Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Getting Lost

I arrived a few days ago from London where I visited my husband, Allan, who was temporarily assigned there for work. So while he was slaving away in front of a computer, I bravely went on adventures around and outside of London by myself. 

One morning, on a whim, I decided to head for Windsor to see the castle. Without telling Allan, I planned my day trip and boarded the train for the 30-minute ride. I had it all mapped out- I would arrive in Windsor by 11:30 am and be done with the castle in two hours. Then I would have lunch in a tourist-friendly restaurant and then spend another hour walking around this beautiful town more than 20 miles away from the heart of London. 

While I was on the 10:50am First Great Western train, however, I sat near a very noisy family. Wanting so badly to soak in the sights, I tuned them out with my music. Unfortunately, I not only tuned the family out but I also failed to hear the announcement instructing passengers to change trains at a certain station. I stayed on the train and headed to Oxford instead of Windsor. 

I realized my blooper as soon as the doors at the Slough station closed. Initially I panicked. How was I to get back to Windsor when the train I was on was heading further and further from Slough? I decided I was going to hop off on the 2nd next station (because I was yet still too stubborn to get off that 1st station after Slough) and ask someone how to get back to Slough. I would pay for the fare difference, if needed, and ignore the added cost and lost time.

The more detailed I got into the recovery planning, the more I was filled with courage and strength that I never felt before. I sat in the train and grasped the enormity of my dilemma. I was lost in a foreign country where I’ve encountered not too many helpful folks. It was bad enough that I charted a course towards a distant destination, now I was headed to another more distant, more unfamiliar location. Years ago, I would have shuddered with fear and anxiety. But not today, I sat there a little scared but went back to listening to my music. 

I eventually got off on the next stop (Reading) looked for a Customer Service kiosk and asked a lady for return directions. It wasn’t going to be tough, she said. Just another train ride going back, no extra fees, just an additional one hour to my original travel time. “Don’t miss your stop this time- SLOUGH,” the woman said smiling.

I got to Slough alright and didn’t miss my transfer this time. I was in Windsor in ten minutes, maybe less. The deviation added an hour to my trip and changed my itinerary. i was unable to have lunch and didn’t get to explore the town as much as I had hoped.

Pardon the selfie. I was alone and had to document my adventure.

Sitting here, jet-lagged at 3am, I remember what the Customer Service lady said when she found out that I missed my transfer. She had a worried look on her face and said, “OH NO!” I just smiled and said, “it’s okay. It’s part of the adventure!” 

In my midlife, I learned to embrace the unexpected. I am now bolder as I face new challenges and adventures. It is actually true. When you’ve gone through so much in life, you are strengthened and hardened. In the greater scheme of things, what is getting lost in an English-speaking country compared to raising a baby in college? Or even handling separation from your husband in your mid 20’s? What is more scary- having no food to feed your child or asking directions, ready to use your cash or credit card? 

Finally at the Windsor castle. Boy, was it worth
the trip!

In traveling as with life, we get lost. How many times have I tuned out directions/instructions (from my parents, perhaps)? How often have I stubbornly chose to tread another path, another train line because I felt it was the better way? How much were the added costs I incurred for missed connections, wrong transfers, wrong planning? It is normal for people to get lost but (ask my parents) I’ve had more than my fair share. I did not only get lost, I was often “lost.”

It must have frightened my parents immensely, for example, when I had a two-year relationship with a man I fondly (not!) call SCARY. Scary face, scary personality, scary (lack of) morals, even scary use of the English language! At that time, I not only abandoned the train of my (first) husband, I even decided to get on the no amenities, cargo train called Scary. 

While I was on the ride, I had major adventures like hand-washing a man’s underwear for the first time in my life. What about having no money for food and so Scary had to gamble our few pesos to raise funds for our next meal? I guess the worst was using my car for hire just to raise gas money. That was the lowest. 

But I stayed on the train too long, two years. I hoped to reach a beautiful destination like Jamaica eventually but what I got was the tour of the city slums over and over again for two years. I experienced telenovela level drama like when he lied and said he was separated but was really not, so the wife came to my parents house and caused a scandal. There were some unbelievably corny plots such as when he came home very late one day and said that he was involved in an NBI shootout with his friend and I believed him. I even had some violence on the side- some crazy knife grabbing/struggling episode.  

