On fear and anxiety

For the past few months, something has been festering in me—something that, though I have felt it and dealt with it before, I have come to experience anew. The very real, very visceral shock and dread that comes with fear has come back, and I feel once more helpless in the face of it.

At its barest, I now have a new fear to contend with—brontophobia, the fear of thunder. While I did not experience it before, the past few months of stormy weather have brought it out of me. The sky gets angry—at me, grumbling with impatience at my inadequacy, and though I know it to be an irrational fear, it remains very real, and very palpable. I jolt in place, scared at the onset of the booming sound, and though it subsides, I remain anxious, awaiting—dreading—the follow-up.

My better self knows it to be harmless—it remains as noise, and I am under no threat—but in my weakness I think otherwise. The sky is cross with me, and I must have done something to set it off. I surrender, knowing that there is nothing I can do to appease it. Even when I cover my ears, palms flat and firm against the sides of my head, I know I cannot escape. Even as I curl up on my bed during a storm, I do not feel safe.

It was a couple of weeks ago that I realized that my experience of fear comes with a certain anxiety that I could channel. My first reaction then to the anxiety was to chatter—to tell someone about what was going through my head. It somehow helped dispel the nervous energy pent up over the course of several cackles of thunder, but I know even now that overcoming the fear itself would be difficult.

My brother once told me that the root of all fear is the fear of death. I would use his argument to rationalize that my fear of heights was actually a fear of falling to my death. When my mother told me that I once had a fear of water, I suppose I had then been afraid of drowning, and since having learned how to swim helped me through that. While I have been struggling with my fear of death—and it has been a long struggle—this newfound fear of thunder feels somehow different.

Death is not obvious in thunder. Thunder to me is a manifestation of the raw power of a storm. It is loud, and it overpowers me. Maybe in that way, it reminds me of death—death will overpower us all—but even that explanation raises a few more questions. Thunder is extreme, and extremes can be dangerous. Maybe in danger, there can be death. On the other hand, I take risks all the time, and I have managed to stay alive this long despite all the danger I have put myself in.

Maybe it could be simpler than that. Maybe this time it is a fear not of death or its eventuality, but a fear of the nature of death. Not all death is slow and drawn-out. Maybe I fear the loudness of death—the loss of sensation, as if death were comparable to going deaf. Maybe I fear the suddenness of death—how the distant rumbling crescendos at the moment and then fades out. Maybe I fear how intangible death could be—overpowering my senses and surpassing description. All along thunder could have been a reminder of death without itself being a cause of death.

It was a couple of days ago that I realized one way to cope. I was in the company of friends, and there was a storm brewing. In my nervous anticipation of the thunder, I started chattering. I flipped out at the first chorus of the storm and proceeded to confide my fear of thunder. By the third chorus, I was calmly huddled on the floor, listening to the unraveling conversation about anything else but the weather. Turns out, while chattering helps me cope with anxiety, so does listening.

I reckon it makes sense. Friends have ways of talking things through with me, of helping me process experiences. In another sense, taking my mind off of the thunder is another way of coping, albeit an indirect one. I hope one day to be rid of this fear, but maybe I am satisfied for now with scratching the surface in understanding it.

Lines 10

How does interstellar space taste like? 

Sometimes file extensions confuse me. 

Electric blue and brown make a surprisingly attractive color combination. 

Learning another abugida in such a short period makes me want more. 

Mixtapes are fun to revisit. 

So a person farts, and eventually hydrogen from their bum escapes the atmosphere. 

How painful would it be when a coin falls fifty feet on to a person’s head? 

This sentence is being self-reflexive because of circular logic. 

Paper bags are funny, except when they start to decompose in air—that should be vaguely alarming, I suppose. 

Guitars have more of a twang, while violins really seem for me to sing. 

One day less, yet still one full of sun. 

I always have this impulse to induce magnetism whenever possible. 

Word choice is so potentially silly a concept—as long as I do not say so in front of semanticians. 

I before E except after non-weird words. 

Thirst is quite alienating, as far as bodily sensation is concerned. 

Dark rooms make for good darkrooms; the darker, the better. 

Collapsing line graphs into seizing segments on the floor of my mind is not exactly a healthy perception. 

Intelligent design is a thing because humans are so helpless, we actually had to build things to make life easier, which took intelligence. 

When it comes to symmetry, I think spheres have too much of it going on. 

Lullabies about monsters should not hypothetically make sense, but still. 

It took me five minutes to digest a ten-line sentence sandwiched within a paragraph that spanned two pages—or maybe my reading comprehension is a little rusty. 

