Engaging My Core, Trusting My Gut & Chronic Illness

I have a conflicted relationship with my gut. When I started my period, my gut totally betrayed me. I had unbelievable pain, pain that woke me up and made me bend over double in a hot shower at 3am, pain that made me get up and drive in my pajamas to get Advil, pain that made me grip the handle of the bathroom door and hope I didn’t pass out. Pain like this, during my period, during ovulation, and in between, for more than 10 years because I thought it was normal and no doctor told me otherwise until I couldn’t get pregnant. Then I discovered I had a disease called endometriosis, we call it endo to make it easier to say (!). Millions of women have it, most of us go undiagnosed for years.

So my core is tender, scarred, broken and full of pain, and I always felt removed from it. Betrayed by my core. Angry at my core. I realized this even more after my last surgery for endo and I found exercise.

This last surgery relieved the pain and inflammation enough that I finally felt able to exercise. And I knew I needed to exercise to keep my scar tissue from hardening and causing pain. And suddenly, I found exercise, like some people find religion. I found it made me feel happier, stronger and relieved stress, just like all the books and blogs said it would! And like in a most religions, where certain phrases are repeated, I found the phrase “engage your core” is invoked all the time. I never understood what the hell they meant by that. Engage your core. My arms and legs are shaking and I’m told to tighten my core.

I had a hard time engaging my core. In fact, I was totally disengaged from my core. After years of living with chronic illness that was mainly settled in my guts, I had stopped listening to my gut, all together. I couldn’t “engage” my core because my insides and me had stopped speaking to each other.

So these couple of years that I have become a steady exerciser, I just started listening to my gut. And I’ve forgiven all the pain it has caused me – we are on the hard long path to reconciliation. I’ve realized that I held all the pain, exhaustion, and fear of pain close inside. Sometimes, I actually feel waves of nausea when I pull in my core and I imagine, it’s all of that shit pouring out. I’m not sure how long the surgery will work to alleviate the pain, and the disease is likely to return, and make exercising harder. So while I can and while I am able, I am learning to engage my core.

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My guts are scarred, after two surgeries and sometimes I feel like my core is broken. But I’ve learned that my core also keeps me standing, and it is really true – if I engage with it, feel it, tighten it, talk with it, treasure it – then my core can help me lift heavier and jump higher and find more strength.

Going Home, walking between borders and Living in the House of Trump

It is obvious that Trump and his followers doesn’t think we belong here.

Who do I mean by “we”? Brown skinned immigrants. His wives are immigrants, but he never talks about dirty Russians or suspicious Eastern Europeans. Black Americans, people who disagree with his politics – obviously also other.

My kids always use “American” as short hand for white American. I ask, do you mean “white American?” or “Black American?” or “Asian American?” Clearly, they perceive our otherness, in this culture and in the House of Trump. “American” defaults to Whiteness.

A Trump supporter yells, go back to Africa, go back to Mexico, tells all “Muslims” to go back to Islam(!??!). The US Supreme Court allows for the forcible internment, imprisonment of all people of Japanese descent, their US citizenship not protecting them. I learned about this as a child and realized that this belief – the belief that we are not really American, even if born here, this applies to me. This place has always been the House of Trump.

My mom always calls the Philippines “back home.” A US citizen for decades but the Philippines is always back home. A reader of my blog (thanks for reading!) asked me whether the Philippines is home. And I have been thinking a lot about it.

I was born in the US and grew up only understanding every nook and cranny of American racism, white supremacy, hatred of women. The Philippines is respite for me, where my small Asian body feels more at home and not alien, but the culture, the politics, the colonialism and its impacts are mysteries I experience only at Skype’s length of through Facebook posts. But the US can never totally be home because it includes the House of Trump and its inhabitants feel like they could kick us out at any moment, no matter citizenship.

I remember vividly the joy of returning back to the Philippines for the first time. I was astounded that my family could greet me with open arms, that the country recognized me as a returning fellow countryperson, a member of the diaspora, even though it was my first actual physical step in the Philippines. I was relating this to my friend, a Black-American and he said he wished he had that. The brutality of American-slavery was the destruction of that return home. Where would he go? To the place of his enslavement? But the US is his because his ancestors built it – it became a world superpower because of 400 years of slavery meant an accumulation of wealth at the hands of the ruling elite that no one could match.

The US is mine, because I was born here but I will always be a stranger too. The Philippines is home because my heart was born there, but I will always also be a stranger. Children of immigrants, we walk borderlands, we follow whispers, we dive into deep caves. And let’s not kid ourselves, the House of Trump has always been here. This country was built on equal parts genocide, slavery, war, imperialism, AND hope, revolution, protest, and resistance. As always, the question is Which Side are You On?

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Balikbayan – On Returning Home

Balikbayan translated

Balikbayan:

root words (at the root of it) =

Balik: to return, to go back

Bayan: a town, the nation, the “People”, the homeland,

 Balikbayan = Specifically: A person who returns to the Philippines, usually after an extended time living and working abroad. Generally: a person who returns to their homeland. Radically: A person who returns to the People,

Balikbayan box – A box of gifts, remembrances, first world status symbols that the Balikbayan brings with them to compensate (but never really compensate) for the long absences, the missing of decades of birthdays, weddings, funerals, christenings. They have changed over time, from Spam to Old Navy T-shirts made in some other 3rd World country. Aspiration Definition: The treasure we bring back, the dreams, the hopes.

Preparing for the return home to the Philippines. Technically, I am not a Balikbayan. I was born in the United States. Geography and place of birth and the heart can be contradictory. My mother is the true Balikbayan who returns home with half decades and half lives lived between. I am her daughter and I chose the balikbayan status, the obligations of the balikbayan box, the money wired overseas, the designation of godmother to children of cousins of cousins.

I compile lists to prepare, Tita Vingyan, and her 14 children, born while Tito Carding worked his whole life as a groundskeeper at the American School in Saudi Arabia, his life inspiring the naming of one child – “Haji.” But what about her son Kuya Ahbet, isn’t he working in Dubai as a construction worker? Ahh no, he returned, after deciding it was too hard to be away. And Tita Budha? Who is skinny like bamboo and has lived her life next to the railroad tracks, and squatter camps and whose children are scattered. And what about the children of those children? Lists and lists, and trying to remember ages, sizes, creating timelapse photos in my head from 5 years ago.

Why take it on? – Why take on the stress of trying to compensate for the pure luck of my circumstance, being born in the ruling empire of this era, rather than the colonized nation of my mother? I do it for love. Not my love, but theirs, in exchange for claiming my 2nd generation Balikbayan status, I get a whole family, I get a homeland, and a place TO return. And yes that family is full of drama, anger, petty jealousies, and grudges. But remembering what Audre Lorde said, that we were never meant to survive, and those words are so true of the colonized, violated 3rd word nations like the Philippines. To survive and to build the bridge from one country to another, to RETURN. From the Palestinian fight for the right to return to the lands stolen, to the domestic worker wiping the ass of their first world employers’ child or parent who fights to return. So I claim the right to return back to my mothers’ country, and in exchange for my boxes of gifts I get tears, embraces, love, and the land I lost.