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Lands Apart

Seemingly isolated in their own world, most of the things never changed in Itbayat, Batan and Sabtang, the three main islands of Batanes, and its only over 15,000 inhabitants. This is one of the reasons why the Batanes Islands must be visited.

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PHOTOS BY GEORGE TAPAN, COURTESY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF TOURISM

Full of wonder wandering in Batanes Islands

Kuha lang, kuha lang (Just get what you can),” the old Ivatan woman said, wide smile baring tiny, almost mouse-like, yet perfect teeth that easily contrasted with her sun burnt skin, appearing like coconut flesh pressed against dried husks. Hands on hips while sweating profusely, the salty water of her skin cascading, as if like rivers, from her face to her neck before disappearing under the collar of her blouse, she signaled towards some baskets lining the road in front of her, many filled to the brim with crops still coated in dried mud, and fruits still attached to branches teeming with black ants.

Magkano (How much)?” I asked, face already voraciously pressed against a juicy kaimito (star apple), sucking the milky juices while eating the fibrous flesh, even more famished instead of feeling full with every bite. In between spitting seeds, I looked at her askance, trying to look cute for whatever it’s worth to get a fair price, though feeling the fruit’s juices escaping my mouth to embarrassingly flow down my chin.

Once again signaling towards the food on display, the old woman repeated, “Kuha lang, kuha lang.” Everything was for free.

Embarrassed, my companion offered her a bagful of choc chips, what was left of our food, thus our stopping by her place in the first place, which she took, immediately pocketing it in the wide mud-stained apron wrapped around her scrawny waist. Then, waving at us dismissively, she turned and walked away, heading towards a group of women braving the scorching heat of the sun to till the land, their only protection the vakul (cape) over their heads. Like the kanayi (vest), the headgear is made of combed dried voyavuy (palm leaves), normally used for protection from the pounding rain, though also used to protect them from the harmful rays of the sun.

It was a peculiar experience, this bartering, like harking back in the olden times, a scene straight out of old movies – a common occurrence, they say, locally, since people grow their own crops, with the extras displayed for those who may need them.

But this is Batanes, after all, the islands left by time. Fortunately.

ALREADY ELSEWHERE…

“At night you can even see the lights from Taiwan. Vice versa, the Taiwanese who visit us say that they can hear our roosters crow at daybreak,” a tourist guide provided me by the local government once told me, seated somewhere near the shores of Valugan Bay, at the foot of the 1,008-meter tall Iraya Volcano. “The tendency to exaggerate is there, of course, but you get the concept.”

“At night you can even see the lights from Taiwan. Vice versa, the Taiwanese who visit us say that they can hear our roosters crow at daybreak,” a tourist guide said – something ALMOST believable.

I nodded, didn’t know what to say, the landscape before me taking every word out of my mouth. We were overlooking the forested area of Mt. Iraya – a picture-perfect scene straight out of a postcard, I remembered thinking then – which is not far from the truth, though not a postcard of the Philippines. More like New Zealand in the fresh milk TV commercials. Or Texas in the Marlboro advertisements. Or anything else to this strain, though definitely not the Philippines.

“We are closer to Taiwan than to mainland Luzon,” he added, his eyes squinting as he looked in the distance. “They’re that way,” he pointed at distant islands mostly covered in mists so they could be hardly made out, like the mythical Avalon coming and then going from view.

The Ivatans, of course, trace their roots to the Taiwanese immigrants who inter-married with the Spaniards who went to the islands in the 16th century – a combination most obvious in their peculiar dialect that is “pidgin Spanish, spoken with the rhythm of the Chinese language.” Seemingly isolated in their own world, most of the things never changed in Itbayat, Batan and Sabtang, the three main islands of Batanes, and its only over 15,000 inhabitants. In fact, fast forward to another time, when the sky was still amazingly clear, as if mocking the rain said to frequent the island to arrive, everything looked unreal, even surreal, though the distinction between the two is hard to find there. From the mountains seemingly trying to overlap each other, occasionally giving way to cascading bodies of water, at times hardly making any noise as they placidly flow though some suddenly merging with wild rivers that crush at everything on their way, to the largely untouched still lush forests, divided here and there by prairies, wild flowers swaying with the tall grasses when the wind blew, and then everything abruptly ends when the view is shortly cut by cliffs that plunge to the seas below. Nothing looked as foreign to me, especially knowing I was right at home.