When birds learn how to use the internet, I reckon they would tweet quite a bit. 

Stupid is an autologous word with regard to the way it sounds. 

How big does a point have to become in order to be a dot; how much bigger does a dot have to become to be a spot? 

Cheese is delightful. 

Frivolity is such a frivolous concept to grapple with. 

Graffiti is strangely soothing. 

Watching people stare at other people standing in the rain is pretty much how social stratification works. 

Backpedaling does not actually work, right? 

There will be stranger days yet to come. 

On sickness and health

It takes a lot before my body finally gives in, I reckon; I only ever get sick about once a year, which is funny because I used to be a sickly child. My anatomic predispositions already made me prone to many things, yet over time, I guess I built some kind of immunity. Of course this is not to say that at some point I will be immune to everything, as when I do get sick, I get terribly sick.

Time was when my parents had to use a nebulizer for the asthma that my pectus excavatum induced; now I breathe normally, if not a little deeper than most people would, just to get the same amount of air into my lungs each time I inhale. Quite recently I also found out that I have a slight scoliosis—the kind that does not require treatment, but is a few steps away from needing regular checkups. This was an accidental discovery from when I was coughing up blood and had to get an x-ray done before the cardiologist could give me a diagnosis.

As it turned out, his original suspicion of tuberculosis had proved false, and I was spared of a life full of prescription pills that would keep the symptoms at bay. Instead, it was a really bad flu paired with a bleeding internal injury somewhere in my throat. I refer to that incident as the TB scare of 2012. Sometime in the near future, I will have to return to that very cardiologist about the occasional arrhythmia that I have been experiencing for a while now—for years even, as I had been working on the assumption that such things came to pass.

It is quite odd that I do not actually go to doctors very often, so when I do, it must be pretty serious. My pre-teen days were littered with cases of nosebleeds, fainting spells, and stabbing headaches due to sudden onset photosensitivity—among others. The start of my teenage years saw a gradual decrease in infirmary visits, as I had begun to read enough into health to try out what seemed the most appropriate, which at some point I found was something called the Hygiene Hypothesis; it made sense, as all I had to do was to up my exposure to pathogens and in a way get used to them in order to function as healthy.

I guess it kind of worked, except for how I still get majorly sick. I rationalize this as my body’s natural susceptibility to new-ish pathogens. Sometimes it even seems as though it is a challenge to pinpoint what exactly I am sick with these days, as in my latest visits to the infirmary. It started about a month ago, and I thought it would go away, but then a week in, I found it debilitating enough to go to the infirmary, cutting a couple of classes in the crossfire. They did the standard routine; I reported a stabbing headache, productive cough with grey-green phlegm, resulting tremors, and a persistent nausea. The nurse on duty told me to rest first.

In an adjacent bed, separated only by a cloth hanging on suspended bars, I overheard a girl enumerating the symptoms of dengue to her visiting friends before I passed out. When I woke up, the doctor approached me and told me that they were unsure if it was viral or bacterial in nature, and that I would have to take meds for the symptoms for about a week; if I got better, that would mean it was viral. What I did not tell her was that I had been avoiding having to take meds for no reason for a while since then, but I figured that that was a legitimate enough reason to.

A week passed, and I got somewhat better; the cough was not going away, but the headaches and nausea lifted. Sure, I was still thinking cloudily, but I had to report back to the clinic. This time, the prescription was for antibiotics, and if the rest of the symptoms went away over the course of treatment, it would probably mean I had a bacterial infection too, which it turned out I did. Until now I do not know whether it was bacterial only, or if it was both, or if I could have just been a hypochondriac—just a little bit, but I seriously doubt the third option.

What I do know is that being sick sucks, big time. It saps all the fun out of everything; laughing devolves into bouts of coughing, and eyes turned bleary by the headaches makes reading a feat. I do not function well if at all when I get sick; I do not like getting sick, much less enjoy it. The only good thing to come out of getting sick is the immunity that comes after, I reckon; I am reminded of vaccines. The only thing to look forward to is the prospect of not having to be sick of the same thing ever again in the future—hopefully, if my body actually did what it was supposed to.

There are some things that tend to remain though—like how lately I have been coughing in sets of three very occasionally throughout the day. There is no phlegm; it is completely dry, and I find it comforting that such a persistent cough reminds me that I exist, and that I am ultimately mortal.

An Open Letter to incoming university students

It has been said that universities are where you find out what you want to do for the rest of your life, but really, you have probably already decided on what you want to find out. Instead, maybe you should focus on growth when embarking on the university journey; it is much more befitting of the undergraduate setting.

