#MentalHealthMonth

This week was hard. George Floyd. Christian Cooper. 1 out of 4 Americans are unemployed. My low-key but nevertheless painful break up. News from my family. Stress about my job and other future work opportunities. Expectations. All of this on top of COVID-19. A lot of people feel like they can’t win- myself included.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. May coincides with one of the most complex and challenging periods in United States’ recent history and we know that mental health is more important than ever- its recognition shouldn’t be limited to a one sole month. For those going through mental health struggles, life is especially difficult at this moment and it’s okay to mentally feel like garbage.

It’s okay to feel hopeless and not know what you can do to help. It’s okay to cry (I have done so multiple times this week). It’s okay to be angry, mad with yourself and upset with others. It’s okay that you don’t know what to say- I certainly don’t. It’s okay to be numb. It’s okay to feel hurt and bothered. It’s okay to be envious. It’s okay to feel lazy and unmotivated. It’s okay to sleep. It’s okay to be confused and not pick a side. It’s okay to feel lonely and alone (even though I promise that you’re not). It’s okay to feel low and depressed and anxious. These are not bad feelings. They are human feelings and they are allowed to be felt and examined. They are meant to be shared and talked about. If you are struggling, there are resources out there to help you. If you are struggling, I am with you AND am here for you.

So, tell me truthfully, dear reader… how are you taking care of yourself mentally during 2020? Continue to fight the stigma and fight for your happiness and well-being. Just remember to take a deep breath- I’m along side of you.

#Pride

Puerto Rico siempre…

I’ve been watching a lot of YouTube videos throughout quarantine. ASMR soft chats. Snipets of Gabriel Iglesias’s stand-up. And at least once a day, I watch this year’s Super Bowl Halftime Show featuring Shakira and Jennifer Lopez. I get especially excited to watch Jlo’s performance. My chest puffs up with a sense of pride when she shows off the Puerto Rican flag to the audience, reminding viewers that Puerto Ricans are Americans too.

I’m a proud Puerto Rican. I have to admit that this pride that I feel is relatively new thing, starting in my late 20s/early 30s. In high school and my early college years, I wished that I was White for its “beauty standards,” as well as for the convenience of it. As I’ve gotten older, I learned to love my bigger nose and rounder hips not just as attractive features but as things that connect me to my identity. Growing up, I never knew of Afrolatina roles models to look up to (#RepresentationMatters) and thought that White beauty was the standard to aspire to. I had to essentially look like Barbie and I hated the fact that I wasn’t skinny and my dark eyes surrounded by my darker eye circles.

I tried my hardest to emulate Whiteness while I still never felt “Black” enough, nor ‘Latina” enough. Both races had their own expectations to live up to and I was never going to play for either side. I thought Black culture limited to hip-hop culture, something that I always found mildly offensive and misgonistic. I also thought Latino culture was primarily wrapped around the Spanish language, something that I could barely understand and never fully get. I also never knew the nationality of my biological father. While I have Black features and celebrated my adoptive father’s culture (his family is Jamaican), I floated around without a true and genuine racial identity for years.

I have to admit that I do feel like a terrible Afrolatina sometimes. I learned late in my life that Puerto Ricans come in various shades (soy una idiota). Even though I minored in Spanish in college, my Spanish these days is terrible. I started practicing more since the start of the new year (of course, I’m nowhere that I want to be in fluency but I’m getting there). Hair is a big discussion when you’re a person of color. I straighten my hair most of the time. While I know this is damaging,  having straight hair is easy. I never could master my natural curly hair and now, I don’t like to be bothered with it (I’m impatient to test out products for my hair). I don’t know cultural things like music, important figures, historical events. All that aside, I question myself if I just feel connected to the culture, connected in a small bit, am I part of the culture? Or am I just admirer from afar?

I think about the children I hope to have one day and how I would raise them to celebrate that those sides of them- how would I be a positive role model of Afrolatino culture? I’d like to be fluent in Spanish so I can passed down the lanuagage to my children when they’re young. While I love my straight hair, I think about wearing it this way and natural to show my future babies that it’s beautiful to do both. The one cultural identity I hold dearest is my American one. The definition of who is an American is both broadening and deepening every day. My version certainly is… and this loyal and patriotic writer is an Afrolatina American.

How do you identify, dear reader, and how do you celebrate that identity?

#InYourCorner

Who wouldn’t want Michael B. in their corner?

