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Self Care Mondays #12: Slow Down

We hear often the importance of slowing down and reducing the busyness of our daily lives. But how does one actually do that? Especially when our daily busy tasks seem so necessary. So when you don’t think you can move anything off your plate then a way to reduce the stress of the busyness and increase your self-care is to simply do these tasks   s l o w e r. 

Self-Care Mondays #12- Slow Down

Sounds crazy right? I thought so too. I’ve lived my life with the belief that doing things as fast as humanly possible frees up my time, time for self-care nonetheless. But as I’ve approached motherhood with this belief I have found that doing things hurriedly has not only robbed me of my enjoyment of the moment but has been a missed opportunity for self-care. Self-care while I am caring for my children. Relationships and interactions in and of themselves are self-care! They enhance our feelings of worthiness and belonging and fill our need for connection. So approaching our daily interactions and tasks in which we care for others with a slower pace helps enrich these experiences.

This epiphany, for me, came from learning more about the RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers) philosophy of parenting. Magda Gerber, the founder of RIE, stressed the importance of sitting back, slowing down, and simply observing our children. And now I have found that applying that philosophy to both my children and myself has given me a nourishment of my mind and spirit.

An example of this was when I was changing my daughters diaper the other day.  I told her as I was changing exactly what I was doing to prepare her and I slowly and deliberately thought about my tasks. It enhanced my connection with her as I caught her wide eyes and smiling face and looked at her. We started intensely at each other and I soaked in this connection. It filled my soul in that moment having that bond with my daughter.

My son was having a melt down about leaving the house and instead of putting his shoes on for him as he wailed and complained I simply looked at him. I held his eyes in mine and he reached for a hug. We held each other and I let go of getting to where we were going on time. In that moment we were deeply connected and I was calm.

I am finding that I am also trying to model it to my own children. My daughter was laying in her lounger and was wide awake. Usually I would see this and see a need for her to be stimulated, to be “doing something” with her time for her own development. But instead I sat back and watched her. She was opening and closing her hand. The sunlight was shining on it. And she was rubbing it against the mesh lining of the inside of her lounger. She was enjoying the moment herself, learning about the movement of her hand, the touch of the lining, the feeling of having the sunlight shine down upon you. So I put the toy down that I had picked up to put in her hands. I sat and marveled at her and in a way I was watching her grow before my eyes and allowing her to do it in the way she wanted and at her own pace.

I’ve started to deliberately move through the house at a slower pace. When I have a free moment and my mind is buzzing with what I should be accomplishing I focus on one task and do it slowly.

A part of me will always having racing thoughts and a quick moving mind. A part of who I am is a person who is active and wants to do so many things in this world and I embrace that. But doing these things at a slower pace lets me enjoy them more fully and appreciate the accomplishment rather than breezing by to the next course of action. And breathing in that moment when I am caring for someone, finishing something, or even washing a dish is a way I am saying to myself, “You are here in this moment, you are worthy to slow down and enjoy it, breath it in before it passes by.”

So in Magda’s own words let your mantra this week be, “Go slowly and with great patience.”

-Go slowly, and with great patience.-Magda Gerber

Inspiration

Heart, Perfected

PicsArt

Many people have been recently talking about Jimmy Kimmel’s recent monologue where he shared that his newborn son was born with a congenital heart defect and underwent surgery in his first few days of life. If you haven’t seen it I highly recommend it, its a very touching video showing the emotions of a scared and grateful father.

I pour a lot of my emotions into this blog, I try to be raw and reduce the stigma of struggling with emotional and mental health concerns as a mom. I try to break down the myth of a perfect mom or that motherhood is joy 24/7. I try to be real because I know that being real can help other mothers feel less alone. But for some reason I’ve been hesitant to share something here.

At our 20 week ultrasound my husband and I were told that our unborn daughter had a potential heart defect. I didn’t want to write about it because I was processing it still and there was so much uncertainty leading up to the birth about what was actually wrong with her. I couldn’t write about what I didn’t know and the only thing I could really talk about what the intense uncertainty we felt and how hard that was to deal with and every time I sat down to write I couldn’t process it into words it was this ball of intense anxiety and dread and I was almost so afraid that if I wrote it down it would become more permanent in some way. I talked to many family and friends about it so I didn’t keep it inside but most conversations huddled around what was going on, what did we know about her, what were the medical decisions that were going to be made by the doctors. Not many people truly asked how either myself or my husband were coping with all of it. But I understand that, its really hard to open that conversation with someone when you don’t know what to say or you can’t truly relate. In some ways I felt alone along with my husband but in others I was immensely supported.