First things first—high school must have been some ride with all that hormonal drama and all those peers and superiors you have had to deal with. I assure you that universities are no different, so get it out of your head that you can be someone else—someone real—now that you are attending undergraduate-level classes. The setting and social circles may have changed, but any desire to put on a façade probably has not. 

If you have been putting up an act all throughout high school, then I hate to break it to you, but you probably will keep those tendencies. You are what you have made yourself out to be, but maybe instead of acts, think of it as actual development—building on what is already there instead of scrapping it. So what if you happen to be a narcissist? Turn it into your own unique brand of humor or something.

But before I derail, allow me to introduce myself as someone who just went through one year of undergraduate classes—complete with summer. In that one year, I have failed one class, withdrawn from another, survived two advanced placement classes, attended a class I did not have to just for the sake of it, do better than expected of myself in four major classes, and have shifted out of the program I started in due to unforeseen circumstances. It is up to you to decide whether or not I have the authority to write what I am about to write.

There is nothing to fear about university life. It is great, and it is humbling, and it is wonderful—all if experienced with a salt shaker in hand. It may be fun to revel in the newness, but eventually, the fact that university will likely be just a few years will sink in, and then you will already be halfway through it by then. First piece of advice; catch up.

University instructors will probably take it easy on first-year students, but there will always be those who believe in trials by fire. Those instructors who do happen to be of that kind will be the most memorable; try to sincerely learn from them. They will help you adapt far faster to university life than easygoing instructors will. Yet you must realize that the point of universities is to question things—even authorities. I have mentioned this before—second piece of advice; do everything you can with your metaphorical salt shaker.

It will help you in two ways—to take what you learn with a grain of salt, and to rub salt in the wound. Sure, the latter does not sound too pleasant, but it helps to remind yourself of the failures; it assures that you will do better next time. On a more practical note—third piece of advice; make it a point to know the ins and outs of your university.

Before you even start on your classes, knowing the processes by heart will allow you full usage of the red-tape repertoire. Despite its best efforts to be efficient, universities still have a kind of bureaucracy, and so to know the processes beforehand will allow for better planning. Universities pretty much instill that in their students—planning becomes compulsion. Fourth piece of advice; settle in, and try to have fun.

When all is said and done, the rest is up to you. Being able to thrive and develop in university is less about the skills and smarts—you will have those as you progress anyway—than it is about preparation and the mentality. It is really in the attitude that makes university life worth going through; I assure you that classes on their own will not help unless you want them to. If learning or growing at all is not on your to do list, why attend a university?

In the end it is up to you what you end up doing—as long as you find yourself wanting to do something, then you might as well follow through. The truest thing I have ever heard said about university life is that it is both trial and error and a learning experience. If one thing does not happen to work out, then figure out what you could and should do, and move on to do it. Plenty of mistakes are made, but it is up to you to learn from it all—with your metaphorical salt even, maybe.

All I can really write at this point is that university life will be up to you. Before it actually happens, do your best to prepare for it, then when it happens, you will have caught up already. Make sure learning is your priority as long as you really want it; I know of people who go through university unenthusiastic about anything, just because they want to get it over with so that they can go have some menial job somewhere. Sometimes the world just needs idealists; maybe you can bring it out of yourself through university life.

I find myself rambling; I am too impassioned about learning to focus on just university life. This is what you must know: it will only be worth it if you really want it to be. Good luck, and I hope you are prepared for whatever you are getting yourself into.

Extrascholastic Dropout

It used to be that I gave up very easily; when I was still in single-digit ages, I was restless and impatient, and thus so easily bored. For whatever reason, I was enrolled in quite a few extra-curricular classes—violin, piano, voice, supplementary math and English, at some point even visual arts—yet now I maintain none of them. Now all I hear about these things are of self-taught successes and of natural talent.

These days I wonder if it was my downfall after all that I discontinued such activities; my math skills are pretty average, and my musical inclinations remain rudimentary, both despite still being a decent singer and English-user. I wonder now how I would have turned out if I had a musical edge, or the knack of deconstructing formulae. There is a note of regret resounding somewhere in my mind, but I made my own decisions long ago.

I used to study in a place I knew as Sacred Heart—the full name of which slips now from memory; it was something of an after-school tutorial center at one of the top floors of Shangri-La, a mall along Shaw Boulevard that my family used to frequent. As one recently-untoddlered, it was pretty spacious and safe-feeling for me. My parents left my siblings and me there for a program called Kumon, but I remember playing around alone more than I do having studied.

