2019 Reflection and New Year Resolutions

2019 was a year of love, pain, and growth.

In November, I lost my much cherished 11 year-old dog to heart disease subsequent to attending my grandfather’s overseas funeral. These first experiences of loss shook my heart to the core. I questioned my expectations for stability, security, mortality, and the meanings of the things I do.

For the first half of 2019, I worked hard to establish some level of stability in my financial and professional life after a really bad work experience that left me traumatized. I grasped onto whatever opportunities that came my way—any jobs, any responsibilities, any ways to make money. I wanted to feel secured so desperately that I drowned myself with an almost impossible workload. I was teaching five different classes in three different colleges, giving private piano lessons to children and adults, and later on in the year, I took up another part-time job in public health research. People would probably laugh at me if they knew the kind of money that I was making in proportion to the amount of work that I took upon myself. Nevertheless, I needed to feel that I could afford to pay for the daycare that I wanted my daughter to attend and to provide for my family in ways that exceed their expectations.

I was surviving.

In the midst of all the emotional chaos, I craved for something different. A path that’s uniquely mine.

My therapist once told me that there are two ways to find “my people”—I can seek them out, or I can create my own space to attract them. In an attempt to figure out what and who I wanted, I made an effort to share my point of view more often—to be unafraid of who I am. I started this blog. I attended events that truly interest me. I said hi to the persons that I thought were cool. I reached out.

On November 7th at 11:30pm, my mother called me on my cell phone. I thought it was out of the ordinary because it was passed her regular bedtime. I couldn’t make out of what she said over her choking voice. It was until a minute later that I realized that she was telling me that my grandfather had passed away. Three days later, she and I were on the plane to Hong Kong to attend the funeral. Coincidentally, it was the most violent week of political protests in the city. When we arrived, most of the subway stations were closed. I could smell the scent of tear gas in the deserted central business district. My contrasting political view toward the Chinese government from my mother’s added to the tension already evoked by the loss of someone that we both loved. It was a dark week of anger, frustration, hopelessness, and idleness.

My mother and I did not talk to each other during the 16-hour flight back the United States. I distracted myself with romantic comedies, horror, and super hero movies. The next time we talked, she heard my choking voice over the phone. I was sitting in the emergency vet office with my husband. My dog was in the operation room going through a procedure to have his fluid removed from his heart and stomach. In my hand was his medical bill. The notes read that Bach’s family would bring him home to spend quality time with him and prepare for end-of-life care.

For me, grief felt like this endless process in which I kept replaying moments that I’d like to go back and possibly fix any mistakes along the way. It’s like that Black Mirror episode Bandersnatch where I was given an option of going back and making a different choice. It’s exhausting and frustrating. Yet, the hopeless yearning for a “better” result made me keep hitting the “go back” button. After a while, I realized that no matter which button I pressed, nothing would really change—it is the same fxxking unsatisfactory ending.

Earlier on this year, I started therapy to deal with my exacerbating anxiety. At one point, I had this epiphanic moment in which I told my therapist that I would never be able to get rid of anxiety; I could only learn to live with it. My therapist nodded with affirmation. If anxiety, dissatisfaction, and heartbreaks are inevitable, why does it matter which button I press?

Few days ago, I submitted my resignation letter to my boss at the university. It was a long letter. In it, I enumerated the instances of microaggressions that I was confronted with and the evidence for the lack of respect that I had received at the workplace, despite my qualifications, rigor, and willingness.

I need a new chapter. Maybe a different story. I want to dedicate my time to seek out “my people” and to create new spaces while nurturing other important ones. I want to center my life on the things and people that I truly love, care about, and are worth celebrating, not a series of “what if” buttons.

This morning, I thought about my grandfather and my dog. I thought about how I will never see them again. I want my memories with them to mean something. I want the love we shared to mean something. I want the things that I do to mean something. I want my life to be meaningful. Perhaps meaningful to others. But most importantly, it has to be meaningful to me.

A week ago, I quit my college teaching job and gave up a relatively stable salary because working in an abusive and oppressive environment just to make enough money and to be seen as having high social status no longer serve my needs.

In our white supremacist patriarchal capitalist world where climate change, wars, poverty, systemic oppression are poisoning and killing lives, I ask what I can do to disrupt, resist, and transform.

In 2020, I’ll use my time and energy to:

  • Be more political: I’ll seek to become more involved in local politics by supporting and directly helping to elect candidates whose visions promote a fairer and better world.
  • Be more creative: I’ll spend more time on writing and reflecting.
  • Be more loving and caring: I’ll spend more time for my family and develop new loving relationships with my neighbors, friends, and folks who share similar values with me.
  • Be more impossible to ignore: I’ll seek out more public speaking opportunities. And more importantly, I’ll speak my mind and be unafraid of who I am.

I am grateful for friends and family who supported my decision and helped me grow this year. It wasn’t an easy decision but I know it’s a right one.

Published by pandamotherly

I am Dr. Esther HioTong Castillo. I am Panda Mom. I'm a biracial sociologist mama with a 4 year-old daughter. Four years ago, my complicated birth and the sea-change in my career and family had thrown me into the downward spiral of depression and anxiety. Now, I'm sharing my story and writing my way to health and wellness at the intersection of trauma, intergenerational trauma, family, and parenting.

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