Alumna of the Moment: Eileen Ramos
Updated: Jan 4, 2021
We're so excited to introduce our newest Alumna of the Moment, the amazing Eileen Ramos! This IFC17 & 18 alumna is a mental health advocate, literature nerd and powerful writer. Learn more about her below, or join us on IG Live @infullcolorus_ as we chat with Eileen on Wednesday, Dec. 16 at 7 pm EST.
EDIT: See the IG Live video here!
Tell us a bit about yourself and your passions
I’m Eileen Ramos, a bipolar Filipina American writer, mental health advocate, and editor. I experienced suicidal ideation, overwhelming self-loathing, depression, mania, delusions, anxiety, hallucinations, and psychoses. Whew lol. Some of which I still struggle with to this day. I’m extremely open about my mental illness. Just today during my work’s Toastmasters meeting, the table topic was what was the kindest act you did this year. I answered with how I told a deeply despairing stranger my mental health journey and how I gained stability. They then sought professional help for their own bipolar disorder and now they’re happier than ever. We’ve become friends actually and I’m working on sending them a care package, hehe.
I’m an obscene and obsessive hoarder with piles of unread books, zines, and literary magazines and a ton of ephemera and stationery. It’s gotten to the point where I order a book, not realizing I already have it haha ugh. It doesn’t really stop me from buying more though lol. Support indie! I love attending readings and zinefests and I actually interned and/or volunteered at Kundiman, Asian American Writers’ Workshop, and The Asian American Literary Review. All literary nonprofits that are incredibly dear to my heart and have kept my writing and dreams alive. Even igniting new ones. I’ve been on a spree of taking online classes since stay at home orders. I think it’s been at least fifty including the wonderful Bloom Virtual Summit. They range from creating a book in a tin to beeswax collages to mail art to writing creative nonfiction about mental illness to manifesting magic. All through which I’ve grown and enjoyed immensely.
Right now I’m taking The Art of the Walk with Kamau Ware, where we are learning how to create a walking tour. It’s such a wonderful class and I’ve always wanted to curate my own walk but in a fictional format. I’ve held that desire for so many years and I can’t believe I can make it happen now! I felt the same when I finally attended the Introduction to Artist Books workshop with Matt Runkle and it’s so strange to know these once far off dreams are real and happening. I also just wrapped up Text and Image with Simone Kearney, and that was fantastic too. It’s another art form I’ve always desired to play in and it’s been fun manipulating copper wire into words and overlaying photos.
What projects are you working on now?
Sitting right beside me is my incredibly thick “Taste Victory” goals notebook which I bought from my talented friend Roni and I’ve added a ton of pages and ephemera. You can watch a flipthrough here. The three book ring format upgraded my LIFE, where I can hole punch any piece of paper I want and move it all around to improve flow. I’m no longer beholden to bound notebooks which I do love, but the last bucket list notebook burst causing the front and back covers to fall off lol ugh. For this current incarnation, I write only one daydream per page, espousing how I came across it, any details to fulfill, timestamp, and gluing down any related ephemera and stickers. When I can strikethrough, I fill up the page with how I did it and the hopefully happy results, including any paper proof, photos, and selfies hehe. I try to add three goals for every task I cross out, ones I can do in the next three months. Yet that can be limiting or I’d forget a dream, so I’m just going to write whenever my heart strikes. I struggle with believing I have a future due to my psychotic breaks where I’M the apocalypse, and I’m always scared that another one is imminent & permanent. Even though it’s been eight years since my last. lt’s hard to let go of who I was and accept & love who I am today, but I think crafting these blueprints over the last four years has made that bridge easier to cross.
I’m figuring out my folio to submit for Unsettling the Wor(l)d workshop with Joey De Jesus at The Operating System’s Liminal Lab. The OS was gracious enough to provide my classmates and I space to share the work we’ve developed during the course and afterwards. I learned so much from Joey like Black Feminist cosmopoetics, concrete poetics, redaction poetry, and a lot more. I’ve never been this challenged in my worldview and their prompts are way beyond anything I’ve encountered. Through their guidance and my classmates’ critiques, my writing has grown tremendously and I feel more creative than ever. I wrote creation and destruction myths, a rant against “normal” people telling me how I should self-identify my mental illness, found text from objects in my living room, a world where potential is in floating snow globes, and the next project I’ll describe hehe. I’m going to edit and expand and I will ask my friends for feedback. I want to make them as strong as I can as it’s been awhile since I’ve been published and I love the class so much. The workshop ignited my brain and I hope I’ll continue this experimental and learning follow through.