My understanding of the program was so; everyone starts at level A—the exact nature of which escapes me now. All I remember is that by the time I was six, I was doing long division for math, while I was far better at English; I think I was in reading comprehension of short stories with grammar of conditionals. I liked English more because it seemed more intuitive; I did not see math as a language in itself, but as a set of rules framed by English in order to explain numbers.

Sometime in my long division days, I remember getting bored, so I spent my study time just skimming the answer sheets, then the rest of the time horsing around while waiting for my parents to get back. There was nothing I could do to fill my time but make noise, and I remember being one of the shyest troublemakers in the center. My instructors would often pull my parents aside when they arrived to talk about my restlessness; I pretended not to hear them.

My parents never brought it up, so I figured not to as well. At home it showed though that I was more fascinated by mathematical flashcards with short answers and by quite linear stories. I think on it now and figure that I was a product of instant gratification; I just wanted to know without all the hangups of the process. My impatience was obvious in the way I went from activity to activity with the inability to stay put.

I remember at some point deciding that I would tell my parents to let me stop taking Kumon; I also remember giving Kumon one last shot. It took tremendous focus and effort, but I trudged on through the long division for but a week more before breaking the news. I only vaguely remember how I told them, but I did—I think I just said that I did not want to Kumon, using a noun as a verb, anymore.

Around the same time, I started letting go of my music classes. My parents enrolled me in weekend sessions at the school of my siblings—Saint Paul’s College, Pasig—in order to learn violin, piano, and voice; I only excelled at one of them. The names of my instructors are embedded somewhere in my head, but my recall is faulty—I remember confusing them with my preschool teachers at some point.

Piano was the first class I dropped; my small fingers and feeble attitude could not sink the ivory strong enough for notes to resound in unison. There was a window that I would constantly look out of—to me it looked like the interface of gravel and sky, but looking through that very window now would look like a driveway to nowhere, punctuated by urban skyline, and then the sky, dulled by the knowledge of age.

The building was known to me then as the CAB—Cultural Arts Building, formally—but whether or not it has changed since then escapes me. Lessons were conducted in tight rooms at the top floor, and the room where I learned piano was right beside where I learned violin. It was more fun to learn violin despite all the formalities—chin position, way to hold the bloody bow, et cetera—because it allowed more freedom for my futile fingers.

It took a little while longer for me to drop the violin; despite how I liked playing around with it, I was not advancing to any discernible level. I was just stuck in the basic level forever, so I told my parents to let me drop that as well. Voice was the only extra-curricular class I could sustain up to my double-digit ages, but even then, I gave it up just before I became a teenager.

The room where I had my voice lessons was on the other side of the building, but it was deprived of windows save for the one cut into the door. The light bouncing off the walls gave off a dingy yellow, and I remember keeping still for once. Whenever I sang, I really had to concentrate because my rudimentary voice control needed to be mastered.

For whatever reason, voice lessons offered that sense of control over myself and my capabilities in something so seemingly simple as singing; I did not need any instruments or answer keys. All I needed was rawness and feedback—voices echoing back and forth between pupil and instructor. That was why I stayed for so long in voice classes before quitting for reasons quite unrelated.

I was growing up; I did not have much time anymore for singing when surrounded by potential businessmen, art was but a triviality. Singing also stalled the effects of puberty, as after I dropped voice lessons, my voice started cracking almost immediately. It was inevitable that I give it up, but my former soprano was still something to revel in.

That was it; for the rest of my childhood, Kumon was slowly blotted out of me by regular schooling, and my musical inclinations atrophied from disuse. There was nothing special about me; I was just another hyperactive student with a naïveté that overrode the need to understand. I know better now—that these skills are luxuries I deprived myself of.

I made the decision once; maybe it did not affect me in the long-term—just maybe I can start back up from where I left off.

Describing summer daze

Living in a tropical country has its perks, but when it comes to rising temperatures, summer near the equator is not the ideal time and place for those afflicted with profuse sweating.

At nights it is fairly tolerable, with the relieving chills that come with darkness. The slow-ebbing winds of the wee hours provide gentle comfort from the daytime heat torture. To wake up without the sickly stick of a thin skin of sweat coating my epidermis would be a blessing, only later to be negated by the undeniable humidity just beyond my bedroom door.

Showers are mandatory. One a day is fine, but more than that is advisable because showers serve to punctuate the heat with a mandatory cool-down, as well as to wash the sticky, greasy feeling away. The futility of showers become clear right after stepping out of the bathroom; the only protection from the would-be searing heat is clothing—and not even that helps very much. In fact, at some point, clothing starts to feel detrimental.

