Let’s Talk About It – Mental Health

Life is hard.  We walk around thinking we may understand something.  Thinking we understand people and how they work.  In reality, there are some people who do not have complete control of their thoughts.  They struggle with mental health issues that can morph into completely irrational behavior.  These people might be a co-worker, friend, family member, or it could even be you.  You never think you know someone who is struggling with mental health until something terrible happens.  Then the floodgates open and people start talking about it, and you discover you know a lot more people with issues that you never realized.

Mental Health: Tony's friends
Our crew in college

Growing up in the Filipino community in our area, you are bound to cross paths with most Filipinos your age.  Most times it would be at a house party, wedding, or cotillion.  I met Tony in college when we were both part of a Filipino organization at school.  Have you ever met someone that seemed to know everyone? He was that guy that everyone knew and loved.  Tony had the kind of personality that people wanted to be around.  He always made people laugh and he was always down to help anyone.   We shared many meals, drinks, and laughs together over the years at countless parties, trips, and gatherings celebrating all angles of life.  Just as life does, things have been busy the past few years.  I have kept in touch with his sister, but we all have our families and different priorities from our college days.  We all still managed to see each other for Christmas and a birthday or two during the year, but it is a long ways away from our daily lunches, dinners, and parties in our early 20s.

Me and Tony in NYC
Me and Tony in NYC

Tony took his life on September 22, 2017.  Tony was only 36 years old and had a wife and two young girls.  From the outside it seemed that he had a completely happy life, but the news that followed his death was that he was dealing with some mental health problems. The thing that makes me most sad is how alone he must have felt in those final moments.  Thinking that the only way out of whatever hell he was living in was to end his life.  For us survivors, it may seem like the selfish path.  But we have to understand that this was not Tony making that last decision.  It was the illness that took over his mind and body.

Mental Health: Program at Tony's funeral
Program at Tony’s funeral

Before Tony, I had never personally known someone who had committed suicide. There are still moments that I think he will be at our Christmas party next weekend.  Then I remember that he isn’t only gone from me, but from his close friends and family.  It shatters my heart every time I think of his wife and two girls.  And I fight with myself all over again about being mad at him for doing this, only to realize it WAS NOT HIM.  I choose to remember the REAL Tony.  He continues to be loved by so many, and the memories we have of him will live on in our hearts.

I’ve had many conversations about Tony and about mental health since his death.  The more I talk about it, the more I realize that there are still people hiding because they do not want to admit publicly that they have been down dark roads. Some of them I consider close friends, and I had no idea.  I don’t want to not know again.  I hope we can all talk openly about the issues we have and, as a community, help each other.  And when friends and family are not enough, there are professional services that can help out.  I know it is much easier said than done and I am sure there is a certain tone of naivety in my wishes, but we have got to try.  If you think you see someone struggling, offer help. If you are struggling, find help.

Tony’s friends created pieces in honor of him with proceeds going to various mental health awareness organizations and to Tony’s family:

pea-be.com – Let’s Talk About It Pins
Let's Talk About It - Mental Health
Let’s Talk About It – Mental Health
Crowdsigns.com  #tonedef42 #letstalkaboutit Shirts
Mental Health: #TONEDEF42 #LETSTALKABOUTIT Shirts
#TONEDEF42 #LETSTALKABOUTIT Shirts
GoFundMe.com – Ongoing fundraising for Tony’s family
Mental Health: GoFundMe
GoFundMe for Tony’s family

Thanksgiving 2017: All that I Am Thankful For This Year

Happy Thanksgiving! There are moments in life where things just seem to difficult and I struggle to find happiness.  I think that is part of growing up. Once you open your eyes to all of the things you have to pay attention to like work, bills, health, and your future, life seems to weigh heavier on your shoulders.  But once you stop and look at all the things we have been blessed with, the load does not seem so heavy.  Here are the things I am thankful for this year!

Finishing Another Marathon
2017 Chicago Marathon
2017 Chicago Marathon

I did not think I could do it again, but I did it once again! Training was very challenging because this time I had to schedule around my daughter.  In the end it made it all worth it because I worked so hard to get to that start line and cross the finish line.  And I swear that I will write up a race report on that race!

Fundraising $5700 for the Ronald McDonald House
Team RMHC
Team RMHC

I still cannot believe that I was able to raise $5700 for the Ronald McDonald House this year.  I had never been a part of such a motivated fundraising team, but I am glad I was able to give back! They have done so much for my family and other families it was easy to ask people to donate.  In total, Team RMHC raised $1.3 million during the Chicago Marathon, the most in its history.

