It’s not just you – Not her

This post is part of a series on sharing individuals stories to help others realize, they are not alone. If you haven’t read the introduction to this series, please start here. This weeks post is about something I know very little about – The LGBTQA+ community. So please give me grace if I indirectly offend anyone. I don’t mean to. I am still learning and growing my vocabulary.

I have only had a handful of friend and relatives who identified as gay or queer growing up. My default reaction to this community was confusion and disgust. In retrospect, these responses were normal in the Filipino culture. I didn’t know any better.

The Trevor Project

Founded in 1998 by the creators of the Academy Award®-winning short film TREVOR, The Trevor Project is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ) young people under 25.

  • Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24.
  • LGB youth seriously contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of heterosexual youth.
  • LGB youth are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth.
  • Of all the suicide attempts made by youth, LGB youth suicide attempts were almost five times as likely to require medical treatment than those of heterosexual youth.
  • Suicide attempts by LGB youth and questioning youth are 4 to 6 times more likely to result in injury, poisoning, or overdose that requires treatment from a doctor or nurse, compared to their straight peers.
  • In a national study, 40% of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt. 92% of these individuals reported having attempted suicide before the age of 25.
  • LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection.
  • 1 out of 6 students nationwide (grades 9–12) seriously considered suicide in the past year.
  • Each episode of LGBT victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment or abuse, increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times on average.

Alex’s story

“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” ― Lao Tzu

My name is Alexander Flores, and I’m a trans man.

At 14, I began to discover the depths of my soul. The security of routine helped dull the aching emptiness during high school. Wake up, shower, find something baggy to wear, grab my bag, and head on up to the bus stop. I had always wondered what the other kids were thinking of me — why they’d always have to stare. It was as if I’d been caged up for their entertainment. I was afraid of my own skin. What I saw in the mirror wasn’t mine and I thought my reality now was merely a fragment of my imagination, but with enough dedication I was finally able to begin my journey.

There was no “Transitioning for Dummies”, just a deep sea of information that we call the internet. I had to brace myself for the storm to come.

Pre hormone therapy, I was nothing. My mental state deteriorated, as well as my physical health. I had no reason to pursue a future in a body I was never able to recognize. Staring at the mirror only lead to feelings of despair and envy, daydreaming of what it would be like to be born in my true identity. To not be told “It’s just a phase,” or “You’re just a tomboy,” . With every step forward, I fell three stories back.

I attempted to fill the void with anything and everything. I pursued toxic relationships and dumped every penny I made to satisfy my craving to belong. I had to claw my way out of the darkness, for a spark ignited in me — it was time to face the world as one with my soul. Too many times I let myself believe I was the victim, when the only person harming me was myself.

I had finally came out to my mom. All the overthinking and self degradation began to wash away; she had known all along. I hesitantly asked her to pass on the message to my (step)dad, as I couldn’t find the courage to do so myself. Tension filled the room as I waited for the familiar ding from my phone, which read somewhere along the lines of “You’re still my kid, I love you, son.”

Coming out to my birth father was a hell, to put it lightly. Daddy’s little princess had transformed into Daddy’s little prince. Being his only child, I knew he wouldn’t be able to accept me for who I truly was. My senior year I decided to move to my mom’s after things weren’t working out at my Father’s. Since then, it’s been just about a year and a half since we had spoken. Only time will tell if he’ll find peace with me as myself — as his son.

A year and some months of hormone therapy later, I’ve seen not only a physical evolution, but I’ve experienced a spiritual evolution as well. Finally being able to recognize myself in the mirror was more than a victory of its own, my heart was truly beating. I finally felt alive. I used to live in the shadows of others, always concerning myself with how well I “passed”. Every passing whisper added to my anxiety. Often I would find myself avoiding public interaction as a whole in fear of exposing who I was born as. I dressed as androgynous as possible. Baggy sweaters, joggers, and anything black provided me with a sense of security as I ventured around public spaces.

