Friday, January 20, 2017

My First Time Getting a Call Back After a Mammogram

I've been very open about the fact that I'm a paranoid. My brain is wired such that my natural tendency is to think worst case scenario first, before I tap into my more rational, probability- and facts-based side. I see cough and fever and I think pneumonia. Present me with an angry looking pimple that mysteriously showed up and I think flesh-eating bacteria. It doesn't help at all that I enjoy watching shows dealing with medical mysteries or cases of rare, fatal diseases. 

So you can only imagine my thought process when I got a call back from the doctor's office after my screening mammogram. I've gone yearly for at least four years now and it's always been something I took for granted. I go in and then get a letter or call a few days later stating that everything looks normal. 

Not this time.

I went on December 20th and by the next day, I got the call back from the nurse. I picked up the phone expecting her usual upbeat tone to tell me they'll see me in a year and that my breasts are healthy as ever. But instead, she mumbled something about needing to go back for another mammogram, a diagnostic one this time and possibly an ultrasound. I'm sure she wasn't really mumbling but by that time, I sort of blanked out. I remember hearing 'right breast' and needing to 'take a closer look'. After a short while, I knew I had to snap out of the trance to get more clarification. I asked, ' you know what exactly they saw?'. Of course I was met with a vague answer and some version of the same 'we just need to take a closer look at your right breast' and then proceeded to tell me that someone else will contact me to set an appointment.

I hung up the phone and couldn't breathe. My first thought of course was 'Cancer', followed by 'Oh-my-God-how-will-I-break-the-news-to-my-family-and-what-a-crappy-Christmas-this-will-be'.

Before I could even sit down and fully make sense of the initial phone call, my phone rang again. This time, it was from the imaging facility. I said I wanted the earliest availability and was stunned to hear that they were scheduling me for Jan 18! 

"That's your earliest?!", I said with disbelief and frustration.

The woman confirmed and that was it. I hung up the phone and focused my thoughts on how I could possibly survive the next month without giving in to a nervous breakdown.

For the next couple of days, I found myself plagued with thoughts of dying. I'd be driving and the singular thought I had was 'I have cancer'. And then I found myself obsessing over my right breast. I wish I could say I meant all that in a sexy way but it was by no means pleasurable. I self-examined and wondered if what I was feeling was a lump. I suddenly noticed every non-symmetrical part of my torso and wondered if that was what they saw. Could there be more than one? Is it because I've been overweight all my life? I knew I should have eaten more spinach and kale and blueberries. And maybe I should stop drinking too much from plastic bottles? Maybe it's that bottled water I use while I'm on the treadmill. I really should throw that away now. Or maybe it's all the processed meats I've been consuming. Dammit, I knew there was something to that antiperspirant article I read years ago! I should have listened!

Then I started imagining what life would be like if I did have cancer. My rational side knew that less than 10% of women who are called back for a mammogram get a cancer diagnosis. I had read that most of the time, the initial images were just not clear, that it may be dense breast tissue, calcification or some benign cyst or mass. The odds were in my favor.

But what if I'm part of the unlucky percentage?

I then became hostage to even more morbid thoughts and started to imagine how a cancer diagnosis would change my family's life. I wasn't even so concerned with what I would have to go through but more with the suffering such a diagnosis would subject my boys to. I don't want them to be affected by the need to care for me, or suffer in pain as they watch my body getting weaker. Who will take over everything that I do now? Who will prepare meals for my son and husband? Who will keep the house in order? Who will drive my son to school and all his doctor's appointments? Who will wash their clothes? Who will monitor his school work closely?

My thoughts were clearly spiralling out of control and I needed to just stop and take a breath. 

All this is imagined and I need to focus on knowing the facts first. 

Finally, the long-awaited appointment came. My husband went with me to the facility and both of us did our best to seem calm. The wait wasn't too long, just enough to let my neurotic mind wander again through a couple what if's before it went to what the hell, let's get this over with!

A nice lady named Monica called me in and immediately explained to me what needed to be done. She made sure I knew that the reason for my call back was because of something they needed to look at more closely on my right breast. Before we proceeded, I thought I might as well be honest with her. 

"Monica, do you know if I'd get the results today, which ever way it turns out? It's just that I've been called for this appointment a month ago and I've already been anxious for one month. I can't take it anymore."

She smiled compassionately and I knew she understood. Fortunately, she assured me that I would know either way. She explained that they schedule everyone for an ultrasound after the regular mammogram in case the Radiologist wants to further investigate an area. But if my mammogram satisfies the doctor, then I'd be sent home and will be cleared. 