I have a few dating rules; even more so for a breakup. One of those rules is that I can’t stay friends with an ex. Once we break up, I delete their number from my phone and remove myself from each other’s social media accounts. Okay, I do make a few exceptions to this rule but I’m firm most of the time. Que in my most recent breakup: I’m ready to wipe him from my life but he asks me to stay friends. I shook my head, knowing that he knew about my rule. Rules exists for a reason and that reason is to protect myself. I get severely attached in relationships, and a swift and clean break has always been the best way for me to mend my broken heart.

Amit was adamant about staying friends. He wanted more friends in the Austin area and he needed support from one of the few friends he had recently came out to. I thought about his rationale, us staying friends. I asked myself that if he wants to be my friend so badly, is it bad having another person in your corner? I never had anyone insist that we stay friends before. If Amit was so eager to stay in my life, what would be wrong with that?

I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship this past week, especially after reading this quote from David Whtye:

In the course of the years a close friendship will always reveal the shadow in the other as much as ourselves, to remain friends we must know the other and their difficulties and even their sins and encourage the best in them, not through critique but through addressing the better part of them, the leading creative edge of their incarnation, thus subtly discouraging what makes them smaller, less generous, less of themselves.

I think about the people I’ve had the longest relationships with- my “ride and dies.” In my experience, most relationships fizzle out. They ebb and flow. We grow apart which is fine and natural (just a little sad). But it is those other friendships with the people that continue to thrive and flourish. They see the darkness in you but continue to love you and grant you grace, give you kindness, flood your soul with peace. COVID-19 and the past couple of years have done a number on my heart and my body, tearing out chunks of myself. But my friends have picked back up the broken pieces and made me whole again. Today, I write this post for the people who have always rooted for me. I write for the ones who have fed my spirit with positivity and love:

Nancy. Courtney. Annie. Peter. Nick. Ashley W. Lisa. Marla. My countless coworkers. Eric. Hallie. Hector. Valerie. Chris B. The riders with the Sunday Social Ride. The ATX Biking  Betties. Lupe. Christina. Trenna.  Linda. Emma. Ryan. Jay. Ellie. Ashley B. Jerald. Joy. Tara. Tyler. Chase. Tom. Saffeya. Nathan. Clarissa. Maggie. Sarah. Cece. Amit. Thank you for being my friend.

Who is in your corner, dear reader?

#ChaChing

What can I do for you? is a question that I’ve asked a little too much in my life- and it’s starting to bother me.

I realized that most of my relationships are transactional. Not necessarily in a financial way but I’m always trying to do something that counters my partner’s kindness. Example: My ex took me out to a really expensive dinner one evening on his dime. I ordered the cheapest thing on the menu but still felt bad. Later in the weekend, I deep cleaned his kitchen as a way to say “thank you” despite saying the words a thousand times over dinner. The same has happened with friends- when I was in college, I didn’t own a car but I hated accepting rides from my friends. I always insisted on paying them back for their time or for gas money and did everything in my power to return the favor.

Perhaps it’s the guilt that I feel most of the time. I have a hard time accepting help and generosity. Maybe it’s my lack of self-confidence and my constant questioning of why people want to be my friend or date me (even though my feelings of positive self-worth have steadily grown over the last couple of years). But I don’t have the ability to just let a relationship be and evolve from that.

I’m trying to rewire my brain into rethinking my relationships and its benefits (or lack of benefits). Old Andrea used to think if a relationship is not mutually beneficial and not close to a 50/50 give and take, it’s not a true relationship. A transactional relationship is one where both parties are in it for themselves, where partners do things for each other with the expectation of reciprocation. People tend to date a person because of what they get out of it (sex, date nights, whatever). There are some relationships reach where people do things for each other just to make the other person happy. Some relationships transcend selfishness and reach a place where both partners are happy in large part because the other partner is happy without getting anything else out of it. So, how do I do that? How do I fix my brain to be more accepting?

This makes me wonder if these relationships are genuine or are we all just using each other in some way. I like to believe the former because I truly care about the people in my life and I would do just about anything for anyone. So, why can’t I believe that those same people would do the same for me just out of the kindness of their hearts?

How are your relationships, dear reader? Do they feel transactional or more genuine?

#PostalService

Public Service Announcement: Save the USPS.

I have always loved the United States Postal Service. Receiving letters (excluding bills and unnecessary weekly mailers) in the mail has been on of the biggest joys of my life. I’ve relied on the Postal Service’s office to get my passport and send money to loved ones. USPS has been hit hardest by COVID-19: while package deliveries are up, mail volume is reportedly down by almost a third compared to this time last year. Businesses around the country have made cuts to mail advertisements and solicitations. As a result, the USPS’s revenue  has tanked.

Last week, Representatives Carolyn B. Maloney, the chair of the Committee on Oversight and Reform and Gerry Connolly, chair of the Subcommittee on Government Operations, said in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that COVID-19 is threatening the future of mail service.

