Trauma Happy Finance: Digging for Gratefulness in Old Places

Welcome to Mondays here at Trauma Happy Finance! On Mondays I share something new I’m trying.

For a long time I’ve looked at just the negative consequences of growing up with my majorly mentally ill mom. But recently I find myself thinking about the good that’s come out of it. Maybe it’s just age softening the angry young man part of me but I’d like to believe that my New Miguel Habits also have something to do with it. Or maybe it’s like getting bored of an album you’ve heard hundreds of times before and now you just want to hear a different tune in your head. So I’m making the effort to dig into my brain to find outcomes from growing up that I’m grateful for, even if their origins are scary.

Finance is in the name of this blog and I haven’t written anything about personal finance yet. I keep thinking that my take on money is not applicable to most people because it’s so colored by mom’s paranoia about money. Therefore I am unqualified to talk about it. But that’s silly isn’t it? It’s my experience and it’s the truth of how I look at my personal finances and so it is worth sharing.

When I read personal finance posts on other sites I’m surprised by how judgmental I can get about the author. I start thinking about how “behind” the intended audience is. My head goes through convoluted insults like, “Of course keeping track of every financial transaction you do in an iOS app is a worthwhile endeavor! Without good data and hard evidence, how can you truly understand your spending habits?” Or I get snooty about how accepting some people are about carrying debt. But I have to breathe and take a step back and remember that for me, money was a source of fear. Seeing mom get so angry about it and being so careful about household expenses made me aware that money is a thing that runs out. That money makes me Mom scared.

So I’m grateful that mom’s paranoias combined with her inherent personality latched onto personal finance as the thing to obsess over. Looking back now, I understand that the intensity of Mom’s paranoia about money was because of her brain disease. I’m semi-thankful that her paranoia rubbed off on me. So I got diluted money paranoia which I use to motivate my self to understand and learn about personal finance. My reaction to Mom’s intense fear has driven me to grab my brightest flashlight and see money for what it really is so it can’t handcuff me like it did Mom.

I’m grateful for the fleeting moments I notice that I’m making progress. For those four seconds when I notice that I’m resisting drafting a post to put up here. For giving myself the space and permission to take stock of how my body feels the morning after having drinks the night before. And for the two seconds I don’t beat myself up about it before I go right back into self-criticism mode. With Mom’s brain disease I often felt like I wasn’t making progress with helping her or anticipating her needs. I’m thankful that I’m learning to listen to my self and my own needs after years of listening for hers.

Thank you, Mom, for showing me that money is a thing to be feared so that I have the drive to stare Money Monster in the face to understand what I’m fighting.

And thank you, Mom, for all those years of feeling stuck not making progress with helping you get better. It made me thirsty for progress and now I have progress to look for in tiny fulfilling moments in my own life.

What’s something you’re grateful for that wouldn’t exist without a painful origin? If you feel comfortable, share in the comments below. If you’d rather share privately send me an email: miguel [at] hellomiguel [dot] com

Trauma Happy Finance: Five Ways to be a Good Therapy Patient/Refreshed Human

Welcome to Fridays here at Trauma Happy Finance!

On Fridays I like to share a cool thing. Sometimes it’s a website, an app, or maybe a book.

Today I’m sharing the things I did to try to be a good therapy patient even though I was deep in the ditches of depression.

Therapy sessions are generally capped at 50 minutes. Some days I feel like I want to tell so many stories that my time just flies by. I’m guilty of going on long winded tangents and take a while to get to the point. I have to remind myself to shorten things, or just get to the dang point of my story. And I lean on my therapist to reel me in and nudge me back to the memory we’re focusing on for the day.

Some weeks with the combination of my depression and the clock, I’d leave the office feeling frustrated at myself. I took too long to remember a follow-up point about something we talked about last week. Or I forgot to bring it up entirely until I was driving away.

The fact is, you’re spending your time and money on these sessions and doing some work during the week to organize your thoughts will help you use your couch time efficiently. The five tips below are a combination of things to keep your thoughts organized and ways to keep your human body fresh and afloat, despite feeling crappy.

