Finding Meaning While Jobless

“I have always believed, and I still believe, that whatever good or bad fortune may come our way we can always give it meaning and transform it into something of value.”
Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

There was a lot of training sessions that I attended in the last few weeks, whether it was helping organize it, participating in it, or helping facilitate it. The last month was filled with a lot of realizations, learnings, and appreciation for everything I have now.

In one session I attended, we were made to watch a TED Talk video of Emily Esfahani Smith discussing the four pillars to a meaningful life. Her talk about the four pillars is a must watch, especially if you’re in that phase of your life when you’re finding meaning to your existence.

Smith’s discussion about having a meaningful life really resonated with me because a few years ago, I hit rock bottom and could not find meaning in my life at all.

Going jobless

My sister, Kristine, has a condition called patella alta or high riding kneecaps. This condition became apparent when she was ten years old when she had her first knee dislocation. Over the years, she would get two to three dislocations a year. We never knew when a dislocation would happen and some of them did even when she was only changing sleeping positions! By the time she was 26, her Medial Patellofemoral Ligaments (MPFL) were so overstretched from her knees’ constant going out of where they should be. I think it’s called partial dislocation because they always popped back on their own. Anyway, she needed to undergo surgery; on both knees.

In December of 2014, she had her MPFL reconstruction surgery on her knee. Everything seemed fine. She was recovering well at home after she was discharged. At least she was until she started having cramps. She had to be rushed back to the hospital. A slight error on the TENS machine during her PT sessions later, our lives took a sharp turn and everything went downhill.

Kristine was having cramps on her operated leg and the only way to alleviate the pain was to keep her on medicines and to massage her leg 24/7. Yup. Non-stop. A minute or two of pause would cause her leg to have intense cramps, so we had to hire nurses and caregivers on a shifting schedule just to massage her leg. When there were no nurses, we had to do it ourselves. We basically stayed in the hospital for almost a month, celebrating Christmas and New Year 2015 there.

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Our cousin Cristina, Kristine, and me.

At that time, I was working in an audit firm and I loved my job as difficult and tiring as it was. I would work in the hospitals at night and during the weekends because we were wrapping up the audit of a huge client.

I was earning very little compared to Kristine, but I was happy anyway. So, when it became apparent that it was getting more expensive to hire a nurse while I continued working and when our house help went back to her province and did not come back, I had to stop working to help take care of my sister.

I love Kristine, don’t get me wrong. At that time though, work meant everything to me. We were dealing with so many issues at that time other than her knee surgery and work became my escape. I was a workaholic at that time that my senior would even plead for me to go home because I would insist on staying and working. To lose my job felt like I was losing a limb. I was suddenly forced to face everything I used to run away from.

My job description changed after my last day in the audit firm. I became in charge of cooking breakfast and became a pusher. By that, I meant a wheelchair pusher. We had to bring Kristine to work in the morning and fetch her in the afternoon to bring her to her PT sessions at night. That was my job for five months.

In between caring for Kristine, eating and hygiene activities, I slept. I slept a lot because I could not handle feeling useless. I could not handle the envy from seeing my former colleagues move up in their career or start going abroad. I could not handle feeling so lonely because my friends from work were so busy at that time (which was not their fault at all) because of the nature of their work. I could not accept that I had to quit my job because we were basically penniless and dependent solely on Kristine’s salary to have a roof above our heads and food on the table. I felt that if only I were more successful in my career, we could have afforded to hire a nurse instead of needing me to stay at home. Sleeping afforded me peace from all the sadness I was feeling.

One day, Kristine talked about wanting to have her left knee operated on as soon as possible. Mom was very much against the idea and so was I. For one, we could not afford another complication. Mom wanted to save up first before the next surgery. I badly wanted to have a job. A fight ensued and my sister accidentally blurted something about being the only one earning. It felt like a bucket of ice water was poured on me. I cried for hours out of hatred for her. Looking back, I knew it was myself I hated more that day. I never felt as useless and worthless as I did on that day. I wasn’t the one who went through the surgery, but why was I the useless one? I asked myself that a lot.

