Life is an 8/10

By: Giselle General

This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for a while. Honestly, the current circumstance that we as a society are facing right now hasn’t changed it by much.

Two years ago I started adapting a concept called Bullet Journalling, a DIY hybrid of a personal planner, calendar, journal, scrapbook and habit tracker. I’d like to give credit to the first Youtube Video where I discovered the idea.

My personal version is a system I made and modified over the past months and years. There are daily, weekly and monthly to-do lists, a 2-page overview of how the upcoming six months looks like, something called ‘collections’ where you write your ideas/ reflections/ notes on certain topics in a single place, and a mechanism to track habits you want to incorporate in your life. Here are some examples for me:

  • With my habit-tracker, I managed to integrate the daily habit of flossing my teeth, and I don’t need to track it anymore. Now, it’s replaced by a new habit I’m incorporating which is ‘not snooze the alarm clock.’
  • I have space in my weekly two-page layout for the week, to write something I’m grateful for
  • I have a ‘collection’ page for a few topics, such as my charitable contributions to the community. This gives me a page to look at when I’m feeling unproductive and that I’m not making a difference in the world
  • I also have a ‘collection’ page for women leaders I admire. It’s meant to inspire me for when I run for public office, a big dream I want to pursue in the future

For this post, the topic I’d like to discuss is mental health. A lot of other people who use the Bullet Journal system do different things about this. Some people make their journals creative like a scrapbook, and the artistic expression is helpful for their mental health. Some, like me, integrate a place to write what they are grateful about, for the day or the week. And some have ‘mood trackers’ where they use a coding system to indicate how they are feeling for the day. Many use colors of symbols. I heard that for those with ongoing medical conditions, either chronic illness or psychological illness, this is a useful record.

My version of this, is that on my weekly/daily to-do list, I rank what I feel about the day on a 10-point scale. So, a not-so-great day might be a 5/ 10 or something. I ranked my wedding day as a 9.5/ 10. I’ve been doing this for a few years now and realized that most days are a 7/10 or an 8/ 10. When I get grumpy or really sick then it might fall into a 6/10.

8/10 is a decent number! Thinking about the challenges I had in my earlier life, it feels uplifting to be honest. I can’t help but critically think of it though, and then, doubt creeps in at times. Is it a sign of resilience and healing? Or comfort and luxurious privilege? Or optimism or a healthier outlook in life? I hope that it’s a combination of all three. One thing I’m trying to remind myself, is that it is completely okay to feel my feelings. While this was meant to face head-on certain difficult emotions such as shame, discomfort, anger, or passion, I think it is just as useful to face head-on positive feelings such as relief, warmth, belonging, comfort, and sense of accomplishment.

Telling myself “I got this” or “this is not so bad, because I survived worse” had, in part, helped my put a higher rating even on days that may be challenging. There are some days where it was exhausting, draining, or uncertain, but the possibility that the next day would be better encourages me to think of the current day not as a waste, not a disaster, but just a natural low part of life.

It’s okay to feel good. It’s okay to be comfortable. It’s okay to not worry sometimes. This is likely something I’ll have to remind myself over and over for a very long time. Perhaps it’s a good thing, so as not to take the good fortune for granted, and in order to be proactive to prepare for difficult times.

Sexual Assault Survivor Gets a Boudoir Photoshoot

By: Giselle General

CONTENT WARNING: Sexual Violence, Sexual Assault

Back view of woman sitting on the edge of a bed.

One’s bedroom should be a place of rest, escape, peace and comfort, after a long day of exhaustion, activities and responsibilities. The darkness of the night should be an opportunity of calm solitude, an end of a long day, a pathway to a new morning with the hope that the new day will bring about new adventures and experiences. One’s womanhood and the journey to become one can be uncertain and confusing, but should be one that is filled with discovery, curiosity, and optimism, as one transforms physically into adulthood.

Sexual assault, rape, abuse, molestation, however you want to call it, regardless of how it happened, not only defiles one’s outlook in their life and their bodies, but also taints one’s soul with an indescribable amount of fear and pain.