1. Keep a Therapy-Focused Spark File
If you’re anything like me, you don’t deep dive into the therapy topic you’re currently working on at any time during the week that isn’t therapy time. I don’t think in my case it’s always out of repression. It just doesn’t come up in the day-to-day. But sometimes your brain throws you curve balls and a thought comes up that you want to dissect with your therapist. Whenever that happens, I take out my phone and enter in the thought, however fragmented it may be, into my Spark File – Therapy.

A Spark File is a text document that serves as an idea bucket. Whenever an idea or any creative thing you want to remember comes into your brain, you put that idea into your Spark File. This way all your ideas live in one place. A Spark File is separate from journaling because for me, journaling is a process that has a start and end point. My journaling is a multiple minute process and multiple hundreds of words. Entering fragments of an idea into your Notes app should take no more than a minute or two.

I keep a separate Spark File specifically for therapy topics. I like having the separation of creative ideas and my trauma-processing brain dumps.

With a Spark File you’re not trying to remember what it was you wanted to bring up from last time. You have it there, written down fresh from the moment it popped into your head as you walked through the pasta aisle at the supermarket. It’s there in the Notes app ready for you to dive in right when the clock starts.

2. Keep a Journal
I turned a corner in therapy when I started writing every day. When I sit down to journal I often don’t have an idea of what to write about. I set both a time limit and a word goal for my journaling sessions. Just the process of digging through my head to find something else about my day to get the word count going forces me to look at situations in a new way. Having to put my thoughts into full sentences solidifies the thought in my head and also gets it out of my subconscious and onto the page. Then my thoughts can live on the page and not in my head anymore.

After journaling for a couple weeks, new connections and perspectives about old wounds came to me faster in therapy. I’m able to get into the headspace of Younger Miguel much more easily and that in turn makes it easier to make progress.

3. Use Your Calendar
I’ve also had those weeks of feeling lie like the only thing you have to look forward to is therapy. That scheduled 50 minutes means you get to talk to someone and tell your story. All the other days are just filler until you get to unburden yourself in the presence of a mental health professional. But being in that state of depression also meant that I was running late to a bunch of things. Depression is that double-edged sword where I looked forward to therapy but just because I was looking forward to something didn’t mean I was any better about being on time. The critical part in your head that tells you that all your friends secretly hate you and that everyone you interact with knows that you’re a fraud shouts pretty loud when you’re lying in bed fighting with your head. And some days it takes until the exact second you have leave to get there on time to stop listening to that awful voice.

Make use of your phone calendar and reminders. If you’re like me and really needed therapy to wash away the crappiness of the week sometimes, make sure you get all the time you’re scheduled for and don’t be late. Seeing the Travel Time estimates and knowing that green rectangle was my time to take care of myself helped me shut out StupidCritical Voice some days.

4. Keep Hydrated
I wish someone had told me to keep hydrated while fighting depression and that it would not only improve my skin but also my mood! Here in the Northeast US where I live, it’s easy to forget how much water the cold air takes
away from your skin. Combine low temperatures with all that depressed napping and your body will thirsting quickly! I use a water drinking app to track how much I’ve had during the day. And if sleep is sometimes the only other thing you look forward to while you’re depressed, it’s good to keep yourself hydrated. in preparation for nap time. This way, when your therapy day comes and you’ve slept 90 hours since last week, you’re hydrated enough to participate!

5. Shower Twice to Feel Nice
On the days when the Depression Hat sat heavy I’d make it a point to take two showers: one in the morning with the works and one refreshing rinse before bedtime. I figured I was napping and therefore sweating so much that I could justify the water usage. Gifting myself that constant fresh and clean feeling twice a day even if I was just going to nap after getting home from work or class was a gift I gave my depressed self.

If you’ve been so depressed that therapy was one of the only things you looked forward to during the week, what little gifts did you give yourself? Do you do anything to keep track the things you want to bring up week to week? Share in the comments below!

