Stop Shoulding All Over The Place

Often, practicing good mental health means breaking a series of bad mental health habits. Whether it’s identifying cognitive distortions, practicing mindfulness, or learning to sit with anxiety without acting, what you are really doing is exchanging bad habits for good ones. Like all bad habits, each of us has our own personal “faves”. In other words, we each have our unique bad habits that are particularly hard to break.

For me, it’s “Shoulding”.

Last Spring I spent the longest weekend of my life in an inpatient behavioral health facility after a particularly bad OCD spiral. Upon discharge, I entered into a partial-hospitalization program designed specifically for OCD. I attended the program from 9am-3pm every day for almost two months. My case manager was also my primary therapist in the program. In a relatively short period, she pretty much had me entirely figured out. It was rather impressive. What’s more, is that once she had my number, she didn’t let me away with anything. That is precisely the type of therapist with whom I excel. I cannot be coddled. My mental health requires tough love. My current, post-program therapist is the same way, and I am doing excellent work with her, as well.

ANYWAYS, back to my case manager. One of the things she loved to say was to tell people to “Stop shoulding all over the place”. You see, when we are struggling with our mental health, or indeed with any number of problems, psychological or otherwise, we are almost always comparing our current circumstances to another set that we think we should have.

For example, let’s say you are struggling with a bout of depression. You wake up in the morning and feel off, despondent, hopeless, etc., and you become distraught or frustrated at realizing that this is how you feel.

Why? Why are you distraught about it? It’s because you are shoulding all over the place. You recognize the way that you feel, and you are subconsciously telling yourself that you should feel differently. “I have a wonderful family, so I should feel happy.” “It’s a beautiful day, so I should want to go outside.” Whatever it is that you are feeling, you are not allowing yourself to be with it, because you are always comparing it to how you think you should feel.

Let yourself off the hook. Sure, maybe you should feel a different way, but you don’t. So, release yourself from the added pressure of telling yourself that your feelings are wrong, or invalid.

I’m not saying to wallow or give up. Far from it. If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you will know that I am a proponent of Value-Driven Behavior. That is, I believe that no matter how you feel, it is best to continue to do the things that matter to you. The post before this one is a comprehensive look at Value-Driven Behavior, complete with worksheets to help you both identify what truly matters to you and some actions that you can take to move in the direction of those values. I encourage you to take a look and to do the worksheets, because it isn’t always as cut and dry as one might think and having the insights sorted through ahead of time can make a rough mental health patch much easier to navigate.

What I am telling you to do is to simply allow yourself to be exactly where you are. In my own experience, releasing myself from the expectation of how I should feel was like clearing the path for me to be able to feel that way.

The expectation itself was the barrier.

So, I simply said “This is how I feel today, and that’s okay. I will allow for that, and continue to move in the direction of my values (ie: engage in behaviors that aligned with my personal values), regardless of how I feel or how I want to feel.” I stopped worrying about how I was feeling. I stopped telling myself that I should feel differently.

You know what happened? Over time, I started to feel better. That’s what happens when you stop shoulding all over the place and just focus on moving in the direction of your values. Values are your life-blood. They are the things that bring you joy and contentment, which is why I say it is so important to identify your values and some value-driven actions if you ever want to have truly good mental health.

Something that is important to note is that values are more than just things that make you happy. They are deeper than that. Values are the things that give your life meaning and purpose. They are the things for which you live. Earl Grey tea and biscuits make me happy, but they don’t give my life meaning. They are not part of my value system. I might have some Earl Grey tea and biscuits on a bad mental health day, but I’m not going to expect them to change things much.

All that said, these last couple of months I have had more bad days that I would like in regards to my mental health. I’m not in a particularly bad space, but I’m becoming increasingly aware of a need to reinforce some of the good habits that I’ve perhaps let fall by the wayside as my mental well-being stabilized. This morning, I woke up and didn’t feel the way I wanted to, mentally or physically. I have had some physical discomforts which are the fuel of choice for my health-related OCD. As I moved through my morning, becoming increasingly aware of the way my mind and body felt, I noticed that familiar slip into frustration at the circumstances. Thankfully, I heard my old case-manager in my mind, calling me out and telling me to “Stop shoulding all over the place!”

So today, I acknowledge precisely the way that I do feel, right at this moment. I choose to see it from a place of non-judgment. This feeling is neither right or wrong. It just is. Each time I catch myself judging how I feel, or telling myself that I should feel differently, I will course-correct (and believe me, this will happen over and over). Lastly, no matter how I am feeling, I will spend each day moving in the direction of my values.

I’m going to stop shoulding all over the place.

I encourage you to do the same.

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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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Ode To The Thomas Train I Stepped On Last Night

pexels-photo-85599Of all the things we anthropomorphize, you might be most iconic.
Of all the toys I step on nightly, your injuries, most chronic.

Lacquered in a shade of blue, matched perfectly to the sky,
You seem to jump out, underfoot, for grown-ups passing by.

Why can’t it be a cuddly toy, or blankie in my path?
Instead, I trip on only you. Have I incurred your wrath?

I begin to think it’s all a plot, schemed up on skeevy Sodor.
I’ve always felt Sir Topham Hatt gives off malicious odor.

First, they slandered Lego; quite destroyed their reputation.
Those bricks can’t catch a break from all the painful condemnation.

But Legos are not the enemy, you must trust me when I say,
These attacks upon your soles create confusion and delay.

While you coral those colored bricks, to keep from nightly tripping,
They steam their way into your path to begin their fretful nipping.

