until i can’t think

red and white wall with graffiti

“Individuals with ADHD often become quickly immersed in one salient emotion and have problems shifting their focus to other aspects of a situation.”

“For many people with ADHD, the brain’s gating mechanism for regulating emotion does not distinguish between dangerous threats and more minor problems. These individuals are often  thrown into panic mode by thoughts or perceptions that do not warrant such a reaction. As a result, the ADHD brain can’t deal more rationally and realistically with events that are stressful.” – some article i found from ADDitude

“nothing is wrong. everything feels wrong. that’s what’s wrong.” on mental disorders (simple explanation), our favorite weez

well.

that doesn’t make this easier.

if anything, it could very well make this.

worse.

worse like groan a little and rock back and forth for an hour because it would’ve been nice to have known *before* all this happened. stare into the abyss and not imagine dragons waiting to take me away because i still have homework worse. scrolling through instagram and feeling overwhelmed worse. so much worse that it feels scary to address the worse because what if it gets worse

i’m trying the breathing exercises and they’re kinda helping, but they just make me feel dizzy and have a bit of a headache. and i already ate so it can’t be that. and i don’t have anyone that actually know know what it means to have a mind with a million tabs open and one sound coming from all of them in unsion

“oh! no! oh! no! oh! no!”

and what do i say to the tabs?

“you’re! not! real! you’re! exaggerated!”

and then what? lie because everything in the world is going

“oh! no!”

and me saying it doesn’t make it more or less true?

i hold no power as to the truthness level of a situation, and that scares me more than the actual situation. i’m not sure what to think about that, and i’m not sure if i *can* think, because then it’s like

realize that everything i’m processing and experiencing will always be received by hypersensitive, maxed up senses,

leading to questioning everything i hold dear and i speak up about being actually important or just important to me,

then leading into panicking as the things and people i love don’t get better and don’t get anything at all and the world and the governments and how itchy my left eye is,

then trying to shut my phone off before yet another cry of how the people who need to listen won’t listen and are just trying to maintain order and calm, and how can i blame them when i’m trying to do the exact same thing, but the difference between me and them is i’m actually trying to change for the better and they only want to surpress the cries,

oh the room is cold now, oh, there’s a bag of groceries where the table is, that’s not right, oh no, a million little things are inscrutably different than how they were yesterday and oh no that is not okay, not okay, not okay!

sometimes it ends in a meltdown and sometimes it ends in long periods of feeling nothing after feeling everything for so long

but everything seems to set me off today, like

all the lovely things friends write and put up and share

and all the mean things the outside does and the bills they pass and the doom they bring to make everything great again! no you’re not you just want you to be great again

and that someone brought me crackers and now i feel priveleged because nobody else asked for crackers

and then lonely because nobody else asked and i feel like i can’t go home and i don’t know where home is

and i know that i don’t know but it doesn’t make up for the fact that i don’t know

i want to save the world. and i also want to save myself. and i have to make peace that having both is okay. that i am okay.

that even with all the unokayness it will be okay, because we’re just humans and everything we see is filtered through the confines of our minds, and that’s why when we’re united it doesn’t feel as lonely as it tends to be, but *why* is so much, why is there so much why

why

why

perhaps… perhaps feeling, and caring is a superpower that… that i can’t control yet? and therefore… and therefore the opposite, to be normal, to be apathetic, is my weakness?

but then…

but then…

when does it stop?

~then i try, try to deny, jo~

mudbloods, but make it worse

flag of Philippines
do i have my own photos? yes
am i still using these unsplash stills? yes
do i have issues? oh yeah

there’s a caste system in everything. the philippines is only one of many countries that employ one.

it starts with what we associate with success and fame and the “It” goal: being white. sometimes this can be replaced with being american on a good day, sometimes it’s just anyone with unbelievably fairer skin. either way, this ingrained goal, despite not actually being stated, is why the skin whitening industry is so successful and why most representation of filipinos is unbelievably lightskinned. or, in nicer terms, “fair.”

then it breaks down into being mestizo, which is a fancy colonizer way to say having mixed blood. if your genes are good and you’re “fair” then you have a pretty secure grip on the societal ladder. if you don’t, at least you have a “fair” parent. having mixed families is, for some reason, romanticised and fetishized, which isn’t cool, but somehow nobody talks about that? anyway.

