Monday, August 13, 2018

My CT Scan Results... and a Prayer Request

This morning, I woke up from a nightmare. In that nightmare, I had received a letter from my doctor's office saying they had found cancer in my system. I clung to the person who inspired the character of Rory in the third novel and fell to pieces. I woke up with my heart racing, completely spooked.

I couldn't shake the awful feeling so I called my doctor's office this afternoon. It's been over a week since I had the CT scan done and they hadn't called me back with the results. So, I called... and I got them... sort of.

I'm not going to drag it out so I'll just tell you that they found three things... well, 3 things that I was told of.

First, I was told of a cyst that I've had since birth that I've never had removed because I've never needed to get it removed. I've known about it for over a decade so that's not new to me. I think it's gotten to the point where it needs to go and thus a possible surgery to get it removed may be in my future.

Second, they found something on my chest wall. I don't know if the pain I've been having since late March is what they found because they weren't able to clearly explain things to me over the phone. I have a feeling that's the round lump/bump I've been feeling though. I've often said it feels like it's more on the wall/skin area. It only hurts when I eat and it expands or I touch it so it may be that. I don't know if it's a tumor or something else; I just know they found something in the area and I'll have to wait to learn more about it.

The third one is the one that has me a bit more worried. They found a couple of liver lesions. I don't know if they're benign or cancerous because, again, they couldn't explain things very well over the phone. All I know is that they found them and I have to wait to find out more about them.

I was referred to an OB for the cyst they found (the one I've known about for years) and, so far, I don't think they have me scheduled for anything beyond that. I have to wait until August 30th for my full results. I have a feeling there's more but, again, I'll have to wait until I get my full results at my appointment.

I would be lying if I said I didn't want to cry because of the fear of the unknown. I don't know if what they found are benign masses, if it's more serious and will require treatment, or what this will mean for me. All I know is that when I heard the news, my mind immediately went to "alright... whose intercession will I be asking?" My default was to go to Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati but then someone else's face popped into my mind (and then into my heart): Chiara Corbella Petrillo.

Chiara's sainthood cause was just recently opened up by Rome and she's been someone who I've felt pulled towards in recent weeks, even right before I found out about her canonization cause. I think knowing how much she suffered and how she did it with so much grace and faith has inspired me to do things a little differently in my own life. I still don't know if what they found are cancerous tumors and masses or simply benign but I definitely feel moved by the Holy Spirit to start praying for her intercession.

If they're benign, I pray that my doctors do what's best for me and that I am able to wait these 2+ weeks (and however long after) with even 1% of the grace and faith Chiara displayed since my faith has been floundering a bit lately and I'm also prone to think of the worst-case scenarios (I only do this for my own stuff; I'm optimistic about everyone else).

If they're cancerous, I pray that Chiara intercedes for me because, as many of you know, my body doesn't tolerate a lot of medications (or foods) and I can only imagine what treatments would do to my already weakened body.

In your charity, I ask you to please help me ask for her intercession, regardless of the outcome.

That's it for now. I was planning on revealing some news to y'all today but I felt like this took precedence over the other news (which I hope to share on Wednesday).

I hope you all had a lovely weekend and have a great week!

As always, thank you for reading and God bless! :)

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

My Hollywood Experience: How I Avoided Becoming a #MeToo Casualty

17-year-old me near the CBS studios, January 2003.
(Note: I've had this post sitting in the drafts since March 9th but I've finally gotten the chance to go back and finish it.)

Some of you longtime readers might've caught the fact that I've alluded to having had a brief flirtation with the entertainment business in my teens into my early 20s. Those who've known me for years remember those days. I honestly don't like talking much about it because I really dislike who I was at the time... and who I was surrounded by during that time. The character of Candace (in the first Will and Lina novel) was inspired by the type of people who were in my life during this time. There was a lot of lying, backstabbing, and mental abuse that I endured from people who were supposedly my friends. Despite my hating going down that memory lane, I'm going to open up about certain things for this post.

I've talked how happy I was to have been able to escape Hollywood in time but I've never really talked about the harder things I faced. After reading all the horror stories when the #MeToo movement exploded, I was grateful that, by the grace of God, I was able to avoid some of the more traumatizing experiences that seem to be the norm with other young actresses and models.

Those who've known me for years -- since before my reversion -- know the obvious key to my not having been another #MeToo casualty: my parents. My father had the nickname "The Lord of the Keys" because of how strict he was. He drove me practically everywhere, even into my early 20s. Part of the reason for that was because my social anxiety was so bad that they didn't want to risk having me get a license. The other part was that my parents were overprotective of me my entire life.

