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My Battle with Diabetes and Depression

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It’s been one year since I was diagnosed with diabetes and depression. It’s been one year since I started my new normal: checking my blood sugar two to three times a day, keeping a food journal, seeing a therapist once a week, and doing my absolute best to just get out of bed and exist in the world. 

The diabetes was hard. But the depression was harder. 

And after a year, I’m finally sharing my story. It’s not an extraordinary one. It’s not even a unique one. But it is the truth. And if my truth can help even one person out there prioritize their physical and mental health, then I can feel happy with just that.

From having a cancer scare, to non-stop tests and bloodwork, to finally settling in with my diagnoses and accepting my new normal, here’s what my journey’s been like.

The Day I Found Out

On February 6, 2018, I finally dragged myself to see my primary care physician for an overdue annual check up. (It had really been two years since my last check up).

Therapy had really been on my mind a lot and I finally decided to ask my doctor for a referral to see one. I looked at it as counseling more than anything; just someone to talk to about things I can’t find myself talking about with those closest to me. I didn’t even think about depression as a part of the equation. 

But my doctor did. He had me fill out a questionnaire and asked me to be 100 percent honest with the test. I didn’t realize it was a standardized screening that determined the severity of my depression.

I still remember the sound of his voice and the look on his face when he said:

“You’re depressed. And this isn’t mild depression. You’re severely depressed.”

Now I have to be a hundred percent honest here… I didn’t believe in depression. I always thought that it was a choice: Be depressed, or be happy. To me, a person could choose.

But boy, was I wrong. Depression is NOT a choice. And it took me a very long time in therapy to understand that. 

People are always so quick to say “I’m depressed” and “I’m anxious” and I admit that I wasn’t all that sympathetic. I wrote it off as millennial melodrama. But the whole time, I was actually knee-deep, battling it. 

But my depression didn’t present itself as sadness as people often think it would. In fact, one of the hardest things about depression is the inability to feel and deal with sadness. 

Depression is numbness. If there’s anything I want you to take away from this, it’s that. 

My depression showed as numbness. But also, pure anger. Random outbursts, where I would just lash out, scream, and cry. It wasn’t pretty. And it was a very ugly side of myself that only my family knew about.

So my doctor agreed that I needed treatment; but therapy wasn’t the only one he suggested. 

I had to start taking an anti-depressant. 

You can imagine my confusion, my unwillingness, and my anger when he told me this. I immediately argued against being on any kind of medication so it took a lot of convincing and explaining on my doctor’s end. 

I finally obliged after he explained that depression isn’t a choice. Yes, it can be circumstantial; but it can also be a chemical imbalance in the brain where there’s not enough serotonin being produced. That was the case with me, and the medication would help balance that. At least that was the goal.

I left the doctor’s office to go get my bloodwork done and ended up getting some more results.

I found out I was also diabetic, had an extremely high white blood cell count, and had an increased build up of fat in my liver.

I literally felt my whole world crashing that day. I felt so much shame and went through a lot of self-blame. 

My white blood cell count was through the roof that the nurse practitioner I spoke with warned me that I may have to go to a hematologist, eventually get a spinal tap and get tested for Leukemia. (Fortunately, my white blood cell count normalized after two weeks.)

I wasn’t and I’m still not allowed to drink any alcohol or even take Tylenol because it can lead to further liver damage. (A fatty liver is often found in people who have Type II Diabetes and for people who drink excessive alcohol.)

I was at higher risk for having a heart attack or a stroke because I got diabetes, and these conditions were all part of my family history, so it was already a valid concern for my doctor.

It was a vicious cycle. My depression made me not want to do anything, and that led to a lot of weight gain; which led to the diabetes and the fatty liver; which made me even more depressed.

So nipping the depression in the butt really was the key for me. I knew that if I fixed that, the rest would go with it. And I’m happy to say that it did.

Medication and Therapy For My Depression

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I’m sure it’s hard to understand the fact that I’m on anti-depressants for a lot of you. But the reality is, there are times when your body needs medication. My body needed it at the time.

It was a very hard pill to swallow (pun intended), but it was something I needed to do for my overall health. 

I was already doing alternative medicine (strictly using essential oils to treat myself, going to my reiki master for energy healing) and it just wasn’t enough. My reiki master and I came to the conclusion that it was OK that my body needed more. It was OK that it needed a different kick start.