Supportive Work Environment
My work crew
My work crew

With all the craziness in my life, my work has been incredibly supportive and flexible with our situation.  They allow me to be there with Justine during some of her therapy sessions as well the tons of follow-up appointments.  My work shows that they are investing in me by allowing me to do training as well as pay for classes for my masters degree.  And of course they help me pay for our house and put food on the table.  I am so fortunate to work for a company that takes care of their employees.

Incredible Friends
Friends celebrating my birthday
Friends celebrating my birthday

We may not get to see each other nearly as much as we would like, but I know we are always there for each other.  We are at a stage where our kids are now friends and we see our relationships mirrored in theirs.  Long gone are the days of drinking and partying till the sun comes up and here are the days of slowing down and enjoying life and each other.

Loving Family
Our Family in California
Our Family in California
Justine's cousins in IL
Justine’s cousins in IL
My mom at Justine's birthday
My mom at Justine’s birthday
Family
Family

I am blessed to have this family, both on my side and on Jaz’s side.  It is sometimes hard for them to see us struggle, but they do all they can to help and make us smile.  Family means so much in our culture.  We learn that our family is our life very early on and just like everything else, we truly understand it when we grow up.  The support and love we receive from our family is what pushes us some days, and they will always be with us no matter where they go.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your families!

Compassion – Finding It When We Needed It Most

Before Justine was born, compassion was something that I knew existed but never fully understood.  I donated money when my friends would fundraise for a charity.  I helped cook meals for the homeless at shelters.  And I even collected money for the American Heart Association the first two times I ran the marathon. I knew these were all good things to do because it helped people.  For the most part, that is where my thinking stopped.  I never thought of the impact I had on these people’s lives or what it meant to them to contribute to their cause.  I just knew people needed help, I blindly helped them and called it compassion.

Then Justine was born.  We were already trying to figure out how to survive being new parents, but with all of Justine’s complications early in her life, we were drowning.  Each of Justine’s seizures pushed us deeper and deeper into a pit of sorrow and anger.  And we needed help. Desperately.  I just needed to look around to see that help was there all along.

Justine in the NICU
Justine in the NICU

The nurses in the NICU are people that you only hear about and never see.  They are working tirelessly in the background doing everything they can for  you and your child.  They are your eyes and ears to the hospital and they have such compassion for the families they help.  One of Justine’s first nurses made such an impact on us, Nurse Ann.  She would always make sure we understood what was happening to Justine, whether it was a new medication or a new blood test.  She was so great with Justine and also with us.  She even had a conversation with me about how I needed to go home and get some sleep one of the nights I stayed by Justine overnight.  She cared.  In the short time we were at Northwest Community Hospital, she always told us the truth.  When we asked if we should transfer Justine to Lurie’s downtown, she agreed, with no hesitation. She was there to see Justine get better.  A newborn she had just met.

Compassion form NICU Nurse Ann
Nurse Ann in the background

When we finally did transfer to Lurie’s all of the nurses in the NICU lined up outside to say goodbye to us.  I remember thinking how many times they must have done this in their career and if they ever wonder if the child is going to make it.  I wondered if they thought if Justine would make it.  I wondered if she would.  We hugged everyone before we left in tears because they were so good to us, especially Nurse Ann.  Throughout the 47 days in the NICU we crossed paths with many NICU nurses and nurse practitioners who showed the same kind of compassion that Nurse Ann did that first day.  I never knew how important it was until I was receiving it from others.

 

“We’re gonna lose him bro”

A week ago, a new baby was born into this world. Eleven hours later God called him back home to heaven – Mason Anthony Vigan the son of my friends Marlon and Theresa. Every morning since then I wake up hoping I was just mistaken. I pray that all of what happened on May 1st didn’t, and they were still pregnant waiting for little Mason to come out and surprise us. Reality comes rushing back to me in the form of a knot in my throat that makes it all the way down to the pit of my stomach. He is gone…forever.

We got a text from Marlon early that morning saying that Mason was born, but was having some trouble breathing so he had to go the NICU. When I woke up that morning and read his message I was certain it was just one of those times that things may not start off as planned, and the baby would have to stay in the NICU for a time, but ultimately he will go home with his family. I did feel for them right away. The NICU is not a place any parent wants to be with their children. But I have seen parents come in and out of the NICU and you would never know the baby had any issues when they were first born. I was certain this was going to be one of those times.

