POV: 2017

As I stood there impatiently, for what seemed like a 10 minute long wait to fill up my Hydro Flask, I thought back to what my reality was like almost 5 years ago. Even writing the title of this post: “POV: 2017,” I had a “damn” moment, realizing that 2017 was literally 5 years ago. I can’t wrap my head around that. In my mind, it still feel like I’m in the year 2019. 2020 at the very latest. I can’t believe such a significant amount of time has passed.

Anyways, there I was, standing in my kitchen on a Thursday night, thinking of all the work I had to do the next morning. The preschool is nearing the end of the school year. That means a lot of things need to get done to close out this school year before we shut down and we go on summer break. I thought about my current position at work and where I stand in my life in general. Even though the next day’s stresses were weighing heavy on me already, I thought back to a time where I couldn’t imagine being where I’m at now.

I thought back to 2017, and damn, it took me back. I had flashbacks of me sitting in that gray chair leaned against the wall of the Kid’s Club at the gym. Those 4 walls of Fitness 19 were my life from 2014 – 2017, and I ain’t talking about working out. I spent 4 hours a day in that little room, I’ll never forget that blue carpet with the colorful crayon pattern that, for some reason, went halfway up the walls. I had made that space my own – bringing in my own movies for the kids to watch so I’m not watching Frozen for 4 hours straight, even though that’s what ended up happening anyways. To this day, I can probably recite every word to Frozen, Tangled, Beauty and the Beast, and some episodes of Super Mario Brothers.

I had great memories working at the Kid’s Club – I took care of some awesome kids, befriended their parents, and had a lot of deep talks in that small room with close friends, new friends, and members of the gym. It was also the room my friends and I used to workout in when we felt insecure about being judged by the regular gym goers. I’ve had countless phone interviews for articles I was writing for Xpress Magazine where I sat crisscross apple sauce on that nasty ass ABC mat. It was the job I had while I was in community college, and for a while when I was at SF State. It was the job that got me by, and even though it just barely got me by, given that I lived at home and had no real bills to pay, it was a great first job to have. It reminded me of simpler times, where all I cared about was my social life, school, and having fun.

But clearly, working at the Kid’s Club at my local gym was not my dream job or end goal. When it got slow at the Kid’s Club, I have vivid memories of staring off into space, completely zoning out. Don’t worry – the kids were fine – probably watching a movie or playing amongst each other. But with 4 hours to basically sit and watch kids who have made friendships with one another and waste no time chopping it up amongst each other, it left a lot of time for me to sit and think. At times it felt like that room was my mental prison. I was always thinking of what the next step of anything would be – the next stage of life, the next stage of school, the next stage of my career, the next stage in my relationship, the future as a whole.

Now, I know I said the job reminds me of simpler times, which is true. However, that’s me in the present looking back at it now. Back then, I was equally as stressed out, just in different ways. The pressure of school deadlines, maintaining my grades, a social life, all while being broke as shit was no walk in the park. Looking at it now, I was just at the threshold of adulting, and if current me could give 2017 year old me any advice, I’d say that the current stresses in life would just be replaced with different ones – enjoy the mother fucking process. But 2017 me was 22, in the thick of my school career and on the cusp of trying to get my life together.

I enjoyed my job, but at the same time I knew I wanted more. Obviously working minimum wage as a glorified baby sitter wasn’t my dream job, but I knew there were other ways for me to feel more fulfilled for the time being until I graduated and figured out what to do with me life. 2017 Marinelle felt uninspired, lost, and burnt out working at the Kid’s Club. I felt the anxiety from deep within my soul when thinking about the future. I would sit on that gray chair, staring off into space, and literally wait for time to pass by.

One day, with the usual 3 favorite movie rotation, I managed to sneak in a movie other than Frozen. To my satisfaction, Tangled was playing in the background as I did my routine – kids comes, they play with each other and ignore me, I put on a movie for background noise, and I watch and manage the kids as my mind wanders. I can distinctly remember the next steps of my relationship was heaviest on my mind. At the time, Christian was going from living situation to living situation, staying in the Bay Area solely for our relationship. All first generation Filipino Americans can relate – moving out is a big deal. It’s not just financial independence and venturing out into the real world, it’s also nerve wrecking and a drama-filled topic to even bring up.

I knew the next steps in our relationship would be to move in together. But I was stressed as shit knowing that I was nowhere near financially able to do so. I wanted to do things the “right way,” and I was incredibly overwhelmed with the fact that we literally live in the most expensive area in the country. I felt like there was no “right way” to check all the boxes to appease everyone. I was stuck, emotionally exhausted, and I felt like my life was at a standstill. I dreamt of the day where I could say that everything building up until that moment was worth the struggle, the fight, the late night stress. I wanted more than anything to be done with school, start my writing career, and live a comfortable life. I had no idea how I would get to that point.

In the thick of all of these anxious thoughts, the song, “When Will My Life Begin,” started to play in the background of the Kid’s Club. I’m a singer – not the best out of the bunch, but that never stopped me. I sing because I like to, not because I think I actually have bars. So like any other day, I sang along to the lyrics. Usually, I would sing the background song while casually scrolling through my phone, not paying too much attention to the meaning and what I’m actually saying. This specific day though, the Tangled sound track hit a little different. Singing the words, “When will my life begin?” hit me. Damn, that’s deep. I felt that shit in my soul. I couldn’t relate more. That’s exactly how I felt in that exact moment in time. I remember daydreaming about having it all together and figured out in the future, looking back to this exact moment. That’s what I wanted so desperately – to know that it was going to get better and things were going to sort itself out eventually. And it did.

I stood there, my Hydro Flask just barely getting to the top, finally. And I remembered that I would’ve never guessed to be where I’m at now back then. I remembered that what I’m living and doing right now is exactly what I wanted just 5 years ago. Sometimes I need to take that step back to realize that even though I’m not exactly where I want to be in life, in my career, in XYZ… I’m still making progress in the right direction. That’s not always so apparent from day to day life, but when you see the picture, you see how far you’ve come. I need to appreciate that life happens in mysterious ways. I can only imagine where I’ll be 5 years from now when I think back to this moment – filling up my water bottle on a Thursday night in 2022.

Summer Gon’ Get Whatever Body I Give It

Summer gon’ get whatever body I give it.

That’s a mother fucking note to self I need to internalize.

Please listen up, if you find that this applies…

Body positive, but the inner work is never done,

I say this because I hit an all time low in 2021.

My Tatay died, the pandemic continued, Tita-Lola died too.

My heart was broken, but I still had to find a way to get through.

I have always been a foodie, so much more in 2021 and now,

I had to pick myself back up and didn’t know exactly how.

I was depressed as shit, not really in the mood,

the only thing I found comfort in was eating bomb ass food.

Yeah, I’ll admit it, there is no shame in what I said.

Eating made me happy, it was 1 of the few things I didn’t dread.

On top of losing loved ones, the pandemic bloomed fear and uncertainty.

I feared I couldn’t get out of the funk I was in, and that’s what worried me.

I found joy in food, because it reminded me of better days –

of get togethers, pre-pandemic, family events, and many other ways.

If eating is what I enjoyed, it was okay if I was using it to not be so sad,

for I know I was using it to cope, and this solution wasn’t that bad.

But I was blocking out my emotions, emotionally constipated if you will.

I was using my love of food to hopefully get that void to fill.

Body positive, that’s what I strive to be,

trying to remind myself that my appearance and weight is not what makes me me.

But I’m human, insecurities are nothing new,

not to mention that it’s pretty clear I gained more than a few.

I wish I could say that I’m 100% confident and do not give a shit,

but it’s hard when I look in the mirror and don’t like how things are starting to fit.

Summer is coming, hotter weather approaches, and I shouldn’t get upset,

for this summer is gon’ get whatever body it will get.

In the past, I would talk down on myself and try to make me feel more low,

but now I’m kinder with myself and know that I can learn from this experience to grow.

My life is happening now, I’m not waiting until I’m fully happy with what I see.

I can still appreciate my body in the now, even if it’s not where I want it to be.

Body positive, but being aware that I can do better,

I need to feel comfortable with myself and know when I need to check her.

Be kind with yourself, and you yourself will blossom,

your body is beautiful in every stage, and that’s what makes it awesome.

Currently, my body reflects how I dealt with my sorrow for some time,

I gained some weight in the making and that’s not a fuckin’ crime.

I thank my body for everything that it was, is, and everything that it will be,

for this summer gon’ get whatever body I give it, and it will just be simply me.

Sometimes I Forget

Saw something I knew you’d like,

so I thought I’d text it your way.

While I’m at it, I should also ask about your day.

It’ll be nice because we haven’t spoken in a while,

not anything to feel guilty about, that was always just our style.

When we reconnected, we always filled each other back in,

updating since the last time we spoke and saying how we’ve been.

I’ve been meaning to catch up, I’m sorry life’s been busy,

I’ll joke around and brag about how much I know you’ve missed me.

When the thought crosses my mind to reach out to you, suddenly it hits me and I feel dumb.

For I’d be waiting on a reply that would literally never come.

You’re gone, and it’s been that way for about half a year.

All that time has passed and in my mind it’s still not very clear…

You’re gone, and sometimes I forget that.

Still think you’ll show up at family functions wearing your SF hat.

Wouldn’t it be nice to joke and hang with you 1 more time, Tita-Lola?

We still had plans to get tacos, catch up, and entertained the idea of NOLA.

Crazy how life works, but I’ll be forever grateful for you.

The way your heart remained so pure, no matter what you’ve been through.

You were always down to listen, to give advice, and simply just be there.

I did the same for you, and could never guess the type of shit that you would share.

I could put you on blast right now, about the last thing you updated me on that had me cracking up.

I know your ass would surely haunt me if I did, so let me shut the fuck up.

Oh Tita-Lola, I’m smiling writing this now, thinking how I don’t even know where to begin,

laughing at the thought of all the awkward, funny, fucked up situations you always found yourself in.

But that was you – you did whatever made you happy,

We miss and love you dearly, don’t mean to get too sappy.

We’re still celebrating your life, your memory, and everything that is you,

I know you’re still around and still motivating me with whatever I want to do.

I’ll admit, maybe your death hasn’t processed in my head because it’s something I don’t want to be true,

It’s easier for me to think that we just haven’t spoken in a while, but you’re still out there doing you.

It sucks when something is expected yet so sudden,

But I know you still got my back, still lookin’ out for your little cousin.

So maybe I need to be easier on myself, and maybe not get so upset,

when I get the urge to text you, because sometimes I forget.

You Versus You

You know that saying that says the only competition you have is versus yourself? That you shouldn’t compare yourself to others? That’s advice we all got since we were young. Even though, ironically, from the day we are born we’re being compared to others. But when does the comparisons and competition stop? How do we expect to not juxtapose ourselves to those around us when it’s all we know how to do?

Even as a baby, we were all constantly being checked up on to see if we reach the benchmarks to tell our parents what’s “normal” and what’s not – how much we weighed, how tall we were, what age we started to talk, walk, and so forth. Our growth and development was being compared to babies similar in age. That’s how they determined what was common and uncommon for that age group. It’s what’s expected the first couple of years of our lives. Of course, these benchmarks are put in place to help the child. It also helps doctors and parents detect if their little one need extra care / attention for any reason. It’s necessary to ensure the child’s development is on track.

The comparing continues into our early childhood, middle childhood, and adolescent years. Are we performing well academically, are we meeting the standards for our age, are we on track to success? A lot of these benchmarks are set up for the youth, who will later be young adults, to succeed. So don’t get me wrong, I totally understand why comparisons are necessary for important things like education, health, and a person’s well being. As a parent, teacher, and caregiver, you want to make sure that you are doing your part so your child doesn’t fall behind.

But we all know that competition and comparisons don’t just end at the necessary benchmarks to ensure a person’s welfare. Growing up, you could’ve gotten compared to your siblings, family friend’s kids, cousins, other classmates, and other peers. The competition and comparisons are not just limited to education and health. Appearance based comparisons, athletic comparisons, grade comparisons, having your weaknesses pointed out in parallel to someone else’s accomplishments, financial competition, and sometimes even just personal biases, could’ve been put on your shoulders at a young age. It instills the belief that we need to do better, be better, and always be the one in favor.