I used to hate it. I still cringe when I think about it. I knew they were worried about me and that they wanted to protect me but it was so uncool to have your parents drive you everywhere when you're a teenager. Let's not even talk about how embarrassing it was to still be driven around into my early 20s. Oh, sure, I went out with friends. They used to come to pick me up and then drop me off at home at the end of our outing. I always pitched in for gas money so all they had to waste was a bit of time driving me home.

When I had auditions, my father always took me. Even if he waited outside in the car, he insisted on taking me. Neither of my parents was keen on me entering the biz but they never stopped me from trying... so long as I understood they would not pay for any of it. If I wanted it, I had to work for it. If I wanted headshots, I had to keep working as a retail slave until I earned the money. Dad drove me to auditions but he did it somewhat reluctantly.

At that time, my anxiety was at its peak. The doctor had put me on Paxil which messed up my system. I dropped down to about 105 lbs on the medication, which is very underweight for someone who is 5'7". To give you ladies an idea: the day I turned 18 I was a size 00. Yes, that's a double-zero. I didn't do anything to avoid eating nor have I ever had an eating disorder (thank goodness!). The medication was just incompatible with my body and I couldn't keep the weight on. You'd think that someone that skinny would have no issues with being told to drop weight but... wrong! I vividly remember someone called me a "cow" once; telling me that I needed to lose more weight. I remember standing in front of him, thinking, "What the heck are you smoking?" (Yeah, teenaged me didn't mince words.)

I was told what I needed to change, physically. I was never perfect and I've never been perfect (thank goodness!). I needed to have this and that surgery. I don't know how that didn't bother me or send me into a state of depression but it didn't. I had parents who always made me feel like I was fine as I was. I had an amazing core group of friends who would voice how stupid they thought other people (especially those in the biz) were for wanting to change me. I even remember once, when I was a senior in high school, we all went to the local Carl's Jr to eat after classes were over. I had told them that someone had suggested I lose more weight earlier that week. They promptly told me I was too thin and to ignore them. That was followed by a major junk food feast for all of us. lol.

Things went beyond that, though. The closest I came to having a #MeToo moment was when I was 19. A well-known Hollywood writer on a (then) popular show tried to charm me... and failed. Long story short, I was on the Universal Studios backlot filming something that day. I had arrived early and hadn't had anything to eat at that point so I decided to have lunch away from the ruckus of the shoot. Being an introvert, a sought a somewhat secluded area not far from the backlot cafe to sit and take in the experience I was having that day.

Next thing I know, this guy comes over and starts talking to me. He had business propositions but my warning radar and the red flags went off from the beginning. I was flattered but, please, I knew better. He offered me his information and talked about how his office wasn't far from where I sat and ate. It was uncomfortable, to say the least. I had heard the horror stories of the infamous "casting couches" so I was always on my guard. I didn't (and still) don't think of myself as being this super attractive person but I knew guys with power in Hollywood preyed on young women trying to break into the biz. Strong pass, amigo. I politely excused myself and went back to where we were filming.

There were other minor blips along the years. I dated an actor in my late teens and there was mutual interest with other actors over the years but I gave myself a "no actors (or musicians)" rule for a reason. That one actor was enough for me. To this day, he's still known as "the evil poopy-diaper" (we were super mature 17-18 year-olds when we gave him that nickname) by those who know me during the time that I dated him. He's the reason why I had absolutely no interest in dating for a while. He's the reason why I made a vow to never get involved with actors, at least not in a romantic capacity, ever again. Cliffs notes/spoiler version: he presented himself as being one way (very morally upright) and he was completely different (read: utterly depraved) in private. This, unfortunately, isn't uncommon in the biz.

After years of "yes, no... maybe... I like acting and screenwriting but...", my moment had come. I had recently turned 20 years old when I was offered a contract with a top agency. It was offered less than a week after my meeting with them. They "liked" my look; I looked "racially ambiguous" and a lot younger than I was. I "photographed well." I could book a lot of different jobs. They wanted to make sure I was over 18 so I could go out for commercials and print ads that featured alcohol in them... and book jobs that would allow me to present myself as the adult I was. Yeah, I knew what they meant by that -- they wanted to make sure I was old enough to be dressed in skimpy, revealing outfits (or less) if the job required it.