With that, I said, "Alright, let's do this!" At that point, I think my brain was way too spent to even be afraid. I just wanted to know and move on with it. 

After a few minutes on the torture device, a few adjustments on the paddles to squeeze my tiny breast and cause me mind-numbing pain, it was over and the clarity I've been needing is finally within reach.

Monica asked me to approach and join her in viewing the screens she had in front of her. She pointed out to me the image from my December mammogram where there was a white spot behind my nipple area that the doctor found suspicious. After pointing out to me what the white and black areas represented, I understood that it's not as simple as looking for white circular things that could be masses. Rather, it's a comparison between past and present images. Monica explained that breast images are pretty much like finger prints unique to each person. So when they see something that wasn't there previously, then it's a red flag that they need to further investigate. 

In my case, after spreading and compressing my breast really well this time around and taking additional images, the suspicious circular spot disappeared, indicating that it may have been just dense breast tissue or something caused by hormonal fluctuations. 

Monica left me in the room for a bit to show the results to the doctor and when she returned, she happily told me that an ultrasound was no longer needed. I can come back for my regular mammogram after a year!

She hugged me and told me it was time to party! I'm sure she felt my gratitude given how tightly I hugged her and how I couldn't stop smiling. In the dressing room, I finally let out one deep exhale. 

I wish I could say without a doubt that this would be my first and last call back for a mammogram. But let's be real. I'm just 43 and it's probably going to happen again for as long as I keep showing up for my annual check up. And as anxiety-inducing as the whole experience is, I would never advise anyone to skip their mammogram. It's inconvenient. It's uncomfortable, even painful for some of us. But it's life saving. The earlier you find out if there is anything to be concerned about, the higher your chances for survival. 

If you do get a call back, I have some advice to share.

I won't tell you not to be anxious because I think it's natural. However, there are certain things you can definitely remember to help calm you down. 

Choose very well who you will share the information with that you got a call back. Share only with those who you know have gone through it and might help calm you down, or those who you know don't tend to overreact or over-worry. I consciously did not share with my mother because I did not want her to worry unnecessarily. But Mom, if you're reading this now, please rest assured that I'm okay! :-)

Another important advice I can give is for you to focus on the things you can control. Be proactive in asking for the earliest possible appointment. The shorter your wait, the less anxiety you'll have. I can attest that waiting for a month felt like an eternity. Hopefully, you won't have to wait as long as I did. 

You can also control the questions you need to ask your doctor or mammogram technologist. Don't be afraid to admit how you feel and that you would appreciate them being completely open about the findings. The best decision I made was to let the technologist know that I would very much want to know the results right after my mammogram. I also appreciate that she showed me the images and I was able to ask for clarifications. 

Also, don't forget that you can control your thoughts. In a way, it was good that the holidays kept me busy. I knew I had to push my paranoia on the back burner because there were far more urgent things to attend to. And for those times when the fears were just too much? I turned to prayer. Sometimes it wasn't even the spiritual aspect of it but the repetitive nature of it. It calms the brain and will help you fall asleep. 

I asked myself multiple times what I would do if I was given the dreaded cancer diagnosis and the answer is always the same I would fight with all that I have. Is there really any other alternative? It's not that I am afraid of death, but to love another is to fight hard for whatever time is left for you to share with each other. I would hate to break my son's and husband's hearts by not choosing to fight hard. 

None of us know what tomorrow holds or how much time we are given. But for as long as you are able to make decisions for yourself, take advantage. The choice to fight and how to fight is all within your control. 

Friday, January 6, 2017

Lessons Learned from 2017

Yes, you read that right. 2017 with just its first six days has been generous with its teaching moments. 

1. When you see all those organizing and weight-loss articles online or all over social media offering quick solutions, keep scrolling and do something more maybe watch cat videos. There is no quick-fix to curing mess and one's messy habits, as well as your unwanted extra weight. 

2. When you see Tweets from President-elect Trump and / or news of who his latest cabinet appointee is, scroll down even faster than when you scrolled to skip that latest magical weight-loss plan. You know it won't make sense and will only upset you. 

3. When you post a well-loved IKEA train set on a mobile classifieds app for $5, when a brand new one can be bought for $8, and someone responds within 5 minutes of posting wanting to meet up ASAP and can't commit to a later, more convenient time, walk away and ignore. Sure, the closest IKEA by us is roughly 3.5 hours away, but something still doesn't feel right. I find it suspect that an adult can want a wooden train set that desperately. 

4. When you live in the South, never, ever, ever make big plans or tough-to-reschedule appointments from late December to the end of February. The snow will ruin you and can drive you insane in one of two ways: (a) You will be trapped at home panicked because you can't venture out and can't reschedule; or (b) You will be trapped in your vehicle, slipping and sliding on the roads and on the verge of a nervous breakdown. 

