Until next time, Philippines

Friday, February 22, 2019

Photo Credits to Joyce
I've found it challenging these past few weeks to properly put my thoughts and feelings on paper (or the web, I guess).

I returned from a 2 and a half week long volunteering trip in the Philippines at the end of last year, and over and over again I've attempted to write my experience down only to erase it and try again. There were and still are a lot of feelings I had going into the trip, many that I battled through while being there, and lots of new feelings that have returned with me to Canada. I'm going to try my best to let you in on the experience that was the Philippines.

I laughed as I re-read my 2018 new year post. 2017 was a difficult year, I said. I remember 2017 being the year where mental health hurdled at me for the first time. It's 2019 now, and I believe my 2018 was far more difficult than my 2017 was. Yes, I know, next year I'll probably be saying the same thing about 2019, and so on. The thing is, however, while 2018 was a challenging year, there was a lot of self-discovery and, spiritual-discoveries that came with it. The hardships of 2017 were new, and I had no idea how to handle them, but 2018's hardships were faced head on with some level of experience. Not to say I'm a veteran when it comes to mental health, but at least for 2018, I wasn't completely clueless.

My mental health was attacking me ferociously as 2018 came to a close. All that I wanted was to run away. Run away from responsibilities, from disappointing my loved ones, from failing miserably in all that I do (or so my mind told me), and from being me. My mind was so loud, screaming obscenities about myself and preaching to me about why all my insecurities were true. What I truly wanted was to be with God. Away from the world, and with the Prince of Peace.

Just make it to the Philippines. My sister told me on the phone, two days before my flight left. I was getting so hopeless, and yearning deeply to be with God and be with him in Heaven.

Just make it to the Philippines.

I did make it to the Philippines. It seems like such a small thing to get excited about, but it was the biggest victory for me.

I had somehow convinced myself that, once I was in the Philippines, everything was going to be better. That, in the beauty that was Kalibo, God would rejuvenate me and bring me the peace I had been yearning for. I hoped that, this would be my chance to "run away" and start my journey of getting better.

It didn't happen. I left the Philippines angry, frustrated and annoyed that I was feeling the same as I felt before going, and that Aklan, Kalibo didn't give me the breath of fresh air that I was expecting it to give me.

"I've noticed that..." my boyfriend began, during a phone call after my return from the Philippines. I could tell he's unsure whether he should say what he wants to say, so he starts again cautiously, "I've noticed that you talk about your trip to the Philippines pretty negatively."

There's silence on my side of the phone call. I give a deep sigh. He was right. Each time I was asked about how my trip to the Philippines went, I would give a shrug and respond with a "It was okay." And if I was asked more about it, I somehow managed to describe all the "bad" parts of the trip.

"You're right..." I finally say.

I was angry at myself, and maybe even God for returning me back to Canada not fully healed from all my mental health issues. And, because I came back to my same depression and anxiety, I pinned my trip as this terrible thing that I went on.

But that's not the truth at all. The truth is, the Philippines was amazing, and until my boyfriend brought up my negativity, I never got to see the trip for what it really was.

Let me tell you about my volunteer trip in the Philippines:

It was beautiful. When my plane landed at the airport, I felt like I had been transported to a new world. Nothing was familiar.

The land itself blew me away. Trees flooded the city, and water seemed to be at every corner. It was so new. Dogs roamed wherever they wished, motorcycles lined the streets, and everyone would kindly wave to the group and I as we toured the town. It was new, but it was amazing.

There were about 40+ other volunteers on the trip with me. We filled the room on Sunday morning as we joined the church in Aklan for church service. A congregation with only 8 disciples poured out more love than the 40+ of us could give back.

We spent the two and a half weeks working in villages, painting murals, and playing with children. My favourite day was the medical mission day. About 5 nurses volunteered their time to give free checkups to kids with disabilities in two towns. The volunteers and I spent the day playing with the kids as they waiting for their checkups to be done.

At first, I didn't really think we were doing much. We were just playing with kids.

The principle of the school for the kids with disabilities stood up at the stage in the courtyard and began to speak at the mic, "... you have no idea what you did for these kids ..."

In Aklan, kids with disabilities was almost like the lepers in Jesus' time. They were unwanted, and abandoned by those around them. Us holding hands with, hugging, and playing with these kids was something unheard of in that community. The principle was brought to tears as she thanked us for showing these kids a love they never experienced by strangers before.

I also thought that we weren't doing much with the local children we played with nearly everyday. It seemed like it was more fun for us sometimes. But the local leader of the trip told us after our first day of playing with them that, 1 in 3 kids are abused or sexually assaulted before the age of 14. Knowing this made me look at us playing with these kids in a totally different way. I wasn't just playing with these kids because there was nothing else to do, I was showing these kids that they deserve to be little children, and to be treated with love and respect and to really be cared for.

