Finding Peace on Subway Rides: The Need to Disconnect to Reconnect with Self

Finding Peace on Subway Rides: The Need to Disconnect to Reconnect with Self

Whenever my iPhone vibrates or beeps, I get anxious. Whenever I see an email notification on the upper right corner of my MacBook screen, I get increasingly stressed. Whenever I hear the ding from Facebook Messenger, I just want to close out of the Google Chrome browser. Although it is validating that I am needed and wanted, I disdain the idea of that technology is becoming an extension of myself. This feeds into the dangerous hunger of validation from peers, and the need to taint our lives to make it appeal to the public eye. I cannot tell you how many times I post a Facebook status or Instagram a picture just because I’m feeling depressed. It is as if every “like” or comment I get will give me an ounce of happiness. I filter pictures as if it can cast a filter of brightness and optimism onto my actual life. This artificial happiness flees as soon as it comes, as it is built upon an unsteady and phony foundation. This addiction to connectivity is the most dangerous of all, but only a few see the death trap.

Ironically, this need for connectivity and public validation forces me to disconnect from myself. Seeing snippets of my life on social media creates a sense of detachment from my life, as I know it. It is as if I am viewing the details of someone else’s life. The physical gap between the laptop screen and me transforms into a much larger gap between my private self and my public self. I see someone else in those selfies and statuses I post, a tamed monster. Most of the time, that person is unrecognizable. I know her life backwards and forward, better than anyone else, but through those posts, she feels like a stranger. She is extremely close to me, but I am unable to touch her. She is a cheerleader, but I’m just the girl next door.

But I am slowly digging myself out of this technological existential crisis. I found the beauty in New York City MTA subway rides. I deeply appreciate the fact that the posters are very much lying when it says Wi-Fi is provided in subway trains. While I see people’s faces of extreme boredom or faces of frantic anxiousness when their cellphone signals drop, I cannot be more relieved. Those 15- to 45-minutes of no texts, emails or notifications grant me a sense of mindfulness that I cannot find anywhere else. And I growl when my phone vibrates at the short moments of connectivity at some subway stops.

Sure, I could always just turn my phone off or activate the “Do Not Disturb” mode, but I feel guilty actively disconnecting myself from the world, when the wireless connection is still intact. That’s too much power in my hands. However, in subway trains, the power to disconnect is not in my hands, but rather in the underdevelopment of the subway world. Those 15-45 minutes are the proper doses for me to be alone with my thoughts and myself. Any longer than that, I cannot be with myself, and need to silence my thoughts by blasting music through my earphones. Also, if I’m disconnected for any longer, I will get anxious because I’m unreachable and god forbid something happened to my friends or family. But during those 15-45 minutes, I keep the earphones plugged into my ears without music playing (to signal to other people that I am unavailable), and I think my deepest thoughts. And in those thoughts, I see my candid self, unfiltered and unpolished.

Why I’m Turning #MentalIllnessAwareness Week into #MentalIllnessAwareness Year

Why I’m Turning #MentalIllnessAwareness Week into #MentalIllnessAwareness Year

About a year ago, my mental health was at the worst it has ever been and I finally sought out help. Soon after, I was officially diagnosed with chronic depression and anxiety. I’ve never been so unmotivated or had such a distaste for life before that period of my life. But I didn’t “get” it. I didn’t get it because I couldn’t see “it.” I wanted to break one of my limbs just to make the excruciating pain I was feeling into something tangible, something I could put my finger on. I didn’t get why it was becoming increasingly harder to fall asleep at night despite my exhaustion, but it was impossible to get out of bed in the mornings. I didn’t understand why I had such a longing just to stand in the middle of the traffic… just to see what would happen.

My depression and anxiety are, by far, the hardest things I had to deal with. They make the obstacles I’ve faced because of my cerebral palsy seem like nothing. I was always able to overcome those obstacles and have a strong mindset during the process. However, with my depression and anxiety, only the word, “impossible,” comes the mind, a word that I’ve eliminated from my vocabulary as a young girl.

The main difference between my cerebral palsy and mental illness is that one is visible while the other is not. My strong mentality have always gotten me through my daily life with CP, but my depression and anxiety affect my mentality, which was only thing I could depend on. Now since my mentality is uncontrollably affected, it is a lot harder to see the light at the end of the tunnel. For me, CP is the least of my problems, and that’s saying a lot.

This past year, without a doubt, has been my hardest one yet, due to the series of unfortunate events that unfolded. But unlike the previous year, I was able to keep my head above water and breathe.And I am now at the place where I consider one good thing at a greater value/impact than three bad things. I’ve re-instilled the passion for writing in my soul, and that has been a tremendous part of my healing process. Now, even if I take one step back, I am able to take three steps forward. My voice had been silenced for years… I’ve now amplified my voice and now there’s no way to shut me up.