On the bright side, comparing ourselves or being compared to others can act as motivation to better ourselves and our current situation. As the cringe saying goes, “Let the haters be your motivators.” We try to push ourselves to reach our maximum potential, and sometimes, it takes seeing your peers putting in work and being successful to give you that push. Having someone compare you to someone else can fuel you to prove them wrong. For some, hearing someone tell them they can’t do something is all the motivation they need to give their all and make it happen.

Yes, comparisons and competition can have its pros, but it can also have its cons. When you grow up to believe that everyone is competition, you will constantly think that what you’re doing or where you’re at in life is never good enough. It’s the toxic motivation that will fuel you, but also destroy you. If you’re constantly using others to power your drive, you’re no longer doing it for yourself. You’ll look back and realize that your motives were charged by negative feelings that someone else instilled in you. And when you let negativity steer you in life, you’ll always be left unsatisfied.

I feel the focus of our competition changes as we maneuver through life’s many stages. For example, if you’re a child, it could be who’s the best runner, the best in a subject, who gets the best grades. When we’re teens, the competition seems to focus around outer appearance – competition between who is more attractive, who wears the nicest clothes, who’s the best in a sport, who is academically rising above the standard. Though what we’re comparing to others changes, the fact of the matter is: we go through our whole lives comparing and competing to be better than our peers and those around us.

But since we are taught to compare ourselves to others at such a young age, it only makes sense that everyone eventually compares themselves in other aspects of life as well. And I know that there will be some people that will try to flex and say that they have never compared themselves or felt like certain aspects of their lives were a competition. However, we all can agree that who ever claims that is 100% full of shit. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, as it’s something we all do. What’s important is how we outgrow the notion that everyone and life is a competition.

As I reached my young adulthood into the present, I started to see a shift in what things I thought was a competition. I knew my ass was full on adulting when who was prettier than me, skinnier than me, or had a nicer ass than me didn’t really get my insecurities jumping anymore. It was when I started keeping mental notes about who was successful in their career already, who was making moves and going for their dreams, who was on the road to becoming financially stable and well that had me realize I’m entering new competition territory.

Especially since we live in the age of social media, where everything is posted about, celebrated, and in our face, it’s hard to ignore. How do we expect ourselves to mind our own business, only worry about ourselves, and stay in our own lane when we’re literally addicted to platforms that are meant to share and show off? It’s crazy how different accounts and people we know can trigger different insecurities: our appearance, our health, our weight, where we live, what level of education you have, your stability, your job, your relationship, your relationship with your family, how happy you are, how confident you seem, the list goes on and fuckin on.

I fell victim to the endless comparisons that led me to constantly feel shitty about myself. I would genuinely feel happy for my peers when they posted accomplishments, great news, posted a new job, etc., so it’s not like I would be hating. However, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t reflect on my own accomplishments and where I was at in my life. You can’t help but look at yourself and make it about you – we’re human, we be selfish like that.

I feel like my view on comparing myself and my life to others I know in real life and on social media changed after I graduated college. I was on cloud 9 after I graduated, but if you read and keep up with my blog, you’ll know that that feeling was very short lived. My greatest accomplishment was graduating college. But after I graduated I got the post-grad blues hard. I was very quiet about my real feelings post-grad. If someone was wondering how I was doing just by looking through my social media, they’d probably think that I was living my best life because I earned my degree.

Clearly that was not the case. I was struggling to figure out what direction to take my life post-graduation. Prior to graduation, it already dawned on me that social media is fake as fuck, people only post what they want you to see, you’ll never see the bigger picture, and everyone – regardless of how hard you try not to – try to uphold a certain image of ourselves from what we post. That was old news to me, and I had even spent my whole writing career on the magazine focusing on those topics. That was my niche. And my post-grad confusion helped confirm those theories that I already knew to be true.

Post-graduation made me realize that everyone is just trying to find their own way – regardless of how happy you seem to be on social media. And maybe that happiness projected onto social media platforms are genuine happiness, but there will always be something someone is working through, working on, or thinking about. I saw people I graduated with go down a completely different route than me. Some went the traditional route, some went into something completely different entirely, some worked on independent projects, some are still figuring it out – and that’s okay. We are all simply trying to see what works for us. There is not just 1 path to success.

I guess what also helped me not compare myself to others is simply being confident in my choices. It sounds easy to do, but for me, being confident in what decisions I chose to take post-graduation was a challenge. I was so hesitant and afraid that I would be making the wrong move for my future, and truly couldn’t decide what I wanted to do with myself. In those moments, I did nothing and stayed stagnant. But there is definitely beauty in the struggle. In fact, that’s part of the reason why this blog was revived. I didn’t know what the fuck to do with my life, and it was getting overwhelming. I was over thinking it so hard that I started to get frustrated that my lack of confidence in my decisions had my life at a complete standstill.

I figured that reviving my blog and posting consistently is a small big step that I could do for nobody else but myself. And I’m grateful I did. A lot of decisions had to be made post-graduation, and I was tired of living in fear. I figured a wrong decision is better than no decision. I couldn’t just wait for shit to fall in my lap, because it wouldn’t, shit doesn’t work like that. I had to get the ball rolling to see results, and if it’s the wrong decision, then so be it. My road to success is my journey alone, no one else’s.

We’re all on our own journey. No two experiences are the same. What works for someone else may not work for another. Or it may work, but it’s not what you want. Everyone has their own preferences and own personal road blocks. It’s hard to retrain your brain to not see others as competition since it’s what’s innate for us to do. You can try to compare your reality to someone else’s, but you’ll never really know first hand all the work, dedication, and complications it took to get to that point.

In reality, your biggest competition is yourself. Whether that be silencing the self-doubt, trying to find inner-motivation to get what you want, or forcing yourself to do the small steps. Sometimes you can be your own worst enemy and #1 hater. Especially when you’re wasting your time comparing yourself to others. Yes, wasting time. It’s pointless to dwell on others and their accomplishments because they’re not you. No matter what, at the end of the day only you can change and direct your future. Nobody is going to come around and change your mindset, hand you opportunities, or do the work for you. So the sooner you realize that comparisons are the thief of joy is best. It’ll always be you vs. you.

When you realize that you are in competition with no one, that’s when you’ll start to flourish mentally. There’s no room for jealousy when you’re doing your own thing. And jealousy is such a consuming ugly feeling. It only breeds more negativity and self-hate. When you come to terms with the fact that everyone is just trying to figure it all out regardless of how successful they come off to be, you’ll see that everyone is working through their own forks in the road. And with that being said, instead of being your worst enemy, attempt to be your biggest cheerleader. It can be hard when all you know is negative self-talk, but negative self-talk will literally get you nowhere.

Understanding that no one’s life is picture perfect is such a humbling realization. It gives you the opportunity to allow yourself to just focus on you without pressure to out do anyone else. Because I’m focusing on myself, I am genuinely happy for those around me that are making it happen for themselves. I love seeing my friends, family, acquaintances, and even people I follow on social media that I don’t even know in real life, be successful. It’s an amazing feeling seeing other people go and get theirs, especially when it’s people close to me. Because I know first hand the personal struggle that goes into making your dream a reality.

I once knew a person that was so insecure that they thought everyone else’s accomplishment magnified their own lack of achievement. When it was time to clap for their friends’ success, they did so with bitterness in their heart. That’s something I never got – people being genuinely salty and offended when someone accomplishes something that they worked hard for. People that hype you can also be disguised as jealous haters. Haters not only hate you for getting / achieving what they want, but they also hate themselves for not making it happen.

We are all at different stages of life. Life isn’t a competition, even though it may feel like that sometimes. Your only competition is yourself. Only you will get in the way of your own success. Be happy for those that are finding genuine happiness in their own path. Clap for others when it is their turn, because your turn is coming up.

Rhonda: Heart Of Gold

Illustration By: Marielle Cabillo (Instagram: @work_in_progress.ai)

If you were to ask me how Rhonda and I got close, I really couldn’t tell you. She was my dad’s first cousin, meaning she was my 2nd cousin, or aunt, or whatever the correct term is. With a 25+ year age gap, Rhonda still insisted that we were “cousins.” So to mess with her, we gave her the nickname “Tita-Lola” (Auntie Grandma).

In the past, the only times I’d ever really see Rhonda in person were at family reunions that are held once a year. Well, reunions and funerals. Our family is so big that we’ll probably never get every single family member at an event…. ever. Despite not growing up together, not seeing each other often, and probably not acknowledging each other at events for the first decade plus of my life, Rhonda and I managed to have a very close bond.

I feel like social media is what helped break the ice in our relationship. When Rhonda added me on social media, I feel like I was given a key into her heart and soul. You know the saying that social media is just the window into someone’s house? That you can only see what they want you to see? That wasn’t the case for Rhonda. Her social media platforms unlocked the door and let you freely roam the “House of Tita-Lola.” If being an open book had a picture in the dictionary, it would have a big ass picture of Rhonda’s selfie.

Rhonda had no problem sending a friend request to anyone and everyone involved with our family. If you were at a family reunion once, have a last name she recognized, or had mutual friends, you probably got a request on Facebook or Instagram. Family meant everything to Rhonda. She knew all the chisme, all the extended family, and wanted to share everything she knew about my great-grandparents and our family history. And whether you wanted to know all that information or not, if you followed her on any socials, you had no choice but to see it.

Tita-Lola did not give a shit about over posting. That term did not exist to her. She used her social media pages more like a Twitter account with how often she posted. But that’s how I, and probably many others, felt like we were close to her without really speaking much in person. Rhonda shared her personal life, opinions, likes, dislikes, family history, rants, and how she was managing her illness. Nothing was off limits to post about. Anything less than 10 posts a day would have me thinking, “Is Rhonda okay?”

Though she loved to share everything online, in person, she took a while to warm up. Rhonda was cool with everyone in the family, but with people she didn’t know very well, she would be a little shy to start up a conversation. But don’t let the shyness fool you – she probably knew everything about you from what you posted on social media. Rhonda would just be waiting for the perfect time to break the ice and attempt to start a conversation.

My sisters and I and our other 2nd cousins initially bonded with Rhonda by (dare I say it…) low-key bullying her. It was all fun and games, and Rhonda was the perfect person to joke around with because she’d sit there, laugh her ass off, but continue to take the mild abuse. Whenever she’d try to defend herself or shit talk us back, we would rebuttal with another joke. Those were good times. And now that I look back, I laugh in my head because we were really out here cappin’ on our fuckin elder and didn’t even know her like that yet hahahah.

I just know that when she realized how foolish and ridiculous my sisters and I can get, she felt more than comfortable to be around us. We got closer and closer as the years passed, and it was no longer awkward to just approach each other at family reunions or other gatherings. It was such a significant age gap, but our relationship just worked. Each family gathering, the Cabillo and Prado girls would gather around to mess with Rhonda, and she loved that shit. It was always a good time when we all got together. Every time we would go home after a gathering, my heart felt full.

I got really close to Rhonda in the last decade. It all started with jokes and acting a fool, but throughout the years, I got to know Rhonda on a deeper level. We had our fun and games moments in person, but we also vented about our lives on a serious note. I knew Rhonda behind the social media posts, the jokes, and the banter. I quickly learned about things that made her happy, things that made her sad, what she dwelled on, what was most important to her, what motivated her, and so on. She vented to me about her health, problems, and all the many situations she would get herself into. And bitch, there were many, hahaha. Rhonda, I know you’re looking down on me like “don’t you say nothing, beezy!”

Quickly, Rhonda became someone I could turn to if I needed someone to talk to, but most of the time, I listened. I listened to the many things that were on her mind. And I think that’s why we got so close. She had so much to say, and I listened and gave my 2 cents. Ironically, the girl that posted so much online to stay “connected,” felt overwhelmingly alone from time to time. I wanted to be there for her when she needed someone because I knew she would do the same for me. It was a great feeling knowing I had a family member who could offer me advice, judgement free.

