Proud of you

I recently listened to an episode from Pursuit with Purpose podcast, where Sunny Lenarduzzi shared that she writes herself a letter about how proud she is of herself and I thought it would be a great idea for me to do one especially with all the things I’ve done to pursue my dreams in public and private.

I highly recommend doing this for yourself before the year ends as a way to reflect on all you’ve accomplished this year. If you’ve made it through some really tough moments tell yourself you are proud and why. If you experienced many wonderful things this year, celebrate them. Being grateful is a beautiful way for you to end and begin a new year. 

While I normally don’t share journal entries, I am going to share my letter to myself here in hopes that you write yourself a letter by the end of the year as well.

So here goes…

Dear Maryann,
This has been a tough year of internal work. While you share many things on social media, there was so much more that you battled with in private. I want you to know that I am proud of all you’ve accomplished this year.

You have carved out time to do more physical activity and created a solid workout routine. This has resulted in losing some inches off your waistline and gaining some lean muscles. I know you’ve weighed yourself a few times and while you don’t like the number on the scale, you know that the number doesn’t define you. The goal is to keep your body moving and just getting to the gym. Can we also talk about how insane it is that you have actual knowledge of how to use the cardio machines and free weights!?!? Like that is something you thought you would never be able to do AND now you are doing it at least twice a week. Mind blowing.

Even with this increase in self care, you still had some hard mental health days and that’s ok. I am so proud of how you allowed yourself to feel your feelings even if it was hard. Having dark days no longer defines you or enables the harsh words from your inner critic.

It has been a difficult year of parenting a threeanger and teenagers, your house has had a lot of emotions and learning how to parent in these stages is not easy. You have doubted your parenting many times through the year but you have parented the best way you know how. These chapters in your kids lives is not easy to move through but you reached out to others who have experienced similar instances and utilized their advice. Remember that your kids are significantly more behaved than you ever were as a child and teen, so know that you are doing the best you can even if it feels like everything is going down the drain. Your children are healthy, well loved and fed. 

You and your family made the hard decision to not travel home for the holidays which was a very difficult decision. It is hard to disappoint family but you knew that financially you couldn’t afford and putting yourself in a financial hole is not something you are comfortable doing anymore. While it is difficult to place a boundary around financial, you stood your ground and did was best for your family right now. While you will miss seeing lots and lots of family next week, rest in the fact that you stayed within your comfortable budget and pray that your family will be able to visit next year.

You had the biggest miscommunication and arguments with relatives this year. This was probably one of the hardest events of the year for you. It was hard for you to swallow your pride to admit you were wrong and apologize but you did something that you were never taught to do and I am proud of you for that. Its not easy to be that vulnerable, hold space for other people’s feelings, and then move forward with new boundaries and understandings. Healing from very emotionally heated arguments aren’t easy and I know you had a lot of anxiety about it but you pushed through and made efforts to rebuild relationships anyways. 

This year you have also leaned into your faith and increased your time in serving others in your home church community. What people don’t always see is the amount of prep that goes into serving others in small or large events. You have pushed through your social anxiety and made many meaningful relationships with women. Which is something you thought you could never do. Who would have thought the girl who had all guy friends in high school would now have a tribe of women who support you. That is such a God thing and I am so proud of how you’ve embraced, listened, and unconditionally supported these women. It is impressive to witness.

Can we celebrate launching your blog and actually having people read it. I mean that was a huge fear you had and everything is going better than you expected. While this chapter in yourself is just starting, know that you have done some amazing things this year with stepping outside of your comfort zone.  I’m so proud of how you have become an advocate for the mental health community this year and putting your true feelings on the interwebs. Sharing those unedited feelings isn’t easy and you did it in the best way you knew how and this has helped so many people in the process.

Becoming a person who shares their life on the interwebs is not easy. There have been many battles with your inner critic about your abilities and capabilities BUT you still pushed through the negativity in your head and moved closer to your dreams and goals. This brings up the biggest feat you’ve begun – going back to school to become a life coach. With all that you are currently doing, I didn’t believe you would be able to pull it off and you have with so much grace. There have been many late nights and times when you had to miss out on events because you made your schoolwork a priority but those sacrifices allowed you to move closer and closer to an amazing way you will serve your community local and around the world. I cannot wait to see how you help those around you with all that you learn from this certification.

With all that is going on, you are still able to make your marriage a priority. You and Chris has really invested more time in your relationship and being creative with how you spend time together. Gym dates and just hanging out is your new favorite way to spend time with your forever partner. Who knew you could become even closer to him even after 20 years together. Proud of you guys.

