Values & Value-Driven Behavior

What matters to you? What makes you tick? What brings light, joy, and purpose to your life? Do you even know? Do you really know? Often, we may have a general idea of what makes us happy, but few of us have spent time doing the deep work of identifying our core values. This task isn’t always easy, either! Sometimes, the things that we think should make us happy just well, don’t. And that’s okay! Finding your values isn’t about identifying what you think should make you happy. It’s about looking deep within and choosing the things that really DO make you happy.

For example, when I first began to explore my values, some of them were easy to identify. Things like Family, Helping Others, and Creativity bubbled up quickly to the top of my mind. I knew this wasn’t it though. It took a little more work for me to discover the rest of what floats my boat. However, once I did, my battle against OCD began to change. All of a sudden, I had ways to fight back. Rather than feeling helpless in the face of intrusive thoughts and obsessive thinking, I had positive things to turn to. Not just things I liked, not just things I was good at. Once I identified my values, I could access things that set my soul on fire.

So, because I want your toolbox to be as beefed up as mine, I’ve created three worksheets to help you:

  1. Identify Your Top Five Values
  2. Identify 15 Value-Driven Behaviors
  3. Create An Emergency Agenda of Value-Driven Behaviors

I hope you’ll take some time to work through them and I hope you will find this work as rewarding as I have.

I’m leaving this post pretty light because I want you to explore the worksheets more than anything else! That is where the work is, and that is where you’re going to find the good stuff!  So, print them off, grab a beverage, find your favorite pen and do some soul work. You are worth it.

Happy Value Hunting,

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Highest Potential

Hi. I want to talk about bodies. Wait. That probably doesn’t sound so good…

Let me try again.

I want to talk about my body.

I am a former distance runner who ran 35 miles a week when I got pregnant with my first baby. I even ran a half marathon during that pregnancy. I was a beast. I was strong. I felt awesome.

Unfortunately, as a result of pregnancy and delivery, I had symphysis pubic dysfunction, diastasis recti, as well as pretty extensive damage to my pelvic floor after my son was born. It wasn’t until Silas was almost two years old that I finally received a diagnosis for my pelvic floor problems. By then the dysfunction was so bad that I could not fully empty my bladder and was constantly carrying around about 100cc of urine (They can measure that. Weird right?)

When I got pregnant again, everything got worse.

Two rounds and three years of pelvic physical therapy later and I am doing a lot better, though I may never be “normal” again.

Cut to about a month ago, I’ve been hinting at some physical problems, but haven’t yet wanted to discuss things until I had a diagnosis and could better wrap my head around things. Thankfully, it isn’t anything serious, but it is chronic. About a month ago I was diagnosed with Palindromic Rheumatism after months of fatigue, joint pain and a million doc visits (which are incredibly hard for me thanks to Health OCD). The pain is part of what sent me into an episode. It’s part of why I got so bad that I ended up in a Behavioral Health hospital. Not because I experienced the pain and symptoms, but because I was not equipped to manage my mental health alongside them. Things are different now. Part of what I learned in the partial hospitalization program that I attended is how to understand the way my brain deals with health issues, and how to normalize the anxiety that often accompanies health concerns. I’m going to be talking a lot more about this in the coming weeks, as I’m excited and inspired by the way my brain is habituating to some of the positive mental health practices that I have learned.

So, the last month has been a bit of a relief, because walking around with all these symptoms and not knowing the why was more than a little unnerving. I started a nerve blocking medication which has helped tremendously in managing the pain and also the fatigue because I am finally getting restful sleep again! I’m learning about Palindromic Rheumatism, but only from my doctor because I’m still not allowed to Google health stuff and probably never will again, which is fine by me. I’ve learned (again) how important restorative sleep is to my mental well-being and have enjoyed thoroughly the radiant feeling that returns when my body is getting the rest that it needs. I’ve learned that if I over-indulge, I will not only have a wicked, I’m-not-in-my-twenties-anymore hangover, but I will also probably have a rheumatic flare! Even more reason to enjoy my craft beer in moderation. 🙂

Yesterday, I pulled some Affirmators and Soul’s Journey cards to serve as prompts for journaling and had an enormous ah-ha moment.