Rhonda vented to me a lot about her health. I know she posted a lot about her situation on social media in detail, so it would kind of be a reiteration of what she already shared. Rhonda was very transparent with her health complications – she would post photos of her dialysis, her medicine shipments, her appointments, good and bad news, and everything in-between. Unknowingly, she gave us all a glimpse into her daily life, and we would see how much it took to upkeep her medications and treatments. Whether you wanted to see it or not, her followers got an overwhelming sense of her daily reality. Her posts would have you thinking, “Damn, how does she do it?” And yet, she did it. Tita-Lola was very hopeful, yet very realistic, about finding a kidney donor. Rhonda had my younger sister make business cards to help get the word around. She never gave up.

Rhonda’s health took up a lot of her time. Every appointment, every medication, every shot, every timed meal, was a constant reminder about her reality. There would be days where I talked to her, and she would unpack everything on her mind. I think what made our relationship special was the fact that we could be brutally honest with each other. I knew her daily routine took a huge toll on her, some days it would get to her more than others, and I had to remind her that it was okay. It was okay to feel what she was feeling, it was okay to feel sad, it was okay to vent out those emotions to me. What would make me especially sad was knowing that whatever I could say for comfort would not change her reality. That was the saddest part, to know that all I could do was be there for her and hope for a miracle.

Whether she realized it or not, Rhonda would find joy in the smallest things. I think that’s what made her so strong, the fact that she took on so much with her health on a day to day basis, but still managed to get excited off of the most random things. From PEZ, to music, to her celebrity girl crushes (the fact that I know her celebrity crushes though, bye lmfao), to anything San Francisco related (#BornAndBred) – these things alone could make her day. But nothing could make her day more than the interactions she had with Damian and Delilah. Her nephew and niece was her whole life. Rhonda would literally do anything to see a smile on their faces. She would document their small interactions on Facebook, and you could feel the overwhelming sense of love she had for them just by reading their commentary. They are what kept her going.

Everyone knows how big Rhonda was on family. And family just didn’t mean blood related, her friends became her family as well. Anyone who Rhonda considered “family,” she was loyal to for life. Once you made an imprint on Tita-Lola, she would never forget you. Even the friendships that drifted apart or ended on bad terms, she would still wish the best for that person. We would have many talks about people she remembered from the past, and how she still cherishes the friendships because it meant a lot to her at some point in her life. Rhonda always tried to give people the benefit of the doubt and see the good in them. If anything ever went sour, in her heart she wished them the best and clung to the good memories. She had such a big heart, and always chose to be the bigger person.

Family was everything to Rhonda. The love she had for her grandparents (my great-grandparents) was so strong that it could transcend lifetimes. Rhonda loved and missed them so much, I know that they had such a big impact on her life. I could tell that decades later, her grief from their passing was still fresh. However, she tried to use her sorrow in a positive way. She tried to educate the younger generations about our family history by telling us stories about the great-grandparents that I never got to meet. Every time Rhonda missed them, she would post a photo, a memory, or a story about them online. “This is where it all began, the reason why we’re all here,” my dad says every time we visit his grandparents’ grave. It was true, and Rhonda felt the exact same way. She took it upon herself to make sure that everybody in the family knew exactly where we came from, who started it all. She wanted to make sure that their names lived on in our family history.

A few weeks before her passing, it dawned on me that I haven’t checked up on Rhonda in a while. So, I texted her and we picked up from where we left off. She updated me about her life, what was going on, how her health was, etc. The last text message I sent her was after I read a status she posted on Facebook saying she was being taken off the donor list. It was a few weeks before she had her health complications, and I wanted her to know that a lot of people love and care about her. I didn’t know how to comfort her during this time, what do you say to someone that receives that kind of news? I just wanted her to know that I saw the update, and wanted to send my love.

When I heard the news that Rhonda passed away, of course I was devastated. It didn’t feel like reality. Rhonda? Tita-Lola Rhonda? Rhon?! It’s crazy because obviously I knew first hand how her health was declining, but you just never think that the day will come. And when that day does come, you’re stuck there, dumbfounded. I started to feel an immense amount of guilt, that the last couple of years we didn’t get to hangout as much due to COVID and personal schedules. I wanted to hangout with her and invite her over many times, but held off because of the pandemic. I felt that the last couple of years we weren’t as close as we used to be because we were off doing our own thing. Of course, when we would reconnect it was back to how it used to be, but I felt like I should’ve been there more towards the end.

When I start to get sad and feel guilty, I feel like I can hear Rhonda’s voice in my head, “Don’t worry about it, yo.” I know the last thing she would want me to do is feel guilty. It really didn’t matter how much time went by, whether we talked consistently or not, I knew that once we connected again, nothing would have changed, nothing would be awkward, we’d just pick up from where we left off and update each other on the important things. And I’m grateful that I got 1 last “what’s up” update before she transitioned out of this life.

Rhonda was always there for me for the important things. I knew that I could count on her to give me advice and listen to my troubles, judgment free. Tita-Lola was hands down one of my biggest cheerleaders. She supported my writing, was there to encourage me when I wasn’t confident in myself, and always let me know how proud she was of me with what I’m choosing to do with my writing. That’s why I felt comfortable to tell her the many ideas I have. “But I don’t know…” I would tell her at the end of a wishful thinking rant. I would explain 1 direction I wanted to take my writing, but then think of 5 other things I want to do. I knew I was all over the place, and would feel a little embarrassed as to what people’s opinions would be once I stopped talking. Rhonda would look at me and casually encourage me to do all of it. “Why not?”

She truly made me feel like I could do anything. Of course, the true push will have to come from me and me alone, but to know that I had Rhonda’s support and she was cheering me on from the sidelines in anything I chose, was a great feeling to know. Rhonda would never try to talk me out of the many ideas I had, and for that I’m grateful. She was so happy to see people be passionate about things, and she encouraged it in every way that she could. That’s just who Rhonda was – the most loving, supportive, and simpy mother fucker you will ever meet. I could laugh with her until I cried, but I could also get real with her and cry my heart out if I needed to. And I know she felt the same.

Rhonda was a giver. She would give you the clothes on her back if she thought you needed it. When she said she got you, she meant that shit. I know that because I have been on the receiving end of her generosity and love. Rhonda would listen, but her support wouldn’t just end there. She would literally try to see how she could help your situation, how she can personally make it better. If she loved you, Rhonda made your problem her problem, and if there was an immediate fix, she would do it. I don’t think I know too many people like that. If you knew Rhonda, consider yourself lucky. She was the most kind hearted person, giver by nature, and one of life’s true gems. Rhonda truly had a heart of gold, and I’ll miss her presence in my life.

I really can’t believe that Tita-Lola is gone. It’s a weird feeling to know that I can’t just text her, or DM her, or tag her in something. My Facebook and Instagram feed crickets as the main poster is no longer posting. It’s a trip to know that I’ll never see the green “online” symbol next to her handles. I have avoided reading through our text message and Instagram threads because I don’t want to get sad. Because it doesn’t feel like she’s totally gone. All her posts, pictures, stories, etc, they are living on. When I tagged her in a post a couple of days after she passed, I decided to read our Instagram chat. It was her encouraging me to take the next step, be independent, and accept an offer to move out. She told me, “How many more signs do you need :)? You’re a writer.” That was Tita-Lola, encouraging without being pushy. God, I miss her.

I find a huge comfort in knowing that Rhonda got the reunion she so desperately wanted with her grandparents. I know she has reunited with the many family members she has lost throughout the years. When I miss her or wish she was still here, I remind myself that she is finally at rest. Rhonda is no longer suffering, no longer in pain, no longer on her tedious schedule. She is at peace. And that alone brings me peace. Rhonda fought her fight, and now we have a real one looking over us from the other side.

Tita-Lola, I miss you. But I know you are at peace. I know that if anyone is pulling strings for me on the other side, it’s definitely you. The way you helped guide me and encourage me in this life, will be some of my most cherished memories of you. Before you went, you asked me to help you with our family’s family tree, and all these projects you had in mind. Like you did for my great-grandparents, I will make sure that you are remembered. I’ll have many photos of you flipping me off to share. Please continue to guide me like you always have.

Rest In Peace, Yo.

2021 – My Emerald Year

Illustration by: Marielle Cabillo

I have a ritual of reading my monthly horoscope when Susan Miller posts them on her website. You see, I’m not one to fully trust and make decisions based off of what my horoscope predicts, but I do like to see what is alleged to happen. You know, kind of like a little fun guide into the near future. The extent of my belief in my horoscope forecasts does have its limits though. I definitely don’t map out my month according to my forecast, but I do like to read back at the end of the month and see if anything predicted was true. I make a mental note of when planets retrograde, if there’s new moons, eclipses, etc., because to me, the stars and astrology don’t lie – the other planets have to affect us in some way.

I remember reading my forecast for 2021. I’m an Aquarius, and 2021 was said to be my “Emerald Year.” The Emerald Year for your sign is said to be when you’re at your luckiest. 2021 for me was “the once-in-12-year visit of good-fortune Jupiter to your Aquarius Sun,” (Miller, Susan). Meaning, 2021 was going to be my year of growth, good fortune, and claiming what is mine. Of course with that information, and being a believer in astrology, you start to get excited that astrologically, your sign is the luckiest sign of the year. I was excited to see what 2021 would bring me. I was very hopeful for the new year – my Emerald Year…

But 2021 was by far one of the hardest years for me. Of course there were great moments as well, but I personally felt like the theme of 2021 for me could be summed up by saying it was a struggle. A struggle to pick myself back up after losing 2 people who were really close to me, a struggle to find motivation to do the things I wanted to do, a struggle to make time for myself, a struggle to balance out my life, a struggle to establish myself professionally, a struggle to push forward, a struggle to correct habits of mine that I wanted to change, a struggle maneuvering through this pandemic, and so forth. But of course with struggle comes a lot of growth and realizations. I guess I had my Emerald Year, but I had to go through the mud for it.

2021 was a really sad year for me. As the months passed into the new year, I slowly, yet quickly, saw my Tatay transition out of this world. I know I wrote a whole ass series on my Tatay and all my feelings that came with his passing, but I still can’t believe it. For the first half of 2021, Tatay’s health was one of my main concerns. I wanted to be there every Sunday to show him that we didn’t just forget about him during the pandemic. The remaining second half of the year I wanted to be at his grave every Sunday to show him that we won’t forget him now that he’s gone.

Tatay passed away in mid-July, but I feel like I’m just now coming to terms with my grief. After he passed, I felt like I was just existing throughout the rest of 2021. I was trying to stay motivated, I wanted to be on top of my writing. I was close to 100 consistent blog posts and I planned to buy my website, collaborate with more people, get stories lined up, and finally get ahead. Tatay passed away a couple week before my 100th post, and all my plans kind of went out the window. I wanted to do all the things that I planned, but couldn’t find the motivation to do anything. I bought my website, but my head was in the clouds.

Even though I had so many plans and ideas that I wanted to accomplish, I didn’t try to force anything on myself. I knew that this was a difficult time in my life, I had just lost my last living grandparent, the one I was closest to at that. Now wasn’t the time to put pressure on myself to produce content when I was simply struggling to just exist and move forward with my life. Of course, on the outside, I was handling shit that I had to handle. But on the inside, I felt a part of me died, that I didn’t care about much, but at the same time I cared about everything. I didn’t feel like myself. It went on for so long that I wondered if this was just the “new me.”

It took months for me to really process what I was exactly feeling in regards to Tatay’s passing. What really helped me sort everything out and get my emotions down was publishing his Series. And I really hesitated on that. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I didn’t want anyone to think that I was using my grief for some views. I decided to follow through with Tatay’s Series because I knew I had a lot of unpacked baggage that I needed to let out. Also, he was such a major role in my life, it felt disrespectful not to. Writing was one of the few ways I felt I could adequately pay homage to his life and what he meant to me. But most importantly, it didn’t feel right to not write about something that had cut me so deep. Yes, I could write about other things, but I knew my mind would be elsewhere. I pride myself in authentic writing, so producing other content just didn’t seem genuine – my heart and mind was totally engulfed in grief and anger at the time.

