Self Care

Self-Care Mondays #13: Go Ahead and Vent

We know with research that venting frustrations can sometimes backfire and only amp up resentments and bitterness. And although at times this is true there is also a lot of benefits to venting if done in the right way and for the right reasons. Venting frustrations can be a self-care ritual when done carefully and framed correctly.

Self-Care Mondays #13- Go Ahead and Vent

Venting is a release of our frustrations usually through conversation with another person. Usually releases of our frustrations can be a really positive thing as we all know keeping things bottle up can really lead to unhealthy choices, negative thinking cycles, and blowing up later.

 

So when you’re in need of a venting go ahead but think a few things first before you open the floodgates:

  1. Only vent to those that have earned the right to hear it. Putting our our feelings and insecurities can open ourselves for risks from people that don’t have our best interest at heart. It is important you only vent to those you fully trust and have earned your trust through past experiences like keeping confidence, showing nonjudgment and respect, or engaging in reciprocal vulnerability by sharing their own feelings with you.
  2. Search for validation from validating people. I know when I seek validation in my frustrations my husband isn’t the best candidate. This isn’t to say he is insensitive. Rather his approach to conversations about issues always revolves around finding the solution. Minimal processing and getting right to how to fix things is his MO. This is probably why he is such a great manager but sometimes it creates a feeling within me that my feelings about a situation are trivial and that doesn’t help me process what I’m experiencing or learn something about myself or a relationship with the process. Sometimes there isn’t something to be fixed and needing to process and let the feelings be for a little while before figuring a fix can be beneficial. So when I search for validation I find my close friends that have validated me before and seek their support.
  3. Seek to learn something about yourself or someone else. Venting for the sake of venting may make us feel better for a little bit but it most likely won’t have a long impact on those simmering emotions. When we vent for a purpose to come away feeling that we are understanding our perspective of a situation better by processing it with someone or by asking for a confidante to offer feedback we are learning from the situation rather than just dumping our feelings out. Always ask yourself after venting, “What have I learned? How will this knowledge impact me in the future?”
  4. If you don’t feel lighter after venting then its time to step back. If you don’t feel lighter or less emotional after venting then you could have yourself in a spiral of overanalyzing or insecurity about your feelings and/or past or future actions for the given situation. Venting can case a deep spiral where we become so wrapped up in our feelings about a situation things become fuzzy and we can’t find our way out. It’s best during these times to distract ourselves with something else, take a step back, and return to thinking about the situation or talking it through when our emotions are less intense.
  5. Be open to new perspectives. The great thing about venting sometimes is a unbiased third party can help you think of your situation and reactions from a different angle. If we don’t feel secure in our own feelings we can often become defensive and unwilling to see new perspectives when people offer them. So if a friend tries to get you to look at things from a different angle be prepared not to take it personally or misinterpret their response as invalidating your feelings.
  6. Be prepared for acceptance. Sometimes there are no answers to our vented frustrations. Sometimes bad things happen and there isn’t anything anyone can say to help you fix things. I’m resentful my daughter was born with heart defects and I can vent about that til the cows come home but it won’t change her heart. So remember that at the end  of our venting sometimes needs to come with realizing that things are the way they are and that after venting we have to start opening ourselves up to the acceptance of our situations. It’s a long process and not one to be rushed but holding on to those frustrations won’t serve us well either.

So go ahead, find someone you trust and let it fly, but be mindful, tread carefully and find purpose and wisdom in your thoughts and feelings. Happy venting 🙂

Inspiration

Wide Open

“Looks great. It’s wide open.”
Those were the words the cardiologist used to describe my 2 month old daugter’s aorta after open heart surgery. It was said with a beautiful relief. Something was as it should be. And we could breathe again.

It also described exactly how I have felt throughout parenthood and even more so in these last few months. I felt as if I was in out in the wide open with a foreboding sense of how vulnerable I am to attack. It became apparent to me since I heard the words “narrow aorta” at my 20 week ultrasound that what matters to me most in this world, my children, are with me in this wide open. They are vulnerable to illness, accidents, and harm. I can try to shelter them but nothing can fully protect them -not all the information, not all the right decisions, and in the end things may harm them and there is nothing I can do to stop it.

 

During the time my daughter was being assessed and prepared for surgery many people told me how strong I was acting. But I didnt feel strong. I put up some thick walls, I shifted myself into survival gear and I tried my best to navigate each day without falling apart. But I wasn’t feeling, I wasn’t experiencing, I shut down and closed up. I felt the need to protect myself. It wasn’t until I stepped out of that wheelchair and carefully placed my baby girl into the arms of the anesthesiologist that I realized there are no walls that can contain the strength of my love for my children. The doctor asked me to say goodbye and give her a kiss and she looked up at me with her wide eyes. Then the walls came crashing down and I turned towards the wall in the lobby as we waited for the elevators and sobbed. It was when I broke these walls down that I felt more capable of really being there for my daughter. I still cried when they put her feeding tube in after many attempts to get her to eat. I cried as I crawled into her hospital bed next to her when she was in pain that first night. I cried but I felt strong. I felt that I was truly with her and for the first time during the whole experience I didn’t want to run and hide.

Parenting is jumping into the deep end of the vulnerability pool. It puts you in the crossfire of insecurity, fear, judgment, and the ability to lose something you love even more than yourself. It’s gambling with everything you have but also knowing that if you lost it there would be no regrets. This wide open feeling, as scary and breathtaking as it can be, also comes with a feeling of being free, being whole, and truly understanding love. Even when it comes with a numbing fear or immense pain when something bad does happen it is all worth it ten times over. Each smile, laugh, milestone, hug and kiss is worth more in its weight than this fear.

But with this vulnerability comes a freedom only if we embrace it. We are free to love more deeply instead of distancing ourselves for protection. We are free to live more fully if we try to see the beauty in the hard times. At the end of the day this wide open love is there and can heal the deepest of our wounds with our connection to these beautiful creatures that are an extension of ourselves, biologically or not. We can learn to embrace all moments even the ones where we are in the waiting room waiting for the call from the surgical nurse, the ones when our patience is tested by their tantrums, the ones where they’ve come clean about a big mistake, and especially the ones where they are scared and need to know we are there. This wide open love allows us to say what every child deserves to hear, “this is hard, I’m scared too, but I’m not going anywhere.”

So here I am in the wide open trying not to put a shelter around me despite how vulnerable I feel, trying to open myself fully to the intensity of this love for these tiny humans, trying to lean into fear with courage because it only signifies he depths of my love. Parental love is like a wide open aorta, allowing the fullness of the human experience to course through us, to make us breathe, function, and thrive.
I love my children. And this love is scary, and beautiful and risky and fulfilling. And it’s just as it should be, wide open.

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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.