Immediately, I was uncomfortable with that idea. Those who've known me since childhood known that I've never been comfortable flaunting what God gave me. It was never a "modesty" thing. My parents never told me what modesty was -- I didn't even hear the term until I was in my early 20s after I reverted -- but they did raise me to always keep myself tastefully covered. Not in a way that made me ashamed of being a woman but in a way that said that I was worthy of respect. That was what my parents had drilled into me from a young age: I was a young woman worthy of dignity and respect. No one -- man or woman -- had any right to any part of my body without my consent. The way I dressed should always reflect that respect I deserved.

Did I really want to disappoint my parents (and, really, myself) by signing a contract with an agency that had absolutely no problem pimping me out for jobs? Did I want to be objectified for the sake of selling something? Absolutely not! Even at that time -- and this was a year before I reverted to the faith -- I knew that those print ads exploited women; that they used women's bodies to sell products. (side note: See, everyone? That one Women's Studies course I took my freshman year of college wasn't a total waste, lol.) I didn't want to be just another piece of meat; another woman who used her body for the pleasure of others.

When they called to offer me the contract, I declined it. They were shocked. In fact, everyone was surprised because of how much I had wanted to act. It was my creative outlet (before I realized how much more I love writing). I just couldn't do it. I wasn't comfortable with the prospect of having to go out for jobs that made me uncomfortable. There was something inside of me that yelled, "Run fast and far away and never look back!"

My parents would've supported me. When I told them that I was just going to continue going to college and figuring out what I wanted to major in, they were supportive. In fact, my mom actually told me (only a couple of years ago) that they were relieved when I had declined the contract. My parents always allowed me to make my own mistakes and only stepped in when they thought I was going to make a huge mistake I'd greatly regret. One of my most prized memories is of my father -- a few days before he passed -- telling me he trusted my judgment when it came to guys and in general. That's how I know they didn't step in when I was offered the contract. They knew I would make the right decision when it came down to it.

I know that, despite being away from the Church, my guardian angel and the Holy Spirit were looking out for and guiding me. That inner voice that told me to not sign -- to walk away and not look back? I know that was the Holy Spirit. God had greater plans for me. I can see that now. He was preparing me for my return to the Church. Sure, my life was much easier back then. The only thing I had to worry about was homework for classes and having a ride back home from a concert I went to that week. And, yes, I've had to endure chronic illnesses since, but I wouldn't trade it for anything. Not only was I able to keep myself from having the burden of carrying around shame for something that I would've later regretted, I've come to see just how terrible that lifestyle is.

I'm not saying that everyone's experiences in Hollywood are similar but after hearing all the #MeToo horror stories and reading Leah Darrow's book, The Other Side of Beauty, I became even more grateful for the Holy Spirit's guidance from that lifestyle and all that potential danger. I can now sit here, before the crucifix on my bedroom wall, and thank God for helping avoid being another #MeToo casualty.

Before I end this blog post, I want to say that (small spoiler alert!) my third novel sort of touches on all of this -- what the acting world is like from the POV of those who live it. I started working on it last summer (June 2017), months before the whole #MeToo thing exploded. As many of those in the know will tell you, I felt a prompting from the Holy Spirit to write it after witnessing the intense idol worship of celebrities, particularly of young women obsessing over young celebrities. My novel doesn't really go there (there are no #MeToo situations in it because I didn't experience it and my novels tend to be cleaner in content) but it will touch on things I've experienced... and still experienced until recently. Even though I'm no longer in the biz (and haven't been since I was 20), I still have a lot of behind-the-scenes insights that most people don't have access to.

So that's my story. If you missed it: I avoided becoming a #MeToo casualty thanks to my parents and (really) the Holy Spirit and my guardian angel. Like I said, God had (and still has) bigger plans for me and that scene was not something that He wanted me to be involved with. I'm so incredibly grateful for having avoided so many potentially traumatic situations and will never take it for granted. Sure, some days I miss how carefree that time of my life was but I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world -- not even for my "perfect" health back.

OH! One more thing: please don't bother looking for me in credits for anything. I've always liked using pseudonyms to keep the craziness away. That and I'm hoping to keep the past in the past. I don't want any of that craziness dug up and brought back into my life. I spent years in cognitive-behavioral therapy due to it. Let's not add to it. lol.

Alright, I have two articles and the third novel to work on so I'll be getting back to that.

I hope you're all having a lovely start of the week.

As always, thanks for reading and God bless! :D

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

What Happened During My Divine Office Experiment

Confession: I got sidetrack with health (read: physically debilitating pain) issues as well as my brother's visit which is why I didn't blog sooner. Sorry! 

