Virtues from Motherhood: Intersecting roads; different destinations

In life we’re bound to cross paths with many people, some stay with us, others pass through briefly. Although our paths have crossed, where we’re going might be entirely different. I had this thought a few days ago when I was walking towards campus and watched a NYC Corrections bus leave the neighboring courthouse. In the sun, I was able to see the silhouette of the individuals on the bus, and I wondered to myself, “how did they get there?” What had happened in their lives for them to end up ensnared in the criminal justice system?

I thought about the various choices they did or did not make, and where they’d eventually end up. Would they get a second chance? Would they change and be rehabilitated or would they end up in a revolving door of arrests and court dates? I realized that the two buildings, the courthouse and the college, represented two very different life paths, yet they sat side by side. This is the case with people we cross paths with daily, strangers on the train, acquaintances at work or even people who live down the street from us; we live side by side but represent so many different lifestyles.

We see people every day on the street and briefly assume or make up their life story in our heads. We see a well-polished man in a suit and think, “is he a big shot CEO?” or “he probably has a lot of money”. In reality though we know nothing about that man or where he comes from; for all we know he could be a recovering addict on his way to a job interview at Macy’s. Choices shape our lives and too often we make these choices based on what other people think not realizing people will never really know what you did to get there; unless you tell them.

The roads we travel need to be the best road for us, for our goals and for our future. Looping back to my original sentiment about the corrections bus, I truly wonder how many of the people on that bus ended up there because they made choices that led them down a path someone else chose for them. I think about my teenage years and the shenanigans I often found myself caught up in; cutting class or sneaking around and I realize how much of it wasn’t me. Well, it was me, but I wasn’t choosing those things for me. I was choosing those things to fit in with or cater to a crowd or to fit a mold someone else had for me; one I probably knew I didn’t fit.

I wish I had done a lot differently in my adolescence but I can’t change the past. I can however pass these lessons onto my own daughter and to the peers I mentor with the First Year Learning Program. I can turn my negative experiences into tools to help others and I can try to make a difference and at the end of the day we should all, always try to make the world a better place.

Virtues from Motherhood: The five year plan

Jamaica Bay- Photo by Samantha Pezzolanti

I’m sure we’ve all heard it mentioned before, the five year plan, the map to our future and achieving our goals; but what does it mean? For me that plan has changed, and changed again over the years but nonetheless I kept persisting, and now I’m almost at the finish line to earning my Bachelors degree. When I started college I wanted to be a detective and go into criminal justice, but that goal changed when I had my daughter. I wasn’t sure what else I was passionate about and I wasn’t sure what career I wanted to stake mine and my daughter’s future on so I just focused on earning a living.

At 23, I decided I wanted more and I set my sights on going back to school to earn at least my Associates Degree. I earned my A.A.S in Business but I wasn’t done, I knew I could achieve more, so again I changed the plan. I came to City Tech where I discovered a major that was geared to my original love, writing, and things took off from there. Now I’m a senior blogger with The Buzz and I’m involved in various programs across campus, and I’m proud of myself for it. Despite having changed my plans over and over, I still managed to find success.

I used to be so hung up on numbers, deadlines and ages when certain things had to be completed by, and it ended up hindering my progress and making me stressed out to the point where I got nothing done. I’ve learned as time goes on that everyone has a different path and a different timeline to getting to where they need to be. Some people finish college in four years but take another three to land a job, some graduate in 6 years but jump right into a career. It’s all relative and everything happens in due time. It’s a difficult concept to embrace, I know, but the sooner you do the better you’ll feel.

By the time I walk across the stage at graduation, I will have started college a decade ago, ten years, and for a long time that embarrassed me beyond belief. I was mortified that it took me so long to get it done and that I couldn’t just stick to it. It took me a while to realize it took me so long because in between all those years of college I was living a life, raising my daughter and working full time, and that’s okay. I’m slowly learning to trust the process, because it’s better to do it, and do it right, than rush through it or force it and fail.