Standing atop one of the hills of Payaman (a.k.a. Marlboro Country, supposedly because the area is said to be any rancher’s idea of a paradise), my companion started singing on top of his voice, without a care since no one else was around except for the horses running free, mingling with cows and some kalabaw (water buffalo) with their calves, that the hills are alive. And maybe they were, with memories as old as time, though are now exposed with the long-overdue interest in Batanes (and yet legally protected from abuse by virtue of Presidential Proclamation No. 335 (under former Pres. Fidel V. Ramos) that recognizes Batanes as a Protected Area).

Seated on a blanket, trying to enjoy the tough flesh of pating (shark) that still managed to look menacing even when already dead and wholly cooked, a feeling of dislocation came over me – like not knowing where one exactly is, though, in this case, I did know where I was: atop one of Batanes’ hills, enjoying the warmth of the sun as it kissed my naked torso, immediately tanning at its smallest provocations, while savoring the best that the place has to offer, peculiar food that are delectable ulam (viand) that add to the impression that one is elsewhere but locally located. And it never felt as good feeling lost.

STILL IN THE PHILIPPINES…

Spanish architect, and former director of the Instituto Cervantes de Manila, Javier Galvan, once commented that, in his dealings with the country’s historical treasures, the Filipino architecture never fails to pique his interest because it is “quite unique as it is filled with various influences.” “(Reflecting this) in the same way, (I find) the Filipino culture as very interesting because it is filled with various influences,” Galvan said, stressing that it is the “blend” that helps define the uniqueness of the Filipino.

After all, the Philippines has long been criticized for not having its own cultural identity, that it is but a combination of various influences that aren’t its own. But an opposing perspective is the contention that this – the hodge-podge of influences – is the very definition of the Filipino culture. And, often, this point is driven home by the peculiarity of various local practices that combine the traditions and the influences, making up something that is not either of the two, but both at the same time. In this, Batanes is an ideal subject to study.

In Diura, a fishing village, the locals still gather before the men brave the seas to catch fish. They hold a katayan (slaughtering) of pig, and then check, even foretell, the luck for that trip by looking at the lamang loob (viscera). Considering that some fishing villages fish only enough for their consumption, with the catch also often communal, abundant catch to see them through is the ideal. And yet, despite the seeming animalistic ritual, come Sunday, many flock to the old Roman Catholic churches of Uyugan and Ivana, seeing no conflict in their ways of living, their beliefs now carved in stone as they were passed from generation to another, safely practiced without being doubted as if their validity was proven by time.

The churches, the latter built in 1791 while the former less than 100 years later, are ideal representations of Galvan’s perspective of potpourri Filipinism – perfection in the combination, the parts making up the whole. And yet, like the bahay na bato (stonehouses) still common in the area, they signify the undaunted spirit of the Ivatans, who, consistently beleaguered by the strong blowing of the winds, continue to make it through come hell or high water.

That there is a hodge-podge of influences in the Filipino culture may be true, and Batanes is an ideal subject to study on this.

A stone throw away is the improvised wharf, housing a gathering of bancas (dinghies) that don’t look like they are strong enough to go out in the sea, young men were flaunting what they caught, presumably while only going for a swim, mainly colorful fish that would have looked more comfy in well-kept aquariums that in a frying pan.

Masarap tingnan (Looks delicious),” I said to a young boy, getting off our vehicle as soon as I spotted him carrying some gigantic tatus (coconut crab), which abound in the islands, making it the major ingredient of some of Batanes’ famous delicacies. But when asked to sell, he giggled, hiding the scrawny and odd-looking tatus behind him.