Flash forward to my birth- my beautiful birth. A small bit of pitocin, an epidural (because thats my choice and my jam ;)) and about 10 pushes and she entered the world into a room filled with doctors and nurses. Luckily she didn’t have any signs of distress and I got to hold her for 15 minutes. It took me awhile to grieve before she was born that I wouldn’t have her in the room with me and that she would be in the NICU but in that moment as hard as it was to hand her over I did it gladly, knowing that we needed more information to make sure she was okay and if that meant a heartbreaking separation fromm her- so be it. Several days and tests later and she was diagnosed with a mild form of a very serious defect called Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome. A couple weeks later and another defect was confirmed, a very mild form of coarctation of the aorta. Very mild. Those two words couldn’t be more comforting. Before her mild was my preferred type of salsa and now its my preferred type of heart defect.

Her future is uncertain but as my sister in law reminded me- so is everyone’s. No one is safe from heart issues, cancer, accidents, anything. That would normally be so daunting of a statement to someone with anxiety issues like me but because I was so afraid of what would come in those first few days of life I find myself appreciating the moment so much more than ever. Today she doesn’t need surgery. Today she is breathing and nursing and kicking her legs and feet. Today is a gift.

I also received the gift of being a part of the heart parent community. I am so incredibly inspired by these parents who have been through so much and so much more than me. And when I’m overwhelmed about her future and what could happen that I can’t breath and tears are rolling down my cheeks I think of those parents and believe that whatever is on our path we are up for and we can manage because we are a strong family, we have so much support, and because those same heart parents will be rooting in our corner.

Our journey with our daughter has given me a profound gratitude for the present moment and how letting go of the anxiety over the future and the anguish about the past can truly be liberating. We can experience fully the moment even when the moment is difficult and this makes us so very alive. I don’t know what I believe about the meaning of life and our purpose here but I know when I am in the moment holding her, smelling her head, hearing her cries even that I am so very much here with her and the precious present.

My daughters heart defects have perfected my own heart in a way by giving me the grace of gratitude and the gift of living in the here and now.

Inspiration

Forgiving Myself

I have had enough. Today I am choosing to forgive myself.

 

Forgiving Myself

 

I’ve built quite the “bad mom” rap sheet these past couple of days.

I’ve been in a cycle of 3rd trimester pregnancy horomones, sleep deprivation, and burnout. I’ve yelled, been short and snippy, ignored and isolated, and made some over the top disciplinary decisions that were neither age appropriate for my son or fair. (My child development professor in grad school would not be happy with me.) I’ve been disconnected, not present, finding any way I could to escape the hum drum routines of the day that felt as if they were swallowing me whole.

I chose to stay stuck in this cycle because what I often do when I make mistakes is to enter into a tug of war with myself. The downside is no side wins, we just keep pulling at one another. On one side is this fierceness of holding on to my anger and stress as a right because I’m defensive about feeling this way. I spend the day thinking of all the reasons I have the right to feel this way, “I’ve gotten NOT time to myself lately!”, “This pregnancy has been hard!,” “I never get to put myself first!” These aren’t gracious self-talk statements, these are angry picket signs in my mind that fuel the anger and rage. They don’t come with solutions or hope, they just keep me angry. They keep me holding tightly to my negative cycle instead of realizing the most powerful thing I can do is let go.

On the other side of the rope is the self-loathing and negative thoughts… that I’m really an awful mother, a monster, a person not even capable of trying to change so I might as well just throw in the towel and succumb to the fact that I’m awful and my kid will be forever screwed up. What’s the point in changing? I can’t. So again, I’m holding tightly to this tug of war on both sides because I’m afraid I don’t have the strength and the power to just let go.

During nap times and when I get a minute to catch my breath I find myself using my old defense mechanisms-explaining it all away, minimizing it, procrastinating changing and telling myself that I will be better when __________ happens. These are lies with false hope, pretty little wrapped packages with nothing inside them. I procrastinate taking that next step in breaking the cycle, waiting for an external event to happen for things to get better.

