Heart and Victory
I marked the start of Love Month getting a tattoo of a heart covered with laurels: Heart and Victory. Corazon and Victoria. An ode to my grandmothers.
A week after opening up about recovering from high-functioning depression — during which I kept to myself for two
years after the death of my maternal grandmother — my paternal grandmother died. The feeling of déjà vu splashed all over me as though I were doused with cold water. This has already happened!
There were mountains of papers on top of my work desk because it was reporting season — hundreds of case laws, codes and annotations pending for midterm examinations. I thought I no longer had room for stress in my dark, clouded mind.
When it happened two years ago, I grieved, then I caved, dropped out of law school, and started ignoring my friends. I needed to channel all my energy into one thing so that only one thing could depress me.
I chose work. Being the eldest child, with my father’s pension pending, two sisters still in school, a brother away for training, this was the better option. This was the only option.
As the strong, independent woman I portrayed myself to be, I could not show that sadness, responsibility and self-doubt were making me more anxious day by day.
At first I just wanted to get busy, so I took more work than I thought I could handle. But I found out that I could handle the tasks, after all, so I asked for more.
There went my legitimate excuse to avoid people who were asking how I was but would not take an answer other than “I am okay.”
Soon I was rewarded with promotion after promotion. I was thankful for the means to survive. But I still wasn’t happy.
I made myself believe that I could buy happiness. I thought I would be satisfied if I gave myself all that I could not afford before.
But I failed. Most nights, even with evening classes having ended, I was unable to sleep. My heart felt literally heavy even when I didn’t cry.
Change came one day when I was at the mall and I could no longer find anything I needed, even wanted, to buy. By that time I had already built my dream library, updated my clothes for the season, and watched almost all the good movies at the cinema.
But I had to spend on something, so I found things I thought my sisters would like. Had I been their age, what were the things I would ask my parents to get me if we had money? It turned out they liked the stuff, so I liked the decision I made as well.
Bills used to be a problem when I was earning so little. I could not even pay my postpaid plan religiously. So the upkeep for our house — the big house built from my father’s retirement pension after three decades of duty “to serve and protect” — was a burden.
When I became capable, I started thinking more about the people inside that house, and it no longer felt hard to throw cash on the table. What used to feel like a chore became as easy as breathing.
One day I had a conversation with my mom, in which she leaned on me about spoiling my siblings. Defensive, I told her that the reason I was working so hard was to give them the things they needed so they didn’t have to spend their time seeking happiness from things that could be bought.
I said I would just provide so they could discover what real happiness was for themselves. And for the first time in two years, I cried.
A few months later, with better relationships at home and at work, I felt the renewed energy to go back to being a working student, reconnected with my old friends, and started being there for them, not just being with them. I finally had the courage to open up about the internal struggles I faced in the two years that had passed.
Then my other grandmother died. All memories came flashing back to me like it was nearing the end of 2015.
I grieved like the first time and felt the same amount of pain I thought I was over with. And then I looked at the rest of my family who must have been going through the same, or worse. I
allowed myself to deal in the way I know how—with myself fully functioning but my mind totally in chaos.
But when it was time to bury my Lola Corazon, I cried with a light heart — the exact opposite when we buried my Lola Victoria in 2015, on my 25th birthday.
Lighter now, for I know she is no longer in pain. Better now, for I know that no matter how hard everything feels now, it will be okay.
How I had a different take on the same scenario can be attributed to both my grandmothers’ names: Heart and Victory.
On my Lola Corazon’s first week in heaven and the start of my Lola Victoria’s birth month, I got myself a tattoo: a heart covered with laurels, to remind myself that as long as I put my heart into anything, I shall emerge victorious, I will win.
What an exciting life to live.
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Mariel Balitao, 27, is a government employee and a law student with a bachelor’s degree in communication. She says she “writes for a living and lives for all the things worth reading.”
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