I planned on having some friends over but was startled to find this when I got up this morning...

Roads never get salted here and none of my friends are insane enough to say they can brave the roads just to have beer, wine and spaghetti at my house. I have no choice but to reschedule. Hopefully, all this will be gone in the next two days or I'll be stuck with eating spaghetti for the next two weeks. 

5. Nothing happens by accident, including the fact that I had just recently seen Rogue One: A Star Wars Story , making me more equipped as a parent...When you're woken up by your son anxiously declaring that he just remembered that he has math homework that he hasn't done and this is two days before going back to school when he's had 2 1/2 weeks of vacation and now he's acting as if apocalypse were about to happen and you're utterly tempted to scream at him and say it was his choice to kill his brain cells with Halo and YouTube for the past 2 1/2 weeks, you take a deep breath and invoke your higher self and remember a mantra from the movie..."I am one with the Force, the Force is with me. I am one with the Force, the Force is with me. I am one with the Force, the Force is with me. I am one with the Force, the Force is with me..."

How has 2017 been so far for you? 
And by the way....HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

Friday, December 23, 2016

I Wish Us All an Elusive Gift

"Peace on Earth and good will to all men."

All my life I’ve heard this greeting during the holidays and I’ve always thought it made sense to me.

May peace be with you. I thought I understood what this meant every time this was spoken. As a child I thought Peace only meant experiencing silence in the literal sense, or calm and the absence of war in the world.

But now that I’m much older, I’m comforted that I understand more. This isn't to say that I don't struggle with taking it to heart though. These days when I'm constantly bombarded with information on what's going on around the world, when feelings of anger and despair overwhelm me because of politics I disagree with, it becomes deeply challenging to surrender to Peace. There are days when I truly feel depressed and defeated by my inner turmoil. 

I know I choose this and it's a mistake to continue to do so. We all choose this defeat and so my wish for myself and to all of you is to find strength to choose Peace...

Peace…Yes it’s a state of calm. Yes it’s tranquility. Yes it’s the absence of war or turmoil. Most importantly, all these things apply to our inner worlds as much as it does to our external reality.

Peace is to be able to accept things for how they are. It’s the ability to befriend the imperfections that surround you, silence the irrational insatiability that haunts you, or to simply be present in the moment instead of resisting it. 

Peace is to silence the fear within you with faith as you give in to the wisdom that tells you that life is not about control, and that real happiness is not dependent on always getting what we desire. 

Peace be to you. May you embrace the imperfections of your family and practice unconditional love as much as your humanity can allow.

Peace be to you. May you accept and embrace yourself wholeheartedly the way you are now and not a future desired version of your self.

Peace be to you. May you sit in quiet comfort having faith that you have what you need at this moment.

Peace be to you. May you have the strength and wisdom to see what you can control and which realities you need to surrender to. May you triumph over your sorrows by choosing to think and act with your soul instead of your limited earth self.

Peace be to you. May you feel only gratitude and openly receive all the love that is available to you, no matter how flawed the source or circumstance might be.

May Christmas and the spirit of the holidays bring you true and enduring Peace!

*This is an updated version of A Christmas Wish from Catharsis. 

Friday, December 9, 2016

Breaking Through the Grief

Sometimes I ask myself why I keep choosing to do this. Must I really remember her this way and in the process taint what's supposed to be festive with something somber?

Six years after I lost Emily, I still include her in our holiday decorations. There is an angel on my tree each year which I bought to specifically represent her, and a tiny stocking has always hung on our mantel for her as well. This year, it's become even more pronounced because my 9-year-old son insisted on finally changing his to a big stocking. He has grown much, after all. Emily never did. 

In the first week of December 2010, I miscarried. It was my second attempt at IVF and after having success with our first one, my husband and I were confident and optimistic. I took it for granted that I was not immune to miscarriages and really thought that as long as my pregnancy took and I remained cautious that everything would end up well. 

It did not and I lost my childwho I was later told was a girlat 7 weeks. 

I've done my active grieving although, as I always say, grief doesn't really completely end but only wanes, ebbs and flows. The tears that needed to be shed have been shed. The anger towards God has been expressed and reconciliation has been found. The echoes of questions have tired and have found their way to serenity. But something always remains and anyone who has grieved can understand this...

The wondering lingers, on some days more pronounced than others. And we all know the holiday season increases one's sentimentality exponentially. 

It's the wondering about how the picture you're looking at and the life you're living might be like had things turned out differently, if the person you're missing were still around. 