In the midst of my grief, I lost another family member who I was very close to. 4 months after Tatay passed, my aunt / cousin, Rhonda, passed away due to her ongoing health complications. I couldn’t believe it. When Tatay died, I already dubbed 2021 one of the worst years of my life. But when Rhonda also passed away, I thought, “Okay, Universe, are you fucking serious right now?!” I felt like I was being kicked in the face while I was already down. Rhonda, Tita-Lola (Auntie – Grandma), as we liked to call her just to piss her off, was someone I hold very dear to my heart. This was another type of pain. I felt like the Universe was taking punches at me from all kind of different angles.

Tatay was someone that was in my life since day 1. He lived with my family for some time, was someone I saw on a consistent basis, and has been the closest grandparent to me since I was a kid. But with Rhonda, even though we were related, I never really saw her consistently, didn’t grow up around her, and didn’t even have a conversation with her until I was a teenager. Rhonda was someone I chose to get close to. She was someone that chose to put in mutual effort to get to know each other, chose to encourage me, and chose to be there for me to give me advice during the early years of my young adult life. I tried to be there for her as she maneuvered through life’s many challenges as well – her personal shit going on, her health complications, her dating life, and every random thing in-between. We got really tight over the last decade or so, so this was the cherry on top of 2021 being the shittiest year to date.

However, I processed Rhonda’s death a lot differently than I did Tatay’s. Rhonda was an open book, she let everyone and anyone who had access to her social media pages know everything about her life. Social media was like her diary. She showed her dialysis treatments, the medications she had to take on a daily basis, and gave us visuals and documentation of her daily routine. Rhonda would post her true feelings on social media, she didn’t sugar coat anything. At times you’d be reading and think, “Rhonda why the fuck are you posting this online?” But that’s what made her experience all the more real and relatable. I feel like just from her posts, I could see what kind of life she lived on a day to day basis. On top of what she would vent to me about, I knew that this sickness was a lot to handle. Her declining health really took a toll on her life.

Rhonda was such a family oriented person. The way I yearn to see Tatay again is the same way she yearned for my great-grandparents (her grandparents). Her grief for those in our family that have passed away was so immense, she was truly an individual that loved with every fiber of her being. But she focused that grief on trying to educate the younger generations of our family history. She was passionate about our family and keeping the memories of my great-grandparents alive. So when she passed away, I definitely was sad. But I was at peace knowing that she finally got the reunion with all of her loved ones that she so desperately wanted. I was relieved to know that she was no longer in pain, no longer suffering, no longer grieving people she loved. That was my peace.

2021’s biggest lesson for me was realizing in depth the phrase, “life is short.” Of course, this is something I already knew, but it takes on a whole other meaning when you lose people close to you. Death will really have you see things for what it is and see people for who they are. Death made me realize money truly ain’t shit. All that matters in this life is time and showing up for people that matter to you. All you can really give people is your time. At the end of the day, time is the only thing that matters, and how you choose to spend your time is completely up to you.

When you’re at the end of your life, you’re not going to give a shit about how much money you have. Instead, you’ll think of the people that were there, made the effort, and showed up for you. So I’ve been trying to “show up” more for those around me. Like making it to the spontaneous hangouts, the hikes with family, take a drive with my dad to keep him company when he runs errands, and attempting to do things that my partner and I say we want to do but never really get around to doing. I’ve been so used to isolating and sheltering in place that my attempt to put in effort to show up was significantly effected. In order to be a good partner, friend, and family member, I needed to show up and make the effort for those around me. That need to show up definitely came to light because of Tatay.

I had to make the effort to show up for others, but I also needed to realize when I needed space. With all of 2021’s craziness, it was the year I had to learn the hard way that in order to be there for others, I first had to be there for myself. And that means taking those mental breaks if needed. I personally take a long time to recharge after interaction. And with my emotions already drained from personal tragedies, I was made very aware of other things that can leave me feeling drained when my cup was already half full. I love my alone time. I am a homebody by definition. So during my time to recharge, I would find the little things that bring me joy – like eating my favorite food, binge watching a show / many murder documentaries, sleeping, or simply doing nothing. The power of doing nothing when you feel drained is so powerful. Sometimes you need those lazy days to detox.

2021 gave me a lot of set backs. With the pandemic persistent and showing no signs of letting up any time soon, I really had to come to terms with this current way of life. I had to realize that this pandemic isn’t going anywhere, I needed to learn how to adapt and make changes so I wouldn’t get burnt out / bored with the same routine. There’s no use in wishing things can go back to how it was pre-pandemic, because that’s not our current reality. But I did not want to live in fear. I wanted to continue to live my life, but safely. At this point, all we can really do is take the proper precautions and go about our lives. COVID isn’t going anywhere, so we need to learn how to survive and exist in this current age without it being detrimental to our own mental health in the process.

Living through the pandemic another full year has actually helped get my priorities in order. It’s ironic because the whole world is kind of in limbo with the pandemic, and that has added to me feeling stagnant with my dreams and aspirations. But it has really given me a lot of time to figure out what I want to do, what I want to accomplish, and make baby steps to get to those points. With cases rising and uncertainty continuing to circulate, it’s comforting to know that I can at least attempt to build out my future plans. The feeling of life “slowing down” due to the pandemic has helped me tune into what it is I truly want out of life.

A lot of those plans are obviously in regards to my writing career and what steps I want to take next. Like I said, 2021 brought a lot of set backs for me. I’m already naturally a procrastinator, so when life threw in a tragedy or 2, I just didn’t know how to deal. There are still times where I think, “is this just the new me?” But as time passes, I’m starting to slowly get back to feeling like “me” again. I needed that break. I needed that time to allow myself to fall apart. I wanted to keep writing and continue with my content, and luckily it all worked out. But if I’m being completely honest, there were a lot of lazy days. Days where I didn’t want to get ahead, where I didn’t care to work on anything, where I worked on things last minute.

At the start of 2021, I had so many deadlines for myself to meet. But it didn’t go as I planned at all. And usually, I would beat myself up about it. But surprisingly, it was the opposite. I knew that the last thing I needed to do was be angry with myself for not meeting deadlines as I dealt with the death of 2 close family members. I decided to show myself kindness. I needed to feel those emotions, go through the crazy rollercoaster of grief, and sort out all my emotions, because if I didn’t, I know I would just self-destruct.

But through the set backs, I have accomplished a couple of things last year that I’m very proud of. Even though I was in a rut, I never once put my writing on hold. I still connected with so many new people and pushed out a couple of Series. And I’m so glad that I’ve connected with so many people who gave me the privilege to share their stories on my platform. I know that this is just the beginning.

My horoscope said that 2021 was going to be my Emerald Year – where I work hard for what I want, grow as a person, and have the universe in my favor. 2021 was supposed to be when I was supposedly astrologically at my luckiest. When Tatay and Rhonda passed away, I thought, “How the hell is this my emerald year? This is the by far the worst year of my life.” But then I took a step back and saw all that was accomplished, all the lessons I learned, all the realizations I had to come to terms with, and all the growth that took place because of what I went through this year and I think, “I got my Emerald Year… just in the most fucked up way possible.” 2021 definitely challenged me in every way possible. I had to re-establish what matters the most to me in this life and that brought a lot of growth and self-reflecting. And I know that all the seeds I planted in 2021, whether I knew it or not, will start to bear fruit in 2022 and the years to come.

2021 was the year I had to struggle. It was a struggle to even get those seeds planted. But I know they’re there, and I’m waiting for my blessings to come. 2021 was the year I lost people very close to me, 2022 and onward is trying to make them proud.

Estephanie: Motherhood Without My Life Partner

“This is story 10 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Motherhood Series. 10 mothers give us a glimpse into a small portion of their motherhood journey. I am so grateful that these 10 women gave me the opportunity to share their stories on my platform. Though they focus on different topics, each mother has gone through challenges that tested their strength, patience, and sense of self. Thank you again for sharing.” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory

This is Estephanie’s story, written in her own words:

“My name is Estephanie, but friends call me Juelz. I’m the proud mother of Elían, fiancé to Tone, Founder of Divine Eye, LLC, Licensed Esthetician, and Body Sculptress at Adriana’s Beauty Salon. 

When I first found out I was pregnant my exact words were ‘holy shit,’ as I smiled. This is not something our family knows, but our son was planned per say. We knew our future wouldn’t be easy and that it would be scary, but we loved each other and knew that we would figure it out. My son turns 4 in January, and man he has been our biggest blessing. Being a mother to me means endless amounts of  strength, courage, and resilience. It’s a feeling that no other can ever fulfill. 

You can have the crappiest day, but even when your child is figuring out their emotions, they manage to still make you smile. You sit and observe them, you then realize, ‘My God, you were in my stomach. I created those beautiful hands, that smile.’ And then I think, ‘Damn you sound just like me.’ Like Faith Evans said, ‘I never knew a love like this before,’ because my family is different in many ways like many others. We’re all unique. I’m a single mother to Elían while my life partner, Tone, is incarcerated.

Honestly, my mom was aware of our situation from the beginning. However, Tone isn’t just someone I met 5-6 years ago. I’ve known him my entire life. We’ve been a part of each other’s lives since we were 12. We have history, we dated in high school. Puppy love, right? But I always knew he’d be an amazing partner. My fiancé was fighting a case previous to our relationship’s beginning. My mom knew about his past, and they have an amazing relationship. My family didn’t know about his case, and I was very private about people I dated. So when I finally brought someone to the family they were excited. His situation wasn’t my story to tell. It was Tone’s private matters. We didn’t want the negativity to surround us. People are ruthless sometimes with questions and overstepping boundaries.

 But of course, secrets always find a way to come out. My family became aware of his case while I was 7 months pregnant. By then, they had gotten to know him for who he was and witnessed how amazing, hardworking, and loving he truly is. They witnessed how attentive he was while I was pregnant and after I gave birth. He made sure to stay home and give his son time. By then, it was too late for the judgement. My family loves Tone. I feel like we just didn’t give room for judgement. We focused on ourselves.

We had a lot of court dates, even before I was pregnant. We never knew which court date they would remand him. My anxiety was pretty high. His case is a federal case, and the judge truly had the say if he’s remanded before his sentencing or not. During my pregnancy, all we did was plan and discuss how we would raise our son. We discussed scenarios because we truly never knew which court would be the last one until it was.

May 15, 2018 my fiancé, my son, and I were joined by other family members as we walked into the federal courthouse located in Oakland, CA. The day had come for sentencing and we believed a miracle would happen due to his many accomplishments and life changing choices.

 My life changed in a blink of an eye when the judge sentenced my fiancé to ten years and eleven months. My son was two days away from turning four months old. It was devastating to hear. I dropped to my knees. I couldn’t believe it. It was his first time being sentenced – never missed a drug test, attended all court ordered classes, and worked a full-time graveyard shift (he does drywall). Minimum for each count was 5 years. Tone was just as surprised. 

Life was great up until that point. I was doing amazing in my career. My son was healthy after a difficult delivery. We had just mailed out invitations for our wedding. I was very hesitant to plan our wedding, but I said ‘Why live in fear?’ Tone was waiting for me to give him the okay to plan the wedding. I was afraid this would happen and it became my reality. I don’t regret it one bit. Life had different plans for us. We knew the possibility was high, but like everyone, you pray and hope for the best. 

The people closest to me understand my position of wanting to wait for Tone. There was concern, but in regards to my mental state. They reminded me of all my options. Reminding me that I too matter and that any decision I took, they would stand by it. Meaning if I waited they would support it, and if I decided to walk away they would support me too.

I haven’t wanted to throw in the towel because of the love and respect I have for Tone. I know I don’t owe him anything. I know this case has absolutely nothing to do with me and I know it’s me putting a lot of hope into the relationship. I cannot get up and leave, I say that because I’d be leaving for the wrong reasons. I’d be leaving because I’m ‘lonely,’ not because I don’t love him or because he doesn’t treat me right. Of course I want my family to be complete, of course I want to have date night to get dolled up while holding hands with my partner, but if I walk away, that’s walking away from my family.

