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!


He never fails

I wrote this post for a Motherhood series for The Barefoot Preacher Project. I wanted to also post it here because it is such an important part of my history that I believe it needs to be included on my blog as well. I highly recommend you visit Jennifer’s blog to read more about her journey and how Christ has been the center of her strength to move forward. I am so blessed to have met her and I know once you read her blog, you will be blessed too.

**TRIGGER WARNING ** If you are easily triggered by recounts of assault, please use discretion when reading this post.

My life would not be the same without Christ. He has been the cornerstone of my existence – even when I didn’t believe He cared about me. My life hasn’t been ideal to say the least as I am a survivor of childhood trauma, codependent to a recovering drug addict, experienced miscarriages, and became my own mental health advocate. All of the events in my life could have truly brought me to the end of myself but with Christ’s grace and mercy, I am here today sharing my story…

Growing Up

I grew up as a devout Roman Catholic. I did the whole deal – baptism, first Holy Communion, and confirmation. I never understood why I had to put time and effort into all of these traditions. All I knew is that it was important to my parents; it was absolutely required that I complete each step. We were taught never to question our religion and if I did, I would be called disobedient.

became disobedient.

Being noncompliant was my M.O. (modus operandi) from childhood to young adulthood. You see, my parents are immigrants to this country and their values didn’t make sense to me growing up. So I rebelled. I rebelled so hard that I’m not even sure how my parents loved me through it all. I did everything in my power to be defiant at all costs. Looking back, I was just trying to find my voice and where I fit in the world and forge my own path with acceptance.

Trauma

Along with my rebellion, I was dealing with a huge secret that ultimately caused a large part of our extended family to disown me and my immediate family. I have experienced childhood trauma at the hands of a relative. And I did not share my horrific experiences with anyone until I was in 6th grade. By then, I had experienced multiple episodes of assault that no child should ever experience.

To this day, I can’t compute the amount of time these encounters would go on. I just knew they were horribly wrong. Once I shared my truth, our family became divided. I felt responsible for this major rift. Fortunately, my Dad (who is not emotional at all) stood by me through it all. This is one memory I will hold close to my heart because when the world was crumbling around us, he stood firm and believed me. I went to counseling and worked through my feelings. I can now talk about my experiences without crying.

This trauma had directly affected my relationships with the opposite gender. I was looking for acknowledgement and acceptance in all the wrong places. I was “that girl” in high school. I allowed teenage boys to use me at their leisure. It was demeaning and I didn’t know how to pull myself out of it. So much so that I had a few pregnancy scares. By the end of my high school career, I vowed to be single through my first year of college. I wanted to meet new people, reinvent myself, and be a better version on me…

Boundaries

Well that vow didn’t last very long.

I met a guy through a friend on AOL Instant Messenger (am I dating myself – absolutely!). He said he had a friend who didn’t know the area and wanted to see if I could show him around. The “new” me decided that would be a great idea! I asked this guy what he wanted to do and he said go to all the mall in the area. So we did and I haven’t let his side ever since.

Yup, we got married!

Four years into our relationship I got pregnant. I took a test around my 21st birthday, it was positive. I went to Planned Parenthood and took another test, positive. We were both young college kids who knew nothing about the real world even if we swore we did. This pregnancy didn’t last as I had a miscarriage at 11 weeks. I was devastated and relieved but we had not learned our lesson. A few months later, I was pregnant again. With this pregnancy, I was urged to get an abortion. I made the appointment. Thankfully, I did not go through with the procedure. We got married a year and a half after my daughter was born because I didn’t want to get married just because I had a baby. I wanted to know this guy was committed because I didn’t want to be a divorced single mom.

Life continued on – and then four years into our marriage, I learned that my husband was hiding an addiction to drugs. I was floored and felt betrayed. I mean I was consumed by three toddlers under the age of 5, of course I never saw that coming!

We unofficially separated for a short time and decided that we would have to go to counseling – Christian counseling. Prior to us getting married, I decided to convert from Catholicism to a Christ follower. No special or fancy conversion process, just praying with my whole heart that I believe Christ is my savior. So this relationship with Christ was very fresh and important to me when I discovered my husband’s addiction. I can honestly say, the recovery process through our then home church, saved our marriage and our lives. I credit our marriage to them. I was taught how to say NO and have healthy boundaries. I learned so much about myself and it was up to me to change my own behavior. While the road to recovery isn’t an easy straight one, it has definitely been rewarding to see the transformation in myself, my husband, and our marriage.

I Have No Joy

God had a sense of humor when he blessed us with our final (and I do mean final) child, nine years after our last child was born.

That’s right guys, we had to start all over. Unfortunately, this pregnancy was a very difficult one for me. Since I had girls prior to this pregnancy, I believe that my body didn’t know how to grow a boy inside of my womb without torturing me. I experienced so many things in this final pregnancy that I didn’t know how to deal with from major acid reflux to major food aversions to car sickness the entire pregnancy. I was also commuting to work everyday until I began to have preterm labor and I went on maternity leave early. He was delivered via c-section after I would not progress past 7.5 centimeters and his oxygen levels began to drop.

I didn’t know it at the time but I was experiencing antepartum depression, depression during pregnancy.

Looking back, the symptoms were there but I didn’t want to see it. On top of a difficult pregnancy, my Dad went through multiple serious hospital stays and a genetic disorder diagnosis. It was a rough year, so much so that once my son was born, I began to experience depression even more. I finally came to the realization that I had depression after I self-diagnosed through Dr. Google (I don’t recommend this – it’ll make you a hypochondriac. The best way I could illustrate my symptoms is that I felt like Sadness from the Disney movie – Inside Out. So sad right?

sadness-inside-out.png

So in my bathroom, while my husband was in the shower – perfect time for a serious talk right – I told my husband that I “think” I have depression. He had apprehensions at first but quickly became my biggest supporter through this mental health journey. He encouraged me to do whatever I needed to feel like myself. I believe he is the main reason why I have become a mental health advocate because he believed me and now I believe in myself.

Through It All

While it doesn’t seem very apparent, God was in all of that mess.

He took everything I went through and made it hope for others. I was tested, time and time again. I went through an enormous amount of life lessons and I have become a testimony to other survivors and codependents that there is hope. Today, my life isn’t perfect. I’ve gone through some huge life changes! But the most consistent presence in my life is Christ. He has shown me that he will not leave me or forsake me. He will carry me through when I can barely stand. He is my rock and my shield. He has a plan for me.

This plan became apparent in the middle of a major health crisis in my immediate and extended family. God told me to start a blog about mental health specifically in the Filipino community. In the Filipino culture, it is absolutely unacceptable to talk about your feelings and your struggles. You are taught to “stuff it down” and ignore it. With all that I’ve gone through and learning that sharing my story bring hope and comfort to others, I decided to start my blog. I wanted to change the narrative and be the change in our community. Too many people were suffering in silence and I wasn’t okay with it anymore. So I became obedient and put my experience in my blog to show how Christ can make a broken, girl into a woman who strives to show others they are not alone.