Darkness during the holidays

As we enter the holiday season and the end of year, I would like to talk about unpopular, heavy subjects – self harm, seasonal affective disorder, and triggered feelings. Before you think that I should talk about all the lovely beautiful things during this season, I want you to know that not everyone feels the same way.

**TRIGGER ALERT: If you are triggered by talks of self harm ideation, please skip the end of this post.**

Triggered Feelings

In the Filipino culture, we celebrate the holidays with the entire family, like eeeerrrbody. We will pack 50 people in the smallest space possible. Its the only way to spend the holidays, amirite? Seeing family you haven’t seen since the last “family party” or even the year prior is my favorite parts of the holidays. Its always a time when I love to catch up with cousins and eat all the delicious staples dishes of the holidays until an Auntie says, “come on, eat some more.”

This season also brings inappropriate comments, questions and unsolicited advice. Lord help me, this was the hardest part of theses get-togethers.

“Ay nako (OMG), you got fat/gained weight!”
“When are you having kids?”
“Are you going to try for a girl/boy?”
“When are you guys going to get married?”
“Anak (baby), tell Tita (Auntie) about your job?”
“How much did you buy your house/purse/car for?”
“Why are you breastfeeding? Bottle feeding is better.”

“Why aren’t you breastfeeding? It’s free milk.”
“Who made the [insert dish here]? Mine is better.”
“Why don’t you become a nurse? It’s a good job.”

“You put your kid(s) in daycare? Why?”
“When are you going back to work?”

While your Aunties, Uncles, and Grandparents mean well, these statements can be internalized negatively especially for those of us who were not born in the Philippines. Contrary to western culture, where we would never bring up touchy subjects such as weight, socioeconomic status, and marital affairs, it is common practice to talk about when everyone comes together. I would like to offer you some help to enjoy the holidays despite the hurtful conversations.

How to survive hurtful conversations

  • This is how they show their support.
    • I will create an entire post – in the near future – about how I internalized comments/statements/questions from relatives. For now, I want you to understand that theses statements are how our family members show their support. While this doesn’t erase the hurt you receive, know that this is their way of showing they care about you. I promise, it is true.
      • My husband is a great at doing this! He has heard many times that he has “gained weight” or “you got fat”. He just politely says “thank you” gives them a kiss on the cheek or a hug and makes his way towards the food.
  • If a conversation becomes too much, it is ok to politely excuse yourself from the conversation.
    • Setting boundaries is important especially when the conversation becomes uncomfortable. While you cannot change the relatives’ words towards you, you can control your reactions and responses towards them. If you are not able to continue in a constructive way, excuses yourself as politely and as quickly as possible. Even better, have another person be your scapegoat for excusing yourself from the conversation – your partner, sibling, or cousin. In this way, you will be able to have support while setting a boundary.
      • I’ve done this by excusing myself to tend to my kids and it works like a charm. It is one of the perks of being a mom since kids always need something. I have also been the person to “rescue” a relative from an uncomfortable conversation by asking them to help me with something.
  • NO. – Is a complete sentence.
    • As I stated in the last bullet point, you are allowed to set boundaries around conversations and ‘no’ or any form of it is an acceptable answer. You are not required to explain your life decisions. While I absolutely understand that Auntie wants to know why you are [insert life decision here], she does needs to agree with how you are living your life right now. Again, this is their way of showing they care but an explanation is not warranted.
      • When the husband and I decided to move to Arizona, we were grilled by almost every relative imaginable. In fact it was probably a daily occurrence once our house was on the market. “Don’t you want to stay in California?” “No.” Over time, the husband and I became very good at just saying no or a version of it. It wasn’t easy but it was a great way to practice boundaries.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

I only learned about this mental disorder when a relative reached out and talked to me about their symptoms. While I am familiar with depression, I never knew that individuals would experience this disorder during certain seasons. Here is some great information from the Mayo clinic:

Signs and symptoms of SAD may include:

  • Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Having low energy
  • Having problems with sleeping
  • Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
  • Feeling sluggish or agitated
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
  • Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide

Fall and winter SAD

Symptoms specific to winter-onset SAD, sometimes called winter depression, may include:

  • Oversleeping
  • Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain
  • Tiredness or low energy

Spring and summer SAD

Symptoms specific to summer-onset seasonal affective disorder, sometimes called summer depression, may include:

  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Agitation or anxiety

Seasonal changes in bipolar disorder

In some people with bipolar disorder, spring and summer can bring on symptoms of mania or a less intense form of mania (hypomania), and fall and winter can be a time of depression.