I only saw these kids for a few days, but they gave all of their love to us the moment they met us. They put all their trust in us and found comfort in us right away. They knew we were going to leave in a few days time and probably never see us again, but they poured out their hearts to us.

Even still, I wish I could have been there for them longer. To protect them from anything that could harm them. But I learnt that, now it's time to put them into God's hands and trust Him.

I miss being in the Philippines. I met some amazing people there with amazing stories and beautiful hearts. I let myself get a hard heart while I was there, but God softened it through the way these people loved the person who was right in front of them.

Thanks for reading :)


World Mental Health Day

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

I woke up this morning with my Facebook and Instagram feeds filled with posts about #WorldMentalHealthDay. In all honesty, I've never heard of this day before, and excitingly, it's on its 25th year!

I know it's been awhile since I've posted on this blog (that seems to be the norm for me lately...), but on this day, I hoped to be open about how I've been doing lately. After all, the hope for this day is to abolish that stigma of mental health. I hope that, with what I share in this post today, if you're afraid to talk about how you're feeling, you to speak to someone and get the help you need.

I was in my second year of University in 2017 when my mental health took a turn for the worst. I honestly can't really remember what the exact reasons were, but I remember the feelings perfectly. Let's just say, I really wasn't doing well. I was so depressed, I experienced anxiety attacks for the first time, and my grades were falling a part. I was so overwhelmed by the stream of negative thoughts that attacked me on a daily basis, and it made it hard to do anything. In fact, I didn't do anything. The work I had to do, the things that needed to get done, the people I needed to spend time with, I did none of it. I couldn't, and because I couldn't, my depression and anxiety grew and grew until, I just didn't want to feel like that again. I wanted to run away, but I knew I would have to deal with everything eventually. I wanted to go.

I remember telling my sister everything. We took action right away, to ensure my own safety against my own mind. I went to therapy, I went to the doctors, and I dropped out of school to "get better".

I think I was doing better for a little bit. I felt like I had a purpose, and I wasn't overly stressed or anxious about letting people down. But by the time summer came, those thoughts started to creep back up on me. The worries of finances, friends, and just feeling alone started to build in my chest. I remember telling my very close friends, "I can't recognize myself anymore" or "I don't know what to do" or "I'm so tired of crying". I had taken multiple blood tests to find the causes, and gone to multiple types of therapists, only to continue feeling the same way, and to hate waking up every morning.

My doctor decided it was time I started on medication. Now, the medication wasn't too fun at first. Made me feel dizzy and get headaches a lot, while having strong urges to vomit everywhere. The toughest day was when I had my first panic attack. I didn't know why, but there I was having one. Thankfully my boyfriend was there, and he helped me calm down. The next day after that I woke up extremely depressed, with dark thoughts of harming myself, and and urge to run away. I couldn't be around people, and I just kept crying (again, my boyfriend is amazing and was there to calm me down).

This whole depression and anxiety thing is new to me. It sort of attacked me all at once and I was so caught off guard. I think the best thing I did, was talk about it. My sister was the first person I told how I was feeling. I knew no one better who I trusted and knew would be a support to me. I was lucky to have her there. She helped connect me to a therapist, and to start my journey of getting better.

It was difficult for me to tell other people though. To tell someone I couldn't go to an event because I was feeling anxious, or even taking time during an event to calm down made me feel embarrassed, and worried that I'd be annoying or a burden to others - or even a "party pooper" (It's a silly phrase, but I never wanted to be one).

Yes, I haven't quite had the most amazing response from others like my sister, but at least there was someone. My sister is in Virginia now, and sitting down and crying with her is a little harder now, but God blessed me SO MUCH with my mentor, Jess, and with my boyfriend.

I don't like talking about my mental health, I'll be honest. Sometimes I feel that, when I mention it, people are thinking "another depressed person *eye roll*" or even, "they just want attention". But, I really only needed to tell those three people about it all. I didn't need to tell every person I meet about how I tried to hurt myself back in November, because not everyone will be helpful. But these three are.

I say all this, not to brag or tell everyone about my struggles and to feel bad for me. I say this for the person who hasn't been open about what's going on in their head. Tell someone. It's the scariest thing in the world, yes, but it can most definitely save your life, your beautiful, beautiful life.

The biggest part of my recovery was knowing that God had my back the whole time. I truly understood what the Elevation Worship song, Do it Again meant when they sang:

Great is your faithfulness

and this scripture when it says:

2 Thessalonians 3:3 
"But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one."
Even if you can't find anyone to talk to first, talking to God is pretty awesome too, he is so faithful, and so amazing. I know this post is pretty late on #WorldMentalHealthDay, but I think it's better than never to write it, I guess.

Thanks for reading :)