The Courage from Admitting Fear

Giselle thinking while resting her face on her hands

By: Giselle General

“That is a cool idea, my love. But I don’t feel comfortable initiating that at all. If we’re gonna do it, I need you to set it up, or at least do it along with me.”

When you are so used to being your own provider, advocate, and nurturer, when you are in survival mode for so long, being afraid can be devastating. Feeling fear means being vulnerable, which means being harmed, putting myself and the people I care about the most (which for most of my childhood would be my brother), at huge physical and emotional risk. The pain would be a double-whammy, from the situation and how our unmet practical needs are exposed, and from the heartache from realizing there is no one to rely on.

Being vulnerable enough to express discomfort is one of the biggest risks I’ve taken, and continue to take, in my adult life. The only setting where I’ve felt okay enough to do this, is the place that matters that most, my own home.

For me, admitting fear involves these different parts and with all of them together, has helped in addressing, confronting or putting things in perspective.

First, is giving myself permission to be concerned or afraid or threatened. Learning that ’emotions are information’ is the foundation of me being able to do this. I’ve learned to not immediately attach a moral assessment to my emotions, and that the concern or fear is related to something about how I perceive my environment. Since all emotions are valid, I’ve learned that it is okay for my mind and hear to express whatever I am feeling in that moment.

Second, is labeling, putting into words the type of fear, and saying it out loud. Anxious, uncomfortable, overwhelmed, unsafe, uncertain, confused, worried about being injured, are just some of the ways I now express my fear about something. Another important part is being able to assess and rate the level of fear. It can be 2 out of 10 level of worry about something in the near future. It can be a split second 5 out of 10 quick jump scare because a garden snake jumped out to our walking path. It could be a 4 out of 10 moment of anxiousness because of having to go door-knocking as a political candidate who is a visibly Asian woman. I realized that the more specific the descriptor and the number rating, the more capable I am in doing the next two steps.

Third, is reaching out to express it. This is also a work in progress. Even the mere act of saying, just to myself “hoo boy, I’m worried about this!” is a milestone in itself. A few times, I’ve come along with my husband and his running group that has meetups all year long, including winter at -30. During one of the winter runs during a milder day, I joined him and the route involved some trails along a side of a hill, doable in the summer but with ice and snow it’s a bit tricky. Allowing myself to even pause and look afraid for long enough for my husband to notice my apprehension, is a form of expression I wasn’t always able to do.

The final one, is to find solutions and asserting my boundaries. I eventually learned that it is okay, it is possible, to move away from the threat. There are a variety of solutions, whether it is just vent and let it go, or monitor the situation because I’m more informed and equipped these days, or let someone do the heavy lifting on my behalf. It sounds like a no-brainer, but I now feel okay saying “that will be physically or medically unsafe, so no thank you” or not be ashamed to tell myself that my financial security is more important at this point.

Two hands reaching out to hold each other

For so long, the definition of courage that I embraced is in enduring, persisting, putting a brave face. All of that is important, and all of that is out of necessity. My goodness though, it is nice to not to do that all the time. I want to close this post with the lyrices of a song that always resonates with me when thinking about this topic, “The Warrior is a Child” by Gary Valenciano.

Lately I’ve been winning battles left and right
But even winners can get wounded in the fight
People say that I’m amazing
I’m strong beyond my years
But they don’t see inside of me
I’m hiding all the tears

They don’t know that I come running home when I fall down
They don’t know who picks me up when no one is around
I drop my sword and cry for just a while
‘Cause deep inside this armor
The warrior is a child

Unafraid because his armor is the best
But even soldiers need a quiet place to rest
People say that I’m amazing
I never face retreat
But they don’t see the enemies
That lay me at his feet

They don’t know that I come running home when I fall down
They don’t know who picks me up when no one is around
I drop my sword and cry for just a while (I cry for just a while)
‘Cause deep inside this armor (deep inside this armor)
The warrior is a child

They don’t know that I come running home when I fall down
They don’t know who picks me up when no one is around
I drop my sword and look up for a smile
‘Cause deep inside this armor (deep inside)

Deep inside this armor (deep inside this armor)
Deep inside this armor (deep inside this armor)
The warrior is a child

The Latest Sexual Assault Nightmare

Close up of a person's eyes looking afraid

By: Giselle General

Trigger warning: Trauma flashbacks, nightmares, violent sexual assault

I’m sharing this in time for Sexual Violence Awareness Month, which is in May. If you have experienced sexual violence, there is help. This is just one of the many amazing organizations that can provide support and healing. https://www.sace.ca/

On Easter Sunday, my husband and I decided to go to bed like it’s a regular Sunday. He is working the next day while I have the day off.

Sometime in the middle of the night, I had a horrific nightmare. Having nightmares related to sexual assault is not new to me, I’ve had them on and off for a few years. But this was such an expected curveball.

I was captured, together with other people, in what looked like a room in a building located in the mining village where I grew up. There were no other clues or signs that indicated where I was, just the people I was with. I was with N (a childhood classmate), his mother C and a few people whose faces I can’t figure out.