“The United States Postal Service is in need of urgent help as a direct result of the coronavirus crisis,” the Representatives said. “Based on a number of briefings and warnings this week about a critical fall-off in mail across the country, it has become clear that the Postal Service will not survive the summer without immediate help from Congress and the White House. Every community in America relies on the Postal Service to deliver vital goods and services, including life-saving medications.”

USPS is not a government agency. Instead, it relies on fees rather than taxes (think of the extra dollar fee that is added on when you ship a package). Maloney and Connelly proposed a bill that would provide emergency funding (roughly $25 million). They said the funding would save the jobs of more than 600,000 Americans. 

There is speculation why President Trump doesn’t want to fund the USPS. 2020 is an election year. With the rise and unpredictability of COVID-19, we could be quarantined for months which could lead to a lack of voting poll workers, accessible locations, etc. People will not line up to vote (see what happened last week with the Wisconsin Primary). The next best option is to vote by mail but… You can’t mail-in vote if there is no mail. Sure, there other mailing options. However, FedEx, DHL and UPS won’t deliver to some rural neighborhoods. The USPS is also a more affordable option- many low income Americans still depend on it for checks, services and other documentation.

So, dear reader, continue to use the USPS’s services- buy stamps online, send love letters in the form snail mail and thank your mail person for their commitment of service during the COVID-19 outbreak. Also, contact your US Representatives and Senators and let your voice be heard. Let’s not imagine a world, our country without the United States Postal Service. 

(Oh- and I do love Postal Service, the band.)

#AnotherCWord

Can we talk about another C word? Comradery.

I’ve been running a lot in my boyfriend’s neighborhood since the start of COVID-19. He lives in a part of Austin where a lot of senior citizens live. Usually I blast my music through my headphones but lately, I’ve been running without tunes and try to say hello to those I run by. People are friendly and thank me as I stay the mandated six feet apart as I sprint by. I always see this older gentleman walking his toy poodle every morning. The first day I met him, I screamed from across the street, “Good morning! OH MY GOD-  you have the cutest dog! Aren’t you the fluffiest fluff in the world!” Now the man lets his dog run across the street so I can pet it and give it some quick loving.

We’re living in the strangest timeline with the Coronavirus but I’m trying to make the best of it. People are scared and anxious. I know when I feel that way, I need to be around people. But because that isn’t safe to do, I’m exploring other ways to reach out and be kind. I’ve been on Zoom and Houseparty chats almost daily with friends. I text my besties almost every day, checking in on their mental health and levels of boredom. The USPS is still up and running so I’ve been mailing postcards and love letters. I signed up for Table Wisdom, which pairs mentors and mentees together online to chat, as well as the People’s Dialer. When I’m at the grocery store, I thank the staff for working (I also tip when I can). I seek out that level of friendship and gratitude, that level of comradery that makes people feel good (even an introvert like me).

Thank God for the internet. If you look, there are a lot of ways others are reaching out and giving back online. Celebs are lending their voices, reading children’s books aloud online. Prestigious colleges and universities are offering free online courses (check out courses from Coursera and Harvard University). Museums, galleries and zoos around the globe are offering free virtual tours. One of my favorite things that has come out of the Coronavirus is the live sets my favorite artists are doing- DJs, producers and bands all over the world are live streaming from their own living rooms (I highly recommend D Nice’s Club Quarantine, sets by my “husband,” Diplo and Kayper and Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard’s cover sessions). Sure, it doesn’t make up for being in a club but their sets remind us that we will be at concerts, venues and cook outs together again soon.

Living in the time of COVID-19 has been a lonely period for some. I texted one of my friends in Philly who lives alone. He hasn’t been out of his apartment for weeks and misses touching people- shaking hands, giving and receiving hugs and and fist bumps.  Even those in relationships are being tested. I truthfully thought that being quarantined with my boyfriend would lead us to being more physical (especially since our relationship is so new) but I was wrong. We spend a good chunk of our day alone, doing our own thing which can be pretty lonely.

If you are feeling alone, I do encourage you to reach out. There are a lot of resources out there (including things like free therapy apps like Youper and Moodpath. If you’re looking for professional help, check out this NPR article for a list of affordable resources). This is a difficult time right now but the entire world is in this together. You may be by yourself but you are not truly alone.

What are you doing to reach out to your friends, loved ones, even strangers, dear reader?

 

#LoveInTheTime…

I’m in a bit of pickle. I’m trying to determine if I’m settling (or not) with my boyfriend.