Trauma Happy Finance – Falling into the Empathy Faucet

Welcome to Wednesdays at Trauma Happy Finance! Every Wednesday I write to my younger self and give him some much-needed advice and self-compassion. In reality, Younger Miguel didn’t know he was suffering from real trauma having lived with paranoid schizophrenic mom for years. He’s got a lot of bad thinking habits and well-worn scripts in his head about himself. I want to take some time each week writing to that angry youth. I want to tell him all the things he needed to hear. 

If you’re also someone who grew up with a parent who suffered from a major mental illness, I hope my letters to Younger Miguel speak to you too.

Hey Miguel,

You’re sixteen and feeling pretty shitty every single day. You’re angry inside about Mom and you don’t know how to handle all these strong emotions. Worse yet, your grades are faltering. That makes you feel like garbage. School used to be the place to relax for you! It was a separate location for you to be away from Mom for hours. You got to be with friends.

A decade from now you’ll hate school so much that you leave. For a while you leave college and boy is it hard to make the decision to go back. You resent the fact that school no longer is a refuge for you. The expectations in your head of lasting friendships and new identities for yourself fall away as you fall behind. Regardless of schooling’s costs (Dad paid a lot of money for you to go to private elementary, private high school, and four different colleges) it’s the emotional part (duh) of it that will hold you back from returning.

Your perspective right now that the universe owes you something because of the effort you put in with wrangling Mom and the stress you’re carrying in your shoulders because of her? It’s a strong feeling, sure, but life is not quid pro quo. You don’t deserve ease and relaxation because of your trauma.

Yes, school used to be a refuge for you and you were excelling in writing and math in previous grades. But the truth is, Mom is falling down on the job. Yes, because of her brain disease it’s involuntary. But the fact remains that she’s not supporting you or nurturing you properly. You’re a growing human. You need help and you need guidance. She puts so much stress on you that you don’t have the opportunity to learn good study habits. She may print out study tips on computer paper for you but why would you trust the advice of a woman who often needs your help with picking brands of bread in the grocery? You’re so entangled in her successes and failures even with such minutiae as bread choice. You never had the time and space to learn about your own inner life. She just lassos you into her fractured view of reality. She turns to you to anchor herself to reality when the paranoia gets too loud. It’s an important role, but it comes at the price of your childhood.

With Mom’s fragility when she falls down, you fall down too. And you’re gonna spend the next decade trying to pick yourself back up after leaving Mom behind. It’s gonna be hard. That codependent lasso is unfortunately resilient. You’re gonna not find the path a whole bunch of times. You’re gonna get so confused and sad that when you’re falling down you’ll sob into the arms of women once you realize no ones falling with you. And no one even notices that you’re falling.

But I got there. I found our path. I’m going back to school. I’m scared. The lasso’s still pretty tough.

You have a vision for how you want your life to be. That’s why you fought so hard to keep things as together as possible in that house with Mom, your sister, and Yaya. You have a vision for how life should be. Not everybody has such clear visions. Not everyone fights hard to make them come true. You were fighting for an impossible vision, but how could you know that Mom has a reality-breaking brain disease? No one knew. But you try. No one told you to try. But you feel it’s the right thing to do. Listen to that fire that tells you to try. It won’t make school a refuge again but maybe you’ll use that flame to carve out an alcove in your heart that you can snuggle into when you feel like you’re floating away.

You are overflowing with empathy. you cannot turn it off. You are always trying to suss out what other people are feeling. And you want to sincerely help them, care for them. You will take your spring of empathy and drown yourself and friends with it. You will overbearing with it. You will lead with it and it will hurt you. You’ll be scared to care. But you’ll learn when it’s appropriate to be very empathetic because not everyone knows how to give themselves boundaries. Not everyone learns to cares for both themselves and others like you do. You just have to find the right pulpit and the right audience.

Empathy could be the end of you. Or the source of your strength. If you don’t learn to master it, it’ll just be another lasso.