Our captors look like soldiers, and they were rounding up the people they have captured. I don’t hear any sounds from the others, because I was paralyzed in horror as I realized what they were doing to the younger women like me. The soldiers were taking turns raping them.

And then, came my turn. My vantage point shifted from what was happening around me to just seeing how my face, my eyes looked like. I can’t tell who or how many men were violating my body. I can’t tell where it hurts, what body parts or tools were they using. Did they have a gun pointed at my head? Were they yanking my hair so they can access my mouth? Am I getting struck by sticks, ropes, or knives? Was the pounding in my vagina or anus so rough my body shook uncontrollably? I don’t know, I couldn’t tell.

From my vantage point, I see just my head, sometimes bouncing and shifting in direction, likely because someone or something was ramming inside me. Am I lying down, am I tied up, am I sitting up, am I being straddled, carried or thrown around? I can’t tell.

Everything around her face – my face – was fading away. And my eyes – her eyes – came to focus. And I know that look. The flash of horror from knowing what is about to happen, then the silent scream of taking in all the pain happening all around my body inside and out, and how much being violated is ripping my soul. And then, the resignation and escape, when the brown of my eyes lost sparkle and life, still wide open but fading into dullness and numbness. My head bounces more roughly, the invasion getting frantic. My mind trying to tell me “he’s almost done, it’ll be over soon”.

The next thing I know, I’m thrown into the ground, my body naked, grime and mud on my arms, legs and knees, my belly feeling hollow and raw. I lay them stunned for a few minutes, and then I tried to crawl on my hands and knees, forcing myself to sit up. As I painfully manage to do so, I look down between my legs. There’s a pool of blood on the dirty floor, slowly growing in size.

I frantically crawled to the end of the room, where my fellow captives were. I locked eyes with N, who was sitting beside his mother. As I get closer to them, C had a good look at my battered, broken body and my lifeless eyes. She then pulled my in her lap, the way a mother would for her child. I scrambled to touch the blood still coming out from between my legs and weakly asked “I’m not that broken, am I?” She said “no you’re not!” and pulled me closer, as if giving me permission to seek refuge in her arms. I crawled closer to her lap, and wept.

Silhouette of three Soldiers Walking

And that’s when I woke up, shaking, crying and breathing hysterically. It shook the bed so much that it woke my husband, who swiftly took me in his arms. This is nothing new to him, although I can tell for sure, the first time in at least a few years.

What’s even more messed up is that it’s not the sexual assault that distressed me so much to wake me up. It was when a motherly figure, one that I don’t have anymore, tried to give support and comfort. The reminder of what I don’t know, of what I will never have again, is what hurt more, enough to shake me awake.

It wasn’t until the morning when I was about to prepare for lunch, alone in the house, that I realized that it has been fifteen years since the sexual assault incidences that happened to me took place. It felt like so long ago, but at the same time, it doesn’t.

Another realization that made me pause is the gruesome scene that came in my dream. The sexual abuse I experienced was with a known person, and involved more blackmail and quiet threats. No tools, weapons, or violent physical injuries occurred. I think that subconsciously, the knowledge that rape and sexual abuse are common tactics in war came up on the surface that night.

During that week I had a surprise. Turns out, my next therapy appointment is for that upcoming Sunday. It was a relief knowing that I’ll have my phone call in just six days instead of thirteen. Telephone therapy went well overall, and this was the last thing I brought up. He confirmed something he had said in the past, the reality of how trauma works. Triggers can be unexpected and can pop up anytime, and it will affect me in varying degrees for the rest of my life. Hearing this a few times in the past, it feels more reassuring every time. Because it means I’m not flawed or weak or bad for having reactions to these again.

But with all that said, I’ll be glad if it is five years or more before I get a horrific nightmare of this sort!

Love Language Reflections: Learning About Love Maps

a man and a woman walking on a farm on a date

The consequence of not having solid role models of what a loving, caring, mutually equitable marriage looks like, is that I had absolutely no clue where to start. While I am lucky enough to have some memories of my parents until they died when I was eight years old, that is not enough time to learn, remember and apply it in my own relationships. One thing did stand out, and that is they treated each other well, so at least I know that this is a valuable principle that I want to have, and want to make happen, in my own marriage.

Luckily for me, I was book smart as a child and have retained some of the positive aspects of being one. That is, being resourceful and not feeling ashamed to do research, whether it is print or online resources, on how to do things. It’s something I’ve done for many years, including the awkward topics that I felt are just as important, such as learning about sex positions!

A YouTube channel I’ve started watching recently and really loved is Cinema Therapy. It’s an amazing Youtube channel that analyzes movies from a mental health standpoint, from a filmmaking standpoint, and hosted by two men (a registered psychologist and a film director) who are very open about their emotions while reviewing the movies. One of their videos talks about the 1990’s version of the Addams Family movie and how the main characters, Morticia and Gomez, showcase several key principles of a good marriage. In this video, the new concept I learned which I really like is the one of Love Maps.