There were roadblocks to be had, that dragged on and weighed me down for months and years, and clouded the vision of myself, my body, my behaviours, and motivations. From having difficulty articulating how I’m feeling physically, emotionally, and sexually in my romantic life, to feeling uninformed and afraid to learn about reproductive health. From nightmares about being raped with scenarios more gruesome than what I have experienced, to daydreaming while taking transit on what I would do if I get assaulted again, but this time in public.

The journey to healing started online, thanks to the increased discussions about sexual assault. Simultaneously, my current relationship played a huge role, from being believed after I shared my story, to having a voice and being heard when talking about issues related to sexual health and sexual activities. And then a few years ago, the healing became more professional-based, when I finally went to therapy to address the mental and emotional entanglements caused by this particular traumatic event, as well as others.

But there was one thing I mulled about for a very long time, and that is addressing how I view my physical body. The conventional assumption of “she must have looked or dressed a certain way which is why she got assaulted” is one of the key messages I wanted to debunk in my mind and heart. Mind you, during the assaults, typically I was wearing pajamas and clothes of my deceased parents as my sleepwear back then. This is the biggest reason why this assumption enrages me.

Finally, after some time hemming and hawing, browsing through several photographer’s websites, and convincing myself that my budgeting skills are on track, I finally booked the appointment. I chose for the photoshoot to be done on a rented studio, with a wide variety of backdrops for various effects. Many of the backdrops depicted typical parts of a house, just more glamorous looking: the bedroom with pristine sheets, a fancy bathroom with a clawfoot tub, elegant couches and plush chairs, and brick and pastel painted walls. I purchased a few outfits to help me have a theme in the photos, I had my hair done by a hairstylist but chose to not have makeup on. Finally, I told the photograher I’m okay with being a bit of a daredevil with some surprise poses.

It was hard to articulate how enjoyable and empowering it is to feel calm while practically semi-nude in front of a stranger. It is particularly freeing given that my sense of trust was broken by someone who is definitely not a stranger. I felt a bit awkward when I was asked to do certain movements, because part of the approach is not holding still for a certain pose, but instead, to do things such as move your arms and hips in a sexy way while standing, or play with your hair while imagining that you’re feeling like a superstar on the bed right now. But soon enough, the awkwardness transformed into playfulness.

The biggest surprise of all for me, is how I looked like in the photos she captured. When I was doing a ‘movement pose’ such as walking into the door ready to ‘have some fun’, she was pressing the shutter button non-stop while saying ‘oh wow! yes that’s good!’. Fierce, confident, alluring, vixen, all womanly, and not even needing to act like a skinny model while doing so.

When I picked up the printed photobook that was part of my package, I had a bit of a chat with the photographer. I was amazed at how many of the clients the photographer had, were indeed, survivors of sexual violence. Our conversations touched on perception of women in general, the “male gaze” and how it impacts our own perception of ourselves.

In the very visual way we live our lives these days, I figured, using that to my advantage is worth it. It was pretty neat to turn something used to objectify women, professionally photographs, into an opportunity to challenge unhealthy views about one’s self. I feel inclined to do this again, perhaps in five to ten years, to celebrate any transformations in my body, while celebrating my personhood and womanhood. This is something I definitely would encourage other people to consider, particularly if their trauma affects their outlook of their physical bodies and their vision of themselves.

Habits Osmosis – Couples Absorb Each Other’s Behaviours

By: Giselle General

Eight years in a relationship which consisted of five years of cohabitating, and three months of intense travel beforehand is a good chunk of time to learn about your significant other. At least that is what I would argue in my case. It’s safe to say that because of our drastically different upbringing and life experiences before we started dating, that there are some differences in our personalities and habits.

We do share a lot of common values, the ones that matter most to both of us, otherwise we would not still be together. Both parties are very diligent with communicating well, expressing our love can care for each other, and working together to maintain our home and relationship. There are some aspects of our relationship that are less contentious compared to other couples. Religion and race are not sticking points between us which is a huge relief. In contrast, we are born-and-raised in different environments, with him growing up in Edmonton, Canada with a middle-class family where the father worked and the mother stayed at home. On the other hand, I grew up in a small mining village in Benguet, Philippines, being orphaned at the age of eight are raised ‘by the village’, then immigrated to Canada as a teenager and adjusted to life here.

