I’m Sorry I Find It Hard To Say I’m Sorry

Per my last post, I have definitely been in the position where I had to forgive others without an apology I felt entitled to. In the past, I have let the absence of apologies control my inner peace and the ability to get closure on certain topics. I would, and sometimes still, get so passionate about feeling entitled to an apology that I cling onto the thought for some time. But I’ve also been on the other side of the situation where I owe someone an apology and can’t find the words to say it. Yes my friends, surprise surprise, there is some hypocrisy and double standards present. Nobody is perfect, and I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not. If I claim to keep it real, I have to keep it all the way real. This is the opposite side of last week’s post, the other side of the coin, not being able to apologize.

Growing up, apologies weren’t given in my household. And when this topic was brought up with cousins and close friends, I realized that my personal upbringing is not too far fetched from the experience of others. I don’t know if it’s a cultural thing, a generational gap thing, or what it is, but it seemed to be somewhat the same talking to others about their family dynamic. I can only speak for my own personal experience and the experiences of others that I have talked to, but it seems to be the gap between first generation Filipino Americans with their Philippines-born and raised parents. We have a lot of similarities with apologies and not being able to admit wrong doing through the generations.

Growing up, and to this day, apologies are not common in my family. That is not to say that apologies were never called for – because ohhhhh they definitely were – but they simply were not normalized in my household. I don’t know how “normal” or “not normal,” that is, but it seems to be a common experience for first generation Filipino Americans and their parents. There was no saying sorry, and if there was an apology being made, it was very rare. So rare, that I can’t even think of a specific time where I received a serious apology from someone in my immediate family without it being said in a silly downplayed voice. My parents rarely apologize to us, we rarely apologize to them, and my sisters and I don’t apologize to each other. This may be weird to some, but that’s our family dynamic.

So you’re probably wondering, how does your family move forward after an argument or after hurt feelings? Great question. The answer is this: you’re salty for a couple of days, or however long it takes you to get over it, and then you make up for it by either over compensating with food, or acting like nothing happened. There’s no conversation after to talk over your feelings, there’s no taking ownership of your part, there’s no acknowledgement of what transpired. You suppress that shit until the next time you explode. Yes, unhealthy, I know. But that’s the reality of it all. I’m not saying it’s the right way to go about things, but it’s how we go about things.

In my Filipino household, we express our love language in different ways. Just because there was an absence of apologies, didn’t mean we were never sorry. We definitely felt bad, reflected on our actions, and regretted poor choice of actions or words. Our problem was never lacking empathy, it was expressing that empathy verbally. So, instead of facing conflict head on, we learned to express ourselves through acts of service and food, completely ignoring and avoiding the real issues. I didn’t get it until I was older, but it’s a cycle being repeated. A cycle that we are not so proud of as we are aware that there are better ways to deal with post-conflict. But I get it, it’s how my parents, and their parents, and my grandparent’s parents (and so forth) were taught to behave. It was different times then, and I come from a long lineage of strong individuals who endured even the roughest of times with grace. They handled their shit because they had to. In their times of struggle, they had no time to communicate their feelings, they had to keep it moving and be strong. But times are different now, and maintaining that strong persona and not expressing emotions properly has it’s repercussions. I can appreciate and admire my ancestors’ resilience and strength while simultaneously analyzing how harmful these coping mechanisms can be.

Culturally, Filipinos are taught to be strong, respect their elders, and never speak out against those superior to you. However, this way of thinking pushes the notion that some people are entitled to apologies while others are not, completely disregarding someone else’s reality due to pride and status in the family, relationship, or setting. Filipinos are taught to never disrespect their elders, and a lot of the time, that meant disagreeing or articulating your stance on a topic. This creates a damaging cycle that enables an echo chamber of beliefs that are not necessarily true or correct, but more so upheld to keep the peace. And that generational gap from first generation Filipino Americans and their parents / family members is a significant shift of beliefs. First generation Filipinos are in that awkward position trying to juggle two cultures with very conflicting beliefs when it comes to standing up for what you believe in, standing up for what you think is right, but also respecting the cultural differences.

This cultural difference was more apparent, for example, when I would watch some of my favorite family sitcoms like Full House, The Cosby Show, That’s So Raven, Boy Meets World, The Parkers, and many others. Anytime there was a scene that got too sappy with the characters expressing their feelings, I would lowkey cringe. And if I was watching it with my sisters, we would comment and make fun of the characters having a moment with their parent or people close to them. It wouldn’t be uncommon for us to say things like, “Ew,” “Yeah right,” “Haha, hella ugly,” while watching these moments on TV. To us, it felt unrealistic, just because our upbringing was so different. We didn’t have sappy moments where we expressed ourselves to be vulnerable. In fact, we used to label is as an “American” thing – we weren’t brought up to communicate those difficult feelings. For us, we kept a mental note and kept it moving.

This is where it gets confusing, because in my personal relationships and friendships, communication is key. Accepting and taking ownership of your own actions is key. Being open about what I feel and what I like and dislike is key. But that’s not what I’m accustomed to. It’s ironic that these are things that are important to me, but at times I am unable to do them myself. Now that I’m an adult and know what characteristics I want in a partner, friend, and future children, it also makes me reflect on what kind of characteristics I need to have as well to make it successful. It comes so easy to me as a teacher, teaching the kids to express their feelings, validating them and letting them know it’s okay to feel the way they do, and that I hear them. It’s important to me talk things out with kids and give apologies when apologies are due so they know that just because I’m an adult, it doesn’t mean I am above making mistakes. I have no problem setting the example for the youth, but find it very difficult to take my own advice and express myself to others.