The journey hasn’t been easy. Single moms and mothers like me, who aren’t single but due to circumstances have to do it alone, we forget to praise ourselves for all that we do. There are lonely nights where we stay up to cry, wake up with puffy eyes, and handle business. When there’s so much to be done you don’t know where to start but you do. The amazing memories we create with our children, good and bad that you can look back and laugh. 

Motherhood was never supposed to be easy. It is the next step of growth. Motherhood teaches you to unlock those traumas you’ve been avoiding because you don’t want to project it onto your child. Motherhood gets you in a loophole of emotions, but doing motherhood alone without your life partner is hard. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have a partner pass away. I’m blessed to be able to receive a phone call, an email, or these days – even a visit. 

The first years I struggled with my depression and anxiety but I managed it. I lost myself in that process. I lost my glow. I lost my happiness because I was stripped away from what I thought was my perfect life. In reality, what is perfection? I don’t think anyone knows what that is. I just knew I needed to fight, and that the fight wasn’t going to be easy. Everyone’s first thoughts are, ‘Oh she’s going to leave him, watch,’ or ‘Oh, she’s going to cheat on him if she waits, watch,’ or even worse, ‘Watch her wait and the relationship fails.’ Like sheesh, can we be a bit more optimistic here please?

It truly takes a village, my support system has helped me so much with my child. When I needed to go back to work, all hands were on deck. My mom, mother-in-law, and sister-in-laws helped me take care of my son. Mondays and Wednesdays my mom would watch him, the other days my sister-in-law would watch him, and when she couldn’t anymore my mother-in-law took over. My cousins would come over to help me so I could catch up with laundry or cleaning while they helped me with my son. They watched me break down crying an endless amount of times. My cousins and close friends gave me a safe space to vent and plot my next moves. My mom motivated me even on the days I just wanted to be alone, she made sure to get me out of my comfort zone.

I found love in food. It was my coping mechanism even when I was a teen. However, I knew I needed to do something different but didn’t know what. I created myself a routine. Every week looked the same. But I grew tired of it. I would begin books and I couldn’t finish them. My attention span was so small and I couldn’t understand why if I truly loved reading books. Then it was time to dive deeper. I knew I needed to go back to therapy. I tried it but I was afraid to open the doors of Pandora’s Box. So I stopped, but I started to journal. Not every day, but I tried as much as I could. I prayed a lot and I cried a lot. 

 As a mother, naturally you  are a nurturer. I love nurturing my family, that means my fiancé as well. Not only do I have to learn to cope with my roller coaster of emotions, but I too have to attend to my man’s needs and his vulnerabilities so he doesn’t lose his mind for not being here with his family and witnessing our son grow everyday. That’s his biggest fear because he grew up without a father too. 

It’s far from easy for Tone. This was his biggest fear: not being able to watch his child grow up every day. He wishes he could be here, but he has his moments of depression and anger. He writes Elían letters and draws beautiful artwork so he could see them. It’s been harder for Tone when we did have visits – to sit in front of your child and not be able to hug them or even hold their hand due to COVID. If you break the rule, Tone can be sent to solitary confinement. Tone has been in solitary confinement many times during this pandemic, caught COVID twice, and was freezing because it was so cold in those cells.

What hurts the most is not knowing how he will come home from the traumas he’s endured during his life in prison. How he will handle the changes I’ve made during the time he was gone. I worry if we will be able to adapt to the new life after the honeymoon stage fades of having him home. How my son will handle his father being home, if he will react negatively when his dad wants to correct him or if it’s going to be awkward for him. 

I can relate with my son because I also had to visit my father in prison until I was 25 years old. I know the feeling when I see my son watch his father enter the visiting room, how his eyes glow, and he cheeses under his facemask. The pandemic has been far from easy – it has been our biggest challenge. As of right now, we have no visits due to COVID-19. The facility is unaware when the visits will begin again due to cases rising. In the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic I organized a protest (#YOSOYTUVOZ Lompoc, CA) with the help of my family and other families to bring awareness to the inhumane acts that were taking place in the prison. 

Not seeing each other for almost one year, and now being able to see each other and not hug each other is difficult. Helping my son understand that his daddy does love him but can’t hug him is devastating. Especially when he compares himself to other children and their fathers. I know that feeling because I also would do it as a little girl – but now as a mother it’s by far the worst feeling.

Growing up without a father was difficult. I didn’t understand why my father committed the same mistake knowing the high risk of being away from us. My father has always battled with addiction and being in and out of prison. The time my dad was home we have great memories of him, but I also have nightmares of him. I would take care of my dad when he was coked out. I would intervene in the physical beatings my mother received while he was under the influence. I worried if he would come home or not, and if he came home, I feared what state he would be in.

 I’m a daddy’s girl 100% however, it does get overwhelming. It made me a giver and a nurturer yet gave me a cold heart. Although my father is no longer incarcerated, he struggles with his addiction. I can’t believe that although I’ll be 28 next month, I no longer have a healthy relationship with my father. When I’m dealing with heavy stuff I switch to survival mode. It’s been a journey to calm down the survival mode because I have a son now and can’t just get up and leave.

I feel that maybe my family is sympathetic towards my current situation because my mom went through the same thing with my dad. But my father was nothing like Tone. My family didn’t meet my father until after I turned 2 years old because he went to prison while my mom was pregnant with me. My dad wasn’t the best partner for my mother, a lot of healing needed to take place. And with Tone, it was peaceful, no drama, loving, respectful, and family oriented. It was a different experience my family witnessed with Tone. He had similarities like my dad given the choice of lifestyle they chose for various reasons, but he has my Papa’s (grandfather) hard working attitude and detail oriented when it comes to family.

The only thing my son and I can relate to is that Tone is incarcerated for mistakes that were previous to our relationship. The way I’m helping my son with not having his dad around is by teaching him coping mechanisms to help with his emotions while being frustrated. We do a lot of breathing techniques, drawing/painting when he’s sad or having an off day. When he’s mad I tell him to go to his room to take a breather, use the punching bag, or to use his drums. I like teaching him things Tone would teach him, and showing him movies Tone loves. I bring him to work with me, I’ve taught him how to fold towels, and help me with laundry. I do things with him that his dad and I emphasized we wanted to do. I speak highly of his dad and I remind him no matter where his daddy is, that he’s always thinking of him and loves him dearly.

Elían wants to know everything about his dad, from what he eats to what kind of cologne he wears. Sometimes at night is when it becomes harder for me. The hardest question by far has been, ‘Why daddy don’t love me or hug me? I miss him.’ Those were the words I heard the first time we visited him after COVID-19. It was a new facility we were going to and the first time seeing him since the last time we visited pre-pandemic. It was very rough for my son. Again, hearing that from a 3 year old was devastating. It was so hard to put the words together as I cried with him because as a child, I remembered that feeling.

My son is very attached to Tone given the circumstances. Their bond was strong even when I was pregnant. When he would hear his dad’s voice, he’d have a whole party in my belly. One thing about my son is he’s very curious and asks a lot of questions. This year we officially told him his dad was at a camp. He knows that his dad is at a camp correcting his actions by having an adult timeout. And sometimes, as adults we make mistakes and everything has a consequence whether it is good or bad, but when it is bad the timeouts are a little different. They have to go away for a little bit to learn new habits.

 However, we emphasize that if it were up to his dad, he’d be at home with us every single day. I emphasize to him how much his daddy loves him. I have pictures of his dad everywhere. My son’s godparents have bought him a Build-a-Bear with his voice recording telling him how much he loves him so he can hear it everyday. Books about his daddy (wonderbly.com), also blankets with pictures of him when he was a baby with his dad. 

Obstacles in life will always happen, no matter how great your plan is, no matter how good of a person you are, life will challenge you. I am learning to believe in myself because of motherhood. Everything life has taught me has led up to this moment. So when I find myself asking, ‘Why me?’ I now say, ‘Okay, so what’s the lesson here and where can I grow?’ Being a mother doesn’t mean having all the answers, it means figuring it out with the answers you do have and working from there. 

It sounds so simple, but trust and communication is how Tone and I maintain our relationship. We are very raw with our conversations. We have conversations that couples find difficult to have – our fears, our regrets, our happiness, our past, our traumas, things we like about each other, and things we find difficult about each other. I am very open with my emotions and I’m like a firework. And Tone is more reserved and quiet about his emotions. But I can sense it just by the first moment I hear his voice. I cry a lot to him if I’m being honest. I get a sudden rush of guilt for complaining to him and he reminds me that I’m his partner and he needs to talk about these things with me. We pray a lot. We read the same books so we can discuss them to create conversation. I bought a deck of cards for couples to ask questions to get to know each other even more. We try to know everything about each other because all we can do is use our words to explain what and how we feel on a daily basis since we don’t have each other physically here.

I am hopeful Tone will be able to come home sooner than we ever expected. I am hopeful that this nightmare will just be a chapter in our story where we can look back on 20 years from now and say, ‘Damn, baby, we did that.’ Where we can tell our future grandchildren and great grandchildren our love story. Like not only did we overcome this sentence, but a whole pandemic too.  

The best advice I can give someone that is dealing with this same scenario is to learn from each other. LEARN EACH OTHER’S TRIGGERS AND LOVE LANGUAGE. Learn to compromise, learn to understand one another. This journey is far from easy, there will be nights that you feel your heart is truly hurting and the tears won’t stop running down your face but it’s during those moments you grow. It’s during those moments you learn that although you feel like the world is against you, it’s not. Never say, ‘Why me?’ Say, ‘What do I need to learn during this time?’ Take this time to truly get out of your comfort zone. Learn to trust yourself because the doubt will eat you alive. Don’t listen to the bystanders, pay attention to the support and love you receive. No one will understand your relationship better than you and your partner.” -Estephanie

Jayna: Moms Are Still A Work In Progress

“This is story 8 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Motherhood Series. 10 mothers give us a glimpse into a small portion of their motherhood journey. I am so grateful that these 10 women gave me the opportunity to share their stories on my platform. Though they focus on different topics, each mother has gone through challenges that tested their strength, patience, and sense of self. Thank you again for sharing.” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory

This is Jayna’s story, written in her own words:

“If you were to ask me how motherhood looked like for me 2 years ago, I would’ve said, ‘well, breast-pumping sucks, I’m tired af, and the constant questioning of, ‘when does this get easier?’ crosses my mind as many times as I breathe in a day.’ Today, Motherhood for me still looks like all of the above minus the breast pumping. Truthfully, parenting is hard and if you are a parent, I know I don’t need to tell you that. But for me, navigating through my current life as a ‘stay-at-home mom’ these past 2 years has met me with so many internal challenges of self-doubt and anxiety/depression that I never expected to go through as a mom. 

Ultimately, being faced with the adversities of motherhood has guided me to the start of my own self-discovery and healing journey to continuously work on becoming the best person and mom I can be for my son, Cade. While I speak from my own personal experience, I do believe it is 100% a full-time job to learn how to raise a child that requires your undivided love and attention, all while pretty much still raising yourself and learning who you are as an individual.

 Being a mom has brought me the awareness I never knew I needed to learn. And it helped uncover my personal triggers and consciously build my awareness to not ‘take it out’ on my child when he decided that his lunch looks better thrown all over the floor or when he decided to happily jump on my bed while unknowingly smearing a poop-filled diaper onto my bed sheets (true story). But you’re telling me, moms don’t get paid for this? Just kidding…

At my most vulnerable state, there are lots of days when I don’t feel like being a mom, doing mom duties, or just having my mind consumed with anything and every little thing involving my son, only then to ask myself at the end of the day, ‘Am I doing enough? Am I a good mom?’ These thoughts still make me feel incredibly guilty at times but I’ve learned to accept that they’re completely normal to have and not every day or even half the days as a parent will go as we expect it to. 