It’s hard to imagine my adult life without college in it because all of my 20s have been spent in college and juggling multiple responsibilities at once. I’m excited though, to finally start building and focusing on a career I’ve worked hard for. I’m nervous about finding the right job and spreading my wings but I’m confident that everything will fall into place when it’s meant to. If I could give one bit of advice to myself back when I was 17 I’d say “take a deep breath and swim.” Swim through the rough seas, and the doubt and trust that the currents are taking you where you need to be.

Virtues from Motherhood: Who does this belong to?

A few weeks ago a fellow Buzz Blogger, Neffi, wrote a post about protecting your own energy and how we don’t realize how the people and the environment around us can greatly impact our own energies. After I read her post it reminded me of a question my counselor told me to ask myself “who does this belong to?” meaning, are these my woes or someone else’s that I was taking on? And if the troubles weren’t mine I should give them back. Now, this isn’t to say that I should be throwing people’s problem’s back at them but it simply means that I can’t be carrying other people’s burdens for them.

Having anxiety makes my own problems and worries amplified as it is, so taking on the problems or responsibilities of others doesn’t help me any. I have a history of internalizing the things other people are experiencing and somehow letting it affect my life and my own happiness. For example, if someone was moving or changing jobs and was a little stressed out over it, suddenly I was stressed out too, and my anxiety would run wild making it somehow affect me. I’d wonder if their moving would change our friendship, would we still be friends? Would they still want to hang out? Did they ever really want to?? You can see how quickly that can escalate when you take on other people’s situations as your own.

So the “who does this belong to?” rule is monumentally helpful in stopping that spiral before it starts, I even say it out loud to myself at times because it makes it more valid to me. Before I start to worry I ask myself that question and if I can’t legitimately pinpoint how this will affect me, my life, my daughter or my well-being, I force myself to leave it alone.

I still give my friend’s advice and listen to their problems or what’s bothering them and I still make every effort to be there for them. However, I focus more on helping them and being there than worrying for them. I also learned this year that sometimes you need to return the energy people give to you; if they aren’t there in your hour of need, why should you rush to theirs at your own expense. Learning balance is key, and people earn the place they wish to have in your life.

At the end of every day as you lay your head down and run through your final list of “to-do’s” and lingering worries you should keep stock of the things that need to get done, for you. Worry about what you can do for others needs after your own needs are met, think of that demonstration at the begin of every airplane flight; the one where the flight attendant tells you to put your own oxygen mask on before assisting others. The moral of the story there is, you can’t help others if you’re not okay. So next time you worry if someone else is okay, ask who’s worry that really is and if you’re doing okay today first.

A place of tranquility, Gravesend Brooklyn- Photo by Samantha Pezzolanti

 

 

Virtues from Motherhood: A worn heart is a warm heart

I hear the lyrics to one of my favorite songs as I type this post “Cause’ when a heart breaks no it don’t break even..” a song called Breakeven by The Script. The song reminds me of a time in my life where I was dealing with the loss of my first real love and feeling like my life would never be the same, it wasn’t but I came to find that was okay. After your heart breaks you look at the world a little different and a little more cautious. Not all heartbreak is romantic, sometimes our heart will break at the passing of a loved one, or because we’re watching them struggle. Sometimes heartbreak is realizing you have to leave a job, or a place that you really love. Whatever the heartbreak is it wears your heart strings just a little bit.

A worn heart might sound like a tired heart but I’ve come to find that people with hearts that are just a little more worn are also a little warmer. I’ve invited friends, family, peers and anyone else who’d like to share what heartbreak is to them to write a small excerpt for this blog post. Their stories are below.


Joshua-

I am not new to the feelings that you drown in when you are dealing with a loss of a someone special in your life, I’ve lost my uncle to street violence, my stepfather to unforeseen circumstances and my unborn son. But, the one that stays with me the most is the loss of my mother, I was on my way home after a weekend of getting away from my problems that I had with my mother earlier that weekend.

That day I walked in to our 2 bedroom apartment and it was silent, and I wasn’t ready for what I was about to see, but who is ever ready for that… I walked in to my mothers room and there she was in praying position, kneeling I called out to her and she didn’t respond. I thought it was one of her episodes she would have where she would pass out because of her blood pressure issues, but it quickly became clear that this wasn’t the case. I was about to come to terms with the fact that I just found my mother dead in the apartment I grew up in
I’ve tried everything to hold my self together since then, and it’s been a long road dealing with that one day for the past 7 years and the only way I’ve learned to deal with that is by burying those emotions, one day I’ll face my emotions but right now I can’t – since her passing I’ve felt empty and incomplete and I’m still trying to fill that hole in my heart that was taken by her but till then I’m not sure how to reverse the numbness.