There are certainly traits, that in the beginning of the relationship, was clearly evident on one person only. It’s normal to describe the other as the “clumsy one” or the “chatty one”, and it can be with any other traits as well. That being said, direct and indirect influences can make an impact in one’s habits and behaviours.

His Creativity – Painting Miniatures and Trying Artistic Ideas

For our first year anniversary I crafted a shadow box with sticker lettering, printed photos of us, and colourful strips of paper with very adorably cheezy romantic statements. It wasn’t until when I moved in with him that he said he loved my arts and crafts work and would like me to do more.

For several years since then, most of the artistic projects are done by me alone. There were a few times when he would provide input whenever I feel stuck in a rut, but the hands on work is completed by me most of the time. In fact, he had a kit of unpainted miniatures and supplies he left untouched for a while, until I started painting some of these models.

But things have changed over the recent months and years. He has pursued his own ways of being creative. Speaking of those unpainted miniatures, he painted almost a hundred of them over six months, while watching Star Trek episodes on the TV. Our dining room table has a direct line of sight to the living room, so with all the art supplies splayed out on the table, he would be half-listening to the TV while choosing the paint colors for a magician’s robe, or the skin colour of the imps, or how much additional red spotches of paint he wanted to add on a zombie.

And then lately, he joined a running group that encouraged him to decorate his own shirt. He bought a plain cotton shirt, and used the fabric paints I have to decorate it, including a funny pun that apparently half of his group understood.

My Organization Skills with Personal Finance

He told me when we first started dating, that us getting together is what prompted him to purchase his first home. And when he purchased his first home, he purchased a budgeting software called MoneyDance and he’s used it ever since.

My first attempt at using this software didn’t go very well, I was a bit too impatient and overwhelmed with the features and the reality of those numbers staring at me. But last year, I finally took the leap and gave it another go. After a few months, my bank eliminated the online budgeting feature on their website, so the switch to using our own software was pretty timely.

Now, since we use the same software, we are more in-tune with our language when it comes to organizing our money. While I’m not as particular with tinkering with the charts and graphs feature, I appreciate the reliable way to organize my financial information. Now that it has been a year and a half since I started using the software, I have the ability to compare what happened at the exact same date a year ago. This has become a really useful tool for making plans, and setting healthy boundaries without feeling guilty.

For better or for worse, we have been considering ourselves as a unit, and taking on each other’s traits is an inevitable part of that. There are more positive traits that I do hope I gain from him, both through a combination of modeling (just by seeing someone do it on a regular basis) and finding my own version of implementing it.

My Contribution to Sexual Violence Awareness Month

By: Giselle General

May is Sexual Violence Awareness Month. It seems like every week, month, or day is dedicated towards something that it can be hard to keep track, this is something I’m not complaining about at all. Sometimes it can be something fun and casual like National Puppy Day, or something deeply important like Black History Month. I feel fortunate that in Canada, Alberta, Edmonton and other places worldwide, there were opportunities to talk about this important (and terrible) issue, give support to those affected, and have conversation on how to be aware and put an end to this.

The issue is a bit personal to me, since I myself have been a victim/ survivor of sexual assault. I purposefully used both words because these horrific act definitely have harmed me, and that should not be discounted one bit. At the same time, similar to the other life hardships that life threw at me, it is something I have survived from and changed who I am, hopefully for the better. The month had provided me with tangible opportunities to meaningfully participate.

Attending a Fundraising Gala

It seems like fundraising galas are everywhere, and attending them is actually pretty cool. I attended the fundraising gala for the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton at the Edmonton Convention Centre. While giving a hefty donation or a regular monthly donation is not within my budget at the moment, I figured that doing a one-time activity and donation is still something.