I thought my depression and anxiety heightened because I was always doing a million and one things at once… in order to leave no time for me to wander and get lost in my thoughts. I’ve been the definition of high-functioning depression and anxiety ever since I can remember. However, this year, I’m doing more than I’ve ever had, but instead of drowning, I’m cruising through life with me as the driver and not the other way around. They key difference is that now I’m actually passionate about the things I’m doing, and appreciative of the little blessings life has to offer.

I truly believe the change of environment has a tremendous effect of this positivity.  My internship at DoSomething.org is the, by far, most rewarding internship I have ever had. It has definitely made me understand the importance of loving your job, or anything you do. It certainly makes waking up in the morning (and the commute) worthwhile. I just love the fact that I’m using my writing as a vehicle for social change, and witnessing the impact it has. Everyone at the org is a badass person who gets shit done… like the KPI is through the roof. Like, this is the kind of a thing I want to do as a career, and it’s truly an honor to get a glimpse of it as an intern. Also, being away from the Barnard/Columbia for two days a week has been extremely refreshing.

Although my postgrads plans are still not set in stone, my internship has open my eyes to a possibility, and now I have a plan and I’m following through on it. I do not want to disclose the details of the plan, in efforts to not jinxing it, but don’t worry, you will find out soon enough.

So, here’s to the 1st anniversary of my mental illness diagnosis. It’s been a rocky road, and some days will be good while others will be bad, but I choose to continue. I’ve never been stronger, more vulnerable, or more content than I am now.

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I could’ve ended my sentence, but I damn right chose to continue it.

 

What’s Really Underneath My Clothes

What’s Really Underneath My Clothes

If you know me personally, you probably know that I’m quite the fashionista. In fact, for most of my childhood, I dreamt of becoming a fashion designer… and although I ended up majoring in economics in undergrad and have ambitions of becoming a lawyer one day, I hope to weave the fashion industry into my career/life, somehow.

Yes, many women have at least some interest in fashion and clothes and have some conflicts with those topics due to the sickening body-image shaming in the media (cough cough, Trump). But, I have a slightly different story. Fashion has been my security blanket. A security blanket that could somehow mask my cerebral palsy… or at least making CP not the first thing people see when they look at me… to reach some level of “normalcy.” I wanted people to see my clothes before they looked at my wheelchair. Excuse my narcissism, but I lived for people to compliment my outfits. For a moment, it let me have a sense of confidence that wasn’t found anywhere else. Endorphins and dopamine were released in my brain, and this sensation became an addiction.

When I was growing up, I loved to flip through magazines- Elle, Marie Claire, Vogue, Seventeen, etc. However, after a while, I noticed something: none of the models are in wheelchairs. While most of my peers were brainwashed by the media that you had to be size 0s or 2s, I was conditioned to believe that only able-bodied women can be models or be considered as beautiful by the media (but don’t get me started on Kylie Jenner’s photoshoot in a wheelchair, that’s for another day).

However, as per usual, I wanted to f*ck the system, screw the media and prove something from a very young age. I wanted to prove to the world that you can be fashionable AND be in a wheelchair. So this is where my addiction started. I thought the only way I could express my true self was through my clothes, and put on a misleading confident look. I cannot tell you how many times I fought with my mother about her disapproval of my outfits for school (well, I guess that’s not uncommon for a teenage girl). But for me, it wasn’t about getting the boys’ attention or whatnot, but rather, I wanted to feel a sense of comfort, confidence, and conformity. My clothes made me feel bold and beautiful, although internally, I was sad and miserable.

But as I start my 20s, I am realizing that it was less about wanting to feel “normal,” but rather more about being able to wake up in the morning. At this point of my life, I’ve just accepted the fact that I cannot hide the damn palsy, and I shouldn’t have to. But just like some people carry that childhood security blanket long into adulthood for different reasons (ie. your five-year-old self used that blanket as protection from the monsters under the bed vs. now you hold onto it because it reminds you of your grandma who passed away), clothing is like the exact same thing for me.

My fashionable clothes give me the sense of happiness that my depression locks me out of. People rarely think I’m depressed when I’m all dazzled up, and most of the time, this phenomena makes me forget that I’m stressed or depressed. I’ve actually trained myself to walk in 2-4 inch heels because it makes me see a tangible achievement (and because you have way more options for heels in shoe stores than for flats). Again… the endorphins and dopamine. And I feed myself into this addiction by shopping whenever I can, and essentially being a shopaholic, all for that momentary happiness.

