Why I choose to keep smiling…

Photo Feb 04, 9 46 56 AM


Positivity is the key to a happy life… I say this a lot.

If you follow me on Social media, you’ll notice that in most of my photos, I’m smiling. I believe that if you see life with a positive eye, then life will ride out in a positive way. My life wasn’t always full of positivity, in fact it was the total opposite. I’ve had to ease my way out of situations that would send most people to rehab. How exactly? By staying positive and a whole lot of praying.

When I was 12, my dad retired from the Navy and decided to move us to the Philippines. My sister and I were devastated. We were both in great schools and doing really well academically, we had the best group of friends and life was perfect. Little did I know that my life was about to go through a drastic change.

When we got to the Philippines, my parents, who were having a home built for us at the time, expected us to get there and move into a home that was ready. As we approached our home after an airplane ride and a 4 hour drive from the airport, we saw our new home but one thing was missing. An actual house. It was nothing but a blocked frame surrounded by a concrete fence that didn’t even have a roof. My father was beyond furious. For a little over a year and a half he was sending his hard earned money to my mothers brother whom was in charge of the project only to find out that my mothers brother was secretly spending his hard earned money on his own expenses and living like a king. To remedy the situation, my parents decided to move us into my grandmothers home.

We temporarily moved into my grandmothers home, which was a small 3 bedroom house. My sister and I shared a bamboo bed so that my parents could stay in the bigger room. If you have never slept on a bamboo bed before, trust me, it is something that will make you appreciate even the lumpiest cushion. I spent weeks without sleep because it was hard to get comfortable, I eventually got used to it. Months had passed and our home was still not ready. My father, who was slightly depressed at the time due to the change, decided to start drinking his sorrows away which made things ugly. Instead of us being a happy family, my parents fought every night over money and my mothers brother. Since money was what they fought over, my mother looked at the hefty stack of money that she had just withdrawn from the bank to spend on our home and decided to rip it all up. It was a disaster. I stayed up for hours trying to tape all the money back together but it was impossible.

My sister also became depressed because she missed her friends and I admit, it was hard to make friends, we couldn’t understand the language that was spoken to us. It was summer when we moved so we had to find ways to keep ourselves entertained, which was hard without a tv or a phone. Those things weren’t available in the area they moved us to. We no longer had a car, a washing machine, a stove, a sink with running water or even hot water to take showers. We learned how to fetch water from a water pump to fill the buckets that were placed in the sink and bathroom, we learned how to wash clothes by hand, we learned how to cook with a wood burning fire and for showers we just sucked it up and took cold ones. The one thing that took longer to get comfortable with was the toilets. My grandmothers home did not have a flushing toilet, it was an old school toilet that had to be flushed with a bucket of water.

When school started, I thought it was going to make life better because I would be away from my parents who fought non stop for most of the day, but It was actually worse. The kids at school called me “lola Mayang” for the longest time.  I ignored it because I had no idea what it meant. Turns out, they were teasing me because I wore glasses. There was an old woman in the Barrio, whose name was “Mayang” (lola means grandmother), and they said I was the mini version of her. I decided to keep ignoring them, but they still kept on. It was the most annoying thing in the world. I pretty much kept to myself for the most part. My dad saw how sad I was and promised me that once the house was done we could start saving money up again and we wouldn’t have to suffer anymore. I prayed for that day to come every single day. To make things worse, my grandmother decided to take my sister and I to the local cemetery. I did not understand why she wanted to do this, but then we approached a grave. She told us that the person in the grave was actually my brother. His name was Alex and he died when he was 17. I was hurt, and in shock. I lived my whole life thinking that my sister and I were the only children that my parents had, and here I was in front of my dead brother that my parents kept a secret from me.

I decided to start helping my dad out with our home since I had nothing else to do. I learned how to mix concrete, prime and paint, and even install a sink. I thought it was so fun to actually help build my fathers dream home. I thought to myself, “yes, things are finally changing!” but boy was I wrong. After waiting a whole year, our cargo shipment from Guam arrived. I was excited to have my things back, and my bed! My soft bed was finally here! Word that our cargo had arrived spread through the barrio, and tons of people came to help carry everything out. We were so thankful to have such amazing people helping us out only to find out that a few of them were actually looters. My dad could not take all the stress anymore. As he was walking out of the bedroom, he had this blank look on his face. I knew something was wrong the moment I looked at him. All of a sudden he fell to the floor and started convulsing. His eyes rolled toward the back of his head and he was pale. My sister stuck her fingers into his mouth, I ran to the kitchen to grab a spoon. My sister shoved the spoon into his mouth and I grabbed whatever water we had in the fridge and poured it onto his head. We had no idea what we were doing but when we go to the hospital, the doctors told us that he had a stroke and thanked us both because had we not done those things my dad could have bitten his tongue off.

My fathers health started to decline from there. My mother was not the type that dealt with stress too well so she too developed a habit. She started smoking and gambling. Our once happy family was gone. My sister and I took turns taking care of my father, we both kept a spoon in our pockets in case my dad had another stroke. At 13 I developed anxiety. My dad was a ticking time bomb and there was nothing I could do but watch him like a hawk and pray that he’d survive another day. My dad then developed cirrhosis of the liver. He spent months in and out of hospitals. He was in a medically induced coma and when he woke up, he didn’t know who I was. It took a little over a year for him to recover from it all, but he did. He was fragile, but he was alive.

