Light at the End of the Tunnel: Facing my Depression and Anxiety

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I am not entirely sure if and when I should tell you about this.

This subject is not exactly easy for me to recall let alone explain. But I believe it is better for me to try and educate you about this rather than have you discover it on your own.

Your mother has been in a recurring battle with anxiety and depression.

I think I’ve had symptoms since I was younger but I wasn’t clinically diagnosed until three years ago. The anxiety diagnosis came first: I sought medical attention, thinking I was having a heart attack, only to find out that my worries related to work and finances were taking a toll on my body. I had an irregular heartbeat which, according to the doctor, was most likely caused by anxiety.

I took medication to correct the irregular heartbeat and had another prescription to help with the anxiety. But the anxiety worsened because I knew that with or without medication, I still had to face my triggers: demanding work hours, pressures from stakeholders, nasty coworkers, and a general fear of failure. I couldn’t find a new job and I couldn’t quit without options so, that’s when the feeling of helplessness kicked in. I felt so trapped and powerless that I wanted to give up on life.

Twice, I went to an Emergency room, the first time because I wanted to kill myself and the second time because I attempted to. That was when the depression diagnosis came.
Twice, I was confined in a behavioral health facility. After release, I had to participate in individual or group therapy and find my own psychiatrist for continued medical treatment. I went on short-term disability and eventually quit my job to try and get better.

People that knew about my condition were mostly supportive. But there were a few that might have had good intention yet weren’t helping at all. For instance, I have been told to “just relax,” “shake it off” and “medication is not the answer.” These kinds of comments are misinformed and tend to diminish a very serious health concern leading to tens of thousands of deaths, in US alone, every year.

I don’t think anxiety and depression could ever leave me. The best I could do is to keep it under control. There is no clear cut list that works for everybody but let me tell you what has been helpful to me:

Your father. Moving to a different country, away from family and friends had taken away majority of an established support system. But your father has been my rock, my constant. During my darkest times, my episodes, he has been strong for me. He encouraged me to hold on until things get better, and somehow, things do get better.

Prayer. I am so thankful for how my mother and one of my best friends have influenced me through the years, to reconnect with a Higher Power, in times of hardship as well as success, in sorrow as well as celebration. Talking to God may not solve all my issues but it makes me feel better believing He is there, always looking after me, always loving me, always listening.

Reading. During my stay in the behavioral health facilities, your father brought me books to read during his visits. This was how I was exposed to Lois Lowry’s “The Giver” series. During my unemployment, I frequented a town library in search of good literature and came across the works of Haruki Murakami. Reading transports me to other worlds, giving me a much needed break from worrying about reality.

Exercise. Murakami’s book “What I talk about when I talk about running” inspired me to try running. I also took interest in yoga, going as far as taking Bikram classes. I bought a cheap stationary bike and broke it from overuse. Then, later, I bought a road bike. I never became too competitive in these activities: never went beyond 5k events, never beat 13 minutes per mile on foot, never pulled off crow pose or headstands, never rode my bike outside of leisurely speeds. Still, all these things kept my body active, gave me the physical energy to fight off my mental and emotional demons. I am barely mobile now that I’m pregnant but don’t worry, Son. I hope to keep up with our morning walks for as long as I can.

Our cats. Like I mentioned before, Oreo came during one of my episodes. She was a tremendous source of joy and comfort. I am happy to update you that she is recovering well from her Stomatitis. Much of the gum swelling has subsided and her appetite is back to normal. She may have a lot less teeth now but she seems to be a nicer, sweeter cat because she is not hurting like she used to. I would be lost without her. She and her sister Reeses are my therapy cats – being around them calms me.

You. The pregnancy started out rocky… with my Hyperemesis Gravidarum dragging on for 20 weeks. Now entering my third trimester, I am woken by Charlie Horse in the morning, deal with pains in my lower back, hips and shoulders through the day then, suffer from acid reflux at night. I struggle with overall movement and miss my old agility. But you know what? Now that you’re big enough, every time I feel a kick or jab from you, all these annoying and sometimes aggravating things about pregnancy and life in general… fade away. I do get worried about what the heck I’m going to do when you come out but judging from your power to make me feel wonderful while you’re still in my belly, I’m assuming that being able to see and hold you could only be so much better.