I think the feeling of me ‘not wanting to be a mom’ at times comes from a combination of the mental exhaustion I feel from being a stay-at-home mom, as well as my personal issues with anxiety and depression. When I think back to my life before becoming a mom, I always dealt with bouts of anxiety and depression from the time I was 12 years old to my earliest knowledge. It can feel ten times more overwhelming for present-day-me to internally work through my mental health struggles while caring for a toddler and being a safe space for his own emotions as well. 

Cade is extremely clingy to me (I’m his one and only caretaker for the majority of the day until David gets home from work) and I find myself getting overwhelmingly frustrated, stressed out, and helpless trying to figure out his growing needs and tantrums. However, what this shows me is that for me to readily meet my child with love, patience, and understanding, it requires me to always hold love, patience, and understanding with myself first and foremost.

My personal struggle of trying to have everything figured out as a new mom and actively raising my son added to the pressure of having yet to establish my career. It is definitely the hardest battle I go through daily. Society has its way of making you feel like what you’re doing isn’t enough whether you’re a parent or not. And everyone seems to have an opinion/judgment on your life like they know what’s best for you. I personally struggle at times with feeling like I need to prove myself to others in my life to deserve acceptance as if what I do as a stay-at-home mom isn’t enough.

I hold strongly to the belief that a person can’t meet you somewhere where they’ve never been. In other words, a person can’t begin to understand you without judgment if they haven’t been close to being in your shoes. It’s no one’s place to judge anyone but people will be people and that’s something I have no control over.

Nonetheless, I fully recognize that it’s a blessing to be able to be a stay-at-home mom over the past two years, and I never take that for granted. But just like any job, it comes with stress, hardship, and a whole lot of mental and emotional battles that an outsider wouldn’t see, let alone someone that hasn’t spent a day in their life raising a child. While everyone is entitled to their own opinion, that sure as hell doesn’t mean they know a fraction of what’s best for you or even understand what you go through. I remind myself daily that the only opinion that truly matters at the end of the day is the one that I hold of myself. 

Before becoming a mom, I never self-reflected or took the time to learn about my anxiety and depression. From having an unexpected C-section, to adjusting to life as a new mom with new responsibilities, to having little emotional and physical support during this challenging time, made it clear as ever to me that I needed to start taking care of myself. And for the first time in my life, stop internalizing all of my emotions and pain. My anxiety and depression will always be a part of my life but I’m on a life-long journey to consistently cope in healthy and healing ways. 

I truly never prioritized my mental health or even understood what ‘mental health’ means. Because of this, I always felt anxious and worried that I’m not a ‘good mom.’ Cade just turned 2 years old and I still struggle with that feeling. But I understand now that I’m in control of my thoughts and feelings. I still get anxious, but I’ve learned to let my worries go instead of clinging onto them and letting them multiply. 

 I’ll always experience hard days where my anxiety will tell me that I must be doing something wrong, but what’s important is how I don’t allow myself to get stuck in that narrative because it’s simply not true. One way I do this is to ‘fill my cup first’ by doing things that support my mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being. This is so I feel more able to approach whatever kind of day my son is having with that patience, love, and understanding – because I’ve taken care of myself first. 

An easy thing I like to do, that takes less than 5 minutes each morning, is to set my day with an intention before I even get out of bed – especially on those hard days when I ‘don’t feel like being a mom.’ I’ll take a minute to stretch, take a few deep belly breaths(life-changing and I highly recommend it if you struggle with anxiety), and I’ll repeatedly tell myself something as simple as, ‘I am patient. I am strong. I am the best mom to my son.’ Some days I’ll get lazy or forget to do this and I’ve just started to appreciate the impactful difference it makes in my mood and how I handle Cade’s hundred waves of moods. 

I never truly felt like I ‘found myself’ before becoming a mom, so now I feel like I’m still finding and trying to be who I want to become while still becoming the mom I want to be. The most challenging part of this is simply taking the time and effort to do the things that I want to do and prioritizing my self-care. For me, that’s giving myself permission to let go of any ‘mom guilt’ or worry I may have and literally just do whatever it is I want to do in that moment without Cade and enjoy every minute of a much deserved ‘break.’ Some days this looks like taking a walk by myself and catching up on Jay Shetty’s latest podcast episode, or learning to sit with and address toxic thoughts, and other days it’s just eating Samyang spicy ramen noodles in peace without having to try to explain to a screaming toddler why he can’t have any or else his mouth is going to have a ‘booboo.’

While I currently don’t have my career established like others might, I feel that I’m where I’m supposed to be in this present time and that’s with my son. Anyone can be a parent, but to be a parent that also recognizes there is so much more to it than just providing the basic necessities to survive is hard work. Becoming a mom sort of forced me into a deep self-reflection of how I was raised and conditioned to be as an adult. It’s a daily choice and effort I have to make to consciously learn how to reparent myself and break generational trauma to parent Cade in a way where he grows up knowing that his feelings are valid, important, and respected. 

There’s always going to be that feeling of ‘pressure’ to have my ‘life together’ according to societal norms. But right now, I’m at peace with all that I’m doing- working on my self-development and prioritizing my mental health while being a stay-at-home mom raising a toddler. As long as I know I’m flourishing in that part of my life, I’m confident that I will ‘figure everything else out’ in due time and on my own time. It gets hard to not feel anxious about what the future holds for me, but that’s when I try to push myself to see the good in my life – practicing gratitude for everything in my life presently and focusing less on what it’s not or what it could be.

I really don’t have this all figured out, and maybe I never will. But motherhood to me will remain a journey presented with unraveling lessons, and Cade being a reminder of my self-growth, healing, and development. Whether you’re a stay-at-home mom, working mom, or both, what you’re doing is enough and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. There is no such thing as a perfect parent but I truly feel the best thing we can provide to our kids is the life-long journey of healing ourselves and allowing ourselves to become better individuals as our kids will become exactly who and what we model to them. 

The most important thing for me to teach Cade is to be kind and loving to himself and others. I want him to live each day intentionally grounded by respect, compassion, honesty, and nothing short of his true authentic self. Additionally, I want him to grow up knowing that every single feeling/emotion he experiences at any time in his life is 100% valid. Seeing Cade grow more and more every day and become a tiny little person will always be a blessing. But the best part of motherhood for me currently would be the new perspective it’s given me on myself, my life, and who I want to be for my child. As well as the life and lessons I want to be able to give him outside of material things. 

If I could give pre-Cade Jayna any advice, I’d tell her this:

Please don’t ever give up on healing yourself to become the person you’ve always needed. And love yourself before loving anyone else.” -Jayna

Jela: Motherhood Conundrum

“This is story 6 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Motherhood Series. 10 mothers give us a glimpse into a small portion of their motherhood journey. I am so grateful that these 10 women gave me the opportunity to share their stories on my platform. Though they focus on different topics, each mother has gone through challenges that tested their strength, patience, and sense of self. Thank you again for sharing.” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory

This is Jela’s story, written in her own words:

“Have I lost my identity when I became a mother? We all change. As time goes by our plans, decisions, and life change, and that’s totally okay. Sometimes the best transitions we experience or make in our lives are the ones that we feel like we are at peace with in the moment. Before I became a mother, I was a nanny, and at one point I became a traveling nanny for a very short period of time before my husband’s first duty station. When people meet me for the first time, I mostly get comments that I’m very patient and nurturing, and if I became a mother, it would already be “natural” for me. In my mind, I’ve always asked myself, “do you really need to be ‘natural’ becoming a mother or parent?” 

I’ve always wanted to plan to be a mother in my mid 20s. At 23, I became pregnant with my first born son in October 2016, but only found out a month later. At that time my husband and I moved to his first duty station 3,000 miles away from our hometown. I will always remember the morning we found out I was pregnant. The night before, we went to my husband’s first command holiday party. We were about to order drinks. I had a drink in mind, but I immediately asked if they had pineapple juice or any juice only. They actually did have pineapple juice! I ordered juice because I was feeling nauseous at the time.

 We planned to stay long, but we only stayed for an hour. Honestly, we left right away after that because we were going to GameStop to pick up the Pokémon Sun and Moon that we had ordered for the night release. After that, I really wanted to go to Target right across GameStop to buy a few pregnancy tests to take in the morning. The next day, I took a few pregnancy tests and it was confirmed that I was pregnant. I couldn’t really keep my pregnancy a secret from my family who lived nearby because every time we would see each other, or if we went out to eat, I would run to the bathroom to throw up what I just ate a few minutes before. 

I spent most of my days and appointments alone because my husband was out to sea a lot during that time. He missed pretty much the first appointment and all the ultrasounds, but I am thankful that on some days my sister would drive an hour away to stay with me during the week. I would drive down to visit my siblings every other day, even if that underwater tunnel bridge traffic was always rough! I’d drive a few minutes to visit my husband’s relatives that lived so close to us, or drive up 3 hours to visit my husband’s relatives in another state. 

Fast forward to when it was delivery day, we moved from Hampton to Virginia Beach, VA to be closer to family and my husband’s work, but the hospital I was being seen at was still in Hampton. I had an appointment that day, and I was called back in because my blood pressure was high (not sure why they sent me home the first time they saw my BP high in person). I developed Gestational Hypertension the day I delivered and needed to be monitored for contractions. I was having contractions, but to me they weren’t super painful in the beginning and I was 1 cm dilated as soon as we drove back to the hospital. They suggested that I walk for 2-3 hours, come back to get induced with a Foley bulb, but as soon as I came back from my walk at Costco (we even drove back home to pick up our hospital bag), I was already 4 cm dilated.

 I had a few complications during my pregnancy prior to having Gestational Hypertension, one of them being that I had to gain a lot of weight during my pregnancy (I did have a hard time gaining weight growing up). The second was that I was GBS positive. I was on antibiotics during delivery for that, so that meant I was only allowed to push every 3 hours when the antibiotics were administered to prevent passing it on to my baby, but everything was so quick after that last push. I tried pushing on my back and right side and I needed to push one last time so they turned me to my left side because his heart rate was dropping before my last push. I remember my midwife asking if I wanted to use the mirror up in the ceiling that they had (because his head was already out and I needed to push a little bit more). I remember looking at the mirror up the ceiling and I was just so amazed.

After giving birth, everything felt so surreal. Nobody told me that giving birth was going to sound quiet (at least with my first it was quiet!), lots of shaking, vomiting, and feeling the need to go to the bathroom A LOT. I started to push at 9pm, waited 3 hours to push again, then around 2 am, Isaac was out. 

When Isaac (my firstborn) was born, everything was already prepared for him. I nested a lot even with my husband out to sea and we even got to move and settle into another town a week before I gave birth. We also moved to a smaller apartment, it was a 750 sq ft apartment but it felt so homey and loved our space. I felt so much excitement and happiness before and after giving birth. My husband and I even took classes and made sure we were informed about all the safety procedures we could possibly learn about. 

But even with that, after giving birth came days where I felt off, not myself, a lot of pain experienced from healing postpartum, and breastfeeding in the early weeks. I was even told that if I ever felt sad or baby blues, to not talk to anyone about it. EVER. It felt invalidating, but I just brushed it off. I’m not sure what the person’s reasoning was for telling me that. I’m sure a lot of mothers have experienced the same thing where someone would give them unsolicited advice. I understand, maybe that person didn’t mean harm when they said it to me. Maybe it’s just an automatic response to what people learned to say before we were more exposed to raising awareness of mental health.

 I didn’t think much of it until later on when I became more aware of things that were very stigmatized towards pregnant women, mothers, and parents. As a mother, we are constantly told to not feel certain things, judged by the way we look while pregnant, and especially after giving birth. That we’ll be fine, as long as the baby is okay, that’s all that matters. It didn’t matter if the mother wasn’t okay, especially with their mental health. When I had Isaac, I thought that self-care meant taking a shower, going to the grocery store alone (to get things we needed for the house), and all the basic needs that everyone should have, was what I thought was self-care, to be able to do those things again. 