I have a shit relationship with my body.

I have resented it. I have told my husband that it is “broken.” My language around my body and its functioning is always negative. As a result, I FEEL bad about my body. I feel afraid about my health. I am riding around in this thing all day, scared of every twinge and twitch.

What would happen if I began to treat my body with the love, gratitude, and compassion that it deserves? What if I stopped being disappointed that it isn’t the way it used to be and instead helped it discover its NEW potential?

Today, I start working with a personal trainer. We will be doing mostly strength training with an additional two days of cardio per week. She knows about all my physical “nuances”, and she is undaunted. She is excited to help me find my new strong. She believes in this Me, not the distance runner version.

I may never be a distance runner again. That doesn’t mean that I peaked and now it’s downhill from here. It means that my highest potential has shifted to somewhere else, to some other point on the map. It’s about recognizing that my highest potential is just as fluid as my capabilities and strengths and as such, I am always equipped to find and meet it.

I don’t care about being skinny. This new endeavor isn’t about looks. It is about changing the relationship I have with my body (starting with the way I think and talk about it). It is about feeling strong and vital again. Most of all, this is about showing my body that I believe in it. It’s about reverence for what we have been through together, this beautiful body and I.

It’s about saying thank you.

It’s about self-love.

 

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Words of Wisdom

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I have been working on several posts lately, but rather than publish one of those; I have been called to share the following with you all. In the program that I completed earlier this year, part of our graduation was to share our “Words of Wisdom” with people still in the program. Below are the words that I shared, and while they are not my best writing, they are some of the most raw and vulnerable.  I hope that they might help those of you who are struggling or affirm those of you in recovery.

I want to start by saying thank you, from the deepest part of my soul, to my case manager, Kristen and the entire staff here for your help along these last several weeks. March 10th I was non-functioning, thinking about suicide and checking in upstairs because I recognized how bad things were. Just a little over a month later, I’m getting ice cream with my family and planting in my garden. I owe that 180-degree transformation to you, Kristen. Without your perfect combination of compassion and challenge, I would not be here. Thank you.

I know some of you, though many of you I did not have the pleasure of getting to know, and so hearing “advice” from a stranger might seem a little odd. By way of introduction, I’ll say that the last six weeks or so have been some of the hardest of my life. And you’ll just have to trust me when I say that that is saying something. I am no stranger to hardship. So, with my journey in mind, I have just a few thoughts to share, which I hope will help you as you continue to walk this path to better mental health.

The first is this – As is so often said around here, Stop Shoulding All Over The Place. I have struggled profoundly with this. I should be happier, I should not feel so afraid, I should enjoy things more, I should feel a certain way, I should wake up at a certain time, on and on and on. “Shoulds” are a net that you weave around yourself, and I am getting better at recognizing when I am entangling myself. Release yourself from the expectations of your should statements.

The next thing I’d like for you to consider is that we are all here for the same reason, though the paths we walk may look different. That said, the reason that we are here isn’t perhaps what you think it is. It isn’t because we want to get better. Obviously, that’s part of it, but at the root of wanting to get better is believing that you can. Even more important, it’s believing that you are worth getting better. Even on your darkest days, even when you feel terrible, even when your battle with anxiety has you filled to the brim with guilt, shame, disappointment, and doubt; somewhere deep inside you, buried in the very foundation of your Self, is the belief that you are worth getting better. Otherwise, you would not be here.  I want to affirm that which you may so often deny or question – You are worth getting better.

Knowing that you are worth getting better is important, but it isn’t everything.  There’s another piece to this. You see, I think we carry with us a bag, let’s pretend for now that it’s a garbage bag. One of those thick ones with the fake scent, meant to mask the horrid smell of waste so that your fish bones smell like lilacs. I think we go through life and we collect things to put in that bag. Personally, I have collected the abandonment of a parent, divorce, sexual assault, betrayal, postpartum mental illness, the death of my daughter, grief, pain, self-doubt and fear. Most of all, I have collected fear. Burdened, I have carried around this bag for many years, collecting the most putrid of my life experiences, and stuffing them inside, hoping the artificial fragrance will make them seem less awful. Less powerful.