It hit me today that the only way to stop this is to be vulnerable and be forgiven. And no one needs to forgive me more than myself. I will make amends to my son- make attempts to re-connect, correct my direction and be more confident when standing by his side. But the hard work is putting down the rope and walking away from the game. The hard work is looking myself in the mirror and saying – yep, you screwed up this week, things have been hard but you’re still amazing, you’re still what your son deserves, you still are exactly who you need to be. It’s putting the rope calmly on the ground and putting my hands in the air. I surrender to the game, I don’t need to win it, I need to leave it all behind. It doesn’t mean things will all of a sudden be easier. But with forgiveness comes a head that is looking straight ahead,  not looking down in shame. Because if I’m going to be my awesome self and get back to where I want to be I have to see where I’m going.

 

 

 

Inspiration

Bits of Apple and Letting Go

Bits of Apple

Bits of apple, sticky and sweet, are scattered across the coffee table.

I will wipe the table, again, even though I just wiped it five minutes ago.

No, I will wait.

bits-of-apple-and-letting-go

 

 

 

 

These are messes of motherhood that have been a strong thorn in my side not only because of the added labor but because of the symbolism that leads to so much anger within me. I know as a therapist that anger is often a feeling that is masking another. So I take a deep breath and take off the mask. What I am feeling? Out of control. 

My initial reaction is to take control. To rush to the table, start wiping it down, and exhaustively sigh in front of my son showing him my exasperation. But I know that although that brief interaction will not have much large of an impact on me will stick around in my son’s head and heart. An intention to play and explore connected to an annoyed and exasperated mother.  A sense that attempts to have fun and be creative brings about conflict and anger in the relationship that matters the most to him. And that just isn’t worth a clean table.

So I step back today and wait. I have to start to see these bits of apple differently because they happen every day and I cannot be feel out of control like this any longer.

I haven’t felt really in control since the day before I gave birth. Before I was able to keep order. I was able to make decisions with careful thought instead of feeling like I was always just reacing. I came and went as I pleased,  I gave of myself to the things I wanted to and I could count on my housework accomplishments lasting for more than a couple of minutes.

When under stress a fierce type-A personality emerges within me trying to make order and sense of things and fit things neatly into boxes. This goes there, that happened because of this, everything has a place and is right with the world. I can put it all back together. I can fix it.

But you can’t do that when you’re responsible for a human being. Human beings are beautiful, but very messy. So now my coping mechanism isn’t as effective because no matter how hard I try I simply cannot control it all. So I have to reframe my perspective and see this new life as beautifully messy.

I’m starting to believe that western ideals have started to butt heads with motherhood. In my generation women (and men) are raised to believe in individualism, quantitatively measurable achievement, freedom of choices, and adventure. We were raised to poster our lives in front of others for validation of our efforts. “Look at me, look what I’ve done, look where I’ve gone, I’m worthy now.” We believe we control our destiny and we are all destined for greatness.

So when we learn to expect greatness and connect it to our self-worth it’s hard to see it in a messy kitchen, poopy diapers, and a loss of willpower to shower or wear our hair down anymore. We start to feel that we are being controlled by a tiny human and it’s no wonder we feel disillusioned, lost, and chaotic.

But what if we embraced the chaos? What if we learned to love the hurricanes that come our way? What if we started to see the beauty in those bits of apple? What if we unlearned some of these ideals that we held so tightly to as young women and threw them out with the bathwater?

It’s going to be a journey. It’s going to take practice. But each time I take a deep breath and sit down instead of rising to rush in and control I am not only trying to accomplish a better outlook and mood I am teaching my son some new ideals. Sometimes you need to let the universe happen to you. Sometimes not controlling is the most control you have. Sometimes you need to sit with a mess and embrace it for it’s beauty before it’s time to clean it up.

So I look hard at what these bits of apple really mean. A little boy’s attempts to cut it up with a plastic knife because he wants to be like mommy and daddy. A little boy’s security that he can freely explore and create and won’t be punished or yelled at by his mother. A mother’s willingness to let go and enjoy the moment in order discard her anger in a healthier way, even if it’s just for this minute.

It’s time to leave for our nature playgroup. Today we will jump in muddy puddles. I don’t have the proper wet gear or even rain boots. Anxiety creeps in about the mess that will happen and how I’ll handle it all. I take a deep breath. I look at the bits of apple on the table and decide to leave them there. “Let it go,” I say to myself, “it’s not a burden anymore.”