You never really know your flaws until something happens and you reflect on why it happened the way it did. For me, that self-realization moment was when I realized that I have a really hard time apologizing. For the record, I have no problem apologizing to people when I’m completely in the wrong, being an asshole, or messed up in some way. I can admit and own up to my shortcomings if necessary. I also know that my sense of humor can sometimes be high key banter, so I can acknowledge when I cross boundaries with others. The scenarios that I’m talking about where I persevere with my pride, are the times I’m arguing with someone to make a point, to express my opposing point of view and reality, and any scenario where there is arguing involved. Those are the times I push on with my stubborn ways and find it difficult to apologize to others.

Deep down I always knew that I had a lot of pride and found it difficult to apologize to others in an argument. My excuse used to be “that’s just how I am,” and rolled with it. Obviously being young and immature, I didn’t care to reflect on the “why” behind the struggle to say “I’m sorry,” to others. It wasn’t until I started dating and being in relationships did I realize that my unapologetic nature could be more than a minor complication. It wasn’t that I was remorseless, because I am a deeply empathetic person. However, when I think I am right in a situation, I stick to my guns.

I am very confident in my opinions, and I got the time to hash it out. When I get upset, I can say the nastiest things. My goal is to win – whether that be spitting facts, saying the better come back, or just saying the most hurtful things. And it takes a lot for me to verbally apologize. On the inside, I could fully articulate how I feel in my head, even through text. But when it comes to verbally giving apologies, I just can’t do it. And when I do, it takes an insulting amount of time for the words to fall out of my mouth.

It wasn’t until my current relationship did I realize it was a problem I had to change and fix. In the past, I was aware of the problem, but just took it as a slight personality flaw that could be tucked under the rug. I soon realized that there was no rug big enough in the world to tuck this shit under. It was no longer “cute” or acceptable to have it be that hard to give an apology, especially when an apology is owed. This wasn’t just petty arguing with my immediate family anymore. This time around, it was with someone who is choosing to be with me, but definitely doesn’t have to stay in my life. It was with someone who was willing to work with me through my very ugly moments in hopes that I would grow and learn for future reference.

That’s when I realized it was a huge problem – when I realized that a small (but obviously big) action like apologizing was one of the hardest things for me to do. When I reflected on why it’s so difficult for me to do so, my upbringing was obviously one of the first things I thought of. But it was deeper than that. Giving someone an apology is acknowledging your faults, letting your guard down, and it takes some level of thought provoking deep diving into one’s own actions. As childish as it sounds, I grew up believing that saying “I’m sorry,” was a sign of weakness. Apologizing first meant that you’ve admitted to all the blame, you acknowledge that they’re right and you’re wrong, and shows that you’re the “loser” in the argument. That’s why in the past I never caved into giving apologies first. I refused to be vulnerable and express my emotions.

Vulnerability is scary and uncomfortable. Especially when you are not used to expressing yourself verbally, emotional vulnerability is nearly impossible. I feel like I’m a lot better with expressing my emotions and allowing myself to be vulnerable with others. I have to consciously make the effort and think it out in my head before I verbally express myself. But in the past, it wasn’t easy at all. In arguments and fights, I avoided opening up. To open up back then, a huge argument where unkind words were spoken would have to happen first before there is any emotions being expressed. There was no way around it. You want me to open up? You have to weather the storm with me first – see me at my absolute worst so you can get the apology or clarity you need from me.

It’s not that I can’t apologize period, but that I can’t be the first one to apologize. I can say it in return, but being the first to apologize was as rare as snow in San Francisco – possible, just highly unlikely. I preferred the other party to initiate reconciliation, and I’m very stubborn about it. There were plenty of times where I simply did not budge at all. “There is no way in hell that I’m admitting to my faults before you do. That would be asking too much of me,” I would think to myself. I needed the other party to be the bigger person and let their guard down first. How can I possibly let my guard down when my defensive walls are built so high? How does someone even attempt to chip away at the thick emotional barrier I surrounded around my hurt feelings? Opening up that dam of emotions first was a sign of weakness that I simply couldn’t show.

That right there – not wanting to come off as “weak”- was the root of it all. The satisfaction of someone else apologizing first and me just following their lead was a game that I couldn’t play for long. At one point, I had to give in. And not because I had to, but because playing mind games to be the winner only made me the biggest loser in the end. It only brought hurt feelings, invalidation, and resentment. It wasn’t worth it. Pride can be an ugly emotion. It can drive you to act a certain way that is completely different from what you feel inside. It no longer felt good or like a victory to push others to their absolute worst. I would feel horrible about myself and hated the way I went about conflict and confrontation. I hated that I found it so difficult to apologize.

It seemed I could only healthily communicate my hurt and my frustration through text message. No matter how many times I rehearsed a conversation in my head, it would never turn out the way I had anticipated. Once I vocalize my emotions and how I feel, the flood gates open up. It didn’t matter if I was sad, mad, or felt any other difficult emotion, the simple act of verbalizing that emotion brought my inner bad bitch bad ass to her fucking knees. And that was a feeling I hated – being vulnerable. That vulnerability would have me in a crying fit of rage, aggravated that I had to express myself. It’s so much easier to be upset and angry than it is to express your emotions. But no one is a mind reader. And your point won’t be understood until it is made.

