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FREEDOM. America. What is American. Freedom?

29 September 2022

I am depressed. I've been going to mental health at the hospital now for a year and it’s not working. I'm getting worst. I don't know how to stop it. Do I even want to stop it? Is it even worth it? I think Michael is mad at me for changing. He is worried and scared. He doesn't recognize me. I don't recognize me. Why can't I be happy? I don't want to do anything anymore. The things that use to make me feel good don't anymore. EVERYTHING is hard. EVERYTHING hurts. Everything makes me anxious. I’m not connecting with other people. With myself. I don't feel safe. I'm hiding. I don't want to burden others. I'm tired of being so negative. I don't trust anyone. It’s not even my fault but I'm too tired. Try. Try to get out of bed. Push through. Just a little bit more. Push the pain down. This will pass. Why is it not passing?

Back in August after having a total mental and emotional breakdown, I decided that since everything that use to feel good to me no longer does, I'd try something different. Deep sea fishing! My Operations Superintendent told me about his trip doing this with his son and it sounded like it could be fun. Michael agrees to go with me so we take the guided trip to Geo Je Island that is hosted by the Osan's outdoor rec on their next available trip date.

After four hours of riding the bus with the group, we arrive to our destination. After another hour of riding the boat onto the open sea, we arrive to our first fishing spot. Our guide, Mr. G, who is a local Korean fisherman helps all six of us participants set up our fishing lures and teaches us the "jerk" fishing technique. We all spread out along the boat and get started. It's hard but I am determined to catch a fish. Despite my dad taking my brother and sister and I on fishing trips growing up, the most I was ever able to catch was some seaweed and a boot. It was such a fun bonding experience, but I never caught a fish. Today, Yellowtail and Mahi were what we were after, and I decided this was the day that I was catching my first fish.

It was a cloudy day and the sea was really choppy. It was really hard and tiring doing the Jerk fishing, but I was determined. We would spend about 15 mins at one spot at sea then the captain would have us reel in our lures and we would move to another spot. Earlier, Mr. G had handed out seasick medication to everyone and INSISTED we all take it before we we left port. Unfortunately it didn’t help. About 20 mins in, people started puking. One by one, people started flooding the bathroom or puking overboard. 40 mins later, Michael joined the puking group. Me, the guide and 1 other participant who was a Pilot were the only fishermen left out of our 7-person group lol. I decided to stay focused on my goal and keep fishing. About an hour in it started to rain. An hour and a half later, it started to rain harder. I didn't want to spend the rest of the 8 hour day cold and soaked so I decided to join the sick people in the cabin and go to sleep. I would have to catch my first fish another day. The fishing trip would be a bust.

After about 4 hours later I woke up. The water was still really choppy but it stopped raining. I decided to leave the sick people and give fishing another try.

Mr. G let me join the upper deck and taught me how to cast as well as other techniques. Between the rocking of the boat, trying to not fall overboard, and SEEING the mahi fish come so close to biting my lure, it became fun for me. I felt like I was a hunter and I was hunting. Every 15 mins a new location. Every location a new adventure.

At one point Mr. G told me to stand at the front of the boat, titanic style. The view was phenomenal and was NOTHING like anything I'd ever experienced before. It moved everything in my body and I realized I was feeling alive again. At the front of that boat I felt like I was flying over the ocean. Mr. G said to me that fishing was hard but this was the reason he does it. I understood. He then gave me a really good coffee to drink and together we enjoyed the view.

All this time I had been feeling trapped, but in this moment I felt free.

Eventually we headed back to land. We rejoined the other fishermen/participants on the trip, took photos and had the fish that were caught gutted and fileted. I had never seen this before so it was such a cool experience. Walking back I saw one of the Korean fisherman wearing a "Freedom" shirt. I immediately felt triggered. I thought, "I am an American. I've spent almost NINE years of my life serving in the Air force and 8 years prior to that wearing the uniform as a cadet. This word SHOULD represent me but instead I feel the exact opposite. Why does seeing or hearing people where flag or freedom memorabilia, cause such a pain or discomfort in me and immediate distrust of the individual? Am I UN-American? Am I not a patriot?"

I realized I feel this way because for most of my life I have either directly or indirectly felt bias, criticism, judgment, or exclusion as a Black woman from many (but not all) people who overtly wear that stuff. I thought of the insurrection on the capital and the demographic of people who were there. What they were wearing. What they were saying. The messages for what brought them there. Some people said that the insurrectionists "highjacked" the American flag. From my point of view, it wasn’t a hijacking of anything but an overt exposure of what was ALREADY and ALWAYS there.

I have often wondered what does being American mean. I think it means different things to different people and that's ok. For me, it has come to mean being and embracing more than one thing. Being biologically and/or culturally more than one thing. Having the right to choose your own way in life. And doing one of the hardest things imaginable- learning to trust and respect others who ARE NOT LIKE YOU. While my experiences at school were not always diverse, the neighborhood I grew up on WAS. One family was from Laos and were Buddhist, another was Filipino and Black, another family was White-the husband was a Vietnam veteran and retired firefighter while his wife was a friendly smoker and cat lady, another neighbor was white and his wife and kids were from Mexico, we had single men and women who lived alone. We had married couples with no kids. Married/non-married couples with kids. While I cannot absolutely confirm this, we had one couple that was likely (and rumored) to be gay. We were black. My next-door neighbors were black and devout Christians. All this diversity on one street and we had so much community. Yes, we had differences, yes hard, uncomfortable but constructive conversations where learning needed to occur happened, but from my memories, our community was safe and harmonious. We looked out for one another. Even to this day, I have dreams that bring me back to this first home. To this neighborhood. I think that’s why I joined and cherished the Air force- because it presented me with some of the best chances to experience diversity and I felt accepted as I already was and who I wanted to become. The diversity and acceptance reminded me of where I felt safe and challenged-my first home. Where I felt like I didn’t have to hide or prove myself. This safety, this diversity helped me feel free.

After experiencing what I felt on that trip, I understand now why people are so passionate about freedom and the symbols associated with it. After feeling and experiencing freedom, why would anyone choose to go back to being caged? I just wish freedom would extend to more kinds of people. EVERY kind of people, without conditions, that WANT to be free.

My goals for today are: 1). Pick up ingredients to make banana pudding for the potluck my therapy group is having 2) take my uniform to have my Major's rank sewn on it (I'm a month late in doing this), and 3) buy a Freedom warrior shirt, and wear it. I think it’s time for a new branding.


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