Jessica Deng– In Memory of My Grandma

I’ve lost three grandparents, an uncle and an aunt in the span of 2011 – 2013 and that’s less time to recover from the losses than I had anticipated. The truth is that there’s one loss in my family that hit me hard the most and that’s my paternal grandma: Wai Yuen Chen Ong. I remember that around Mid-January 2013 she had difficulty with phlegm in her throat and therefore was admitted to New York Methodist Hospital. It was the first time a doctor had a conversation with me that my grandma requested DNR, no life support or tubes attached to her prior to her passing. I remember Wednesday, February 6th, 2013 it was just a regular weekday and that I had class. When I found out through a phone call with my mom and that my grandma passed away at her retirement home, I just completely fell apart. It took me many months to accept this loss in my heart and family because my grandma was my last grandparent that was alive at that point and she was such a sweet woman.  The honest truth Is this paternal grandma my sisters, cousins, and I grew up knowing wasn’t our biological grandma because our biological one passed away just as my Dad was about eleven years old. Although, the grandma I grew up with wasn’t my blood-related grandma I still was able to learn the true meaning of family and love. A lot of people say I’m very lucky to have had grandparents that all lived past 90 years old and I am, but losing them so suddenly was painful. I hope to carry on the good heart and kindness that my grandma and grandpa have passed along. R.I.P Grandma Deng – 02.06.2013 – You are forever missed!


Mariah- 

Heartbreak huh? I think I could write a book about it, but the one that keeps me up at night is the one with my parents. You see from a young age they kinda shattered me. They fought so much I was invisible, and before I was smart enough to realize that I was the issue they had shipped me off to another country. Years passed and well I grew a little tougher a little stronger but always fell to their stone throwing. My mom left me again when I was 18 and it broke my heart into the tiniest pieces. I never felt good enough for anything I mean if my own parents couldn’t really stand me and seemed to leave every chance they got then why would anyone else. So yeah I know about heartbreak, it’s all I’ve ever known.


I thank Joshua, Jessica and Mariah for sharing their stories with me. I had permission from each of the participants to post their stories. 

Virtues from Motherhood: Why I write

Happy National Day on Writing everyone!

In case you didn’t know today, October 20th is a day devoted to writing and the importance, evolution and impact of it. The National Council of Teachers of English promote the event with the hashtag #WhyIWrite. So, in honor of this day I thought I’d share my reason for writing.

My daughter, Ava. (Photo by Samantha Pezzolanti)

My reason for writing has always been driven by a love of words, of books, and of reading, but it wasn’t until I had my daughter that I really fell in love with writing again. I have always known the importance of words and the weight they carry but to me, they carry even more weight because I know someday my daughter may read the words I have written. Words are powerful and inspirational and they can change your life, but they can never be taken back once they’re out there. I write to share my experiences, I write to connect with people, I write to let people know that they’re not alone in their struggles and that they can  get through whatever it is they’re facing. I write because it helps me make sense of what’s going on in my head and it helps me feel at peace with whatever choices I’ve had to make. Ultimately, writing is a type of therapy, an out and something I am passionate about and hope to pass onto my daughter one day.

Virtues from Motherhood: Let go and take yourself back

“These mountains that you are carrying, you were only supposed to climb.” ― Najwa Zebian

I read that quote and I immediately think of all the emotional and mental burdens I carry around with me daily. Burdens that I should have set down long ago, yet somehow, they’ve managed to hitch a ride for years in the corners of my mind. I think we’re all guilty of this at some point in our lives, after a breakup, after the passing of a loved one or after a particularly difficult time of our lives. Whatever the burden is, or was, we haven’t been very good about dealing with it and letting it go and over weeks, months or even years it takes something from us. It takes our ability to fully trust someone, to truly fall in love or to believe we are worth the effort. These burdens weigh us down and make us weary, and in turn, we might miss small opportunities that could lead to large successes in our lives.