Growing up not expressing frustration, hurt feelings, or anything that will stir the pot is probably a big reason why I write. It’s not that I don’t have the words to verbally communicate my feelings, it’s more so that I don’t know how to control my emotions to make sure that my tone lines up with what I’m feeling and thinking in my head. A lot of the time I go into defense mode because I feel attacked. Sometimes it can be because I’m actually being attacked, but others times it’s because I’m not used to being confronted with verbal expression. As a little kid, I turned to writing to fully express myself, mostly through fictional stories where the main character resembled me.

But even as an adult, I find myself dealing with conflict by writing. Most of the time that means through text. I have the ability to think out what I want to write, sit on it, read it over, and make sure I’m getting my point across in a mature manner. Communicating my hurt feelings verbally is something I have yet to master. For me, it can go south really fast. The moment someone responds in a way that wasn’t what I expected, I can lose my cool when I have promised myself to keep my composure. Writing allows me to reply on my time, and take time to cool down. It allows me to pick and choose my words wisely, and set the tone for the conversation at hand.

This is still something that I am working on to this day. I know I usually write about things as if I have already figured it out and mastered whatever topic I’m writing about. But a lot of the time, that’s just me being self-aware and adding onto what I know is the right way to handle things. We are all a work in progress, and I know I have a lot of healing and relearning to do as an adult. I know that I need to nurture my inner child and dig deeper as to why I have difficulty in some scenarios. It is okay to know what the “healthy” thing to do is but still choose old ways of handling it. It’s okay to take 1 step forward and 3 steps back. It’s okay to still be learning. Nobody knows it all, and nobody is perfect. Apologizing and owning up to my shit is still something that I struggle with. This is still something that I’m working on. And that’s okay. The first step is being aware and attempting to better your ways. Like everything else, it will take baby steps.

Learning to communicate is something you work on for the rest of your life. Acknowledging your own short comings and flaws is the first step to actually changing those habits. I know I have a tough time apologizing to others and verbally communicating how I feel, but that doesn’t mean that I have to be stuck in my ways. Breaking the cycle is not an easy thing to do, but it’s not impossible.

Jade Dragon – Thank You For 50 Amazing Years

We went out to eat last week at a Chinese restaurant for my mom’s birthday dinner. It reminded me that we haven’t ate at Jade Dragon in a really long time. I mentioned that we should go to Jade Dragon soon for the sake of memories, and even made a mental note of it for when it’s my turn to treat the family out to dinner. It was on my mental list of places I should order from on Sundays.

For anyone that has grew up in Daly City, the restaurant, Jade Dragon, rings a thousand bells. For me, Jade Dragon has been at the center of my family’s milestones. From 1st birthdays, to baptism receptions, to birthday dinners, to birthday parties, to retirement parties, to debuts, to catering family events, to many eventless weekend dinners, we basically grew up at that restaurant eating their food. To this day, I still have fond memories of my family and I eating at Jade Dragon. Hence why I wanted to go back after a few years of not eating in the dine-in restaurant area or the reserved party rooms. With the pandemic going on its 2 year anniversary, going to a familiar place that housed great memories from your childhood would be a great comfort. I looked forward to taking my family there again.

Last night, my family and I ordered take-out from a Vietnamese spot on Ocean. I have been on my satay pho obsession for a couple months now, and it was time to have my sisters join in on the craze. Especially since the Bay Area was freezing cold this last week, a nice warm bowl of pho was definitely appreciated. We stood around the kitchen table, putting together our bowls of pho. Anyone who has ever taken pho to-go knows the struggle of assembling your meal to your liking. My eyes grew wide as I watched my little sister take her first bite.

She agreed. The satay pho was really that good. My sisters and I sat in the living room, devouring our steaming bowls of that peanut broth goodness. My dad joined us to watch another episode of 90 Day Fiancé: Before the 90 Days, a Sunday night tradition for the last 2 years. And by 7:40 pm, we were stuffed and ready for a food coma. I was so full that I couldn’t even finish the extra noodles I had added to my order. I called it satay quits and went on my phone.

Justine messaged on our group chat a screenshot of one of her Facebook friend’s posts. The pictures on the post were very familiar to me. It was Peggy standing in front of her restaurant, Jade Dragon. I remembered her familiar face in an instant. Up until reading that Facebook post, it dawned on me that I never knew her name. However, her face was such a familiar and inviting face from my childhood. I read the caption above the pictures and gasped.

“Jade Dragon is closing?!?!” I blurted out.

Gasps filled the room, “Whaaaaaaat!?”

Quickly I remembered that I wanted to take the family there to eat. Now, my chance was almost gone. The post said that they were closing their doors for good tomorrow (Monday). I had no idea if that meant that their last day was that night, Sunday, or their last day in service was the next day, Monday. I frantically tried to find their website online, seeing if the rumor was true. I couldn’t find a website or any social media pages for the restaurant. Google said that they were closing at 8 PM, which was in 8 minutes. As full as I was, I knew it would be foolish not to at least attempt to place an order for the last time. So, I called in, hoping that 8 minutes until closing wouldn’t be too much of a hassle.

“Jade Dragon.”

“Hi, are you guys closing at 8?”

“Yes, you can place your order now and it will be ready in 15 minutes.”

“Uh, will you guys be open tomorrow?” I said, already dreading the answer.