A Love Map is the “part of your brain where you store all the relevant information about your partner’s life” as referenced in the book mentioned in the YouTube video, the Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work.

This is gonna sound cheesy again, but my husband, bless the man, has already been doing this without knowing the technical term for it. Many times in the past, when he learns something new that caused a strong reaction in me, both positive or negative, he makes an actual effort to remember them.

I’ve talked about the concept of Love Language before. I realized that the concepts of Love Language and Love Map go hand in hand, and I think it’s remarkable! Love Language focuses on categories that are very practical and tangible, while Love Maps can help find and apply specific observations or preferences.

So, using my husband as an example, the love languages he likes to receive are acts of service, quality time, and touch. Integrating the principle of the Love Map here means the following examples:

  • He appreciates food being prepared for him whenever I am at home. It doesn’t matter at all whether it is 100% homemade, takeout, or simple processed food like a frozen meal or a can of soup. Having a plate or bowl of warm food and a drink placed in front of him is something he really loves.
  • He appreciates that I know how to repair clothes and re-purpose non-wearable clothes into other functional household items. The most recent one is the pair of pants I repaired so many times, and when it’s no longer salvageable, I turned it into a pillow. He describes them as “gift made with love”.
  • Spending time doing different things while in the same room is quality time.
  • He loves cuddles and hugs throughout the day, and bed cuddles during daytime hours can only last up to 30 minutes max, then he gets restless.

In my case, the love languages I really cherish are acts of service, touch, and words of affirmation. Integrating the principles of the Love Map here means the following examples:

  • While I like all various types of affirming words, my outward reactions to them vary. Hearing “you’ve my love” and “I love you” will have the most immediate and reciprocating response with me saying “I love you too!”. Compliments about my skills “you’re such a smart baby!” would make me feel nice inside, but my reaction is more muted, likely because I’m raised to be modest about my skills. Compliments about my appearance “you’re a sexy lady!” are also lovely for my self-esteem, and I need to work on responding to them still. It is nice to be reminded at least one person thinks my butt is cute!
  • Acts of service for me includes self-organization and self-care, not just actions done directly for me. So, paying the bills on time or emptying the dishwasher are amazing, as well as him taking a break from chores and playing video games so he can de-stress. There’s no need for him to iron my clothes or buy my preferred snacks from the Filipino convenience store.
  • I love all forms of touch! We hold hands in the car all the time. When we “bump” into each other in our home’s hallways there’s always a little kiss or butt grab! And cuddles for at least 15 minutes at bedtime before sleeping is an integral part of our bedtime routine.

Combining this with other things I’m trying to do for my own individual wellbeing, such as therapy and learning about mental health, I hope that we are able to continue to be there for each other. This upcoming year is a year of a lot of change, and I hope that we will be able to ride out all what is to come and have our relationship in one piece.

The Mindset of ‘Understanding, not Agreement’

A couple sitting on a yellow couch while arguing.

By: Giselle General

There’s no need for a rocket scientist to tell me, or anyone else, that people seem to be more divided than ever. There’s enough commentary around lamenting the increasing ‘us versus them’ mindset, amplified by social media, people speaking out against injustices they have suffered from for so long, and people feeling anxious about all social, economic, and political changes happening around them.

“This is a hill I’m willing to die on” is one of those euphemisms that I, as a English as Second Language speaker, try to wrap my mind around.

In a government advisory board I volunteer for, a long-time board member suggested the concept of ‘understanding, not agreement’.

I think this means, making an attempt to follow the thought process of someone’s argument or reasoning, without necessarily agreeing with this person’s position. It is something I haven’t heard before and it stuck with me ever since. I think that there is value to what he said, something I am discovering more and I expand the ways I volunteer in the community.

It gets tricky of course when the person’s perspective is inherently harmful or invalidating the suffering of others. I don’t have an answer right now on how to navigate this. I think that would be the necessary next stage as I try to get more involved in the community.

In one of my recent appointments with my therapist, we talked about getting backlash and criticisms and how to react to them. One piece of advice she gave was ‘find the nugget of truth’. I think there is something to that. Even if a racist person keeps on spewing out problematic commentary, if you dig just a little bit, there is something else beneath the hostility. It can be ignorance, it can be fear, it can be lack of belonging, or a little bit of each.

Someone who keeps on mentioning economic impact when it comes to policy decisions might not necessarily be a callous jerk who cares only about jobs. Perhaps their train of thought is that financial stability is a valuable foundation of a person’s wellbeing, and if that is not considered, it can be tough to convince people to do certain actions.

Someone who keeps on mentioning the number of people dying when it comes to policy decisions might not necessarily be a delusional person who thinks the government has unlimited money. Perhaps their train of thought is that every single life has value, and believes that if a person is dead because of government policy failing them, that is completely unacceptable.

