For six consecutive school years, from kindergarten to grade five, I was a consistent recipient of the Most Behaved recognition. It's weird because from kindergarten to grade two, I was enrolled in a different school, then my mother transferred me to a Christian academy by third grade. Imagine receiving the same character award from two different institutions. It was almost predictable year after year. The teachers labeled me "behaved" because it apparently meant "not speaking".
The truth is I was too afraid to speak so I was the voiceless, quiet child inside the classroom. I might be the student that made the teacher's work easy, but as a growing child, I was screaming inside for help.
Psychology says when parents mistreat a child, she doesn't get angry at her parents, she gets angry with herself. I spent years in self-loathing. I hated everything about me including the name Karen. I felt disgusted whenever I spelled my name. I preferred to introduce myself as Kaye, my nickname.
"Karen" was the name my mother used when she was yelling mad at me. "Karen" was also used to bully me for being a fat kid.
"Ka rin" is "You, too" in English. My boy classmates bantered with each other," You're ugly! You're fat! You're a pig!", the reply usually was, " Ka rin!". Realizing my name sounded alike, the boys turned to me and made fun of my name. Any negative description they tell each other ended up with me. "Hahaha! Ka rin! Karen!", they laughed at me while pointing their fingers at me. I disliked the name so much.
I was raised in a Christian home, and the idea of Jesus loves me to the point of offering His life at the cross was the only love I felt as a child. So I clung on that Christian faith, and the fear of hell prevented me to commit suicide as a child. Every night I cried myself to sleep with only one prayer request, "Please don't make me wake up the next day. Let me die in my sleep".
I was that kind of Christian you see inside church walls who actively engaged in church activities, but totally oblivious to what was happening in reality. I even became a youth leader and discipled girls. Strange it was but I was still in emotional pain. I kept forgiving those who brought trauma in my life, but the wounds lingered so I learned to numb them. But there were situations that triggered those so I turned to my journal to release unwanted emotions.
For many years, I silently fought recurrent bouts of depression, but I built an invisible wall around it that it doesn't show. Yes, it may seem I was the great pretender, but I was the "behaved girl" once more who was asking for help.
I was told I couldn't move on or I was still living in the past. I was weak for holding on to the hurt. I couldn't really understand myself. Something must be really wrong with me. I hated myself all the more.
A lot of life events happened. I got married, conceived a child, and later found out, he has special needs. The message I received was I had done something sinful and raising someone with a developmental delay was the consequence of my wrongdoings. I cried alone and lived in isolation. I felt rejection and condemnation. I withdrew from my already limited social interactions.
I settled in life to be a housewife and a stay-at-home mother to my two children. I unknowingly became co-dependent with my husband. I went where he went (it was part of my wedding vow). It took an encounter with a typhoon to knock some sense on me: I cannot die without telling my stories.
Through a friend's invitation, I wrote my first World Pulse story reflecting about women living in disaster-prone areas. I also signed up as an Encourager. I noticed in most of the post that these women bared their soul in their writing. I wept with those who were in unimaginable trauma; I rejoiced with those who triumphed in their dreams. Their stories became my inspiration. These women experienced more challenging circumstances than I did, but rose from the ashes to help other women and girls.
Although I was an encourager, I was actually the one being encouraged as I secretly fought against depression. I could not simply give up in life because these women are fighting bigger battles. Their stories were therapeutic to me. I learned to break the walls I built around myself and slowly began to open up and speak my truth. I was ready to be bashed or ridiculed or bullied, but instead, I received so much love, acceptance, support and that missing piece called empathy. My fears, my pains, my anger were all validated on World Pulse.
I discovered that people begin to heal when they feel heard. By connecting with World Pulse sisters, I was schooled into the world of women from different colors and culture. I learned about the emotional abuse called invalidation, and the healing power of encouragement. I kept sharing my journey on World Pulse.
Writing with vulnerability and authenticity, I began to love myself and grant grace to myself. I broke away from the false truth that I need to be perfect in order to be accepted. I embraced my flaws and imperfections. I began to relax by being unapologetically me. In fact, I now love being called Karen. My name now reminds me that I am "Caring" or "Carin'".
By learning to accept myself, I became accepting of other women as well.
As an active Encourager, lifting up women and cheering on them have become second nature to me even outside this online space.
In online chat groups, when a woman expresses her depression or grief, and she is told "don't feel that way, look at the brighter side, stay happy, move on", I reach out to that woman to tell her, " I get it. I understand. Your feelings are valid". Offering empathy makes her feel better.
Because I regularly #LogOnRiseUp on World Pulse, I found a way to heal a series of traumatic events. I told myself I will be who I needed when I was depressed, isolated, alone, rejected, bullied, condemned and judged. I am so passionate about encouraging women that I wrote a piece about Fireflies, how these tiny insects glow from infant stage and shine brightest in times of darkness (https://www.worldpulse.com/community/users/karen-quinones-axalan/posts/9...).
Then I got an idea, I will start an organization that will be a safe space for people who needed to be heard and to heal. I call it The Firefly Zone. It will be a place where people are encouraged to break their walls and share their vulnerabilities; a place to deal and manage depression and anxiety; and a place founded by encouragement and empathy.
At The Firefly Zone, my message is: we all have a light inside us; each one is important (even the smallest light shines in the darkness), and we create a greater impact when we fly and shine together. This is still at the planning phase, but I have begun to create a Facebook Page for it just to reserve that name. Here's the link: https://www.facebook.com/thefireflyzone
I wrote my first World Pulse story on December 31, 2017. I've grown so much in less than two years. From being an admirer of Women Leaders, I have become a Woman Leader. From being voiceless, I found my voice in World Pulse.
Thank you, World Pulse, for building this platform, for teaching us to own our stories, and for introducing the culture of encouragement. Today, I begin to pay it forward.