However, something I have learned during my time here is the importance of this bag. You see, it doesn’t have to be a garbage bag, and it certainly doesn’t have to be scented. We hear the term “baggage”, and we think of it as something negative. But we are the sum of our life experiences. More accurately, we are the sum of how we REACT to our life experiences. We are the sum of how and what we collect.

Monday is my 32nd birthday, and I have decided it is high time to trade in my garbage bag for one of those clear tote bags. A really big one. I’m going to need it to be big, because I’m going to be putting in more than just my garbage, moving forward. I’m going to need to reach back 32 years, because there are a lot of things in my life, past and present, that I want to carry around with me. My supportive husband, my hilarious and kind children, my work as a writer and storyteller. My parents. Hiking. My garden. My dog. My community work with mothers. I have realized that my life is so much bigger than the bag of garbage experiences and fears that I have been carrying around. And I want to show it off, most especially to myself. It doesn’t mean that the negative experiences won’t be there, too. It doesn’t mean that the fear will be gone. But they’ll keep company with the joy and love and gratitude that round out who I truly am.

The last six weeks of my life were some of the hardest because that garbage bag, simultaneously stinking and nauseatingly fragranced, had finally begun to weigh me down. I began to believe that my worth was defined by these things which I carried around with me, and I was not carrying the right things.

So, if there is one bit of advice that I can share with you as I leave, it is this – We are no more or no less worthy than we choose to believe that we are. Your life will be defined by the things that you choose to carry with you and the way in which you carry them. If you lug around only the parts of your story which are rotten and painful, they will stink up the place and take over. However, if you fill your vessel with the breadth of your life’s experience, the good and the not so good, I think you will find that you are so much more than you ever knew yourself to be.

Having baggage isn’t the problem. The problem is carrying the wrong stuff.

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… is this thing still on?

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I’ve started this post or attempted to, seven eight times.

I just haven’t been able to find the right words to begin again. Which is why this space, so crucial to my self-care, has gone silent. I’ve decided to stop trying to find the right words, and instead to write this with the wrong words, if that’s what they are. Any words would be preferable to none at all. Words are what I do. Writing, speaking, storytelling; these things unlock something inside me. They open the pathways that flow from my brain to my heart to my… I don’t know, spleen. The point is, I need to write. Even if what I’m writing is garbage. This is particularly important as I have recently gone through a difficult time in my life. Writing helps me process. It may be the only way that I process. Maybe I should just text with my therapist…

So here we are, after many months of silence. I’m back, baby. …Probably.

I was going to catch you up via a neat, little chronological timeline of posts, but every time I think about doing that, I want to throw my computer out a window and just sit in my garden instead… so something tells me that’s not the way this is going to go. I’m going to catch you up, because sharing my narrative has always been something I’m passionate about doing, in hopes that it will help others to feel less alone. I just might not be sharing it in a pretty, chronological fashion. Cool? Cool.

I guess I’ll start with the elephant in the room.

2017 has been an asshole.

I started 2017 locked in an obsessive episode, and though I thought I was doing better, by mid-March, I was worse than ever. Worse than I have ever been, in fact. I wasn’t exactly suicidal. I struggle with health OCD (aka hypochondria) and have some pretty serious fears about death, so I’m the opposite of a harm risk. However, I was spent. I was not functioning. The best way I know to describe it is like this- on Monday, I was nervous about things that probably weren’t going to happen. On Tuesday, I was calling my mom every couple of hours to tell her how nervous I was about things that probably weren’t going to happen, like how I might have cancer or a heart attack in my sleep. On Wednesday, I was calling my mom and my husband every couple of hours from work to tell them how I was nervous about things that probably weren’t going to happen, like how I might have cancer, a heart attack in my sleep, and also the fact that I felt like there might be some numbness in my feet and hands and legs and so I was checking them every 15 minutes or so to see if they felt numb. I cried to my husband that I hadn’t gotten any work done yet, and it was lunch time, because all I could do was check to see if my extremities were numb and then Google diseases online. On Thursday, I was researching in-patient facilities. On Friday, I checked into one.