I encourage you to reread this letter next year to remind yourself of all you’ve accomplished. 2019 was a hard hill to climb and you’ve handled it with grace and grit. Keep believing in yourself or at least pushing yourself through your fears because you are doing amazing. 

Blessings and love,

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.”

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.

Series: Parenting a child with mental illness – Managing daily life

Welcome back!
This is part three of a four part series on parenting kids with mental illness. If you haven’t read my first post, you can catch up here .

Being a Mom of teens is no walk in the park. I do not recommend parenting four teen girls at the same time. Now don’t get me wrong, my husband and I are blessed with really great kids. The hardest part about this stage is allowing the girls to make more decisions on their own and…here’s the hardest part – ACCEPTING their decisions.

I grew up in the typical Filipino household where your parents told you what to do and not question the decisions made for you. I wasn’t allowed to to most things my friends did in high school. For example, my curfew was significantly earlier than my friends. When my friends were arriving to the get together/hanging out/party I would be leaving to go home. Moreover, if my curfew was at 9pm and I needed to be home before or exactly at 9pm – not 9:01. Most days I would get home right on time but there were times when I was a few minutes late. Remember this was before cell phones. So I got an earful from my Dad. I know he was trying to protect me and had my best interest at heart but man, but could a girl get a curfew at like 10:30pm?

I was also not able to voice out my feelings. I was always told to just do what I was told and to not question it. Which in turn meant that my feelings weren’t validated. As I look back at that part of my life, I still cry about it because all I ever wanted was to be validated. I wanted my feelings to be understood and I had never experienced that growing up. So I vowed to myself that as a parent, I would try my best to allow my kids the space to be themselves and to express how they feel. It is difficult to completely transform your own parenting style from what you experienced growing up but I am trying – everyday.

Suicide in girls are on the rise

A church friend forwarded a recent article about suicide rates in teen girls. I encourage you to read it with an open mind and come back to this blog. Its information we all need to validate the issue and find a solution. These girls have so much to live for.

In this stage of motherhood, I am very aware of suicide ideology because I was a teen with suicidal ideology. Having kids with mental illnesses heightened my anxiety that I will miss the signs. Thankfully, my husband and I have created as safe space for our kids to share their honest feelings – with their Aunts, my younger sisters – when they aren’t able to share with us. Realistically, we knew that our kids wouldn’t always come to us for advice because who really talked to their kids as teens. I never did. Our kids are so blessed with people who they can be authentic with. We all need that – to have a safe place to be ourselves.

How we manage on a regular basis

“No one teaches you how to do this” – is a phrase I have coin in the past few years.

I was never taught how to manage my own mental health let alone my kids’. We were in uncharted waters. So most days we wing it and go with our gut. I know my kids well enough to know what they are capable of. I just had to give them the space to believe it for themselves.

When both kids were initially diagnosed, I ensured that they had resources in place for them to build their healthy mental health foundation – therapist, extended family support, medications, other self care activities, etc. Between my husband and I, I am the parent who handled appointments, medication dosages, and checked in with the kids. My husband plays more of a supportive role. In which, he talks with them in a more constructive way and provides them with pep talks just as he does for me. As parents, we also are in constant communication about if we observe a changed behavior – good or bad – so we are on the same page.

In the beginning, this wasn’t the case. My husband’s typical reaction was frustration and I knew it was because he didn’t understand how to process this latest chapter of parenthood. My reaction to his frustration was either to calmly explain what I needed as a parent or reflect his frustration back at him. It would really depend on the severity of what I was trying to convey AND my mental health state. Nowadays, I we can communicate effectively and come up with a general plan. If all else fails we call our therapist and book a session.  

Family therapy

You read that correctly – we go to family therapy. In the beginning, we went almost twice a month to get us back on track. The husband I decided it would be the most effective way to talk things through and learn how to support each other more. I know that is not the norm in a Filpino household but we thought it to be necessary to ensure everyone has a voice. As you know, sometimes life get in the way and peoples voices aren’t heard.

Each session was different. Sometimes we would do an activity to visually illustrate a point or to open up hard conversations. Other times we would recap how our week went. Most times I would be the one crying because whenever my kids expressed some type of hurt, I didn’t know how to process it. Now we go once a month to every other month to check in and some of us are in individual therapy as needed. I believe it has helped our family tremendously and I highly recommend family’s to go through therapy during hard times.

