helping a friend (1)

EN&MH: Talking to Your Kids About Your Mental Health

Hey sweet friends! Today on Exploring Neurodiversity and Mental Health, I wanted to talk to you about your older kids! Specifically how to talk to your older kids about their parents mental illness. In May, I’ve focused intently on Maternal Mental Health. Today’s post is within that umbrella though I am in no way trying to make is sound as though only mothers struggle with a mental illness. This one is for you dads out there too!
As you know if you’ve ever looked at my blog before, I value honesty and openness within the parent-child relationship. I am a firm believer that those traits are the only way we will raise mentally, emotionally, and spiritually healthy children. I’ve talked about discussing sex openly with your children before. Right now I am working on a post about talking about struggling with faith with your kids. Kids are kids, yes, and there are some topics that are less comfortable to talk with them about. But we must prepare them for this world.

Abstinence only education does not help our children. Same goes for an education that erases mental illness.

Talking about our own mental illnesses with our kids can seem daunting though. I still remember the day our oldest son asked me “So Lauren, why did you leave college?”
It was a hard conversation to have, but I wanted the truth to be out there. So I explained in understandable terms what happened and why I left. I not only empowered my personal experience with mental illness but in turn gave him the tools if he ever needed to talk about a mental illness to another.
Now that’s not to say it was easy. And I totally do not have all the answers on the best ways to do this. I however did want to share what worked for us and how to approach the topic with your kids.


Be aware of what your child can comprehend.

Children have different abilities at all ages and developmental steps. Each child is different. I’m not going to lecture you on what your child is able to understand because you are the person who knows them best. I can tell you this-what I tell my 21 year old about my mental health is very different from what I tell my seven year old. While I do not lie to either, nor do I tell it in niceties, my adult son is capable of comprehending what I am telling him much more clearly than my younger children.

Maybe you’re sitting there wondering “How do I know what they are able to understand?” That’s a hard question to answer. Our little Princess tends to be more in tune with things than most 8 year olds I know, but Monkey usually miss a lot more behaviors tied to mental health. Maybe your life looks similar to that. If you’re unsure what they are able to hear at this point, ask them questions. Let them ask questions. Gauge what they are retaining by having it be an ongoing conversation. Much like sex and their bodies, their comprehension will change with age.

It can’t be a once and done conversation. It’s okay to have it be continuous and morphing with each step.

When I first told Doodle I struggle with anxiety, I said it just like that. I was apologizing for checking her seat belt a third time before leaving. As she has matured, I have shared with her specific parts of my life that have caused my anxiety and why some of those anxieties at times feel projected onto her behaviors. I would venture to say that we have a much better relationship because she understands where I am coming from. While haven’t sat her down and had full out conversations about exactly what causes my PTSD, I have told her that’s what I struggle with and why.

I know this isn’t always the easiest conversation to have. To be completely authentic here, I didn’t even make this choice on my own. A trusted elder pushed me to do it and I took his word on it. Talking about it totally helped though.

Acknowledge the parts your kids can notice-they’re picking up more than you realize.

One of my biggest pet peeves as a parent is that I find we tend to assume our kids don’t notice anything. We pretend that we can hide things so well they will miss what’s really going on. That’s just false. Kids are so much more aware than we give them credit for.

You may think you’re behaviors are too small or your children are too young. This may not be true. Even the smallest thing sticks to our kids.

Let me tell you a little story. My mother hates when her food touches. Hates it. I watched as she put huge spaces between her food for most my life. For her this wasn’t a behavior due to OCD or an eating disorder-it was just how she liked to eat. But she never thought anyone else ever noticed or it effected us. My Mema doesn’t drink while she eats. Also not a behavior because of a mental illness, just a preference. They have both told our families this. Seemingly super small things that probably would never stay in the mind of a small child right?

But after years of watching these behaviors, my siblings and I know these as facts. I no longer even offer Mema water or milk with her meal and when I make a plate for my mama you bet your bottom nothing touches.

Yes, these have nothing to do with mental illness, but it is to serve as an reminder that even the smallest things we believe our kids don’t noticed are noticed by them.

Treat it like a REAL illness.

It is so easy to wave off mental illness. So, so easy. I catch myself doing it sometimes still. “Oh yeah, I mean I have anxiety but it’s not that big of a deal.”

Right now, in this moment, it doesn’t feel like that big of a deal to me. I have it mostly under control. And I understand trying to brush it off as not a big deal in general, with the hope as to not scare your kids. But as I mentioned above, they’re pretty intuitive. Most kids will only be afraid if there is a reason to be.

More important is what their lifelong reaction to mental illness will be. Mental illness is a real illness. Repeat that a few more times. We are taught to treat it differently than anything else because it’s all in our heads. This belief is so ingrained into our culture that even those of us who are advocates sometimes forget to treat our own mental health as kindly as our physical health.

We need to treat our kids that mental health matters.

Be okay with being uncomfortable.

Ladies and gents-we all hate to be uncomfortable. It’s just a fact of life. And some of these conversations may be really uncomfortable. They may bring up conversations you don’t know if you’re ready to have yet. Your child may ask questions you truly don’t want to answer. And that stinks.

I know it can be really hard to cross over some of those lines. We are all here struggling with different mental illnesses, so I can only speak generally and for myself. One really hard conversation I am not looking forward to having someday is when my children ask me where my scars came from. I dread it. I truly do. But the fact it will make me uncomfortable or may be a hard conversation to have doesn’t mean I can shy away from it. If anything the sensitive subject needs to be pushed even harder to talk about because it is such a raw and vulnerable area of my life. 

And don’t forget- if all else fails, get help from a professional. There’s no shame in bringing your child with you to a therapist and having them assist you in explaining what’s going on with your mental health. Having a second person to help may further your child’s understanding.

Mamas, I know this is a hard topic to breech. Some of you may be thinking “Wow, thank GOD I only have an infant for now!”