A mindset: there is always a way, a path, an option – whatever you want to call it (other than giving up on life). This realization has not been easy to come by or embrace. My triggers pushed me into a hole. Depression and anxiety covered the hole, cloaking it in blinding darkness and paralyzing cold. The hole was too deep for me to climb out. I thought, I’m stuck with nowhere to go so, I might as well die now. The hardest part had always been finding the motivation to look pass the apparent hopelessness of any given situation… just enough to start inching my way out, just enough to seek other exits I never noticed or considered before. Most of the time, I got too fixated on not being able to climb up that it took me a while to see the tiny light at the end of several tunnels surrounding me.

Finally, a habit: of constantly finding and remembering more reasons to live. I haven’t fallen into a major episode this year and fear that postpartum, I might. But I know that you are one more reason for me to keep living and if/when that time comes, I will fight my hardest to get the support I need.

Oreo’s Ordeal

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This is a follow-up post to:Your Two Sister Cats and Stomatitis

Your sister cat Oreo returned to the vet today to get her teeth cleaned. Unfortunately, most of her molars and premolars were in such bad shape that they had to get extracted.

She had to receive anesthesia for the dental procedure so, we were told not to expect her to feel like eating or doing anything at all. We were also told that if she does eat, she will most likely just throw it up.

Of course, when she came home, she defied the anesthesia. Having fasted 8 hours prior to the visit, her hunger got the better of her and she headed straight for the wet food we put out for your other sister Reeses. The little pieces must have snuck into her extraction wounds causing her to paw at her mouth in pain. We tried draining broth from a fresh can of cat food and feeding it to her but she hated it.

She wobbled around the house like a toddler walking for the first time and after watching her fail repeatedly at completing her jumps and keeping her balance in general, we had to follow her into every room.

Thankfully, your father had a brilliant idea to feed her a wet food variety with larger chunks of meat, in hopes that the bigger pieces won’t fit in her wounds and therefore, won’t irritate her further. She ate a lot without pawing at her mouth and finally, with her tummy no longer empty, she has retreated into our bedroom to sleep.

It has been a really scary experience so far, from leaving her at the animal hospital, to waiting for the call to pick her up, to bringing her home and seeing her so weak and so clumsy.

The doctor said she will feel so much better after her wounds heal for the next couple of days. It’s been heartbreaking to see your sister go through this and I am so looking forward to having my sweet, healthy, happy Oreo back.

 

Your Two Sister Cats and Stomatitis

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You have two big sister cats named Oreo and Reeses. They may not be human but they are part of our family.

Although we adopted Oreo first, she and Reeses came from the same litter. Except for a few common facial features and the likeness in the black/brown stripes on their tails, these biological siblings can’t be more different from each other.

Oreo is a predominantly white cat with large black spots and less pronounced brown marks. She reminds me more of a cow than an oreo cookie. They are both Domestic Shorthairs, yet Oreo’s fur is thicker and fluffier than Reeses.

Reeses used to be called Tiger because of her brown-orange color and black-brown stripes and spots. She has a thinner, shinier coat, probably due to how often she grooms herself and how much she loves wet food.

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Meanwhile, Oreo prefers dry crunchies and is lazier about cleaning herself. She has a petting schedule that she must adhere to. Otherwise, she’s generally the more independent cat.

Reeses is overly attached to your father. She hangs out wherever her dad is, whether he is lying in bed or sitting in the couch to play video games. Oreo is more of a Mama’s cat. She comes to your father for petting, too, but stays with me more frequently and for longer periods of time.

Your sisters have been the sweetest cats and I can’t wait for them to meet and love you like they love us (they are cats though so they are also likely to be manipulating us with this perception). Still, I’ve seen pictures on the Internet of cats being affectionate to babies and hope that you can develop the same closeness with them.

On their annual visit to the vet, your father and I found out that while Reeses is perfectly healthy, Oreo has Stomatitis. This means the gums in her mouth are inflamed and she gets hurt chewing food. If she doesn’t get proper treatment, she could die from loss of appetite and malnutrition.

She took a steroid shot for the inflammation and will get a teeth cleaning next Saturday. Based on the vet’s assessment by then, she will get antibiotics and in the case where the disease has become too advanced, she might need to get all her teeth extracted.

Oreo, being our first cat, was a source of comfort for me. Having her (in addition to reading and exercising) has been therapeutic for my recurring struggles with depression and anxiety (more on this later on). The thought of possibly losing her soon, rather than at a ripe old age, is unbearable.image

She has to be okay. She has to meet you and cuddle with you and take photos with you as you grow up. She has to live many more years so you can be big enough to remember loving and appreciating her.

Your father and I will do everything it takes to help her through this. I promise to be there for your sister during this tough time like she has always been there for me.