It's the wondering about the ripples that person's life would have created and how transformed you would have been if you were blessed with their influence. 

It's the wondering about the love your heart misses, whether you had it for a long time or it only touched you momentarily. Either way the absence of that love carves out a deep crater that you now must tread alongside it carefully, lest you find yourself trapped within it. 

That is why I continue to choose to remember Emily especially during the holidays. When my heart fills with love and anticipation, remembering her forces my heart to see that in spite of the wondering and that sense of loss, Gratitude still wins as I am able to see my life as one that still ended up complete and perfect in its humble way. 

Gratitude shows itself to me when I remember that in spite of the heartbreak and anger towards God, I was never made to feel alone and forgotten; that this God allowed me to find healing at my own pace and realize the wisdom behind how our lives unfold even when we don't understand things at first. 

Even after six years, my grief still continues to bless me and I see no better time to be reminded and celebrate that kind of breakthrough than during the holidays. The fact is, there is now more peace and love than sadness and loss when I look at those stockings on our mantel. 

Friday, December 2, 2016

Things Will Fall Apart...And Then What?

Every morning after I successfully drag my feet to our kitchen to prepare breakfast, one of the first things I see are the ant traps sitting in one corner of our counter top. They've been there for months. We had a minor ant attack in the summer, as if the heat alone wasn't enough to remind me that we do live in the South. Anyway, after a few sprays with diluted vinegar and a friendly visit from our pest control guy, the problem was taken care of. The weather also turned cooler so I really don't expect them to come back until maybe next summer again. 

So why keep the traps? I ask myself that every morning of every day when I glance at those black squares in the corner. The truth is, every day when I see those traps, I feel myself holding my breath a little as a brace myself and wonder if I would see specks of black or reddish-brown crawling around. I know the likelihood is low but I'm expecting the worst and convince myself that this daily awareness, though a torture, is better than being unprepared. 

But is it?

Is worrying about what could happen and perpetually wait for the other shoe to drop thinking you can truly be fully prepared for it, really a better state of mind than the alternative? 

As a self-professed overthinker and worrier, I'm painfully aware of the thin line that separates preparedness from paranoia. It's a very delicate line that if one is not mindful can easily be crossed, leaving you feeling consumed and unable to enjoy life fully.

I have wasted many yearsand still do waste some moments to this date as I work through my recovery—trying to debate if I should let things be and enjoy the moment, or anticipate, prepare and even preempt. 

There was a time when, after having just moved to the South and hearing of news of tornadoes, I did not see the point in decorating our newly built home. I kept hesitating to buy furnishings and told myself, what for if all this can just be destroyed by one bad storm that can hit any time?

More than a decade ago, after breaking up with an ex and then deciding to remain friends and explore the possibility of getting back together, I squandered immeasurable amounts of time debating with myself about the unknown future. I weighed my options and shredded every scenario to unrecognizable pieces, wondering if I should just cut the cord altogether for fear that the relationship was going nowhere and that I wouldn't be able to handle the inevitable second heartbreak that was looming in the corner. I even went so far as to employ the decision matrix à la Pascal's Wager: staying vs. cutting the cord against the two possible outcomes namely ending up together vs. living separate lives. Can one get even more neurotic than that? Yes, the matrix did help me decide, in case you were wondering. However, I can't deny the amount of time I wasted overthinking the whole thing instead of just surrendering to what I felt to be true. 

To say that this entire past year jolted me and thrust upon me changes and realities completely unexpected is an understatement. 

Early this year, a very dear friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer. Another family member received similar news just a couple of months ago.

My parents have suddenly decided to significantly downsize and put our home in the market. 

The United Kingdom voted for Brexit.

My father-in-law passed away.

My two countries, the Philippines and the United States, both elected the less desirable candidates for presidency, men who are clearly not the rational choices in all objectivity. 

Another good friend of mine found out she was going to be laid off after being on that job for more than a decade and all this in spite of doing her work so well that almost everyone in her workplace relied on her. The organization just decided to eliminate her position. 

I can go on and ruminate further on how life has taken me by surprise this year, mostly in unpleasant ways, but the point is this: Indeed, preparing to some extent for the unforeseen  is wise, but never to the point where the future is robbing you of your present. A life lived in a constant state of anxiety about what the future may hold, or one where present choices always feel constrained for fear of a future built on lackfear of not having enough money, not enough love, not enough jobs, not enough friends, not enough time—is not living fully. It starves your soul of possible growth, adventure and wisdom. If you always make your decisions based on your worst case scenarios, you will find yourself fully depleted and yet replete with regrets. You will be left wondering where time went and will be haunted by a sense of mourning, asking yourself why you did not when you still could.