At some point in summer mornings, there is an inexplicable stasis—it would neither be blazing nor freezing, but something akin to still and dry. Ironically enough, I would rarely step out for the stillness, but whenever I do, it would quickly turn into weather summer promises. The brief dryness turns sticky, and the fires in the air start.

Summer noons are quite possibly the most excruciating; lunches are taken indoors, if not under well-ventilated shades. Even then, cooler foods are preferred—nothing right off the pan unless there are enough Iced Drinks to compensate. A little note—the machines used to generate coolness themselves overheat; it cannot be helped.

The most tolerable time of a summer day comes a little later in the afternoons—that magic hour when the humidity lifts, and the nippier winds come along. Breathing gets easy, and my skin is refreshed by all the coriolis movement. It does not even matter if the minute stale taste of dung is being carried to my nostrils; I breathe easier with less moisture to have to filter.

Dusk comes in a flurry of hot and cold—I am torn between watching them outdoors, or just savoring the light that filters through the nearest window from a well-ventilated room. I do not know how to appreciate sunsets being blurred by the dribbles of sweat making their way into my eyelids. I rarely bring anything to wipe the perspiration off; it never occurs to me.

My sensibilities remain stubborn despite the summer; I continue to wear longer bottoms instead of shorts. I dare to wear combat boots at times, and even use hoodies as shirts. It makes no sense for me to do so, but the weather compels me to maximize the surface area of cloth in contact with my skin; I need another skin to soak the heat away.

It is night again, and I avoid nosebleeds by taking a shower before I sleep; it only makes sense to wash the heat of the day away with a shockingly cold shower. Sometimes after a particularly exhausting day, I find that the water has warmed, and I am disappointed. Whatever the case, I sleep in shorts to the gentle hum of a timed air-conditioning unit.

When I close my eyes, the heat emanates from the parts of my skin that fold into each other or otherwise touch; I spread myself out to no avail until the cold overcomes me, and I find myself asleep for but only a moment, and then awake again.

In Which productivity is protection

There is a pattern to when I feel too much; apparently it is a pattern not too uncommon for the seasonally neurotic. It always starts with an intense bout of any extreme emotion—euphoria, rage, depression—and the subsequent self-guilting. After the recomposure comes a sort of breakdown—euphoria turns into panic; rage into suppression, and depression into nihilism. After that, it becomes about finding a coping mechanism.

The most direct methods for dealing is specific to the emotion—laughing hard, running away, or melting down—and while those are all good and well for dissipating the intensity at hand, they do not necessarily make me feel any better. In the past, I had panicked and laughed hard, and suppressed and ran away, and nihilated and melted down until my mind was exhausted with itself.

The dulled feelings would turn into abstract grey masses wrapped in denial or overcompensation—there would always be something beyond my conscious control that would protect my conscious mind from world-shattering subjective realities. It really is about distorting subjective realities such that they end up making sense; sometimes all it takes is the ability to not face feelings in order to deal with them.

Despite my ability to use the full spectrum of defense mechanisms, I often find that the most effective one is diffusion. To be specific, finding any source of work or productivity is one way of allowing emotion to dissipate while keeping myself distracted and functional. It works on many levels because while I hide from a dangerous subjective reality, I have some sort of output, and over time my emotional equilibrium is somehow arrived at once more.

Then, when I find myself being unproductive, I surrender to the dulled feelings once more until they build up, and I am forced to recuperate in the only way I know how—to use defense mechanisms that don’t work until the cycle goes full-circle, and I am productive once more. Many times, I have been thrown into this emotional orbit to and from a stable sun. [ And how I long for a decent solar flare. ]

It does not make sense at times; I get so distracted by work that I end up almost mechanical—and then it hits me that I have not felt too strongly, and the fact makes feel so strongly until I don’t want to. I get tired, and I am rejuvenated by work somehow, because knowing the fruit of distractive labor is invigorating—until I realize that I am not doing anything anymore. Lather with feelings; rinse with work; repeat.

I have increasingly been noticing how prevalent such a cycle is in my performative life. I distract myself with work; that is one hell of a distraction. It makes me feel as though I can’t actually do anything unless I am avoiding something. In a sense, avoidance is where I am most productive; it is astounding. Sometimes I am even able to distract myself with pseudo-productivity like menial chores or picking up pieces of discarded paper from my room.

When I cannot bring myself to do anything that involves focus, I do things that don’t make sense—sometimes I write in the hope that something becomes of it, therapeutic or not. I protect myself with the feeling that I am doing something so that I don’t have to think about what really threatens me—what could really be my downfall. It is not so much defensive as it is an assurance that I do not break so easily.