I began the anti-depressants the night I got my depression diagnosis, and within three days—THREE—I was so different; but the same. I became the old me again. 

I wasn’t screaming at my little brother, or giving my parents the silent treatment over petty things like I used to. I wasn’t just binge-watching Netflix from the moment I woke up to the moment I slept. I actually wanted to function. I wanted to see and talk to my friends, and go out to the movies and go to happy hour. I wanted to read a book, and write in my journal (which I hadn’t done in about a year prior to when I was diagnosed). 

I found myself again. And that’s when I started to understand that medication couldn’t possibly be “bad” if it helped me be me. Of course, I didn’t want to be depend on it. So therapy was the key to making sure that didn’t happen.

Therapy was life changing. It was the extra fuel that kept my inner fire burning. I went every single week to see my therapist, who started me on a form of therapy called ACT (also known as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy). It was much more intimidating to start ACT rather than what I originally wanted, which was cognitive therapy where a therapist would listen to me and my problems, but ACT was what I needed. Granted, my therapist still does listen to my problems, but there’s a whole other level of engagement attached to my therapy that I never fathomed I would need.

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I eventually graduated from weekly sessions, to every-other-week sessions, to once a month, and now, only when I feel the need to see my therapist. I read “The Willpower Instinct” and “The Mindfulness & Acceptance Workbook for Depression” whenever I need an extra boost and can’t get in to see him.

I can also function without my anti-depressants now because of everything I learned in therapy. I have better control of my behavior when my depression and anxiety come up.

Oh yeah, I have anxiety, too. But that’s because most of the time when you have depression, anxiety’s there too. Like my therapist says, they go hand-in-hand. Distant cousins, he likes to say.

Medication and Lifestyle Changes For My Diabetes

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I started to take medication that helps lower my blood glucose levels for my diabetes. I had to start checking my sugar everyday, 2 to 3 times a day, to make sure I stayed within the normal, preferred range. Thankfully, I didn’t have to start on Insulin. 

I did have to see a dietitian and got myself on a stricter diet, with low carb intake. (Coming from a Filipino family, this was extra hard as literally since birth, I’ve been fed rice with every meal!) I started a food journal. I started to drink gallons of water. I gave up soda altogether, but I would treat myself to one cup of juice a day—half in the morning, and half at night. 

I also started to go for walks three times a week. Which led to running three times a week. I started out at 15 minute intervals, gradually going up, and got to a point where I’d do a 25-min arm and leg workout, then run and watch a whole 45-minute episode while on the treadmill! (I still love binge-watching, what can I say?)

But did any of this work?

Yes. I’m happy to say it did. In December, I found out that I’m not diabetic anymore. My A1C level went down a whole percentage (which is huge for me!!) but I’m still technically considered pre-diabetic. 

My doctor and I’s goal was to manage the diabetes. By next check up, he wanted to make sure it didn’t get worse. I never imagined that it would improve at the extent it did though.

When I asked my doctor what our next goal was, he said, “You’re at your goal.” 

And I had never felt such pure happiness and accomplishment in my life. 

Now my job is to just keep it up. And maybe, get my A1C level another percentage lower so I won’t even be pre-diabetic! 

I came such a long way, and I’m very excited at the improvement my mental and physical health has undergone in a year. But while this battle’s done, the war’s not over.

My depression will always be there. The diabetes can always come back. And I have to share that it’s not always a good day.

It’s hard for me not to tear up as I write this, because although I’ve improved from last year, things still get really, really dark. There are days when I can’t even get myself to get up. My body physically shuts down from functioning. I still get scared that I’ll go back to crying myself to sleep at night for no reason, or worse, having the nights when I can’t sleep at all because of my anxiety.

There are days where I’m so hard on myself for forgetting to take my medication, forgetting to check my blood sugar, for eating like crap when I know better. 

There are days when I get so much anxiety about going out with my friends that I need to back out at the last minute.

There are days when I’m still very much ashamed that I even got these diagnoses to begin with. I blame myself for being “fat” and getting diabetes, and I blame that for my depression. 

But being ashamed is normal. I actually think it’s a healthy part of the process because it’s a form of self-reflection. But I didn’t want the shame to win anymore. I want to share the truth about myself. Because to any person out there who’s battling depression, anxiety, diabetes, or obesity: you’re not alone. 