I love you very much,

Annual Review 2016 & My Hopes For Trauma Happy Finance’s 1st Year

Welcome to Monday here at Trauma Happy Finance!

This was the first year I had the emotional energy, time, and motivation to do a week’s worth of thinking at the end of December 2016. This was also the first year I had clarity of mind and a real desire to look at what I want my future to be. So I conducted my own Annual Review to help me plan ahead and really trust my head and my heart when I ask myself what do I want my 28th Year to look like?

And I know we’re only one week and four posts into Trauma Happy Finance but I want to put my 2017 goals for myself and this blog here, out in public.

Although this is my first time doing a full Annual Review, I look at the final product less as New Year’s Resolutions put into an Excel spreadsheet and more as a list of steps after a deep dive into my head. Excel keeps things organized. You can find the template I used at the end of this post.

I started my Review by thinking about the things that went well in 2016:

  • Rebooted my daily meditation practice
  • Lifting three times a week
    Running three times a week

I fell off the wagon for all three of those things at least twice during the past year. I got in a real depressive slump about it along with feeling crappy about my life and my job. I’m so happy to have closed out 2016 having fought the Laziness Dragon and put those things solidly in place in my daily schedule again.

  • I started taking theatre classes again to feed the performative side of me
  • Through lots of hard work in therapy and daily self-care I got back in regular touch with my friends
  • I learned to be a big fan of myself
  • I rebooted our daily dog toothbrushing and fur brushing sessions

And many more things that I’m so proud of myself for doing (or restarting) in 2016!

I also make a list of things that I’m not proud of. What things I wish went better.

  • My anger was at its hottest at some points this year and I didn’t like being consumed by that ugly part of myself
  • I feel the growing emotional gap between myself and my sibling got bigger this year
  • I took longer than I wanted to get out of my depressive funk and connect again with friends and exercise regularly again

Really taking the time over many days to think about what I was able to accomplish in 366 days made me proud and a little surprised. To read my list of accomplishments back to myself and smile about the progress makes me more hopeful about what I can do in a another year with a good strategy and measurable goals in place right from go. And really thinking about things that disappointed me reminds me of what is important to me right now. I don’t want to exacerbate those disappointments. So now I know where to spend my efforts in 2017.

Taking the time to do these steps and swimming around your own mind makes for a better objective-based foundation for your year-long goals rather than just saying, “I want to start going to the gym,” or “I will become fluent in French.” While those are valid ‘New Year’s Resolutions’ and also valid things for someone to have on their Annual Review Excel spreadsheet, I think the process of just choosing things to do before looking inwards doesn’t work as well. You’re just choosing things that seem impressive, not things that are truly are important to you. Or at least thats’s how my Resolutions would go in the past. This process of first checking in with yourself then picking out realistic steps forward makes the things you choose more meaningful.

1. Post three articles here every Monday, Wednesday, Friday of posts at least 500 words in length and having been edited with at least one pass
2. Journal for at least 880 words every single day
3. Do at least passthrough of my NaNoWriMo 2016 novel/sci-fi/autobiography — do at least one sanity pass
4. Ensure that the articles I write here speak to an audience of people like me: those who have had to grow up with a parent with a major mental illness and are trying to figure out how to find lasting happiness and how to become a human that they like. That is the founding reason I started this blog. Because I was sick of not finding the community that I wanted.

By the end of the year, I want to make daily writing a solid habit. I want to make editing myself a solid habit. I want to make publishing a solid habit. I don’t want to let the tears I cried writing my NaNoWriMo novel go wasted in a rough draft that never gets looked at again. I want to build a consistent, solid writing portfolio to be able to attract freelance writing clients.

I have one big business goal for 2017. I want to make freelance writing my side hustles. I have a dollar goal in mind for the year for me to call it a success but I want this blog to be solid content first, but also an investment vehicle.

Friends & Family
1. I don’t call and just talk with my sibling a lot. I want to make a 25 minute phone call with them a consistent part of my week.