While I know it can be a hard topic, it’s also such an important one.

As I said above, the way we speak to our children about mental health will shape the way they talk about it forever. If we are ashamed and embarrassed by our diagnoses, they will learn that. They will learn mental illness is something to be ashamed of. If we are open, they will learn the opposite. We empower them to speak about their own mental health. We will teach them that the stigma surrounding mental illness is outdated and silly.

When we talk about mental illness openly and freely, we will raise a generation of people who are empathetic. Who are compassionate. Who are educated.

So please, step outside your comfort level and share your mental illness with your children. Be open, be bold, and be freed.

It’s time to end the stigma, one little person at a time.

*Don’t forget next weeks EN&MH will happen on Tuesday, May 30th!!*

helping a friend

EN&MH: We’re Contributing to Our Loved Ones Maternal Mental Illnesses (&How to NOT)

On the third installment of my mini series inside Exploring Neurodiversity and Mental Heath, I’m talk today to the older mamas, the more experienced grandmothers, the people who should be showing the most support yet may be doing the most damage to those just joining our army of mothers. Again, this was written in honor of Maternal Mental Health Month. This article can be used for those women who just gave birth, those adopting infants and those doing foster to adopt.

Depression in motherhood seems to be at an all time high. I see people blame everything, from the foods they eat to the comparison game we play on Instagram. People say it may not be that depression and mental illness is at an all time high, but acceptance is and that has led more people to open up about theirs. I definitely agree that is a good thing. I’m not sure we can pinpoint an exact reason why so many new mothers struggle with mental health, but I do think I know one thing that contributes to it.

You.

Okay, well, maybe not you, not specifically. But definitely older moms. Grandmothers. Women in the church. Women online. In message groups. During the discussions for nursery at your church.

I’m not talking about the comparison game. We’ve all heard about the dangers of online comparison. Jealousy and inadequacy are amplified as you see the perfect life others may be living on Instagram. That may be a contributing factor as well. But that’s not what I’m here to talk about.

I want to talk to you guys today about the disease that fills our young mothers souls-a disease of dread, apathy, and resigning to exhaustion and loneliness. The disease of “Welcome to motherhood.” Of “Get used to it now.”

And this disease is spread by the women we love most in our lives.

I’ll be the first to admit, in defeat, I’ve done this to other mamas. They are complaining about how tired they are and I laugh. “Oh, you’ll live your life in exhaustion. Welcome to motherhood.” I’ve tried to stop, since recognizing what “standing in solidarity” does to the new moms in my life. It strips them of their hope. The empathy they are hoping to receive becomes dread at what the future holds.

We take away the future joys of motherhood by lamenting the hardships.

I see it everywhere. Pregnant women are told they won’t ever sleep again. We nod in agreement when a new mom is saying how lonely she is, mentioning the last play date we had was months ago. We share in laughter at the very thought of how lucky some moms are to have a partner who helps. Messy houses are shrugged at, as we eloquently dream of “someday.”

Someday we will be able to sleep again. One day our house will be clean. Someday we will eat right, get date nights, be adequately met in our need for self care.

Someday, someday, someday.

What if instead of meeting moms where they need to be met, we are simply hurting the moms we love by these jokes and jabs at motherhood?

Now imagine this instead. Because obviously, I’m not here to just yell at us all for being failures and walk away. That’s a little outside my norm right? I like to fix problems, not cause them!

Instead picture this.

You know a woman at your church just gave birth. It’s her second in 18 months. You want to joke about never sleeping again, but you hold your tongue. Instead you send her a message on Facebook and offer to make her a meal. You bring over something, because you know as well as I do she’s not going to make a nutritious meal with two little ones. You stay around for awhile, helping her wrangle her almost two year old. The dishes are still sitting there from a few days earlier so you roll up your sleeves and do them while she relaxes. Eventually you’re heading home, leaving her a few leftovers for the middle of the night feeding and a cleaned up kitchen.

Instead of taking away any hope she may have of bouncing back, you’re giving her love and hope.

Bringing Christ into her life as she struggles in those first few weeks-the hardest there are in my opinion. You’ve given her food, company, a mini break, and the love she needs in that moment.

What if, and this is a radical notion, we stepped up and offered that to the new moms we all know and love? Or the ones who may not be new, but are in the midst of the struggle. Because, trust me, even as an experienced mama I need that love from my village. (Can I be considered an experienced mama yet?!)

I would love to challenge all the women (and men, maybe!) out there to step forward and offer love to these mamas instead of unfunny jokes and hope draining jabs. If you’re a mom, think of this-would that comment help you in the middle of your crisis mode? Or would it hurt you even more? If you’re not a mom…ask me!

I don’t believe this will eradicate maternal mental illness. I’m well versed enough in mental health to know there are so many factors to mental illness. I am also well versed enough to know this would help so many mamas I know. It would have helped me. Below I have a few concrete ways to help instead of making comments on a Facebook post!

And mamas, if you find yourself identifying with the mama who isn’t being very helpful, give yourself grace. You can and WILL do better.

panic attack

EN&MH: Panic Attacks and Tips to Handle Them

This week on Exploring Neurodiversity and Mental Health, we’re going to be talking about panic attacks. As a person who struggles with anxiety and OCD, I have spent a lot of time dealing with panic attacks. In high school, I dealt with panic attacks on a weekly basis. For awhile I was dealing with them very well and then Bug was born. While dealing with PPD, I began having panic attacks again. You could say this is once again a post that’s very important to my heart.

A panic attack is a sudden onset of feelings of discomfort or fear. They begin in an abrupt manner. Commonly, panic attacks are over within ten minutes. However, feelings of anxiety, stress, or being “off” may last for the rest of the day. I have found that the sudden and intense emotions, as well as the physical reaction to a panic attack, leave me exhausted for the day. 

The physical reactions include(but may not be limited to):

-An accelerated heart rate or palpitations.

