Ayessa is a mother to one and wife to a travelling diplomat. She also struggles with Bipolar Disorder which continues to challenge her as she grows older and adjusts to her life in Switzerland. Read along as Ayessa dives deep into the challenges she faces, taking us through her life in seasons.
What do you do for a living, and what are the things that make you feel more alive?
I am currently on a break from organizing, running the Declutter MNL Facebook Group & move-coaching expats & diplomats who are perpetual nomads.
Right now I am concentrating on being a diplowife, homemaking, organizing my own home & taking care of my son in Switzerland.
Things that make me feel alive:
1. Traveling & making memories with my husband & son became a priority after my husband had 2 unrelated cancers within 13 months.
2. Creating beautiful, organized, healing homes.
3. Coming up with clever hacks that improve lives & spaces.
How old are you?
41 but I’ve lived so many different lives, I feel like I’m 80 LOL!
I am most known for:
My blog which I started in Jakarta, Indonesia in 2009. It started as The Diplomatic Wife, but I wanted to talk about not-so-diplomatic things like the not-so-glamorous side of diplolife, mental health & women’s health, so I changed the name to UnDiplomatic Wife.
This allowed me to openly talk about my challenges as a plus size, bipolar, trailing diplowife. Moving every few years is the total opposite of the consistency & regularity that bipolar people need. My bipolar then led to issues with hypothyroidism & my husband’s 2 cancers led me to increase my bipolar medication by a LOT which then led to gaining 50lbs.
There are many times when stress, health & weight issues & mental disorder totally defeats me, but using my platform to talk about it & reaching other women who can relate has been extremely healing.
I think people also appreciate that I am transparent about the realities of diplolife. Moving in particular is extremely stressful because we do not have the same support system as other countries. I’ve literally slept on the floor with only a carpet & comforter, done my own plumbing, borrowed plastic stools & tables just so we weren’t eating on the floor. Figuring things out in a foreign language & stumbling through new cultures can stress anyone out.
But I just keep going. I might ugly cry & have a bipolar meltdown, but after you know I’ll get back up again.
I am most proud of:
I wear so many hats despite my bipolar-disorder, which can be debilitating at times. I’ve been through a lot and I feel like any one of these things could have defeated me. I am a suicide survivor. I did not know it then, but at certain difficult times bipolar people are at high risk for suicide. Being diagnosed helped me understand the extreme highs & lows. I work really hard to heal & I do the work of going to a psychiatrist regularly so that my medication can be adjusted according to what life is throwing at me at that moment.
After I have a bipolar episode - they can last weeks sometimes - I pick myself back up again and continue with all my roles. And I am really proud of that.
I am also super proud of how I kept the lights on, took care of my then toddler & kept the household going when my husband was sick with bone cancer, then colon cancer. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do in my life despite having gone through a lot already. I don’t know how I did it, but I knew I had to for my son.
What do you think is the biggest challenge, and the best thing, about being your age?
Being my age, there is much more at stake when I have bipolar episodes. Now that I have a son, trying to raise him so he doesn't end up with the same mental disorder is always on my mind. I also try to explain my sickness to him. It’s important that he knows it’s not his fault when I’m not my usual self.
The best thing about being my age is living all the different lives I’ve had & the wisdom that comes with all that experience. I went from a super nerd when I was young to a party animal in college to a surfer chick to corporate slave to diplomat’s wife. I've also moved to a different country 4 times in the span of 12 years. I’ve also had to learn 3 languages. This gives me the confidence to know that I can thrive no matter where I am & what life throws at me.
How have you grown wiser in the past two years?
We moved to Geneva from the Philippines 2 years ago. We’ve gone through a lot since - from DiploBaby being bullied at school, not knowing anybody, lots of culture shock, trying to learn French & traveling around Europe. It has really opened my eyes to a different way of living. Living simpler but enjoying higher quality lives is now something we appreciate.
If there is anything our travels & postings has taught me is that each person has their own unique pace & that we are all just trying to figure things out. I used to be very set in my goals & expectations in life, but diplolife & my bipolar disorder has taught me to be flexible & open to what life has in store for me. It might not be easy, but it can turn out better than anything we could ever imagine.
What are the best pieces of life advice you have ever received?
“Life is all about seasons.”