You can really only prepare yourself so much and if you're being completely honest, you know that peace can only be found in relinquishing control. Wisdom will make you realize that there is power in surrender. 

To me, as cliche as it sounds, the key to being present in your Now is to choose what makes you authentically happy. It's not a mindless and selfish way of existence. On the contrary, it requires a lot of introspection in order to define what makes you soulfully happy. And I doubt that the answer would ever lead to anything material. If we focus on answering that question, I suspect we would find it easier to choose to be in the present moment rather than being slaves to our anxieties about the future.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Unexpected Ways the 2016 Election Results Have Made Me a Better Parent

We've all heard it, spoken it, thought about it, macerated it before digesting it so really it's nothing new: Social Media make people unhappy. And this past week made this reality even more pronounced than ever for most of us (roughly 62M Americans at least) as we struggle to make sense of the 2016 elections. 

I have found myself in a sort of deep stupor, feeling simultaneously numb and enraged, and in the process, unable to be fully productive save for the usual mindless tasks I can do on autopilot. Every time I tried to sit down and write, all I'd been able express is anger and a sense of hopelessness and I know this is unquestionably unhealthy for me and my family. I know that I have to consciously will every fiber in my being to break this state of negativity and genuinely move on. 

That said, it has become clear that the first step for inspiration has to be an effort to look at the positives. So I humbly offer this list to you and hope that you can hold on to every bit of light you can find around you these days, nurture it and eventually make it grow brighter. 

The process wasn't easy but it was necessary for me to dig deep and not take anything for granted. What I've realized is that there have at least been five ways this past election has made me into a better parent:

I have become less uptight about my rules...with cussing. In other words, I guess you could say I have become more 'real' with my parenting. Of course I still tell my son that cussing is not acceptable, or at the very least, highly discouraged. He is absolutely not allowed to utter profanity at this time and for many, many years to come. However, since the election results, I have now clarified certain stipulations given that I have inadvertently uttered very colorful words in the past week. Let's just say that where extreme frustration and pain are involved, caused by social injustices and cultural ailments such as bigotry, misogyny or racism, such verbal incontinence or potty-'mouthedness' becomes acceptable as long as you are 20 years old and above.

Speaking of such cultural ailments, I have also been spending more quality time with my child trying to widen his vocabulary. After all, he now needs to know the meaning of words such as xenophobia, 'whitelash', or safe-space, to name a few. More than ever, I now take my role as my child's primary teacher much more seriously. 

The election results gave me a real opportunity to teach my son about sportsmanship. Parties have campaigned, people voted and the results are out. We may not always like how things turn out, not always agree with who wins a competition or how the game played out, but the results have to be accepted especially if you know the game was not rigged. You cannot undermine the process. What you can do is change or improve the process for the next round if you think something about it is not working well, evaluate where you might have gone wrong and do your best to show up as your best next time around. Most of all, don't attack the other group (although you can converse and discuss politely), be civil and try to move on as graciously as possible. 

I learned that cultivating a sense of gratitude means being able to appreciate even the smallest, unexpected sources of joy and comfort. Parenting has efficiently trained me to look at the bigger picture that somehow it's gotten easy to ignore the smaller pieces along the way. I had to recalibrate a bit for my sanity's and child's sake and appreciate that sometimes the seemingly insignificant are all you need to help you just plow through.

Enter the #BROTUS memes. If I must mention one positive from scrolling through my social media feeds, this has got to be the one. I was laughing so hard that truly these memes took my mind off of the heaviness surrounding us. Even my nine-year-old son got so curious that I just had to show him some of them. He loved it so much that he was able to memorize one in particular and recited to me the entire meme the next day before I dropped him off at school. I guess this means I've also been able to elevate my son's sense of humor! Two birds with one stone...Parenting score!


Unfortunately, for all my pronouncements of being quite liberal and respecting diversity, I have to set certain boundaries in our own home. I would have to ban certain things and by things I mean anything, pictures, movies, t.v. shows. I am not prepared to take the risk of inadvertently unleashing my psychosis at the sight of these wide-eyed creatures with fuzzy hair standing up, ESPECIALLY if they happen to be wheat-orangey in color. This would actually save our family some money since my son now needs to be more discriminating with his choice of toys or shows to watch. So far, he's not into it so I consider that another bonus!

Hopefully, I will see more blessings as the months go by. For now, I am willing to live on crumbs as I find healing in all this. I am optimistic. I need to be. Maybe if I repeat that often enough, my brain and heart will eventually catch up. One can only hope.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Our Divided States of America: What Now?