2. A less solid goal in the Friends category is to not let my defensive shields go up so quickly around my friends, to let them in but to also not let myself get consumed.

I will meditate 40 minutes in the morning and at least 10 minutes before bedtime every single day of 2017. I’ve gone through enough times of sitting regularly and not sitting regularly. This is the year I make sitting integral to my days.

1. Run my second half marathon in Spring 2017

2. Run my first full marathon in Fall 2017

3. Run at least one 5K and one 10K

4. Cut out soda

5. Add 30 pounds to each of my main lifts: squat, bench press, deadlift

1. Do 1 pomo of Secret Project #1 daily

2. Graduate college with my undergraduate accounting degree

3. Make one new recipe every month

4. Read one new book a month

Financial (Earning)
1. Make X dollars of side hustle income this year (I’ll share my dollars earned and my dollar goal come December. Call me superstitious, but I don’t want to jinx myself!)

2. Make sure some of those side hustle dollars come from writing

3. Get an accounting job at a Thriveal CPA firm after graduation

Financial (Saving)
Set a higher savings rate of 51%. I want it to hurt. I want to have to make tougher choices. I want to save more than I earn.

I want my 2017 to be a ‘Year of Foundation-Building.’ I want to build lasting things for myself like this blog, my writing habit, my meditation practice, my education, and my body so that I’ll have a solid Foundation of New Miguel so when I willfully jump into the scary black hole that is the future, I’ll have many sturdy parts of myself to fall back on. I want to give Future 2018 Miguel some evidence-based memories of earning money on the side from my nurturing and creative side. I want Future Miguel to have even more self-love, self-compassion, self-esteem because of the daily persistence 2017 Miguel had. This is my ‘Year of Foundation-Building.’ It is atop this 2017 bedrock that I build Miguel Manalo. And I’m happy you’re here with me.

Happy New Year and Happy Birthday to me! Are you ready? Let’s go!

I’m using a predefined Excel template that I got from The Art of Non-Conformity (AoNC). Get it here.

And here’s how Chris Guillebeau at AoNC does his own Annual Review. I borrow his format and steps heavily.

Trauma Happy Finance: Write or Die 2 – Puppy or Spider?

Welcome to Fridays here at Trauma Happy Finance!

On Fridays I like to share a cool thing that I love. Sometimes it’s a website, an app, or maybe a book.

Today the thing I’m sharing reminds me daily how much motivation I can get from negative consequences.

I won my first National Novel Writing Month, commonly abbreviated as NaNoWriMo, on November 30, 2016. Before I started my journey to write 50,000 words in a 30 days, I looked into what writing software others had used. I had Word, TextEdit, and Notes, but I wanted something that was focused on getting writing done. But I admit that I also fell into the trap of starting a hobby and wanting to buy all the shiny toys that I’ve convinced myself I need to get started. I wanted to come in (over) prepared so I looked at a few articles with lists of NaNoWriMo-targeted software.  Many of the recommendations were focused on organization and assembling the final product that would be your novel. Software like Scrivener or Ulysses came up often, but those seemed like writing records when all I wanted was a chord to start.

Then I came across Write or Die 2 by Dr. Wicked. This app uses negative reinforcement (with optional positive reinforcement) to motivate you to just put words on the screen.

By default, the app is set up for you to suffer the consequences of a blood red screen, awful noise, and a scary spider after 15 seconds of no writing. You are free to edit the length of time you are going to write, your word count goal for the session, and if you want to relax or shorten the 15 second buffer before the consequences kick in. At the 10 second mark of no writing, the screen starts to redden and once it reaches peak-red, a horrible noise plays and a spider comes out! The only way to stop the redness and the horrible noise and to make the spider go away is to write the first thing that comes into your head. The goal of the app is to stop letting your Inner Editor interrupt your Inner Writer’s flow just to fix spelling or adjust phrasing or wait for the perfect word to come to you.

