Today’s Dispatch: Fear and Self-Loathing in Quezon City

Here’s what I just realized: When I write things -whether it’s fiction, non-fiction, or research – I tend to write with a lot of confidence; the words just fly through me and they’re practically unstoppable.

Then people get to meet me, and I revert to default mode: skittish, nervous, and – at times – almost on the verge of a breakdown. It’s as if the person I am on paper – and online – is totally different from the person I am in real life… almost night and day, except that I do laugh a little bit.

So what am I so afraid of?

I spent the last few weeks freaking out because I was doubly scared about my grades and not passing my classes – downsized proposals, lack of time, not being able to handle group work. Not passing this program meant failing my family and myself, because I was the one who took the Great Big Jump here and I felt like a failure because I was too much of a big dreamer to concentrate on what was in front of me.

The fear was supposed to motivate me – to push me past all my doubts, to prove to myself that I didn’t just belong in the program but I belonged here in the city. Instead I’m chasing the big dreams that have nothing to do with my work. Instead it drew me back into my shell, tighter than it’s ever been, and the doubt turned into self-blame.

Fear became a threat to my very sense of well-being.

Yet things do change; mindsets shift, routines are prioritized, and a new horizon suddenly opens up before my very eyes.

One of those turning points came when I started cold-calling schools for my field work a few weeks ago. Once upon a time I would have cried over hauling my supplies back and forth, taking jeepney rides until my shoes fell apart. And yet, there I was on a pedicab, feeling the rush of a brisk wind taking over me, and I found myself rediscovering why I chose to become a graduate student: meeting people, seeing places, being amazed by the way communities pull themselves together.

I don’t know how or why that changed things; I’m not the kind of person who believes in overnight transformations, to be honest with you. After that, however, I found myself talking to my classmates differently – as if I had finally come down from that high horse I’ve been riding since November and turned myself into a team player. Who would have thought that I would start using a planner now, after years of resistance? Who would have thought that I would spend as much time on looking up journal articles as I would on Twitter? Who would have thought that I would voluntarily offer my editing skills to a classmate who needed someone to revise her survey instruments?

Not me, for sure. And I say this because I still doubt myself enough to resist the changes – as if I’m back to being a teenager again, more conscious about being cool than being organized. Planners are for sissies, I would tell myself. Nobody likes a goody-two-shoes who has folders for each and every project in class.

Twenty years of my life in that mindset, and now I have two planners, one for each bag. because I must meet every deadline in my life. Soon I will be investing on accordion folders and filing boxes so that I would know where all of my papers are, instead of just throwing them willy-nilly onto my desk. (Learned that the hard way, too. There were actual times when I’ve looked at my papers and thought, “Gee, I could really use a way to organize these folders.”)

Slowly, but surely, it will happen.

Love, Stella

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Stella Torres

is the author of the adult contemporary romances Save the Cake, Crushingly Close, and Nine Years Away, as well as the short story “Be Creative” in the anthology Kids These Days: Stories from Luna East Vol. 1.

In her previous life, she has worked in public relations, taught English as a second language, and even attended graduate school (twice!). She has lived in Indonesia, Honolulu, and Quezon City before moving back to her hometown of Los Banos, a few hours’ drive (with traffic) from the heart of Manila.

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