For those who have avoided getting checked for fear of knowing… Get checked. If you’ve ever suspected that you may have depression or anxiety—see someone. 

Prioritize your health. Especially your mental health. Sometimes, that’s the key to unlocking the improvement of your physical health. 

Here for you!

xoxo

Ariana 

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Please call them at 1 (800)-273-8255.

Barnes & Noble Black Friday Book Haul 2019

Book shopping is one of the best things on Earth, but book shopping on Black Friday? Now that’s out of this world. For the first time ever, I went Black Friday shopping for books at Barnes & Noble and it was the absolute best. There were so many books and collectibles on sale, plus I had coupons and added discount as a Barnes & Noble member!

Watch my YouTube video below where I show you everything I got for Black Friday! Don’t forget to like and subscribe and drop a comment below so I can subscribe to your channel as well.

Till my next haul,

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Life is Beautiful Weekend | 2018

Fresh coconuts, good weather, and even better company… Life got a little more beautiful in downtown Vegas last weekend when Life is Beautiful came back to town! The line up was pretty similar to Coachella’s with The Weeknd, Miguel, and Daniel Caesar as a few of the headliners, but the artists were just that good that I had to see them again! Plus, it didn’t hurt that LAUV, T-Pain, Florence + The Machine, Bastille, Arcade Fire and N.E.R.D. were there.

Here’s a recap of the weekend!

DAY 1 | Park on Fremont, The Weeknd & Daniel Caesar

My cousins and I arrived downtown and had a few drinks at the Park on Fremont—a super cozy bar with the nicest ambience and the cutest patio—before heading to the festival. We hung out at Container Park for a few hours and watched local performers beatbox and breakdance, before getting serenaded by Daniel Caesar and ending our night dancing to The Weeknd.

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DAY 2 | Exploring the festival grounds, N.E.R.D., Miguel, and Florence + The Machine

We arrived a couple of hours before our first set to explore the festival grounds and there was a lot to see! We visited the “Crime on Canvas” art gallery, admired a lot of the street art, and spent the rest of our night sipping on fresh coconuts while dancing to Miguel and Florence!

Top, bandana, and harem pants from ASOS.com | Shoes: Nike Cortez

DAY 3 | LAUV, T-Pain, Bastille, ODESZA, Blackbear, and Arcade Fire

This was our longest day, but it was also our best! We saw so many performances from Bastille to Blackbear, and we briefly saw ODESZA and Arcade Fire, although we were so sad we didn’t get to see their whole set! My favorites of the day though, (or maybe even the whole weekend 🤫) was T-Pain and LAUV! I knew LAUV would be amazing, but he was even way better than I anticipated! And T-Pain’s set was so. much. FUN. I felt like I was in middle school again, hearing him perform so many of his old songs. The whole crowd was singing loud and dancing hard, and it really made the weekend that much more memorable to me!

Pants from ASOS.com | Body suit from Capezio | Sunglasses from Abella Eyewear | Crystals from Silver Post USA

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Life is Beautiful really can’t be compared to other music festivals. It’s got its own charm. Located at the heart of downtown Las Vegas, it’s giving a new name to our budding downtown community. Vegas is becoming more than just The Strip, and Life is Beautiful is one of the reasons why. I loved getting to enjoy my city like this! And I know you guys will too.

Check out my VLOG below from Life is Beautiful!

Lots of love,

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“The Kiss Quotient” by Helen Hoang: Book Review

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Photo by Ariana DeCastro

“Girls like me intimidate boyfriends away. Girls like me have never been asked out by a single boy. Girls like me have to find their own way, make their own luck. I’ve had to fight for every success in my life, and I’m going to fight for this.” – Stella Lane

This book is the perfect summer read! “The Kiss Quotient” by Helen Hoang is such a heartwarming, quirky, and quick read.

The story is about Stella Lane, a successful math genius with Asperger’s who wants to enjoy dating despite her condition making it difficult to do so, and Michael Phan, an escort she hires to “professionally teach her” a thing or two about how to interact with men. Their time together, however, turns into more than just a business deal.

I love that the main character, Stella, has autism. I think that’s a big reason that a lot of people picked up this book to begin with—it’s definitely why I chose it as my Book of the Month. It was hard to connect with her at first which, in reality, is how it can be with people with autism, so that actually made her character more believable for me. I rooted for her the whole time despite that. I really wanted her to get her happy ending!