Limang piso (Five pesos),” he said, apparently joking. Like most, these weren’t for sale, but to be cooked for his family’s meal later.

A WORLD ON ITS OWN…

Once, I was hopping from one rock to another in Valugan (sand is a rarity at most beaches because the strong blowing of the wind pushes towards shore big boulders), when, seemingly out of nowhere, an old woman emerged, complete with a yuvok (crop container) tied around her neck, as if its weight didn’t bother her at all. She was an interesting sight as she, herself, hopped from one big rock to another, then stopped on the smaller ones to overturn them, picking up seashells hiding from under them to place them in her basket.

Ulam (viand),” she said, toothy grin directed at me, before she went back to overturning stones. It was almost lunchtime and here she was, still gathering what she will still be cooking for her family to eat, not in any hurry at all. But then, it crossed my mind, why would she when she was in Batanes, a part surviving detached from the whole, a world on its own in so many ways.

An acquaintance, asked what the most underrated tourist destination in the Philippines is, offhandedly said, “It would have to be Batanes.” And he could well be right.

Aboard a plane to head back to Metro Manila, the islands looked like giant green quilts from under us, sections of which were darker than the others, with the occasional spray of golden wildflowers, all closely knit by shrubs that form lines like divisions in a map. At the ends were cliffs, hiding caves, perhaps, like Chawa, said to be haunted by an engkanto (supernatural being) that shows herself to those she likes. Or giving way to beaches, at times sandy though more often rocky. Or enclosing villages where, for ages, and despite what they have been through, the people continued to live and even thrive, little worlds on their own, aware of the outside world yet surviving without its interference.

Just before the islands were completely hidden from view by the clouds as the plane continued its ascent, I had a quick last look of the islands from afar, seemingly as Wendy may have seen Never Never Land when Peter Pan first took her, John and Michael there. It was distant, as if unreachable – if not physically, at least a feel of it, as if it would rather be kept hidden, its many wonders would rather not be discovered. Having grown up fed with folkloric tales, Batanes could well be the island to visit to see the characters of tall tales of wonder – duwende (dwarf) running from boulder to boulder, avoiding detection, leprechauns dancing in the openness of the vast fields, sirena (mermaid) hiding behind giant boulders, and more. The place, definitely, was more than idyllic, a representation of things naturally beautiful when left untarnished.

This land lost and found thrived for long. It will for more, too. This is Batanes, after all, the islands left by time – only to be discovered over and over and over again, never ceasing to cast its spell on whoever does so.

The founder of Outrage Magazine, Michael David dela Cruz Tan is a graduate of Bachelor of Arts (Communication Studies) of the University of Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia. Though he grew up in Mindanao (particularly Kidapawan and Cotabato City in Maguindanao), even attending Roman Catholic schools there, he "really, really came out in Sydney," he says, so that "I sort of know what it's like to be gay in a developing and a developed world". Mick can: photograph, do artworks with mixed media, write (DUH!), shoot flicks, community organize, facilitate, lecture, research (with pioneering studies under his belt)... this one's a multi-tasker, who is even conversant in Filipino Sign Language (FSL). Among others, Mick received the Catholic Mass Media Awards (CMMA) in 2006 for Best Investigative Journalism. Cross his path is the dare (read: It won't be boring).

Health & Wellness

Trans women can safely maintain estrogen treatments during gender affirming surgery

The practice of withholding estrogen prior to gender affirming surgery was not necessary. Most transgender women can now safely remain on their estrogen therapy throughout surgery.

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Photo by @kylewilliamurban from Unsplash.com

There was no difference in blood clots when estrogen hormone therapy was maintained during gender affirming surgery.

This is according to a study (titled, “No Venous Thromboembolism Increase Among Transgender Female Patients Remaining on Estrogen for Gender Affirming Surgery”) helmed by John Henry Pang with Aki Kozato from Mount Sinai, and was published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

Historically, the lack of published data contributed to heterogeneity in the practice of whether doctors and surgeons advised transgender women to withhold their estrogen therapy before surgery. The sudden loss of estrogen in the blood was sometimes very uncomfortable with symptoms that amounted to a sudden, severe menopause.