Back in university, I remember reading an article about how conservative and liberal minded people can convince the other camp of their perspectives. The essence of the advice was to use the logic and mindset of the other party to frame the arguments towards the topic of discussion. For instance, it can be valuable to say that increased environmental protections through policy can help preserve and maintain the God-given nature, a precious resource and blessing that deserves care.

Given that COVID19 is still an issue, after almost two years, in an attempt to protect my mental health, to protect people around me from being subjected to my anger, and to keep my faith in humanity, I’m trying a bit harder to tell myself these days “understand what led a person to believe that way, even if in my own mind, it is completely nonsensical”. A book I read during a trip, Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely, also reminded me of the natural and human flaws of decision-making and belief.

As I browse through the different definitions of the word understand, I’m trying to learn how people behave and communicate, even if I am not convinced of their mentality.

to perceive the meaning of; grasp the idea of; comprehend

to perceive what is meant; grasp the information conveyed

to be thoroughly familiar with; apprehend clearly the character, nature, or subtleties of

to accept tolerantly or sympathetically

to assign a meaning to; interpret

to grasp the significance, implications, or importance of

And in the process, I can see more clearly why some people have views that are discriminatory or ignorant. Many beliefs and behaviours are harmful even towards oneself, but from the perspective of trauma or being in survival more, a clear path emerges.

How about confronting and addressing these mindsets that are problematic? That is a whole different conversation altogether.

Book Review and Thank You Letter: Motherless Daughters, The Legacy Of Loss: by Hope Edelman

By: Giselle General

In an attempt to fill the gaps in support and knowledge from my ongoing therapy, I was seeking out additional resources to help with dealing with the pain and loss of being an orphan. While my therapist wasn’t able to point me to an local support group, I found an adequate starting point.

I just finished reading the book Motherless Daughters, The Legacy Of Loss: by Hope Edelman. This is a Thank You Letter and a book review for the person who recommended this book, a remarkable woman in Edmonton named Mimi.


November 29 2021,

Dear Mimi,

Thank you for your lovely invitation to go out for lunch a few weeks after the outcome of the Edmonton Municipal Election last October 18. It was wonderful to chat with someone who experienced many of the things I have as a first-time elections candidate, as someone who is a person of color, and a woman. You shared many stories and insights that will help me as I go through my emotional recovery after not winning this election.

On top of the political commentary and stories, you kindly asked important questions about one challenging reality I have, as someone who doesn’t have a mother figure in my current life, and as someone who hasn’t had such a person for a very long time.

If my memory served me right, you actually haven’t read the book yourself, but you shared to me that Motherless Daughters was a book recommended to you a while back. I believe you said that you’re not the self-help-book-type. I was overjoyed though, since self-help is a book category I read on regular basis. Thank goodness an E-book version was available through the Edmonton Public Library, and I started reading in on nights and weekends when I have spare time.

The book was written and researched by a woman whose mother died when she was young, a teenager, and it involved numerous interviews and questionnaires from other “motherless daughters“. I liked how the book chapters outlined concepts bases on topic, such as navigating womanhood, romance, family, motivation and self-worth as a motherless daughter.

My favourite was how the book outlined key differences in terms of impact, depending on the child’s age when the mother passed away. I was eight when my mother died, together with my father and sister. Old enough to remember who they are and to know that life will never be the same after the deaths. Too young to do basic household management functions on my own. Too ill-equipped to grieve but not immune to the need of it.

It was a tough read, where every paragraph hitting me hard, shedding a light in very dark corners of my scarred soul, revealing wounds that never really completely healed. Especially in the first five chapters, it felt like every third paragraph made me cry, the vision of a child in her brokenness that was never acknowledged, and was just hidden away for so long. The stories of the other women and the commentary from doctors and the referenced resources, are both haunting and illuminating.

While distressing and unfortunate, I learned that it is actually normal for people to freak out when they reach the age of death of their same-gender parent. I thought that being fatalistic, catastrophising is a unique issue I am having due to election stress. Seriously, for the last six months before the election day my mind was telling me relentlessly “If I lose in this election, I have three years left to prove my worth. If I am not able to accomplish something profound and remarkable, my mother’s sacrifice was worthless. I don’t deserve to outlive her, and ending my life then is the right course of action.” I cannot rationalize it then, but yes, I was measuring my life and worth based on a very specific number, 33 years of age.

Now, there is huge comfort from realizing that this is a common occurrence. That subconsciously, people can be neglectful about their lives, or in the case of those whose mothers died of suicide or addictions, the adult “motherless daughter” ends up replicating those behaviours. It comes from wanting to grasp any way to find a connection with the mother that died too soon. So this is something I have to seriously watch for between now and 2024, that I don’t harm or kill myself, either by suicide or self-sabotaging my wellbeing.

Chapters of the book outlined how motherless daughters like me are stunted in our development, pushed to maturity and independence too early in some ways. But we are also stuck in childlike tendencies and yearnings in other ways. Instead of feeling inferior, I felt liberated by this. This paved another path of acceptance, and also pride, that my childlike mindset has not affected my adult life in debilitating ways.

