The Spirit of Struggles and Victories

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In 2011, I went on a 12-hour road trip with a few friends to explore the quaint, small town of Woodstock, NY. Personally, it was still a time of piecing myself back together after having gone through my divorce a few years before. Walking into this one store, my eyes were immediately drawn to a decorative block of wood that said, “Strength and courage aren’t always measured in medals and victories. They are measured in the struggles they overcome. The strongest people aren’t always the people who win, they are the people who don’t give up when they lose.” So, I bought it and took it home with me.

This quote struck a chord as I feel like my life has been a series of struggles.  So many times I felt like I kept losing and failing, yet here I am—still standing and breathing, and I have overcome each and every one of those challenges. Above all, with my strong faith, I am able to acknowledge that all my struggles have been part of a “bigger plan” for me, and I appreciate and celebrate all my small victories today.

I was diagnosed with depression when I was 22 years old.  My life stopped and everything turned upside down. A repressed memory of molestation from when I was 6 years old resurfaced, my anxiety grew and my depression worsened. I lost my drive, my passion and myself. For about 6 years, I lived in denial and my world revolved around medications and hospitalizations as I tried to figure out what was wrong. I spent another 4 years finally accepting my illness, searching for the right treatment and getting to know myself again. I felt estranged from my own life for 10 years.

I was born and raised in the Philippines and moved to the United States when I was 17 years old. My life was shaped halfway between embracing my Filipino culture and adapting and loving the American culture. Suffering from mental illness felt like an added insult to injury, as I grew up in a culture where such an illness does not exist (and yes, to this day!), where overall self-image and reputation are crucial. There are no mental disorders in our vocabulary. From what I knew, “it’s either you’re crazy or you’re not” and there’s nothing in between. So, I remained silent, not daring to shame myself nor embarrass my family. Unfortunately, the suffering in silence continued year after year, even in the midst of my deep battle with depression, body image and anxiety.

My personal, love-hate relationship with food was also a struggle and became an extension of my other battles going way back to my childhood. In my culture, every gathering, every celebration, every holiday is defined by a bounty of food, representing blessings, abundance and love among family and friends. Yet, every struggle and every difficulty seemed to be defined by the comfort of food as well, “eating all our feelings and emotions” (pun intended!) instead of dealing with them. And food and self-image continued to be part of our lives… Eat this, according to some. You looked like you gained weight, said others.  You need to go on a diet, said even more. You’re beautiful when you’re light-skinned, said the Filipino family and friends. You look gorgeous with your tan, olive skin, said the Americans.  The confusion of it all, and the struggle was real!

Growing up, I remember getting teased for having darker skin and that alone became an insecurity. For Filipinos, the lighter skinned you are, the prettier you are, hence, I never once felt good about my body nor myself. And to this day, the battle continues with my overall body image.  The only difference is now, I know better. I realize now that there is more to me than just my body and my skin color. I have learned to develop a certain level of self-awareness, and am currently focusing more on valuing my self-worth. Over the years, I have come to realize that this body does not define who I am, yet this body deserves love and care. What people think and say (even my own family and close friends), do not really matter.  My mental illness, my struggles nor my past do not define who I am.  What matters most is how I feel about myself and for me to acknowledge that all these challenges in my life have shaped me to be the strong woman I have become today.  I know now, and I know better.  

We all go through our own struggles and it’s never easy.  Very often, we feel alone when we are struggling when in fact, we are never alone. We are not our struggles. We are who we decide to become. With a strong faith and the strength gained from overcoming our trials and not giving up, we can be anything we want to be!

We all have stories, and each story matters.  I believe sharing your story can be powerful, because you never know how it can impact and help someone.  So please keep sharing and keep inspiring. And remember, you are not alone, because I am here sharing my story with you.

I leave you with this, a verse from one song that helped keep me going all those years, “The Warrior is a Child”.  I hope it inspires you just as much as it has helped me, and I hope you can take comfort that you are not alone in whatever it is you’re going through and that it is Okay not to be okay at times.

“Lately I’ve been winning battles left and right
But even winners can get wounded in the fight
People say that I’m amazing
Strong beyond my years
But they don’t see inside of me
I’m hiding all the tears
And they don’t know that I go running home when I fall down
They don’t know who picks me up when no one is around
I drop my sword and cry for just a while
‘Cause deep inside this armor
The warrior is a child.”

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Elizabeth Tiglao-Guss is a social entrepreneur and founder of linkofhearts.com, a gift & lifestyle brand raising awareness for depression and making inspirational, handmade products in Los Angeles.  She is also a mental illness survivor of about 10 years and now, as a result, is a big advocate for Mental Health. You can connect with her via Instagram and Facebook.

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