"They say you don't grow up you just grow old
It's safe to say I haven't done both
I made mistakes, I know, I know...
So many people close to me cut me down
This is supposed to be a bad luck town
I jumped, I fell, I hit the ground
But here I am alive"
- Here I Am Alive, Yellowcard
Back in 2016, I broke down.
From having a decent-paying job that had me dealing with different types of people from business owners to security guards, and my close family and friends within reach at any time I wanted, I was suddenly alone in our room in Singapore.
It was my day off from my job as a cashier in a hawker-cum restaurant serving Filipino dishes.
Everyone had gone to work, and I was sitting alone, chatting with my cousin and my close friend who were miles away, talking about stuff we might be talking about over drinks if it were a year before.
I didn’t realize that I was lonely.
It took 10 years of being together before I popped the question to Che, because all that while, I thought it was only her who needed to be ready to settle down.
When we got married, I readily packed my bags, and didn’t look back as I started my new life.
I took the first job that gave me a chance, and I thought everything would be ok.
I was talking to a lot of people again. I had the respect of my co-workers, I was learning some cooking techniques and managing operations, and I was able to earn something for myself.
However, on that day, as I was talking to two of the closest people in my life who wished we were drinking while we were talking, I felt an incredible sadness filling me up.
Later that night, I talked to Che about everything that was going through my head.
Suddenly, tears just started falling.
Before I knew it, Che was feeling my sadness as well.
Back then, I thought mental health and depression were just excuses for unexplainable poor behavior or toxic mood – I wouldn’t take it against them, I’d probably talk them through it, but I guess I didn’t really understand it as a real thing.
I know that my episode of breaking down is not nearly close to what people with depression or poor mental health have on their bad days, but it helped me understand that it can happen to anyone, no matter what you tell yourself to keep you going through the day.
Learning and understanding this state of mind isn’t done by experiencing it once in your life. I think there’s so much more layers to it, and I do want to understand it better because I don’t know who within my circle would fall prey to it.
I wanted to share what helped me get past my experience, and what I learned by talking to a couple of friends who had/have similar experiences.
1. Find your happiness
It’s so easy to say but almost impossible to do.
However, I guess what I learned is that happiness is not something you work towards, but rather something that you discover.
Goals like reaching the top position in your company, owning a car, buying a house, or whatnot are things that you work for, and achieving them will give you momentary bliss, but it’s not happiness.
I believe that happiness could be a passion, a person, or maybe even a place.
In my case, it was Vino, my kid.
A little after my episode, we learned that we were pregnant.
I was happy because it was one of my goals, but at the same time, there were uncertainties we had to face; were we ready, will we be able to raise a little human, can we support our lifestyle?
More than three years after we welcomed him to the world, the uncertainties have not completely diminished, but I know that my heart is full with him.
I understood then that what made me feel empty was the fact that I couldn’t let go of the life I had back then. However, once I held Vino in my arms, I knew that I was finally ready to live in the present and just look fondly back at the past.
2. Conquer Your FOMO
The Fear Of Missing Out is something that was difficult for me to admit and overcome. It seems juvenile for a 30-something to claim to have, but I guess I had it.
See, I was the guy who you could call on literally any time and I’d be there as fast as traffic would allow. My mom would call me a boarder at home because I rarely stayed in.
I had my circle, and constantly kept that circle growing. It didn’t matter if I met up with one person, two strangers, or a bunch of friends of friends – if there was something happening, I was there.
And suddenly, I was in a different country.
Sure, I have friends here, strangers to meet, friends of friends who would get together, but I needed to start my circles from scratch, when I had my whole life building one back home.
Seeing everybody in my circle through social media go on with the life I enjoyed with them back then made me feel alone, because I was missing out on so much.
From time to time, I still feel envious of my friends who can get together like I used to with them, but understanding my priorities in life helped me get over my FOMO.
I could choose to go back to my comfort zone – activate my circles, find a job back home, and be mobile again. However, my circumstances are different now, and the responsibilities I carry as a husband and a father weigh far greater than what I had then.
3. Live at Your Own Pace
Similar to FOMO, seeing milestones achieved by your peers can force you into thinking that you’re not doing enough in your life.
We learned this early in our relationship.
Che and I have been together for close to 16 years now, and are approaching our fifth year of marriage.