I just couldn’t find the strength or tools to fight what felt like an OCD steamroller, moving slowly over my life. It flattened me, and I was terrified.

I should say that I have never before been hospitalized for mental health issues. This was new and scary, and despite my work in the mental health community, despite my beliefs about stigma-smashing, this felt shameful. I felt like I had failed somehow. And I guess, truthfully, I did fail. The thing that I have come to realize is that failure isn’t a disqualification. It doesn’t mean you can’t get back up and try again. It isn’t a stamp you wear on your forehead or a label that defines you for life. It’s a moment, it passes, and you take from it what you can.

Out of this particular failure, I have learned some of the most significant mental health lessons of my life. I am more equipped than I have ever been to maintain good mental health. I am more in tune with my brain. I know where it gets tripped up, and I know the things that help to get it back on track.

That’s what I’m hoping the next several posts will be about in this space. I want to talk about where I struggled and what has helped me get out of that place. I want to share what works for me. I want to process it all, in hopes of understanding it better myself.

So, expect to see me back here on a (hopefully) regular basis.

Lastly, I want to send out a massive, heartfelt beam of gratitude to those of you who reached out while I was struggling. Many of you noticed the silence and sent me personal emails and Facebook messages, and I just cannot tell you enough how much that blew my mind and bolstered my spirit. Community is a lifeline when we are in trouble, and I’m so thankful to have this one. ❤

I’ve got several posts on which I am working. I’m not sure which one will be finished next (I write what I’m moved to write, when I’m moved to write it), but be on the lookout for posts about – my stay in in-patient, program lessons, value-driven behavior, and more!

See you soon!

All my love,

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Through the Door and Down the Hall

I’m not really sure when the thoughts began, or the headache either, for that matter. All I know is that by January 3rd, 2017 I had an appointment with my primary care doctor, because I was convinced that the headache, which had been lingering for a few days, was symptomatic of a brain tumor. I just knew it, and I had already been revolving the idea in my brain for days.

Zero to sixty, I know. The best way I can describe my experience with health related Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is like opening a door which leads to a hallway and feeling as if the only way to go is forward. When I stand at the threshold of an obsessive episode, it never seems possible to simply step back and close the door.

After examining me, my excellent doctor did her best to reassure me that I was not in danger. She is infinitely patient with me, and this is not the first time she has had cause to show it. I left her office with a prescription for a medicine commonly used to treat migraines. A condition which I have never had with any sort of regularity in the past.

That. Right there.

Do you see what I did? ” A condition which I have never had with any sort of regularity in the past.” That, my friends, is OCD talking. It seeks to disprove anything a doctor tells me, and it told me exactly those words when I left my doctor’s office on January 3rd, clutching my prescription like it was some sort of holy text.

OCD whispered to me- You’ve never had a migraine like this before. This is different. This is something else. You know it. You can feel it in your gut. Trust your instincts.

I listened. I walked through the door and down the hall. And I spiraled.

By Thursday, January 5th, just two days later, I was lying in an MRI tube receiving a brain scan from a very kind technician who asked me to tell him a band I liked (I said The Head and The Heart) and played it loudly in the room, in an attempt to drown out the panic-inducing sound of the MRI machine whirring around my head.

How, you might ask, was I able to get an MRI when my doctor clearly did not think it necessary?

OCD. That’s how.

OCD, in some ways, is like a super power. It affords me razor sharp focus. When OCD decides that something needs to be done, I will exhaust an alarming amount of physical and mental energy to make it possible. I made phone calls. I researched. I put pressure on people. I hounded doctors and insurance, nurses and imagining centers. I was relentless. This super power, however, comes at a cost. When the OCD focus is on, everything else is off. My children, my husband, my hobbies, my friends, my family, my passions, my home, my dog, my job, my writing, my life. OCD brushes it all to the side, in pursuit of the object I am obsessing over.