Today, I speak with confidence, I wear what I please, and no longer concern myself with how others think of me. My story is mine alone and it is definitely a journey I’m more than willing to share. Embracing my life as a transman has not only empowered me, but it has given me the strength to show others that it’s more than worth your time to live as your true self.


Human rights

No matter your stance on the LGBTQA+ community, everyone deserves to be treated with respect. I can not ever imagine how Alex’s has felt through his journey of truth. Please know that if you are in this community, God loves you and meets you where you are and not where you should be. While I do not have any experience with this community, there are so many resources out there that do understand what you are going through. Please reach out.

And remember…it is ok to NOT be ok. Tomorrow is a new day!


It’s not just you – GAD

This post is part of a series on sharing individuals stories to help others realize, they are not alone. If you haven’t read the introduction to this series, please start here. It takes extreme courage to write your deepest struggles for all to read. This week’s post is a look back at a mom’s journey with GAD, general anxiety disorder. Did you know that anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the US, affecting 40 million adults ages 18 and older – WOW. This momma is very special to me because she is my younger sister. I am so proud of her sharing her truth. I pray that you connect with her story and know that you are not alone.

Two years before becoming a mom I had just started going to therapy for my GAD- General Anxiety Disorder (we will save that for another post). I went to individual therapy, group therapy, and tried every tool they taught me to manage all my anxiety and was adamant about not using medication when my therapist suggested it. I had a negative connotation and wanted to exhaust all other options before considering it. Once I got pregnant I went to see my therapist more frequently because well let’s be honest all those hormones and first-time worries definitely took over my anxious mind. Again, my therapist recommended medication but I wanted to continue doing everything I have been since it was working well during my pregnancy and I felt I had my anxiety under control. I was worried about the effects it could take even though I knew the medication was safe during pregnancy. Since I was mainly worried about postpartum depression I made sure to educate myself on the signs and told my husband what he could look out for if I needed additional support.

After preparing for postpartum depression (PPD), I ended up having postpartum anxiety (PPA). PPD is so commonly talked about and PPA isn’t. I had an emergency c-section with my daughter due to low amniotic fluid and her drop in heart rate. I still struggle with that because I wasn’t able to hold her when she came out and even after delivery I was too drugged out to want to hold her in fear I might fall asleep or hurt her. Like any first time mom I woke up every hour to check if she was breathing. When we finally were released to go home I was so anxious letting anyone see or visit my daughter because of fear she would get sick or catch something. For weeks I didn’t want to go outside with my daughter because of the fear of the unknown of what could happen to us or the judgment of others if she started to cry. I began to lose too much weight and my milk supply started to decrease because I wasn’t eating healthy, sleep deprived and constantly obsessing over my daughters’ weight and how long she would latch.

Over time I noticed all my tools I learn in the past were no longer working. I remember the first mom’s therapy group so clearly. I stood in the back baby wearing praying she wouldn’t wake up and start crying. I watched all these well put together women play with their babies and speak about their goals, struggles, and wins. As I watched them I began to cry because I didn’t have that confidence and all I wanted to do at that moment was to go home back into my safe space. I knew I wanted to get where they were but it just seems like such a far goal. I started to think about all the tools I learned in therapy and realized it wasn’t working. That’s when I knew I needed to do more for my daughter. I knew she didn’t deserve a mother who was struggling and I knew I deserved to be in the present with her and not worrying about the future.

I started medication 3 months postpartum and it was the best decision I have ever made for my daughter, for myself and for my family. I still have moments of anxiety but those tools that didn’t work before work now. I am able to break that anxious cycle, let go of the guilt, be in the present and that alone is worth everything. I know I will face more challenges as a mother and will have to learn new tools and ways to cope but I am glad I took the necessary steps for my mental health. I would do anything for my daughter and my family. That’s why I’m so happy to be apart of this motherhood community. I don’t think I would have been able to get through my PPA without the right support system. I’ve learned through online mom groups, therapy groups, and mom friends that we are all in this together.