Think of your brain as a car. There’s only one driver’s seat and one steering wheel. You can’t have both your Inner Editor and Inner Writer drive at the same time. The negative consequences emphatically motivate you to let your Inner Writer just drive. You’ve got all the time in the world to fix the typo or adjust your tone. But getting words down first is the most important thing.

The app’s interface puts your session stats in an easy to glance place on the right-hand side. Your word counter ticks up and the countdown timer goes down. There’s a toggle setting to show your average words per minute if you want to get a sense of how fast you’re going. You can also reward yourself for achieving your word goal before time runs out with a picture of a puppy.

Another optional setting that I’ve come to love is ‘Typewriter Mode’. This mode turns your computer into an old school typewriter where a backspace key does not exist. There is only forward. So if you beef a word, you just let it go and keep on writing. You’ll know what you meant when you go back to it later. But right now, in this moment, you’re writing.

Write or Die 2 for Mac is $20. And is a big part of why I’m a NaNoWriMo 2016 winner.

Trauma Happy Finance: Give Your Good Brain a Break

Welcome to Wednesdays here at Trauma Happy Finance! Every Wednesday I’ll be writing to my younger self.

Sometimes it’s hard for me to know what choice to make in life. And with growing up like I did with paranoid schizophrenic Mom, I didn’t have a map for where I wanted my life to go. Life at home didn’t look like anything I saw on TV or anything like what my friends’ lives looked like. These letters to myself are me trying to heal myself by talking to a ghost of the past and maybe quelling this guy’s fears will help give me some peace right now.

Younger Miguel’s focus was often on short-term crisis containing things. Like, “Shoot, Mom’s yelling at that employee because they moved the fresh corn and she’s convinced it’s a government plot against her family, what can I do to get her to stop?” And sometimes, “Mom and Dad are fighting downstairs and I can hear them through the walls, let me just turn up the volume really loud on blink-182 and try to fall asleep, the homework doesn’t matter.”

Young Miguel also wasn’t good about writing things down. He kept everything, all his anger about his family, homework to-do lists and where to go next in video games all in his head. But as the family situation got worse and Mom got worse it was more and more of a challenge to remember things I wanted to remember. Or I just stopped caring. So I’m gonna try to get Young Miguel to understand the benefits of writing stuff down and show him some much needed compassion.

Hey Miguel,

Right now, you have a lot of things in your head that you’re trying to keep track of. Where to go next in Kingdom Hearts, movies you want to watch, when your algebra homework is due, and what thing you can try to do to win favor in Mom’s eyes so she won’t blame the conspiracy against her on you next time, maybe.

You have a lot of important things to remember!

But remembering takes brain power and you know that dealing with Mom takes even more brain power. So to offload some of that brain work I recommend that you start writing things down. I know it feels fun and easier sometimes to just remember stuff. And I know you feel like you do enough hard work dealing with Mom that writing things down is a wasted effort, but hear me out.

You’ve got a good brain. Your brain is working hard. Your empathy engine is always running hot trying to feel what Mom feels. And your guessing motor is revving quick trying to guess what Mom will say next.  Your whole brain is working too hard with Mom. MiguelBrain deserves a break. You’re not failing at understanding Mom, your brain is working so hard to define and rationalize an inherently irrational and chaotic situation: the broken mind of a paranoid schizophrenic. There are no patterns for poor MiguelBrain to discern. This is not a situation of just having to grow up faster. Even the smartest adults you know wouldn’t know what to do either. I’m sorry to say that dealing with Mom is not like a Zelda dungeon that you just need a ten minute break to figure out where to go next. Your CPU cycles are being wasted on an impossible task.

But you won’t listen, not even to me. Because you want to be strong, you want to be the man of the house. You want to be a good boy in Mom’s eyes and the family’s eyes and your sister’s eyes. And you believe in your heart, your bleeding, caring heart that you’ll get it right. That one day you’ll have the right answers and right actions for Mom every single time and she won’t ever doubt you again. She’ll never insinuate that you’ve got an agenda with the FBI and CIA. She’ll love you unconditionally, without paranoia. You won’t listen to this letter. So I’ll give you the best bandage I can think of.