Which means this too shall pass. I remind myself this whenever I get sad about losing my career or audience every single time we move. Or when I wistfully long for a more relaxed lifestyle by the sea. Who knows, maybe one day I can live by the sea & go back to surfing? We are never too old to transform ourselves, find new passions or go back to old ones.
My blog was actually on pause in Manila as I concentrated on organizing/decluttering. But now that I’m back at post, I’ve started writing again. My organizing & decluttering may be the one on pause now, but it's not lost. Those skills are still inside of me and when the moment is right, I can continue doing it again.
The same goes for any low point like depression or a bipolar episode. I remind myself that it will pass and one day I'll be happy again.
Who are the women you look up to and how have they helped shape your life?
The women in my family are strong figures, housewives AND breadwinners. So growing up, I've always felt empowered by what I saw. This is why I always try to carve my own niche wherever I am. Every housewife is not just a housewife. We are so much more.
I meet a lot of women from different countries and cultures. I tell them how it can be quite matriarchal in the Philippines. I get very surprised reactions but I’m happy to show how strong Filipina women are. I think this spark is so important to help empower women.
How has life been since moving to Europe and has it made an impact on your Decluttering Business and Blog?
Life in the Swiss countryside has been different from any of my previous lifestyles in busy cities like Manila, Jakarta & Berlin. Here life is so much simpler. We live across from a farm with a forest behind us. I open the door & I see goats & ducks. We hear roosters crowing. Never in my wildest dreams did I think this would ever happen.
Here I do not have the amount of help & support that I had in Manila. This is why the DeclutterMNL and Minimaluxe has been on hold. I wanted to fix my home first before even thinking of registering a business here here. I'm also learning French because it's very hard to do anything here without knowing the language.
But undiplomaticwife.com blog has come back to life because I get asked a lot about what to do, where to stay & eat in different cities. The blog is the perfect space to share photos & details of our European family adventures.
Have there been any challenges with your business since being away from home in The Philippines?
A lot! I’ve done a few virtual workshops & podcasts, but the time difference and my bipolar medication keeping me groggy the first half of the day does not really allow me to operate on Philippine office hours.
In the Philippines, my psychiatrist advised me to hire whatever support I need to keep my home running, while taking care of a toddler & sick husband, running a business & coping with my bipolar disorder. So I did. My helpers & PAs gave me the superpower to do everything. I miss them everyday.
Right now I still have Yaya B to help me. She keeps the house running when I have my bipolar episodes. I am so grateful to her but I definitely cannot afford the same amount of manpower to do everything I did before. So my priority is my family & home for now.
The biggest factor is the system for childcare in Switzerland. Because of the prohibitive price of Swiss labor a huge percentage of parents (usually mothers) opt to leave employment or work part time to care for their children.
kitas or daycare for young children can cause CHF 100-200 or PHP 6,000-12,000 per day
Or older kids parascolaire (lunch & after school care) is around CHF 60 or PHP 3,700 per day
At DiploBaby’s age he still has to come home for 2 hours during lunch time & even if we could afford parascolaire, we would not get a spot because there so many others they have to prioritize, like parents who are both working. Even then it’s not a guarantee. It’s like a lottery to get a spot.
It’s okay for me because I like having lunch with DiploBaby & seeing him grow. I am treasuring this season that he still looks for mama-dada because one day he wont want to hang out with me so much anymore. That’s when I can think about launching a decluttering biz or applying for work.
Again, I just think of this time as a season. What I do really depends on where we are & the reality of each location's limitations.
What plans do you have next for DeclutterMNL and Minimaluxe?
For the DeclutterMNL Facebook Group, I hope to revive it if I can find volunteers to help me do admin work. Teaching people how to sell items they have decluttered has always been a passion of mine because I know it helps families with expenses & the circular economy benefits the environment while reducing waste. It’s always been a free service that I did for my 13,000 members but these days I just don’t have the time.
As for Minimaluxe where I would coach people through moves & help expats/diplomats declutter, organize & sell their items pre-/post-move, it’s something that I can seriously consider relaunching here when DiploBaby is older.
With 42 international organizations & around 32,000 international civil servants, diplomats and representatives of civil society, International Geneva has no shortage of diplomats & expats who are moving in and out.
I know that having someone you can trust come into your home to help you go through your things & help you dispose of them is something that would help a lot of people going through the stress of moving. God-willing, my French will improve enough so I can look into what it takes to set up a business here.