When I was going through postpartum, I turned to my husband and friends. They were the ones who were mostly there to listen or just be there as a friend. I am so grateful for them. I realized that the person in my ear was wrong because I didn’t feel at peace with it. I felt like I had to be ashamed of having feelings, it felt very invalidating. I felt like I had to shrink myself so everything could be “fine.” I felt like I couldn’t ask for help, making me feel smaller and smaller. As I talk to more mothers, once we open up a topic that is usually considered “not normal” to the world, we find ourselves relating to each other, and remember that we are not alone in this. It’s okay to feel positive and negative feelings at the same time. It’s okay if what works for you doesn’t work for another parent. It’s a really big deal for me when I finally get the courage to speak up or talk to someone. 

A year and a few months after Isaac was born, we needed to move to California because my husband’s job was moving homeports. We moved to San Diego in March 2019. It was a really big move this time. Everything we had, had to be shipped, including our car. We were actually going to move back to our home state, but this time with no family nearby to just walk or drive to. My husband couldn’t fly to see the place we were going to live in because he was going to deploy in a few days before our move in date, so it was only me and Isaac that flew.

 I thought “Hey, if I did this once, I can get through it again!” Since it also happened with our first move to VA while my husband was in Mississippi for his school before moving to his first duty station. Every time there was a huge change in our life, it felt surreal. It felt surreal that I picked up the house keys myself, lived in an empty house with no furniture, and our car was still in the shipping company waiting to be picked up. I was so grateful that time, my friend picked me up from the airport, offered her home to have us stay before our move in date, lent me her air mattress, and drove me and Isaac to pick up our car.

 Even though I am used to being alone and doing things alone, I was grateful that during these critical times, it’s always the people that you go through these things with that show up. Honestly, I had times where I dealt with my husband being out to sea just fine and sometimes I didn’t deal with it really well. I found what helped me the most is when I am preoccupied throughout the day like being outdoors, staying active, learning the area by commuting instead of taking the car, traveling (LOTS of Disneyland trips!!)  and going to spouse connection events. 

I felt really blessed that even if my husband was deployed for a few months, my friends, military spouses, and neighbors showed up not just once but numerous times. My husband was deployed, and Fall of 2019 is where I think I started to feel like I lost track of who I was. It got really depressing when the homecoming days changed 3 times. That meant my husband’s deployment got extended for months that exceeded the maximum time that they should be away at sea. It got so rough that I stopped organizing (organizing calms me) and doing things I usually do to get through the day. 

At that time, I was going through so much and focused on making everyone happy and setting my own needs aside. I felt like everytime I tried to take care of myself full on, someone would always tell me I was being selfish for doing it, or question my husband behind my back, and ask unnecessary questions when I was trying to give myself time and space. I started to not be as active online anymore and took a lot of huge breaks from social media. I felt like I needed to just stay silent and isolate myself because everytime I tried to communicate, it was often misunderstood and thought of as me reacting differently or being negative about it when I was not. 

My husband and I were planning for a second baby. Planning on having a second baby was a huge discussion to talk about because we were both going to school full-time during the pandemic. I became pregnant with my second baby at the end of September 2020. I had already felt a bit nauseous, and I was even giving away some of my firstborn’s baby clothes, I honestly thought it was just the stress from school and the pandemic. But then I missed my period so I just had to check, just in case. With this pregnancy, I thought that it was going to be easy because I found out early. I didn’t feel the need to throw up, I was still doing some small hikes that were open during the pandemic with my family, and I only felt a little nauseous.

 I was wrong, 2 weeks after finding out, we dropped off Isaac on his first day at daycare, my husband and I went out to eat breakfast, our very first date together since he got home from deployment. As soon as the food got to our table, I rushed to the bathroom and vomited. I was just about 5 weeks pregnant. After that I started to feel so stressed, I know it sounds ridiculous, but morning sickness really took a toll on me. Everything I wanted to eat, I wanted to throw up, even if it was just a banana, a bowl of oatmeal, a bag of chips, or a rice bowl with my favorite side dish. Even driving made me dizzy that I had to drive all the time so I felt less nauseous, and I would still throw up before and after driving.

 I tried all the remedies that were supposedly supposed to work to even get prescribed medicine to help me with the nausea. I didn’t know what to do anymore. I would literally cry almost everyday because I didn’t know what to eat or how to manage being pregnant anymore. I didn’t have much energy to go out, but I also felt so isolated if I didn’t go out for a walk or do something outside of the house. 

What was different from my 1st and 2nd pregnancy was the amount of stress I experienced. I was going to school full-time while having my toddler learn how to use the toilet after showing lots of signs that he was ready, having him transition to his first daycare for a few months, and finding out where we were going be stationed next (the military doesn’t really give you so much time when it comes to moving to the next duty station, even if you are a planner and have set plans just in case), and with the pandemic, it caused so much stress and anxiety. I went to the hospital & ER a couple of times during my pregnancy early on for palpitations, monitoring my heart with a Holter heart monitor, and getting a 2D Echo (heart ultrasound). It was a relief that all the tests came back normal. But my depression and anxiety were peaking, and at the time I finally started to see a therapist. 

The start of the pandemic, as we know, was scary and tremendously stressful for everyone. Some days, I was able to use some of that time of uncertainty to try to heal all the things I repeatedly brushed off and set aside, even if it meant feeling all my feelings at once to heal. By healing, I don’t mean “positive vibes only,” or being so certain about everything so quickly. I mean days where sometimes it’s a sad day, crying day, or even just a day where I sat by myself thinking “Hey, this was not okay before, but now that I’m able to recognize that, I can reflect on it and move on.” I felt like a lot of these things that were considered “normal” had to do with the toxic culture that most of us grew up in. We were conditioned to think and act a certain way because it’s become normalized in our culture and society.

At this moment, I feel like I “lost” myself. I find myself thinking about things I used to do, that I can’t anymore. Like who am I besides being a mother? But I realized that that’s just temporary and that I’m not “lost.” Having to handle two kids, I felt like I wasn’t enough to attend to them both. But school and exploring the city I’m in is helping me right now because I am learning more of what interests me and my family. Some days, I can balance being a mom and an individual, and some days I can’t. It really just depends on my 4 year old and newborn’s moods and needs that day! When I can’t, I really try my best to have an easy day for both me and my children. But I do know that being an individual is taking time for me to try to get used to, especially when I am around other adults. This pandemic got me going back to being more introverted than I already was before!

Self-care to me looks like having the time to yourself to enjoy things that you want or need. Even if others think it’s taking a few minutes showering or walking alone at the store or somewhere, it’s nice to have that time for yourself. As long as you’re happy with it. I notice myself feeling burnt out a lot lately, and I really need to find the time to take care of myself. To me, taking care of myself means finding the time to run (I love running, even if I’m a slow runner!), watching tv, eating my favorite food, or going on a date with my fave person aka my husband. One day I do want to try to go on a mini vacation by myself without the kids, BUT I don’t know when that will be since I don’t have it in me yet to try to do that. 

My husband has been there for me, even if there were days where we weren’t on the same page. He’s such a great partner and father. Every couple has their struggles, and we’re all not perfect. When I’m not myself, he is there to pick up where I left off, whether it’s cleaning the house, filling up my gas tank so I don’t have to drive 15 minutes to the cheapest gas station, or doing so many loads of laundry. A lot of those things get undone or unfinished especially with 2 children now. We don’t believe in “gender roles,” so he is just doing his part as a partner and father. He just helps take off so much of that mother’s guilt.

 He makes me feel like I can be myself and that I am more than just the negative things I think about myself. I think and care about so much and he is more of a laid back person, so it balances out sometimes. There were many days when I couldn’t get out of bed, even trying to get myself to eat or shower was just so difficult for me. When it’s the other way around where he looks so tired from work or school, I try to pick up where he left off. We’re also still learning many things during this process and I’m glad that he tries his very best to help in any way he can as a partner.

My advice is to surround yourself with your village and take it easy some days. It’s okay if your child/children had cereal for dinner just to survive the day, because we can’t be and do everything all at once. I tried that – trying to be a mom, help with what was going on with the world (especially during the pandemic), absorbing every feeling and problems that needed to be attended to – and trust me, it’s not possible to be everything for everyone. So I went offline for a few months and helped with what I was able to do at the time, and control what I can control at the moment. 

We’re all human, I know it’s hard sometimes to not feel guilty for parenting what works for us, or for doing one small or big thing for ourselves, and you’ll lose people who are close to you. Sometimes families can’t be there for each other because of being far away and having different schedules and plans in life, but I think that it’s nice to surround yourself with people who can relate to you or understand your situation. Even if it’s just 1or 2 people. We all can’t do it alone and everything all at once.” -Jela

Rohit: Lessons From My Weight Gain & Loss Journey

Story 5 of 10. This Body Positivity series is a project I hold dear to my heart. For years, I’ve struggled with my body image, and since reviving this blog, LoveYourzStory, I’ve shared so many of my personal stories, internal battles, and insecurities. This time, I wanted to hear your stories. I took to social media and found 9 individuals who were willing to share their body positive journey with not only me, but my readers as well. I collaborated with two Bay Area photographers, Missdirected (Instagram: @missdirected.art) to photograph these amazing people. Missdirected did not photoshop / alter any of the models’ faces or bodies. These stories are entirely written by them and in their own words, because after all, who can tell their story better than them?” -Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory

This is Rohit’s story, written in his own words:

My Weight Gain & Loss Story 

I always loved Shōnen stories when I was a kid. For the uninitiated, Shōnen is one of the most popular genres of anime, typically featuring a male protagonist who embarks on an adventure filled with challenges. My first exposure to the genre came through Pokémon, which I’d obsessively wake up to watch on Saturday mornings throughout my childhood. Looking back, my fascination with Pokémon and similar shows stemmed from the main character’s relentless pursuit of a goal or self-perfection, the clear distinction between good and evil, and the excitement that follows exploring the world around us. Unfortunately, Pokémon is where my issues with body positivity likely started. And it’s exactly what you’re  thinking – the exposure to extremely skinny, fit male figures in Pokémon and other shows unconsciously shaped my mental model of what constitutes beautiful and attractive, and has been something I’ve worked my entire life to overcome. 

I hope that in sharing my story, others struggling with similar issues can understand that they’re not alone and appreciate that self-love is one of the most beautiful aspects of the human condition. While progress in most things in life is usually not linear, the setbacks, insecurities, and painful feelings I experienced  through my weight gain, weight loss, muscle gain, and muscle loss make me who I am today and I’m thankful for them.  

Having a body-positive self-image has never been a strength of mine. At 26 years old I am still struggling with low self-esteem due to ingrained beliefs around what my body should look like. I became painfully  aware of my body and how others perceive it in middle school when my peers began making jokes about how fat I was, saying things like “When you walk around, it can cause earthquakes!” At that point in time I likely weighed 140 pounds and was 5’7”. Despite being relatively tall for my age, there was no hiding it. You might be wondering, “How did he get to that point?” My relationship with food was extremely unhealthy. Even as early as elementary school, I remember chowing down on McDonald’s and Burger King chicken sandwiches that my loving mother would drop off for me on weekdays. It didn’t matter if I got a  bad grade on my math test, was bullied in school, or felt alone, because I knew I always had food to comfort  me. And like most kids at that age with immigrant parents, I needed a lot of comforting. Over time I developed an addiction to fried, fast food and probably played a big role in keeping my local Olive Garden and Burger King alive. 

Whenever I’d see family or family friends they’d be quick to point out how chubby I was. “You’ve got such big cheeks!” and “Did you gain weight?” were usually the first thing they’d say to me whenever they visited. Over time the embarrassment grew to such an extreme level that I’d instinctively run upstairs to my room whenever someone rang the doorbell. My parents chalked that up to my shyness and introverted-ness, but looking back it was largely because I hated how people would comment on my weight, and I’d rather just avoid social interaction altogether. Video games and TV shows didn’t make me feel bad about myself. My mother would typically reassure me saying that having big bones runs in the  family, it’s just temporary, and not to worry about it. I definitely worried about it.  