-Shaking or trembling

-Feelings of numbness or tingling

-Feeling light headed, dizzy, or faint.

-Fear of losing control or “going crazy”

-Feelings of disconnect from reality or from oneself.

-A choking like sensation

-Shortness of breath

-Fear of dying

Panic attacks can be terrifying, even for those of us who deal with them on a regular basis.

Panic attacks can be a very treatable. There are many coping mechanism one can use to get through a panic attack and try to ward them off early in the onset. Panic attacks themselves are not a mental illness. They are most often a result of an anxiety disorder. If you think that you are having them though, the best choice is to reach out to your doctor and discuss your options to treat them.

As a person who has struggled with panicking, I wanted to share some of my personal tips on dealing with them-both as the person having one and a witness. Before we go on though, I want to stress not all attacks look alike. Like any mental illness,  there are different triggers and ways to manage. We all may need different assistance while struggling. That’s why I’m going to share a handful of ways for both oneself and as a person sitting next to someone having one. Hopefully at least one of these mechanisms will help!

If you are having a panic attack: 

Breathing Techniques:

As you feel your body begin to have that shortness of breath an increased heart rate, begin to mindfully breathe. Take a deep breath in for a few moments, hold it for a second, then deep breath out. Forcing yourself to physically slow your breathing can begin to taper down the attack. It should help calm you. Whike some professionals will encourage specific times for breathing in or out, I have found just being aware helps. Often in the depths of panic attacks I am not able to concentrate enough immediately at counting the seconds and breathing simultaneously.

Grounding yourself:

I’ve seen this done two ways and use both frequently. The first way is to find objects to name off and identify. I will simply look around myself and name whatever I see. “There is a pepper shaker. The top is silver. It’s three kinds of pepper. There is the salt shaker…” and so forth. This technique will bring your focus away from the panic attack and if you can identify it, the trigger.

The second grounding technique I use is focusing on things I hear, see, smell, taste, and can touch. This helps immensely with the feelings of losing touch with reality that can occur during a panic attack. You are reminded that you are very real and sitting in this room. It smells like feet, you still taste breakfast, you hear people outside. Those are all real things and you are still in control.

MOVE:

I’m going to be straight up honest friends, I hate this one. Panic attacks often leave me shaking, with very low blood pressure and a high heart rate. Moving seems like the last thing I want to do. But…it works. Simply getting up and pacing can often make your body feel more in control. It can also help ground you as you focus on lifting your feet and landing back on the floor. Movement will help regulate breathing as well-you can’t forget to breathe while you walk!

Talk It Out:

If at all possible, find someone safe to talk to through the panic attack. Talking helps on both the physical and emotional level. Speaking will force you to stop your labored breathing long enough to get a sentence out. It can also help on an emotional level. Saying your anxieties aloud may be terrifying, but giving them a name may help calm you down.

When finding someone to talk to about this, make sure you have a supportive person. This person should not diminish nor crack jokes at your state. If they are capable of speaking back in a positive way, I encourage them to do that as well. Some people may be worried about talking to you in that state but can provide more grounding. And if they are able to help ease or rid the trigger that caused your panic attack, that is even better!

Remember- This will end and YOU ARE NOT GOING TO DIE.

My first panic attack was at school. I literally thought I was dying. My heart rate was going fast, I couldn’t breathe, everything was numb. It was one of the scariest moments of my life. I was very blessed though to have a faculty where one had experienced panic attacks before and calmed me down. She said to me over and over again, “I know you feel like you’re going to die…but you will be okay.”

Even as an experienced “panicker”(made that word up!) I still need to remind myself each time, “This will not kill you. No one dies from a panic attack.” In the moment it is so scary. I know. Remember though-it will end. And you will be okay when it does. 

If You’re Supporting Someone Having a Panic Attack:

First-thank you. If you see a friend or a family member having panic attacks or you know they do, thank you for reading this. I know it’s not easy to step into a helping position when it comes to mental health. And if you are not well versed on mental health, it can be really scary. I hope some of these things will help you help those you love.

Secondly though, please please please ask your loved one before you do any of these things. While you may think a person is not able to vocalize what they need during a severe panic attack, they still have the right for you to ask. Before moving forward with any of my suggestions, please confirm that is what the person panicking wants from you. Kind hearted people have tried to help only to throw me further into a state of disarray because they didn’t ask if what they were about to do was okay.

I hope this article was helpful to someone! Please remember, I am always here if you ever need any more advice on finding a therapist or becoming okay with a diagnosis!

PTSD

EN&MH: When You Hear a Scary Diagnosis

As a woman who lives daily with mental illness, I spend a good amount of time reading up on mental illnesses. I am lover of knowledge when it comes to these things. I read up on information, look up the newest studies. The mind is a fascinating specimen to study. It invites in environmental, current and past, genetic, and experiences before it finds how it will work in any one individual.

This love of the mind also becomes scary at times. The time when it comes the scariest? When I hear a diagnosis and I know the studies behind this specific mouthful of letters.

When I opened up my sons school evaluation, I read straight through it. I laughed a little at a few of the comments, ones I wasn’t surprised to see. There were a few that gave me so much hope. Then I got to the page where the psychologist highlighted what mine and my son’s teacher mentioned in our three page fill outs. And there was a lot.

The school psychologist cannot diagnosis, nor can they say what they think is going on with your child. They can simply say “these are the behaviors you said you saw” and if you bring up a specific diagnosis-say “I did see this”. I’m well aware of this; I worked in the school system and both my parents are public school educators.

But that list, of all the computer generated possibilities that came up with the behaviors we mentioned…it scared me. It stopped me in my steps. I sent my best friend a text message in tears, because could I really do this?

I had the same reaction when my older daughter had the letters RAD brought up in a family therapy meeting. Even following my own therapist mentioning discussing borderline personality disorder as something I was living with.