the more melanin you have, the less you’re seen as equal to the “It” goal, or seen as equal, or even seen in general, and it’s this weird horrible phenomenon of internalizing colonial thinking that’s led filipinos to either:

favoring the system

or

favoring the exact opposite, which spurns anyone who isn’t pure filipino.

enter the anomaly that is having both biological parents mixed themselves, growing up in a different country, absorbing three cultures without really knowing where they come from, and finally, going back to the place it all started, and being unnaturally, atypically, ungodly, different.

enter me.

i don’t say all of this to the old guy sitting on the plastic chair by the street though. his confused reaction at my sudden spout of words would just confirm my point, and despite knowing it solidly for about all my life i’m not ready to hear it from another person. so i don’t say any of that when he says

“are you chinese?”

do i LooK like i want to scream, but i realize that i probably do.

“ah, my dad’s filipino, my mom’s chinese,” i answer.

i’m lying. my biological parents have so many different elements in both their dna, chinese included, that just transferred onto me. genetics people, genetics.

but i can’t bring out a punnet square and clarify to this interesting wrinkled person who eagerly waved at my camera just a few minutes ago, not to someone that probably doesn’t even know what genes are, not to someone who doesn’t know, period. easier for him and me.

that last bit’s a lie too. this sucks.

it’s a cruel world, one in which my skin isn’t dark enough to be oppressed and not light enough to be fetishized, in which i’ll still be asked if i have an accent or where i come from or applauded for having perfect english, in which i am a surprise because i’m not like “the others” but that just makes me an other. is that really much of an improvement?

being a token diverse person in the eyes of those who haven’t yet come face to face with the reality that a person can be so complex in every single sense of the word isn’t the worst thing ever, but it… isn’t fun. and it makes connecting with what little of this culture and of being a person of color i can call “mine”, because none of it seems to be, really.

like i can’t infringe on the specific opportunities for one people group despite not having those for mine either, or go to community centers created for priority neighborhood kids despite growing up one.

i don’t have any happy conclusion, but i imagine hermoine and all those other kids must’ve felt the same struggles in their weird fantasy world, somehow, in some strange way, must’ve related to not belonging. i don’t know much about fantasy worlds, so don’t kill me.

all i do know is we all have a bit of that magic in all of us, especially in the mixed and the barely there and the very much there that it makes no sense to divide ourselves by arbitrary lines that get blurred every single time.

and i wish i could answer this guy when he asks

“where do you come from”

and i wish i didn’t have to answer this question again.

~hey guys it’s me, the biggest disappointment you know, jo~

if we pull out all these causes to fight for

when do we stop fighting?

where do we draw the line?

how do we not lose our minds?

i’ve been thinking– about the way we obssess

over squares on a grid on a screen in our hands

and reshares and likes and opinions

that are worthy of attention but not of this division

like how can we save the children

when you spend your time fighting

over which ones first need saving?

the kid at apartment 128

and the kid being forced to work too late

are still trying to survive as you argue and wait

how can you ethically expect all babies to be born

without suffering in this toxic atmosphere; what was your arguing for?

it goes so much deeper than your 280 word caption

it’s not just an instagram story calling people to action

it’s the person behind the words

it’s the community trying to stop the hurt

it’s a movement crying for a moment of silence

it’s saying that we deserve to have peace and quiet

without fearing for our lives

without wondering if our kids will make it home in the night

is that a problem you worry about as well

that you’ll be grabbed out of your car

and pushed down with your hands

tied behind your back,

pleading for someone to understand

but do you?

can you?

should you?

we are not the same, our problems are unique

yet our pushing against them should make us united, not weak

over trying to fight an online comment

over generalizing a whole group of people

because they aren’t what you thought of

when you hear the word “justice”

when you see the word “lives”

they are seeking the same thing you are

only they have realized

that it is better to be a warrior in a garden

than a gardener in a war

we have lost too much already

we do not need more blood

please think about what makes you feel justified

what you support and what you deny

at the end of the day, we shouldn’t be in this rut

these issues shouldn’t have to

be divided into “me” and “you”

when it can be “us”.