So the researchers tapped 919 transgender patients who underwent gender affirming surgery at Mount Sinai’s Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery between November 2015 and August 2019. Notably, including 407 cases of transgender women who underwent primary vaginoplasty surgery.

This study found that the practice of withholding estrogen prior to gender affirming surgery was not necessary. Most transgender women can now safely remain on their estrogen therapy throughout surgery.

The bottom line: This study found that most transgender women can  safely maintain their estrogen hormone treatments during gender affirming surgery.

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Health & Wellness

Facebook posts help facilitate belief that HPV vaccine is dangerous to health

Nearly 40% of Facebook posts about the HPV vaccine amplified a perceived risk, and the data suggests these posts had momentum over time.

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Photo by @nordwood from Unsplash.com

The human papillomavirus infection, or HPV, is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). HPV is associated with health problems including genital warts and cancers, but a vaccine has been available since 2006 to help stop the virus. The CDC reports more than 12 years of data supports the HPV vaccine is safe and effective, yet HPV vaccination rates still remain low.

Social media has a history of being a popular place for sexual health discussions, and the HPV vaccine is one of the most discussed vaccines on the internet. Monique Luisi, an assistant professor in the University of Missouri School of Journalism, has studied more than 6,500 public HPV vaccine-related posts on Facebook from 2006 to 2016. In a previous study, Luisi used these Facebook posts to identify a negative trend on Facebook related to how people perceive the HPV vaccine.

Now, she suggests this negative trend on Facebook may also cause people to develop a false perception of the health risk of the vaccine. After looking at the percentage of posts that made the vaccine seem more dangerous, less dangerous or neither, Luisi found nearly 40% of Facebook posts about the HPV vaccine amplified a perceived risk, and the data suggests these posts had momentum over time.

“We should not assume that only the disease is perceived as a risk, but when research supports it, that medical treatments and interventions might unfortunately also be perceived as risks,” she said. “It’s more likely that people are going to see things on social media, particularly on Facebook, that are not only negative about the HPV vaccine, but will also suggest the HPV vaccine could be harmful. It amplifies the fear that people may have about the vaccine, and we see that posts that amplify fear are more likely to trend than those that don’t.”

Luisi suggests the spread of this negative information may lead people to have a false perception of the vaccine, so people should consult their doctor or health care provider before making an informed decision.

“Facebook remains a very popular social media platform for adult audiences, which necessitates action to address HPV vaccine risk messages,” she said. “People are going to see what they are going to see on social media, so it’s important to not only take what you see on social media, but also talk to a doctor or health care provider. Just because it’s trending doesn’t mean it’s true.”

Luisi notes research must continue to address the perception of vaccine safety where the vaccine is perceived as a greater health threat than the virus or disease it prevents, and her study could also inform officials for the ongoing COVID-19 vaccine roll out and distribution.

“As the COVID-19 vaccine is being rolled out, people are likely going to see a lot of negative information, and that negative information will be what trends on social media,” she said. “But, if the public can anticipate this negative information, it will be interesting to see if that will that make them less sensitive to the perceived risk of the vaccine.”

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Health & Wellness

Depression and stress could dampen efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines

Even though rigorous testing has shown that the COVID-19 vaccines approved for distribution are highly effective at producing a robust immune response, not everyone will immediately gain their full benefit. Environmental factors, as well as an individual’s genetics and physical and mental health, can weaken the body’s immune system, slowing the response to a vaccine.

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Photo by Nick Bolton from Unsplash.com

Decades of research show that depression, stress, loneliness, and poor health behaviors can weaken the body’s immune system and lower the effectiveness of certain vaccines.

A new report accepted for publication in Perspectives on Psychological Science suggests that the same may be true for the new COVID-19 vaccines that are in development and the early stages of global distribution. Fortunately, it may be possible to reduce these negative effects with simple steps like exercise and sleep.