With that confidence I went off to work, just waiting to hear back from Mar or maybe Mike that Mason had stabilized and things were looking good. Hours passed and that confidence slipped away. No text messages? No pictures? No Facebook announcements? Something was up. Finally Mike posted on Facebook to pray for his nephew. Before that post I had held onto hope that everything was going to be ok that day. Now it was sounding like we might be in it for the long haul. I prayed for Mason and for strength for Marlon and Theresa and clicked “Share” on Mike’s post to all of my friends. I also believe in the power of prayer will help those in need and the more people praying, the better a chance Mason would have. I knew things must have just been crazy with the family, but I did want to offer any help with them so I texted Mike:

Me: Hey. How’s Mason doing?
Mike: Not good
Me: What’s going on?
Mike: We’re gonna lose him bro

WHAT? How did things go so terribly wrong? How did they get this bad THIS fast? Why was this happening? I sat there outside of my building at work and started to cry. I called Jazmine to tell her what I had found out. I was paralyzed. I’ve never felt so helpless in my life and I knew that my feelings were nothing in comparison to what Mason’s family must have been going through at that exact moment. I called Erick and Joe to let them know the new developments. Both were as shocked as I was. I imagined they also were thinking that things would just get better over time. Not that time was now running out. I also called Potter as he is one of my spiritual advisors and I know he is always a good resource for a prayer. We needed everyone praying and praying hard. I had planned on going to the hospital with Jaz, Erick, and Abby to show our support, just so they knew we were there. I just wanted to go in the lobby and pray with my friends for maybe an hour, text Mike and let them know we were there, and then just leave. We were in our own group text message trying to figure out what time to go. We even started to convince ourselves that maybe things weren’t as bad Mike made it. Maybe things appeared real bad and everyone is so emotional that there was a misunderstanding. There was no way it was as bad as they made it seem…right?

Mike: Mason has passed, please keep the FAM in your prayers

No…
Wh-…
NO!!!!!
I had the same feeling when my dad died when I was younger. I know the world is full of people and I was even surrounded by them at work, but the world felt so empty. It felt like I was alone. It felt like the only person that could fill that void in this world just left it, and wasn’t coming back. I felt hollow. Sick to my stomach. Angry. Destroyed.

I can’t even fathom what Marlon and Theresa felt that moment they had to let him go. All the hopes and dreams they had for Mason vanished with his last breath. All of the future diaper changes, birthday parties, first steps, laughs and snuggles were gone in a blink of an eye. The word “loss” does not seem large enough to capture that feeling. Then I thought about their daughter Alyssa and how she will probably never fully remember this. Maybe she will think it was a dream she once had, where everyone around her was so sad. Or maybe she will have one vivid memory, maybe of the time all four of them were finally together. All of these thoughts raced through my mind and heart kept sinking and sinking with each of them. It was just buying time and preparing me for the one fact I did not want to admit. He was gone.

I talked to Potter again and we cried on the phone together and prayed so very hard for Marlon and Theresa. He told me to go home to my family, there was no need for me to be at work anymore. I drove home and Justine was taking a nap. I cried with Jaz and hugged Justine while she slept. I looked at her differently. I always knew she was special, but now I remembered why. We are not always fortunate enough to live out the dreams we set out for ourselves. To me, Justine was my dream. I so desperately wanted to have a child because my dad didn’t get a chance to see me become a man. I want to make sure I am around when Justine becomes a woman. Somewhere between her follow-up appointments, medications, and therapies I lost sight of that. Mason helped me remember that life is not all about the THINGS that you can buy to make you happy. But it is the LIFE you lead with the PEOPLE you LOVE that makes it worth fighting for.

Mason fought for 11 hours to make sure he got to be with his parents and meet his sister all together. Mason now lives in the souls and hearts of everyone he touched both physically and spiritually. I may have never met him in person, but I know he is with me from this day on. We love you Mason Anthony Vigan, you will forever be with us.

Could it be? 2015?

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Here’s my usual New Year’s resolution to start blogging more. It should be relatively easy since I haven’t had a non-Instagram post in the longest time.

I know it’s probably a big obvious observation but I have changed a ton since Justine has been around. I like to think I am more responsible and that I think things through a little more. Continue reading “Could it be? 2015?”

Best years of your life

Whenever anyone talks about high school or college they talk about it being the best years of their life. Don’t get me wrong, I had some fun times back then, but really “best” years of your life? I think people tend to forget all the bad things that happened during this period in most people’s lives.