Ah, the Liturgy of the Hours. My former spiritual director thought it would be a good match for me and recommended I try it out. I have tried it... and it's never stuck. With insomnia striking again for the entire month of July (lucky me, I know), I decided to give it another try. I figured that since I was up from 4 a.m. until 6-7 p.m. (and then up again at 9-10 p.m. to do nighttime prayers), I could get almost all of the hours in. 

I know I have the luxury of sleeping when I want and doing what I want with (most) of my time. I get up at 4 a.m. to drive Mom to work. Unable to fall back asleep immediately after (especially with insomnia), I have the chance to pray in the peace and quiet that accompanies the pre-dawn hours. There are no distractions... there is no noise... there is no worry about anything else. Sounds ideal, right?

Let me tell you why it didn't work for me as I was doing it: I got too overwhelmed.

I'm one of those "go big or go home" people. Moderation is hard for me; it's not something I was taught as a child and am having trouble with practicing as an adult. It works out in some situations but backfires in others... and this was one of those times when it backfired. Long story short: I got so caught up in doing the LOTH and the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary (which I love and have been doing for a couple of years now) that I started to sacrifice sleep when it finally hit (the sleepiness, I mean).

I kept saying, "No, I'll never get another chance to pray like this again, especially if God has a husband and family in store for me in the future. If this is going to stick, I need to get in the habit of it now. Besides, I want to be a Benedictine oblate and this is one of the things that's recommended we do." I thought that if I couldn't get through it, even for a couple of weeks, I would fail at being a Benedictine oblate. Oh, poor, sweet, not-too-bright Emmy. lol.

Okay, here's what I learned during this experiment: my perfectionist tendencies made the Divine Office completely overwhelming. Why? Because I tried to hit every hour, on the hour, on top of the other devotions I have (Little Office, Rosary, and the Angelus). It was too much, too soon. I didn't wade into the Divine Office; I took dove off into the deepest part forgetting I had a (metaphorically) weak limbs that couldn't help me to break the surface again. "Faithpalm," anyone?

This is what I decided to do: this week, I've let myself take a break from continuing the LOTH as I try to catch up on sleep. Okay, I don't actually have a choice when it comes to this because I've already missed two nights of prayers (Rosary included one of those days) because I'm so exhausted that I just sleep through the alarms from 6-7 p.m. until 3-4 a.m. the next morning. I need to sleep because without sleeping I cannot focus on the prayers; they just blur together and I go through the motions without actually focusing on what I've just read. Depending on how the rest of this week goes, I may also take the following week to try to get back into my regular sleeping schedule and then try the Divine Office once again.

New game plan: 
  • Continue with the Little Office... but I'm not setting my alarms to hit every hour (6 a.m., 9 a.m., noon, 3 p.m., 6 p.m., and 9 p.m.). Instead, I have my usual alarm at 8-9 a.m. I'll try to pray Matins and Lauds (and depending on the hour I wake up, Prime or Terce) when I wake up. 
  • Once I have that down (again), incorporate the Divine Office whilst reminding myself that as a future oblate, I'm not required to pray ALL the hours. I am a laywoman and I have things to do; though, ideally, I would like to be able to do all the hours. This one will be hard because of my perfectionist and slightly scrupulous tendencies.
Has anyone else fallen into a similar pattern with the LOTH? Does anyone have any advice of how best to go about incorporating it into daily life... and/or not feeling bad about having "so much time" yet not being able to pray all the hours? Your suggestions would be most welcomed!

Alright, that's it for now. I have several days of emails to catch up on and want to get to them while everything is nice and quiet at Casa Emmy. I also want to get another nap in if I can because the insomnia (which is gone now) and physical pain have left me exhausted (especially physically since I had to use all my strength just to get around my apartment and even into bed).

I hope you're all having a lovely start of the week!

As always, thanks for reading and God bless! :D

Monday, July 23, 2018

Pre-Dawn Hours and the Angelus

Insomnia has struck once again. I'm pretty sure I know what the root cause is and I will be trying to modify some things so that I can sleep well once again. In the meantime, I've discovered two very important things:

1) I love the fact that I'm at during the pre-dawn hours. There's something so beautiful about watching the world change from dark to light; about seeing the first rays of light of the day peeking over the local mountain range. I've always loved it but I've become fonder of it since these couple of insomnia-induced weeks began. This is how I learned that much more of an early bird than a night owl. Who knew?!...


2) I may never give up praying the Angelus at all 3 times a day, ever again (barring circumstances out of my control).

The Angelus is a new prayer/devotion for me. I was first introduced to it by the FSSP priest who serves as the spiritual adviser for the young adult group I'm a part of in our FSSP church community. During a field trip we had -- which was also my first time meeting with the group -- visiting a local California Mission, the bells rung at noon and he gathered us together and led us in praying the Angelus. It was such a beautiful moment (one of many during the trip) but I never really picked it up until about a week or two ago.

