Self Care

Self-Care Mondays #1o: Let Time Be on Your Side

(I apologize for my absence lately! Between heading back to the US for a visit with family and getting Mentoring 4 Moms started things have  been busy!)

Self-Care Mondays #10- Let Time Be On Your Side

This week my husband and I got some disappointing news. It wasn’t anything very serious but I was pretty upset initially. I didn’t want to be around anyone or talk about it. I was angry, upset, sad, and anxious. I felt like taking it out on others and got myself pretty worked up. But then I decided to take a step back and remember that time has so much power. I knew deep down that time would help me cope with these emotions, see the situation from different perspectives, and heal in my own way. Wanting to hold onto those feelings would only lead me to more frustration. I decided to focus on other things and come back to the situation later when I felt more in control. In a couple days I started seeing things from a different perspective and feel much better about our situation now.

In the moment we can feel so overwhelmed with various emotions- anxiety, sadness, anger, frustration. It leads to us to want to act impulsively- by yelling, taking it out on others, acting before thinking things through. But if we can remember that time will help us and that giving ourselves time to ride the roller coaster or emotions or ride the wave of those strong feelings we can remember that eventually the wave will die down, the roller coaster will come back down and we can be more settled and in control of how we think and respond to situation. Unfortunately we can’t run away from a wave or get off the roller coaster before it goes over that hill….we just have to wait it out.

Take time with your feelings and model this for your children as well. One tool I often would tell parents to use when they felt that initial anger with their children is to tell their child “I’m feeling pretty upset right now. I need some time to calm down. When I am calm we can talk about this and figure out what’s next.” In that message you are also communicating to your child that we should allow ourselves time to deal with feelings before reacting to them, an essential life skill for childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.

When you feel the wave come crashing down upon you find a mantra that’s helpful like “this will pass” or “time will heal.” Take a deep breath and let it flow.That’s the great thin about feelings- they don’t last forever.

So next time you’re overwhelmed with a feeling decide to ride the wave and wait it out. Let time do it’s thing and help you heal. When the wave dies down you can then figure out what to do next because you’ve got the control back.

 

 

 

Inspiration

The Mom Who Won’t Stop

In the movement of encouraging moms to realize that they are enough and they do enough I believe myself to be an advocate. I’m tired of all the competition and the pettiness among moms. Whether you stay at home or work you’re accomplishing something. Whether or not you decide to join the PTA doesn’t indicate who you are as mom or establish you as a “better” member of the community. But…

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explo (1)

 

 

….sometimes I feel like a hypocrite speaking out to moms about this because even though I try to believe I am enough I can never seem to stop. Stop signing up for things. Stop making plans. Stop finding projects. Stop thinking I always need to do more.

I’ve always been the person who signs up for everything. I like my hand to be in many pots at the same time.  A lot of the times I spread myself too thin. Even my past employee evaluations would note that at times I can “bite off more than she can chew.” Sometimes I  come across as the overachiever. While sometimes my overextension habits have lead me to a nervous breakdown or two they have also brought me out of really dark times. And I would be lying if I didn’t say that some of the the time I’m getting involved in too many things for not the right reasons- to please others, to be admired, to increase my self-worth because of the recognition and not because it just made me feel good. But I’ve also come to realize that I’m just that person who can’t stop because I like the pace of a thousand miles per hour. When motherhood came along I went to snail’s pace in life. I wasn’t working and wasn’t sure what to do with my energy. So I started looking for and creating as many opportunities as I could to exert my energy.  In the 2 years since my son was born I started my own parent’s meetup group, ran support groups for new moms, worked a part time job, started a blog, moved across the world, and started an  online mentoring program for moms. I join as many moms groups as I can. I reach out to other moms new to the city I live in now. I find as many programs that my son and I can attend together as I can.

Some might think it’s a problem to be this way. To not be able to slow down and just be present.  I get that and I know that’s something I need to work on. I try to work on the balance while also respecting what is just genuinely me.

But I can’t stop. I won’t stop.