When it comes to food, I’m not picky anyways, and simply welcome the opportunity to have something different from my regular routine. This gala was a bit special as well, as I managed to join a table with other people who are actively involved in Edmonton. Some people at the table were familiar faces and names, which is thrilling! The keynote speaker, a gentleman who is a lawyer, was wonderful! What I appreciate most about the keynote speaker is that he addressed head on some of the misconceptions that surround sexual assault, from the act, to how survivors behave, and to how a perpetrator can look like. As someone who is part of the legal community, I also appreciate how he humanizes the flaws of the legal system. ‘These are human institutions with people who care‘ he said. I think that when we don’t get the results we are seeking, this is something that we forget in the midst of our anger, pain and discouragement.

Attending an event with a host who is also an auctioneer was a first for me, and seeing how the on-stage sign language interpreters keep up with the host was entertaining! I was blown away by the generosity and disposable income that some people have. Hearing the thousands of dollars being announced during the live auction bids made me gawk, and the tables of items available at the auction tables made me hope that lots of funds are indeed going to support the organization. After this, I definitely feel more inclined to make time and attend more fundraisers like this.

Educating Myself and Learning More Stories

There are lots of ways to make this convenient, specifically through social media. Simply following a few pages that talk about feminism, social issues, storytelling/artistic ones like Humans of New York, give a steady stream on my social media feed about stories and insights that people have. It can be heartbreaking, empowering, informative or hopeful depending on the story or the article. What I know for sure is that it is a reminder of how these experiences are common and universal. My goal is to spread awareness, reduce stigma and victim blaming, and seek out comfort for myself and others.

Evaluating What I Learned from Therapy

It has been almost two years since I went to therapy, and the effort to diligently apply what I have learned is going well. Other positive and healthy habits are being integrated in my life day by day, which also feels very promising. One thing I know is that it will take the rest of my life to remind myself to not be so outcomes-focused in my approach in life, and that is okay.

Also, as it turns out there are times when these calming or self-regulating techniques do not work and I’m not panicking about it. That really is the bigger victory. The calm that comes from accepting that I am a person that grows, changes and that have some weird quirks is liberating. I’m as messed up as anybody else, and this is not a crippling idea anymore.

The dictionary definition of internalize is “to incorporate (the cultural values, mores, motives, etc., of another or of a group), as through learning, socialization, or identification.” This is the biggest victory of my therapy experience, to internalize that it was okay to feel angry and sad and hurt about being treated poorly, to internalize that is is okay to set aside time to acknowledge these feelings, to internalize that there is a way and I deserve to process these feeling and release them, to internalize that I deserve all those good things I life that I didn’t have for a while.

I encourage anyone to find a cause you care about that has a date/ week/ month dedicated to spread awareness, and take it as an opportunity to spread awareness, provide support, and improve ourselves.

Happy Mother’s Day To Those who Self-Parented

By: Giselle General

I was arranging a brunch meeting with someone and hoping to meet them this weekend, and he said that this weekend is hectic because of Mother’s Day. That is indeed coming up again. And I keep on forgetting it. It kind of makes sense since my mother passed away decades ago, my grandmother whom I lived with after my parents’ passing wasn’t the type who remembers holidays like that, especially in the Philippines, and the aunts who were kind of involved in some aspects of parenting were a bit all over the place. They certainly fulfilled some of the parenting duties, but my younger self’s fractured sense of attachment, made it impossible for me to describe any of them as ‘mama’.

To any of you who had a challenging upbringing, when a mother figure was inconsistent and when you had to fulfill these responsibilities for yourself and any other siblings, this is for you.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Kudos to you for doing everything you can to nurture a sense of love, belonging, care, for yourself and for any little brothers and sisters who needed it just as much as you did. You likely had to give those hugs and kisses, the words of advice about the world that you yourself are still trying to figure out, and in silence, have to heal your own hurts.

Great job for trying to hustle maintaining your home, earning income, doing chores, and budgeting even when your heart screams for the satisfaction of a capable adult doing this for you instead.

I would not be surprised if there were some people who came to your life that made you think, ‘Is this gonna be her? Is she gonna be the new mother that I can finally have?’ and finding out that you are wrong. And then you continued to get by, day by day, until you reach that very desirable legal age in your area, which opens up a new set of possibilities. Kudos for making it this far.

