Thursday, July 31, 2014

Knowing I'll Be Okay: Lessons From PTSD Sessions

Today was my last session for my PTSD and it was bittersweet. I'm going to miss my therapist because she was so encouraging and positive but I also know that I no longer need the sessions. If it hadn't been for her, I wouldn't have known that I have (had?) PTSD. Up until I started the sessions this past Spring, we didn't have an official diagnosis beyond having an anxiety/panic disorder. It took 13 years to really tackle this problem with the right treatment... but I finally did and it feels great to have completed the program.

To say that I had a rough childhood and adolescence would be an understatement. I witnessed so much violence that it made me afraid to leave the house at times. I still get occasionally nervous when I see guns for this reason. I was bullied to the point where they had to pull me out of school... and even then, the main bully still found ways to tell me to kill myself after I left. I had an unfortunate incident in which I was assaulted (though, thankfully, unharmed). I still think my guardian angel helped me. I was able to push the young man (I was 15, he was 18) away with strength I didn't know I had despite being pinned against a desk in an empty office. I was bombarded with negative comments of never being good enough, never being smart enough, never being pretty enough, never being capable of doing anything for myself, etc for as long as I can remember. I had a lot to work through... and I think I've finally made peace with everything, to the point where I can look back at it and not allow it to hurt me in any way. In fact, in a weird way, I'm grateful for all I endured.

I think a lot of my compassion and empathy comes from the fact that I've had to go through a lot. It's made me the person who I am today... and I really like who I've grown up to be (despite my occasional bratty moments). It took 14 sessions of PTSD therapy to realize that I'm stronger and capable of handling anything because I've been able to build up the tools I need to cope with difficult situations. My faith is my biggest blessing. Though we didn't bring up faith a lot in my sessions as I believe they're not allowed to really get into the topic, it was quickly identified as the best "tool" I possess in my arsenal. No matter what is going on, no matter how angry or hopeless I may feel about being in certain circumstances, I always have my faith.

Last week was the hardest week I've had in several years. My mom was hurt so badly that I was afraid that she wouldn't recover anytime soon. She could barely walk and couldn't even sit without being in excruciating pain. Seeing a parent in that kind of pain hurts you. My mom, who is so active and has this inability of sitting still, couldn't do anything because of the pain. I took over everything while she tried to recuperate. That led to dealing with a financial crisis (that had been looming for a while) which seemed impossible to get out of. Couple that with a couple of other things I was dealing with (such as studying for finals) left me in a really tight spot. I felt myself stretched beyond all limits... but I was able to get through it all without a single panic attack. Yes, I cried. Who wouldn't cry when you feel the weight of the world on your shoulders? Still, I knew that I wasn't going to let it beat me and keep me down so I powered through it all. I was able to keep the house running, to figure out ways to get us out of the financial hole due to unforeseen expenses that drained savings, and I managed to finish two courses (and final exams) two weeks early. I'll repeat it again... without a single panic attack.

I'll admit that I had a point where I broke down and I asked God to help me understand things because I was overwhelmed. I started the Sacred Heart novena when I felt the most overwhelmed and it's brought a lot of peace. I'm sure that God is preparing me for something greater. I may not like what I've had to go through but there has to be a reason for it all and I have to be patient. It's a lot easier said than done but I know I'll be okay... and that's what I realized in today's therapy session.

I could've easily given up or wallowed in pity for myself... but I didn't. Yes, the situations sucked and it felt like almost everything went downhill at the same time, but I didn't let stop me from moving forward. I no longer have those "I'm not capable of..." or "I'm not good enough/smart enough..." thoughts holding me back. I'm no longer afraid of the unknown.

Julie (who I'm incredibly blessed to call a friend) reminded me that fear is not from God. That got me through some of my hardest moments this past week. While it's hard not to worry about the outcome of something or feel like everything's going down the hole from time to time, we need to remind ourselves to trust God. His plans for us are bigger and better than what we can imagine for ourselves. Just knowing this -- knowing that I'll be okay because He loves me despite my flawed nature and that His love will keep me going -- is a comfort.

I can look back at my experiences and be grateful for how unjaded I am. I still believe the best of people. I still believe that everything will work out for the best. I still believe that we all go through crud because God is preparing us for something incredible in the future. My glass is still half-full and I'm still all smiles even though I still get tested from time to time. My therapist helped me see that last part; even when I had so much crud going on, I would always walk into her office and I would still be all smiles.

I'll be okay. Mom and I are going to be okay. God has my back (as well as everyone else's back) so we'll all be okay. We may not understand why we go through hardships but I firmly believe (cue broken record comments) that everything we go through prepares us for something wonderful in the future.