Oh yes, it was scary. Scary was scary. My Scary episode was so mind-boggling that some of my friends thought I was a drug addict for going through it. I was not, of course, but I stayed in that relationship so long because I wanted it to finally work. I wanted to have my happy ending at last. But I didn’t and many years later I still did not find happiness. I took many more trains and got lost over and over again.

After years of getting lost, I eventually got it. The mistake is not that I lost my way. The tragedy was that I kept on getting on the wrong trains because I refused to listen and pay attention to the signs. In my rush to meet Mr. Right, I kept ending up with the wrong guy- Mr. Immature, Mr. Insecure, Mr. User and, yes, Mr. Scary. The journey took a lot longer than it should have. And the costs were enormous. But then that was another lesson learned.

I may have deviated so often in life. I may have lost myself many times. Looking back now, though, I don’t see misfortunes and catastrophes. I see them as adventures (some more “Indiana Jones” than others). What mattered was that I kept trying to get back on track. I kept chasing my ideal. I kept looking, hoping and praying for my happy ending.

I don’t know if I’m done with my journey. I’m in a good place right now. There’s not much more I can ask for. But my experiences have shown me repeatedly how uncertain the future is. The tracks may shift. I may already be in the Maldives now but may one day suddenly wake up in a less desirable place. 43 years of adventures has shown me that just like getting lost on my way to Windsor, I know I will always get myself back on track. 

Maybe next time I'll hop on a train to Hogwarts.

My Midlife Crisis

Most of my teenage and young adult years were filled with whining, self-pity and selfishness. For decades, I prayed (more like complained) to God about my problems. I questioned my self-worth. I cursed the world and the people around me for hurting me and for pushing me into my sorry state. I remember vividly my “crazy” days- when I’d sit in front of my mirror for hours talking to myself and crying (I was recently shocked when I was told that this was not “normal”). The world around me was expected to stop because I was having an emotional crisis.

I was a drama queen most of my life.

It was when I moved to the United States that I started to let go of (some of) the craziness. Because daily life was so hectic and stressful, I eventually found it harder and harder to succumb to sadness. I remember one day when my daughter was a few weeks old and I was depressed I began to “emote.” I began crying about something I no longer remember (I’m sure it was minor). I tried to push myself deeper into the emotions, like I used to when I was younger. I wailed for only a few minutes because my baby began to cry too. So I stopped crying. My tears had to wait until my daughter was better.

First-time motherhood in America was so tough that
I decided to chop off my hair. (Hmm, I had my regrets :) )

Parenthood does that to us. We put our children’s needs first, as it should be. But what happened to me was the extreme. After a while, everyone’s needs were first. My wishes were less important than the rest of the family. My needs could wait. My dreams could be abandoned. I built my life around my family. They became my life. Being ME could wait until they were all better.

At 38, I looked much older (and honestly, uglier) than my
66-year old mother (rightmost).
I remember when my American friends were talking once about spending a weekend in Vegas for R&R. I thought, “how selfish! Why go on a vacation without the children? Families should be together as much as they can.”  I spent a decade like that. I took care of everyone except myself. 

When my son, Ton, was diagnosed with autism, I was all the more convinced that my happiness and wellbeing would have to wait. Ton is priority. Then the other kids. Then my husband. Then if there’s still time and energy, maybe me. But there was rarely any left for me and even if there was, I felt too guilty to seize the opportunity.

I don’t regret those years that I put everyone else first. During those times, it was what was needed, specially by Ton. Because I put my needs last, I was able to push full-force battling Ton’s autism. I was able to obsess about helping him get better because nothing was more important. I did not resent him nor the rest of the family for the time and energy I spent on his intervention. I didn’t even feel I needed to be rewarded for being such “a great mom” (as my close friends and family would call me). I did it all for love.

His happiness came first. It still does.