You’ll give MiguelBrain a little break every single day if you start putting things you want to remember into paper and not into neurons. The cycle then becomes, think of an idea, write it down. And when you want to think about that idea again, you know where to go to read it. Rather than spending time digging it out of your head. Trust and Truth live in the notebook.

With how it is growing up in that house, with all these projects you’ve endowed yourself with, your brain deserves every moment of downtime you can give it. So when you’re at daydreaming at school and you think of a good tactic for grinding Munny to buy that Keyblade upgrade, write it down. When you think of a line from blink-182’s Dude Ranch that suddenly has more meaning to you, write it down. And when you think of a new strategy to try at the grocery to see if you can keep Mom from getting agitated, write it down. And when you need to remember what that thing was, it’ll be right there in your notebook.

You’ve got a good brain, Miguel. It’s racing all the time to think of what the right answer to Mom is and it’s also drowning in the fear that she can’t help but emanate. Because her brain used to be good but now is broken and it’s scary for her. So write things down, it’ll give your brain a rest, even for just a moment when you’re just trying to remember the opening words to Apple Shampoo.

I love you,


Trauma Happy Finance: My One-Two Pomodoro Punch

Welcome to Mondays here at Trauma Happy Finance! On Mondays I share a story about how I’m learning something new or a trying different technique to learn more effectively.

It’s getting colder here in New Jersey. The high temperatures are slowly drifting downward towards the dreaded 30s. The start of winter also means the start of a new year! If you’re like me, you’re always telling yourself that you should be an adult and not procrastinate so much. You’ve gotten by with the skin of your teeth so often that he the rush isn’t fun anymore. Or at least, that’s how I’m learning to think about it.

I was so used to thinking that being a smart person meant you didn’t have to work hard, that information would just come to you instantly and you’d retain it forever. You’d hear a lesson once and it would stay in your head for the rest of time, and especially on exam day. I got by thinking that way in high school but college sure beat that thinking out of me.

I know now that good study habits are the key to learning anything at any age. I am eternally grateful to Dr. Barbara Oakley and Dr. Terrence Sejnowski of the Coursera course, “Learning How to Learn” for giving me new mental tools to study effectively and efficiently. Here’s the link to the free Coursera course: Learning How to Learn. It runs four weeks and I recommend it highly.

This is the system, inspired by what I learned, that I use to make sure my studying time is actually studying.

#1. I use the Pomodoro Technique. The essence of this technique is that you set aside all distractions and singularly focus on your work for a set amount of time. Pomodoro is Italian for tomato, but don’t worry you don’t need a tomato to use this technique.

The technique recommends 25 minutes to start. You work for 25 minutes and you immediately stop and give yourself a five minute break. During this break you don’t touch your work at all. You’ll take the five minutes to go use the washroom, have some water, check the internet or just walk around. After your break you get right back into into it. The thinking behind pomodoro is that anyone can focus in and work for just 25 minutes. And certainly everyone likes having the permission to take that five minute break.

What this does is get rid of the expectation that study sessions have to be marathon three hours long with no breaks. Nothing is gonna get into your head that way and you just end up thinking you’re learning. But you’re just gonna tire your neurons out and not learn at all.

#2. This is the cheesy part: You gotta want it. I use the Pomodoro technique as the thing I want. I want to keep my word to myself and really study for 25 minutes. Do I love the material I’m studying? Not all the time but I want to keep my promise and really study hard for the 25. The pomodoro technique or the new note taking app for iPad isn’t going to save your bacon if your insides don’t want to study. Dr. Oakley said to try to think of it as learning to love the process that is studying, and not the product of, “Ugh, let just get to the end of this freaking chapter.”

I love being able to look back and think about last week or last month and how hard it was to remember some of the terms but now they come to me pretty easily.