It’s the curse of being so intrigued by the human mind that I am on the flip side educated on statistics and worst case scenario stories. And in this day and age-I’m certain I’m not the only mama, wife, or sister who does that. With Google right at our fingertips, we can look up ODD, ADHD, RAD, whatever we feel like looking up with the click of our fingers. We don’t even have to walk away to start looking it up, with smart phones!

I don’t think there’s something inherently wrong with looking up information or being well educated on something your child is struggling with. However, at times this superhighway of information can be a little overwhelming. I want to share with you guys today six ways I manage to deal with a diagnosis that may scare me.

Make sure your source is reputable.

Y’all we all went to high school! We know that sources can be reliable or they can be unreliable. When you are reading up on a diagnosis, make sure you are reading a reliable source. There are people out there who thrive on worrying and scaring parents new to specific disorders. Take a step back from what you are reading and check to see how truly GOOD this source is. I get links sometimes to completely off the book websites with no studies connected to them. Please make sure you’re not allowing yourself to worry over something that is not really there. (Hint, if your website says “THIS CAUSED YOUR CHILD’S THIS” it is probably not reliable.)

Listen to the professionals you are working with.

I once had a conversation with a therapist who told me “Google doctors are going to kill a lot of patients, but still put me out of business.” Hear me out-I do not advocate blindly following doctors. They are human as well. However, I do advocate listening to what the professionals you have on your team. You may do this with a grain of salt, you may hear what they have to say and realize it’s not best. If that is the case, find another professional who works with your family dynamics and beliefs a little more. As a Christian, sometimes it’s hard to find professionals who share our beliefs and is willing to incorporate them in my, or one of our children’s, therapy…but that matters to us. Don’t just discount everything a therapist or doctor says because of that difference though! The best therapist I’ve ever had wasn’t a Christian! Don’t let your personal preferences or what you feel is best get in the way of hearing what professionals who have done this for years have to say.

Let yourself FEEL these feelings.

I felt a lot of guilt on top of my fears, worries, and anxieties because “I shouldn’t feel this way.” I spent a lot of hours beating myself up because I should know better. The truth is though, these can be life altering diagnoses. The alteration isn’t necessary a bad thing…but it can be something that brings up a lot of unknown fears in the future. There is a process that you need to go through after you hear these words. One of the most important part is letting yourself feel what you need to feel. Find a close friend to talk it over with, discuss how you’re feeling with your child’s therapist or find your own. It’s important you deal with the emotions before you become bitter with them. Let yourself feel those feelings!

Worst case scenarios are the stories that sell.

This is pretty straightforward. I urge you to remember that the worst case scenarios that make it to the papers or on Lifetime as movies..they are just that. Worst case scenario stories. Yes, some diagnoses have very worrisome behaviors that come along with them. I will never deny this. But a lot of those stories sell because they play right into our greatest fears.

Listen to adults living with the diagnosis.

With Autism Awareness on the front page this week, this is one that I feel the need to scream from the mountaintops. When dealing with a diagnosis, the most important voice you should listen to are those living with it. Far too often we silence adults with mental illnesses, we pretend that these disorders disappear at 18. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard an autistic adult be shut down or closed out of a conversation because they weren’t saying what a parent thought was the truth. Hearing the adults or even other children living with any diagnosis can help you immensely as a parent: IF YOU LET IT.

At the end of the day: This is the child you loved before this diagnosis.

I am an advocate for getting a diagnosis. I will never be the person who says “Well, what if it’s not that?!” A diagnosis can provide so many resources and referrals within the school system. It can give life changing assistance and accommodations. You can find therapies and tools to use to make your child happier. It will change how you approach behaviors and can make a world of difference with how you parent.

But a diagnosis will not change who your child is.

I know you may have a hard time accepting and not worrying over what you just heard, but this word will not changing who your child is.

If you are having a hard time with a diagnosis, I am here for you! Please know you are now alone in that struggle.

Ladies-It's OK If You Don't Feel

Ladies-It’s OK If You Don’t Feel Strong

This past week, the world acknowledged and celebrated women on International Women’s Day. We all took a day out to recognize the strong women we know. I love this day-I love to thank the women in my life I know for being amazing role models, overcomers, and all around truly good people.

I’ve been blessed my entire life to be surrounded by strong women. I had a mother who had me in college and still went on to graduate, successfully help provide for our family and raise not only her five biological children, not only two adopted ones, but foster others and love so many through the school system. We have a Mema who can kick your bottom at an arm wrestling match while whipping up a dinner with the other hand and simultaneously being the most gentle human you’ve ever met. And then there was a Nana who showed what strength was beyond imagine as she kicked cancers butt and came back with the more grit and passion for life than before.

I have friends who have overcome trauma and struggles I cannot begin to fathom. Ones who have chosen forgiveness and grace over obvious and in my opinion, justified, revenge and anger. We know women who left abusive marriages, who have doctorates after being told they never could, and who have fought and won the war against mental illnesses, addictions, cancer, and more.

You could say I specialize in surrounding myself and my daughters with strong women.

I wouldn’t have it any other way. I was raised amongst them, my daughters will be too. My prayer for my daughters is for them to know the world can and SHOULD tremble at their feet. That they are capable of all things they put their mind to. I am so passionate that my kids are aware God created them for a special purpose, whether it’s to cure cancer or kiss booboos, and that they are strong in which they choose. Beauty pageants or crossfit challenges-I want them to always see their strength.

But I know how daunting that it can be-I know that we don’t always feel strong.

I struggle often with feeling like I’m not. Strong, that is. It’s so easy to see the failures, the weaknesses, the areas in life I’m less than spectacular. And I think many women, moms especially, feel the same way. We’re imperfect people and despite our strength to overcome some hardships and battles, we are often too close to each situation to see the magnificent strength it takes to beat them. 

I’ve said to a friend, “You were so strong to leave this relationship” and the response I got? “No, I was weak to stay in it so long.” How different our perspective is when on the outside looking in versus being the one in the story.