Anyway, I'm sure I repeated myself a number of times but I just typed whatever thoughts and feelings popped up while I reflected on my PTSD sessions. :)

I should really get back to studying for my Anatomy final. It's not until next week but I need to get 100% on it (ha, yeah... no pressure or anything) so I started studying a week early. :)

I hope y'all are well. OH! and, friendly reminder, today is the last day in which 100% of the money earned from my debut novel will be donated to cancer research. I know I initially said that only a portion of it would be donated but I ended up deciding that everything from the month of July would be donated. :)

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

P.S. for more super awesome motivational cat doodles, go here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

What I Learned Wednesday #34: Millennial "Trad Fad"

I know, I know. It's been a couple of week since I've written one of these WILW posts but most of my Wednesdays have been occupied with studying for exams so I haven't had the chance to write. Since this is my first free Wednesday in weeks (how did that happen?!), I thought I'd spent it writing about something that has irked me lately. I usually break these things up into three parts but I'm only focusing on this one topic this week.

Have you heard of the Millennial "Trad Fad"? You know, the trend in which Millennials immerse themselves in the world of Latin Masses, mantillas/chapel veils, and other pre-Vatican II things. Golly, we Millennials are such hipsters. (side note: don't let the article title fool you; it doesn't actually say that we're hipsters.) I'm kind of hoping that Pope Francis' comments were misunderstood and that he doesn't really think that this is a fad... but I've heard that he's not a big of Latin Masses so I don't know.

I've never shied away from the fact that I really, really miss Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI for several reasons, including the fact that (thanks to him) we've had Summorum Pontificum for 7 years now. Are the alleged quotes from Pope Francis legit? I don't know... but I would be disappointed if they were. For someone who is so welcoming of others and their differences, the quotes made me cringe a little.

I can't speak for others on why they prefer "traditional" Catholicism but I can tell you that many of my fellow Millennials who do have a preference to Latin Masses, chapel veils, incense (aka "smells and bells"), Gregorian chant, etc. don't do it for the fad/trend of it. I've never once heard "ooh, not everyone is into this? I need to do this." A good portion of us were poorly catechized and/or we've reverted/converted to the faith and we've come to these things on our own. Nobody did the thinking for us; we learned to appreciate them on our own. Free will, y'all. I personally looked into some - not all - of the changes that came from the Second Vatican Council while I was at that awful CINO college (because they didn't teach these things; they taught that anything pre-Vatican II was outdated and bordered on evil) so I was able to make my own informed decisions based on my preferences.

When I reverted 8 years ago, no one told me there were different types of Masses... but I still knew that I liked my Masses solemn. When I learned about Latin Masses, I knew I'd found the right fit for me. The clappy-clappy/hand-holding thing has never been for me. Even as a child, I felt obligated to hold people's hands when I didn't want to. I just wanted to focus on what the priest was doing/saying. Part of this was because of my introverted temperament and partly because it just didn't feel right for me. I'm not going to knock it if it works for you but I personally just don't like it. I know I'm going to get a lot of flack for this, but I'd appreciate my Masses without a mariachi band or a jazz ensemble. Yes, I endured one *cringe* "jazz Mass" before... and, though I love jazz, it needs to stay far, far away from my Masses. That's just my preference. I like to feel like I'm there to have my time with God, not to feel about all the cringing or be distracted by other things. That's why I love the first Sunday Mass at my parish; my spiritual director and the lovely nuns praying in Latin (with no outside distractions) is such a wonderful way to start my day.

As for chapel veils, I know some of y'all saw the passionate exchange I had with a good friend a couple of weeks ago on Twitter. I won't get into it because there's no reason to but it did inspire me to write about this topic. I veil because I want to. No one is making me do it; no one told me it would make holier... because it doesn't mean squat whether you veil or not if you're not following God's commandments. I made sure I learned the significance of veiling, the custom origin, and it was enough to make me want to do it. Yes, I know -- nerd alert for all the research I've done! Again, no brainwashing; it was a conclusion I arrived to on my own and that I feel most comfortable doing.

I don't veil only when I attend Masses. I also do it when I pray in front of the tabernacle or when alone in a church. I don't always "veil" either. I do keep my head covered but hats and scarves replace veils from time to time. The point is that I cover my head as a symbol of my love and respect for God. It also helps that I always feel like I'm actually there for God; that all sense of pride, arrogance, vanity, all the distractions, etc. get pushed aside. The moment that veil is placed on my head, it literally blocks all earthly distractions from my peripheral view and all I can focus on is on the Mass and/or the tabernacle. Babies -- my biggest Mass distraction -- disappear from view. I am reminded of why I attend Mass and why I believe what I believe.