Its not just you – Mentally healthy mom

This post is part of a series on sharing individuals stories to help others realize, they are not alone. If you haven’t read the introduction to this series, please start here. This week’s post is from Criselle. When I read through her story, I cried because it resonated so deeply with me. If her story is familiar to your own, please know you can ask for help just like Criselle.

Tears were streaming down my face; I was sobbing and couldn’t control my breaths. “I can’t. None of it matters. We live and die, and that’s it. None of it matters, there’s no point.”“It’ll be okay Criselle, living life and being there for your boys is what matters.”

I was sitting in my car in a Target parking lot, 34.5 weeks pregnant with my second child, and I was in the midst of a mental breakdown, a severe panic attack, plagued with existential thoughts. My little sister, 24 at the time, on the other line, trying with all her might to help me get through the several months of anguish, anxiety and depression that I had been experiencing through a majority of my pregnancy. I had finally filled the prescription for Zoloft that my OBGYN had given me eight weeks prior. I told him two months ago I had been experiencing dark, suicidal thoughts. He explained that Mom comes first in pregnancy, and that the Zoloft could offer me the help I needed; then he also wrote down the number of a therapist I could call and set an appointment up with.

I took only one Zoloft while pregnant, while sitting in the car, crying to my sister, feeling all the pains of my diagnosed anxiety and depression. On top of that, the guilt I felt for possibly hindering the breathing development of my son; that’s a side effect of Zoloft while pregnant. I only took one because the next morning my water broke, most likely due to the panic attack. My son, Clayton, was born 27 hours after that. He was premature and weighed 4 pounds 11 ounces. And, of course, I blamed myself. 

Fast forward two months later, Clayton is still a tiny, little thing, but he’s gained about two pounds. I was finally feeling better mentally, two months worth of Zoloft and the endorphins of breastfeeding will do that to a person. 

I didn’t realize it then, but I HAD to take that medicine to not only help myself, but to help my unborn son, too. To help my four year old son. To help my husband. They were losing their mom and wife to a sickening hormonal imbalance, and I HAD to take medicine for all of us. Without it, I may not have made it past that day in the Target parking lot. 

Once out of the fog that is mental illness, I began to see how all the people around me were fighting in my corner with me. My sister, talking it out with me over the phone. My doctor, letting me know that I had to help myself and giving me resources to do so. My doula, who would check in on me during pregnancy and postpartum. My family, for understanding that I wasn’t able to fulfill my duties as a mom and helped me until I could. My friends and acquaintances, who after reading my post on social media regarding my mental health and early birth of my son, reached out to me with kind words and love. 

It’s been almost 2 years since that day in the Target parking lot. I have always known I would do anything for my children, but the most important thing I can do for them as a mother is to be mentally healthy.


It’s not just you: A year later

This post is part of a series on sharing individuals stories to help others realize, they are not alone. If you haven’t read the introduction to this series, please start here. Were you aware that one in seven postpartum women suffer from postpartum depression. I honestly feel that number is too low. I believe the statistics should be one in four women suffer from postpartum mental illness. This week’s post is a look back at a mom’s journey with postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety. She was very willing to share her story but asked to stay anonymous.

One year later

I lived with postpartum depression and anxiety for a year and didn’t know it. My anxiety would manifest into anger towards my husband, self and others. It caused me to have irrational fears and kept me up at night googling everything about my first born.

My depression kept me from enjoying my family and friends. I became anti-social and never wanted to leave the house for events that usually would excite me. Getting up every morning was the hardest part of my day.