I’ll probably be the mom in the PTA, a den mom in Boy Scouts, managing moms groups and playdates left and right. But please don’t peg me as “that mom.” Because I’m not
“that mom.” I don’t try to control, or judge, or look better than other moms. I just really like connecting to people, giving back, and most importantly, getting this nervous energy out of me. If you’ve got work/life balance down pat or prefer the quieter life I totally respect you. In fact, I’m a little jealous.

I think a lot. I say a lot. I do a lot. But here’s the thing. It’s not to show you up. It’s not to believe I’m better. It’s because I can’t stop. I won’t stop. See I have this belief that looms over me every single day and it says “You’ve only got so much time” So yea I think a lot, I say a lot, I do a lot. But it’s only because I’ve got this one life and I want to say I said a lot, I gave a lot, and I lived a lot.

So I tread on striving to believe that I am enough even if I stop. But I can’t stop. I won’t stop. Because I’ve got so much to do.

Self Care

Self-Care Mondays #9: Enjoy the Sound of Silence

I’ve always been a person with a mind that races at a million miles a minute. It’s hard for me to stop the plethora of ideas and worries and to-do list items from popping into my mind that motivate me to take immediate action and do something. I put pressure on myself to do something all the time. The thoughts continue to race all the way up to me closing my eyes and I realize that I never get to experience the quiet mind.

 

Self-Care Mondays 9- Enjoy the Sound of Silence

 

And even if you’re not like me we live lives that are full of input. Requests from our children, noise from TV and cell phones, information from articles and Facebook groups, opinions of our families and friends, demands from our daily to-do lists and jobs. Everything’s coming in and if we never have time to sit and sort it out in the silence we can easily feel defeated and overwhelmed.

Silence is not something to always be filled but our society and culture seems to make us believe that. Many people I meet say they feel awkward when there is silence in a conversation. I utilized silence in my therapy sessions with clients often. If they became uncomfortable I encouraged them to take a deep breath and sit with their thoughts before continuing or before I would have my reply. It’s perfectly okay to say to anyone in your life, “Do you mind if it’s quiet for a second, I need some time to think.” This is a profound tool you can use with your children when it comes to discipline. Often if we feel pressure to make a decision and act in the moment we don’t have time to organize our thoughts and feelings and can act rashly or in ways we didn’t intend to.

Silence in itself can be a gift. It’s a gift that is full of time to sit with our thoughts, be with them, and sort through them without having to get up and do something. But we have to do to the work to first create the opportunity for it and then let it be.

So for this post I let myself sit in silence for 5 minutes. Initially I tried to work on mindfulness techniques which I will elaborate on in next week’s post but found myself just wanting to focus on being comfortable with the silence and stillness instead of focusing on my thoughts. You have to be comfortable with the silence and the stillness before you can work on how to really be mindful and meditate. I let myself organize my thoughts and sit with ideas. The one thing I wouldn’t allow myself to do it get up and take action. I had to wait and sit still until those 5 minutes were over. For people like me, this is really really hard. But I was able to form a better action plan for the day, take some time to be gentle with myself about previous judgments, and be inspired for the remainder of the day. I sorted with all that input and feel that things are filed away where they should and I can truly focus on the moment.

So try sitting in silence for 5 minutes each day. Take notice of your thoughts and instincts within those 5 minutes. What did you learn about yourself and your thoughts that you may have not if you were doing something else?

 

 

Self Care

Self-Care Mondays #8: Hey Mama-What Do You Stand For?

I remember in college having a sign I hung in my room that said, “If you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything.” I was a passionate girl in college and in many ways I still am. I was ready to fight for what I thought was right and attended various protests for issues I believe in throughout my 4 years there.

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I’m not sure that moms who don’t stand for something will fall for anything but I do think that if a mom loses touch with her values it’s very easy to fall for our negative thoughts and judgements we place on ourselves. Our personal values are what keep us grounded and focus. They are the platform that keeps us standing on our own two feet and when we lose touch with them things can get shaky.