For those of you that are like me, who lost their mother through a heroic moment of self-sacrifice, may you be nurture this precious gift and opportunity to continue being in this world, while not being crippled with too much guilt or misguided sense of obligation that it holds you back.

For those of you who lost their mother through the flaws that humans tend to have, like neglect, abuse, indifference, or hostility, may you have the healing and the freedom that you deserve. May you feel empowered to define for yourself the best way to move forward, whether that means removing yourself from the woman who claimed the title ‘mother’ but didn’t quite embody what it means.

And now, when the passage of time has forged you to be perceived by the world as an adult, I hope that you are able to find ways to crate opportunities, permission and space for you to be cared for, fussed over, thought about. Since that need being unmet can be an entrapment of the mind, reaching out to the lonely, hungry child inside of us is crucial to feeling free to live life.

Being a mother is a mindset, a set of actions, the goal to care for a younger person and raising them into an adequate stage of adulthood. Again, to those of you who was pushed to the role too soon, who carry the scars and victories for making it through, Happy Mother’s Day to you.

Love Language Reflections: On Food

By: Giselle General

The Generals, my father’s side, in my mind is the side of the family that rules when it comes to food.My father was responsible for that reputation. My limited childhood memories of him consists of him planning our meals and delegating our yaya (nanny) with specific instructions on what cut of meat, what vegetables to buy, as well as step-by-step cooking instructions. He would write them in neat block letters using the scrap paper he brought home from his office and hang it up on the fridge. On weekends whenever he has the time, he would make pancakes using a specific store-bought mix, but my young self watched in wonder as he would make sugar syrup from scratch. He would show me in the little pot the sugar and water combination while cautiously warning me that it is very, very hot. Now thinking about it, that makes sense since he works as the supervisor for the Safety Department in the mining town we lived in. It’s one of the small and loving memories of him that I’ll always cherish.

And then there’s his mother, my grandma, who also serves incredible food when we come to visit. My family lives almost an 8 hour ride from Metro Manila, where my father’s side lives. Whenever we visit for about a week and a half shortly after Christmas up to New Year’s Day, we get treated with grandma’s most popular and incredibly tasty foods. Almondigas (asian noodle soup with pork meatballs), embutido (steamed meatloaf rolled like logs), macaroni pasta, beef mushroom, carbonara and more. I learned that making party trays of these dishes is her main way of making a livelihood. If I remember correctly, for the payment she gets for the party tray, she is able to cook enough to fulfill the order and make extra for at least two meals for a fairly large family.

After my father, mother and sister passed away, my brother and I continued the tradition of this annual visit to Manila, and when we do arrive, we embrace the warm feelings from having these foods again. Grandma would always say whenever she serves a dish, something like “oh this one, your Papa loves it when I make this” or “I remember when you were kids, your Ate (big sister) keeps on saying this is her favourite.”

Now, I have been trying to replicate some of these recipes. Some more easy than others because the products that you buy here are a bit different. Instant Cream of Mushoom Soup is an example. In Canada you buy it in cans, while in the Philippines, it is in powder form. I messaged a cousin on Facebook for the recipe and made it one night when we hosted my partner’s family in our condo.

During our very recent trip to the Philippines in December 2018, as always my partner and I had to be deliberate on which restaurant we go to for meals, given his food allergies and sensitivities. A go-to place for us is this all-day breakfast place called Pancake House which we discovered and really enjoyed during our last visit in 2013 as well. This time around, we had a chance to go there with my uncle, the only living brother of my father. He said more than once that that restaurant is one of the two places grandma really likes to go.

My grandma passed away a few years ago, and I’m pleased to hear that my relatives try to make some of these dishes themselves. It becomes a positive point of conversation among them, and it is starting to be part of my life too despite living literally on the opposite side of the world. I guess it’s just fitting that during the upcoming long weekend I will try to make the Almondigas soup while it’s super cold as heck here in Edmonton. Memories, habits, personalities are transmitted and memorialized in food, a really meaningful and powerful love language.