we get the job done

Statue of Liberty
unsplash, amazing. me, not so much.

if i had my words at the time,

if i had my mind collected to answer your casual conversation about the news of the world and the news of the country neither of us have an official citzenship to (yet) but both consider home,

if i’d known how far into your experiences you’d lean, how proud you are of how far you’ve come, who’ve you brought and who you came back for,

if i realized that a person can so easily be shaped by what they consider right,

perhaps i wouldn’t have stayed silent as you explained why you believed systemic racism doesn’t exist.

perhaps, knowing that your mind would not be swayed from your belief that the plight of the people with the same skin as you and i was nothing more than an opportunity presented as a struggle,

that surely, because you came through your experiences successful, proud, and happy, that is every immigrant’s story, that is every person of color’s life if they would only put their minds to it,

that this couldn’t be true because it didn’t happen to you,

that it was merely a shift of blame from personal failure to the system’s,

that all you needed to cure this horrible plague called racism was to merely keep your head up and make friends of your enemies,

i would’ve been more factual, more precise, less sympathetic (because you in all your kind words are surprisingly not),

but that wouldn’t have changed anything, would it?

no, realistically, none of our talk affects what we were talking about,

however.

it affects me.

you speak with pride of your past, of your thoughts, of your opinion. you came from soldier’s guts and the will of your last name. when old dad died in the states, everyone took the papers he didn’t sign and wrote them for themselves and they simply did. it was the family way. to stick together and to grab at any chance whatsoever together.

you were my age when old dad died. you were my age when old mom and your sister had chosen to move for themselves since there was nobody to move for them. you were the first of us to live in the projects, the first to fish around in the dumpsters, the first to try, the first to survive in this country. you helped bring most of the family here. you know this, you say, you know struggle, you have friends, they’ve struggled, that is how life is.

(and you call me the pessimist.)

“assimilation” you say, raising a glass of water, “is something everyone has to do. otherwise, why bother coming to the country?”

this from the person who fears losing the family history, always comments on the new kids being born with english names, insists on learning our native tongue, always prepares a mix of foreign dishes with a side of rice because otherwise that is not a meal, this is coming from a beautiful, kind, unknowing hypocrite. you have made yourself presentable to be treated regularly (and boom, who defines what’s regular? you just admitted it’s not us), but the culture that flows in you is the culture they do not want, and so you say assimilation is good.

i refrain from mentioning residential schools and the similar mentalities even now as you comment, “oh, and the docs said i was a monkey, but that’s just one bad doc, that’s all it is.”

see, you had me til “all” and “just”.

i’m quiet, but not by desire. i need to hear this, i need to know how you think, and it is… it is like every other human who has ever thought. they are strong thoughts, brave thoughts, misguided and sad thoughts, adaptable, survivalist, idealistic, and human thoughts. i have similar ones, and all of them just echo one repeating line:

beating the system doesn’t mean the system doesn’t exist. beating the system doesn’t mean the system doesn’t exist. you’re not supposed to push through an unforgiving system, that system is supposed to help you, not hold you back

you deny this. at this point, it’s rather ironic. no, it’s just how you make the most of this opportunity, no, it’s what you choose to make of it.
and you are right, of course you are.
but you’re wrong when you say that it’s just. it’s not just. and it’s not just. both definitions.

are you so content with pushing to exist in this space that you find the cries of people just like you doing the same thing on a larger scale than you did meaningless? have you accepted that your experience has got to be every other immigrant, everyone other person of color, every other human’s experience, and therefore your outlook on life will be everyone else’s too; to just reach for the grapes that are enticingly dangled above you? to jump and jump and jump even as every time you get closer they’re whisked out of reach? that nobody can check to see who’s holding the grapes and can’t stop jumping and jumping and jumping?

perhaps you grew up to survive a life of striving. you and the hordes of older folk who think just like you, proud in their success, reluctant to see the struggles of others without giving them the same advice you gave yourself.

but i grew up without the same pride of our story, our culture, our skin. because in pursuing the “It” you boast of, we lost what the significance of who we are, and no amount of your mourning for our generation will bring it back. that’s assimilation baby, when you win, you lose.