Michael is so dreamy! He works as an escort to provide for his family but his real dream is to work in fashion—he’s such a skilled tailor, as you’ll find out in the book. Helen Hoang also gets bonus points for making him Vietnamese and Swedish! I do have to say though, he seemed a little too perfect and too good to be real at times. While he had some deep-rooted flaws from his father’s abandonment, I wanted him to have character flaws that were innate. It would have given him more dynamic as a character.

Despite that, Stella and Michael have an undeniable and uncontrollable chemistry. You can feel their attraction towards each other come off the page. And warning! There are a lot of steamy, intimate scenes in this book, so if you don’t take a liking to that, I would suggest finding another romance novel. I personally didn’t know that it would be an adult romance, but nothing felt forced. The scenes were written very organically and I definitely felt giddy over the progress of their romance throughout the book.

If you want a light, funny, steamy and uplifting read, definitely pick up “The Kiss Quotient.” It’s all about family, dreams, work ethic, and love!

Order “The Kiss Quotient” through Book of the Month (It’s $14.99 to be a monthly member and you can pick one of their selected books for the month—some of which aren’t even released to the general public yet—and using the code YESPLZ, you can select “The Kiss Quotient” and get it for free! So two books for the price of one. And every book you order through BOTM will be a hardcover and each package comes with a free bookmark!) You can also order it on Amazon.

P.S. There’s a second book about Michael’s cousin, Khai, who also has Asperger’s, called “The Bride Test” which will be coming out May 2019! You can pre-order it here.

A New Space for Me — and For You!

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Hi, hello! May I just say that it feels so good to be back?! For my new readers, welcome. For my former (and shall I say, loyal) readers, welcome back.

This is the new arianadecastro.com. It’s still as colorful and pink as ever. It’s still a bit all over the place (you’ll find recipes, and poetry, and book reviews, and photography, and travel diaries, and skincare tips, and…OK, you get where I’m going here). But I’ll tell you what has changed: Me.

I told myself that this blog would be for me. For me to share the genuine “me.” The good, the bad, and the really ugly. And by sharing my truth, my hope is that this blog ends up feeling like it’s for you too.

So much growth has happened since my blog launched in 2015. I was still a sophomore in college then and surprisingly had a lot of time on my hands. But that changed. I went through a really difficult creative writing block and I really had no enthusiasm for writing. Not short stories, not blog posts, not even journaling.

You can imagine how particularly traumatic this time was for me, because I mean, all I knew myself to be was a writer. And I couldn’t write? It was a period of total crisis.

I eventually found my way out of that block (I promise to tell you more about that journey soon), but I missed the innocence behind my writing and doing it for the sole purpose of just doing it because I loved it.

All I focused on in college was getting published, and hoped that if I get published enough, I’d eventually get paid for it. But it was a taxing, daunting cycle. It sucked all the love I had for writing.

A few other health reasons contributed to my hiatus, but I knew I had to stop using uncontrollable situations as an excuse and make a commitment to myself to begin writing again. And I wanted my current rebirth to happen where it all started: blogging.

It began circa 2007 in the Myspace bulletin boards. Then, for years, I bore my deepest, darkest feelings on Tumblr. And eventually, I had my very own space. Unfortunately, I just didn’t know who I was at the time and sharing parts of myself became really, truly scary. Baring vulnerability was too hard for me. But I’m trying to change that.

This relaunch is happening because I’m finding bits and pieces of who I am and want to be, and I’d like to have you along through the journey.

My biggest hope is that in this creative space, you find a little of yourself in me and I find a bit of myself in you.
Let’s be friends. ♡

With love—always,
Ariana

 

How To Make Sure Your Instagram Posts Are Visually Appealing

Have you ever looked at someone’s Instagram feed and think, “Just how do they do that?” You probably see their followers commenting, “Feed goals,” and you think, “I wish my photos were pretty like that.”

Well, you’re not alone.

For so many people, Instagram has been a portfolio of their photographic work. It’s become more than just a place to filter your selfies with and has really become a place that people showcase their photographic skills.

Some people just click their camera once and get a great photo, but for many people, it takes more than one try. For amateurs like myself, I’ve found a quick way to accomplish getting a visually appealing photo on Instagram.

The main two things I use when I take photos are my handy dandy LED lamp and white rug from IKEA.