I’m a proud graduate of the Learning How to Learn Fall 2016 class and here’s my Completion Certificate (with Honors) to prove it!:

Verify at

What study habits do you use when you’re learning something new? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter @miguelmanalo

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Hello Reader!

Welcome to HelloMiguel, home of TraumaHappyFinance!

TraumaHappyFinance is a blog that’s about self-betterment for those who have experienced trauma and are trying to find ways to bring self-worth, learning, and happiness into their lives. This place is a community built to find others who are also trying to rebuild themselves.

My name is Miguel and I’m happy you found me.

I grew up with a paranoid schizophrenic mother and have been feeling floaty and lost for a long time, not understand ing the pain I had inside and what the confusion was doing to me long-term. Confusion about things like why Mom was always so agitated and worried about the CIA spying on us that she’d leave the phone unplugged all the time. I always came back to this dream of serendipity or luck of the draw that would help me find other people like me who’ve had setbacks in life ——— Setbacks with a big load of taboo on top. And all that taboo makes it hard to build a community based on this trauma.

Younger Miguel thought that maybe just around the corner he’d find someone who’d get it. I felt so isolated because my elder family members, Mom’s siblings, tried their best to help but they just couldn’t really understand my pain and confusion about having lived with Mom. Simultaneously growing up and watching as she got sicker and became less connected with reality. And not understanding that schizophrenia was a thing. I never felt like my friends would get it so I’d never bring it up. I just thought, “This is how my life with Mom is. She’s just really high-strung and mean and scared f everything all the time.” I didn’t get the truth of it so I drank a lot and smoked a lot of weed and thought girls would be the only thing to plug up this hole of ‘not getting it.’

But today I’m starting something different. I’m gonna stop waiting for the world to build the community that makes me feel seen and heard and looked out for. Instead I’m gonna build it. Right here, starting with just me. And you! You made it here, thank you. I want this blog to be a resource for people who grew up as children of parents with severe mental illnesses. Or have gone through other traumatizing experiences growing up.

You feel like you can’t talk about this weird, horrible thing that happened to you with your closest friends or family. You keep turning it around in your head trying to make sense of it by yourself. You might be in therapy spending weeks and months with a professional trying to deconstruct it and understand your feelings about it. Whatever you’re doing, I want this place to be a companion to all that, but not a replacement. I want to make a safe space for us folks with open wounds to be together.

When you come here to read, you can expect to learn strategies for how to bring more happiness, productivity, or joy into your life.

Rebuilding is not an easy task. And it sure can be a lonely one if we don’t have the familiar faces of friends and family to turn to. So I want to give you my face to turn to. I’ll tell you three times a week about what technologies I’m using to help me learn more effectively and finally finish undergrad at 28 (May 2017, yes!). Or what stories younger Miguel used to tell himself and what wisdom Today Miguel wants to give to him, if I had a time machine. Some days it’ll be how-tos on finding a therapist if you’re never gone before. I’ll definitely talk about the steps I took to master budgeting and my personal finances. I believe no stability in life is complete without you mastering your money and understanding your relationship with it. Money is a tough bull to control but mastering money is a key thing for living a happy-filed life because money buys you freedom or handcuffs, depending on how you use it. I can promise you that I’ll be here for you, three times a week Monday, Wednesday, and Friday week-in, week-out with quality posts.

I want to build a community in the comments of people who are going through this same journey. Of finally being tired of feeling stuck. Tired of feeling alone with their trauma-aftermath in their young adulthood and wanting to be their own master and take steps to bring their own joy and their own learning into their life. I want to wrangle all of us budget-makers, life-betterers and wounded-patcheruppers and focus on building happier lives together.

If any part of that resonates with you, TraumaHappyFinance might just be the place for you!

So let me know down below. Who are you? How’d you find me? And where are you on your journey of rebuilding?

NB: I am not a therapist. The comments are public. If you’re more comfortable sending me email instead, you can talk to me directly at @miguelmanalo or miguel[at]hellomiguel[dot]com. I look forward to meeting you!