Diagnosis

My son turned one and I realized I was holding my breath for an entire year and still was. When I went to his one year health checkup I got the same wellness questionnaire as each appointment prior. I answered each one positively in agreement with his development. Then, I finally got to the last question, which asked about my mood… does mom feel depressed, anxious, etc. I hesitated to answer yes, even though I felt all those things. As I struggled to answer the question, I wondered why in the world I lied on this form all those times before. Seriously, why did I do that? The answer was obvious. Everyone around me, every mom blog I googled in the middle of the night, told me what I felt was normal and it would get better. What they failed to tell me was how.

My son’s pediatrician read the questionnaire and advise me to reach out for help. So I did. I remember the day I got diagnosed clearly. My heart racing in fear of what my diagnosis would be. I stepped into the clinic, sat down and did the assessment survey. Each question screamed at me “Lie! Don’t be honest. Everyone is going to think you’re weak. Get over it!” Fighting through those negative thoughts I answered truthfully.

The lead director of the program reviewed my assessment quiz. She tallied up the answers and told me that all signs pointed to postpartum depression and anxiety. My heart dropped! As I sat there processing her words advise me to be admitted into their 6 week program to seek therapy and counseling. My mind was spiraling. I thought if all the reasons why I couldn’t be admitted:

  • We just got an apartment we can’t live on limited pay from disability 
  • I have lots of work to do. I can’t just leave today to start the program.
  • My mom is leaving, and is my primary care giver who would take care of my son while she was away?
  • What would my family say? My friends
  • Why can’t I just love my son!

The director heard me out and had an answer for every excuse I gave. She calmed me down and told me to really think about it. Her last remark was what got me “This is really a serious health condition. If you were diagnosed with any other disease…wouldn’t you do anything to fight it? You mind is just another organ in your body that needs attention too.”

I walked out, broken hearted about my diagnosis. The lingering thought I had was how could I, the one who is always perceived as strong be so weak.

How did my family react?

As I entered my car, the first person I called was my husband. I was sobbing and angry at myself for even going int to be evaluated and all he said after was “it’s okay, we will figure it out. You need this.” His support and love got me through a 6 week program that I wanted to quit by day 3. He pushed me to keep going even though I hated it in the beginning. He sat in one of my one on one sessions to see how he could help me continue self love and self care at home. He was along for the ride on good days and bad days. He never knew what he would come home to, but everyday he encouraged me to keep going. That I was doing better and it was worth it.

The next person I told was my mom. She didn’t understand what postpartum depression and anxiety was. At the first, when she heard the word depressed she thought I was thinking of harming myself, although that may be true for some, it wasn’t for me. I sat their explaining depression came in many forms and mine was not having the drive or joy to get up everyday. That I lost interest in all things that made me happy. Even being with family and friends was a struggle. I was constantly worried about my son’s well being and never wanted to be away from him. That the worst part of my day was leaving him to go to work. 

As I struggled to explain to her she finally told me what I didn’t need to hear, “toughen up, be strong. Those “feelings” will pass..you’ll see. You have to move on, be brave.” I was hurt, in disbelief. All I could say was “mom I am being strong. Asking for help is strength and not weakness.” I left her house feeling so broken, wondering what was wrong with me. 

My siblings were next in line and all of them were supportive. My brother’s wife experienced postpartum with both their kids, so he knew exactly how to handle the situation. My two sisters expressed how they felt they may have had postpartum too, but never got help. All three became the ones I leaned on when I was having some of my hardest days. 

The final wave was my mommy friends who were nothing but supportive and understanding. Some opened up how they wish they sought help when they felt similar symptoms, but knew they wouldn’t have the support of their family filled with “strong Filipino women.” The encouraged and praised me, often helped me remember I wasn’t weak to seek help. 

Managing my mental health

Getting help was the best step I took for myself and my family. Continuing to manage and care for my mental health definitely takes constant work. In order to stay in a healthy state of mind. I first and foremost pray. My first line of defense is prayer and worship, being completely vulnerable and giving up my worries to God. It’s been a habit at night that my husband and I will fold in worship music as a way to wind down our little ones. It has become our time to bond as family and lift up our worries to God. To our toddler and newborn it’s lullabies, to me and my husband it’s quieting the business and trials the day has put on our path. 