For me, knowledge is power. I imagine it comes from my need for control from needing to look after myself (and my brother) at such a young age. I cannot describe how relived I am in realizing a few things:

  • That I will likely grieve again, in cycles and waves, for the rest of my life. When I reach womanly milestones, I would then yearn for a mother’s presence and guidance. Like during my first period, potential pregnancy and childbirth, menopause, even being a widow, financial and career changes, and many more.
  • A few time and age-related stages will be particularly difficult, such as reaching the age my mother died (which for me is in three years), giving birth, and when my child/ren reaches my age when my mother died, which is eight years old.

This is a huge blessing that came at a perfect time. Did you know that just a few weeks ago, during my therapy session right after the election, that I told the doctor that I need a very specific support group for people like me? He was sympathetic and understanding but the referrals provided were too broad for what I am seeking. This is the next closest thing to a support group and it worked really well as a starting point. I’m super grateful for the recommendation, as this has officially marked another journey of my healing from trauma, unpacking the fallout of being an orphan.

Being a “Backseat Gamer”

Close up view of the original Sony Playstation console and controller.

By: Giselle General

This is something that has been a dynamic in my life all these years. But it wasn’t until I saw my husband watching a YouTube Channel with the terminology uses in the channel, did I realize what I was. I am a backseat gamer!

When I was a kid and my parents and sister were still alive, we do have a video gaming system. It was more like a knockoff version, not the popular ones such as PlayStation or Nintendo. My sister would play it most frequently, though I’d play a game of Bomber Man or Golf every now and then.

In my aunt’s home in Baguio City, is where I first saw a PlayStation gaming system in real life. Whenever I’d come to visit, I see my little brother and my college-aged cousin play video games, lots of them. I hardly touched the controller mainly because I see how much they are really into it. And I preferred books anyways.

When my brother and I lived together in the city, we are forbidden by our grandma to go outside and play, as we have our store to look after. So we have to have our main source of entertainment at home. The Playstation will be on for most of the day, with my brother playing the games we already have, or pirated versions of newer video games. From Digimon, Final Fantasy, Harvest Moon and many others, the ambient music of these games are a regular part of my life.

When I moved to Canada, there were only two main reasons I played video games for a prolonged period of time. When I used to work at an electronics store, I won an Xbox Kinect (so a video game system where you move your whole body while playing) as a prize at an event. There was also a computer game my boyfriend bought for me in 2012 called Terraria.

How does the ‘Backseat Gamer’ set up look like for me? Two people on the couch, one playing (usually my brother or my husband) and then me making little comments or asking questions. I try NOT to judge whatever strategy they are doing. And I definitely do NOT interrupt during a boss fight. Boss fights are easy to tell, usually by ominous music, higher in intensity, with something huge on the screen.

TV screen of video games Subtautica, with the player having submarine controllers navigating open ocean waters.

I will never have the skillset of mashing multiple combinations of the controller buttons and fighting what seems to be an endless stream of monsters. While the goal is universal, which is to overcome the obstacles in order to win, the different processes to do that can vary widely depending on the game. You can be a human in an hostile planet trying to survive, or a jelly bean with legs trying to run through obstacles and beat the clock, or a farmer trying to keep everything organized in the farm and the village.

I guess it’s the modern day equivalent of watching TV with the family even if the show is not your absolute favorite. I think for family members who are NOT video gamers it can be a bonding opportunity with those who are, especially if they play in the living room. Even it it is almost two decades after, whenever reminiscing about our younger years, I tell my brother the limited details I remember about the video games he played such as Harvest Moon, Yu Gi Oh, Pokemon, and Crash Bandicoot, among others. It turned into something fond and positive to reminisce about.

And now with my husband it’s a casual way to hang out as well! He mostly plays in the living room TV since I don’t watch a lot of TV anyways. I’d say a sympathetic word if his character dies during a fight, or cheer him on a level up achievement or a boss fight. Just a few days ago I made a comment when he entered a different level in the game and he was impressed, saying “wow, good for you for observing that game mechanic, not everyone notices it right away!”

Living room with TV screen displaying a game named Hades, image is a castle with monsters the player is trying to defeat.

Video games are not just for children, with many gamers well into their forties, or even older. So I think there is value to non-gamer family members to be aware and and appreciate this hobby and entertainment medium just like movies and board games. I’ve been hanging out in the living room more often this week because the video game has really cool background music, rock and metal which is just my jam. Add interesting stories between the characters and artistically done scenery, it’s like watching a movie or TV show series with a slight level of variety in outcomes thanks to the family member holding the controller.

Story Time: The Processed Food Products I had to Learn How To Make

Kitchen counter with a microwave, sauce with tomatoes, a plate with greens and bottle of spices and olive oil

by: Giselle General

As someone born in relatively more modern times, even if I grew up in a rural place before coming to Canada, I’m not completely ignorant of processed food products. The fact that my family had a convenience store gave me greater access to them. So I already know how to prepare and cook frozen hotdogs and meats, and how to differentiate preparing instant noodles from a package using a pot water, and instant cup noodles by pouring water that is already boiling.