Quick back story: we met in the beginning of March on a dating app. The first couple of dates went great and we decided to quarantine together, jumping feet first into a relationship and holing up in his apartment. Flash forward to today: we celebrated our one month anniversary and now, I feel lost.

I like to preface what I’m about to write with that I always find something to sabotage my relationships with. I have to fight my desire for instability. I suffer from perfectionism– I need my relationships to be perfect and can’t accept them just being good. The relationship that I’m in right now is good– he is sweet, smart and unbelievably handsome. He thinks that I’m amazing. We get along well. I should be happy. But I’m not. We don’t have much in common. I’m learning that he doesn’t have much hobbies outside of dining out. We have opposing views on serious topics like immigration. I’m questioning if I’m settling because of the current state of the world. Would we be together, as a couple, if we weren’t stuck being inside and alone due to COVID-19?

But I should give him and myself some slack, right? We didn’t expect this (COVID-19) to happen and we are both trying to the best that we can. It’s difficult to jump into something brand new during this time. I keep seeing this Instagram post floating around that says, don’t feel bad about not being productive during the era of Coronavirus. Productivity aside, I shouldn’t feel bad if everything in this relationship isn’t perfect. The world is far from perfect. I don’t want to put that much pressure on our new relationships during this strange time nevertheless. We are not our best selves at this time, right?

I think about this scene from “The Five Year Engagement,” where two of the main characters talk about choosing the right life partner. Emily Blunt’s character is unsure about her partner while her sister (played by Alison Brie) argues that you just chose someone and see what happens. I used to think that there was that one special someone that you were destined to be with for the rest of your life- I don’t think that anymore. I think people come in and out of your live for certain reasons and that most people have a lifetime of soulmates. But I do think that if you want to make a relationship work, you have to choose that person every day and let your actions reflect that choice. We choose to love and be in love. We choose to settle.

The older I get, the more I feel like I’m okay not being in a relationship. What is the benefit of being in a relationship these days, anyway? I can get companionship from my friends and something physical with a friend-with-benefits (which I have done in the past). I think about the elderly version of myself without a spouse or children to take care of me- if I got my finances in complete order, I wouldn’t need to think about a husband or a family as I could afford a nursing home and hospice care. I could make it through life alone and maybe without any disappointment caused by interpersonal relationships.

I think I’m just bitter. Or depressed. I should just ask my boyfriend for a snuggle. Or maybe I just need some alone time with my cat.

How is your relationship surviving in the time of COVID-19, dear reader?

#TheOtherCWord

Listen to Homer, Marge!

With all the Coronavirus news, we seemed to miss another C word: Census.

April 1st was National Census Day, the day that highlighted the importance of the US Census. Every ten years, the Census counts the population in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories (including Puerto Rico) and uses that information to help disperse money (roughly $650 billion) at the federal level to the community for vital assets like public schools, food stamps and roads. It also determines how many representatives each state gets in Congress. The census is required by the Constitution, meaning it’s required by law to be filled out and submitted in a timely fashion. Census representatives also count local homeless populations (they matter, too!). If you refuse to fill it out, there could be a hefty fine coming your way.

The questions on the Census are pretty basic (i.e. how many are in your household, the genders living in the household, dates of birth, race and ethnicity questions- whether or not you’re of Hispanic origin, how is everyone in the household related, etc.). The Census will never ask you for your Social Security number, money or donations and your bank or credit card account numbers. Last year, the Trump Administration recommended adding a citizenship question on the Census which would ask takers if they were a US citizen or not. Immigration rights advocates were concerned about that question as it could possibly out illegal immigrants and make them more vulernable to being caught and deported. The question never made it on to the 2020 Census- a federal judge signed an order last year permanently blocking it (phew!)

Last month, homes across the United States began receiving invitations to complete the 2020 Census online. If you were not to complete the Census questionnaire online by the end of April, representatives from the US Census will stop at your front door to count your the residents in your home. With the rise of COVID-19, the Census extended the deadline but lawmakers are still trying to determine how to safety send Census representative to the homes that don’t fill out either the physical or online form.

Everyone living in the United States is supposed to be counted by the census, whether they’re citizens or not. My boyfriend, Amit, and I had a pretty lengthy discussion about the Census and his fear about it. He is from India. He’s been in the United States for eight years and filled out the Census for the first time this year. He was concerned about giving the US government a bunch of his personal information (including his Visa status). I heard from other friends, people of color, who are afraid to fill it out. Immigration aside, one friend is Arab-American and is afraid that if he disclosed his address, he might be watched by the government.