Sometimes people focus so intently on our perceived weaknesses, they forget how strong we truly are. I know I do.
I’m not saying this to induce a plethora of messages telling me how strong I am. I have plenty of people who tell me that anyway, and while I appreciate them, I hope this article doesn’t come across as just that. No, I want to share with all the women (and possibly men!) out there who sometimes feel weak a few ways I remind myself just how strong I really am in those moments.

Thank them when someone compliments your strengths and stop apologizing for your “weaknesses”

When someone tells you you are smart, strong, kind, resilient-say thank you. I know it’s so easy, so quick, to dealing with “Oh no I’m not.” But here’s the kicker-you probably are. Yes, yes, yes you are. Most people don’t simply say “Oh you look beautiful,” with the intent of lying to you or faking it. They say it because it’s true. So OWN YOUR STRENGTHS. When someone compliments them, nod. Say thank you. Tell them something you think is a strength they have back. Strong people have no qualms about complimenting another on their strengths.

On the flip side, stop apologizing for your weaknesses. This is one I do far too often and one I am trying so hard to overcome.
Surround yourself with people who validate you and build you up.  For example; y’all I can’t sing. CAN NOT. I’m talking a chorus teacher once told me to consider playing an instrument instead of being in chorus.

I’ve spent years at church apologizing for my inability to sing when in actuality…no one even notices! Unless I’m standing next to our minister of music or up front belting it out into a microphone…NO ONE NOTICES. When you apologize for your weaknesses it draws more attention to them while reminding you all the areas in life you don’t feel strong. So stop that! Right now! The people you surround yourself with shouldn’t mind the small and insignificant things you aren’t especially strong with. Which brings me to…

Surround yourself with people who validate and build you up. 

I’m not about the life where you only surround yourself with people who agree with you and let you do whatever you want while cheering you on. Accountability is something I think is necessary, so necessary that I’m currently writing a post about finding accountability partners in the church. No, I’m not talking about only hanging out with yes (wo)men.

I’m talking about spending your time with people who know your value and see your worth.

Who we are around builds up or destroys who we are. It’s really that simple. If you spend your time with people who actively pick apart your choices, who insult your strength, who refuse to acknowledge the effort you put into things…you will begin to believe those things are true about yourself. Be with people who build you up. Who tell you the strengths that you are forgetting. Who want you to know how truly worthy of love you are.

Keep a journal of all the reasons you are strong and able.

I was actually taught this in therapy when I was struggling with PPD. My therapist had me write down reasons I was a good mom and I kept this little book to look back on, as a way to reframe my thoughts before they got off the track and spun out of control. It is one of the best things I’ve ever done. Find a little journal and keep track of your strengths. When someone compliments you on one, write that in there. Write what you’ve overcome. Write all the things you’ve done that have proven those who doubt you wrong. Then keep this book somewhere where you can pull it out and look at it whenever you need the reminder.

Be okay with being weak, with failing, and with not always being able to do things.

The simple fact of the matter is this-we will not always be strong. There are some times in our lives we will be weak, we will feel weak, and we will struggle. Times will come when we aren’t able to succeed. Talents exist out there that we won’t have. I can’t do everything-can you? I’m not always kind, smart, perfectly made up with a bow on top. None of us are. At some point we need to sit back and be okay with the areas we are “weak” in or the ways we “fail.”

 If you don’t have a talent, that’s okay. As long as you have a love. I’m going to bring us back to singing. I love to sing worship songs. When I am home or in the car, I have them blasting and I am jamming along. I’m not winning any awards. But I love it. I enjoy it. If you enjoy doing something it’s okay to just enjoy it-to not be the star, to not have a God given talent, but to love doing it anyway.

Recognize the One who makes you strong.

For me, as a Christian woman, this is the most important one. I am not strong on my own and I will not succeed separate from God. He is the one who gives me strength through all things He has predestined in my life. When I am feeling weak, I often forget to pray. In the moment, I want to do it all, be it all, succeed at it all. I don’t want anything to get in the way of perfection and something really big already has-me. I will never be perfect. But possibly, even more importantly, I will never be strong without Him.

A favorite of mine in the Bible is Ephesians 3:17-19(NLT)

“Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.”
If you are feeling weak, take a moment to read those verses and recognize your roots must be in God’s love to keep you strong. Open your Bible and find verses that speak of strength in Jesus, from Jesus and with Him. Pray for the Holy Spirit to give you the passion and fearlessness He provides.
And finally, while leaning into God for strength, rely on others. We live in a world that is so focuses on independence equating strength, but that is not always the case. Lean on your brothers and sisters in Christ in those weak moments. Rely on them. Trust them with your strengths and your weaknesses as you grow totgether. I bet the more you rely on others, the smaller your weaknesses feel as they begin to fill in where you need it.

At the end of this post, I hope you know it’s okay if you don’t feel strong. But I also hope these tips can help you in those moments you’re doubting yourself; because I would bet if I were a betting woman, you are so much stronger than you feel.

 How do you remind yourself how strong you are when you don’t feel it?

Keeping Our Loved Ones Alive

Keeping Our Loved Ones Alive

As we grow older and as our children grow older, our time here on earth is forever marked by the loss of our loved ones. I experienced loss as a fairly young woman, as both my fathers parents passed away before I entered high school and then my father in law passed away about 9 months before we were married. I always dealt it well and while it wasn’t “easy,” I was raised with a steady Christian belief system and had a pretty good handle on it all.

When we began having and adopting kids though, I was made acutely aware that there were things missing from their lives. My kids will only be able to play baseball in the yard or go out fishing with one of their grandfathers. My father in law wouldn’t be showing them how to hunt or shoot a gun or feeding him some of his “interesting” meals.