For years after Ton’s diagnosis, I kept giving my all. Until one day I realized that there was none left for me. When Ton started to get better, he needed me to be less obsessed with intervention and more trusting in his ability to overcome the autism. The other children also started to be more independent and needed me less. My husband eventually settled into his OFW status and our long distance marriage. 

One day, I was actually bored and I began to feel depressed again because I was 40. I was “old,” felt fat and ugly and I had no life of my own to speak of. I had abandoned my hobbies. I rarely socialized. Without my family to obsess about, I realized that I knew little of who I had become. But unlike in my youth when I would sit in front of the mirror and cry, I decided to simply do something about it (or maybe I just didn’t have enough mirrors in my house).

For years I kept telling myself, "nevermind if you're fat, at
least you have a happy family." Eventually, that excuse was
no longer enough and I became very unhappy with myself.

I vowed that by 41, I would look decent again. I enrolled in the Cohen program and after dropping 65 pounds in six months, I had never felt better physically. The weight loss allowed me to pursue my old hobbies and interests, my favorite of which was ballet. I enrolled in Ballet Philippines’ ladies ballet class and wanted to cry with happiness during my first class. I was pursuing my childhood dream after all, though not professionally.

Dropping ten dress sizes allowed me to fit into nicer looking clothes. I had already stopped crying in front of mirrors years ago. Because I had dropped from a size 16 to a size 6, I no longer cringed when I’d look at myself in the mirror. I began to feel pretty again. I decided that I would put in more time to fix myself. I bought a whole new wardrobe, worked out, went to the spa and salon regularly and am trying to  slow down aging (I finally used moisturizers and lotion at age 40!).

I've always loved ballet but in my 40s
I discovered my love for boxing.

Because I started to feel comfortable with my appearance, I then had more confidence to socialize. My husband and I would go on weekend dates and I started to meet up with old friends occasionally. It also became easier for me to make new friends because I was no longer worried that they would think I was ugly or fat. In fact, it has now come to a point where I no longer care what people say about my appearance. I am happy with the way I look. Mine is the only opinion that matters now. 

When I was bigger, I shunned social events. Not anymore.
I actually look forward to getting out of the house and just
laughing (here with my sisters).
At 43, I became the happiest I had been in a while. I felt that I knew myself better and was empowered once again. I had a confidence that I never had before in my life and I felt that I finally knew who I was and what I wanted in life. 

Having a birthday mojito

Of course there were times when I’d feel guilty. At the start, I’d feel bad about the few hours I’d spend in the gym, spa or salon every week. Eventually, though, those times had become sacred rituals. They became my ME time. The family found it hard at first to adjust to Mama not being available all the time but they got used to it in the end. I think it was because they saw how happy I had become in the last few years. 

THAT was what I never realized before. By being selfless and putting everybody before me, I deprived them of the fulfillment of allowing me to be happy as well. Everyone became selfish and entitled because I allowed them. By asserting my right to happiness, my children have learned that, sometimes, even when they don’t get what they want (and mom does), they can be happy too because they see someone they love happy. 

Many joke that people who decide to makeover their lives in their 40s are going through a midlife crisis. Mine was not a crisis but a metamorphosis. I evolved. I left my shell. I was no longer just wife and mother, there was finally a self I unearthed from beneath the roles that I’ve portrayed all these years. The beauty of it all is that, though the changes cause me to take time away from family, our home has become better because I now value myself. Again, as I said before- by being a better person, I became a better mother (I don’t know about “wife,” you’ll have to ask my husband :) ).

My husband and I have discovered that we enjoy
traveling without the children sometimes. Long ago,
I would have considered us "selfish."
Life is not all peachy. We often make adjustments because it’s like there’s a new family member with her own schedule and needs. Sometimes old habits pop up. Sometimes I’m the one who feels entitled (and my husband has to keep me grounded). In the end, though, I have no regrets. There will always be challenges and conflicts. Unlike in the past, however, I am now strong enough to assert myself. Nowadays, the resolution to any problem will definitely take into account what is good for me too. 

From the extreme selfishness of my youth, to unhealthy selflessness of my early motherhood, I have now found balance. In my 40s I found my center. Now if only I can stop talking to myself in the mirror about my happy thoughts… :)

The crazy girl has found balance.