However, upon arriving to Canada, certain products are so new to me that I had to learn the hard way how to prepare them. I fondly look back at these cooking mishaps with humor now, but it was either mortifying or frustrating during that time. Here are some of these (now adorably funny) mishaps.

Microwavable Meals

“Did the package just say that this is frozen creamy linguini chicken pasta? So the pasta is not raw? How does this work”? Microwavable meals were a lifesaver for me and my cousin when I first arrived in Canada. My older cousin is really busy with going to college and working, that preparing meals is something that is not feasible all the time. Besides, these frozen meals are pretty cheap. I eventually learned that it is very important to follow the instructions to a T. When it says, lift only one corner of the container, you have to do so. When it says to let it stand for one minute after the timer goes off, you have to do that, otherwise your hands are not going to like feeling burnt.

Here are where the mishaps happened. When I was already living in Edmonton, a few times I decided to bring a microwavable meal to school, find a clean microwave on campus so that I have a slightly more decent meal for cheap. One time, I forgot to bring utensils so my plan went sideways. The other time, I forgot that this is a frozen meal, so on locations where the temperature is above zero, like my own backpack, it starts to melt and makes a wet sticky mess on your bag!

Close up of an oven's handle and buttons.

When I started dating my then boyfriend, now husband, I also discovered an even more unusual type of microwavable meal called “rice steamers”. There are extra steps such as layering the plastic bowl-like contraptions and lifting half of the plastic seal. Each plastic bowl is a different part of the meal, one is rice or noodles, then the other would have the vegetables or meat and the sauce. After taking it off the microwave, you combine all the different food items together and there’s the meal, ready to go!

Frozen Pizza

Frozen pizzas were a mystery for me the first few times too, haha! One time, I tried to help with making dinner at my then-boyfriend’s place. I though I understood all the instructions, set the timer, removed the plastic film and whatnot. But I forgot to remove the cardboard box to transfer it onto a pizza pan, so the bottom was weirdly soggy and damp. The other time, after I learned that keeping the box on isn’t what you are supposed to do, I placed the frozen pizza right on the oven rack. The pizza was cooked well this time, though I did struggle with taking it out of the oven to cut it into pieces. I felt really silly for sure!

There wasn’t an explicit instruction in the box that talks about that – I bet it’s because it’s assumed that people already know that frozen pizzas are to be placed in a metal baking pan. But now, I know better and I’m a pro at making frozen pizzas when in a pinch for a good meal!

Canned Tomato Soup

The only “instant soup” (not instant noodles) that I was familiar with at the time is the cream of mushroom soup. Empty the can, with this almost jelly-like blob that held the shape of the can, add another can of liquid, either milk or water, stir the blob so it combines with the other liquid, and warm it up. But the first time I dealt with tomato soup, it’s a bit of a mystery to me.

Tomato soup with green garnish on a white bowl.

My then-boyfriend and I were making a simple dinner at his condo and we wanted soup, and he wanted tomato soup. It was confusing because upon opening the can, it was a thick liquid, but not as solidified as the cream of mushroom soup. I added the water, combined it and heated it up. For some reason I thought it’s taking such a long time to simmer, but I waited and waited anyways. Once it looked reasonably warmed through, I put it in a bowl to serve. He ate it without a fuss.

It wasn’t until years later, that he admitted that I burned the soup very very badly! That’s why there was a tough brown layer of soup at the bottom of the pot. I can only imagine how horrible it tasted, oh no! But he didn’t say anything at the time. I guess that’s what happens when you are still in the honeymoon phase of your relationship. Now it’s been a running joke between me and my husband when we cook and prepare meals together!

Love language Reflections: Support in times of Crisis

Man hugging woman, woman's head burried on his shoulder

by: Giselle General

My husband and I had a particularly challenging weekend sometime in June this year. As if the pandemic is not enough. In times of crisis or particularly stressful situations, people react differently. People’s reactions can possibly be categorized into the following: fight flight or freeze mode.

Similar to how we face a threat that is directly affecting us, people might react in the same way if there is a crisis about their loved ones, especially if we are directly involved in their daily lives. Some people are in “hyper solution mode” or “fight mode” running around getting things done, getting everyone together to act, and then after this adrenaline panic-solution mode, they get exhausted and worn out. These helper types, dedicated to support their loved ones, end up not realizing they need to care for themselves too.

There are some people who have intense outbursts of emotion during times of crisis, getting stuck and unable to provide tangible practical solutions to resolve the crisis at the end. I personally describe this as the ‘flight mode’ especially emotionally. However, in my opinion, there is value with how these type of people respond even if it may be off-putting at the time. They demonstrate the emotional impact, the reality and seriousness of the situation at hand.

Woman sitting and crying, and person's hands supporting her shoulder's comforting her back.