I honestly don't remember how it began. I think I was searching for the "correct" times for the Divine Office/Liturgy of the Hours (e.g., "Sext" for noon, etc.) when I stumbled into the Angelus again. I remembered it from the trip and decided to read more about it.

Did you know that laity used to stop what they were doing to pray 3 Hail Marys in honor of the Incarnation when they heard the church bells ringing (which signaled a time for prayer for the monastic community)? This was done during "simpler" times and there are few places that still do it, most notably the Vatican and traditional convents and monasteries.

"Well," I thought to myself after reading about it. "I can't get back to sleep after getting up at 4 a.m. and I don't really have much to do in these pre-dawn/early morning hours so I'll give it a try." (side note for new readers: as the sole driver in the house, I drive Mom to work at 4 a.m. to save on Uber/Lyft. That's why I'm up that early.)

I saw that most people who take up this devotion pray it at least twice a day -- at noon and 6 p.m. -- but that it was traditionally prayed 3 times a day; at 6 a.m., noon, and 6 p.m. "Okay, I can do that..." and I have done that every day since. I've even gotten up at 6 a.m. (my iPod touch alarm is set for that time) on days that my mother has off because there is something about it that has enriched my prayer life and my life in general.

I don't know how else to describe it other than feeling a peace when I pray it every day, 3 times a day. I'm very fortunate to have the flexibility to pray it that often and I certainly am not taking this luxury for granted because I don't know what God has in store for me, in terms of my vocation. I don't know if I'll be able to do this for the rest of my life or not but I'm so grateful for the opportunity to do so.

Does anyone else do this? Perhaps you may not get to pray all three but perhaps one or even two of them? I'd love to hear if you do since I personally don't know of anyone else and I'd love to hear others' experiences praying it!

Anyway, I just wanted to share this and ask if anyone else has done/does it as well.

This is just part one of a series of "how these new (to me) prayers and devotions have transformed my life." Like I teased in the previous post, this blog is taking a new direction to coincidence with the personal changes I've gone through recently so... expect more of these "brief" posts, written more frequently. :)

I hope you all have a lovely start of the week!

As always, thank you for reading and God bless!

Friday, July 20, 2018

New (and Exciting!) Blog Changes

I nearly shut this blog down last week.

Long story short, I thought that there was absolutely nothing new that I could offer y'all. Sure, I always find new things to write about for EpicPew (and now for Verily Magazine). My God-given creativity keeps churning new material for novels, but I wasn't sure what I could do with this blog.

That's why there was a 2-week gap between blog posts. I was running on empty. After keeping up this blog for 10 and a half years, I didn't know what else I could write about; what to share.

In the 10 years that I've kept this blog, I've written about a number of topics:

  • My adventures at secular and CINO (Catholic in name only) colleges.
  • My father's (and family's) journey with cancer followed by the aftermath of his death.
  • My bouts with chronic illnesses (and how long it took them to figure out how it was something so simple as a vitamin D deficiency).
  • My joys and sorrows in my spiritual life.
Of course, there continue to be topics that remain off-limits (for now) so I can't touch on them. I mean, I'll discuss my vocation discernment in vague terms and share how hard it is to be a single lady these days but that's as far as I go with that. Similarly, I don't talk about my family life too much out of respect for all other family members.

"This is it," I thought to myself. "I'm officially out of new things to write about. I have nothing worth sharing."

Of course, God had other plans for me. A couple of weeks ago, a lot of changes came into my life. Some of them have changed my life for the better. Others have enriched my prayer life. It took me until today to realize that these are things that I can share as I try to figure them out (especially the new prayer/devotions).

So, that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to share the new changes I've begun implementing, one subject at a time. For the time being, I don't really see myself sharing some of the more personal things I once shared. Yes, when the time comes, I'm sure I will share further vocation development but, for now, that will continue to be one of those "off-limits" topics. No, that was not a hint... not really, anyway. I mean... uh... Oh, look, a squirrel! *runs away*

This blog will be heading in a different direction and I'm really excited about it. Even if I lose all my readers and I end up keeping this blog as a public diary for myself, this feels like the right thing for me to do. I feel at peace with this decision... and I cannot wait to share all these things with y'all!

That's it for now! 

I look forward to sharing more in the upcoming days! And, yes, this means I'll be updating more often now that I have a clearer vision of what I want to do with this blog. :)

As always, thanks for reading and God bless!