They are missing out on eating ice cream from the carton and tunafish from the can like I did with my Papa. And Nana would never tell them six hundred times how to dry a dish…only to come back and dry it herself. (Because 10 year old me couldn’t dry dishes right okay?) My parents camp on the lake would always be that to them: Coach’s and Grandma’s camp. They would play with the dolls for hours, never once knowing the ish you could get in if you left one out after clean up time. They didn’t get to watch Papa cut up his fish.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am acutely aware how lucky my kids are to have two full sets of great grandparents and a great great grandmother. We are so thankful every day for the experiences and familial traditions they get to live through. For our family though, it’s very important to us to keep those loved ones who have passed a part of their story.

How do we do that though?

Keep the memories alive through stories.

My husband is the best at this when it comes to telling stories about his father. His entire demeanor changes as he takes on Chuck’s personality and voice while reciting these tales, our children sitting around and laughing at each word. I’ve been with him for five years now and every time there’s a new tale of his dad. I love when we’re together with his mother, brother and sisters and they all begin to tell the kids about the time they slid down the stairs or jumped from the balcony.

Telling stories about our deceased loved ones brings them back to life as we sit around and share what we remember. For my kids, who have no memory of these people, it gives them a real picture of what their voice sounded like, how they moved and who they were.

Keep photos around for them to look at.

I’m a huge photo fan(in case you haven’t been able to tell with this blog) and I believe holding onto photos of our loved ones is a great way to share them with our kids. We have photos of my father in law with my husband and brother in law hanging around the house and the kids can identify who he is through photos. The photographs will provide even more memories to talk about. I love to pull out my old photo albums of my grandparents so they can see what they were like when I was younger.

Celebrate their traditions.

One thing I truly hope to implicate this year is the birthday blessing my great grandmother used to say at our birthdays. A sweet, short prayer, it brings back the memories of her speaking it over us and our families having it memorized. My prayer is we can bring that back into our birthday parties, as a way to honor her and once upon a time, a family tradition.

Think back to what your loved ones ate on holidays or how they celebrated them and bring those into your lives now! Josh’s family always has pierogies on holidays and now our children have them every Christmas celebration with that side of the family. It’s something we hope to keep doing, even once we no longer do it with those people. I might continue to cook the raisin gravy…even though the kids and I won’t eat it. Not Polish enough? Maybe.

Speak their names and stories on special days.

For a long time, I refrained from mentioning my grandparents on their birthdays or holidays because I was afraid bringing them up would create more sadness than joy. It was a naive thought and one that not only didn’t honor my grandparents but also didn’t ease the pain of losing them for my loved ones.

It’s so important to speak their names and stories on days you would if they were still here. We passed by Chuck’s birthday recently and I asked my husband a few time how he was handling his dads birthday as well as told the kids today was the day Grandpa was born. I purposefully try to mention my grandparents on Mother and Father’s day and I attempt to bring them up during the hard celebrations we wish they were here for now. Mentioning them on these days brings them into the picture in gentle ways and makes it more natural to speak of them.

As much as it hurts to celebrate the special days, such as graduations and weddings, without our loved ones present, I love the ways people are bringing them into their weddings again with pictures or candles or the little pictures attached to their flowers.

Seek solace in the fact that this is not the end.

2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.” -John 14: 2-4

How sweet are those words as believers, who are in mourning? We know the place where Jesus went to prepare the way, the place where He went to prepare a place for us all. We celebrate those words as we mourn. And as we tell our children stories of our deceased loved ones, we are able to find solace, comfort, and joy in the fact that in their deaths, they have left this world and are residing in heaven with our King.

Obviously, none of us know the beliefs in a persons heart, but as my husband said as I talked to him about this, if a person brings their bible to their hospital bed, prays while there, and has spent a good portion of their life talking about Jesus? We can begin to assume that yes, they have accepted Him into their heart.

Losing a loved one can be hard, no matter what point in your life you are at. While it’s important to me and my husband to keep the memory of them alive, it’s completely okay to take a step back if you have to, following a loss that hits you extremely hard. There is absolutely no shame in allowing yourself the proper time to heal and mourn. And if you’re loved one has been gone for a longer period of time, there’s nothing wrong with beginning this process now, at this point, even if you haven’t had it going forever.

How do you remember your deceased loved ones?

Fighting Mom Guilt

Fight Mom Guilt With Reframing

I’ve been in therapy for quite a few years now and one concept I’ve heard over and over again when it comes to my catastrophic, paranoid, and anxious thoughts is “You need to reframe your way of thinking.” Reframing is a buzzword in the psychological world. Reframing in it’s most basic form, is taking a situation and reframing it in your mind in a more positive or realistic light. Essentially it’s changing the way you approach a circumstance and thereby changing the circumstance itself.

I happen to love reframing. It’s a tool I’ve used for so long now that it comes naturally to me. Even when it’s done in a way that’s less sincere, just the act of taking and reframing your thought in general creates a distance between you and the negative thought.

Today I was to talk to you guys about reframing for one of my favorite groups of people-moms. Whether you became a mom through adoption, foster care, biology…there’s a very high chance you’ve felt the dreaded “mom guilt.” (If you haven’t, this probably isn’t something you need to read…and teach me your ways, please.).

I spent a good portion of this past year battling my initial feelings of failure and guilt and working to reframe my thoughts and feelings to be more positive about the bumps in the road we met along the parenting way. By the time we hit December, I shared a post about Christmas morning and a rough time we had then. If you follow my Facebook, you may have seen it when I originally shared it but in case you didn’t, the story is pretty simple.

I got locked out of our church on Christmas morning.

You can see the full story here, but that’s the jist of it. Monkey had a rough time, we got locked out we walked home. End of story.

After talking about this, I had friends respond to me with “Wow, I am SO sorry!” and “You must feel terrible!” and I realized…I didn’t. When we first left the service, I felt embarrassed we had to leave and guilty I was peacing on Josh with the baby and the older girls, but by the time I had walked home-there was no guilt or shame left.