When to see a doctor

It’s normal to have some days when you feel down. But if you feel down for days at a time and you can’t get motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, see your doctor. This is especially important if your sleep patterns and appetite have changed, you turn to alcohol for comfort or relaxation, or you feel hopeless or think about suicide.

Treatment

Treatment for seasonal affective disorder may include light therapy, medications and psychotherapy. If you have bipolar disorder, tell your doctor — this is critical to know when prescribing light therapy or an antidepressant. Both treatments can potentially trigger a manic episode.

**TRIGGER ALERT: If you are triggered by talks of self harm or suicidal ideation, please skip the rest of this post.**

Self Harm

While the CDC reports that suicidal attempts are lower during the holiday season, I have experienced first hand that these ideations increase in frequency during this season. Last year, sadly a relative took their own life days after Thanksgiving. This year, I had a friend reach out after one of their relative’s attempted to take their own life. So while this is a very difficult conversation to have, please know that self harm is prevalent and needs to be talked about.

If you or someone you know needs help getting to a more positive mental space, please reach out immediately.

  • Call your local law enforcement or dial 911
  • National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255
  • Veterans Crisis Line 1-800-273-8255, press 1
  • Lifeline Chat
  • Hospital Emergency Room
  • Mental health facility

I also talk about tools and resources on a previous series, Asking for help. Please feel free to read through that series on all the ways you can help yourself or others.

There is hope

This post was quite heavy and may have triggered negative feelings or past hurtful experiences. For those who are triggered, I offer you a virtual hug and the notion that you are still here to help others who are in need or immediate crisis. Know that you are not alone during the holiday season even if it feels that way. Please reach out of you are in an unsafe mental space. You can even reach out to me, I am more than happy to be a supportive person for you. I am thankful for you and appreciate your support of this blog and most importantly, bringing awareness to mental health. Together we are stronger.

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


Series: Family Favorites

Having a big family comes with its challenges. The biggest challenge for us was stretching a dollar especially when it came to food. So naturally to save money, I cooked all of our meals – seven days a week. Today the kids are older and can, generally, fend for themselves. Their normal go to’s are quesadillas, sandwiches, or whatever frozen items I have stocked in our freezer.

With the older girls more self sufficient, I am learning how to let go of cooking for them and allowing them to cook dinner more. Its probably the last “big chore” I do for them besides driving them all around the East Valley. My 15 year old, recently said she wants to learn how to make our favorite dinners. So I am happy to pass along recipes to my kids in hopes that it will bring the “back home” no mater where they are.

Cooking from the heart

Filipinos love to cook for their family, friends and guests. I believe its one of our main love languages. I have vivid memories of my mom, dad, grandpa, and relatives cooking up a storm when I was a child. Their eyes lit up the moment we took our first bite of our ulam – main dish. Today, I enjoy seeing my kids faces when they take their first bite of my food.

I am not the typical Filipino Mom who only cooks Filipino food. I actually cook a wide variety of dishes from Japanese to India to American. It was my way of giving my kids the ability to taste different ethnic foods without breaking our budget. Because of this creativity, our kids enjoy a wide variety of foods and I’m so proud of their ever growing love of different dishes.

Tinola

Today, I will be sharing a tried and true recipe in our house. I typically make Tinola at least twice a month. Its easy, inexpensive, and a quick meal. This dish is an adaptation of my mom and mother in law’s versions. The main difference between the two was the vegetables. My mom added chayote only while my mother in law added spinach only. So to appease my husband and I’s expectations of the dish, I added both vegetables. The kids love to slurp up the sabaw, broth, and pour it generously over their rice.

I have found most of the ingredients for this dish at our local American supermarket. If you have a hard time looking for these items at your local supermarket, you best bet will be an Asian grocery store. As with all recipes, especially if Filipino food is new to you, make the entire recipe exactly as it and then adapt to your taste.

Tinola

“Tinola is a soup-based dish served as an appetizer or main dish in the Philippines. Traditionally, this dish is cooked with chicken, wedges of green papaya, and chili pepper leaves, in broth flavored with ginger, onions and fish sauce. A common variant substitutes pork for chicken, chayote instead of papaya, or moringa leaves known as marungay or malunggay, instead of pepper leaves. It is best served with fresh chicken” (Wikipedia.com).