I don't particularly like getting political on this space but there is nothing else for me to say today or for the rest of the week other than #*&^$$%^(^()_:>>?<)*^$###!! Expletives in every version imaginable.

To say that I'm saddened and frightened by all this is an understatement. It was unexpected. And to read that HRC won the popular vote and yet DT still won the presidency, thanks to the Electoral College, is rubbing salt into the wound. However, one still can't deny that millions voted for the unqualified, hateful, misogynist. I am certain those who did so have varying reasons. 

Maybe they saw him as the perfect anti-establishment candidate. 

Maybe they think he's the perfect person who can advocate for their concerns after feeling so powerless and disenfranchised for so long. 

Maybe they just want to vote for their party regardless of who it is because they feel their conservative values are threatened. 

Maybe they are racist and want to protest against every progress made by our first black President. 

Maybe they just hate women. 

We can rack our brains for days to figure all this out and agree on an elegant theory but one thing is for sure. This is a truly divided nation and there is immeasurable work to be done as we all do our best to move forward. 

Moving forward...I will admit it is not easy for me. I can't even stand to hear Trump's voice and look at his face, so to imagine being exposed to this for four years is asking a lot from me. But I know it must be done. For the sake of our children, we all need to show respect for each other. Whether we like it or not, we are in this together and change never had any power when it didn't come from the ground up. 

With every impulse to be angry, we need to choose humility.

With every impulse to look for blame and cause division, we need to choose acceptance and wisdom to see the undeniable likeness we share beneath our clothes, and skin and ideologies. 

After all is said and done, the truth is we all want a good life for us and our children. We all want a better economy that works for everyone and not just the 1%. We all want a sustainable planet that we can live in and pass on to generations to come. We want world peace, as cliche as that sounds. We want equality and respect for all lives regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, socioeconomic status. 

Those are my desires and the fight continues. The protection of these rights and dreams depend on each person's vigilance. We are our institutions. Don't ever forget your agency, your power to effect change no matter how small. The power to heal does not lie in one leader alone. It's up to each citizen to either choose division or unity. 


F*ck all that! I am angry as hell and worried beyond words that every bit of progress we've achieved these past eight years will be obliterated by the racist Republicans in power (maybe not all) who have made it very clear that their only agenda is to destroy Barack Obama. In the process, they will destroy a lot of rights and privileges now enjoyed by Americans, especially the marginalized. This makes me enraged! And I pray to God this rage only powers us more to fight harder for social justice!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

I'm an Introvert and I'm Done Apologizing for It

Ever since I read this HuffPost Parenting blog a few months ago, I've been trying to be consistent with my son in asking him how he's been kind, brave, or how he thinks he failed during the day. The answers don't always come very easy and that's where its value lies. I find myself encouraging him to think hard and not take anything for granted. I tell him little things count. I remind him not to be afraid of failure and that when he knows better, he can do better and tomorrow is another day for redemption. Failure doesn't define him, but little acts of kindness and bravery always matter, both to him and the others he has helped. 

Today I find myself applying the same principle, reminding myself that acts of bravery, no matter how seemingly inconsequential, always count. 

I am an introvert. 

To those who don't know me intimately, that may come as a surprise given that you might have seen me 'step up' in certain social situations. People say I'm friendly, I smile a lot and am very pleasant, I seem capable of chit-chat and seem really nice over all. What you probably don't know is that all of those things take so much energy out of me. Sure, those things come really naturally to me when I am around close friends and family, people I have known for a long time and feel really comfortable with. Other than that small circle, it becomes a huge undertaking for me and one that almost always requires a significant amount of planning and psychological preparation.

Yes, I overthink and am always processing things in my head. Even the shortest, most insignificant telephone conversations with strangers, sales representatives, medical staff or insurance adjusters need some form of rehearsal in my head. I can't just randomly pick up the phone and fire away. I need to be clear with a purpose and where I need the conversation to end. Sometimes, it's as if I have an outline in my head (yes, sometimes written out too!) and any deviation from my 'script' can leave me panicked and, God-forbid, stuttering. In other words, I hate surprises and last minute things. I'm all about careful thought and planning. Something 'new' or 'unexpected' and potentially stress-inducing situations (a.k.a. huge social gatherings where I won't know majority of the people) need to simmer and stew in my introverted brain for a while before I can go forth and conquer. 

If we're not close friends, have nothing much in common and obviously don't know enough about each other to sincerely like each other, and my life didn't absolutely depend on it, approaching you to just say 'hello, how are you' won't come naturally to me. It's not that I'm a snob or am being mean. It's just that it takes so much energy out of me and feel the weight of a possible awkwardness too anxiety-inducing. This tendency of mine has gotten worse as I got older because now, I have learned to sift through my social circle and know when to simply not give a damn. Again, I'm not rude, so if you say 'hello' first, I will sincerely smile at you and say 'hello' back. 

