My Brain, An Update

By August 1, 2018 Musings, The Daily Dish

It’s been more than a month since I last posted about my mental health crisis, and I suppose it’s time for an update.

Or at least let you all know I’m alive!

A lot has happened in the past two months. I tried to refocus, committing to taking better care of myself and resting my brain, which had been AWOL for awhile. I meditated, I hiked, I surfed, I read (a lot), I journaled, I walked. It felt good. I was finally allowing myself to slow down, breathe a little, rest.

Of course, this only lasted less than two weeks before the panic started in.

I’m so behind with work! I’m late on preschool applications! The dishes can’t wash themselves!”

And just like that, I was back in the hustle of my impossible life, trying to juggle too many things and believing this is what I need to do, this is what every woman does. Even while knowing FULL WELL that this isn’t true.

It’s funny to read the texts I send my friends or listen to myself dole out advice. I just texted a stressed-out mom friend of mine that no one ever said we needed to suffer to be a good parent.

It’s true. But, as my mom always says, “Do as I say, not as I do.”

For some reason, I believe that every minute of the day should be occupied by something productive. This obsession stems from a childhood marked by daily chores and a Catholic upbringing, no doubt. I hatehatehate wasting time. So when I’m watching the time-suck of Real Housewives marathons, for example, I have to be doing something else, something productive. Folding laundry, cooking dinner, sorting mail. I can’t just sit and indulge. Everything I do has to have a purpose. A surf session is a workout. The kid’s nap time is a chance for me to cook meals for the next few days. My commute to work is a chance to catch up on podcasts or check email. No second is wasted.

I realize I’m really screwed up.

I’m sharing this because I know I’m not alone. I know there are people out there who feel as trapped in their lives as I do. We don’t let ourselves rest or relax because, for whatever reason, we think we don’t deserve it. And it has actually nothing to do with deserving anything.

Our bodies are like cars. They need to be maintained and taken care of, so they keep us safe and last for years. And, like many of us bad car owners, we let that slip. We skip the oil change because it’s too inconvenient or drive on bald tires because we’re trying to save money. And it costs us later. Our cars will break down and so will our bodies. One day, our bodies will say, “OK, jackass, you pushed me to the limit and now I’ve got nothing left to give.” Then what?

I watch my son, now 20 months old, just play. He draws, he throws balls, he stacks blocks. Nothing about it is very productive. (I’m not going to lie, I can’t wait until he gets old enough for chores.) But he’s happy, he’s learning, he’s content. He’s not worried about his chubby thighs or prepping for tomorrow’s day at the sitter. He’s just living life as happily as he can, without a worry in the world.

Sure, things are taken care for him. He doesn’t have to deal with morning traffic or Wednesday meetings or spotty Internet coverage. He doesn’t have to wash his clothes or prepare his meals. I mean, he doesn’t even have to wipe his own butt! What a life!

But we can learn a lot from toddlers, in the way they are optimistically curious and delighted by even little things. (I have never seen someone so excited to see the moon every morning.)

So where am I with this mental health thing? I’m still moving forward. Slow but steady. Sometimes stuck in place. But always hopeful.


On a side note, thanks to everyone who reached out — in person, by text, in messages — to ask about how I’m doing or to just share a personal experience with anxiety and depression. It has meant so much to me.

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Why We Should All See a Therapist and Get Off Social Media

By June 8, 2018 Musings, The Daily Dish

The recent deaths of fashion designer Kate Spade and chef-writer Anthony Bourdain — both suicide, both a day apart — has, as it inevitably would, sparked a discussion about mental health and suicide.

That was, of course, immediately followed by a barrage of Instagram posts and tweets about how much these people — now that they’re dead — meant to those of us who are still alive. And most of us have never met either of them.

(Even more interesting than that, the ones who did know them likely never really knew them at all.)

More and more, we are living our lives in a digital world, carefully curating our Perfect Life Portfolio on Instagram while blurting out hate and criticism on Twitter. We’re humans, we want a community, we want to be part of something, we hate feeling left out. We can’t help but join in, posting photos of margaritas on National Margarita Day or tweeting #MeToo because we felt strongly compelled to show our support.

And yet, at during the same span of time that we’ve become more obsessed with social media, rates for anxiety, depression and, yes, suicide have risen. This is no coincidence.

I’m not sure why we’ve become so emotionally invested in social media, feeling its grip with every like and retweet. Wasn’t it so nice when you didn’t know what people (especially the ones we don’t like and interesting how we tend to follow them anyway) were doing, where they were traveling, who they were dating, what awesome jobs they just landed, how much weight they lost after giving birth three months ago? We used to live more in the present — and that present embraced the philosophy, “Out of sight, out of mind.” Now, everything is right there for the viewing — and all this information (good, bad, toxic and otherwise) is cluttering our already jam-packed brains.