Second, is talking to my support group. Whether it be my best mom friends or other moms I know have experienced postpartum. Sometimes just staying transparent helps keep me in check and stay out of the mentality that I am alone in this journey.

I also have learned to ask for help. One of the hardest things for me to do was ask for help. I always tried to figure everything out on my own. Now, I can turn to those around me, like my husband and ask him to help with planning, household chores and of course the kids. It has improved our marriage and has expanded on our ability to communicate effectively.

Finally, the big one I have learned to incorporate to my self-care is tempering my expectations. I used to have so many things I wanted to accomplish in a day. I would feel guilty or upset if I didn’t get everything done on my to do list. Now, our family lives by our bonus rule.

For example, if we want to tackle some chores that day. We set realistic goals and vocalize them to each other such as I want to wash a load of laundry & vacuum the apartment”

Then we focus on just those two specific chores. If we get more done like folding laundry, putting laundry away and dusting the apartment. Those are bonus.

The blessing behind the trial

It sucked having postpartum depression and anxiety. I felt like time was taken from me to enjoy my first born. However, blessing came from my trial. I can understand my children and husband more. Communication has improved on all fronts. We are a more mindful family. My journey has improved my relationships with other family members and friends. I have those turning to me because they have seen the change and improvement.
Helping them with my “warrior story” offers me joy and comfort. I get to say, I went through this for a reason and that reason was to share my testimony.

My family is more open on caring for their own mental health. I see my mom try to connect with me by talking about others who have expressed they has postpartum depression on her Tagalog talk shows and soap operas. Some close friends and family members have sought out counseling for their own mental health journey. Overall, I stand amazed how my journey has helped changed the narrative in a family.


Its not just you – Chronic disease & special needs

This post is part of a series on sharing individuals stories to help others realize, they are not alone. If you haven’t read the introduction to this series, please start here. Today’s post is by one of the strongest women I know – Jennifer of The Barefoot Preacher project. If you don’t already, please give her a follow. You won’t be disappointed.

Let me start off by saying that this post comes at the perfect time. Lately, I’ve been pondering the why beneath my daughter’s journey. And at the same time, the Lord has been gifting me just the most beautiful glimpses (thank you Facebook memories!) of some of the most treasured moments of my life as a mom. My daughter’s journey has paralleled mine, if I’m honest with us both. At 17 months old, I weaned her from 24/7 on demand, day and night breastfeeding because I planned on traveling for a new business venture. Also, I was a little bit weary from constant touch. I digress. Within two months of weaning, we both found ourselves on new turf. Wild – unable to self-regulate without a breast and being worn (baby wearing was our tool to do life). Mama – in pain from autoimmune disease. It stayed at bay while I breastfed my babies. The hormones put it at ease. But the second I stopped, my body went haywire. Joint pain. Muscle aches. Whole body fatigue. Bouts of pneumonia again and again.

And then 2015 came. By then, I was working from my bed and attempting to take care of two small children. One of which (Wild) never slept. My body and my mind were on edge day in and out. I cried as I dropped off my son at preschool every day. It was exhausting to care for all of us each morning. Since her introduction into life without the “comforts of the womb” Wild cried often too. Actually, it was almost all of the time. We could not separate. And soon, I would give up my membership at the gym (all hopes of keeping my sanity) and be kindly asked to take her out of the in-home daycare she visited part-time because of her aversion to other, smaller kids. I deeply needed to practice self-care in this season, yet here we were at rock bottom… with no family in sight, few friends in our new town, and no true diagnosis for me or her. Summer changed that. I caught a mosquito-borne virus (Dengue Fever) and found myself at the Mayo Clinic where they diagnosed me with mono-induced Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Basically my body systems were trying to fight a bout with EBV (mono) I had in college… still. At the same time, my daughter was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder. While in the middle of one of the biggest fights of my life (barring cancer or re-learning how to walk – but we’ll get to that another day), we both needed help.