Transcendence

The surgery was not easy on my sister. She has always been a go-getter, independent girl. To suddenly be so dependent on people to lift her leg for her when she got out of the bed, or a chair, or the car, was also taking a toll on her. As painful as moving around was, she had to show up at work because she was supporting our family. She must have had to swallow her pride and she might have felt like she was a burden too. I could not see that right away after the big fight. It took some time to understand her and what she was also going through. As difficult as the ordeal was for me, it was hella tough for my sister too. After all, she was the one who went through the surgery!

I don’t think we were both being selfish and self-centered at that time. It was more of a lack of communication between us that caused all the negative feelings. Maybe, if she were more vocal of her appreciation (which she later on expressed), and if I were more open about my guilt of not being able to help financially, we could have consoled each other. When we finally understood what each one was going through, we started being able to figure out what to do next.

I don’t remember having prayed as much as I prayed during this period. I complained a lot to the Lord, but even if my prayers were more about whining, just knowing I could talk to Him helped a lot.

Belonging

Kristine and Mom are my biggest supporters. Even if I was feeling useless, they knew I was going to be able to go back to work and they let me know they believed in me. We were a trio of strong women who always bounce back after a difficult situation and we always had each other’s backs.

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She used to help me stand. Years later, I was able to return the favor.

Purpose

I realized that being jobless did not mean I didn’t have a purpose in life. While it was not my life purpose, at that time, my purpose was to help take care of Kristine. I was not useless, I just had a different idea of what being useful was. At that time, I had a narrow-minded view on what being useful was that I could not see how much Mom needed my help in tasks like pushing Kristine’s wheelchair or lifting her leg.

Storytelling

Eventually, my sister could already walk with a crutch. That was somehow the go-signal for me to start looking for a new job.

The tougher part of job interviews for me was explaining the months I was without work. I wanted to be as honest as possible without making myself appear as a victim of circumstances. I had to convince interviewers that even if I was jobless for some time, that period that I did not have work was not a waste because the situation helped me grow. That growth may be useful to them because it spoke of my character, something that they could consider in hiring me.

 Throughout the interviews that I had over the last few years, the story I share about why I was jobless evolved. In my last job interview (for the job I am currently in) the story went something close to lines of:

My sister had a knee surgery that had a complication. I stopped working to help take care of her as it was the more financially smart thing to do at that time. I do not see it as a sacrifice. Instead, I see it as an investment because her knees are fully well now. Two years later, she started working in Hong Kong as a regional IT auditor for a multinational company. Her knees are now strong enough to handle all the traveling for her work. 

Before I arrived at those lines, I admit that I still felt bad about the situation from time to time. Yet, the more I said my story in a positive light, the better I felt about it and myself. The better I felt about it, the clearer the purpose of having to go through it became. There were so many things that I learned during that period that I was jobless, and most of them were things I doubt I would have learned has I kept on going to the office. I realized that you should never underestimate the power of the words you tell yourself. You might be amazed at how much they can influence the outcome of your ongoing story.

My story may not be that grand. I did not suddenly become a millionaire after a period of being jobless. I did not become an influencer afterward. Still, I hope that you learned something from my story.

No matter how difficult things are, hold on to the hope and the trust in yourself that you can make it through.

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Phantom Quakes and PTSD

“While the building was swaying and the ground was shaking, God remained the steady figure I could hold on to.”

It’s been twelve days since the 6.1 magnitude earthquake that shook Central Luzon. I shared the story in my previous post, Shaken. This time, I will be sharing what I have been experiencing the past couple of days.

I have always had a fear of shaky rides and shaky ground. That is why I am not overly fond of theme parks and their rides. During field trips when I was young, I hated it so much when we had to walk on hanging bridges. Turbulent flights scare the hell out of me and the slightest shake of the plane would cause me to hold on to the armrest of my seat while I try to calm myself. From time to time, I would do something unusual like hopping on a zip line or riding the cable cars like I did in Ngong Ping and in Ocean Park. I thought of them as attempts to get rid of my fear of anything unstable. I never realized how bad the phobia actually was until last month’s earthquake happened.