The only silver lining to this entire situation was that, by the time I was pursing an MRI, I knew it was OCD. In between seeing my doctor and getting the scan, I saw my therapist. I have not yet perhaps conveyed how, during this entire episode, I was distraught. I didn’t worry that I had a brain tumor. I knew I had a brain tumor, and I reacted accordingly. Panicking,  I was crying more often than I was not, and even though I was legitimately terrified for my life, I also recognized the likelihood that this entire situation was being driven by my mental illness. My therapist agreed, and we worked hard to stop the episode in its tracks, but we both recognized a raging inferno when we saw one, and our little buckets of water were simply not cutting it.

So, I made her a promise. I would get the MRI, because I didn’t know how to say no to the OCD which commanded it, but afterwards I would check myself in to my local behavioral hospital for evaluation. I did this knowing that there was a chance I would be admitted, because I knew that I was in far too deep and alarmingly over my head. I have never been so controlled by OCD as I was that first week of 2017.

I kept my word to my therapist, and immediately after leaving the imaging center, before even receiving the results of my MRI (all normal, in case you were wondering), I drove directly to my local behavioral health hospital.

I am fortunate, in that my local hospital has an excellent Behavioral Health facility, with a nationally recognized Anxiety and OCD Program. They have an intake evaluation process which determines an approximate diagnosis and plan of action. I was referred by the intake eval for a Partial Hospitalization Program, but elected to participate in the Intensive Outpatient Program instead. The IOP only met from M-Th weekly and since my eval was on a Thursday evening, I did not begin the program until the following week.

To be continued…

I’ll be back next week to pick up where we left off, with the beginning of the IOP.

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Forward

The last few days have rocked the Maternal Mental Health community. The dissolution of Postpartum Progress came as a shock, even to many of us who were calling for change. I’m not going to get into the story behind what happened. If you do not already know, it is all there, mostly in public forums of Facebook, for you to piece together.

That said, I want to make sure my position on the matter is clear.

I stand with people of color. I stand behind them when they say they have been harmed. I stand behind them when they tell me what they need, and I add the volume of my voice to their own. I am learning every day about the ways in which my own whiteness,  privilege and utilization of systems of oppression, even when done so unintentionally, harms people of color. I am learning because I am listening and researching and being curious. We are not perfect. I am certainly not perfect, but if I screw up the roof when I’m building a house, I fix the roof… not burn the whole thing down.

It was not my house, though.

So, now we are here and the best thing we can do is look forward. Many of us used PPI as our primary resource, both in our own battles with PPMDs and in the support we offered to people who crossed our paths. As I understand it, the blog and resources online will remain. The online peer support forum Facebook groups are being retained, but will be re-named/re-branded. Really, the community under the PPI name is what has been dissolved.

What I want you to know, more than anything, is this-

WE are not going anywhere.

WE, the advocates, the survivors, the volunteers, the fighters, WE are still here. WE are more than our formal affiliations. WE are more than a name, a brand, an umbrella. WE were here before PPI and WE are going no where.

I am still here for you, Mamas. I am still a resource, a source of support, an advocate, a safe place. I am still loving on you and cheering for you. Do not flee back into the darkness simply because an organization is bowing out. The light is still here, and we are all still in it.

I have been working hard the last few days to determine where to align my work and volunteerism so that it can best support you and the Mamas who haven’t found us yet. Several of us, who met through PPI, have been putting our heads together on this. We are working while we grieve. We are working hard.

On a personal level, I am ramping up my live storytelling. Many of you first connected with me through that space, and so, as I sit here thinking about how I can be of service to a community who now feels abandoned, I hear that call once again. I will tell you when/where as shows are scheduled. My plan is to get back on stage as soon and as frequently as possible in order to continue the stigma smashing, encouragement giving and community creating work that I love. A work which I do best by standing in front of a room full of strangers, baring my soul and giving them space to say, “Me Too.”

WE are going to be just fine.

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December Reflections, Day 19 – Something I Love

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Shortly after we lost Clara, a dear friend gifted me with Affirmators! Cards. These positive cards are PERFECT for people like me, who enjoy prompt-driven self-reflection but whose anxiety disorders make the usual Tarot deck a little scarier than I feel the practice is worth.