The white light from the LED lamp allows me to achieve great lighting, even when I’m taking pictures at night, and the white rug gives me a solid background that brings cohesiveness to all of my photos no matter where I am.

VSCO also plays a huge part of how well my photos look. It’s my favorite photo-editing app because it has so many filters and so many editing tools as well. Many of the editing options don’t over-filter photos, but merely enhances them, which is what filters are meant for.

I really suggest that you download VSCO app if you love to take photos!

So those are my secret weapons in achieving many of the my most-liked Instagram photos.

But lighting and background aside, I think what makes someone’s Instagram so appealing is when it has cohesiveness to it and that the photos really represent that person’s interests.

Instagram is my favorite social network because I don’t need to know someone to follow them– I just have to like their photos, and on Instagram, people’s photos represent their interests.

Make sure you showcase yours!

Watch the video above to see a step-by-step “behind the scenes” video of how I take my photos for Instagram!

 

Hogwarts Just Got a Little Closer To Home (& It Brought a Lot of Espresso With It!)

A new coffee shop in Nevada brews up magical caffeine concoctions for Henderson and Las Vegas locals.

Bad Owl Coffee is a Harry Potter themed coffee shop, full of decorations that allude to the Harry Potter series, and as an avid Harry Potter fan, it’s become my favorite place to hang out!

As soon as a customer walks in, they are transported to King’s Cross Station, where they’ll find “Platform 9 6/8” (photographed on the left) that mimics Platform 9¾ from the Harry Potter series.

Half a luggage cart disappears into the wall, and Hedwig, Harry’s owl, is placed on top of the cart, just like in the story!

While the all of the decor I photographed at Bad Owl Coffee was well-put-together and well-thought-out, the photo on the left is my favorite because it’s part of a signature Harry Potter moment that every fan knows.

It was a bit difficult to photograph the decor because the coffee shop is always packed with people, but I tried to do the coffee shop justice as a fan.

I used my Canon EOS Rebel T5 camera and had the perfect natural lighting for some of the photos so I didn’t need to do much adjusting or editing. When I photographed the coffee shop at night, I did have to manually adjust my camera to make the photos brighter.

Nonetheless, Bad Owl Coffee has great lighting for photos and you’ll notice that people can’t resist but to take them!

The tables are decorated with customized decals that allude to the Harry Potter series, such as Harry’s lightning scar, the Deathly Hallows sign, the snitch from Harry’s first Quidditch game and many more. There’s also a bookshelf display with the Harry Potter books in them near the lounge area that resembles the Hogwarts common rooms.

“It’s a different environment,” said Kristina Hamlin, UNLV student and Bad Owl Coffee barista. “You walk in and it’s all Harry Potter.”

While Bad Owl Coffee’s décor caught people’s attention, their drinks, pastries and sandwiches get customers to stay.

“The most popular drink would have to be our Butter Brew latte which is our version of the Butterbeer drink from Harry Potter,” Hamlin said.

The drink was so popular that they would run out, but they now make sure they are fully stocked on the ingredients. While the Butter Brew latte is what a lot of people order, they offer a variety of other specialty drinks such as their earl grey tea called “The London Fog,” their English toffee latte and their pistachio latte.

There are also special drinks from their “Espresso Bar” such as the “Mint Mojito Latte” and the “Biscoff Cookie latte,” a cookie butter drink which is riddikulus-ly good! (See what I did there, fellow Potter fans?)

Hamlin also added that most men order their nitrogen-infused cold brew coffee.

“When I tell the customers— especially the male customers— that the nitrogen-infused coffee is like Guinness without the alcohol, they automatically order it,” Hamlin said. “I highly recommend it for strong coffee drinkers, but for those who aren’t heavy coffee drinkers, the sea salt nitro is milder.”

Bad Owl Coffee also offers pastries such as almond croissants, butter croissants, chocolate croissants, macarons and many more pastry selections delivered fresh every morning from a local bakery.

They also recently developed a sandwich menu so that customers can enjoy a meal there for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Bad Owl Coffee has been featured on Cosmopolitan, Fox, Eater, Las Vegas Weekly, Las Vegas Review-Journal and Thrillist, and is located at 10575 S. Eastern Ave. #160, Henderson, Nevada.

Browse through their menu and find which magic-infused pastry and espresso you want to try.

Happy eating and ‘caffeinating’!