This is me. This has always been me and I now stand in a space where I refuse to be made to feel bad or 'less than' about it. That's why when I ask myself now how I've been brave, I consider the little things, the little steps. They may be steps I took to overcome my introversion when it was necessary, or little steps I took to stand firm in it and not apologize for who I am. 

Recently, my husband wanted me to attend a party with him. It wasn't necessary for me to go, it was far, and I knew I would only see a few acquaintances there. No friends, no one I really genuinely liked. To make matters worse, my husband has been so busy and so preoccupied with other things that he only remembered to tell me about the invitation the morning of said social gathering. I agonized for hours. I knew in my heart I did not want to go. I had been so busy myself the previous days and felt like I had reached my quota for the week for being social. I simply felt exhausted. 

Normally, I would give in to him. He would prod me, we would argue and I would feel bad about being called anti-social. But this time, I stood my ground. It wasn't about establishing who had more power over whom. It was about me having the courage to defend my preference. It wasn't simply about being intransigent. It was about heeding my authentic self and respecting my boundaries. It wasn't easy. I still felt tortured in the beginning and found myself making excuses to justify my decision. In the end, I realized I need no excuses. Politely declining an invitation should be enough and no elaborate explanations are necessary. 

I felt free. It felt amazing and empowering to simply have the courage to honor my introverted self instead of allowing it to be depleted. It's a small step but one I could definitely get used to. After all, the reward of having a relaxed time at home, in bed, while overanalyzing a cerebral show on t.v. is priceless and beats endless small talk with strangers any given day. Nothing about any of that requires any apologies.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

My Personal Momsanity Scale

My son just recently got over an illness and it's been a wretched past week for our family. I can only say 'illness' instead of being more specific because no one ever came up with a definitive diagnosis. He was seen by two doctors and just like me, all we can label are the symptoms for which he received medication. 

It started with a headache, followed by high fever. Then he sounded a bit more congested but no remarkable drainage nor coughing. He also had a slight sore throat and slight ear inflammation, but not enough to be a full-blown ear infection. He tested negative for both strep and mono. He has had his flu shot and the doctors seemed convinced it wasn't the flu. 

He started with Amoxicillin but after two days of not making any difference, he was switched over to Azithromycin (3-day dose). That finally made a difference. Fever went away and he started feeling better slowly.

When he was seen by the first doctor at a walk-in/urgent care facility, he was shown a picture card with emojis to identify how he was feeling. Was he feeling a slight discomfort, or was it agonizing pain? While this was going on, the only thought bubble I had at the time was that pediatricians should have a similar scale for parents. Why not also show me a card that will express to you just how much my child's illness has driven me to the edge of insanity?! Perhaps it might give you a more holistic picture of the severity of the situation.

Here's my suggestion for an effective diagnostic tool:

Perhaps I should just print this out myself and carry it around in my purse. Better yet, how about I make a shirt out of this and just casually point to an emoji whenever random strangers start wondering why I'm behaving so oddly?

Said shirt would have come in handy in church when I sorta kinda made a minor, negligible scene. (I know that sounds like an oxymoron but let me just invoke momsanity at the moment and blame it all on the fact that I'm perpetually on emoji #3). 

We got to church quite early and found ourselves waiting for about 10 minutes before Mass started. While waiting, I saw Noah messing with his shoe. He saw a streak on his midsole and was trying to rub it with his bare hands! 

With horror, I instinctively uttered, "Duuuuudddde!", without realizing how much it echoed in the church. When I lifted my eyes after glaring at my son for a moment, I saw at least three people from the other aisle staring at me. 

If only I was wearing a momsanity scale shirt! I can't even begin to tell you how close I was to actually explaining to those people, "Seriously, he just got over a week-long illness and I'm just doing my best to not let the germs gain such easy access. And while we're at it, would you mind not shaking our hands if you have the slightest inkling that you might be coming down with something..thank you very much...God bless you...

There are a lot of things that drive me insane as a parent. There are days when I sometimes feel like I can't exhale and the shadow of a nervous breakdown follows me around, just waiting for me to stop and give in. For me, the strongest insanity-inducing challenge is when my son has an illness, especially one that I can't easily explain or one that lingers. I'm sure a lot of parents will agree with me on that. That said, I now wonder if there should be a 6th emoji that needs to be included, one that shows a mother's face willing to make any deal with God, willing to give anything at all, just to make her child safe and well. For me, reaching that point signals that I'm completely overwhelmed and that my insanity and stress are off the charts. It's definitely the point when Mom, not child, is the one needing medication.

