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!

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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.


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.