Because, if parents, far and wide, were incapable of walking,
Those wily locomotives could expand their steamy flocking.

They’d leave Sodor upon Bulstrode, his hull the shade of rubies.
Bulstrode is a grumpy barge, for all you Thomas newbies.

Braving sea and storms, they’d come ashore, and build tracks from here to there.
No foot would find it safe to walk, any time or anywhere.

And so my little wooden friend, your face as grey as smoke,
While you delight my little boy, I know what your grin cloaks.

Your evil is not welcome here, and I beseech your name!
RETURN, and take that Percy with you,
Back to Sodor, from whence you came.

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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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The Gift of Protest

This Saturday, January 21st, I will join hundreds of thousands of women marching all over the country in protest of our soon-to-be president, Donald Trump.

Like everyone else, I have my own reasons for marching.

It is interesting that the march should fall on the date that it does, because January 21st has very special meaning to me. January 21 was Clara’s due date. Of course, babies can be born many days before or after their due date, but since Clara was not born, I have come to think of January 21st as her birthday.

This year, on January 21st, my daughter would be one year old.

My daughter who died.

My wonderful daughter who died because she was diagnosed with a lethal fetal anomaly.

My loved and wanted daughter who died because her diagnosis gave us only two options:

Birth her and watch her die

-or-

Undergo a medical procedure known as abortion in order to end the pregnancy (and pain).

We chose the medical procedure.

Trump’s campaign, administration and mere presence in the public spotlight is a threat to women.

Just the other day a man who holds political office, claimed he was “inspired by Trump” and sexually assaulted a woman, grabbing her by the vagina and telling her no one would believe her. Fortunately for the victim, the assault was caught on surveillance video.

Trump, and everything he stands for, is a threat to the rights and well-being of women.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE.

Trump, and everything he stands for, is a threat to many more than just women. He and his cronies are a threat to people of color, to immigrants, to the LGBTQ community, to our economy, our national security, our healthcare, our rights… you get the idea.

I’m marching on Saturday because Donald Trump is

NOT

MY

PRESIDENT

I do not acknowledge him. I do not hold an ounce of respect for the office while he is in it.

I will resist.

I march because if Donald Trump and his cronies had their way, I would have been forced into a healthcare situation that not only held dangers for me, but which could easily be classified as cruel and unusual punishment.

I march because I will not go quietly back to “when America was great”.

I march because I, the daughter of lesbians, will fight for the right to love.

I march because I have educated myself on our country’s history, I am listening to people of color and I will resist, with my dying breath, the politics and employment of white supremacy that continues to degrade, defile and dispatch the lives of black people.

I march for her.

For Clara.

Happy Day, my darling girl.

Mommy loves you so, so much.

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What We Keep In The Corners

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Tonight my oldest son and my husband went to the Bull’s game, so I did what any person with an ill-formed sense of judgment would do, and took my four-year-old to Chuck E Cheese’s.

In all seriousness, we had a lovely time. I watched Silas kick a much older child’s ass at a snowmobile racing game. The older boy spent the first half of the race taunting my sweet-hearted 4-year-old… and the second half of the game chewing through his bottom lip as my angel formed the older child’s taunts into a laser beam of drive and ambition with which he would calmly destroy all that the older child had ever held dear.

When he emerged, victorious, he simply looked at his nemesis the older child, pure innocence beaming from his little aura, and said “Fanks! That was fun!

Oh yes, he is my child. *evil grin*

ANYWAYS. Before we went to Chuck E Cheese, I took my little date out for dinner to Noodles and Company (his fave). Over pasta, we discussed the various ways that apples can be sliced and the way we like them best (thin slices, but not too thin). We discussed the many merits of Chapstick. We talked about Super Why and Eye of the Tiger. It was during a short discourse on Survivor that he, rather loudly and distinctly, interrupted me by saying, “Mom, it’s sad that my baby sister died.”

You could have heard a noodle drop.

I recovered myself from the land of montage music and replied that yes, it was sad and that it’s okay to feel sad about it. I wasn’t sure what else to say. It isn’t the first time that he has randomly brought up Clara, and it’s evident to me that he’s still working it all out. What struck me, though, was his okayness with the topic. Of course, he is simply too young to know that it is taboo. Too young to consider that talking about it might upset me, but I don’t see this as problematic. Instead, I am in awe of the way he lives his life completely out in the open. There are no dark corners where he hides things deemed too painful to discuss.

I love this about him. I am certainly not known for my lack of candor, but even I have a tendency to hold things close when I think they’re too messy for the world to see. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with this and people should never disclose more than makes them comfortable, but I’ve always found comfort in communicating pretty much all. Once you learn to live with the vulnerability which is inevitable with this way of being, it’s pretty damn freeing.

What’s more, I’m proud AF of the fact that we have handled Clara’s loss in a way that Silas feels comfortable bringing it up over buttered noodles in a very public forum. That tells me that despite our unimaginable grief, we have kept our experience with losing Clara from being pushed into the corners. It is not a taboo subject in our home. This not only feels like the healthiest way to handle it with our children, but it feels like the best way to honor her.

We will talk about her. She is part of our family. And, just like I told Silas tonight, it’s totally normal to feel sad about her not being here.

I feel sad about it every day.

But, I also feel happy every single day about having him, and Daddy, and Caiden in my life.

Life is dark and light. It is gains and losses, gratitude and regret.

And while tact and timing are social lessons that he will need to learn, I hope that he can continue to live a life with no dark and dusty corners.

…I also hope he continues to sweetly destroy anyone who tries to knock him down.

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