I understand the fear and lack of trust of the Census. Census information is supposed to be confidential information. If you look back in history, that always hasn’t been the truth (check out of the 1966 Freedom of Information Act and it’s affect on the Census). But it is important. In 2010, the lowest response rates were in communities of color, neighborhoods that often need the most federal assistance. We need an accurate Census count and this is a way to let your voice be heard.

Have you filled out your part for the US Census, dear reader?

#AnxietyInTheTimeOfCoronavirus


Despite the world being on fire, my anxiety levels have been surprisingly low. It’s truthfully refreshing to see the world riding the same anxiety wave that I’m usually on.  I am terrified that when things get back to “normal,” I’m going to sink back into depression, continue to have no luck job hunting and struggle financially.

But there are things that have change in my since pre-Coronavirus: I’m in a great relationship. I started applying for government positions and internships, and feel like I will hear back about them soon. The student loan payment freeze is actually beneficial to my credit score and I’ve been spending more time outside, wandering around while catching up on missed podcasts and getting ample amounts of sun. I’m not alone. I have a roof over my head. I have food. I have money (at the moment). I’m not sick. My loved ones are not sick. I’m doing good- and no matter what happens, everything is going to be okay (maybe just boring for a while). There is nothing to worry about, right?

For the times that I notice my anxiety is peaking, I go through my Burning Man checklist for mental wellness: Did I eat? Did I drink enough water? Have I gotten any exercise? Enough sun? Too much sun? Have I rested? Talked to someone about my feelings? I also started focusing on the things that I can control- the food and drink I’m putting into my body, the amount of exercise I do daily, how much social media and news briefs I consume.

I also focus on living in the moment, day-by-day. Who knows what the future holds, whether it’s a few hours from now or a few months away. I’m doing the best I can to take care of myself and those around me by constantly washing my hands, wearing gloves, practicing social distancing and staying home when I don’t have to work. I have to admit, it’s hard especially when you’re someone who likes to hug. I miss my Sunday Social Rides around the east side of Austin. I’m lonely for my friends and the places that I used to frequent regularly. My life is not perfect but it is good.

To quote my favorite Oasis song, these are crazy days but they make me shine. How are you shining, dear reader? Are you scared about the present, about the future? What anxieties are you experiencing at this time? How are you staying positive? How can I support you? Remember that we’re all in this together and that I’m here for you, as well.

#Blessing

I’ve been thinking a lot about fate these days and how we are destined for some things and not for others. Maybe fate is the wrong word. The hand of God. Manifestation. Magic. Dumb luck. Whatever. I’ve been noticing how certain recent events dominoed into each other in somewhat kismet ways…

Story time: I was supposed to go to New York City for my birthday at the beginning of the month. My friend, Tom, very graciously paid for my flight to the Big Apple and I started packing for a long weekend up north. At the last minute, Tom told me that he was going to cancel my flight, saying that COVID-19 spreading and he was scared for my safety. I was upset but I understood his rationale. I ended up spending my birthday with friends, eating dinner at my favorite Italian place. One friend told us about the guy she started dating and how they met on the dating app, Coffee Meet Bagel. Me, perhaps being bitter about love, brushed off the app but Trenna insisted that there were decent, attractive guys on there. Later that night (when I was buzzed from some birthday booze), I downloaded the app and created a profile. Two days later, I matched with Amit, an engineer who recently moved to Austin from New York City. We started texting, then met two days later for dinner and clicked. We had three dates after that and decided to quarantine together when the stay-at-home mandate was announced.

Now as I lay in bed next to Amit, I think about the timing of our relationship and how things worked out. If I went to New York, I maybe would have not met him. I’d be spending this time alone with my cat, rewatching “Gossip Girl” and “Sex and the City” to savor my recent moments in NYC. I think about the other recent luck I’ve had especially with jobs. I wish that I could say that I had the foresight of today when I quit my waitressing position a few months ago but I’m glad that I’m in the position that I am in now. With work, I was devastated when SXSW was canceled. I heard from my coworkers about the mass amount of tips I was going to receive- I really needed that money. My hours were eventually cut. But that was okay. Amit and I had a lengthy discussion during date four and decided to bunk and weather out the storm together. Since then, we spend our time together listening to music and cooking, watching movies and talking for hours upon hours. If SXWS wasn’t canceled, we wouldn’t be able to have this quality time together.

I call Austin the Curse– everything that could have gone wrong went wrong since I moved here a year and half ago- cancer, job loss, loneliness, financial problems, etc. But looking right now how things turned out, maybe Austin isn’t a curse. Maybe the city is actually a blessing in disguise. I still don’t know if everything happens for a reason or if a magic wand has waved over me, I’m grateful with how the way things turned out.