When middle school came around and the harmful jokes and comments abounded, I realized that I could  use humor as a deflection – by being silly and ridiculous in and outside of class, I hoped that the attention would be taken off my weight, even just for a moment. Sadly, even my most fire jokes couldn’t spare me from the almost daily humiliation that was PE class. I distinctly remember being the slowest person in the entire class to run a mile – I never made it under 10 minutes! And scoring low on other fitness-related exams, reinforcing my belief that I’m worse than others and something is wrong with my body. 

After years of enduring hurtful jokes and comments in addition to seeing idealized images of men’s bodies in movies and TV, I became disgusted with my body. I would actively avoid going swimming – which was  hard when the pool party was at your house – because it would expose my rotundness. I would look at myself whenever I would change in the mirror with shame, and dress in baggy clothing to distract people from the shape of my body. Compounding this internalized shame and resentment is my lifelong struggle with  perfectionism, thinking that the way I looked should be a certain way and, in my mind, I always fell short. 

When I made it to high school, already disgusted with my body, I became committed to changing the body that brought me so much pain. Thankfully, I channeled my frustration and angst into my weight loss regiment. It took many months and a lot of discipline, healthy eating, and exercise, but I was able to lose twenty pounds during my Sophomore year and started to take pride in how I looked for the first time. This is where my story maybe takes a turn from others in the body positive community – part of me is glad that growing up I had a negative body image. If I didn’t, and simply accepted myself for how I looked, I  probably would never have adopted healthier eating and lifestyle habits and would’ve continued spiraling down a path of fried chicken nuggets and scrumptious curly fries. For me personally, being overweight wasn’t difficult just because in society’s eyes something was wrong with me, but more so because I felt  unhealthy – moderate exercise really exhausted me and I’d often have jolts of pain that felt like the  beginning of clogged arteries even though I didn’t know it at the time.  

It might seem fun to eat unhealthy food frequently, and maybe it is in the short-term, but there’s a lot of pain and difficulties that can easily outweigh (yes, pun intended) the ephemeral joy. Over time, as I slowly adjusted my diet to stop feeling so unhealthy my relationship with food improved and I no longer relied  on it for comfort. That process was really difficult and I had to unlearn the bad habits and dependencies I developed over the span of many years. For those of you contemplating a similar transition my advice is to start small, slowly replacing processed fats and sugar with natural fats and sugar from food that you  enjoy eating such that over time your body finds unhealthy food undesirable, which is exactly what happened with me. I eventually reached a point where eating fried and processed food felt nasty and I avoided it at all costs. To this day I actively resist eating fried or fast food and stick to a diet high in vegetables & fruit, high protein, and low carb. After improving my diet and losing even more weight, I vowed to never be fat again and to treat my body like a temple. Unfortunately, even as the weight  gradually began to disappear the insecurity I developed around my body image did not. No matter how  much weight I lost or how my body began to look, I kept feeling that I didn’t look good enough and didn’t live up to the expectations society had of me. 

These insecurities later manifested in college. I can barely recall my junior year and it wasn’t because I was sleep deprived. Enabled by the fraternity I joined and the almost manipulative drinking culture, I  would binge drink and blackout several times a week. Sure, it was lots of fun in the moment and to this day I don’t really regret those decisions, but the proverbial beer belly reared its ugly head. My breaking  point occurred when a close female friend casually remarked one day that I was looking chubby and need to lose weight. I felt that all the progress I had made with accepting my reformed body image and vowing to never be fat again vanished all within a single instant. Just like in high school, I decided to channel my anger and frustration at myself into self-improvement and started working out religiously. In parallel, I also gave up eating meat cold turkey as I strongly believed that all of life is interconnected and must be respected. By the time senior year ended, I had lost the beer belly I was so ashamed of and started to build lean muscle thanks to transitioning to a low carb / high protein vegetarian diet and hitting the gym at least 4 times a week. My relationship with food had completely transformed and I actively sought out healthier options that made me feel better and supported my more active lifestyle. Things were finally  looking up and I never wanted to look back.  

Fast forward a few years and I was back home in San Jose working at a startup with ample free time. Of course I’d continued working out frequently, finding deep satisfaction in pushing myself physically and lifting even heavier weights. I’d often get sore or experience weird muscle pains that led to short breaks and ice baths, but I’d just get back up and keep pushing harder – partly motivated by my body-related insecurities, never feeling satisfied with how I looked despite putting on more muscle, and realizing that  women found me attractive. That all came to a halt on a beautiful summer day in Yosemite. A few weeks  prior my college roommates and I planned a trip to Yosemite to take on the notorious Half Dome hike which claimed several lives and caused hundreds of accidents in the past fifteen years. The hike itself  wasn’t too crazy – 17 miles roundtrip with 4,800 feet of elevation gain, fairly do-able for folks like me who  hike regularly and like to push themselves. Our initial plan was to wake up in the wee hours of the morning  to start the trek to beat the rising heat and crowds of people that flock to the trail each year, but we encountered a ton of traffic on the route there and ended up reaching camp near midnight. Faced with a  difficult decision of sleeping for three hours before embarking or hitting the trail immediately with no rest, we chose to test our luck and hike in pitch darkness with no rest. Hindsight is always 20/20 and this case is no different. Two of my friends injured their feet landing on rocks at weird angles due to the low  visibility, but despite the injuries and exhaustion we all pushed forward.  

I’m thankful that we successfully traversed the treacherous cables and reached the summit, taking in the magnificent views. But the trouble started after we went back to camp, ate our weight in pizza, and passed out for the night. I woke up to a strange sensation and hoped it was a dream. I couldn’t move my neck. In that moment I was filled with sheer terror; would I ever be able to move my neck again? Did I have a permanent disability? What did I do to myself? Why did I push myself to the extreme? After pounding Motrin and surviving the car ride back home, I shared my experience with my physician who immediately  recommended I get scanned by an MRI machine to figure out what the heck was going on. While that experience itself was torture having suffered from claustrophobia my entire life – imagine being stuck in  a metal coffin with no space around you bombarded with shitty EDM sounds – receiving the results was more painful. I had somehow managed to herniate a disc in my cervical spine (my neck), and the damage would never be undone. There was no treatment beyond medicating the pain away and some physical therapy.  

To this day it remains a mystery why I herniated the disc. I knew a bunch of other people my age who were on a fitness and weightlifting grind who didn’t experience any of these issues. It likely was the result of pushing myself to my limits with improper weightlifting techniques combined with shitty luck. Looking back, I’d like to say I wish I didn’t pursue physical fitness with such an extreme devotion, but I really do enjoy pushing myself and tackling greater challenges. Even if I hadn’t herniated a disc at that point in time, it likely would have happened to me doing some other intense activity eventually. Initially, living with a herniated disc wasn’t so bad. While working out, hiking, and sitting down for extended periods of time caused some discomfort, it never prevented me from living the life I wanted and pursuing my physical  fitness goals. Fueled by my body-related insecurities and desire to push myself, I kept exercising intensely and took on even more extreme hikes like Mt. Whitney (23 mile roundtrip with 6,000 feet in elevation gain over a single day). Sadly, things got worse from there. After completing another arduous hike with friends in Hawaii, I felt another weird sensation – a shooting, numbing pain going down my left arm which  I never experienced before. The strange pain also didn’t go away when I took painkillers, which alarmed me even further. I decided to cut my trip short and head back home to figure out what happened and  took yet another MRI.  

What had happened? I herniated yet another disc, right below the previous one and the weird sensation I was feeling was actually nerve pain caused by the discs impinging nerves near my neck that travel down the shoulder and all the way to the hand. Unlike last time, the pain I felt in general was very high and even sitting down for just 15 minutes was excruciatingly painful. I could no longer run, lift weights, or live the active lifestyle I had become accustomed to. In lieu of those activities, I’ve started swimming more regularly – although it’s difficult to find open and heated pools these days – walking daily, and hiking less intense trails to stay fit. Meditating daily, getting lost in fascinating books, and playing the trumpet are my new ways to destress. Despite all that, it’s still painful watching the muscle mass I had worked so hard to build and maintain over the years slowly fade away as my muscles stopped being nurtured and used. Even when I thought I had reached a place of body positivity, in those ensuing weeks and months, I realized that I never really did. My extreme workouts were partly motivated by never feeling satisfied with how I looked and still feeling like I didn’t live up to the idealized image of the male figure. Losing my muscle mass reignited insecurities and shame that I worked so hard to forget.  

While my disability isn’t noticeable to others externally and I’m spared from others’ judgment, I couldn’t help but feel like I was broken inside permanently and my body failed me. I yet again hated myself and my body for failing to meet society’s expectations. Truthfully, it wasn’t until a few months ago that I was exposed to a different way of thinking about myself and body positivity more broadly. I became exposed to the idea on a Facebook social media post about body positivity, that one’s weight is not a reflection of one’s health and being overweight in particular isn’t such a bad thing from an attractiveness, societal, or  health perspective. This broke every belief I had – strongly feeling that being fat is unhealthy, unappealing, and should not be celebrated. After reflecting and discussing with others, I realized that health is a scientific concept and one’s weight does not accurately reflect health – people who may look  overweight might be in good overall health, as paradoxical as it seems. A great example of this is NFL linebackers who typically weigh over 200 pounds and seem very unhealthy in terms of their body shape and size but are way more physically fit than the average person. I also realized that being overweight itself is not an issue to be worried about in isolation; it is the issues associated with being overweight that are the real causes of worry like having clogged arteries, difficulty sleeping, diabetes, etc. In that same vein of thought, I realized that having a body shape, or in my case a body structure, that does not conform with societal norms does not make one any less beautiful, whole, or healthy either. My eyes had been opened to the importance of self-love and body positivity, and how the way we view ourselves has a direct correlation with how we think and behave.  

Last year I decided to make a big change. I adopted an entirely plant-based diet and no longer eat anything related to animals such as honey, ice cream, and pizza. The beautiful thing about being plant-based is it’s actually difficult to eat unhealthy – unless your diet mostly consists of carbs like bread or pasta or vegan junk food like plant-based ice cream and burgers. I’ve been feeling higher energy, don’t have food coma, or crash when I eat, and noticed I was losing weight as well. But being plant-based doesn’t guarantee one won’t gain weight, as I painfully found out after a few months of quarantine when I went home and the first thing my mom said to me was “Beta you’re looking heavier, you put on some weight”.  

Since experiencing that initial epiphany, I have tried to continue practices in self-love and body positivity. I will admit that it is not always easy, and progress is not always linear. I still struggle with moments, days, and weeks of low self-esteem and body negativity. I still check myself out in the mirror every chance I get  and obsessively focus on how my hair looks. I still pinch my belly and love handles, wishing they would  shrink and disappear. I still find moments where I feel physically damaged and hate my body for not being able to do simple things that most of us take for granted like sitting in a car for an hour, bending down to pick things up off the floor, or playing with young children and dogs. While changing my behavior and  mindset is certainly a work in progress, what has been encouraging is that in those situations I remind myself that I am beautiful, do not need to look or participate in certain activities to feel so, and that beauty comes in all shapes, colors, and sizes.  

Whenever I find myself feeling insecure and down on myself because of my body, which inevitably happens and I’ve accepted won’t ever stop, I first accept how I’m feeling and don’t try to fight it. I try to introspect and figure out where these feelings are coming from, and remind myself that the only person’s  opinion that really matters here is my own. What also helps is having a generally positive attitude, which I was able to forge through the difficult times I’ve endured and the realization that dwelling on the negative is a fruitless endeavor. Something else that helps when I feel down is the genuine acceptance that some things in life including negative feelings are out of my control and I should instead focus on controlling the controllables – my actions, behavior and mindset. The power of a positive mindset lies not in being happy all the time, but in preventing one from falling into spirals of negativity.  

If I could travel back in time and talk to my younger self, I’d try to convey that it’s great to want to adopt  a healthier lifestyle but to be cognizant of what is motivating me to do so. I’d also share that while pushing  oneself is a great trait, it’s also wonderful to accept how you look at any point in time and find yourself  beautiful even if how you appear doesn’t match society’s notions of beauty. I’d tell myself that while Ash Ketchum and other Shōnen protagonists are amazing, I should simply aspire to be the best version of  myself, flaws and all.” -Rohit