After having gone home the night of the earthquake, I was in my bed and I was watching videos on my phone when I suddenly felt something push my bed. I almost dropped my phone in the process. It turned out that a 4.4 magnitude earthquake happened in Bataan, a place around 50 km to 60km away from Manila. I didn’t sleep well that night.

I came to work the following day, seemingly okay. In my head though, I was already making plans on what our emergency bag should contain and what else will I need to get in case another earthquake happened. I was working just fine, completing tasks one after the other. Deep inside though, I was still scared. The 6.1 magnitude earthquake had its epicenter at around 67km away from Manila. I told myself it was not at all that bad compared to places near the epicenter. I felt guilty for being too scared and judged myself as overreacting. I could not understand why I was feeling that way.

Was it because for around five years now, we have been warned about the possibility of a major earthquake from the West Valley Fault that can damage the whole capital region and the recent earthquake gave us a tiny taste of a strong earthquake? We’ve felt earthquakes in the past here in Manila, but I don’t think there was anything as bad as the recent one.

In the past few days, it would take six to seven hours for me to finally fall asleep. I had migraine-like headaches and would feel as if the room is shaking every now and then. When I felt any sort of shaking, I would immediately check my phone for alerts sent by Phivolcs, trying to confirm if there was indeed an earthquake that just happened. I would suddenly feel dizzy and a little disoriented for a couple of minutes.

Phantom quake. I was experiencing a feeling like there was an earthquake even if there was not any. From what I have read on the internet, I am not the only one experiencing it. It would come when I am at work, it would come at night when I am in bed. I would feel as if the world was shaking, but it was only me. My mind was playing tricks on me.

I don’t think my productivity at work has been greatly affected, but I haven’t been able to go to my yoga classes anymore. My blood pressure is a little bit elevated, which probably explains the dizzy spells. Thankfully, except for the intermittent feeling of the room shaking, I can say I am fine.

Gradually, my sleep pattern is returning to normal. I still have difficulty falling asleep, but at least when I manage to, I don’t feel half-awake anymore. I still feel tremors from time to time, but knowing that it’s all in my head, I do not reach out anymore for my phone to check for earthquake alerts and posts over Twitter. I manage to calm myself more quickly now. Unless another earthquake happens so soon, I am pretty sure I’m on my way to getting over the whole thing already.

I also just want to say to those experiencing phantom quakes or PTSD that it’s okay to feel that way. We react to situations differently and even if the people around you do not appear as scared or shaken as you, it’s okay to feel that way. What is important is we acknowledge our feelings and we try to go back to feeling normal again at the phase we’re comfortable with. It’s okay to express our fear to our friends and family so they can help us feel that we’re in a safe environment.

Most importantly, pray. While the building was swaying to the shake of the ground, God remained the steady figure that I could hold on to. At the time of the earthquake, I managed to send Mom a message, asking her to pray for us (by that I meant everyone affected by the earthquake, including her). I told my sister the same thing, but she was unfortunately on a plane to Hong Kong from Korea at that time. It’s true that when all else fails, it’s only God that remains. That’s how powerful the Lord is.

Perfect Timing

Life operates not on our timing. It operates on God’s. What may seem like a denial might actually just be a delay. So, be patient and keep the faith.

August 7th, Tuesday. I had a 12 PM yoga class to attend and by 11:25 AM, I was still far from the studio, there being heavy traffic. It wasn’t raining when I left my house but midway through my trip, the sky started being covered with heavy, gray clouds. I started worrying then that I was not going to get to class on time.

A few minutes more, heavy rain started pouring. I was already thinking where to be dropped off so I won’t be soaking wet and damage my new yoga mat in the process. You see, to get to my drop-off point, the driver will have to take a long road and find a U-turn slot. If it weren’t raining, I could have just gotten down at the bank across the yoga studio and cross the street.