For Wild, I had already contacted birth-through-three services in my county. Something you can do too – you do not need to wait for your pediatrician to diagnose your child to get support! It’s a wonderful loophole that I found out about in teaching families yoga. God gifts us with tools, oftentimes, long before we need to use them. Such is the case with this. (I’m so thankful.) What can I tell you about SPD? Sensory processing disorder is best be defined on understood.org as, “issues or difficulties with organizing and responding to information that comes in through the senses. Kids with these issues may be oversensitive to sensory input, undersensitive, or both.” Wild exhibited signs of both over and undersensitivities. She hated some movements – like in the car. But she loved running into walls. She despised lights and loud noises. But some days, she craved extreme sound and would laugh like she heard the funniest joke in the world. Wild loved to sleep on me, and could only sleep touching me for 4.5 years of her life. She overstuffed her mouth with food, often. And over the years, I’ve given her the Heimlich three times. What I can also tell you is that I believe SPD triggered a lot of her obsessive compulsive tendencies.

Yes, in 2018 she was also diagnosed with OCD – and “at risk for autism” was removed from her files. Anxiety is a fiercely dedicated survival mechanism of the brain that allows us to protect ourselves from “what if’s.” So, because Wild is forever unsure of how her body will respond in an environment, her brain tries to protect her… sometimes creating unhealthy coping mechanisms and a bit of paranoia. Looking back, I can now see a lot of her most horrible bouts with OCD have also paralleled my hurts. Her anxiety disorder reached an all-time high in 2018, after I survived months of melanoma-related illness. There were many days I thought I would die. And I’m not being dramatic. (I wish I was.)

So, how do we manage it all? Together.

I think that it is so, so incredibly easy to ask your support system to provide the tools necessary – and then to allow them to manage it all for you. But honestly, it’s not enough. There is therapeutic value in going the course together. This has looked like parent-coaching through our developmental delay system. It has looked like chiropractic, naturopathic, and homeopathic consultations and appointments. We’ve even needed meds at one point – something I struggled with as an Eastern-minded woman. Yet it saved her from some really dark hours. I’ve read dozens of books. We practice yoga together – and separately – and meditate. Wild regulated her bladder through equine therapy (we are forever indebted to Miss Kate, the best horse on earth!). And I have shouted from the rooftops both in-person and online about our path. (We have fabulous support systems from this alone.) I journal. I pray. We’ve simplified life. My husband and I have found wonderful sitters so that we can still date. We’ve brought our son to countless special siblings workshops – so he’s supported too. I’ve even done a 12-step in Faith-Based Recovery to get to the roots of my hurts… so they won’t all become hers. And lastly, by the time you’ve read this, we will be in our first really honest therapy session. One in which we begin to conquer our traumas together. Because truly, I just realized how much my hurts have become hers. (No guilt here. Just reality as a woman who has done life with a serious chronic disease… that can take a toll on a whole family.)

What I want to be clear about as I share our story is this: it’s not us or them. We both grow when we do life together. So while I never want my kids to see me sick ever again – I also know that they might, and I’ll be honest again so we can all thrive. The same goes for Wild’s sensory and anxiety disorders. While we want both to be in the background of our lives so, so badly some days, we’ve taken to being very honest about what she’s going through. And in return have received so much trust from our daughter (and our son – who is just her biggest cheerleader ever). Wild is an amazing human being. One that has heard her value and amazingness voiced even on our hardest days. I’ll end here. You’re not alone. If your mental health is fragile. If your physical health isn’t quite where you want it to be. If your child struggles with challenges in either realm. You’re not alone. We are better together, we are worthy of well, and we are made for more. I urge you to get in community. I urge you to never give up hope. And I urge you to fully understand that even if life is hard, your potential is limitless. I know this because mine is, too. We are loved and created with purpose and intent. I’m cheering you on.

xox J.