When I was 14 I discovered that I had another older brother in California. I was so happy because I always wanted a brother, and I finally had one and he was coming to visit! My mother was quite surprised too but she accepted him whole heartedly. My big brother became a huge inspiration to me, I looked up to him and I wanted to be like him. He was cool and smart, and we got along great! Everything was perfect when my brother came to visit, we were a family again! After he left, things went back to normal and again, my dads health was an ongoing issue, we were always short on money and my mom was gambling.. a lot.

My sister moved to the city when I was 14 to go to college leaving me alone to keep an eye on my dad. I graduated from High school at 16 (I skipped a few grades). It was time for me to move to the City which is four hours away from my parents home, to go to college too. I was accepted into one of the best schools in the city and was on a scholarship. I knew that my fathers health would continue to decline without me being there to watch him, so I asked my cousins to keep an eye on him for me. Sure enough, during my sophomore year of college, my dad had another stroke. This time it was bad. He had 3 more strokes after that and was in critical condition. He was in need of blood so they could operate on his head due to an aneurysm. The blood banks did not have his blood type available so I went door to door with a list of donors searching for a match. I did everything I could to help my dad. I wanted him to live! He was too young to go. He was only 49. Five days before Christmas and just 2 months before my 18th birthday, my daddy passed away. The last time I saw my dad smile was on Thanksgiving, we sang “Can’t help falling in love” by Elvis Presley together that night. Little did I know that that was the last time I’d ever get to sing with him. His last words to me were “I love you Shell, I’m so proud of you!”.

After my dad died, we went bankrupt. We had hospital and funeral bills to pay and my mothers health then started to decline as well. I decided to quit school to help my mother out. I read every pamphlet and benefit book available and applied for everything that my mom qualified for. To make ends meet, I sold dessert cakes and snacks just so my sister could continue going to school. Life was hard. My mothers family abandoned us because we no longer had money to give to them. My parents were always there to help my mothers family out when they were in need but after we went bankrupt they no longer cared. All they cared about was money.  I continued to think positive and pray even though we had no money, or food. We sold everything we could sell and finally, after a good year, we received my mothers pension. My mothers family slowly tried to get back into our lives but I took charge and told my mother that we do not need her ungrateful family. They cared only for money and nothing more. I made sure that my mom would never have to suffer again.

After College I fell in love, got married and moved to South Carolina. Soon after I got pregnant with our son. I was so happy! With just two months remaining in my pregnancy, they sent my husband to Iraq. I was pregnant and alone, and had to have my son without his father. My husband did not come back until my son was already 3 months old. It was a tough time for me because I was a new mom and I had no idea what I was doing. I had a few friends to help out at times but it was tough. I still stayed positive because I had faith and I knew that things wouldn’t be that way forever!

In 2012 my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. This tore me apart. Again I had to find means to pay for my moms medical bills. I sold whatever I could and it still wasn’t enough. My mom was suffering. By the time my mom came to the States to seek treatment, it was already too late. She was in a later stage and there was nothing they could do for her here. She decided to fly back to the Philippines to get treated there but she only got worse. She would call me every night to ask for money to pay for surgeries and medications and to tell me that she wasn’t ready to die. I stayed strong for her. I tried my hardest not to breakdown and cry over the phone because I wanted her to keep thinking positive. I was secretly dying inside. On my birthday, my mom called me and said, “Happy birthday my baby! I love you so much!”, that was the last time I talked to her. She passed away 2 days later. We were so broke by then and only had enough money for one ticket home to the Philippines, so I decided to give the ticket to my sister so she could actually say goodbye to my mom. I did not get to go to my mothers funeral. I spent months hugging my moms coat that she left behind. I was deeply depressed. I blamed myself for everything. I felt that I didn’t do enough for her. I sought help because I knew that I could not go on like this. I had to be strong for my children. They needed me more than anything.

Fast forward to 2016. By then I had 2 children, a beautiful baby girl and a very witty son. I was always so busy being a mom and taking care of everyone and everything else that I never really paid much attention to my health. On Halloween of 2016, I had my first vertigo attack. I was in bed for six months because I could not walk. I felt faint whenever I got up and the room was constantly spinning. I spent 3 months in and out of hospitals, but nobody knew what was wrong with me. I  felt like a guinea pig because they performed so many tests on me but they all came back normal. The verdict was Labyrinthitis. I almost gave up on life because I could no longer do the simplest things. I couldn’t even watch tv. It made me so dizzy. I couldn’t play with my kids, walk them to the playground, or even pour them a glass of milk. I still decided to stay positive because I knew that stressing and being anxious would only cause harm to my kids. I wanted to show my kids that Mommy is strong and that I will get through this. I changed my diet, and slowly started feeling better. I knew that I was given another chance at life and I wasn’t going to waste it.

So why do I smile a lot? It’s simple, because I am just so thankful to be here. I’ve been thru hell and back but you know what, I’m still here. What I went through is nothing compared to what some people have to go through, there is always someone going through something way worse in the world. Your worst day may be somebody’s best day. Life is what you make it and I truly believe that if you see everything positively, then things will change for the better. So hug your loved ones tight, and be thankful for everything that you have in life. You may not have everything you want at the moment, but that doesn’t mean you will never get it. Life is truly hard, but like I always say. Don’t ever give up, stay strong and stay positive because life isn’t always great, but it will get better.


Much love,


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