i grew up aware of the cultural gap among my people, i grew up aware of the cultural ignorance of my people, i grew up aware that i didn’t have a people. i grew up in similar housing, similar dumpsters, not so similar struggles. it’s easier to see what’s wrong when you’re not basking in the glow of your rightness.

it makes conversations like this more painful.

like how can i tell you that our success, the filipino growth, is largely thanks to the brave Black americans whose slurs, insults, and limitations we once shared, and to feel like you have an opinion on whether lives matter is to be ignorant? that even now we have this privilege known as the model minority that hurts everyone involved, us included? that you are proud of something that shouldn’t have been as hard as it was? that we shouldn’t– and we can’t– just push for a right to exist?

i can’t tell you that. that’s something that you need to learn in as much as you have said you know.

“i’m like a puppy” you said. “you can hate me and push me away all you want but i’ll make you love me and annoy you into caring for me, and that’s how we can end racism, by making our enemies love us.”

you grinned and launched into how you started providing for old mom at 17, and i merely looked at you.

no <3.

that’s not how you treat fellow people, fellow humans, like pets. you treat them like people, worthy of care and attention and human decency by existing.

and that’s what your optimism fails to cover. people are not being treated like people, people are being treated like pawns in a game, and what we’re saying is the game isn’t fair.

for someone who insists on seeing the good in people, surely you should see the bad as well.

but i didn’t have words. perhaps i still don’t.

when i do though, i hope you give my words the same weight i have given yours, because your thoughts are important.

and so are mine.

~this immigrant’s keeping us all on our toes, jo~

to dance

group of people dancing

is to revolt.

to dance

is to be aware of the people staring

and choosing not to care.

moreso, to shift your care into the wave of your hands

the jump in your feet

the toss of your hair

the freedom that runs through your soul

and bursts from your skin.

to dance

is to listen to a beat that you can hear

loud and clear

even if it goes unheard by anyone else.

to dance

is to smile at frowning people

staying still on the ground

whose eyes roam over your body

and attempt to make it still itself

and to move on, anyway.

to dance

is to refuse to be weaponized

by a system that demands rigor mortis

by the fear that has always controlled us

to raise your head and laugh.

to dance

is being willing to go it alone

to trust another person

to join a group

united in individual movement.

to dance

is a love letter

encased in melanin

and tendons

and stretch marks

and beauty.

to dance

is a fist extended into open palms

knowing directed force

has more power when applied to certain points.

to dance

is freeing, joyous,

when you can learn to dance for yourself

that’s where it starts.

to dance

is to let go

of the positions you have known

afraid of moving on

but ready to do so at all costs.

to dance

is a protest

is a performance

is perfect

in its own way.

to dance

in whatever shape or form

whoever your feet move for

may in every little way

you find your dance

today.

what are they doing?

their best.

sometimes their best is getting out of bed and into the shower and then skipping the shower to sit on the roof and get drenched by the rain.

sometimes it’s plopping on the ancient stolen laptop slowly breaking down as they realize the world has cursed them from the get go and the one person there since the beginning tries to help but her words just don’t sink in, they’re like swords being handed over when a shield is what they wish they had.

and so, sometimes the best is simply to be.

and sometimes that’s okay.

because nobody asks for this. nobody asks to be passed over on a happy story, nobody asks for the war or the bullets or the yelling, nobody wants that, and somehow everyone gets it.

and sure, it won’t be like that forever, but that doesn’t change the fact it is like that now.

and it sucks.

it’s like being the hero of a dying game called life. where nobody makes it out alive.

so then the hero takes off their mask, and they’re just a little kid in the dark with too much free time on their hands.

and they have a good cry and consider eating pineapple pizza. but to not completely descend into madness they make ramen and feel numb.

and the numbness

doesn’t

go

away

for

an

hour

or

three

and it’s beep. beep. beep. you are still alive. you are still breathing. welcome, brave soul.

and that’s. that’s the best. not the best overall or ever. but not nothing either.

because then you just. get back up. and you play a song. and you watch a movie. and you talk to people. and you don’t feel alone. even though you are. and you think about a future where you can actively ignore people as a choice and therapy isn’t a pain to schedule. it may never happen but it’s a nice illusion to cling on to for a while.

but then it’s not an illusion. you just aren’t there yet.

and that’s okay.

because you will be. somehow. sometime. maybe you’ll have a pizza. maybe you’ll wear a mask and tell yourself “i can do this” and maybe it will hurt and maybe you’ll be strong and maybe you’ll be a hero, even if for a moment.

and

well

maybe it gets better than that

maybe

it gets better than this.