Vaccines are among the safest and most effective advances in medical history, protecting society from a wide range of otherwise devastating diseases, including smallpox and polio. The key to their success, however, is ensuring that a critical percentage of the population is effectively vaccinated to achieve so-called herd immunity.

Even though rigorous testing has shown that the COVID-19 vaccines approved for distribution are highly effective at producing a robust immune response, not everyone will immediately gain their full benefit. Environmental factors, as well as an individual’s genetics and physical and mental health, can weaken the body’s immune system, slowing the response to a vaccine.

This is particularly troubling as the novel coronavirus continues to rage across the world, trigging a concurrent mental health crisis as people deal with isolation, economic stressors, and uncertainty about the future. These challenges are the same factors that have been previously shown to weaken vaccine efficacy, particularly among the elderly.

“In addition to the physical toll of COVID-19, the pandemic has an equally troubling mental health component, causing anxiety and depression, among many other related problems. Emotional stressors like these can affect a person’s immune system, impairing their ability to ward off infections,” said Annelise Madison, a researcher at The Ohio State University and lead author on the paper. “Our new study sheds light on vaccine efficacy and how health behaviors and emotional stressors can alter the body’s ability to develop an immune response. The trouble is that the pandemic in and of itself could be amplifying these risk factors.”

Vaccines work by challenging the immune system. Within hours of a vaccination, there is an innate, general immune response on the cellular level as the body begins to recognize a potential biological threat. This frontline response by the immune system is eventually aided by the production of antibodies, which target specific pathogens. It is the continued production of antibodies that helps to determine how effective a vaccine is at conferring long-term protection.

The good news, according to the researchers, is that the COVID-19 vaccines already in circulation are approximately 95% effective. Even so, these psychological and behavioral factors can lengthen the amount of time it takes to develop immunity and can shorten the duration of immunity.

“The thing that excites me is that some of these factors are modifiable,” said Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, director of the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at The Ohio State University and senior author on the paper. “It’s possible to do some simple things to maximize the vaccine’s initial effectiveness.”

Based on prior research, one strategy the researchers suggest is to engage in vigorous exercise and get a good night’s sleep in the 24 hours before vaccination so that your immune system is operating at peak performance. This may help ensure that the best and strongest immune response happens as quickly as possible.

“Prior research suggests that psychological and behavioral interventions can improve vaccine responsiveness. Even shorter-term interventions can be effective,” said Madison. “Therefore, now is the time to identify those at risk for a poor immune response and intervene on these risk factors.”

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Lifestyle & Culture

How you should pack for a cross country move

Packing can take a long time, which is why this is a task you won’t want to put off. You shouldn’t try to pack everything you own up in just a few nights. Instead, you’ll want to tackle this job a little at a time. Start by packing non-essential items. Save the items that you regularly use until the last minute.

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Are you getting ready for a big move? If you’re packing up your things ahead of moving day, many tasks need to be taken care of. Thankfully, this advice will help you as you pack for a cross-country move. 

Start Packing As Soon As Possible 

Packing can take a long time, which is why this is a task you won’t want to put off. You shouldn’t try to pack everything you own up in just a few nights. Instead, you’ll want to tackle this job a little at a time. Start by packing non-essential items. Save the items that you regularly use until the last minute. 

If you give yourself more than enough time to pack, you won’t feel rushed. You’ll be able to take your time and make sure that everything is properly organized when you’re packing. Remember, this is a big task. Set a packing schedule so that you’ll have more than enough time to take care of everything. 

Look Into Hiring A Full-Service Moving Company 

If you feel overwhelmed by all of the packing you need to do, you should keep in mind that you don’t necessarily have to do all of it yourself. You also have the option of hiring a full-service cross country moving company that will be able to pack everything up for you. 

Hiring professional cross country moving companies to pack up your things is an especially great option if you’re working with a tight schedule or feel that you don’t have enough time to prepare for your move fully. You can trust your movers to take care of the packing. You’ll be able to focus on other tasks. 