And there are people that are in silent mode, I would say is the ‘freeze mode’. Those who are too quiet or maybe two numb or lost, unable to determine a course of action. It’s not necessarily that they’re useless in the time of crisis, however, it takes prompting or direct, specific instructions to get them to do anything. Whether it is direction from the hyper solution-focused loved one, or being prompted by the emotional outburst of the others. 

Particularly for long-term relationships, I think it is really important to understand how our loved ones respond during times of crisis.

This is because different reactions or solutions would be more appropriate depending on the situation. If someone is in medical distress, it probably would be important to be more solution-focused at least until the severity of the situation is minimized. However, it is important to acknowledge the intense feelings that have come up because of the situation. Imagine your loved one being taken away by ambulance – there’s the peak emotional state and then there’s the crash afterwards. In many crisis situations, solutions, support, and follow-up is more of a marathon not a race. There needs to be diligent planning and follow-up and ongoing communication so that the problem at hand can be fully resolved.

The valuable thing about knowing your loved ones’ mechanism when responding to crisis as you can pick them up and support them during times when they are struggling. Some people struggle with displaying their emotions even after the fact, even when it’s safe, more appropriate, or even healthy to do so. Some people get paralyzed and unable to do proactive helping in the heat off the crisis and that can be detrimental as well. I think it’s important for people to have faced crisis situations to feel vulnerable enough and unpack their emotions afterwards. Being self-aware of one’s own tendencies are just as helpful.

Lined notebook with handwritten words, "Today, 1, 2, 3".

This is speaking from recent experiences. I think, or I hope, that I’ve figured out my own and my husband’s mechanisms when it comes to crisis solving. There will be times when he’s not willing to talk about it just yet and that’s okay. Sometimes disconnecting from the situation for a bit by browsing the internet is an okay way to provide yourself some relief. And it’s important to acknowledge that. He gently suggested a couple times for me to meditate because he knew that it would be helpful for me, and I honestly would not even thought of it if he had not brought it up.

It’s important for loved ones to not be judged by their coping mechanisms. It is also important to gently and lovingly nudge your loved one to get supports that you are unable to provide. It took me a while to acknowledge that sometimes I just need a talk therapy session with a professional to help unpack my emotions so that I can be less filtered in my language and be more candid in a way that works at specifically for me.

To be heard, understood, supported, and pushed sometimes, is really important to maintain our sense of perspective, sense of health, and nurture our ability to help ourselves and our loved ones. 

Relationship “Green Flags”

Woman leaning her chin over a book on the table, smiling and giving a thumbs up.

By: Giselle General

During one of the rare days that I was working in the office this past summer, I dropped by the office of one of my coworkers. He’s a few years younger than me, just finished university a year ago, and is about to pursue another important life milestone: moving out of his parents’ home and moving in with his girlfriend. He started as a volunteer five years ago so we have known each other for a few years and has heard of the relationship milestones that I had myself, particularly reaching legal common-law status with my partner, and afterwards, getting married.

I was teasing him a little bit, and giving some friendly warnings about how moving in together with your significant other is both exciting and unnerving. I told him that getting annoyed with little things such as how toothpaste tubes are placed in the bathroom sink or how a toilet seat or lid is set up will be inevitable. During the chat, I used a phrase I saw somewhere over the internet in the context of a romantic relationship which is “green flags”. When he told me that they assembled a piece of furniture and it went smoothly, I enthusiastically told him that is a relationship “green flag”. He said, he will use that term also moving forward.

In conversations about romantic relationships, “red flag” is a common and appropriate term. It is indeed important to be attentive to subtle and obvious cues, both verbal and nonverbal that can indicate something that is potentially problematic. But spotting positive signs is not encouraged as much. So I was thrilled when I saw the term “green flag”, I think on an internet meme somewhere. Oh, the power of internet, this time for good!

So here is a very introductory list of “green flags” in a romantic relationship.

  • Both parties are able to be patient and collaborative at the same time. Building furniture, especially from IKEA, is the ultimate test for this. Another way to test this is when cooking a dish together that takes several steps, like cooking on a stove, baking, assembling.
  • Understanding and respect of differences and limitations such as allergies, food preferences, physic endurance doing an activity, clothing colors or textures of objects they like or don’t like, and more.
  • Ability to communicate well, outside of romantic expression and having sex
  • Feeling confident and secure in one’s appearance when around them, there’s no need to fake it to impress
  • Experiencing a messy bodily illness or function in front of them, and they didn’t freak out too much and judged you harshly. This includes skin irritation, digestive issues, the flu, blood, etc.
Mother and a young son and daughter, sitting on a bad teasing and laughing together.

And here is a very introductory list of “green flags” in a family relationship.

  • Feeling at ease in their presence, whether it is an older or younger family member
  • Comfortable with making small requests, from unloading the dishwasher, cleaning the hair off the shower drain, or a car ride
  • Positive gestures done in the past is never used as blackmail material or as a guilt-tripping tactic
  • Able to share casual stories about daily life even if it may sounds like shallow venting

And another short list of “green flags” at one’s place of employment.

