pray because I’m still secretly angry at God for not letting you live for 200 years when that’s all I was asking for. I hate our resident priest, too, you know, because he said dogs can’t love so I shouldn’t love you. The only beautiful thing that’s happening now is Uncle Francis. He takes care of mawmaw as you asked. He still includes you in our prayers. Does God tell you? The rest I don’t really care about.

I’m wondering, my love, when do I move on? But more importantly, do I really want to move on? Do I want that, to not miss you anymore? To slowly forget? I remember someone saying how our pain is self-inflicted. This could be. But I wouldn’t want this any other way.

I want to remember you forever. If that means I’d mourn for you forever, I want that, too. I love you.

Do you remember these pictures? These were when you jumped on the bed and let me hug you until I fell asleep. For the last time. 

Mawmaw’s Goodbye, 17 Days Later

On April 29, seven years, eight months, and eight days since I carried him in my arms for the first time, the handsome white and black dog with the broken heart on his right died.  He died and I wasn’t there.  At 7:02 p.m., all I, his mother, stuck in traffic from the airport, could do was weep in silence “Father into your hands I commend his spirit” as the joy and meaning of my life cried his last cry a hundred and thirty kilometers away.  When I arrived at 10 to what I used to call home – for it’s all different now that the one-dog welcoming committee and the master and the heir is gone – all I could do was take his still warm body in my arms, say how handsome he was even then for he didn’t look like he suffered, feel awed at the fact he wasn’t heavy at all despite his being fat, and bury him.

I’m not a person who prays for much, and, although I forced him to make pinky promises with me, truth is I didn’t have the illusion that my Inoo will live forever.  All I prayed for was for me to be there when God decided to take him, so I can hold his paw, so I can lay with him on the floor, so I can shower him with kisses, so I can whisper to his good ear a million times that I love him and that he is loved and that Mawmaw loves him, so I can sing for him our kunikuni song, so I can hug him even if it meant I can because he would have no more strength to resist.  Because I had hoped being there will ease his pain and sadness.  Because I had hoped if I prayed hard and if I went to church as much as I can and if I served at least four times a week, God would listen.  Because I know that I am his life as much as he is mine.  Yet God decided that my Inoo should go exactly when I wasn’t and I can’t be there.

I don’t get His logic.

Or maybe I do.  Maybe it’s God’s way of reminding me that even if I go to church everyday, even if I pray hard for this one wish, even if I serve, in the end, it is His will… His timing.  Even the fact that I don’t eat animals and advocate not eating animals couldn’t change His mind.

Maybe this is God’s way of reminding me to cherish every second I am with those I love, because I never know when they or I will be gone.

Maybe this is God’s way of teaching me to pay attention to signs.

Or maybe this is punishment because I had been neglectful the last three months.  But no.  God is not that kind of god.

But I refuse to go there.  I refuse to reduce Inoo to a set of faith or life lessons.

All I want is to do is grieve: grieve the fact that the meaning and joy of my life is gone.

I love you, Devil Dog.  Now you can watch over Mawmaw 24/7.  Wait for me.  If Catholic heaven doesn’t allow dogs in it, wait for me by the gates of dog heaven instead.

What Makes a Keeper

Keeper (Urban Dictionary)

  • Someone who would make better marriage material than baby momma material.
  • Someone who you’d likely spend the rest of your life with if you found him or her.

What makes a keeper?

I don’t know and I don’t care.

Drink beer or drink champagne.  Choose bonfire over candlelight.  Don pants or a frilly dress.  Be one of the boys or be a lady.  Wear makeup or don’t.  Cook or bake or don’t.  Laugh out loud or be prim and proper.  Straddle his motorcycle or ride like a Disney damsel.  Sit on the passenger or drive.  Or walk.  Reply at once or take your time.  Call or don’t.  Be skinny, be athletic, be fab.  Choose a traditionally female job or a traditionally male job.  Or don’t have a job.  Do your hair however you choose.  Be loud or be quiet.  Pay for your meals if you wish.  Stay the night or don’t.  Like kids or don’t.  Be a princess or a cowgirl.

Remember, you are not defined by whether or not he thinks you’re a keeper.  You are in charge of your womanhood.

After all, getting a guy to marry you isn’t the purpose of your life.

Happy women’s month.