An Evolving American Dream

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Five years ago, I entered a foreign country for the first time. Of all the foreign countries I could have gone to for my first time outside the Philippines, it had to be the United States. Plus I wasn’t just visiting, I was uprooting myself and migrating.

When I arrived, it was at night and your father – who was then my fiancé, was wondering if I noticed the smoothness of the ride, referring to the better quality of the roads. I never would have noticed if he hadn’t pointed it out. I did find it odd that I wasn’t dying from heat on a summer night. I was even wearing the same sweater I wore during the flight.

Many yearn to move to the United States to live the American Dream. Many Filipinos still do without knowing how tough it really is to make it here. I graduated with honors and was a licensed Chemical Engineer in the Philippines but when I came here, I had to start from scratch. Before I joined the multi-national company types I’m accustomed to, at some point, I became a gelato girl. And after I got burned out from roles in supply chain for some global brands, I’ve become a marketing analyst. The job is fun and occasionally challenging but it is in no way, shape or form an application of my college degree.

Money is not easy to come by and it is certainly not easy to keep. I never had a credit card in the Philippines. I didn’t need one. I never owned a car. I didn’t need one. I never had debt and I was able to save a good amount of money even with a pretty lavish lifestyle. Yes, your father and I still have our share of travels and food excursions, but not without adding more to an ever-growing mountain of debt.

It has been a rough five years and up to now, there are still things I’m getting used to. However, if I didn’t take a leap of faith, if I didn’t choose to leave my life in the Philippines, your father and I wouldn’t have been able to get married like we did. We wouldn’t have been able to walk this path which is now leading us to you.

I used to think that living the American Dream meant achieving a life of comfort and financial stability. But then, I realized that the American Dream can be anything I want it to be. Thus, for me, hard as life can be, the American Dream is this gift of being with the one I love, so that he and I can start this family and continue to grow old together.

To me, a Happy 5th Anniversary in the United States!

A letter to my son

Your father and I found out last week that you are, with 99% accuracy, a baby boy. I think it’s fairly safe to say you are… our son.

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I can’t tell you what growing up would be like for a boy. I didn’t have brothers and was only able to see my male cousins on a few weekends and holidays in a year. I had a boy neighbor whom my sisters and I used to play with when we were younger but I can only recall how much I disliked his attitude problems and how much I feared getting chased by his family’s geese.

When I was in grade school, boys would be nice to me and talk to me about their crushes (which could coincidentally be me) or they would be mean and call me “Loser” then refer to the prettier girl as “Winner.” Yet, I don’t remember having any serious conversations with boys until I was in high school. Even then, I didn’t have a clear picture of how being a guy must be like. I mean your father has told me countless stories about his childhood and teenage years. Still, I’m no expert and will leave it to him to give you more insights on becoming a man.

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My only wish in this matter is that you grow up to be a good man. Your father and I will play a huge role in that but we will not always be by your side to watch and guide you. During those times, treat people with kindness and at the minimum, respect. My mother, your grandma, often said (in Tagalog) “If you can’t tell us (your parents) about it then it’s probably not the right thing to do.”

I was bullied a lot growing up. I developed a lot of self-image issues from being told I’m not beautiful or I’m getting too fat. Please don’t be one of those guys, well, those people in general, who don’t think before they speak. Your words could have a lasting impact on people and yes, sometimes, the truth hurts but always consider if it’s necessary to say it.

For instance, before commenting on someone’s weight, think: are you assuming that person is blind or doesn’t see his/her reflection everyday? Are you suggesting that this person should be unhappy with how s/he looks? Are you implying that s/he must not be trying to lose weight in the case that s/he does in fact want to lose weight? I know it’s quite complicated but your grandma has another wise and simple rule: “If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything.”

As for me, I still struggle with my self-image but don’t feel sorry for your mother. I don’t let it get the best of me like I used to and let’s just say being geographically away from insensitive people helps. I’ve gained and lost weight through the years and now, I need to have a healthy weight gain while pregnant with you. However, I want you to know, that heavy as I appear, I have never felt more beautiful as I do, now that I am carrying you.

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I love you, son.

Rainbows and Rain

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Sadly, I was born and raised in a country where too many still associate being gay with weakness and sin. I have always believed that God is love and that He wouldn’t be so great if He stood in the way of true love. Why does love have to be between a man and a woman?