 

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Self-Care Mondays #12: Make a Self-Care Plan

One of the most important tenets of self-care for me is that self-care is a prevention tool. This means that engaging in self-care practices can prevent stress, becoming overwhelmed, having emotional breakdowns, coming into negative head space, or disillusionment. The most important thing however, is that self-care is used in a way to prevent first, then treat. This means that self-care is engaged in a routine and daily fashion not just relied upon when stress takes over. So engage in creating your own self-care plan in order to make sure you’re maintaining emotional health instead of just remedying it when it starts to falter. Here are some tips:

make-a-self-care-plan

 

  1. Creating a self-care plan can be done in the way that best suits your personality. If you’re a little type A and need some structure to your day make sure you write in (WITH PEN) your daily self-care practices or rituals. If you’re more type-B don’t worry about having a set plan for each day but pay attention to the rhythm and flow and stay mindful of the best times to utilize for self-care. Either way make a commitment to at least a 10-15 minute self-care ritual each day. You may have to test and trial times and spaces that work for you based on your schedule. You may think that you’ll wake up an hour early each day and then keep hitting the snooze button- then its time to change what time is best for your self-care ritual.
  2. Each morning  take some time to think mindfully about which practice would most benefit you during your self-care time. This is important because we can easily fall into doing something that is mindless or not as impactful during self-care time. “Me time” is different than “self-care time.” Self-care time is mindful and focused on doing something to enhance your emotional and/or physical wellbeing. “Me time” is giving in to whatever desires you have for yourself and maybe even indulging- there is nothing wrong with this. However, self-care time is more planful and intentional and a NECESSITY, not a luxury. I have watched so many nap times come and go where I didn’t feel any more nurtured or rested because I sat in front of the TV or on the internet for 2 hours and that wasn’t refreshing for me. That “me time” wasn’t working for me so I had to devote the first half hour to mindful self-care and then I could turn on the tube.
  3. Keep a list of self-care practices readily available. Sometimes it can be daunting to even sit down and think about what we want to do for ourselves. Having a list of self-care rituals at hand can be helpful to select what is best for ourselves that day. Breaking self-care rituals into different categories that address our needs can also be helpful. Feeling a little in need of more social time? Have a list of self-care rituals that help address loneliness or disconnection such as writing an email to an old friend, scheduling a coffee date with another mom, or Skyping with your cousin who lives overseas.

Here are some examples of self-care rituals from various aspects of human need. You can ask yourself what area you feel you have the most need in and select a practice from that category.

Spiritual– Read from a religious text or spiritual book, pray, reflect, or meditate, journal, educate yourself on a spiritual subject you’ve wanted to learn more about

 Emotional– write in a gratitude journal, write a letter to yourself talking about your strengths, open up and ask for support from a friend, engage in healthy coping skills, read a self-help book, journal, engage in some form of creative expression through writing, art, dance, or music

Physical- exercise, yoga, sensory rituals that heal such as hot baths, aromatherapy, schedule a massage

 Social – write an email to an old friend, go a new group or social event and meet new people, engage in an online support group, schedule time out with friends, schedule a date night or private time with your partner, call a friend or family member just to catch up

Intellectual– read the news, read a book, engage in a hobby or start a new hobby, make a list of goals, join a group based on your interests

 

Take 5 minutes today or tomorrow to engage in making a self-care plan and stick to it no matter what. Making this a daily ritual can have an amazing impact on maintaining good emotional health.

 

Self Care

Self Care Mondays #11: Rebel!

September brings about this freshness and renewal for personal growth. With children returning to school we are reminded of the goals we want to achieve and start organizing ourselves to strive towards them.

This can be a great thing… unless you have a tendency towards perfection. If you’re anything like me writing down lists and making big plans gives you a “high” that is most often followed by a “low” when you realize you’ll never get it all done. We set our expectations high and we place so many hopes on that sense of accomplishment that can never come because its just impossible to achieve.

I’ll never plan every meal a week ahead of time or make dinner every night. My husband does way more of the cooking than I and yet I find myself each Sunday convincing myself that I’ll take on the meals because I “should.” Why am I trying so hard to strive to be something that I’m just naturally not?