For an assignment, originally I was going to perform redactions on a derogatory book on how to get rich by a supposedly Asian woman, but I couldn’t find it on my shelves. I found my baby sister’s decade old SAT practice book instead and decided to perform blackout poetry there. It felt good to sharpie over the questions and answers, revealing a truth I couldn’t deny. I showed the outcome to the workshop and Joey and my classmates loved it! They were going in depth on how much of a classist scam the SATs are, how there’s barely any changes from each edition to the next, how it removes students from seats, and I just sat there in awe of their support and sharp analysis. I honestly didn’t think deeply about the SATs and the system and their impact on the youth. Joey said that this could be a book and there’s readership there and I honestly happy teared when he said that.
I took the class because it seemed interesting and found validation and affirmation of my abilities. I want to try to redact the entire book, including the math questions. Though the paper is very thin so there will always be bleed through. I was thinking of scanning it and redacting on my phone but I love the physical aspect of black marker against the words. So much more fulfilling and grounding. But I’d lose half the book if I use black marker, maybe half and half? Or buy another used copy? This feels like an endeavor I can truly grow from, and not just my vocabulary but my detailing, focus, and layering. I want to try to add designs and decorate it somehow. I’m sure the pages will speak to me and show me the way to utilize the space best. It’ll be a challenge in many ways but I know I’m the right person for it.
I resurrected two of my bookstagrams: literary instagram accounts. The first is just my regular bookstagram account: @booksiheld where I review books, literary magazines, zines, and artist books as well as share book hauls from independent bookshops, presses, and zinefests. I like the idea of maintaining a separate account for literary endeavors, and I’d keep a better record of what I’ve been reading. I also want to write works that are inspired by what I’m reading and do literary experiments.
I have my heart set on creating care packages composed of written works, catered to the recipient, including a custom experience with seemingly random objects that they’ll get to use. I’ve also collected cigars boxes I got for as low as $2 that I plan to fill up and send to them as well. I learned how to create an experience that you can do at home during quarantine from Odyssey Works, an organization that creates an experience that can last for months. I’m currently reading their book “Odyssey Works: Transformative Experiences for an Audience of One” and it inspires and thrills me. I’m so guinea pigging my friends lol.
I just need to create a survey and (re)read the books and zines I want to gift them so I can figure out what kind of experience they should do. It can be a meditation I record, a bedtime story I narrate, notebook full of writing prompts which they can do within its pages, something that leads to some sort of inner discovery. At an auction for Brooklyn Art Library, I won 100 scout pocket notebooks which I can customize the front cover. I have a design in mind, but I think I should create an experience and mail off the books a few times before I’m sure of it. I’m thinking of an illustration of me, showing the bottom half off my face smiling and holding a closed book with “for ______” on the front cover where I write their name. It’s fitting since my handle is “booksiheld” and they will all be books from my excessive hoard, though I have bought zines I think they’d enjoy. The notebook could be where they can keep notes or answer my prompts. I’m still figuring out the instructions format. To gift a book I love to someone I adore makes my heart swell.
My other bookstagram is my @abandonedb2dbc project, where I leave behind (loosely) connected books, zine, literary magazines, small gifts, and my own written work inspired by the previous for strangers to keep. It’s for Bored to Death Book Club, a really cool English literature site based in Amsterdam. You can read my posts here. It’s been over a year since I abandoned a set, largely prevented by Covid. But that above mattress was stranded in my neighborhood and it inspired me to start again, pandemic be damned haha. I really wanted to leave books on top of it, and scrawl a message across the white, but sadly, it was taken away before I could do anything. But I think I’ll move forward with it anyway, and after I edit that text image, I’ll create a large print from CVS and tape it to that stop sign and leave the cigar box and the above works. I picked books that feature the bed in some way, whether it’s the body, sexuality, dreams, vulnerabilities, etc. It’s been interesting discovering passages in Lapham’s Quarterly Flesh issue that connect to the “Palimpsest” novel by Catherynne M. Valente, and I’ve only just begun reading them.
One of the projects I want to focus on from the Text and Image class is creating flash fiction using instant photos and objects. Every story represents someone changed by something from their past or an object from another era, and they move forward, no longer in stasis. I want to try to make them nest somehow like russian dolls, to echo each other in some way or form, to connect even tangentially. Maybe the characters can be in the same setting or are in the background. It’d be cool to make my own little universe.
What impact would you like to have on others?
For my well-being I’ve normalized talking about my mental illness to the extent I don’t feel any shame for it anymore. To be honest during my job interview, I actually talked about performing monologues on being severely mentally ill and having psychoses. I think it was in response to my proudest accomplishment. I did preface it by saying that this might be improper to say, but they hired me anyway and I’m grateful my company is open to accepting me despite my mental health history. I want to build a world where we can freely talk about our mental health and mental illnesses without any guilt nor shame. It took experiencing a psychosis with full-blown paranoia and conspiracy theory delusions before I finally told my family I needed a psychiatrist, despite being suicidal and severely depressed for years.
