Age sixteen was tough. I can’t say it was great and I often say it was the worst. I had left regular school and got taught from home, I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and depression and it hit me like a bulldozer. I learned the meaning of adversity and not only what it feels like to be faced with it, but also what it’s like to overcome it, and then REPEAT. But what trumps everything is that it has taught me a couple things. In the long run, this encounter with adversity has added substance to my being and has maybe even made me more intelligent, appreciative, self-aware, and strong.
The reason I speak so openly about my battle is because it happens and it’s happening to me…it’s happening to me too.
Here are 16 Lessons Learned from Age 16.
1. Screaming at the top of your lungs won’t make time stop and rewind the way clenching your fists in a dark room as seen in About Time does. In that moment, you’re just scared. Scared with reason. And that’s okay. You’re okay.
2. Upon almost getting hit by a taxi in London, your 75 year old grandma thinks she will slow you down so she runs across the street without you. Leaving you STUNNED.
2a. Look to your RIGHT when crossing the street in London. RIGHT.
3. You can and will meet your heroes whether you know they’re your hero or not. And it will be engraved in your heart.
3a. At age 16 you saw 5 major productions (2 in London, 3 in New York) and you met the brilliant London cast of Miss Saigon, THE Andrea Burns said “wepa” and “no me diga” TO you, you completely lost your shit meeting Danielle Brooks aka TAYSTEE at the stage door, PLUS you met your hero and lifesaver, Alexandra Silber…twice! And got hugs! And advice! And cried a little!
3b. Plus your dad had a private meeting with LEA (YOUR IDOL) SALONGA before he saw her KILL IT in Fun Home. You also got an autograph where she spelled your name CORRECTLY!
5. Your dog actually takes care of you more than you take care of him.
6. There ARE moments worth fighting for. Talking to Alexandra Silber in the cold, snowy, New York City stage door is PROOF. If it took a whole lot of hurt to get 20 Minutes of a dream come true then I’m glad there’s no such thing as time traveling.
(Listen to podcasts to save a life!)
7. While your father is often very quiet, you need that prescence in your life. He’s one of your pillars and you aren’t balanced without him. Plus, he’s your dad and you love him regardless of what he does and doesn’t do.
8. Drinking is fun.
8a. Drinking makes you feel like shit!
8b. “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” – Ray Bradbury
9. While it does get better, it equally can/does get worse.
10. You are painfully introverted. Don’t fight it. But it’s okay!
11. You have incredible friends and are so blessed to have them. And when you are out of school and you haven’t seen them in 8 months, contrary to your fears, they are still going to be there to hug you and eat lunch in the stairwell with you.
14. Your teachers probably don’t hate you. In fact, there are people at school who you can trust and cry to and they can/will help (or at least try.) They’ll even search all the bathrooms for you when you run away and hide to have a panic attack. It’s fine.
13. How to Makeup.
13c. Eyeliner but not a wing + fake lashes!
13d. High end makeup!
13e. Kylie Jenner lips af!
13g. When you feel confident on the outside, it helps the little scaredy cat on the inside.
15. Portrait photography is your AREA. Art is your duty and it revives you.
16. GOD IS GOOD!
“I think it pisses God off when you walk by the color purple in a field and don’t notice it.”
– The Color Purple
If I could add a 17th lesson, it would be
Not all life lessons are inspirational or self-empowering. The truth is, life is ugly and disturbing and gross and scary and painful.
I don’t mean to sound hopeless but even while the year and age of 16 has gone and passed, I’m still not okay. But every day, I’m working to get better whether I can see the difference or not. People say I’m strong and brave and maybe what I am is just that. But the honest truth is, there’s a lot people don’t see and some things I don’t often believe. The age of 16 was a TRYING year to say the least. That being said, I’m not going to leave it behind but I will take it with me and all its lessons. And maybe with all its weight and all the mountains I still have left to climb, it will strengthen me.
Today, ten years later, I share with you a birthday memory that was honestly truly iconic. I’m not joking in the slightest. My 7th birthday had the 1st grade TALKING.
It was 2007, my mom had just gotten off the plane from the Philippines. She was pushing the luggage cart when she said, “Daniele, we made the invitations for your party! They’re reeeaaallyy nice. It’s princess-y and-”
At this point, we hadn’t really planned anything for my birthday.
I was jumping alongside her to match her adult-pace. “Does it have sparkles?!”
“No,” she said, “but we can put sparkles on them if you want!”
We got home and she showed me this:
She explained that she was planning this extravagant party at the community centre gym, where everyone would have to dress up like royalty, and everyone would have to do the waltz. I invited everyone in my class, my mom’s friends, the neighbourhood kids, and my teacher. As far as I knew, it was going to be the party of the century.
My cousin did my makeup and tried to bipity bopity boo my thick hair as best she could. She even cut the straps of the tank top (devastating!!) that I was wearing underneath the dress. It took so long that I was even late to my own party. My dad drove us to the community centre. There was snow and slush on the pavement so my dad picked me up, my pink parka over that huge Cinderella dress spilling over his arms, and he ran me inside.
The people that worked at the front desk saw us and kept saying”A princess is here!”
He set me down at the gym doors. Then, of course, I made my grand entrance.
If it’s difficult for you to picture a bunch of itty bitty first graders creating a path for me to walk through (like a wedding), lucky for you, there are pictures. I don’t really remember the rest of the party but here are some bullet points:
Even though this whole party was a Filipino tradition, we stuck to our Canadian customs and just had pizza; it’s my favourite pizza anyway.
My cousin had taken me to the bathroom because my mom was afraid I wouldn’t know how to go with the dress on. And I didn’t. It took so long that by the time I got back to the party, all the pizza was gone. Keep in mind the massive headcount. My mom gave me a frozen pizza.
My Uncle Willie, a legendary magician, performed his famous magic tricks to a crowd of stunned kids. *He’s been doing magic for all my childhood parties, by the way. It’s great.
My cousin’s friend, Dave, can be seen in the brackground of every photo (almost all of which I can’t find for the life of me and trust me, I’ve spent the past few days looking all over)
Then, my mom taught everyone to waltz. Meaning, my whole first grade class and all the neighbourhood kids had their first slow dance at my 7th birthday party. My mom did her best to pair the boys and girls but, you know, cooties. I danced with not one but two boys. We laughed about it the whole time. A bunch of streamers caught onto the back of my dress and the boy held them said I was a dragon and he was holding my tail. Swooon! My kid mind thought it was oh so romantic.
Of course, my mom was the real MVP. Not only did she plan the whole party, she made the most extravagant cake any child could ever ask for, made this glorious balloon arrangement, AND she taught everyone how to to the waltz. My brothers and I didn’t have too many birthday parties growing up but when we agreed to have them, my mom did not stop at 95%. Even now, 10 years later, I’m having a “chill, PJ hangout with some friends” and she said “anak, please give me a chance to plan this party.” So now our little hangout is, what she thinks and what I’ve come to realize, a proper 17th birthday with s’mores, fondue, a naked cake, and more. I even insisted she doesn’t have to whip out her collection of china for a tea party; my friends and I don’t really like tea.
Now it’s ten years later and look just what a decade can do.
A video created by Will Darbyshire with an excerpt from Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig.
I first watched this sometime in early 2016. I knew these reasons were true but in such a place of darkness, I had a hard time staying… because a part of me couldn’t hear the clock ticking and I just couldn’t believe in the gifts of time. I still struggle with this. All I can tell myself now is wait… and maybe.
Things like this are never easy to say. But it’s a start.