I am by no means an expert on letting things go or even dealing with them properly. I can admit I haven’t had the best of coping mechanisms and I’ve lost huge parts of what made me, me while trying to help others collect the parts of themselves, or in wondering what I could have done differently, when I wasn’t the one who did wrong.  Instead of accepting that sometimes people do really crappy things to other people, and understanding that it wasn’t my fault and never will be, I pick apart every moment leading up to then. I over analyze how maybe on some random Tuesday I was too distant or I didn’t really give all of myself, knowing full well that I did.

Since asking for help, something I refused to do for years, I have found that those tiny voices that my mind shushed were not wrong, and I should have slowed down to listen to them. “You are enough.” “Your feelings matter.” “You deserve more than this”. All echoed in the faintest of voices in my mind but I never acknowledged them because I felt I could fix, or ignore, the problem. Before I knew it, the problem had gone from a pile of stones, to a monstrous mountain I now dragged everywhere with me.

That metaphoric mountain slowed down everything about me, things I never truly faced or dealt with now nagged on my every thought and move and it exaggerated my anxiety to levels I had never felt before. I felt like I was sick every single day, even though the doctor told me I was perfectly healthy. So, I had to make a choice; was I going to let myself wither away or was I going to let go of this mountain and take back who I was? Today, I am trying to do the latter, making sure I do one thing every day that’s for me, and only me. I am trying to remember that just because someone doesn’t see my worth that it doesn’t mean I am not worthy. I am reminding myself that although something I truly wanted didn’t go the way I’d hoped, there are other things for me on the horizon. Lastly, I am trying to remember that I have gone through harder and more challenging things and that I have always pulled myself up and I owe it to myself and most of all to my daughter, to keep doing so.

 

Virtues from Motherhood: A college mom dilemma

Decades ago, going to college was a rite of passage; a time to spread your wings, and probably your first time out on your own. Often times a “student” fit into one mold; 18-23, single, no kids and no exterior responsibilities. Fast forward to the current college model, where the average age of a college student is 27 and you’ll see a dramatic shift in the student body. In New York City, most colleges are urban commuter colleges with limited space for an actual campus; and students who fit college into their lives outside of their jobs and families.

In this commuter college model you’ll find more and more moms, some single moms and some not, but all trying to better their lives for the sake of their child(ren). It is an enormous feat for a young mom to obtain any type of college degree before she is thirty. This is even more difficult when she has to find childcare and be able to afford it, so when a program fits her needs financially, it should also give her peace of mind.

A few weeks ago a classmate of mine, Candice, approached me about a dilemma she was having with her three year old son. Candice wanted to voice the issue but wasn’t sure where to do so; when she heard about my Virtues from Motherhood blog she asked for my help. Candice was concerned that the little ones from the child care center no longer had access to an elevator, because the ones in the general building have been out of service all semester. When she drops her son off at the start of her day he then troops through campus up and down flights of stairs to get to his classroom on the third floor. “It’s just not fair you know, they’re students too” she said to me when I met with her in the campus bookstore cafe. Candice had gone to SGA and voiced her concerns and was told the elevators were under contract and slated to be fixed; but when? Candice is taking 19 credits this semester, a busy schedule indeed, and she’s crossed paths with her son and his class while moving from one room to another. This means that these little City Tech students are mingling with students of the general population, in elevators and on stairs, which presents a potential hazard for them. This is troubling for Candice as she worries that he’ll slip, trip, or fall when moving around the staircases of a busy college campus.

Candice’s worries are not the only ones college moms face. With the elevators out of service other moms, some pregnant, have to lug their child and their strollers up the stairs. Why? Because campus policy forbids them from leaving them in the lobby of the general building. Even moms-to-be have their fair share of worries too. Alexander, an expecting mom, constantly has to protect her belly in the crowded elevators and common spaces. She tried to get permission to use the disability elevators if she provided a note from her obstetrician, but was denied.

Candice and Alexander’s stories made me think back to my college journey which started in 2008. I got pregnant with my daughter, Ava, during my first semester and when I got placed on bed rest in spring 2009 the college would not accept my medical leave and I failed my courses, ultimately getting me academically dismissed. When I did go back to school I was unable to access the child care because of silly technicalities, and my advisor even told me to drop my courses and come back when my daughter was older.