“No, we are closing. Last day is today.”

At that point, I knew it was about 5 minutes until they closed. So I did what anyone else would do… I placed an order for fried chicken. I got off the phone and my dad was flabbergasted. He couldn’t believe I ordered more food after we gorged ourselves 5 minutes prior. But I had to. There were too many memories made at Jade Dragon not to! And I knew I would regret not getting 1 last opportunity to bite into the tastiest, crispiest, best chicken skin of all time, Jade Dragon chicken.

Had this been for any other take-out, my dad would be annoyed as hell. But Jade Dragon also held a special place in his heart too, and he was equally as shocked that they were closing. So my dad, little sister, and I headed for the car to pick up our last order from the restaurant we so very loved. I didn’t have much expectations, because I knew that seeing Peggy there would be a very slim chance. But I hoped anyways.

We parked the car in front of Jade Dragon. We have been to this parking lot many times before. It was dark outside, the “open” sign was no longer on, and something about seeing the restaurant’s sign in the dark made me sad. We walked in, and there were still people at the bar section to the left. The huge Buddha statue that I rubbed every time I left the restaurant growing up sat in it’s same position in front of the door. We turned to the right towards the dinning area. Everything looked exactly the same. It smelled exactly the same as it did 20 years ago. And then from behind the restaurant, slowly walking and emerging from behind the paneled divider, came Peggy.

Seeing Peggy’s smiling face took me back 2 decades ago. Suddenly, I was 7 years old, walking into Jade Dragon with my family. The smell in the restaurant was the same, the furniture was the same, the decorations untouched, the tables were set up exactly as it was 20 years prior. I had flashbacks of my older sister and I pouring tea into our teacups, only so we could add way too much sugar. We wouldn’t stir the sugar into the tea, we would let it sink to the bottom so the last couple sips were sugary, grainy, and delicious. I remembered picking out the peas in my fried rice and lining them up on the side of my plate, pretending they were audience members.

I remembered the circle table at the very back of the restaurant where we had my dad’s surprise 40th birthday dinner with my aunt, uncle, and cousins. I remembered all the events that took place in that restaurant – my uncle’s retirement party, my goddaughter’s birthday party, my 1st birthday that I don’t remember but have pictures from… the list went on. I remember running to the Buddha statue to rub his belly. “Rub for good luck,” my mom would tell me. And oh how I believed it. And I remembered Peggy’s smiling face greeting us at the back of the restaurant, “Oh they’re so big now!” she would tell my parents.

And there she was, in the same part of the restaurant, greeting us into Jade Dragon for the last time. She looked exactly the same. Her friendly face is one I could pick out from a crowd. It was such a surprise because I don’t think any of us expected to actually see a familiar face. I expected to not see anyone I recognize, pick up our chicken, and say silent goodbyes in our head. But there she was. The woman whose face I’ve associated with Jade Dragon and great family memories. The most welcoming face to be greeted with.

“Sorry, we’re closed. The cooks are going home,” she said kindly with a sympathetic smile. We had our masks on, but we let her know that we had placed an order already. “Oh, the fried chicken!” she said happily.

We talked a bit while we waited for our fried chicken order. We let her know that even though she may not remember us, that we definitely remembered her and cherished the family memories we made at Jade Dragon. Peggy said that she somewhat remembered our faces, but I really didn’t expect her to. She knew me since I was like 4, I doubt she could recognize 27 year old me. However, she was still very kind about it and insisted that she remembers people’s faces.

We reminded her that we were regulars way back when. Peggy let us know that it was just finally time for her to retire. “50 years in February,” she said tenderly. I couldn’t believe it – Jade Dragon was closing its doors after 50 years. She updated us on her husband’s health and the passing of her sister-in-law 4 years prior, another familiar face at Jade Dragon. She told us that they sold the restaurant space to Kukje, and they’d be remodeling it soon. Standing there talking with Peggy, I couldn’t believe how much time had passed. Instead of her being in awe at how much my sisters and I have grown, we were now in the middle of her restaurant on it’s last day – probably their last order. Yes, we were the assholes that ordered 5 minutes till closing… but I’m glad we did.

Peggy went to the back to check on our order, and we walked around the restaurant. Everything looked the same. In my memories, I recall it being so much bigger. It was sad looking around knowing that this restaurant wouldn’t be around anymore. It was a very nostalgic moment, especially since a couple weeks ago we learned that Tanforan Mall would be permanently closing as well. It feels like so many major things from my childhood are quickly fading. So many places that housed so many great memories are soon to be a thing of the past. It hit me.

Peggy came out with our chicken, and we headed to the cash register. I was so glad that we got to see her that night, and that we got to say our thank you’s and give her our best wishes. I handed her a generous tip, which she refused to take. We encouraged her to take it, and let her know that we would miss the restaurant.

“I need to give you a souvenir then. Something to remember by.” She headed to the back of the restaurant. She gifted us 2 embroidered animals that were framed separately – a horse and a cat. We were honored to take a piece of Jade Dragon with us.

After that, I asked if we could have a picture with all of us and the Buddha. Peggy was thrilled to do so. We took our masks off and smiled for the camera. The Buddha that we rubbed every time we came into Jade Dragon, and every time we walked out. When she saw my dad with his mask down she said, “I remember your face now! Now that you don’t have a mask, yes, I remember your dad.”