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 small onion
  • 1-2 in piece of ginger, peeled and sliced in to large coins
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 chayotes, peeled, cored, and sliced
  • 2 bundles spinach, washed thoroughly and stems removed
  • 5 cups water
  • 1 tsp chicken bouillon or 1 cube
  • 3 tbsp fish sauce
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Heat a large stockpot to medium heat with canola oil and saute onion, ginger, and garlic until onion is translucent.  Put chicken pieces in pot and turn heat up to medium high. Saute chicken until the chicken turns light brown.  Add the chicken base and water. Bring up to a boil and cover.   Reduced heat to medium low and cook for 30 minutes.  Add the chayote and cook for another 5 minutes or until chayote is fork tender.  Add spinach and cook for another 5 minutes.  Adjust seasoning (you won’t need to really add more salt because the fish sauce is plenty salty).  Serve with rice and fish sauce.


Flu survival kit

We are officially in flu season. I know this because we have officially been hit by a stomach bug and it will wreak havoc on our house by the time it’s made its rounds through the family. As a seasoned mom of 5, I have created an arsenal of must have items for this particular season.

Please take this advice with a grain of salt because I know there are many ways to prepare for this season. Every family runs their homes differently. 

My flu season survival kit

Flu shots

I know this is a controversial issue but I believe it’s helped our family lessen the severity of this season especially for my husband who has a weak immune system. I’ve seen the difference over the years and it’s become necessary for our family. 

Stock up on “sick food”

At the tail end of summer, I begin to stock our pantry with items we feed our kids during the flu season. We follow the recommendation of our pediatrician and feed our kids the BRAT diet while they are on the mend. If you’ve never heard of the BRAT diet, it is an acronym for the types of foods – bananas, rice, applesauce, toast.

Stock up on medications/at home treatments

I keep our medicine cabinet stocked with everything we need for a pain reliever/fever reducer. The reason I stock on medications is because I’ve done the 2am store run for a fever reducer and I hated doing it. So I always refresh my medicine cabinet to ensure nothing is expired when I needed it the most. 

Stock up on disinfecting products

During this time of year, I always stock up on disinfecting products such as bleach wipes and disinfectant spray. I have learned over the years that this helps our family stay as healthy as we can when there is someone in the house that is already sick. You will find me spraying disinfectant spray all over the house when a kiddo is sick.

Stock up on “throw away” bedding

I am blessed to have a linen closet full of sheets and blankets from my childhood of all sizes. This allows me to throw away bedding that has become extremely soiled that I don’t want save. It also allows me to change bedding for kids who have soiled their favorite bedding. They also serve as extra padding for when kids end up laying next to the toilet for convenience.

Stock up ingredients for easy meals 

When you are in the thick of sickness, cooking is not a priority. It is probably the last thing you will think of. I always have the basics for a typical Filipino household – patis, onions, garlic, ginger, vinegar, and soy sauce. I also have extra protein in my deep freezer to pull these meals together.

Our go to “sick meal” is a Filipino dish – Arroz Caldo. Arroz caldo is a hearty Filipino congee (rice porridge) made with chicken and rice and seasoned with onion, garlic, ginger, and fish sauce and topped with crunchy fried garlic1. This is our go to dish because it’s easy, inexpensive for a large family, and can keep in the fridge for a few days. I have included the recipe below if you would like to make it for your family.

Arroz Caldo

Arroz caldo is a hearty Filipino congee made with chicken and rice and seasoned with onion, garlic, ginger, and fish sauce and topped with crunchy fried garlic.

This recipe was adapted from Serious Eats.

  • 2/3 cup canola oil, divided
  • 1/4 cup garlic, minced (about 12 medium cloves), divided
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 2 inches of ginger, peeled and cut into coins
  • 1-2 tbsp fish sauce, to taste
  • 1- 1.5 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 cup jasmine rice
  • 2 tsp chicken boullion
  • 5 cups water
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large Dutch oven or soup pot over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add ginger , 2 tablespoons of garlic and cook for 1 minute longer. Add chicken and cook until browned all over. Stir in fish sauce and pepper and cook for 1 minute. Add rice and stir until well coated.

  2. Stir in chicken stock, running spoon along bottom of Dutch oven to release any browned bits. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook until rice is completely tender and stock has thickened, 20 minutes or until rice is cooked through.

  3. Ladle arroz caldo into bowls. Top with scallions, fried garlic, a squeeze of lemon juice (to taste).

  4. Fried garlic recipe

    Place 1/2 cup of oil and two-thirds of the garlic in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until garlic turns light golden brown. Transfer garlic to fine mesh strainer and drain. Spread garlic out on a paper towel-lined plate and set aside.

I hope these tips and recipe help you prepare for flu season. Also remember to wash your hands with soap as this is the easiest way to lessen the chance of those gross germs invading your household.

All my best to you during this season – “may the odds be ever in your favor.”