I do understand that there are people who might be into these things for the wrong reasons. I've heard of "mantilla selfie queens." I haven't actually seen it myself but I've heard that they exist. I've heard of the "holier than thou" crowd. However, they don't represent everyone. Just like a few misguided clergy members (I'm being charitable with my words here) don't represent the entire church, a few "Catholic hipsters" don't represent the rest of us. Give us some credit.

I don't think I really learned anything new this past week other than apparently Millennials who appreciate pre-Vatican II customs are seen as hipsters. At the very least, now y'all sort of know why I do it. Yes, it was a sort of "in a nutshell" explanation but I'll revisit this topic at some point when I don't have too much occupying my mind (aka yes, I have a week off from exams but I'm still trying to keep the info fresh in my mind). :)

That's it for now. I hope y'all are having a great week thus far! If anyone has any prayer intentions, send them my way. :D

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

Monday, July 14, 2014

"This is...." Novel Playlist

This is a spoiler alert for those of you who haven't read the novel. You can stop reading and just go listen to the playlist if you'd like right about... now.

I've been asked if the short playlist Lina makes Will ("This is What Awesome Sounds Like") actually exists. The answer is yes... and no. There are playlists for each of the big characters that I created (Will, Lina, and Candace) to help me get into the head space of each one. However, there was not one single playlist named "This is..."; that came late in the editing process. Still, I decided to create it

I used some of the songs that I already had for Will's playlist as an inspiration for the playlist that eventually became "This is What Awesome Sounds Like." Not all the songs from Will's playlists are on there because the actual playlists (for both the first novel and the sequel) go into the triple digits. I only picked the songs that I thought Lina would pick for Will in a hurry. No hidden messages behind the songs; they were just picked because I (er, Lina) liked them. ;)

And that is it for post. I think I'll continue sharing novel playlists for the next two Mondays since I've sort of made this month my novel month; yes, I'm still donating half (maybe all) of the proceeds to cancer research. (side note: thank you to those of you who have purchased the novel during the first two weeks of this month. :)) I'll most likely do shorten versions of the "Will", "Lina", and "Candace" playlists for next week. ;)

I think I've procrastinated enough. Back to studying for that dread anatomy exam. Yes, I dread every anatomy exam. lol.

I hope y'all had a great weekend.

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

Friday, July 11, 2014

Dear Dad...

Dear Dad,

I can't believe you've been gone exactly 5 years today. It seems like just yesterday that I was sneaking into the hospital to see you. I haven't forgotten what you looked like, even without the aid of pictures. I occasionally forget what your voice sounded like but it eventually comes back to me.

I've kept the promises I made to you minutes before you passed. I'm taking care of mom as best as I can. She hasn't been too happy about it at times (especially when I had to restrict and change her diet when her cholesterol levels came back dangerously high) but she knows I do it for her benefit. Between Pedro and I, she's well taken care of.

Speaking of Pedro, he's stepped up big for mom and I. Up until his move to Texas, he was always here for us whenever we needed him. He would even show up unannounced at times, which was always fun when we had a messy living room. He was there for every academic award I received, for every birthday (until his move), and he was at my graduation ceremony with the boys a couple of years ago. He's still in touch and he's even offered to take mom in if I decided to go out of state for grad school. I most likely won't take him up on it but it's nice of him to offer.

As I promised you, I finished college and am even back for a second degree in a different field. I didn't promise that I would continue beyond the Bachelor of Arts I received from my (awful) alma mater but I know you knew I'd continue to go as far as I could. Your daughter's still an academic nerd, daddy-o. I thank you and mom for instilling the importance of a good education in me.

I've grown up a lot in the last 5 years... and I didn't even notice it until it was pointed out. I know you were worried about how I would do without you here to help me but you'd be proud of what I've accomplished. Mom told me about how you were worried that my anxiety would either get worse or would keep me from reaching my potential, but it hasn't. I've been driving for a couple of years now (yeah, I know... no one thought I would ever get the courage to do that!) and I'm even occasionally sarcastic with some of the drivers who test my patience. I don't let people walk all over me like they used to. Mom says I'm almost exactly like Abuelita Angelita which I know you'd be happy with; I know how much you loved her.

As soon as I was officially diagnosed with PTSD, my therapist helped me sort through the things that brought them on. While it's impossible for me not to have a little anxiety now and then, it's nowhere near as bad as it used to be. It hasn't kept me from moving forward... and I have been moving forward.