So we said our goodbyes, our thank yous, and our well wishes for her retirement. I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness. But as I ate the leftover Jade Dragon chicken today for dinner, I remembered all the great memories of family, food, and great service.

Jade Dragon gave Daly City 50 amazing years. I’m grateful that my family and I got to talk to Peggy before they finally closed their doors. This one definitely hurt because Jade Dragon was a big part of the community. However, I will always remember the many happy memories I have of Jade Dragon over the years. And that’s the definition of a successful business – when people keep coming back because your food is great, but also because of the happy memories and great hospitality.

Today, Monday, February 28, 2022 Jade Dragon closed their doors. Thank you, Jade Dragon, for 50 great years!

Rohit: Lessons From My Weight Gain & Loss Journey

Story 5 of 10. This Body Positivity series is a project I hold dear to my heart. For years, I’ve struggled with my body image, and since reviving this blog, LoveYourzStory, I’ve shared so many of my personal stories, internal battles, and insecurities. This time, I wanted to hear your stories. I took to social media and found 9 individuals who were willing to share their body positive journey with not only me, but my readers as well. I collaborated with two Bay Area photographers, Missdirected (Instagram: @missdirected.art) to photograph these amazing people. Missdirected did not photoshop / alter any of the models’ faces or bodies. These stories are entirely written by them and in their own words, because after all, who can tell their story better than them?” -Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory

This is Rohit’s story, written in his own words:

My Weight Gain & Loss Story 

I always loved Shōnen stories when I was a kid. For the uninitiated, Shōnen is one of the most popular genres of anime, typically featuring a male protagonist who embarks on an adventure filled with challenges. My first exposure to the genre came through Pokémon, which I’d obsessively wake up to watch on Saturday mornings throughout my childhood. Looking back, my fascination with Pokémon and similar shows stemmed from the main character’s relentless pursuit of a goal or self-perfection, the clear distinction between good and evil, and the excitement that follows exploring the world around us. Unfortunately, Pokémon is where my issues with body positivity likely started. And it’s exactly what you’re  thinking – the exposure to extremely skinny, fit male figures in Pokémon and other shows unconsciously shaped my mental model of what constitutes beautiful and attractive, and has been something I’ve worked my entire life to overcome. 

I hope that in sharing my story, others struggling with similar issues can understand that they’re not alone and appreciate that self-love is one of the most beautiful aspects of the human condition. While progress in most things in life is usually not linear, the setbacks, insecurities, and painful feelings I experienced  through my weight gain, weight loss, muscle gain, and muscle loss make me who I am today and I’m thankful for them.  

Having a body-positive self-image has never been a strength of mine. At 26 years old I am still struggling with low self-esteem due to ingrained beliefs around what my body should look like. I became painfully  aware of my body and how others perceive it in middle school when my peers began making jokes about how fat I was, saying things like “When you walk around, it can cause earthquakes!” At that point in time I likely weighed 140 pounds and was 5’7”. Despite being relatively tall for my age, there was no hiding it. You might be wondering, “How did he get to that point?” My relationship with food was extremely unhealthy. Even as early as elementary school, I remember chowing down on McDonald’s and Burger King chicken sandwiches that my loving mother would drop off for me on weekdays. It didn’t matter if I got a  bad grade on my math test, was bullied in school, or felt alone, because I knew I always had food to comfort  me. And like most kids at that age with immigrant parents, I needed a lot of comforting. Over time I developed an addiction to fried, fast food and probably played a big role in keeping my local Olive Garden and Burger King alive. 

Whenever I’d see family or family friends they’d be quick to point out how chubby I was. “You’ve got such big cheeks!” and “Did you gain weight?” were usually the first thing they’d say to me whenever they visited. Over time the embarrassment grew to such an extreme level that I’d instinctively run upstairs to my room whenever someone rang the doorbell. My parents chalked that up to my shyness and introverted-ness, but looking back it was largely because I hated how people would comment on my weight, and I’d rather just avoid social interaction altogether. Video games and TV shows didn’t make me feel bad about myself. My mother would typically reassure me saying that having big bones runs in the  family, it’s just temporary, and not to worry about it. I definitely worried about it.  

When middle school came around and the harmful jokes and comments abounded, I realized that I could  use humor as a deflection – by being silly and ridiculous in and outside of class, I hoped that the attention would be taken off my weight, even just for a moment. Sadly, even my most fire jokes couldn’t spare me from the almost daily humiliation that was PE class. I distinctly remember being the slowest person in the entire class to run a mile – I never made it under 10 minutes! And scoring low on other fitness-related exams, reinforcing my belief that I’m worse than others and something is wrong with my body. 

After years of enduring hurtful jokes and comments in addition to seeing idealized images of men’s bodies in movies and TV, I became disgusted with my body. I would actively avoid going swimming – which was  hard when the pool party was at your house – because it would expose my rotundness. I would look at myself whenever I would change in the mirror with shame, and dress in baggy clothing to distract people from the shape of my body. Compounding this internalized shame and resentment is my lifelong struggle with  perfectionism, thinking that the way I looked should be a certain way and, in my mind, I always fell short. 