Get Rid Of Items Before You Start Packing 

You likely have many things that you won’t need to bring with you when you move. That’s why it’s a good idea to go through your belongings and see what you can donate, give away, or sell ahead of your move. 

This is the perfect time to get rid of clothes that no longer fit or clear out toys that your kids don’t play with anymore. You’ll have limited space for your things when you move cross-country, and because of that, you’ll want to get rid of plenty of items before you pack. 

Label Every Box That You Pack 

You should be able to identify exactly what’s in each box that you pack. Once you’ve packed a box, you’ll want to make sure that the box is clearly labeled so that you know exactly what’s being stored there. 

Although it’s standard to use cardboard boxes when packing for moves, you may want to consider investing in clear plastic storage containers. When you use these kinds of boxes, you’ll be able to see everything that you’ve picked up at a glance. You can also reuse these boxes for storage once you’re settled in. 

Pack Heavy Items In Smaller Boxes 

When you’re packing up items like books, you should keep in mind that these boxes can become very heavy fairly quickly. That’s why it’s a good idea to stick to using smaller boxes when you’re picking up heavy things. 

If you stick to boxes on the smaller side, you won’t have to worry about the boxes becoming too heavy. You should use your largest boxes to pack up fairly lightweight items. The heaviest items you own should go in the smallest boxes that you have. 

Take A Suitcase 

You shouldn’t put all of your things into cardboard boxes. It’s a good idea for you to pack up some essential items in a suitcase. That way, you’ll be able to access these items before all of your things are unpacking. 

It’s especially important to take this step if you’re going to be stopping at a hotel as you travel to your new home. Your suitcase should include toiletries, a few changes of clothing, and other essential items, like first aid supplies.

Photograph Your Things 

Even if you’re cautious when you’re packing, some of your things may wind up missing. That’s why you’ll want to take plenty of pictures throughout the packing process. Before you seal up a box, take a picture of that box so that you’ll be able to see exactly what’s in there. 

Snapping these photographs will provide you with evidence if something is lost or damaged, and it will also help you find any things you are looking for. It only takes a few seconds, and it could save you a lot of trouble. 

Use The Right Packing Strategies 

If you just toss items into a box without any strategy, a lot of your things will likely wind up getting lost during your move. Beyond that, you might wind up with items that are damaged or even destroyed during the moving process. 

Always pack similar items together. When packing fragile items, you should take steps to protect those items from damage. You’ll also want to mark the box as fragile so that movers know they need to treat your box with care.  

Packing for a cross-country move can be a big project, but with a little bit of extra planning, you’ll be able to get through these challenges in one piece. Follow this advice so that you’ll be able to stay organized as you pack up for your upcoming move.

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Lifestyle & Culture

Are you ready to start thinking about a baby?

Before you commit to this decision it’s important to think about whether the two of you are ready. That’s not always an easy question to answer however there are signs that you can begin to move forward with this new chapter.

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You might be interested in starting a family with your partner. However, before you commit to this decision it’s important to think about whether the two of you are ready. That’s not always an easy question to answer however there are signs that you can begin to move forward with this new chapter. 

IMAGE SOURCE: PEXELS.COM

You’re Both Stable 

First, you need to make sure that you are both stable in your lives. Think about your career and your profession. You should ideally both be earning a solid income where it’s unlikely that either one of you will experience redundancy in the future. While there are no guarantees, there are always signs that your career is stable. You might also want to think about setting up a side hustle to make sure that you have an extra cushion of cash to fall back on whenever you need to. 

Of course, it’s not just your career that needs to be stable. You need to think about your health – both mental and physical – and your lifestyle. Don’t forget, these are things that will be taken into consideration if you are planning to adopt. So, they should be considered when you are thinking about conceiving naturally too. 

You Both Want One 

As crazy as it sounds many couples do end up having a baby because one individual wants one rather than both. The other will often just go along with the idea because they don’t want the relationship to end. That’s why it’s important to have an open and honest relationship with your partner. It’s possible that there are things that are stopping them from seriously considering children. They might even be questioning whether it’s possible for them. If they’ve tried before with someone else, then this fear is always going to be present. However, there are options like advancedfertility.com to explore if that is indeed the case. 

