Thursday, January 12, 2017

Mental Illness, Friendships and Bravery.


"I am mentally ill."

In December 2016, a student of mine told me that he was diagnosed with a mental illness. It wasn't a recent thing, but it's just that he decided to tell me about it recently. I was devastated, my heart was heavy and I wished the news never came to be true. 

But it was and I knew being down about it won't do any good. In fact, more than ever, I realized an urgency to learn more about mental illnesses, about how I can be the best support as a mentor and teacher. I needed to gain knowledge fast, so I can be more equipped to deal with students dealing with this mental illness. 

Of course there was Google, and there were a lot of other sources accessible through the internet and books and all that. But I didn't want theories. I didn't want just some medical background, and support groups 101. I wanted a real story. I wanted to learn from someone who has been through it, who can give me first-hand advice from experiences and personal encounters.

Little did I know, God has answered my prayer, even before I knew I was going to ask for a friend that can assist me in this. 

In November 2015, I went to a writer's conference abroad. I got to attend panels and chose classes about all sorts of subjects on writing. One of them was a seminar by the founder of a legendary magazine in my home country. 

So I chose a seat randomly, scared but excited to make new friends. 

It just so happened that I sat next to this girl. She was friendly and welcoming, and so we ended up becoming friends. Attended classes together the following day, had lunch, stayed in touch through social media and all that. 

The highlight of this encounter though was our conversations. What always reminded me of her was her passion to be the voice for those who had mental illnesses. She wanted to share their stories, and show the world their side of the story. I've never met someone like that and I was greatly inspired. 

This is why a year and so later (a few days ago), after receiving the news of my student's diagnosis, I contacted her. I asked her if she knew anything, knowledge or encounters or experiences, that could help me to assist my student. I figured if she had passion for this, she might be knowledgeable. And because of that she shared her story, that she was diagnosed with the same condition as my student

She was the friend I was looking for. 
She was the answer to my prayer. 
She was the advisor I needed. 

My heart is still heavy, thinking that many people out there has to go through what my friend and my student went through and/or is going through. But God works in mysterious ways. It was not a coincidence that I went to the writer's conference that year, to that seminar, and sat next to her. Really, God worked it out together for good.

The bravery of my friend in sharing her story to others allowed her situation to be a blessing for others, to be impactful and to change lives. Look how her courage to share and use what the world counts as a weakness to be her source of passion, to be her weapon to encourage others. 

Her story matters. A lot. And I am grateful for her. 

So, thank you, friend. For not letting the shortcomings bring you down and instead, push through. For your generosity in sharing to others. For embracing who you are. For being brave. 

This post is dedicated to you. 

(PS: Names of people, places and events and other details are not shared in respect of the people I am referring to in the story.)

Saturday, January 7, 2017

I Choose Joy.

Psalm 61:2 (KJV) 
From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, 
when my heart is overwhelmed,
lead me to the rock that is higher than I.

New years are sentimental. 

Just like birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, and so and so. And it's not that you can only make a change on specific dates and days of your life. But, there's that common agreement that we have indeed entered a new page. New pages are blank, clean and pretty to look at. By the end of the year, of by whatever chapter of life you are in, when we look back at that paper, we will probably find it messy, dirty, and slightly crippled all over. So I guess every time we get a blank page freshly given by the universe, we somehow always want to keep it that way. Or if we can be honest to ourselves, what we really want is to paint beautiful things on it. 

That's why new year resolutions are everywhere, new-year-new-me post its, goals and plans are jotted down as we anticipate the hour to reach 12:00AM. It's not a surprise. But more than anything, I think it embodies a certain truth. It shows our longing for growth, for better tomorrows and for good changes. It shows our wanting for hope and grace. It invites us to reflect on blessings and pains, and successes and hardships.

And I think we will realize that many times, those failures are inevitable. We woke up with our knees scraped, problems unsolved and hearts discouraged. Things happen, shit happens. It's impossible to keep the page clean. The flaws and stains are what shapes us, grows us into better characters than we were in the previous chapters and pages. 

But the paintings. The images and writings we jot down on them, the beautiful parts that we value most. They all happen by choice. It's intentional that the page is colored red, not blue. That it has a 4-line poem instead of a whole page of short story. Perhaps it has your dog's picture and not your own. You choose. It's completely within your power. 

For me personally, this year I’m going to choose joy. I know that in the previous years, of course I’ve chosen joy many times. Of course I’ve had great times, rolling on the floor laughing out loud and all that. But I’m not just talking about that. I’m talking about a perspective. I’m talking about that contentment, a sense of knowing that I have been made whole in Christ and actually living it out. I’m talking about that conscious decision to respond to circumstances in the right attitudes. I’m talking about rising above, beyond feelings and facts. Because if the joy of the Lord is my strength (Nehemiah 8:10b), and I know I will need to be strong this year, then I’m choosing joy. 

I choose to rise above. I choose joy. 

What are you choosing this year? 

James 1: 2-3

Dear brothers and sisters, 
when troubles of any kind come your way, 
consider it an opportunity for great joy
For you know that when your faith is tested, 
your endurance has a chance to grow.