When I made it to high school, already disgusted with my body, I became committed to changing the body that brought me so much pain. Thankfully, I channeled my frustration and angst into my weight loss regiment. It took many months and a lot of discipline, healthy eating, and exercise, but I was able to lose twenty pounds during my Sophomore year and started to take pride in how I looked for the first time. This is where my story maybe takes a turn from others in the body positive community – part of me is glad that growing up I had a negative body image. If I didn’t, and simply accepted myself for how I looked, I  probably would never have adopted healthier eating and lifestyle habits and would’ve continued spiraling down a path of fried chicken nuggets and scrumptious curly fries. For me personally, being overweight wasn’t difficult just because in society’s eyes something was wrong with me, but more so because I felt  unhealthy – moderate exercise really exhausted me and I’d often have jolts of pain that felt like the  beginning of clogged arteries even though I didn’t know it at the time.  

It might seem fun to eat unhealthy food frequently, and maybe it is in the short-term, but there’s a lot of pain and difficulties that can easily outweigh (yes, pun intended) the ephemeral joy. Over time, as I slowly adjusted my diet to stop feeling so unhealthy my relationship with food improved and I no longer relied  on it for comfort. That process was really difficult and I had to unlearn the bad habits and dependencies I developed over the span of many years. For those of you contemplating a similar transition my advice is to start small, slowly replacing processed fats and sugar with natural fats and sugar from food that you  enjoy eating such that over time your body finds unhealthy food undesirable, which is exactly what happened with me. I eventually reached a point where eating fried and processed food felt nasty and I avoided it at all costs. To this day I actively resist eating fried or fast food and stick to a diet high in vegetables & fruit, high protein, and low carb. After improving my diet and losing even more weight, I vowed to never be fat again and to treat my body like a temple. Unfortunately, even as the weight  gradually began to disappear the insecurity I developed around my body image did not. No matter how  much weight I lost or how my body began to look, I kept feeling that I didn’t look good enough and didn’t live up to the expectations society had of me. 

These insecurities later manifested in college. I can barely recall my junior year and it wasn’t because I was sleep deprived. Enabled by the fraternity I joined and the almost manipulative drinking culture, I  would binge drink and blackout several times a week. Sure, it was lots of fun in the moment and to this day I don’t really regret those decisions, but the proverbial beer belly reared its ugly head. My breaking  point occurred when a close female friend casually remarked one day that I was looking chubby and need to lose weight. I felt that all the progress I had made with accepting my reformed body image and vowing to never be fat again vanished all within a single instant. Just like in high school, I decided to channel my anger and frustration at myself into self-improvement and started working out religiously. In parallel, I also gave up eating meat cold turkey as I strongly believed that all of life is interconnected and must be respected. By the time senior year ended, I had lost the beer belly I was so ashamed of and started to build lean muscle thanks to transitioning to a low carb / high protein vegetarian diet and hitting the gym at least 4 times a week. My relationship with food had completely transformed and I actively sought out healthier options that made me feel better and supported my more active lifestyle. Things were finally  looking up and I never wanted to look back.  

Fast forward a few years and I was back home in San Jose working at a startup with ample free time. Of course I’d continued working out frequently, finding deep satisfaction in pushing myself physically and lifting even heavier weights. I’d often get sore or experience weird muscle pains that led to short breaks and ice baths, but I’d just get back up and keep pushing harder – partly motivated by my body-related insecurities, never feeling satisfied with how I looked despite putting on more muscle, and realizing that  women found me attractive. That all came to a halt on a beautiful summer day in Yosemite. A few weeks  prior my college roommates and I planned a trip to Yosemite to take on the notorious Half Dome hike which claimed several lives and caused hundreds of accidents in the past fifteen years. The hike itself  wasn’t too crazy – 17 miles roundtrip with 4,800 feet of elevation gain, fairly do-able for folks like me who  hike regularly and like to push themselves. Our initial plan was to wake up in the wee hours of the morning  to start the trek to beat the rising heat and crowds of people that flock to the trail each year, but we encountered a ton of traffic on the route there and ended up reaching camp near midnight. Faced with a  difficult decision of sleeping for three hours before embarking or hitting the trail immediately with no rest, we chose to test our luck and hike in pitch darkness with no rest. Hindsight is always 20/20 and this case is no different. Two of my friends injured their feet landing on rocks at weird angles due to the low  visibility, but despite the injuries and exhaustion we all pushed forward.  

I’m thankful that we successfully traversed the treacherous cables and reached the summit, taking in the magnificent views. But the trouble started after we went back to camp, ate our weight in pizza, and passed out for the night. I woke up to a strange sensation and hoped it was a dream. I couldn’t move my neck. In that moment I was filled with sheer terror; would I ever be able to move my neck again? Did I have a permanent disability? What did I do to myself? Why did I push myself to the extreme? After pounding Motrin and surviving the car ride back home, I shared my experience with my physician who immediately  recommended I get scanned by an MRI machine to figure out what the heck was going on. While that experience itself was torture having suffered from claustrophobia my entire life – imagine being stuck in  a metal coffin with no space around you bombarded with shitty EDM sounds – receiving the results was more painful. I had somehow managed to herniate a disc in my cervical spine (my neck), and the damage would never be undone. There was no treatment beyond medicating the pain away and some physical therapy.  