I look back at the “high school me” and I shudder. Yeah I had my friends, but I was constantly trying to fit in. I wanted to belong everywhere. I remember thinking back then that I didn’t want to be branded into a particular clique. Instead, I wanted everyone to know me. So I joined activities I thought would get me more visibility: sports and fine arts. Now I genuinely enjoyed these activities but I think part of me felt it was equally as important that other people knew who I was from those activities. I know…kinda sad, huh? When I was in the moment, I don’t think I knew this was what was going on. But I look back and think and I see that is what it was. I needed to be relevant and I wanted to be remembered. I cared entirely too much about what other people thought of me.

Then my dad died – obviously something that should NOT happen in an era called “best years of my life”. Months away from high school graduation and I had to relearn how to live. I was catapulted into the “real world” years too early. I grew up – fast. I learned how life and family are so precious but can be gone in an instant. That is some deep thinking for a 17 year old! I tried not to be down and dark, but how could I not find some sadness behind everything having gone through what I had gone through?

I constantly tried to make my dad proud from that day on. Which, at its core, is a very honorable thing to do, but it was an obsession with me. I wanted to succeed and be happy so bad that sometimes I cracked under pressure and failed and then got mad at myself that I failed and – vicious cycle.

This type of life had no signs to me of having the “best years of my life”. I know everyone’s experiences in those years can vary so, ok maybe those were truly the best years of their life.
Here I am, 20 years removed from my first day of high school and I am perfectly fine not going to homeroom or gym class or practice for v-show before and after school. I remember those memories fondly, but I wouldn’t do it over. I look at my life now: beautiful wife and daughter, healthier life, good job with a company I am proud to work for, loving family, supportive friends, the list goes on. I gotta say, the best years of my life are RIGHT NOW. The “high school me” may look at present-day me and shudder at the thought of having an office job or that I actually LIKE to workout. But he won’t understand for years that being happy doesn’t mean you have the things in your life that you want, but you have the people in your life that you need.

4 weeks since Lurie’s

I sit here at 2:30 is the morning holding Justine after she stayed awake since her 11pm feed to actually stay awake to her middle of the night feeding. Sure, part of me is slightly annoyed that she didn’t go to sleep after her 11pm feed and medication, but then I think back to the alternative.

It was only a mere 4 weeks ago that we left Lurie’s Children Hospital after spending the first 47 days of Justine’s life in the NICU. She has made such great strides since she has been home. Just this week she is starting to recognize our voices and smile when she looks at us. But with those “usual” milestones, I still continue to celebrate all the ones we took for granted when we were in the NICU.

She would only talk 2-3 bottles from us/nurses in the NICU. Now, we no longer need the NG tube and she takes and finishes every bottle we give her. Her stridor is still lingering around but there are moments when she is completely at peace where I don’t even hear her noisy breathing. And the seizures…well, let’s just say that is getting better too. I don’t want to jinx anything.

We have come so far as a family. Jaz has been so incredible and is just so patient with Justine. We support each other as much as possible. We give each other breaks when we know the other is getting frustrated. And most importantly celebrate the accomplishments we make every single day.

I look at my friend’s kids and even my nieces and nephews and realize that this time does go by fast like a blink of an eye. In a few weeks Justine will be 3 months old, and soon after that she will be out of the hospital more days than she was in it. It is those types of milestones that I want to continue to look forward to and celebrate in hopes that a blink of an eye won’t be a 2 year jump. Instead, it will be a moment where Justine and Jaz take my breath away…again.

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Boston – 4/15/13

Yesterday, a little after lunchtime I was talking with a co-worker about how difficult it is going to be for me to have our newborn baby girl and train for the Chicago Marathon this year. Over the past couple of weeks or so I had been going through the process in my head. Friday night carbo loads into Saturday morning long runs. Being gone for a few hours on Saturday morning only to come back completely useless for the rest of the day. All while a baby girl is waiting for me at home? I don’t know. How am I supposed to that?

As he was walking away I received a text message from a friend showing a tweet that there was an explosion at the Boston Marathon.

Text Message

WHAT?! That must be some kind of mistake or accident or something, but a very eery and familiar feeling came over me. Just like when 9/11 first happened, I was sure it was some kind of accident and my mind went immediately into rationalize mode. I jumped on google to see any reports, nothing. Went to twitter and my timeline was full of tweets about the explosions (now it was two). WHAT?! My immediate thoughts went to the runners I knew that were running the race – Chanthana and Kevin. They have always been so supportive of me and running even though I am nowhere near the level they are. I saw on Facebook that they had finished already, probably 30 minutes to an hour before the explosion, but I couldn’t help but worry about them.

