I Ruined Lives And Broke Hearts — I Hope I Can Make Up For The Mistakes Of My Past

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shameful man in mirror

September 2022 will mark eleven years since I stepped off the jetway in Manila into a completely different life and country. Up until that point, my only experience was with an all-you-can-eat way of life in an over-hyped country filled with the most entitled, privileged, and rude people on the planet.

At least, that was my attitude then.

43 years in the U.S. had left me bitter and broken, and the more time I spent around the people of the Philippines, the more I never wanted to go back. The few times I traveled back to the States on business left me feeling like I made the right decision to get out of that toxic environment.

When Trump was elected, it only cemented that the U.S. was no longer my home. It was only chance that I stayed away for the whole four years that Trump terrorized the people of the USA, but in a way, I’m glad I did because it awoke in me activism that I didn’t know I was capable of.

I could say that while I was in the Philippines, a part of me that was damaged by too much toxicity was healing, and I learned a few things about the people I so easily dismissed as entitled and the family I left behind.

Life in the Tropics

I came to the Philippines to escape a life destroyed by mental illness and bad decisions, and to experience a second chance in life with a new partner.

My life in the U.S. had eviscerated me so completely that it took many years of backsteps and pain, culminating in a nearly successful suicide attempt in 2015. But, during the week I spent in the hospital after my attempt, I realized that I was blaming other people, events, and things like my environment for my inability to handle the turmoil in my brain.

I realized that I couldn’t change the fact that I am severely mentally ill, but I can change how I react to it. I could sit at my pity party every day, complaining about my life and all the shit that made my illness worse, or I could change the way I thought about everything.

I stopped being a victim.

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Up until that point, I had spent my time going back and forth between the Philippines and Tucson, chasing dreams and new business opportunities, never giving my new home a chance to heal me.

But, after one more trip back, where I saw that the place I left no longer needed me and had changed without my presence, I decided I would stay in one place and give my new family and environment a chance to help me become a better and different person.

I fully gave in to the beauty of the islands and the inherent graciousness of the people and made a life for myself.

It was the best thing I could have done.

Links to America

As I started healing, I wanted to do more with my life, like write, create art, and experience things without constantly beating myself up for not being normal enough. I started publishing my writing and meeting other writers and creators on social media.

Telling my story to the world gave me a kind of freedom I never felt before, and through my writing, I met people who thought, acted, and dreamed as I did. I started making the kind of friends I rarely had before — positive, genuine, and motivated.

I met others as I started reacting more to what was happening in the U.S. during the dark times of Trump. It started with sharing memes on Facebook (which I still do) and turned into a kind of activism that allowed me to make an impact even though I was on the other side of the planet.

Then, COVID-19.

Living Through the Pandemic

In early 2020, COVID-19 was spreading, but I had to leave the country to renew my Visa so I went to Singapore for a day, masking up and avoiding people as best I could. Shortly after my return, the Philippines was locked down, and we were told not to leave our homes.

We had to get used to a new reality during that time. It wasn’t so much the staying in — my wife and I have terrible social anxiety and hate leaving the house — as it was looking at the same walls day after day. Before we could choose to stay in or go for a drive if we needed a change of scenery, but now, we were forced to stay in a small house with three other people, two of them kids.

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Our son was not even a year old, and there was the challenge of being on call 24/7. The whole time both of us worked, me writing and my wife teaching, and we tag-teamed keeping the kids happy and satisfied.

As the pandemic got worse, I saw first-hand the horror of the situation in America through the little windows my friends and family opened for me on social media. Every day it was either a new atrocity by Trump and the conservatives, or a new rising death toll, and I feared for the people I loved.

It only got worse, as my life got better, restrictions were eased, and we could leave our homes again.

Trump is Out. We Can Hope Again!

Now Biden wasn’t my first pick back in November 2020. I thought Bernie should have won, but Joe and Kamala took over regardless. They have had their ups and downs, mostly downs. But one good thing that happened was people by the millions were getting vaccinated.

Worldwide people got the vaccine and we saw a light at the end of the tunnel.

The one thing the pandemic did was show me that the people of America are not all terrible. The people I chose to associate with are honest, good, and altruistic and there are more of us than there are them.

I Am No Longer a Part — and I Wish That Would Change

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I’ve also seen that my family in the States has grown too. Mostly away from me. As my parent's age, instead of getting more reliant on me, they have gotten much more independent. They really don’t have much to do with me. But it would still be nice if I had the option to be able to help them in person occasionally.

The same with my three boys. They have all become strong and responsible men with families, and they are doing fine without me complicating their lives. I am not part of their lives, and they seem okay with that.

For a long time, before I left the U.S., I felt like a burden to everyone. I felt like my illness put the focus on me instead of on my kids and my parents. They were all scrambling trying to keep up with the latest bit of bad news from me about my condition, and not living their lives without restraint.

Neither my kids nor my parents will ever say I was a burden. They would say it was all in my head and something I obsessed about constantly. I left for the Philippines to have another chance at life, yes, but also because I didn’t want my toxicity to infect the lives of the people I loved any longer.

A lot has changed in my family over the years, and it took a heart attack for me to realize that I may have been too thorough when trying to remove myself from my kid’s and parent's lives.

My kids have their own lives now, a stepfather figure close to them, and lives that I have no part of.

My parents have drawn closer to each other, their religion, and the people in it who help them do the things I should have been helping them with as their son.

Eleven years ago, I made a choice, and now that I am older and had that near-death experience, and wish I would have some relationship with my family, I no longer have a place in their lives.

It is all my fault.

I escaped the toxicity of America, and in doing so, removed the burden of my care from my kids and parents. I removed myself. And as much as not one of them will ever admit it, my anxiety and regret tell me enough that I am no better than any other men who abandoned their families.

But as I heal and my life gets better — as I grow and start to see that life doesn’t have to revolve around my tortured mind — as I stop blaming everything else for me not living my life and start taking responsibility for myself, I want to return to their lives.

I want to go back and visit America and show that I can live a fulfilling life, no matter what kind of environment I live in. I want to have a relationship with my family in the States again.

I don’t know if I burned too many bridges, but I hope there is at least a rope swing back into the lives of the people I left behind. I hope there is room for me in the lives of the new friends I have made over the years. I hope there is still an opportunity to enjoy a country I had written off as toxic.

The U.S. has a long way to go to answer to things like racism, income inequality, and toxic capitalism, but it is my home, and I would like to return before I get too old and right some of my wrongs.

And I would love to be part of the family I spent the first 40 years of my life with.

I hope they will have me.

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Jason Weiland is a personal essayist who writes on relationships and mental illness.

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.