You taught me to have courage so I've been tapping into that with the help of my spiritual director. I've made big changes in the past year. I bit the bullet and changed careers. The COMD program is very hard but I love it and I'm really happy being a part of it. I'm not afraid of hard work and I know it'll be rewarding in the end. And, surprise, I'm going to end up working with kids... and it won't be teaching in a classroom. ;)

I've recently made a decision in regards to something I've been putting off for years. Yes, it's time. Yes, I know I've had dreams in which you've offered your fatherly advice on the subject but Fr. G told me not to pay too much attention to those dreams for obvious reasons. You helped raise a strong, independent young woman who is a little on the stubborn and feisty side at times so I should be fine whatever the outcome. lol.

As you can see, I'm doing well and I will continue to grow and thrive. I do occasionally cry when I think about the fact that you're not here. I cried on my graduation day and I'll probably cry again at the next one (hopefully) next year. I will more than likely cry every time I reach a major milestone in my life that you're not there for; that will never change. However, the fact that I know you're not suffering and that I'm (hopefully) making you proud keeps me going. I know you'll be there in spirit and that's comforting.

You'll never be forgotten and you'll always be loved. I'll continue trying to make you proud.

Your "little" girl,

Friday, July 4, 2014

7 Quick Takes, Vol.19: Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati Edition

First, I want to wish all my fellow Americans a Happy Independence Day. Be safe and have fun during your celebrations.

Today is the feast day of my favorite soon-to-be saint, Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati. I was actually kind of sad that I ended the novena yesterday because I noticed the difference in my outlook on life during the novena. While the personal intention is private, I will say that it definitely helped me reevaluate certain things that had been on my mind (including a big decision I've had to make). So, in honor of the saint I've adopted as my "spiritual big brother", here's 7 ways Bl. PGF has helped me throughout 20s.

-- 1 --
I first became acquainted with Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati during the 2008 World Youth Day celebrations in Sydney. I didn't personally go to Sydney but I did follow it via the XT3 (when it was still a brand new website; yes, I'm still on it though I don't actively participate as much these days). While it took me a couple of months to actually look up his story, I was immediately impressed with it; so much courage, faith, and love for Christ in such a short time on this earth. It was two years after my reversion and I didn't know how he would help shape the rest of my 20s.

-- 2 --
This was the first year (in years) that I didn't do the Bl. PGF novena on this blog because I knew I wouldn't have the time. I didn't forget to do the novena (I finished it last night) but I also knew that I didn't have the time to either post it every day or even schedule it ahead of time because of how crunched for time I've been with school lately. I'm barely getting time to study for exams (though I do have an hour today... hence this blog post) but I hope to resume the tradition next year. If you've never done the novena, I highly recommend it. I've personally seen the difference in the way I think and act (in a good way) while I do the novena and the effects stay with me for a good, long while. Do it! You'll love it.

-- 3 -- 
I believe that Bl. PGF helped me during my father's death. As I wrote last year, there was some similarities between Bl. PGF's death and my father's death. One thing that I just realized (while writing this post) is that Bl. PGF died at the age of 24, while I had my father on this earth for the first 24 years of my life. Anyway, I prayed for Bl. PGF's intercession when my father was in the hospital (I even placed a picture of Bl. PGF in front of my dad's bed). On his feast day, 5 years ago today, I asked him for a miracle. We didn't quite get the miracle we wanted but I do feel like Bl. PGF intercede in another way. I believe that through his intercession (as well as the prayers from everyone else), I was able to keep it together. I didn't fall apart, which is what most people probably expect. If you've read the blog post I wrote after my father's funeral, you can see what I mean. This hasn't been the only time Bl. PGF has intercede for me.

-- 4 --
Readers of this blog who've stuck around since either before or while I was at my dreadful alma mater (and I say dreadful because of their CINO ways) know that I was pretty miserable at the school because of the things that were "taught" there. Bl. PGF and St. Therese of Lisieux both helped me during my two years there. St. Therese helped remind me to counter some of the dirty looks I received with love. Bl. PGF helped remind me that I had to fight so that the Truth would be heard by my classmates. While I wasn't unable to speak up during the majority of the lectures (my professors quickly knew where I stood in my beliefs), I was still able to do little things to counter the unorthodox liberation theology we were exposed to.