You don’t Argue All The Time 

Finally, many people believe that couples shouldn’t argue and that’s not true. You need to have the occasional argument otherwise issues are going to simply lie dormant underneath the surface. This will lead to a massive blowout and the last thing that you want is to bring a child into an environment with a lot of friction. 

If you do find that you are arguing quite a lot in your relationship, then you should think about something like couple’s counseling. This can help you get back on the right track with your partner and ensure that things don’t continue to get worse. It can help you deal with some of the deeper issues that might be plaguing your relationship and causing you problems right now.  You can learn more about couples counseling on bark.com

We hope this helps you understand some of the signs that you could be ready to start thinking about having a baby with your partner. Remember, while this can be a big step forward, there are plenty of avenues and resources you can explore to help here and ensure that you do approach this the right way.

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Lifestyle & Culture

Can you earn extra money while getting SSDI benefits?

If you’re permanently disabled, you’ll likely need to apply for SSDI or Social Security disability insurance benefits. As with seeking any type of government aid, this involves going through a qualification process.

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If you’re permanently disabled, you’ll likely need to apply for SSDI or Social Security disability insurance benefits. As with seeking any type of government aid, this involves going through a qualification process. 

Once you’re approved, you don’t want to do anything to disqualify you from receiving benefits, and this includes earning too much income in addition to your monthly benefits. An overview of this issue is described below to help you stay within the Social Security Department’s guidelines.

You Cannot Earn Substantial Gainful Activity

The SSDI benefits you’ll receive are intended to provide you with the income you would otherwise earn through performing work. For this reason, the Social Security Administration has established a limit on how much you can earn in addition to the benefits you receive each month. The precise number is evaluated year by year and, as of 2020, that limit was $1,260 a month. The only exception is that people who are classified as legally blind can earn up to $2,110 a month.

There is a trial period during which you can earn more than the substantial gainful activity allowance (or SGA) and still receive your benefits. The first nine months are considered a trial period to ensure you can maintain that level of income. 

In a month in which you earn less than the SGA limit, you will receive your full benefits for that 30-day period. This will continue for 36 more months after you complete the trial period. The extended eligibility period of 36 months is implemented to keep you entered in the system in the event that you have to return to full benefits status. This eliminates the need to have to renew your initial application.

How Are Benefits Calculated Against Income?

As a matter of protecting your financial interests, you should consult a social security disability lawyer before beginning any type of work. Generally, the first $85 you earn won’t be counted towards your earned income. After reaching that limit, half of every dollar you earn will be deducted from your total eligible benefits. 

For example, if you earned $1,000 in a 30-day period, the $85 allowance would be reduced, bringing your measured income down to $915. That amount would be divided by two to arrive at $457.50. For that month only, the benefits you receive would be reduced by $457.50 to adjust for your earned income.

What Are You Required To Report?

In order to remain compliant with the conditions for receiving benefits from the Social Security Administration, there are certain employment status changes that you must report. You will have to report the dates upon which you begin or stop a job, including any periods during which you’re suspended or laid off. 

You will also have to report any changes in your position, including the number of hours you work, the duties you perform, or the wages you’re paid. Any changes in these conditions can affect your benefits, so it’s important to keep the SSA updated. Finally, you should report any expenses you have suffered in relation to your disability. 

For example, if you have had to buy a custom wheelchair to allow you to perform your work-related duties, that expense should be documented and reported. You should check with your local SSA office for exact reporting timelines. Generally, reports should be filed between the 6th and 10th day of the following month, depending on the method of reporting.

If you are trying to navigate the complexities involved with filing for SSDI benefits, consulting an attorney can help. A lawyer who’s experienced in handling Social Security law can ensure you get all of the benefits to which you’re entitled. This may mean a significant difference that can help you enjoy a better quality of life.

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