I’ve found a lot of moms I know get upset about situations that are out of their control or simply kids being kids. In that moment? I get it. It’s hard to wrap your head around little Susie biting some boy at the playground. What I want to offer you today is a simple tool, STAR, that is meant to help you reframe those hard to swallow moments and create a peace within you surrounding them.

STAR is the little acronym I came up with to help you remember these five steps a little easier. They work so well for me and I truly hope they work for you as well!

Stop

If you’re like me, Mamas, you spiral down the rabbit hole after an occurrence. My child refusing to drink their milk at dinner quickly becomes “My child is never going to willing drink milk and will have oseterporis as an adult and it’s AL MY FAULT.” First things first- STOP that thought RIGHT when they begin. It’s harder than it sounds, trust me I know, but try your very best to focus on that moment, that time, that situation sitting in front of you. Don’t think about the last time you had to leave the middle of a church service, don’t think about the next time you might have to leave the middle of a church service. Halt your thoughts and focus on right here and now.

Take A Step Back and Take a Breath.

Our word for the year is peace and this is one area I’m trying to become more peaceful in that helps reframing incredibly: Take a step back. Take a breath. When your child has made a mistake, when you have made a mistake, when your spouse has made a mistake…take a mental(or physical) step away from what is going wrong. The old ideal of taking ten seconds of breathing is great here. Stop the downward spiral and take a step away to recompose yourself. This helps get your emotions under control a bit and hopefully will help you abstain from only using your emotions to think.

Assess

This is the best step to apply logic to. I find assessing a situation can also help in preventing it from happening again. It also helps you understand what caused it in the first place and moving forward to reframe your mindset becomes easier for me when I have a logical assessment on the situation instead of simply my emotions surrounding it. For example, Christmas day: after assessing the situation, I was able to recognize that Monkey had half a dozen triggers happening that day, all of which would make controlling and communicating his emotions harder than usual.

Reframe

After you have fully assessed the situation, you can finally reframe it! After recognizing what Monkey had thrived through earlier in that day, I began to feel pride in how hard he had worked than disappointment in us having to leave. I felt more comfortable with our choice to give him a break than trying to force him through it. I was happy he told me he wanted a break instead of having a meltdown in the middle of church. It’s all about perspective! Instead of feeling mom guilt, I felt mom pride! Once you can begin to reframe these moments, you can begin to change the entire way you look at your motherhood journey. It’s so much easier to find joy in motherhood when you’re not feeling guilt at every turn.

 

For a week, give this a try! Don’t allow yourself to wallow in the mom guilt but instead find a STAR and focus on the light that brings into your life! What else do you do to battle the mom guilt?

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NSPW 2016-To the College Kids Out There…

This week is National Suicide Prevention Week and today is the peak of it all with World Suicide Awareness Day. I’ve been aware of this week for a little while and have even participated in the To Write Love on her Arms hashtag on Twitter. I didn’t expect to write more about it during the week, for a few reasons, but now, here we are. You’d be shocked how many social awareness posts of mine begin after I swear I’m going to allow people in the midst of it speak louder than myself.

If you don’t know it by now or are a first time reader,  I have a lot of experience with suicide in this life. I’ve lost friends and loved ones to suicide, I’ve had many friends struggle with suicidal thoughts and attempts and I myself left school about five years ago after my depression and anxiety got so severe I dealt with suicidal urges. This week means a lot to me as I continue to see friends deal with this issue, but I didn’t want to speak out about it because I feel so far removed from where I was when suicide was an option for me. 

Then, this past weekend we said good-bye to my younger sister as she packed up her van and headed off to college. While there’s another sister between us, Cat attends college in our city and she didn’t “go away” to school. Madi, on the other hand, went to a school a few hours away and I can’t lie, sending her out has been more upsetting that I expected it to be for me. Now, Madi is by far the toughest of us sisters(possibly the toughest all together…). My worry, my fears, they aren’t connected to her specifically. I know she’s going to kick butt no matter where she goes and what she does.

But that happening the same week of National Suicide Prevention Week forced me to remember my own college days.

I struggled with depression and anxiety before college; I struggle with them still. At school though, I hit rock bottom for a few reasons. And I am not alone in this-suicide is the third leading cause of death in people ages 15-24 and over 1,000 suicides happen on college campuses a year. This is for the students who are at college right now. It’s for my sisters, all my sisters friends, all the ones who just went away to “better” yourselves and are feeling it.

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To the college student thinking of suicide. 

I know what you’re going through right now. I truly do. I’ve been there. I know how it feels to be completely lost, to be flailing as you’re drowning in numbness, hopelessness, and heartache. I know how lonely it can feel.

These are supposed to be the “best years of your life” and you don’t feel like that at all. You can log onto Facebook, you can see the Tweets or posts on Instagram: it seems like all your high school friends have found their place in their big new pond. And you just haven’t. Or maybe you have and that still doesn’t change the feeling of helplessness.

I don’t know exactly what you’re doing to help numb the pain right now. Maybe you’re partying more than you should. Maybe you’re withdrawing from your friends and family. Maybe you are trying so hard to silence it by pretending everything is okay that no one has even noticed, or so you think.

I know what it’s like to be in all those places. I understand, so many people do. These best years of your life are not always the best years. But I also don’t want them to be the last years.  I want to share with you some things that may help you if you are struggling.

Get out of your room. 

I know how easy it is to hole yourself up in there to avoid everyone and anyone. Don’t. Isolation does not help you when you’re  dealing with depression.

Find someone to talk to. 

College campuses have been trying to be more accessible to those struggling with mental illnesses. Most schools do offer counselors. Take advantage of that!

Tell someone if you are a danger to yourself.

 Seriously. You can always call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. It’s open 24 hours a day. Can’t “talk” to someone? Here’s an option for texting for support: crisisline.

If you have a plan, go to the emergency room. 

Again, I know how scary that is. But what’s even scarier is you not making it through the night. You need to get help when you need it.

And most importantly remember; college is not worth your life. 