-- 5 -- 
Who is responsible for my daily Mass addiction? Take one guess. lol. Over the years I've become a big fan of attending daily Mass. Reading about how much Bl. PGF loved to attend daily Mass and receiving the Eucharist has inspired me to do the same. When my anxiety was worse (years before it was officially diagnosed as PTSD) and I wanted to receive the Eucharist, I would try to imagine him standing next to me, holding me up (with Mama Mary or St. Therese at my other side) when I would feel as if my knees would buckle under me. While it's been a while since I've attended daily Mass (the fatigue I've felt over the last 2-3 months has been intense at times), I've been wanting to renew my daily trips. I hope to do so starting tomorrow. :)

-- 6 --
If you want to learn more about Bl. PGF, I'd recommend reading A Man of the Beatitudes: Pier Giorgio Frassati by his sister Luciana, My Brother Pier Giorgio: His Final Days also by Luciana, and/or Pier Giorgio Frassati: Letters to His Friends and Family edited by Fr. Timothy E. Deeter and Christine M. Wohar. I've read (but not finished all; oops) all three and I highly recommend them. I still have to finish the book on his Letters but it's been so beautiful and encouraging thus far. Oh! Brandon Vogt is giving away the Man of the Beatitudes book AND a DVD on the EWTN special they did on Bl. PGF (which I also own). I thought I'd pass it along if y'all wanted a chance to win. Go. Do it!

-- 7 --

This is my Bl. PGF Tiny Saint that my mom bought me at the Cathedral a few months ago. He goes everywhere with me, along with the Mary Undoer of Knots key chain that Angelica sent me for Christmas. As I continue to discern joining the Dominican lay order (guess who inspired me to look into becoming a Dominican, even though I was originally headed down the Carmelite path), I shall continue to keep my "spiritual big brother" as a role model. It doesn't matter that I am now older than he was while he was on this earth, I know that he will continue to look after me as any big brother would over his little sister. :)

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

And that is all the fangirling I have a chance to do at this time. lol. I have lunch to take care of, a mother to pick up from work, and two exams/quizzes to study for. Did I mention that we COMD students don't get holidays off? Working straight until (at least) the end of this month. ;)

I hope y'all are doing well. If you have any prayer requests, send them my way. :D

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

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Donating Half of Novel Earnings for July to Cancer Research

Wearing a "cancer sucks" band to bring awareness to colon cancer, while resting my hand/arm on my dad's fleece blanket.

On July 11th of this year it'll be 5 years since my father passed away from colon cancer (which spread and metastasized in his liver and lungs). I won't write about this topic just yet (I definitely have something planned for the near future) but I wanted to do something special in honor of my dad.

If you haven't read the novel, skip over to the next paragraph because there are some spoiler alerts. If you've read the novel, you know that the topic of cancer is brought up in the novel. I did this because it was something that isn't really talked about in novels (The Fault in Our Stars being one of the exceptions). I won't say more because of bigger spoilers but let's just say that what one of the protagonist went through with the person in their family who had cancer was inspired by what I went through with my own father during his 7-year cancer battle. You want to know what I went through (or at least part of it; the entire thing wasn't based on real life events), read the novel. lol.

Mom and I have wanted to donate to a charity for cancer research for a while now but, due to the financial crunch we've been experiencing since my dad passed, we've been unable to. I, thankfully, have some income coming in from the novel (not a lot but some) so I decided to donate half (50% for the 5 years since dad's passing) of what I earn from sales of Will and Lina: When Two Worlds Collide. I will be using part of what's left over to hire someone for a better novel cover for the print version (which I hope will be out in autumn or at least as early winter). And, if you're wondering, yes, the sequel will be out before next summer and, yes, I plan to do the same thing next summer with the sequel.

Because mom and I are 100% pro-life, it was decided that St. Baldrick's was going to be receive the donations. My father loved children (and it's so perfect that he ended up being buried near the section where babies are buried at the cemetery) so it seemed like the perfect fit. Before anyone asks, no, St. Baldrick's is not a Catholic organization. Yes, I did look into St. Jude's Children and a number of Catholic organizations but, unfortunately, there were a number of issues ranging from embryonic stem cell research support to contraceptives being offered across the Catholic charities. Unless someone can point me to other organizations (so we can split the donations evenly) that are 100% pro-life, St. Baldrick's is getting the entire thing.

So, there you go. I'm not doing it to boost sales. I don't need the money for material gain. In fact, I will most likely not keep any of it. The other half is being spent on print novel covers and ISBN numbers (Google it; those things are expensive).

If you already have a copy of the novel, consider giving a copy to a friend. Yes, Amazon allows that. ;) And, again, it's only out on eBook right now but I hope it'll be out in print in the next couple of months. No, you don't need a Kindle to buy it. I have a Kindle app on my iPod touch and on my laptop; no need for an actual Kindle. :)

Anyway, that's it for now. I have an exam coming on Thursday (as well as the USMNT vs Belgium match coming up in an hour) and it needs my attention.

I hope y'all are having a great start of week.

As always, thanks for reading and God bless!