All of these issues we face might seem insignificant to the average student; but to a student who is also a mom, it weighs on us. While there have been great advances in making college accessible to parents, we still have a ways to go with creating an environment that is accepting of moms and not just tolerant.

Original post from Circleofmoms.com

Virtues from Motherhood: Parents aren’t perfect

A few weeks ago, in one of my psychology classes the professor had us fill out this survey of icebreaker questions. One of those questions was “who are your heroes?” and I couldn’t help but remember answering this question in third or fourth grade and naming my parents or grandparents. That still may be the case for some of us today, but for different reasons, because as a kid we thought our parents had all the answers, they had life figured out. As we’ve aged though I think some, if not all, of us have figured out that are parents aren’t perfect because they’re human too.

Growing up I thought my parents were a well-oiled machine, my dad went to work and my mom stayed home and took care of us and there was always a hot meal and a clean house to come home to. My mom always had a solution to every problem and nothing seemed too big to tackle, and if it was I never knew about it. After becoming a parent myself, I’ve learned that this skill is more about being able to conceal chaos rather than there being none at all. Still though, being able to remain cool calm and collected no matter what was going on is a skill, and it made my childhood carefree and unperturbed.

Now an adult myself, I’ve come to realize that my parents are people too, they have their bad days and weak moments just like I do. Some days this makes me sad, to realize that the “perfection illusion” from childhood is gone but mostly it makes me feel better about myself and the days where I’m just not 100%. It’s okay to have an off day, it doesn’t mean everything falls apart; it just means you work a little harder tomorrow.

I wish I had that skill to the degree my mom possesses but I don’t, still I try and keep it altogether for Ava and I think I do a pretty good job. As I get older I learn more and more it’s about all the little pieces coming together, not a continuous flow of perfection and most of all that not every day will be perfect, and that’s okay too. The sun will still rise tomorrow.

Ava and I on one of our summer trips (2017)

 

Virtues from Motherhood: Needing Help Will Never Make You Weak

(Please note this is a sensitive post and one that was hard for me to share. However, in the interest of healing and helping others, I felt like I was finally okay enough to post.)

This summer has been a somewhat rough one for me. While it was nice to relax and not worry about commuting and classes it also gave me time to think, maybe too much. I’ve mentioned my anxiety before and I’ve always kept it relatively low key and under wraps because I felt I could control it. This summer though, I felt that control slip away from me. I was constantly on edge; my thoughts ran wild and I was always in constant fear of something bad happening or coming for me. I couldn’t sleep or focus and I was always on alert. I wrestled with getting help, maybe going to speak to the therapist I’d seen as a teenager but I didn’t want to see someone who might diagnose the old me. I ignored the clear need for me to get help for weeks, until my family left for vacation and I was left alone with my own mind.

I was driving across the Manhattan bridge one day after being out with friends and rolled slowly along the span as traffic inched along, admiring the view and the city I love so much, but then I had a truly frightening thought that appeared out of nowhere. “What’s stopping me from getting out and climbing over the rail?” It was the scariest moment I’d had in a long while because the thought just popped into my mind unprovoked. I looked at the narrow beam as traffic continued to roll on, and it hit me, this is bigger than me now and I’d need to get help to defeat the demons I’ve let live inside me too long.

I never wanted to wonder ever again if anyone would miss me or feel like my own breaths were suffocating me. A day or so later, I had a panic attack that made me feel like I was being swallowed into a black hole and I got my shoes on that instant and went to my doctor. I couldn’t let my daughter see me this way, I couldn’t meet my goals or even watch TV peacefully until I got my anxiety under control.

With my doctors help I’m doing that, but I had to ask for help and I’m sorry I waited for it to explode into a flood of emotions and fears for me to do it. Nevertheless, I am on the mend, every day that passes I’m a little less anxious and feel just a little more in control of who I am. People seem to forget that their mental health is just as, if not more, important than your psychical health because your mind does matter in every sense.