Even with having this realization, I’ll probably continue being fashionable, but hopefully it’d be my juice instead of my vodka… “drinking” for enjoyment instead for wanting to forget/numb things. And hopefully on some days, I’ll be okay with being “naked” and underdressed.

7am Existential, Vulnerable Thoughts

7am Existential, Vulnerable Thoughts

I wrote this freestyle poem at 7am this Thursday for my creative writing class. That morning I was so exhausted as I had had a few too many drinks the night before, especially for a Wednesday night. However, I think some of the most beautiful truths come out when we’re in such vulnerable states.


The Itch That Cannot Be Itched

So many flowers –
to smell, to touch, to appreciate,
before I depart.

Nine long months –
a mother carries her infant,
but death occurs in nine short seconds.

Live vivaciously under the sun,
love passionately in the moonlight.
Life is too short.

Just like for you and me,
the earth is the flies’ home –
so why do we kill?

I wonder ­as I look at the pond:
do the ducks get frustrated?
so much effort, yet so little notice.

What an art –
to look at your reflection,
in scattered pieces of a mirror.

The rich throw away food,
the poor eat that rotten food –
what a sick world we live in.

I see a baby cry,
and I feel her pain;
no one there to understand.

The snow is beautiful,
but in the cold my bones ache;
and then I long for summer.

Raindrops race each other –
down my window,
which one will be the winner?

She is always smiling,
but what pain is she hiding?
Is she a con?

“Once upon a time –
they lived happily ever after.”
Oh, the lies we tell our children.

People say –
she lived a full life,
but when was she living?

My Other Exs: Breakups with Friends

My Other Exs: Breakups with Friends

Ever since I was a young girl, I treated my best friends like sisters from another mister and brothers from another mother. I did everything with them, told them everything, and made them my everything. I saw them as extended family, but I was closer to them than I was with my own family. But I saw a pattern: besides my group of four friends from childhood, everyone else walked out of my life. The most recent “friend breakup” happened over the past month, and before now, I was certain that person was going to be my future maid of honor.

It feels like I am grieving a death of someone I loved while they’re still alive. I’m going through all of the stages: denial, bargaining, depression, anger, and then hopefully and eventually, acceptance.

With romantic relationships, there’s the expectation of monogamy, but there’s no such thing in friendships. I could always get over breakups with boyfriends relatively quickly (having rebounds helps, but that’s another issue of its own). But with friends, it tends to take me years before I am completely over them. With some friendships, it ended out of immaturity and their rejection of my disability – claiming that it was too embarrassing or too hard to handle. But with others, it delved much deeper:

For full disclosure, I’m not blaming my parents/family for anything, but I have to admit this: I came from a family that was unstable in many aspects, and I wasn’t that close to my siblings as our age gaps are significant. I had never talked much with my parents, and there was always a disconnect. And I desperately tried to fill in those gaps with my friends. I even fostered relationships/connections with my friends’ families, but I could never return that favor back to them. But now I am wondering if I was so fragile and low in self-esteem that I was depending on my friends for validation. Probably yes. I tend to be a closed book with people I’m just low-key friends with – acquaintances, but with my closest friends, I wear my heart on my sleeves. I treat them like I’ve always wished I could treat my family: that I could drop all of my baggage on them, or treat them like therapists, but they’ll still love me unconditionally. But have I been too preoccupied with my own wants and needs that I couldn’t see that my friends needed the same things I needed? Did I cross the line too far? Was I that conceited? But instead of trying to gain this particular friendship back, I’m treating this as a wake-up call.

Instead of seeking for validation from others, I am trying my validate my own existence – to truly believe that I am worthy of existing as I am. I am realizing that in order to be better friends to others, I need to first become self-reliant and fill in some of the gaps by myself. This is certainty a work in process, but what’s important is that I am working on this. I cannot truly love a best friend or a boyfriend if I don’t love myself or not being compassionate toward myself.

But for now, I’m considering that letting go might be the best way to be the friend this person needs right now.

Phantom Mother: Missing the Woman Whom I Never Met

Phantom Mother: Missing the Woman Whom I Never Met

On Missing the Person Whom I Never Met

As the doctors cut me out of your body,
You took your last couple of breaths,
Slowly and painfully becoming unconscious.
And then the angels carried you on their wings,
To a place so distant from this world. To a better destination.
Before you could see the earth breathe life into your creation.
That you carried inside of you for nine long months.
Before I could even have the chance to grieve your departure.
Now twenty one years have gone by in the blink of an eye,
And I’m starting to miss a part of me that I never had.