So I’ve decided this week I’m going to do the exact opposite of setting my sights high and choosing to strive towards perfect stay at home motherhood or at least the societal expectation I put upon myself.

In short- I’m going to rebel.

Self Care Mondays #11- Rebel On, Mamas

 

 

Rebelling is something we often relate to our teenage years. We may look back at ourselves and roll our eyes at the ways we rebelled now but in that moment the rebellion was essential to our development. Rebelling is a key way to affirm your identity and assert your values whether or not they are part of the establishment. It’s a way of saying, “I’m making these choices for me and not for what I feel society expects.” It’s liberating, it’s freeing, it’s so damn important.

In a way being a mom sometimes feels like those junior high days where you feel you have to do so much to fit in. Only instead  of liking N’Sync and wearing Doc Martens its  feeding your children organic vegetables and knowing everything there is to know about the latest parenting book. Societal expectations and attitudes prey upon the vulnerable, those that are insecure about who they are and that quite perfectly sums up how I’ve felt the past 2 years. Well mamas, its time for a rebellion.

To be honest my actions might not change that much in my rebellion. I set my sights high to cook each week and then they usually don’t pan out anyways. I make cook no more or less than I usually do. However, its my attitude towards how much I cook that will change. I’m not cooking because I feel I should. I’ll cook because  I want to. Now I may cook because there’s a tasty recipe I’ve found or because I want my son to eat more veggies or because I want to do something nice to my husband. But I refuse to cook because I feel that it somehow makes me a better mom in the eyes of society. That attitude I will firmly rebel against.

I’ll take more time for myself this week and ask for it clearly. I’m rebelling against the expectation that moms must be martyrs.

I’ll go with the flow and stop feeling disappointed if I don’t have a firm schedule for my 2 year old. I’m rebelling against the expectation that moms must be in control at all times.

I’ll communicate with my son the way that feels loving and naturally to me. I won’t obsess over saying “good job”too much or worry that anytime I get short with him I’ve done permanent and irreversible damage to his self esteem (I will however, apologize to him). I’m rebelling against the expectation that there is only one right way to parent.

Again, I may go about my week in a similar fashion as always but the way I perceive these actions will change. Instead of rebelling against my sense of self I’m going to rebel against the societal attitudes that I’ve let seep into my life.

So find some small ways to rebel this week. Start to follow your choices and actions based on what you truly want and feels is best regardless of the attitudes out there that say otherwise. Rebel on mamas.

 

 

 

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The Other Side

 

The Other Side

 

 

I was in a dark place this last week.

It was dark outside. It was dark inside my mind. I was not me.

I allowed myself to stay in this dark place for quite awhile. I allowed the sleep deprivation to keep me under water. Instead of fighting to thrive I just decided to survive.

Some days as moms we talk about how it is just about getting through the day. But when that becomes every day for a period of time it starts to feel like a dark place. You don’t want to just survive. You want to live, to experience happiness, accomplishment, connection, and fulfilment.

And then this morning I took a brief walk. It was just 5 minutes around my city block while I listened to music but the air felt fresher, my eyes stayed forward instead of looking down, there was a bounce in my step. And it hit me- I had reached the other side.

It’s hard to remember when we are in our dark place that the other side exists. That is is waiting for us. Sometimes it’s up to us to get there and sometimes life circumstances brings it to us. But it is there. Sometimes it gets hard, really hard to find it or wait for it to come. But it’s always out there somewhere.

It’s the place where our best self exists. It’s the place where we feel more whole. The sun shines in our mind. We see all that is before us and are grateful. We see a beautiful self in the mirror and not the monster that was there before.

I write to remember this moment, that refreshing moment of entering the other side. I write so that I remember that it exists if I leave it and am in a dark place again.

I will not get this past week back. I can not take away my mistakes. I can not erase the irritability, the coldness that I spread to my son because he was the only one there to take it. It hurts when I think about it. But its something else I need to remember. I am capable of allowing myself to be less than I am when I’m in dark place. I must be gentle with myself and then others, I must assert my needs, I must ask for help.

So I’ll hopefully be on the other side for awhile. The dark side will start to slowly pull me back. My self-awareness is my best weapon. My belief that I am worthy of always being on this side can help keep me here longer. And if I do get pulled back to the dark side my memory of the other side can hopefully keep my stay there shorter and the strength and motivation to get back to it stronger.