I remember talking to a group of college students a few months ago about social media. I showed them the Instagram account of a fellow food blogger who has about 15,000 followers, a decent number by Hawai‘i standards. A guy in the back of the class scoffed at the number of likes for one her posts and said, “My roommate has fewer followers and way more likes. Her numbers are pitiful.” And just like that, he dismissed this person, rolled his eyes at everything she was about. He didn’t care about her decades-long career, the fact that she ran her own company and was very well-respected in the industry. At the very least, she’s made a career out of this — it has afforded her the ability to travel the world when she wants, buy a condo, change out her cars every year — and this guy wasn’t impressed. Her likes were abysmal.

What do we value these days? The number of followers we have — or the fact that we don’t know or care who they are as long as they click “follow”? Do the number of hearts and retweets equate to how much people like and respect us?

In this same class, we started talking about what’s important with regard to social media. Numbers, yes. Likes, definitely. But also, they care about who is liking their stuff — and even how quickly! These students literally scroll through the list of people who have liked their photos and make note of who did — and, of course, who didn’t. That same guy in class admitted that he spends hours just viewing the accounts of his friends and liking photos because “if I don’t, I get shit for it.”

People. Seriously.

So here we are, wondering why someone like Spade or Bourdain, who seem to have the dream career, loads of money, fans around the world, who never had to worry about college tuition for their kids or retirement, can’t find anything to live for.

Because when you’re depressed or anxious — or worse, and this is actually fairly common, the combination of both — you can’t see your life the way others do. You can’t see yourself the ways others do. It doesn’t matter how many positive reviews you get, how many likes and retweets, how many fan pages are created, how many people buy your bags or books, you are a failure, you’re not good enough, your life sucks.

In fact, the good stuff? At some point, you don’t even notice it.

I know this because I’ve suffered from depression and anxiety for most of my adult life — and it has only gotten worse in the past few years.

I hear it all the time, too: You have the best life, you surf all the time, you eat for a living, your son is so cute (that part is very true). But that doesn’t mean I’m happy. Or calm. Or dealing with a darkness that can sometimes consume me. (Why do you think I bake in the middle of the night?)

In fact, it has very little to do with the things we have.

The mind is a space that’s far more complicated and powerful than anything else. It can manifest pain if it wants opioids. It can create chaos where there is none. It craves attention, and if it doesn’t it, it can force you to pay attention.

That’s what it did to me recently.

I kept ignoring the signs, that my body was overworking and needed rest, that I was letting stress build inside of me without giving it an outlet. So my mind said, “If you’re not going to stop, I’ll do it for you.” And it did. I had a strange episode in a restaurant bathroom that one doctor likened to a seizure. I had a series of ear infections that I never took care of. And then my brain just shut down. A story that would normally take me an hour to write was now taking six. I couldn’t work, I couldn’t think, I couldn’t function.

(There’s a lot more to this, but I’ll save that for another blog.)

In the meantime, those old familiar feelings of depression and anxiety started creeping up my spine and taking over my body. I would struggle to work, get anxious about it, then spiral into a depression. Then I really couldn’t work — and then I would get anxious about that. See where I’m going with this?

And nothing — no compliment, no hug, no 13-by-9 pan of fudge brownies — was going to convince me that I could overcome this.

That took actual “mind work” — therapy (lots of it), meditation (if you’re interested, download the Headspace app), reading and time away from social media.

But who’s going to listen to me?

So when celebrities or influencers start talking about mental health, that’s when people take notice, especially people like me who are desperate for companionship in this lonely space. But here’s the catch: While all this media coverage of these two high-profile suicides are sparking the conversation about mental health — which, for some reason, we still seem so wary of — it’s also having an extremely negative effect. It’s called cluster suicides, a series of suicides in which one seems to set off another. It happens commonly after news of high-profile suicides, especially when the act itself supersedes the person committing it. (Read more here.) Not to say that healthy people are jumping off buildings to be like Bourdain. It’s the ones who are mentally struggling already, who see someone as successful and beloved feel there’s no other way out. As an article published on Vox put it, “it puts death on the table.”

How could the guy who wrote in his 2000 book Kitchen Confidential, “I know what I want. I want it all. I want to try everything once.” How could this guy decide there was nothing left to try?

What does that mean for me?

At least that’s the thought that went through my mind — and as shocking as that may sound, I’m sure it went through other minds, too.

So instead of focusing on their deaths — or even their lives — and how that has impacted you in some way, focus on your own mental health, focus on someone who’s struggling now, focus on creating home and work environments that support wellness, focus on laws and research that can help, focus on being kind and compassionate to everyone (because you don’t know their struggles).