I do not want anyone else to reach that point in order to get psychiatric help. I wish I knew I could’ve gone to my parents and to my college counselors way earlier without having to stay at a mental ward. Though I will admit I don’t regret that either, I slept and ate the best there than I did at any other point, before and since. Still it took that emergency hospitalization and medical leave for me to finally take a break from college when I desperately needed it before. But I had a scholarship, a job I love, classes I adore, and dear friends, so leaving college didn’t seem like an option, even though I wanted to drop out so badly.
For four years I knew I had to do an internship in order to graduate, but I didn’t feel good enough to even start an one page resume. Despite being in the honors program, professors asking for copies of my papers, presenting at an academic conference, high grades, etc., I never felt enough. I could’ve easily gotten great recommendation letters and landed a wonderful internship, but that never occured to me. It didn’t help that when I tried to open up to a guy I was seeing about my depression, he told me to shut up, that I was making his eye twitch, that he had real problems, and not me. So I shut down and didn’t dare tell anyone else. I should’ve kicked him to the curb but I had such low self-esteem and felt I deserved that. It was the spring semester of my senior year, and my depression grew worse and then came the delusions to the point where I begged my parents to pick me up during a blizzard because I thought They were trying to kill me. The night after, they drove me to the mental hospital where I thought I was going to be euthanized like I asked because I couldn’t take the pain and fear anymore.
On the car ride home from the hospital a month later, my Dad told me that I had those delusions because it was my brain trying to protect myself. I still believe that. If I didn’t have that psychotic break, I would’ve failed and fall apart even further. I needed the hospital in order to take back my life and to see what’s important: family and friends, not my grades and being a good student. So PLEASE take a leave from school if things are too much, school will always be there. And if you have the access, go to your school counselors, they’re usually free and they can truly help you. If I had known they were a good resource, I would’ve gone to them and maybe I would’ve enjoyed my final classes, had a proper farewell with my classmates, friends, and professors, and graduated on time. I do not regret it though because I wouldn’t have met a dear friend through my internship later on and I know that so much good serendipity stemmed from that psychosis. The sweetness still reverberates a decade later.
One constant still surprises me: no one I loved or cared about abandoned me after I had a psychotic break, which has been three so far. They just showed their love more and made sure to check in on me. I’ve had so many voicemails, emails, inbox messages, texts, comments, and tags of people asking me if I was okay, waiting for me until I went back online.I even got a voicemail from someone who said they never leave voicemails lol. The ones who truly love and care for you will be there for you throughout your mental illness and more. Let them help you. Let them know. They might be more receptive and supportive than you think. And if they aren’t, then you know they could never be there for you and you can drop them. Win-win.
Depression is a lie. You are not nearly as shitty, useless, and terrible as you think you are. That resume is only one example of a myriad where I didn’t see my true value despite the above evidence, my friends, and family. Depression warps your mind and what you believe is reality. It’s hard but try to believe your support system when they say they love you and what your best traits are. I still struggle with receiving compliments, but I know that they can see me more clearly than I ever can despite my introspection.
I will get more into this below, but the last thing I want everyone to know is to write and create what’s urgent, what you wish everyone else knew, even if you know it could ostracize you. After I perform for In Full Color and beyond about my psychoses, I always get comments and support from the audience, especially from those who have gone through the same exact thing. They tell me how seen they felt, how it means the world to them. A friend told me that they sought help for their depression after they saw me perform “Psychotic Break” and that still touches me years later. Sharing YOUR story can help folks live theirs freely. You could be the catalyst of their becoming and show them a world they didn’t believe was possible.
How has IFC impacted you?
In December 2015, after my Author Events internship with the Asian American Writers’ Workshop was over, I still lurked in their inbox and I saw an email from In Full Color Founder Summer, requesting for AAWW to share a call for more Asian and Middle Eastern monologue submissions. I never wrote a monologue before but I wanted to try and submit, which is completely unlike me. I never submitted before and wouldn’t ever email something I only did that one time. But seeing that there was this need and the possibility of someone performing MY work was reason enough. So I wrote and submitted “Aswang Presidente” which starred a Filipina American girl named Regina Cordova going through a psychosis. It didn’t make it to the stage but it was printed in their first anthology which is honestly amazing.
A year later, Summer encouraged me to submit again and I wrote “Psychotic Break” which is where I talked to my mental illness of all my fears and the stigma that prevents us all from speaking openly about our mental health. Where we only talk about mental illness after a shooting or celebrity suicide. Three years since, and things have slowly improved, I’ve even seen commercials about medication for those with schizophrenia. But we’re still largely seen as plot devices and monsters in the media. I still have hope because In Full Color gave me a platform to speak so freely and saw value in my story which I never had before. 2017 also marked the first time I ever performed onstage and Summer encouraged me to do so despite my hesitation and anxiety. She’s a wonderful director, addressing my strengths and gently pointing out what I need to work on. Her acceptance and support helped me provide a strong performance that evolved with each telling. It’s weird to state, but performing feels way better than writing which is still a shock to me. I grew so much from her direction and encouragement and I would be less of a performer if it wasn’t for her. Being onstage was never something I’d consider for myself before but now I want to go back under the spotlight and perform new work.