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I’m biased on this one a little bit, but I want you to know two things. First, college is not worth your life. Point blank. I understand how important secondary education can be. I know how hard you probably worked to get there and I know you’re afraid of disappointing people. But they will be a hundred times more upset if you never come back from college than if you need a break or semester off. I know that sounds scary. I know how hard a choice that is to make. 

But I also want you to know that it gets better. I remember being so lost in the midst of depression never believing that. But, it does. I’m scared you may read this and think I have forgotten what those nights are like. I haven’t. I kept living for the distant promise of better days and they are here. Yes, it was a battle every step of the way; yes, I had days I didn’t believe it would come. But I held onto that smallest bit of hope and I pray you will too. I hope you choose to keep living and see all the wonderful tomorrows life has in store for you. And some of the not so wonderful tomorrows-life isn’t just peaches now. But I’m here to experience it. And I want you to be too.

 

If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please get any help you can. You deserve this life. 

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5 Tips ForDealing with

5 Tips for Dealing with Intrusive Thoughts

After Bug came along, I struggled immensely with postpartum depression, which mainly took the look of OCD tendencies. When I hit rock bottom and Bug was about 4 months old, I began treatment for PPD.  I met my therapist(who I kept for a little over a year…the longest ever!). We talked a lot about my anxieties that surrounded my kids. Before I knew it, she was asking me if I had ever had obsessive compulsive disorder come up as a suggested diagnosis in prior therapy sessions.

I honestly laughed a bit and told her I was nothing like Monk. You know, the show, “Monk.” It follows that detective who had his long list of fear and the obsession with cleanliness? I am nothing like that, I kindly told her. My house is never going to be that clean, I’m okay with a mess, and I don’t have to touch every single light pole as I walk by it. OCD is not any part of me.

She asked me to describe my re-occurring thoughts for her again and I began to talk about the thoughts that came to my mind, that I was unable to get rid of, that kept me up all night and distracted me in the day.

The thoughts of the kids suddenly not breathing and having to check fifteen times in the middle of the night.

Pulling over to the side of the road to check for the tenth time I buckled the baby in or asking my kids to look as I drive.

The visions, horrific thoughts, of accidents and natural disasters that never happened. Yet I was envisioning them over and over again as I laid down to sleep.

She kindly told me that’s one of the ways OCD can manifest; its not always a person who panics about cleanliness or washes their hands a certain amount of time.

After recognizing my struggle with intrusive thoughts because of the worsening of this specific anxiety disorder after Bug’s birth, I began to realize this was something I had been dealing with for awhile. Before then I had never been able to put a finger on what it was. Intrusive thoughts, while never running my life quite as badly as they did postpartum, were a factor in my life for years. I began to come up with ways to stop or avoid intrusive thoughts and I wanted to share a few of those with you all today.

5 Tips ForDealing with

Recognize them as they begin.

When my intrusive thoughts begin, they usually start off pretty simple. My Mema told me every mama has them and maybe they do. She also said they can be intuition and a good thing…and maybe for some people, or even sometimes for me, they are. It’s simply a little nudge of “check the baby.” Checking can be good. However, the third time that thought comes into my head, I know now that it’s the beginning of an obsessive phase with that specific mental image. I treat mine like baseball-three strikes and you’re out! If I have the same thought three times(example, three times I have to check that the baby is buckled before/while driving), I need to halt right there in my seat and try to stop them before they take over. How do I do that?

Have an arsenal of ways you can stop the thoughts.

I love to have a large list of ways to help stop intrusive thoughts after I’ve recognized them as such. I always start with trying to identify the lie or exaggeration in my thought. To use the not buckling the kids in as an example again, I will tell myself I have already checked three times and there is no need to check again-my mind is lying to me by making me feel as though I’m remembering wrongly. If it’s something illogical, I go over reasons why whatever my thoughts are would not and could not ever happen in the real world.

I try and stop my catastrophising by reminding myself repeatedly that the worst does not always happen-even if things seem like they’ll end badly, they will not be as bad as the situation I am predicting in my mind. At the hardest times to get rid of them, I allow myself to think through the situation and acknowledge the worst could happen and the consequences of what could happen. After thinking it through and exposing myself to said thoughts, I’m able to come to terms with the thoughts and sometimes this will successfully stop them.

And if none of those things to do on your own don’t work?

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Call a friend! Or a therapist.

The two thoughts I have that are the most intrusive are the kids dying(usually in a car accident while I’m driving) or that I’ll cheat on my husband. One of those is sort of out of my control for the most part, the other is completely in my control. I’m super blessed to have a best friend who knows my kind of crazy and deals with my random three am text messages of “Well what if I cheat on him??” (Her name is Heidi and she blogs at Heid and Seeking!)

She will remind me that’s within my control and I can’t cheat on my husband on accident. Or she’ll remind me that there are thunderstorms every single summer and this year is not going to destroy New England…it’s just another summer storm.

It also helps to have friends who don’t argue or try and reassure your anxieties. Make sure you have someone who will confirm your thoughts and ask you themselves, what will you do if the worst does happen? It helps me to know that next step.

Really, when it comes to intrusive thoughts, you just have to..

Be honest.

The first time I told my husband I pretty often had these thoughts, I was embarrassed. I would go between thinking everyone had these, so I should keep quiet about my struggles, and no one had these, so I was alone and no one would understand. (The wonderful black and white thinking of my kind of insane!) Josh couldn’t relate to them, but the more I talked about it, the less taboo they felt and off limits they felt. Honesty helped me to acknowledge the feelings and the consequences if I acted on some of those thoughts-for example, if I did cheat on Joshua, it would damage, possible irrevocably, our relationship. It helped remind me that while the thoughts jumped into my mind against my will, I was still in control of whether or not I acted on them.

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Intrusive thoughts are so hard to deal with and what works for me may not help others, however I truly do hope any of these pieces of advice can help you!

Do you deal with intrusive thoughts? Any advice for others living with them?