Religion may be founded on God’s principles but because people uphold and propagate religion, it is too subject to invention, manipulation and reinterpretation. I would rather believe God is love than swallow a judgmental narrow-minded tradition that attempts to prevent love in any form. I would rather believe in my God than in the flawed, sedentary thinking of people.

I have friends, loved ones that are gay. One of them, I know I’ve lost to his internal battles. He couldn’t love himself because his religion told him God couldn’t accept and love him for who he was. If he had been in an environment which encouraged his right to love whoever he wished, to love who he was, I wonder, would he still be alive?

I am happy that you will be born in a country that just a couple days ago, made a bold statement to support all kinds of love. Although legalizing same-sex marriages nationwide may do little to modify the mindsets of people, you will be born on a year that will be noted in history for what I think is an amazing, positive change.

Love still has many barriers to break, probably the biggest frontier being the one surrounding my home country, the Philippines (notably the only country which hasn’t legalized divorce but let’s not get started on that). But winning this battle in the United States, such a powerful country of influence, gives me hope that you will grow up in a better world.

Love and the Rain

On rainy nights like this one, I remember being younger…

You see, your father and I didn’t use to live together. We weren’t even in the same country or continent. During his summer vacations from school, he flew to the Philippines to visit me. Summer in the United States meant the rainiest months in the Philippines. Having only a couple of months in a year to spend together, we didn’t mind the rain.

We went on dates, with umbrellas that were pretty much useless with the downpour we experienced almost everyday. After my classes in college, and years later, after my work hours, we ate dinner at nice places, watched movies and played at arcades. If we had enough money and time, we went on trips.

We felt the need to compress a year’s worth of romance into his limited time in the country. The days always went by too quickly. And on the night before his flight out, all the fun and happiness would turn back into the misery of separating and resetting the cycle of waiting.

Eventually, we got tired of the distance. We found a way to finally be together but we don’t recommend long distance relationships to anybody. It takes a lot more than going out on rainy nights for two months in a year. There are those 10 other months or more to deal with… that can make or break you.

Your father and I now detest leaving the house when it rains. Still, as I’ve told some of my friends, the rain makes me nostalgic. I like to smell the rain and imagine our younger selves barely fitting under one puny umbrella. How we’d laugh ourselves silly as we got drenched to make the most of our time together.

The rain reminds me of how your father and I started, and how long we’ve loved each other. I look forward to the years to come.

A New Era for the Traveling Bears

Your father and I love to travel. We are usually away on trips during Memorial Day weekend, and holiday weekends in general. We love to eat and travel great distances to seek good food.

On Memorial Day last year, it was the day after my big sister’s wedding in the Philippines. We visited my Alma Mater and treated ourselves to my favorite tapsilog place in college – Rodic’s.

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Two years before, we were concluding a New England trip with a stop at Shady Glen Dairy in Connecticut. The show “Best Thing I Ever Ate” on Food Network had recommended its uniquely unforgettable cheeseburger (which I still think of up to now).

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This year is different.

Because I am still sick from Hyperemesis Gravidarum at 15 weeks, and because I still can’t eat a lot of different things, your father and I stayed at home doing mostly this:

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And eating mostly an ordinary tasting spinach topped Brooklyn-style pizza delivered from close by.

I do miss seeing new places with your father and discovering the tastiest foods with him. But this long weekend has been both chill and fun. I will probably want to go on a getaway one more time before you come out. However, if that can’t happen, I don’t mind. All it means is that we have to wait a little bit longer (maybe avoid plane rides until much longer). Then, we can take you with us on our adventures.

Why your Mother is a B

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I grew up in a culture that highly values saying “Yes”. There is a popular Filipino saying: “Kapag gusto, may paraan. Kapag ayaw, maraming dahilan” which basically means if there’s a will, there’s a way and where there’s no will, there’s nothing but excuses.

I’m all for finding solutions. And up until the more recent years of my life, my can-do attitude has led me to believe that saying “No” is a bad thing. There is always a way, I can always take on more.

Baby, you are making me a lot better at saying “No” and I don’t care if it comes off wrong. Some people will abuse your can-do attitude and your willingness to help. When you choose to not enable their behavior by saying “No”, the same people might dislike you or call you names behind your back.

I don’t mind being a B anymore. Doing what’s right is more important than being liked. It’s better to say “No” than to make commitments you can’t keep. It’s better to say “No” than to do something that contradicts your values.

I want you to have a mother that can say “No” and in the future, teach you to say “No” when required by the situation. I enjoy learning by testing my limits but I need to find balance and do a better job of looking after myself, looking after us.