To this day it remains a mystery why I herniated the disc. I knew a bunch of other people my age who were on a fitness and weightlifting grind who didn’t experience any of these issues. It likely was the result of pushing myself to my limits with improper weightlifting techniques combined with shitty luck. Looking back, I’d like to say I wish I didn’t pursue physical fitness with such an extreme devotion, but I really do enjoy pushing myself and tackling greater challenges. Even if I hadn’t herniated a disc at that point in time, it likely would have happened to me doing some other intense activity eventually. Initially, living with a herniated disc wasn’t so bad. While working out, hiking, and sitting down for extended periods of time caused some discomfort, it never prevented me from living the life I wanted and pursuing my physical  fitness goals. Fueled by my body-related insecurities and desire to push myself, I kept exercising intensely and took on even more extreme hikes like Mt. Whitney (23 mile roundtrip with 6,000 feet in elevation gain over a single day). Sadly, things got worse from there. After completing another arduous hike with friends in Hawaii, I felt another weird sensation – a shooting, numbing pain going down my left arm which  I never experienced before. The strange pain also didn’t go away when I took painkillers, which alarmed me even further. I decided to cut my trip short and head back home to figure out what happened and  took yet another MRI.  

What had happened? I herniated yet another disc, right below the previous one and the weird sensation I was feeling was actually nerve pain caused by the discs impinging nerves near my neck that travel down the shoulder and all the way to the hand. Unlike last time, the pain I felt in general was very high and even sitting down for just 15 minutes was excruciatingly painful. I could no longer run, lift weights, or live the active lifestyle I had become accustomed to. In lieu of those activities, I’ve started swimming more regularly – although it’s difficult to find open and heated pools these days – walking daily, and hiking less intense trails to stay fit. Meditating daily, getting lost in fascinating books, and playing the trumpet are my new ways to destress. Despite all that, it’s still painful watching the muscle mass I had worked so hard to build and maintain over the years slowly fade away as my muscles stopped being nurtured and used. Even when I thought I had reached a place of body positivity, in those ensuing weeks and months, I realized that I never really did. My extreme workouts were partly motivated by never feeling satisfied with how I looked and still feeling like I didn’t live up to the idealized image of the male figure. Losing my muscle mass reignited insecurities and shame that I worked so hard to forget.  

While my disability isn’t noticeable to others externally and I’m spared from others’ judgment, I couldn’t help but feel like I was broken inside permanently and my body failed me. I yet again hated myself and my body for failing to meet society’s expectations. Truthfully, it wasn’t until a few months ago that I was exposed to a different way of thinking about myself and body positivity more broadly. I became exposed to the idea on a Facebook social media post about body positivity, that one’s weight is not a reflection of one’s health and being overweight in particular isn’t such a bad thing from an attractiveness, societal, or  health perspective. This broke every belief I had – strongly feeling that being fat is unhealthy, unappealing, and should not be celebrated. After reflecting and discussing with others, I realized that health is a scientific concept and one’s weight does not accurately reflect health – people who may look  overweight might be in good overall health, as paradoxical as it seems. A great example of this is NFL linebackers who typically weigh over 200 pounds and seem very unhealthy in terms of their body shape and size but are way more physically fit than the average person. I also realized that being overweight itself is not an issue to be worried about in isolation; it is the issues associated with being overweight that are the real causes of worry like having clogged arteries, difficulty sleeping, diabetes, etc. In that same vein of thought, I realized that having a body shape, or in my case a body structure, that does not conform with societal norms does not make one any less beautiful, whole, or healthy either. My eyes had been opened to the importance of self-love and body positivity, and how the way we view ourselves has a direct correlation with how we think and behave.  

Last year I decided to make a big change. I adopted an entirely plant-based diet and no longer eat anything related to animals such as honey, ice cream, and pizza. The beautiful thing about being plant-based is it’s actually difficult to eat unhealthy – unless your diet mostly consists of carbs like bread or pasta or vegan junk food like plant-based ice cream and burgers. I’ve been feeling higher energy, don’t have food coma, or crash when I eat, and noticed I was losing weight as well. But being plant-based doesn’t guarantee one won’t gain weight, as I painfully found out after a few months of quarantine when I went home and the first thing my mom said to me was “Beta you’re looking heavier, you put on some weight”.  

Since experiencing that initial epiphany, I have tried to continue practices in self-love and body positivity. I will admit that it is not always easy, and progress is not always linear. I still struggle with moments, days, and weeks of low self-esteem and body negativity. I still check myself out in the mirror every chance I get  and obsessively focus on how my hair looks. I still pinch my belly and love handles, wishing they would  shrink and disappear. I still find moments where I feel physically damaged and hate my body for not being able to do simple things that most of us take for granted like sitting in a car for an hour, bending down to pick things up off the floor, or playing with young children and dogs. While changing my behavior and  mindset is certainly a work in progress, what has been encouraging is that in those situations I remind myself that I am beautiful, do not need to look or participate in certain activities to feel so, and that beauty comes in all shapes, colors, and sizes.  

Whenever I find myself feeling insecure and down on myself because of my body, which inevitably happens and I’ve accepted won’t ever stop, I first accept how I’m feeling and don’t try to fight it. I try to introspect and figure out where these feelings are coming from, and remind myself that the only person’s  opinion that really matters here is my own. What also helps is having a generally positive attitude, which I was able to forge through the difficult times I’ve endured and the realization that dwelling on the negative is a fruitless endeavor. Something else that helps when I feel down is the genuine acceptance that some things in life including negative feelings are out of my control and I should instead focus on controlling the controllables – my actions, behavior and mindset. The power of a positive mindset lies not in being happy all the time, but in preventing one from falling into spirals of negativity.  