Asking for help to me was always a sign that I was weak that I was little and I was letting anxiety win, but anxiety (like other mental health issues) can’t be defeated alone, you need a net of support to catch you when you’re weak. Friends, family and your medical professionals are those people, seek them out. Lastly, be kind to those you know aren’t okay, and even ones you don’t, because even though you can’t fathom what’s going on in their head, it’s dictating their whole life, and your words matter to them.


If you, or someone you know is struggling here are some resources that can help. Never ignore the signs.

Suicide prevention hotline

Half of us

NYC Mental Health

Virtues from Motherhood: The Mental Health Monsters

In August artist and Linkin Park front man Chester Bennington took his own life. He like many other immensely talented individuals, was not immune to their own minds and tragically Chester lost his battle, my condolences to him and all those who love him.

Mental health issues have been in the headlines for healthcare, judicial and medical reform for years; it is the animal that everyone can see but everyone is scared to address for fear of waking an untamable beast. Anyone who has gone through a point in their lives when they struggled with depression, anxiety, panic disorders, multiple personalities or any other mental health issue, knows that it is not just about winning a battle, it is a war you fight, in silence, in your own head, every day. Some are lucky, they are able to overcome the obstacle in their minds, they are able to seek help and find a way to manifest and overturn those heavy stones that make it almost impossible to move day in and day out. Others though, they aren’t so lucky and the disease wins, those who take their own lives don’t want to die, they just want to the pain to stop.

In high school, I had a classmate take his own life, he was such a great kid, he was always smiling and laughing and he always wanted to be friendly with everyone. Nobody could believe it when the school told us that he’d passed away. It was then that I realized that you could be trapped in your own mind, with what feels like no way out. I have anxiety, I imagine I’ve probably always had it. In high school, I saw a psychologist once a week, my parents sent me and at the time I just thought they were punishing me but looking back maybe they saw something I couldn’t maybe they knew they could help me by sending me there, I don’t know. At the time, I wasn’t making the best life choices, I was spiraling out of control and I couldn’t seem to get a handle on what I was feeling, I just reacted.

That doctor was the first person who ever suggested that maybe what I was feeling was anxiety, she asked me if I ever felt this way or that way, and a few of them resonated with me but I wasn’t sold on the idea. What could she know about me anyway? My parents hired her, she didn’t know me or what I was about, so I dismissed her and eventually stopped going.

Fast forward years later, I was now a young mother. I was now responsible for a whole other life, not just mine and every single thing I did not only affected me but her too. That was a whole lot of pressure, that I tried to carry in stride, but eventually the thoughts got to me and followed me around. What if I never finished school? What if I was stuck in my parents’ house, what if, what if, what if. The racing thoughts made my stomach drop, I felt like I’d eaten rocks and it drove me to act irrationally. I got academically dismissed because I couldn’t sit still or focus in classes and I missed my finals. It took me years to get my mind in a place where I could get through school, and even now there are days when I don’t want to walk into the classroom.

Today, I still have anxiety and some days it’s quite and other days it’s a roaring noise that deafens me. The weirdest things might trigger my anxiety and I’m not proud to say I’ve just gotten better at hiding it rather than dealing with it. What people don’t understand though, is that sometimes I seem really mean or disconnected with them or a situation and I seem angry, but I’m not and it’s just my anxiety manifesting itself that way. Sometimes a situation makes me anxious, sometimes there are too many people in a room or too many conversations happening at once and it overwhelms me. Some days I have a ridiculous fear that anxiety is just making worse and approaching me just triggers a nasty reaction that I don’t mean to give you. Anxiety is heavy, it’s random and sometimes it hangs around for a few days and makes me want to just lay in bed and avoid people and places. None of it means that I’m mad at anyone, that I’m antisocial or that I’m blowing you off it just means that today my mind got the best of me and I thought myself into a corner that I need space and time to get out of.

Mental health issues are not a joke, and you never know what the people around you are dealing with, so be kind, always. And let the people you love know that you love them because some days the battle they’re fighting might be too large for them to fight alone, they need you. Mental health issues are not a weakness, they are a disease and they are debilitating, so the next time someone asks you for help, listen.


If you, or someone you know is struggling here are some resources that can help. Never ignore the signs.

Suicide prevention hotline

Half of us

NYC Mental Health