Let this be the lesson that you share — not how many Kate Spade handbags you have.

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What it’s REALLY like being a mom

By May 11, 2018 #BabyFox, Musings, The Daily Dish

I can’t remember the last time I slept through the night — though my son does.

How ironic, right?

But that’s my life now. The life of a worrying, emotional, stressed-out working mom.

I never imagined raising a child would be this challenging. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t think it was going to be easy, either. But I thought I would be spending lazy days at the beach with the kid, camping on weekends, relaxing on the deck with a glass of wine while he, I don’t know, played nicely by himself.

(Cue the laughter from all the moms out there.)

While my son is a very easy kid — he practically puts himself to sleep every night and says, “Bye bye,” from his crib to get me to leave the room — raising him is tough. There’s food to make, naps to schedule, books to read, clothes to wash (I still don’t get how such a small human adds so much more laundry), supplies to buy, new songs to sing, ailments to Google and worry about. He gets bored so easily now, so I’m constantly trying to come up with new things to do using everything from empty diaper boxes to kitchen utensils. It’s exhausting.

You would think two years into this I’d be more of an expert, but I still feel like I did last year around this time: Like I know nothing.

I find myself comparing my experience with other moms on social media. How did she take a 1-year-old to Paris? How do they go camping with two kids and three dogs? How did she lose all that baby weight in two months? Honestly, it’s a dangerous vortex to get sucked into, and I’m trying to avoid it these days as much as possible. My life is hardly Instagrammable. I wear the same combination of tank tops and shorts every week, sometimes without washing them. My hair is so unmanageable the last time I saw my stylist he winced. And I can’t blame my armpit boobs on breastfeeding anymore.

This is motherhood, man. And it’s scary.

I never feel like I’m doing this right, either. I still haven’t finished his baby book — and he’s my only child, so there’s really no excuse. I keep forgetting to mark his height on the door frame. I get lazy and microwave chicken nuggets for him more often than I’d like to admit. I’m terrified of taking him on overnight trips. I’m late on preschool applications. I’m not saving nearly enough money for his future (let alone my own). I’m already failing at this and I’ve got at least 16 more years to go!

So what do I do about it? Pour myself a glass of wine, use Google as a parenting tool and stay up all night worrying about this stuff.

While the kid sleeps, of course.

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He’s Walking and Other Amazing Mom Moments

By April 8, 2018 #BabyFox, Musings, The Daily Dish

It wasn’t that long ago — maybe even a few weeks — that I was worried this kid would never walk.

He had first started crawling back in October (last year!) and we were sure he would take his first few wobbly steps by his birthday the following month.

Yeah, that didn’t happen.

Instead, Landon decided to ramp up his crawling, motoring around the house like one of our dogs. Suffice it to say, he got really good at it.

But like many first-time moms, I was worried he wasn’t keeping up with everything I was reading online, everything other moms had told me. He was approaching his 15th month — and still not walking. I had friends whose kids were walking by nine months! And here he was, 14 months, 25 pounds, perfectly content to get from here to there on his hands and knees.

Was there something wrong with him?

No. There was clearly something wrong with me.

It’s crazy to think of how far Landon has come — and in such a short amount of time. He went from rolling over to crawling to cruising in a matter of weeks. I can barely remember him immobile, laying (not lying because I had to place him there) on those activity playmats, marveling at a plastic turtle that played music and lit up.

Even back then, I was desperate for him to start walking, to start talking, to start being a little adult already. (Maybe get a job, pay rent…) Every parent I said this to would laugh and say, “Be careful what you wish for!”

Crawling begets cruising. Cruising begets walking. Walking begets running. Running begets the phrase, “There goes the neighborhood.”

Honestly, while I sometimes miss the days when I could put him in one place, walk away and feel pretty confident he would be there when I returned, I am pretty stoked about this new milestone. Walking is liberating — for both of us. Not only can he walk himself from his bedroom to the kitchen for breakfast — he does weight 30 pounds! — but he’s able to go wherever he wants, all those toys and window louvers and remote controls that he couldn’t get to before, he can now. Yes, it’s more work. Yes, I’m way more worried about things like dressers and bookshelves falling on him. Yes, I’m more tired than I’ve ever been in my life. But it’s so much more fun.

But this wasn’t his only milestone.

While I was waiting (not so patiently) for Landon to walk, he was accomplishing many other amazing things. Like pointing at helicopters when he hears them. Or saying six letters in the alphabet in the right place in the ABC song. Or doing the hand motions for “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and “The Wheels on the Bus.” Or knowing which shapes are circles, squares, stars, triangles and crosses — and putting them in the right slots in one of those shape-sorters. Or knowing who Elmo and Cookie Monster are. Or picking up Indy’s ball and, instead of eating it, throws it for him to fetch.