Then the images started popping up online. Each picture a little more graphic and bloody than the previous one. Then two videos went public of the explosions, both from the vantage point of the finish line looking back at the course. I may not have been at the Boston Marathon, but I have been one of those people. Gutting out the last 200 meters of the race to ultimate victory of the finish line. Some people stopped in their tracks, some people continued to finish the race, and even one older man was actually knocked off his feet from the explosion. Yes…one of those people could have been me.

I frantically refreshed my twitter timeline hoping and praying to hear from Chanthana or Kevin. I sent them tweets and a text message just to let them know I was thinking of them. Eventually one of their teammates sent a tweet out to let us know they were ok. Thank God!

Tweet Tweet from @jennypoore

As I continued to read through all the tweets about the runners and spectators at the marathon I couldn’t help but feel the sense of community around everyone who was involved. Just like Chanthana and Kevin supported me through my training, there was all of these people praying for all the victims of the explosions. And just like me, all of them could have been at that finish line, either sprinting for the finish or supporting others to do so. There was this need to help, and to be honest I felt helpless. Here I was, a timezone away and there was nothing I could do to help. I stopped what I was doing and I prayed for everyone who ran the race, who was near the finish line during the explosion, and who will ultimately be scarred for life with this tragedy.

Whoever decided to do this did it to people just like me. They did it to our running family. But as all families do in times of adversity and heartache, we rise together. Today, there has been social media campaigns on Twitter and Instagram to show our solidarity, support, and love for all of the people effected by this heinous event. There are running groups who scheduled special runs tonight, people wearing race tees at work, people walking/running for 26.2 minutes, or people wearing a special bib all to honor their running brothers and sisters. Just do a search for #runforboston or #prayforboston and you will find messages and images of people showing their love for not only the city of Boston, but for each other.

At the time of this post, 170+ people were reported injured and 3 people have lost their life, including an 8 year old boy (Martin Richard) cheering on his dad and a 29 year old woman (Krystle Campbell) cheering on her boyfriend. I pray that the doctors are able to save the lives of the injured, and that the families of the ones who died can find some kind of comfort in the support from the nation.

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Blog posts about the 2013 Boston Marathon from my runner friends:

It Always Starts with Family

March 16th marked the 16th year since my dad passed away from a heart attack and stroke. After 16 years I don’t think I was ever truly able to articulate how I felt about him or even how I felt about missing him. I always knew that his absence is a huge void in my life, but year after year my life was filled with other things. That is just what happens naturally with life. You get busy and you grow further and further away from what you were when you were a kid. Now that Jaz is pregnant I have realized that I miss my dad in an entirely different way than how I did when I was 17 years old.

I talked it over with the Selfless team as they are now my outlet for any creative ideas and came up with a wonderful idea to honor my dad on the 16th year of him not being here with us. I decided to write a letter to him about how I have gotten through the past 16 years. Mike came to our place and shot the video while I read the letter to my dad. I honestly thought I would not cry at all reading this to a camera. Well, I was wrong. Here it is:

I thought it was just incredible how Mike took a central theme out of my letter that I honestly didn’t know existed -“It Always Starts with Family”. When I was writing the letter, I kept thinking about how it was when my dad was around. I struggled with remembering specific things more than I would like to admit. But I guess that is what happens when time passes and you start to forget how things were when you were just a teenager. After Mike had shot and edited the video, I realized even more that my dad’s legacy will continue to live on. Without even knowing it, I was sharing the values and lessons that he taught me about the importance of family in life.

Along with the video, we worked with my awesome trainers at The Sweatshop to hold a special all-day event in honor of my dad called “Sweat 16”. They opened the doors to everyone and instead of having 2 boot camps on Saturday morning, they had a 6 hour boot camp that consisted of 16 minute workouts with a rest in between. The rest segments were really like 1 minute long. It was crazy! We also teamed up with local organizations Chicago Run and The Chest Foundation to come out and talk to everyone who came out to the event. My brother Tony and my friend Erick came in support of the event as well as the current customers at the Sweatshop who I have come to know over the past year. I had a chance to talk with everyone there to share my story and then proceeded to workout for 3 of the 6 hours. It was such a great event that kicked off the day on the right foot (in a lunge).

After the event, Jaz and I headed towards my mom’s house to meet with my family to celebrate my dad’s life. A few years ago we stopped calling it a death anniversary, and instead we called it a “Celebration of Life”. We thought it was a more appropriate name as every year we continued to meet up and celebrate another year of life and love together as a family. Even with my dad gone now, his family stills continues to grow, depend on each other, and love each other even more. I know he is smiling down on us.

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