When I was 16 years old, I achieved my dream of becoming a published author when I wrote an Op-Ed for the national paper in the Philippines. At that time, I was reading, "Mga Ibong Mandaragit" (Birds of Prey), the Philippine literary classic about neocolonialism by social activist, Amado V. Hernandez, and had just come back from a trip to the United States. My article was about the destructive effects of colonial mentality that was still so pervasive in Philippine society over a century after Spanish colonial rule officially ended.
Growing up with dark brown skin in the Philippines, I never considered myself beautiful or attractive in any way, shape, or form. The ideal beauty at the time was a demure Filipina with pale skin and westernized features. I was even once passed down for a modeling job because I would not capitulate and say that I was not pure Filipino. The casting director wanted me to say that I was part-Filipino and part-something else. I just couldn't do it. It was just something that I accepted as a teen. I thought to myself, "Ok. You have to accept this. You are not physically the ideal concept of beauty here, so you are just going to have to compensate by being intelligent, charismatic, athletic, and fun to be around". So I grew up not putting value on looks and placing my worth on my achievements and accomplishments instead.
For all my life, I have prided myself in being very positive, optimistic, and full of joy. I always have a smile and a hug for everyone and I love to have fun and laugh. I never showed any weakness or asked for help when I needed it because I thought that was what being strong was all about.
I also never really learned how to feel and process my emotions or learn to be vulnerable. No matter how I was feeling inside, I kept a bright, smiling facade that I always showed the world. I kept myself so busy, jam-packing my schedule with work, meetings, projects, events, dinners, nights out, parties, and dates. I surrounded myself with people and had no time to really listen to myself and know how I truly feel.
During the past year, because of the drastic changes that have occurred in my life, I decided to start seriously working on myself: finding out what I want on my own, what gives me joy, what I want to cut out of my life, what I like, how to be vulnerable, how I want my life to unfold, where I see myself in the future, and the impact that I want to leave on the world.
Then COVID hit.