On this past Saturday, I went for a CT scan, ordered by my ENT, so that he can look at my sinuses to determine what has been causing some intermittent ear pain for the last several months. He is suspecting Eustachian tube dysfunction or TMJ, but my symptoms make it difficult to tell which, so he hopes a CT scan will shed some light on things for us. I had been relatively calm about the whole thing, until I set foot into the imaging center on Saturday morning.

This same imaging center is where we found out that Clara was a girl. This same imaging center is the one which alerted my doctor to the fact that something seemed amiss with my darling daughter. It occurred to me, as I lay back on the CT scan table, that the last time one of my doctors received results from this place, it was the beginning of a nightmare. Results from this particular imaging center heralded some of the hardest, most painful days of my life.

My scan was relatively uneventful. The tech was friendly, if reserved and as I was heading out she mentioned to me that the doctor would have my results on Monday. I told her that my follow up appointment would not be until Friday. She said that if something was found that needed to be seen more urgently than that, she had no doubt my doctor would call me. This is probably a very routine and reasonable comment to make, but it immediately set my anxiety tingling. That coupled with my personal history with this imaging center, and it did not take long for my OCD and anxiety to wrap their tentacles around what was turning out to be a very triggering morning. As I drove home from the imaging center, my arms began to tingle. As I entered my house, my chest began to feel tight. I indicated to my husband that, while the scan went without incident, I was beginning to spiral into that familiar territory of fear.

I spent the weekend wresting intrusive thoughts. Doing my best to not follow through the horror filled doors that they incessantly opened for me. I CBTed myself. I CBTed HARD. I weighed the rationality behind my fears, I considered the statistical likelihood of something being seriously wrong. I reminded myself that just because I have been through something rare and tragic, I am not a magnet for such things. In fact, subscribing to the lightening doesn’t strike twice theory, I’m LESS likely to experience something rare and tragic, now that I’ve already been through one such strike.

Finally, today, recognizing the heavy way in which my past experience was directing my current emotional state, I contacted my therapist, who blessedly squeezed me in. I have learned, through doing EMDR with my therapist, to identify when I am connecting my trauma to something generally unrelated or innocuous. I may not always identify it, but today, it was very clear that my fear about what will come from the sinus CT scan was being directly influenced by having received tragic news from a completely unrelated imaging test in the past.

My therapist fit me in and we went straight for EMDR.

During the session, in addition to processing my feelings about that I found myself feeling a lot of negative emotions about myself. At one point I referred to myself as a “stupid little girl” who should have known better than to expect for things to work out well with my pregnancy (yeah, grief does some pretty crazy things to you). I realized that I was holding a lot of anger towards myself that was completely unwarranted. I was, in some ways, blaming myself for having been through tragedy with Clara, and angry with myself for not being able to get control of my mental health now. In short, I was beating up on me.

I came home feeling tired and raw, which is normal for an EMDR session. And, determined to get through the next 3 days of waiting, I went to my Affirmator Cards to find something to focus on. I always shuffle and pull cards at random, and as I flipped over the Beauty card, I grinned. It’s the second time in only 3 weeks that I have pulled this card. Both times after shuffling thoroughly, and both times when going through periods of self doubt and/or melancholy. Clearly a lesson is being gently pushed my way.

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In my case, I don’t read this card as having anything to do with physical beauty. Instead, I’m focusing on the beauty of who I am. Mental illness included. I’m not perfect. I have good days and bad days. I have personality strengths, as well as weaknesses. I have flaws and faults. I have skills and merits. I have happy moments in my past, and sad ones, too. All of this adds up to a life that is rich in experience and beautiful for the variance it displays.

I’m going to do my best to focus on that for the next few days. Or maybe I’ll pull a new card each day this week, and dedicate each day to contemplating a new affirmation.

Needless to say, the Affirmators! cards are something I have very much loved this year, and definitely recommend to anyone some prompts for their self-care or self-reflection.

Not to mention that they’d make an AWESOME stocking stuffer!

Sending love to you all,

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**Full disclosure: I am an Amazon Associate and the links in this post are affiliate links. HOWEVER, I would never recommend a product to you that I have not used myself and which I do not totally love.