If I could travel back in time and talk to my younger self, I’d try to convey that it’s great to want to adopt  a healthier lifestyle but to be cognizant of what is motivating me to do so. I’d also share that while pushing  oneself is a great trait, it’s also wonderful to accept how you look at any point in time and find yourself  beautiful even if how you appear doesn’t match society’s notions of beauty. I’d tell myself that while Ash Ketchum and other Shōnen protagonists are amazing, I should simply aspire to be the best version of  myself, flaws and all.” -Rohit

Soar High Like An Eagle

Dedicated to Paul Taylor

Days before Thanksgiving 2018, I learned through Facebook that a teacher I had as a kid passed away. I attended the same school from Kindergarten to 8th grade, and a lot of the teachers I had at Epiphany literally watched me grow for 9 years. One of those teachers was Mr.Taylor.

My older cousins and older sister also went to Epiphany, so I knew of their current and past teachers even before I had them myself. They would tell me stories about different teachers they had and what to expect if I were to be in their class. So with all that said, I knew of Mr. Taylor way before I ever had him as a substitute teacher. Once upon a time he was the 7th grade teacher (I think) for a long time. My cousins had him as a permanent homeroom teacher, but by the time I had him, a number of years had passed and he was Epiphany’s go to substitute teacher, so he was still at the school very often.

The very first time I had Mr.Taylor as a substitute teacher was in the 1st grade I think. He had the cool dude vibes with his leather jacket, could play the guitar, and had this distinct deep voice that could command a room when needed, but was pretty laid back most of the time. As a little kid I thought he was the coolest dude, and got excited when he would be substituting. I remember my 1st grade class went wild when he tried to explain how double negatives in English makes a positive statement. Probably too advanced for our little minds at the time, and I totally didn’t get it at all, but I thought it was the funniest thing because I thought he was truly messing with us. Like whatchu mean it makes it a positive statement?! I said what I said! Hahaha

When I say these teachers watched me grow, I mean that in every sense. From 5 year old lil chunky ass Marinelle who loved to participate and got the honor roll every quarter, to the 13-14 year old Marinelle who was as difficult as one could be in class, going through that moody teenager stage where my peers’ approval was way more important than school …. still getting that honor roll doeee 💁🏻‍♀️. Some of my friends from Epiphany I’ve known since I was as young as 4. I literally grew up with these people, so the friendship bonds were so tight and strong at the time that once someone in the class went hyphy, it could trigger a whole chain reaction of hell for a teacher. In fact, that’s supposedly what the class of 2009 was known for.

Anyways, I was no stranger to giving my teachers a hard time. I could literally talk to anyone. I think my teachers realized that moving my seat wasn’t gonna really do anything because I would just befriend the person next to me anyways. I was always that talkative kid. It was crazy because by the time I hit middle school, all the teachers I had had a love hate relationship with me. They hated my ass when I talked up a storm in class and refused to take their orders, but at the same time on a 1 on 1 level, I had a real connection with all of them and vented about whatever teenage things I was going through.

So when I got the news about Mr.Taylor passing away, of course I was mad sad. But also, very remorseful. Not saying I was a nuisance to him majority of the time, but me and my friends were definately a hand full. I felt deep regret for my childish ways when I was…well, a child. And I know for a fact if I were to see him within the last couple of years, he’d hold no hard feelings at all, because he really did enjoy my presence.

I thought back to that time where he was about to give me a conduct referral (supposedly something really bad that goes on your record, and it’s basically a note home that your parents have to sign to acknowledge that you were being a little shit in school.) I don’t even remember what it was for, but he said he was going to “write me up.” I was pissed. Livid. Embarrassed infront of the whole class. Luckily, I had to alter serve for a funeral, and had to leave the class anyways. I got up. He asked where I thought I was going. In a sassy tone I said that I had to alter serve and if he could write my conduct referral so I could leave. He told me to come back during recess so he could write it.

When I came during recess I still had that same stank attitude. I had too much pride to apologize for my actions. I was expecting a conduct referral, but instead, he told me he was going back on his word and decided not to give me one, and just gave me a pep talk instead. Instant mood changer. I was so thankful because on the outside I was trying to act all hard with the “yeah whatever who cares, write me up” attitude, but in reality, I was scared shitless to bring that home to my parents to sign hahaha. I thanked him, and always remembered how he did me that solid.

I bottled the sadness and remorse I felt inside. 5 days after he passed away, I had a dream.In my dream, I was talking to April, Lucas, and John, some of my best friends from Epiphany. We were all talking about how we were going to meet up for Mr. Taylor’s funeral, and what a shock it was that he had passed away.

I departed from the group and found Mr. Talor working on a car. For some reason in the dream, I was talking to him as if he wasn’t him.

I told him,”I can’t believe Mr.Taylor died…”

He replied saying that yeah, it was crazy to believe.

I went on and burst into tears, “I just wish I could tell him how sorry I am for being such a difficult kid back then,” by this time it was one of those moments when you’re crying in your dream but also in real life. I was sobbing in my sleep but didn’t realize until after the dream.

He reassured me that Mr.Taylor (Yes, talking in 3rd person) doesn’t even care about or think about all that and that it was fine. He kinda down played it like I was feeling remorse for nothing. He went on to change the subject and we talked about something different.

I woke up. My pillow wet, my face tear stained. I didn’t end up going to his service like I had planned to because it was during one of my classes. But I bet it was a great one, cuz he was a really great guy.

I would like to believe that that dream was more than just my conscience manifesting, but that it was Mr.Taylor’s “goodbye” message to me. Whatever it was, it brought me peace of mind.