Personal values come from many places: our upbringing, our environments, our culture, our relationships, past experiences, and our own unique personalities. They are our compasses to help direct our decisions and behaviors. Sometimes when we feel lost or having difficulties we can fall back on our values to guide us. When we feel disheartned about our direction in life our values can be the light at the end of the tunnel. When we feel discouraged by our choices or the way things are going we can again rely on our values to center and ground us.

Reflect on your values inside and outside of motherhood. If you need some examples here is a list:

Fun                             Wealth                     Achievement                  Education                  Faith

Creativity                 Fairness                  Compassion                     Generosity                Adventure

Family                       Community            Health                                Loyalty                     Love

Empathy                  Discipline                 Honesty                           Hard Work             Happiness

Freedom                 Practicality               Exploration                     Patriotism              Balance

Simplicity               Success                    Growth                               Security                 Leadership

Independence          Grace                      Intelligence                        Beauty                   Service

 

For  your self-care exercise this week write down your top 10 values and then circle your top 3. Ask yourself these questions:

How are you living by your values? In what ways is it difficult to stick to these values?

How do you show your children and close family and friends that these values are important to you?

Do you make decisions everyday based on these values? Do you allow values of less importance take over? Which ones?

Write down 2 things you can do this week to show your commitment to these values.

So mama, what do you stand for? What are you about as a person, woman, and mom? If a value is mportant to you then try to find ways this week to make it priority. Let this be your roadmap to your decisions inside and outside of motherhood. Stand on that platform of strength and proud of who you are and what you’re about. You’ll be a guiding light for yourself and your children.

Inspiration

What I Gained When Breastfeeding Didn’t Work Out

It has taken me a while to get to this place, the place where I can look back at the first major challenge I experienced as a mom and start to feel a sense of healing and gratitude. It wasn’t always like this. I want other moms to know that if they read this and it’s really hard for them to absorb it. I read many articles and blogs telling me it was “okay” and I didn’t feel it was “okay” until I was ready. You can’t rush the process of learning or healing.

What I Gained When Breastfeeding Didn't Work Out

 

I allowed my challenges with breastfeeding to hold a shadow over my first year as a mother. After my son didn’t gain any weight 30 days after birth I followed doctors orders and gave him his first bottle of formula at his pediatrician visit. I will never forget how quickly he gulped it down and I was horrified at the thought of how hungry he had spent his first month of life. But I was determined to keep trying and thought that maybe I would get back to exclusively breastfeeding.I spent a lot of time obsessively tracking ounces of breastmilk, taking upwards of 20 herbal supplements a day, spending the majority of my waking minutes pumping, and researching myself into confusion to try to make things work. At 6 months when I realized I spent so much time pumping and feeling stressed for my son to get maybe 2 ounces of breastmilk a day I finally let go. As difficult as it was emotionally for me to give up I know that I became a more present and less anxious mother that day.

Throughout my breastfeeding challenges  I allowed myself to feel that I had failed even though looking back now, I had really prevailed. On the other side of that darkness was a new light for me. I learned the valuable lesson that my goals as a parent aren’t always about me and my vision of parenting but what is best for my son. Sometimes those things are one in the same and sometimes they are different. Giving up breastfeeding was one of the first sacrifices I have made as a mother and now I am proud of it.

Parenting isn’t always about what I think is best for my child? That is a really tough pill to swallow. I have idealized versions of how I will raise my son and what kind of person he will become. But the truth is sometimes what I want won’t work out or won’t be what’s best for him.  And I can say now with humility because sometimes I don’t even always know what’s best for my son. My love for him is profound and our connection is deep but that doesn’t transcend being able to control everything that happens or always having the right answers.

