I am in incredible pain.
And I think I have been for a while now.
And I am ashamed of it.
I have not yet forgiven myself for the things that have happened to me.
I have not yet been able to accept that those things are not my fault.
I have not yet been able to believe that those things are fated to happen again.
I have not yet been able to see that those things have happened because of how much (or how little) I’m worth.
I used to read a lot of stories growing up to understand reality as much as I did to escape it. Stories kept me company, gave me warmth, filled me up at times when I most needed them to. It allowed me to give those things to myself.
But now instead I tell myself all kinds of stories—stories I’ve read, stories I’ve experienced, stories I’ve made up in my head, stories people have told me—all that tell me that I am not worthy. It’s clearer now why I have more difficulty sitting down to read stories that contradict the ones I’ve made up in my head.
This is not about me living without shame.
This is me learning how to go there.
This is about the first step in me living without shame, which is accepting the shame that sits, that waits to be seen in all its ugliness, in all its weight, in all its
And there is so much of it.
I’m ashamed because I’m a little broken.
And I’m ashamed because of why.
And I’m ashamed that I haven’t smoothed the c r a c k s just yet.
I’m ashamed that I have let what has happened to me in romantic relationships dictate my worth.
That my worth is contingent upon my lovability.
That I am no one if I am unlovable.
I am ashamed of the stories I tell myself—
Folks were quiet during the meeting? They must totally resent your leadership and have criticisms but don’t know what to tell you because you’re already so hard on yourself. You’re failing your collective
They didn’t text you back? Oh wait, this other person is online. They’re definitely talking to them instead of YOU, and they’re just stringing you along because they feel sorry for you and don’t have the heart to tell you the truth.
You didn’t visit home in the past few weeks? Even when your parents sent you money? You’re an ungrateful daughter. You have done and continue to do nothing for them. How can you be so selfish?
But the story I hate the most is the one where I will never be the one to find my own worth, that it can only be given to me by other people, that this incredible pain I feel now deems me worthless and will forever hold me back from being my fullest self—the fullest kasama, the fullest daughter, the fullest friend and partner, the fullest person.
And I am so sick. of these. fucking. stories.
I don’t want them to be true. I don’t want to be the reason
why people leave,
why bad things happen,
why the world is the way it is.
Because the world doesn’t revolve around me and nor should it
that sounds like the most miserable fucking place to be. It sounds like
the loneliest place to be.*
I am ashamed for feeling like the whimpering, vulnerable, insecure little shit I am.
This is not about me living with shame.
This is an ask, a plea, to myself to learn how not to.
This is about me asking more of myself even when the pain feels intolerable, even when it feels shameful, even when that pain looks like crying in:
-a subway car-a subway car-a subway car-a subway car-a subway car-a subway car-a subway
in the middle of a meeting
or in my parents’ bathroom
after wishing them
Because there is no shame in pain, in brokenness, in vulnerability but, instead, power. And that power can only be found in quiet but difficult patience—patience that will rock you,
until you are forced to find peace
with the reality of that pain
and how detached that actually is from your worth.
I tell myself every day I am worthless because:
- I am too needy/ask for too much.
- I am not queer enough.
- I have mental illnesses.
- I have been cheated on. I have been left.
- I am not a good enough of a kasama.
- I am not sharp enough.
- I have yet to let go of pain that feels like it has overstayed its welcome.
But I am tired of these stories.
I want new ones.
You know what story I want?
The story where I will get anxious when someone doesn’t text me for an hour and I get a little nervous, and I tell that person how it gives me little pangs of anxiety and they tell me it’s okay but reminds me that it’s time to let that pain go. The story where I accept that I may have neglected my parents but make the time to apologize to them, to come home to them once a week and eat their cooking so their daughter’s home and they know she’s doing okay. The story where my kasamas will hold me, where I will hold them, where we will fight against the demons we are united against as well as our own and where we will win.The story where I stop focusing on what others want from me, what others feel toward me and simply listen to what I’m feeling—from eerie silence to pots and pans being banged with wooden spoons. The story where what I’m feeling doesn’t dictate my worth—where I accept all the noises in my head and learn to tell new stories that remind me how fucked up and broken and messy I am but my worth still glitters in the dirt. The story where feeling worthless will be an old friend who visits me more often than I would like but one, I must remember, will always leave.
And that it comes without explanation therefore it can never be the explanation.
The story where the shame I carry no longer make every feeling I have towards something a reflection of my worth.
But what I want most is that the story I want is the story I live.
And that’s only possible when I accept that,
when that old friend of worthlessness comes to visit,
it is asking me to take the floor.
Because this is the battleground.
This is where I fight.
This is where I build.
This is where all my broken parts and pieces can
be pieced together into something
unlovable and ugly and
messy but ultimately
It will be beautiful
it is so rooted in the
And in that ugly little grain of glittering truth there is so much r o o m
—room to let others, the world, myself in. Because the things that happen to me/the feelings I feel are not contingent on my being, on my worth.
I am just another human being. I am just another human being. I am just another human being. I am just another human being. I am just another human being. I am just another human being. I am just another human being. I am just another human being. I am just another human being.
And how fucking incredible is that?
I have room to be big, to be bold, to be kind, to fight, to do better for myself and others.
I have power. My feelings are so big and loud and have no walls or floors or ceilings that to make their sole purpose telling me old, outdated, one-note stories of worthlessness is a disservice to them.
You know what story I will live?
The one where my feelings become my weapons of self-determination—where no one need tell me of my worth because I feel it. I know it.
I am in the middle of my battlefield.
With my broken bits and pieces.
I will work hard.
I will fight.
I will get hurt.
I will fuck up a lot.
I will be in incredible pain.
But I will live without shame.
Because I refuse to let it kill me.
Nikki Pagulayan (she/they/siya) is a community organizer with Anakbayan New York who is forever trying to graduate from school and has a soft spot for Ask Polly’s advice columns. She is finding home in herself and in the struggle. When her center of gravity is intact, you’ll catch her writing on here.