And I’m not even teaching him these things!

Now I can’t wait for him to talk — I know, I know, I won’t be able to stop him — and watch movies with me and snuggle with me in bed on Sunday mornings and surf with me and cook his own breakfast and help me walk the dogs.

Because all that begets the rent he’ll owe me, too. 🙂

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Why I Decided To Go Vegan — Sort Of

By March 12, 2018 Food

I feel like I need to explain myself.

For the past month, I’ve been posting on Instagram photos that have been, well, questionable.

And I’m sure the hashtag #vegan wasn’t helping. (Did she mean #Vegas?)

Yes, the food editor who probably eats more fried chicken cutlets drenched in gravy than recommended by health experts was now vegan. Honestly, I wouldn’t have believed it myself — if it weren’t me I was talking about!

Here’s the story: My husband and I watched the 2017 Netflix documentary What The Health, which promotes a plant-based diet and discusses concerns about the health impact of consuming meat and dairy products. It was so convincing, my husband, who can easily polish off a pot of chili and six hot dogs for dinner, decided to go vegan for a month and see how it would affect his health.

To be honest, I didn’t think I’d ever hear my husband say the word, “vegan,” in a sentence where the subject was him and the verb was “eat.” This is a guy whose chest freezer in the garage is almost exclusively filled with various cuts of pork and beef.

And I have never, ever considered eating only plants. For anyone who knows my eating habits — really, you just need to follow my IG to know — my diet consists primarily of Spam musubis, cheesy burgers, ice cream and Slurpees. And only that last one is vegan.

I was slightly terrified of this new diet. I couldn’t eat any animal products. That meant no steaks, no chicken salad, no French toast, no buttery croissants, no mayonnaise, no lasagna, no roast beef sandwiches, no fro-yo, no chocolate chip cookies. I felt my heart sink. Everything I loved — primarily cheese, butter and bacon — was now banned. I wasn’t sure if prolonging my life would be worth it.

But a quick Google search eased my fears.

I had to give up butter, but there were vegan alternatives. (Remember margarine?) I couldn’t eat beef and chicken, but rice, olive oil, garlic and most breads don’t contain animal products. I had to give up ice cream and yogurt but blended fruits — bananas, strawberries — were acceptable swaps. And have you heard of Gardein? This company makes a meatless faux chicken tender that’s outrageously delicious.

And then there was the revelation that a lot of the foods I already eat are vegan. Oreos, Pillsbury Crescent Rolls, unfrosted Pop Tarts, Ritz crackers, Nature Valley Crunchy Granola Bars, Thomas New York Style Bagels, Nutter Butters. I could live off these things!

Being vegan, at least for a month, started to seem doable.

(By the way, we didn’t change Landon’s or the dogs’ diets, in case you were wondering.)

And, as sadistic as this sounds, I was looking forward to the challenge of cooking with just plants. I didn’t grow up eating a lot of veggies and fruits — it’s the plight of being the Third Born and parents just giving up — so I can’t say that I’m well versed in cooking with these ingredients. I know how to roast cauliflower and steam broccoli but that’s about it. So trying vegan recipes was just going to force me to cook and bake outside my comfort zone — and I was actually looking forward to it.

The first week was tough. I hadn’t discovered vegan butter yet and I’ve never been a fan of beans. So I figured I was just going to survive off of Fruit Loops (vegan), musubis, bananas and Diet Coke. I had done that before.

Turns out, though, there’s a plethora of vegan recipes out there, all tested and tweaked and modified to fit the tastes of someone like me, someone who actually enjoys animal products.

I was making vegan chili (same as making beef-based chili and, surprisingly, no one missed the meat), spicy rice and beans (that tasted a lot like vegan chili), mushroom risotto, meatless meatballs (with beans and not beef), tofu fried rice, homemade hummus, cauliflower florets that were battered and fried and tasted a lot like sweet-sour chicken. People started sending me links to vegan food blogs or vegan recipes they loved. I couldn’t believe how many people I knew were secretly vegan — or at least part-time vegan — and never said anything. (I’m not going to lie, there is a weird stigma about being vegan. I can’t really explain it, but it’s there.)

I can’t stay that I’m entirely vegan. Honestly, I would probably be out of a job if I were. (It would be really hard being a vegan food editor.) But my husband has been devoutly loyal to the diet, and I’ve been cooking exclusively vegan for him at home.

I don’t know if I feel any better, if my body prefers a plant-based diet. I do eat a lot more vegetables than I ever did before, which is only a good thing. But I’ve also never eaten so many Oreos, either.

There’s got to be a balance, and I’m still figuring that part out.

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