I always wanted to do open mics but never tried to go in front of the mic until Summer pushed me to practice there. They always make my heart sing and it’s wonderful to see others open their hearts too. I also became a mental health advocate because of In Full Color, never talking about my bipolar disorder in public for years. I was a guest on Amanda Levie’s Artist Gripes, whom I also met through In Full Color, titled “The Dangerous Myths on Creativity’s Relationship with Mental Illness”. Looking back I was so passionate, eloquent, and outspoken: things I always wanted to be but couldn’t accomplish fully until IFC arrived in my life.
This year, I was part of a panel for The Digital Sala, a Virtual Transnational Filipinx Literature Collaborative/Intervention/Experiment that began during the Pandemic. “Healing Through Trauma: Filipinx Artists Speak” is where Lis P. Sipin-Gabon, MT Vallarta, and I openly shared about our mental illnesses while navigating life as Filipinx Americans. This is a panel I’ve wanted for years and I still can’t believe my good luck that I was asked to be a part of it! I even made the first powerpoint I made in years lol, titled “Breaking Down My Psychotic Breaks: My Bipolar Disorder and Psychoses” which you can see some of the slides here. I talked about my symptoms before my three psychoses, the common threads of my delusions and halllucinations, and how my family helped me recover. I even made a collage of the many triggers of my delusions and hallucinations lol.
I never had a space I shared with others where we can talk about being Filipinx and being mentallly ill. And I never believed I was a person who deserves to be on a panel just like this. But my start with In Full Color gave me the courage and confidence to know that my story was worth telling and it didn’t have to be just IFC’s stage at all. In June I had another dream come true when I was part of Raised Pinay’s fourth generation, which I’ve always longed for. It’s a benefit theater production for Roots of Health, an organization dedicated to reproductive health in the Philippines. Raised Pinay is a healing space for Pinays (Filipinas), and a ceremony for our community. I grew so much over the five months we learned, wrote, and edited together and found a real sisterhood whom I still group text with to this day. You can watch the video of our share + talkback here and my segment “You are Always Worth Loving” is at 26:37.
Without the foundation of In Full Color and Summer’s guidance and support, I would never have the confidence and ability to perform and share my truth. They have made so many of my dreams come true and are at the root of my growth and blooming. I have cried with happiness many times due to In Full Color and I know these tears will never stop. In Full Color validated me and my dreams before I did and saw real value in my story(telling). Because of them I had my first book credit, my first monologue, my first open mic, my first performance onstage, my first guest on a podcast, my first interview on a documentary short, a reading at my favorite bookshop ever, my first flyer, getting paid to perform & give a speech at my alma mater for the closing ceremony of APIA month, my first panel, and my first time as a host at a panel.
The most amazing title I held is Events Coordinator for The Asian American Literary Review, specifically for Open in Emergency: A Special Issue on Asian American Mental Health, which I secured selling at one of my favorite bookshops, Bluestockings, and an event at the Center for Fiction. It was the resource I needed when I was younger and now and I never saw anything quite like it before, composed of intergenerational letters of trauma, a foldout tapestry, an Asian American tarot deck, and much more. If I didn’t believe in myself, I wouldn’t have sent that email volunteering to assist and I know that it wouldn’t have happened at all without the strength instilled in me by IFC. I help managed their social media, spread the word about this significant issue, and managed the table at the Asian American Literature Festival in Washington D.C twice.
I have met so many dear friends and seen multitudes of dreams come true because of IFC. There’s an underlying courage and power to me that has been brought to the forefront which I could no longer deny. I’m not a timid, quiet, hopeless, and soft spoken girl anymore, but an incredible force to be reckon with. And to think, it started with a small hope in myself and the desire to say yes for the first ever.
Thank you Summer and In Full Color for burgeoning this belief and me to heights I could never foresaw. You will always be my foundation and the root of my exponential growth and strikethroughs. I’m happily tearing right now because I’m overwhelmed for what you’ve done for me and dozens of women of color. You helped me save people’s lives, including my own. And that will never be hyperbole. You helped me realize my calling as a writer and mental health advocate. My professor told me a decade ago that she can see me leading people with my voice but I never saw it until I was on your stage.
I am grateful for how you accepted and loved me which led to me loving and accepting myself. The world would be far less brighter and less hopeful without your presence and I hope you can see that. To many years more!