When we become parents we are on the constant search for security that we are doing the right thing by our children. This starts with nourishing them the “right” way  and connecting with them the “right” way and morphs into reacting the “right” way to their behaviors or providing them with the “right” resources for their growth. But there are no guarantees that any way is truly the “right” way. So we get ideas and philosophies stuck in our head because that’s what we feel is best and then we get tunnel vision. ‘This is the way I have to parent. Anything else is failure. ‘

At some point during the many hours of pumping I spent and the tears I shed when those bottles contained so little I took a step back. I asked myself a question. Am I trying to force this to work because it is the right thing to do in this situation or because it will make me feel better? I realized my fight for breastfeeding was starting to become more about giving me a sense of security that I was a good mother rather than really being passionate about breastfeeding my son.

We have signed up for a lifetime of the discomfort of uncertainty as parents. For the vast majority of our decisions we cannot truly know if the result we want will be achieved. We are shooting darts blindfolded. We use our values or philosophies as a compass. That’s why we have them in the first place, to guide our decisions. But sometimes when we become so attached to those values or philosophies they can mislead us. We cling to them because they are giving us direction but sometimes you have to find a new path in the darkness because the compass isn’t working. This isn’t because our values are “wrong” but because due to the various circumstances of life they aren’t right for this particular situation.

I think about my own relationship with my parents and the ways I’ve strayed from what they wanted for me: a Ph.D, staying with the religion I was raised with, choosing a career that was more lucrative or respected. Sometimes I’m hurt that I perhaps disappointed them but then realize those choices were about me and couldn’t be about them. And I know that they understand that.

Looking back I realize the fight I fought for breastfeeding was more about how attached I was what breastfeeding said about me as a mom than believing it was the “right” way to feed my son. I’m not trying to diminish the importance of breastfeeding here. Rather, I am trying to point out that sometimes we get so passionate about parenting decisions that we fight through struggles that sometimes we don’t always need to fight.  In the beginning of my struggles I refused to adapt. My thinking was guided by “this has to work out or it obviously means the alternative was failure.” How very wrong I was and how very judgmental I was towards myself. Today it’s much easier for me to believe that formula feeding is a great option and doesn’t reflect poorly on me or any other mother. The only regret I have is the happiness and pride I refused to allow myself to experience in the act of giving up those philosophies to do what was best for my son. I remember feeling disappointment and sadness when I gave him his first bottle of formula at the doctor. But I am proud of that today.

So I move on in my parenting journey finding more philosophies and values that speak to me but always remembering that important lesson. Sometimes the direction these values take me won’t be the right path for my son. Sometimes I’ll need to find a different path than what I intended. Love and understanding what is best for him is now my main compass. It takes immense strength to truly put our children above our own values, to realize that what we want for them doesn’t always equal what’s best for them. But love is full of beautiful sacrifices.

Maternal Mental Health

Recovery and Resilience

For the last installment of my Maternal Mental Health series I’m discussing the recovery and resiliency factors of maternal mental health.

Recovery and Resiliency and Maternal Mental Health

Recovery

Healing is a process and therefore recovery from maternal mental health issues is a process as well. Unlike some medical illnesses its not as if mental health issues are simply cured and never return. For some of us symptoms will return here and there. The challenge is recognizing what we can handle on our own after treatment and when its time to ask for help again.

It’s normal to experience some initial relief in treatment from the serious symptoms you were experiencing. Once you seek help it can feel as if a weight has been lifted off your shoulders. Many people attend one or two therapy sessions and already feel “a lot better” so they stop attending. However, it is very normal for there to be slumps after you intially feel better so its important to stick with whatever treatment that is working for you to maintain your recovery for at least several months depending on your presentation of symptoms and struggles.

As a therapist one indicator I often relied on to show me if someone was maintaining recovery was being able to show resilience in the face of challenges and stressors. Sometimes when a stressor ends or is removed from our lives we feel better and thus think that all is well.  But when a new stressor comes up or the old stressor returns our symptoms and struggles can return as well. What we are seeking during recovery is our ability to bounce back from challenges without falling apart because of the new perspectives we’ve gained, skills we’ve learned, or stabilization we’ve achieved from medication.