~mom always asked where did i go wrong, jo~

w

assorted bottles on display in store

w

walmart shopping after work, after the end of the day and everyone’s ready to grab their frozen pizzas and go home.

“uhhh.” you stare at your camera, and then you stare and the rows of mini backpacks that hang before you. your sister slings an arm around your neck and pats a sleek looking black half pint.

“see anything you like?” panic. how are you supposed to choose anything? the idea of getting something absolutely brand new is foreign, almost dirty. everything you’ve ever possessed with the exception of your precious camera has either been stolen from dumpsters or carefully picked from thrift store racks. there’s something thrilling about getting something for your very own, something terrifying.

“the marvel ones look cool,” you mumble, eyes a captain marvel one in the kids section. you’re still a kid, after all.
“unless you wanna explain a flaming superhero on campus, i’d settle for something more discreet.” they rest their arm on your head simply because you’re short and you glower. “or not. whatever catches your eye.”

you pause. “do you mean that?”
“always.”

the walmart is left with one bobbing brown leather backpack and a jojo siwa balloon punched in the face.

i

two persons playing hockey on ice field

i

“i can’t keep TRACK of all of you,” the skate guard laughs as a bunch of little kids push them around the ice, tiny handmedown skates running against the cold to push this giant human around, for, you know, practice.

it is the second to last week of the skating season, and you wait for your friend to finish wrapping her scarf around her head as you have a small conversation about skating.

“i like it, i just wish i had lessons,” she sighs, staring over at some other girl on the ice whose teacher cheers her on as she does a cool one-legged spinny trick and doesn’t fall over. on the other side, the little kids have all fallen into a heap and their adult takes turns picking one up and dragging across the ice, giggling as they feel the sensation of floating on cold air.

“me too,” you agree. you take off your coat and step onto the ice, carefully pushing yourself off. you skate for a while, it feels like forever.

“hey, hey kid!” the skateguard comes up to you and the other children on the ice. “this is how you make a stop the hockey style, okay?”

without question everyone stands still and watches as they dart across the ice, sharply leaning on one side and letting a spray of ice fly across the rim. someone applauds. they come back proud.

“now you try it and see how it goes.”
“in figure skates?” you protest.

they throw their hands up in the air. “they’re all skates, aren’t they?”

t

poor lighted hallway

t

“…therapy?” the nurse asks kindly, handing you flip flops to walk in instead of the strange cloth sock contraptions they give upon arrival. you take them shyly, you’re not used to being offered anything, you feel guilty, you need to be tough, you have nearly died.

“is it expensive?”

the nurse laughs. “maybe, but your mind’s worth it.” they sit down and explain a way of healing you’d only ever heard as a joke, as a taboo element of life nobody wants to hear about, as something you never thought you needed. it sounds… it sounds good.

“we can set you and your family up for a session after you’re discharged,” the nurse finishes. “or… just you,” they add, watching your face crumple from passive to pained. “do… you want to talk about it?”

“uh, can i take you up on your offer another time?” you might be sidestreet, but you have manners.
“okay.”

when another time comes, you talk, and for the first time, you are listened to.

a

brown wooden framed white padded chair in between green indoor leaf plants inside bedroom

a

aftermath. an invitation. “let’s hang out!”

you’re suspicious. you should be, the people who you trusted stabbed you in the back and forced you to thank them for it.

still, a way out is a way out is a way out. you’ve stopped questioning the morality of a situation and just accepted it regardless of whether it’s right or wrong. what’s that to you anyway?

her apartment’s small, you’ve never been here before. the fun, artsy cousin from christmas and thanksgiving dinners holds her baby with one hand and with the other, pulls you in for a hug. you stiffen, you relax, it’s calm for a while, and then she asks you the question.

“how are you?”

it is then, slowly, surely, you feel like maybe you can heal.