It wasn’t always smooth sailing, and about five or six years into our relationship, our friends were starting their own families.
For every wedding we came to, or every time the topic of marriage came about, she would ask me why we weren’t seriously discussing it yet.
Back then, both of us had white collar jobs, but we had pretty crappy spending habits as we fully enjoyed the fruits of our labor. Che also wanted to accomplish a lot of things – three of them were to get a Master’s Degree, teach in the University, and work overseas.
I told her that she would not be able to accomplish any of her goals if we got married “just because” everyone else was tying the knot. I even dared her to find someone who wanted to settle down with if she thinks I’m waiting too long.
It was a risky dare, but it paid off.
She went to Singapore, found a nice job, and improved her financial management skills to a point where she is able to balance responsibilities and indulgence.
She wasn’t able to accomplish all her goals, but she doing damn well with the one she set off doing.
By the time we got married, we did it in our own terms – we got the date we wanted, the place we chose, and spent it with the people we wanted to share it with.
Don’t measure your success by what your peers have accomplished.
Comparing your status with your peers will not get you anywhere if you sulk in envy, make assumptions on how they got there, or just talk about them with other people.
Take inspiration from them, and act on what you can control. You may not get what you want immediately, but at least you started working towards it.
4. Be Confident in Your Own Skin
I’m not the best looking guy.
Heck, Che had a crush on two of my classmates who didn’t even know her but never really admired me for my looks.
However, as a famous Filipino line goes, “daig ng madiskarte ang gwapo.” (A resourceful person beats a handsome face)
I didn’t try to sweep her off her feet by acting like Lee Min Ho or anything, I just genuinely cared for her more than I could care for myself.
Since we got married, I have been either jobless, a cashier for a food stall, or a freelance writer.
According to the social norms we have grown accustomed to, I am not a person that commands respect because I don't have a high enough position in a company or something.
I have had close friends and even relatives who would tell me that they “expected more” from me or that I “wasted” my “potential” by ending up where I am right now.
If I allowed myself to crumble to these expectations and social norms, then I will probably don’t even deserve self-respect.
Instead, I choose to take pride in who I am.
If I can’t be proud of being an average-looking, dark-skinned houseband (house husband) whose only job experience in Singapore is a cashier at a food stall, then who will give me an ounce of respect?
Even if I don’t bring in the big bucks, I carry myself with the confidence of someone who owns a business.
It baffles people who are so used to living in a predictable reality, and somehow gets them to treat me as an equal.
I always believed that at the end of the day, absent all the titles, the fancy clothes, and our looks, we’re all just people, and no one has the right to look down on others under any circumstance.
It’s not outside the realm of possibility that people still look down on me behind my back, but those are things that are outside my circle of influence.
The most important thing to have is belief and respect for yourself – if it resonates to others, then it’s just a bonus, but it should never be the goal.
5. Verbalize Your Feelings
As the title of a hit Korean drama goes, “It’s OK to not be OK.”
We live in constant fear of being judged, which leads us to always pick up a mask to show we’re doing just fine even if we’re scarred beneath it.
During my episode, I realized that I kept so many things inside so that Che and our housemates wouldn’t be worried about me.
Back then, I felt like my issues were so miniscule compared to the stress and problems that they had to face on a daily basis at work. I didn’t want anyone to be burdened by listening to me because I didn’t even know if they could help me.
I felt like a waste of time.
It took a while for me to admit to myself that it was weighing heavily on me, and before I fell hard on my worries, I learned why they called your partner a “significant other.”
There was no other person in the world I would have poured my heart out at that time but to Che, because no matter how insignificant my issues were to the world, we made a promise to God that we would be together for good times or bad, and I had a duty to share my “bad times” with her.
It was only when I was telling her everything that all those uncontrollable tears fell down from both our eyes.
After that, it was easier for me to admit my moment of weakness to other close friends.
While not everyone has a significant other who they can share all their worries to, I believe that everyone has at least that one person who they can trust with certain things.
Even if they take it negatively, verbalizing your feelings for the first time will make it so much easier for you to share it with others, which would help you learn who among your friends genuinely care for you, and who are exclusively for fun and games.
However, everything must start within yourself – never think that you are insignificant, because you matter.
If you don’t think that anybody has time for your worries, you will never have the courage to share your feelings which will eventually eat you up inside.