After you’ve gone through some bumps in the road to your recovery and have managed them in more a healthy way you are starting to then work towards recovering your confidence in yourself as a mom and in life. You may start to take on more responsibilities and get yourself out more. Just remember to prioritize self-care and take things slow. Sometimes we can get ahead of ourselves and take on too much when we feel great and then start to get overwhelmed.

Another part of the recovery process is grieving. You may grieve time you have felt you lost with your child due to your mental health struggles. This is very normal. Many moms say this is one of the most difficult parts of recovery because it is accepting the past and learning to let go of it. It is okay to feel and experience this grief and talk about it. Try to write or talk with someone about it as you work through it while also remembering how far you’ve come and how you are different now.

A powerful tool during your recovery process can be sharing your story with others. It takes careful deliberation to figure out when and how to share it and if you are emotionally ready for that process. If you’ve been following my blog you may have noticed that last week I did not have a story from a real mom with maternal mental health struggles as planned. That is because the person who I had asked to write her story contacted me saying she had thought about it further and decided that she wasn’t ready as she was still struggling with some things. This was such a brave thing for this mom to do and I praised her for it because it takes a lot of self-awareness and strength to realize when you’re not in a place that you thought you were and need some more time. Take some time to think before you decide when you’re ready to tell your story. You can share your story a variety of ways during your recovery. I would advise to first share with those closest to you that have earned your trust and respect enough to hear your story. After you felt you have shared and processed with those closest to you, you can then begin to share in other ways like submitting to a blog or online support group. Your personal experiences are special and should be guarded carefully.

Resiliency

Other than the standard definition of resiliency which is the ability to recover from adversity Dictionary.com refers to resiliency as-

“the power or ability to return to the original form, position, etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched”

I absolutely love this definition because it’s a great metaphor for maternal mental health struggles. We are resilient and powerful when we are able to come back from being bent or sometimes even broken. Maternal mental health can bend and break us in signficant ways. We can be compressed and flattened to a shred of ourselves by feelings of depression, anxiety, shame, and anger. Motherhood sometimes stretches us to beyond what we feel capable of. Only I would challenge one part of the definition in terms of the resiliency I am referring to –“to the original form.” You won’t be your “original” self but you will be re-defined in a powerful way. Whether or not you had maternal mental health struggles motherhood can not return you to your original form. You have been changed by this experience and in some ways for the absolute better.

Here are some resiliency factors you can hone in on to continue to be resilient when it comes to maternal mental health struggles and even just the daily struggles of motherhood:

  1. Flexibility and Letting Go of Perfectionism – Life is grey and not black and white no matter how much we want it to be. When we let go of imperfections and learn to accept uncertainty we truly liberate ourselves from a losing battle of “never good enough.” So instead of focusing on being “better” or giving more all the time learn when to say “good enough” and “I’m worthy just as I am.” When it comes to flexibility I think this post from late great Dr. Wayne Dyer sums it up perfectly. He talks of the ability of trees to be flexible with the wind because if they didn’t -they would break.
  2. Support System– I discussed this last week in ways to build your village but I can’t stress enough the importance of making sure your support network is strong and diverse. Make sure there are people to go to in various situations that are physically and emotionally available to you. Strengthen those relationships by keeping in contact and lending your support to them as well. These people are your lifeline.
  3. Enjoy the Moment- The most beautiful moments of motherhood for me are when I am fully present for my son. When I am not thinking of the mistake I made earlier this morning or the stress I feel about what I have to do later. Take a deep breath. Look around you and just enjoy this moment. Try not to let those negative thoughts rob you of more time than they have already. And if you feel you can’t ignore or refute them then think about asking for help.
  4. Speak Your Truth- Remember how hard it was to admit you needed help and asked for it? How did that work out? How amazing are you for doing that? Remember that great life lesson from speaking your truth and asking for what you need. If it helped you the first time doing that over and over again will not only get you more comfortable with asking but also get you the support and encouragement you need and deserve to lift you up in times of need.

 

Stay strong Mamas, you got this and we got you.

I hope you found this series on Maternal Mental Health informative and helpful. I’d love to hear your feedback at fullmotherhood@gmail.com.