Although the heavens have sent me many motherly figures,
I must say, I was selfish and I wanted you, my own mother.
I used to close my eyes very tightly and wished for you,
When I saw a shooting star, or when I blew out birthday candles.
But like with any other fairytale, I was shattered into a million pieces
When I finally realized that my wish would never come true.
My heart ached, and now it aches for my unborn child.
What kind of mother would I be without having  had you as my guidance?
What would I say when she asks for her grandma?
Will she be able to find her way back when she gets lost in a maze?

You make up fifty percent of my genetic makeup,
Yet I know nothing about you.
I never saw you. I never felt you. I never heard you.
When I look at myself at the mirror,
I sometimes don’t know the person who looks back at me.
On this journey called life, someone walks alongside me,
But I only see the silhouette of this body. A shadow. A ghost.
Who are you? Who am I? What are we doing here?
I know one day we will finally meet, at our tombstones,
But I have so much more of life to live. So much more of not knowing,


I hardly tell people this… you have to be very close to me for me to open up to you about this… my birth mother passed away while she was in labor with me, and the complications of the birth led to my cerebral palsy. I always had reservations telling people this (well, until now I guess) for various reasons, but the top two reasons were: the woman my dad remarried has done all of her best to fulfill the role of my mother and I did not want to devalue her motherhood (she and my paternal grandmother are the only women whom I call(ed) “mom”), and the topic was something that was never discussed in my family growing up, so I’ve always thought it was taboo to talk about with other people.

However, college has been a crucial time to (re)discover myself, and to be the most intact with my emotions than ever before. During each one of my existential crises, I felt like I knew less and less about myself, and the phantom pain was becoming unbearable. There wasn’t any painkillers I could take to make this excruciating pain go away, and it was so much worse than an itch that can’t be scratched. I’m screaming for help, but there’s no one who can come to my rescue.  I felt like I was missing a part of me. I was missing a part of me. I am missing a part of me. I feel lost and I’m not exactly sure where my “home” is.

As marriage and kids are not that far away (but hopefully far enough), questions about my birth mother’s past, family and medical history circulate through my head. Will I be able to protect my future children from all that I can? Although I was to believe she is living within me, I want something tangible. I want to tell my future children where 1/4 of their DNA comes from. I want them to know her, even though I don’t know her.

What would I say when she asks for her grandma?
Will she be able to find her way back when she gets lost in a maze?

Too “disabled” to be considered sexy, but still subjectable to sexual harassment?

Too “disabled” to be considered sexy, but still subjectable to sexual harassment?

I have a very complicated and complex relationship with men for many, many, many reasons. But what woman in her 20s doesn’t? Like the majority of people my age, I haven’t found my “soulmate” and relationships in general are a hot mess. But I’ll pull out my “disability card” here…

I had my first “boyfriend” in kindergarten (hence the quotes). I was living in NY at the time and I told my dad that I didn’t want to move to NJ because I didn’t want to leave him (but honestly, my poor dad though… her six-year-old daughter already acting like a rotten teenager… his true feelings were revealed years later when he told me that the “boyfriend” called our new phone number various times but he told the kid that I was “unavailable.”) Ever since, I always had a significant guy friend/more-than-a-friend guy friend in my life.

But when puberty hit in middle school, I noticed that guys weren’t looking at me the same way that they were looking at the other girls. I know the concept of disabled people, especially disabled women, not being seen as “sexy” in the general public, is nothing new. Most people probably view us as asexual beings, incapable and undesirable of sex. However, shockingly, according to a study conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2012, individuals with disabilities are three times more likely to experience sexual violence than individuals without a disability. Why is that?

In one realm,  we are not sexy enough to be desired, but in the other realm, we are “easy” enough to get in bed with. They put a notion in our heads that no one else will want us, so we mind as well “do it” with them instead. And we also have those sick bastards who fetish over “disabilities” and disorders. I know, it’s sickening.

Living in NYC has me more aware of this phenomenon, and especially in this era of Tinder and other “hookup” apps. In pictures, it’s hard to tell that I have a disability, so I could have a perfectly normal Tinder conversation with a guy, but as soon as I bring up the D-word, they either shut down or bombard me with questions like, “can you still fuck?” and even ask me about the nitty gritty details. And there are also those jerks who notice that my smile is a little “off” in my pictures and straight up say “why are you smiling like that?” While others have no problem still treating me like a condom… use it, toss it.

However, on the streets, it goes beyond the usual catcalls. Granted, I might dress a little provocatively (but there’s also the notion that women with disabilities aren’t “supposed” to dress fashionably/attractively… but fuck that shit), but that does not give you the right to follow me, chase me (and pretend it’s a little “game”), or straight up jerk off in front of me. You also see happening to women of color. Do they see us as easy targets?

So, in a nutshell… sex and disability, a very complicated concept. But women with disabilities are sexual and are sexy human beings, and we, along with every other woman, deserve to be respected.