  • On weeks or days that are difficult, there is a feeling that the next day can be a bit better, and it does
  • Feeling productive most of the time
  • Having one’s direct supervisor and a few colleagues (not necessarily all of them) be understanding and sympathetic towards the ups and downs of your duties
  • Not worrying one time about salary and payday
  • Having functional equipment and honest efforts to fix something when something is broken
  • Being comfortable with whatever arrangements you make during lunch break

I have two sets of relatives here in Edmonton, two happily married couples whom I observed one action they both do, they address their respective spouses as “mahal”, as in the word for love (and also for expensive, haha!) in Tagalog. I really liked it. So with my partner and now my husband, we address each other as ‘love’. And it’s awesome!

My husband and I chat about our respective workplaces and I share little stories of work activities for staff, social gatherings, and upcoming changes. My husband says with an amused look “wow, your managers actually know how to manage.” Based on stories from so many people we know, we both realized that managing employees is not a skill that everyone has.

I think it’s a good idea to proactively spot ‘green flags’ in our experiences and interactions. It provides an opportunity for appreciation and gratitude, as well as motivation to learn, master and emulate those positive things. This is something that I will try to do more moving forward.

Love Language Reflections: Appreciating Each Other’s Yin and Yang

Black and white photo of a couple holding hands, photo focus on the torso, arms and hands.

By: Giselle General

Being “Therapist approved” is an inside joke that my husband and I have, which is a reference to the first time I went for mental health help in 2017. I shared to my counselor at the time the different gestures my husband does to support me, as well as his perspectives that are different from mine in a good way. And always, after each story, this counselor would say “he’s great, I like this guy!” After every therapy session I’d share this to him, and would say cheerfully “wow, I’m therapist approved!”

Recently, I booked another online therapy appointment with the psychologist I’ve been seeing for the past year. This time around, there isn’t a major issue that I needed regular appointment for, but more like an check-in and occasional help once in a while. It’s like going for a massage – but for my psychological wellbeing – going once every few months feels really nice!

As I described how my husband and I support each other, and how our personalities and priorities are complementary but different, this psychologist commented about how my husband and I seem to be a yin and yang of each other. A contrast that is drastic and obvious, but works so well together and creates a harmonious union.

It reminded me of a painting I made many years ago, back when we were still living in the condo. It is an abstract interpretation of how he and I were a yin and yang complement to each other. It looks like my younger self had observed that about our relationship already. My husband liked the painting to much that it moved with us when we bought our house. Now, not all paintings that I made are kept. Some end up getting donated to fundraising auctions for charities, or I paint over it with a different design. For a painting to stay here for more than five years, it has to feel really special to him.

Abstract painting of a yin and yang symbol that is altered, with handwritten scribbles in either blak or white pencil.

What does this yin and yang harmony as far as our relationship is concerned? Here are some examples:

  • I’m very achievement-oriented and strive for excellence, while he is content with being minimal and steady in achieving life goals
  • He has an amazing ability to be a long-time ‘couch potato’ sitting and watching TV or playing video games all day. I lose attention, and my bottom hurts after watching 1.5 episodes on Netflix, unless it is really interesting.
  • He emphasizes a lot on rest and relaxation, while I’m energetic and immerse myself in lots of volunteering and creative work
  • One example related to chores: I strongly dislike doing laundry, having to wait and time my day to move clothes from the washer to the dryer. But he is more than happy to do so. And then, he dislikes folding and putting away clothing neatly, which is something I am more than happy to do.
  • Our backgrounds and upbringings are drastically different. He is a born-and-raised Canadian white man, with a middle-class family, parents who raised him and stayed in the same home the entire childhood. I grew up in the Philippines, orphaned at a young age and had to function as a parent, immigrated to a new country and moved across cities and provinces.

I think it is not just personality, but encouraging one’s partner to look at things from a different perspective, so that each person has a sense of balance in life. It’s really great whenever he talks to me a few times a month to help me take inventory of all my volunteer activities, and making sure I don’t take up too much and overstretch myself.

Another important aspect is the acknowledging and accepting the differences, particularly if it doesn’t cause harmful disruptions in day to day living. For many years, our budgeting system is quite different, and as long as we are overall organized, it was okay if he used a specific software for budgeting while I used my bank’s online system. It’s totally okay if our office desks, which are next two each other, looks so different. His is really tidy, while mine has mini piles of stuff, from pens, my wide-open bullet journal, business card organizer, and our couple’s diaries. It’s totally okay if he has his clothes sorted in a pile of stackable bins, one of each type of clothing, while I have a closet where majority of the clothes are in hangers.

Close up of a couple mixing baking ingredients. One person hugging the other from the back.

It’s been six years since I looked at that yin and yang painting up close. I wrote words in black or white color pencil in the flowy parts of the yin and yang symbols. As I read the words, the passages are filled with eagerness and curiosity, affection and optimism. There were many phrases that are contrasting and complementary describing both him and me and our experiences: happy and sad, modest and proud, dark and light, straightforward and confusing, assertive and passive, generous and practical, gentle and blunt, he and she.