I started praying so hard for the rain to stop to allow me to get inside the studio without much fuss. The driver gladly offered to take another route so he can drop me at the entrance. As we neared the usual route to the studio, the rain poured even more heavily. I started feeling annoyed and was already thinking of how not to get my gym bag and yoga mat soaked because I only had a small foldable umbrella with me.

After the traffic light turned green, the driver drove past the street he was supposed to turn left to in order to find a way to not have to take the very long U-turn I was talking about. I had my umbrella out already. But, in a matter one minute, just in time for me to get out of the car, the rain stopped. From heavy downpour to nothing in an instant. Not even a drizzle!

I felt so ashamed that I got pissed off thinking my prayer wasn’t answered just because the rain did not stop at the exact moment I wanted it to. I did not realize that there was still time to allow the rain to pour before I had to go down the car. I felt like a brat who threw a tantrum for nothing because I really was pissed!

I was also humbled by that experience. From time to time I still insist on what timing I want, forgetting all the other times God amazed me with how perfect His timing was. He knows when to give what we want or when not to give it at all because it isn’t what we need.

Acts 1:7  He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.

Epiphanies

“Sometimes, things happen because we make them happen. And sometimes, things happen because they are meant to lead you where you’re supposed to be in that exact time and moment–because that is exactly where you need to be.”

I was raised a Catholic. I went to Catholic schools from grade school to college. In my high school years, I happened to often be assigned to be the commentator for mass celebrations. I am not sure if that’s what you call that role but I basically led the people in their responses and I instructed them when to stand, sit or kneel. When I wasn’t doing that, I was in the choir.

However, what most people did not know was how detached I felt every time I was doing it. Okay, maybe not the part when I sang with the choir because I liked singing even if I was far from being an awesome singer. Still, going to mass was something I didn’t voluntarily do. Growing up, most of my mass attendance were because of the first Friday mass celebrations in school. The rest were for special occasions that called for a thanksgiving mass or something of that sort. It felt mandatory.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe in God, I pray (mostly in my head) and I base most of my decisions to what I grew up thinking was right. But, I didn’t feel like I fit in. Because of that, I would feel ashamed when asked if I went to church on Sundays and I would say I don’t. I would feel like I am this delinquent child of God who would rather spend time at home than go to His house.

But lately, I’ve been feeling that I should do something about my faith. I just do not know whether I should be doing less of something or more of something. I do not know where to start. Granted that I’ve always relied on God and Jesus through everything I had to go through, I felt a compelling need to know or discover more than what I grew up with.

Last Sunday, I went to a Christian church service where my third cousin was serving as the pastor. I have never heard him speak about faith until that day. The last time I saw him was eighteen years ago when we had this huge family reunion and I don’t even think he knows about my existence at all (although he was my Facebook friend in my old account that I recently deleted).  All I knew was that if I was going to a Christian church service, he had to be the pastor on that day. So, I braved myself to send him a Facebook message and prayed to God for him to notice that message and reply to it because, yeah, Messenger has a separate storage for messages from non-FB friends. By God’s grace, he replied and I made it a goal to see how he leads a service for myself.

Their whole service was so much different from the Catholic mass celebrations I grew up knowing. But for some reason, I didn’t once feel like an intruder or asking myself what the heck I was doing there. I felt like I was supposed to be there and that recent events were all leading to that day when I would find myself there. My cousin was so awesome in his sermon. I was not bored at all and there were parts of his sermons that were not even his major points but managed to hit me close to home.

I left the assembly place feeling as if a bunch of questions I had suddenly had an answer. Although, more questions also came up but figuring out their answers will be for another time. It was a wonder how one church service could make me realize so much about myself and my fears.

I’m going back this coming Sunday to see if it still feels the same. I want to see where this will lead me. Whether I will convert or not remains to be seen. I want to grow spiritually and I shall do what I have to do in order to achieve that. All I know is that at this moment, what I still hold most important is that no matter what we believe in, what is important is that we treat each other with love.

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