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Day Donald Trump Made Me Grow Up

I had just met up with a good friend at the mall and we said our goodbyes at the bus stop. I knew I had about a 30-minute commute ahead and didn't want to be so late going home. I boarded the bus and was happy that there were a lot of open seats for me to choose from. I walked towards a completely empty row and slid towards the window. I loved window seats. 

Not long after, at the next stop, a few more passengers boarded and as I looked up, an older man stood by the empty seat to my left and smiled at me. I politely smiled back as he took his seat beside me. I was glad it was an older man, someone who looked decent, dressed fairly well and didn't look like anyone who would mug me. Heck, he could be my father, although I could tell he was probably at least 5 years older than my dad. 

It didn't take long for the man to start making small talk with me, only his idea of small talk was undeniably making me feel uneasy. He asked where I worked, what I did. He asked where I was going, where I lived. I don't remember if it was the mere conversation that made me feel uncomfortable, his tone, or if it was the way he was looking at me. He was smiling, he looked harmless, gentle and had a fatherly air about him. And yet somehow I found his hand on mine and even took the liberty of stroking it. He said he immediately noticed me when he boarded the bus and couldn't help thinking how beautiful I was. He said I had the face and smile of an angel. The fatherly and safe feeling didn't linger much too long. It dissipated as soon as I felt his unwelcome hand on my arm as he started to tell me that he's a widower and wants to have his secretary call me for him sometime. He made it a point to tell me he was wealthy, although I wanted to tell him at that point, "Yes and I'm smart too and am wondering why a rich guy like you takes this sort of public transportation". He asked if I had a boyfriend and instinctively I said yes even though it was a lie. I wanted to make it clear I was not interested and that at that moment all I was praying for was to be ejected from my seat. My stop just couldn't come quick enough. Eventually it did and I must have left so fast, so awkwardly that I honestly don't remember how I made it to the bus exit from my window seat. 

This happened to me 20 years ago in the Philippines. I was in my early 20's and thought I knew everything I needed to know. 

My parents made it a point to teach me and my siblings to be always aware of our surroundings. We were taught to keep a close eye on our belongings so that we can avoid getting pickpocketed. What I was not prepared for was how to deal with creeps and potential sexual predators.  

All week long, the breaking news was that of a presidential candidate bragging about sexual assault. This person wants to be the most powerful leader in the world and yet does not have any shred of decency in his being and shows not a hint of a firm moral compass. He sexualizes females every chance he gets and believes he is entitled to them just because of who he is. It is beyond sickening.

The memory of this nightmarish bus ride surfaced as I listened to this candidate flaunt his disgusting behavior and belief that he can always get away with most anything, including the putrid words that come out of his mouth as he objectifies women. I don't enjoy remembering what happened to me, let alone speak of it, but it must be done. Things like these need to be brought out. Perhaps there is value in taking these memories out of the shadows no matter how shameful or even painful they might be. What happened to me is but a small fraction of other assaults and abuses experienced by other women but it doesn't make the sense of violation and the shame in feeling that I should have acted differently any less intense, any less life-altering.

You see, what I realized with my experience was that I was taught a lot of things and mostly it had to do with being 'nice', being 'ladylike'. I was taught to be friendly, to be polite, to be respectful especially of older people. That man on the bus was an older man. I thought I needed to be respectful. I thought I needed to remain nice. I thought I was not supposed to make a scene. I thought I needed to smile and still speak politely even though I wanted to scream, say 'STOP' or just be honest and admit that it was making me uncomfortable and that none of it was okay.

I was not equipped. The definition of the situation, the character involved, the impression I was given, coupled with the socialization I received as to what it meant to be 'proper' all confused me. I just didn't know better. 

That woman in her 20s drowned in a sense of helplessness. But not anymore. This one in her 40s knows better. This one in her 40s can now parent her own child and teach the intricacies of what it means to value others without ever sacrificing one's self; to handle with grace the delicate balance between propriety and self-assertion. This one can and will speak up for herself. This one can and will draw clearer boundaries, will refuse unwanted and unsolicited attention, and will fight back. This one now believes there is no shame in defending oneself, no shame in appearing and sounding rude to someone, anyone, who doesn't know how to respect other people, especially females. 

I will definitely speak up. I may no longer have my day with that man on the bus but I'm sure I can still have my voice heard. And I want to make sure that voice is echoed by the vote I will cast next month. It is a voice that can't be drowned out as it fights back against indecency, a disgusting sense of entitlement and misogyny. It is never too late for me, or any of us, to be heard.