You taught them well

It has been quite a journey learning to help each kid manage their mental illness. What I have learned these past few months is that mental illness presents itself differently in each individual. Accepting my kids’ decisions is definitely out of my comfort zone because my upbringing. I am currently focusing on this in therapy because I’m having that much of a hard time with it. How am I able to accept and trust when I was never shown that as a young adult?

So guys, I’m learning. I’m learning everyday.

My therapist made a statement that really stuck with me. “You have to be confident enough in your parenting that you taught your kids how to make good decisions.” I reflect this when I want to fix my kids or fix the hurt they are going through. I know I have taught my kids how to make good choices and be good human beings. So I now have to trust them make their own decisions. *deep breath*

Moving forward – together

As a family, we have definitely become more open about our feelings which is definitely a learning process in itself. The girls seem more empathetic to each other and try to support one another even when they don’t understand it. I can see when they are empathetic towards each other, their relationships become closer.

Before you assume we are a perfect family – we still have family meetings in the family room where my husband is the mediator and I am angry because someone didn’t do their chores. The kids do still argue about each other being annoying. There are still screaming matches about chores. Our family dynamic is exactly the same but it has also evolved into giving each other space and holding space for each other. While it is still a work in progress, I am definitely proud of the work we’ve done as a family – together.

Reflecting on 17 years of motherhood

My legacy as a mother will extend far beyond my life here on Earth. I have learned through the years and from my own mom that what you teach your children stay with them for the rest of their lives. Please take this reflection post with a grain of salt. I have only just begun this journey but I feel the need to encourage those who feel as though their work — yes, Jesus it is work — as a mother doesn’t seem to matter.

Four kids under six

I was a young Mom with four kids under the age of six with no sense of purpose. At my lowest point – my relationship with my husband was extremely rocky, we were at the brink of divorce, and I wanted out. It was not until we decided to do Christian counseling and a recovery bible study group that things slowly got better. I would like to say that our relationship continued to  get better through the years but that would be a complete and utter lie. It would take over 10 years of multiple relapses, codependency work, refocusing our relationship with Christ and setting clear boundaries that our marriage began to get better. While we are still working on ourselves daily, I will say we are in the best place we have ever been. If you knew my husband and I at the beginning of our relationship, you would say we are now the most boring couple ever and I would agree with you. We have worked hard to be boring. I like boring and mundane because that means that we truly understand each other.

The invisible woman

There were many times when I was knee deep in diapers, tantrums, and sleepless nights that I felt as if none of it mattered. I resented the fact that my husband could drive to/from work alone without having to listen to The Wheels on the Bus for the umpteenth time. I resented that he could eat lunch by himself and look at his phone in peace. I resented that I did not have adult interaction until my husband came home from work and even then it was a recap of how exhausted I was. I felt invisible. It wasn’t that I wanted praise for what I was doing, I just wanted to be acknowledged and understood.

Looking back I also see the symptoms of depression and anxiety that I never acknowledged or didn’t want to acknowledge. My first reaction was always anger. Compassion and empathy were never a response I gave to my kids. I wish I had known the signs of mental illness back then. I may had been able to truly be present instead of resentful. I have learned through therapy that anger is the secondary reaction that masks my true feelings of sadness, guilt, and shame.

I mean who wouldn’t be ashamed especially when you were the center of the tsismis (gossip) — yes Titas (Aunts) and pinsans (cousins) I heard all of it. It would take me years to find my self worth through my relationship with Christ and not listen to the tsismis. Now a days, when I hear the latest tsismis, I will go to the source and ask a directly question. To me, this is my way of ending the tsismis and not allowing negative energy into my life and the person being talked about.

Motherhood today

My perspective on motherhood had change when I gave birth to my son. I am slightly more patient and slower to anger. My girls will say that I spoil my youngest and I would say that I am trying to rewrite my motherhood story. Parenting is definitely a learn as you go job and I am thankful for my past experiences to help me parent all of my kids today. I could list all of the ways I should have parented my older kids but I don’t think that would be productive. I am learning to be more self-compassionate and accept that I am doing the best I can with the abilities at the time.

I would like to leave you with a You tube video that was shared in a MOPS Mom’s Night In. It seriously brought me to tears because most days I do feel invisible but I have learned over time that my job as a mother is so important. This role is more important than being seen because I want my kids to know they are accepted, loved and seen just as they are – at home. Keep pushing forward Mamas! You’re doing amazing!!!

Invisible Woman