Adapt

In the first weeks of third grade, I taught a science lesson about Living Things. The objective was for students to understand that all living things do many of the same things: grow, reproduce, and adapt to the world around them. We always did a fun activity at the end of the lesson, categorizing Living and Non Living Things from pictures in magazines.

Just a few months ago, I recalled the Living and Non Living Things lesson after a series of camping trips with my family. Sleep doesn’t come easy for me even in the comforts of my own bed, so I hadn’t anticipated sleeping much when we made reservations for our tent camping trips last summer.

The first trip was a single overnight near our home and was as brutal as I expected it to be. The noises of other campers, howling winds, and fears of bears sniffing out my beef jerky midnight snack kept me from finding sleep. I believe I finally fell asleep in the wee hours of the morning and woke up for the day just a few hours later. It was during our second family bonding experience in the tent that I found myself surprisingly adapting to our new sleeping environment. I could hear a calming voice in my head telling me that last time everybody was safe and fine. Everything would be okay if I went to sleep this time, too. And with the help of some sleep aides and my beef jerky snack, I found more and more sleep each time we set up camp throughout the summer.

securedownload (1)

What I loved about our camping trips this summer was that we all had to adapt. We had to learn and change the way we live everyday. Without the comforts of home and our modern conveniences, we cooked, played, slept, and ate differently. For us, it was a fun challenge and it reminded me of the science lesson I used to teach. I sadly considered that in all of the years I taught that lesson, I never fully connected to it.  I never took the time to consider myself as a Living Thing, and I pretty much took for granted all of the growing and adapting my human body had done in the 30 something years I’d been on this planet.

It’s only now that my body has adapted to real food and a healthier lifestyle that I can see the power and resilience that human beings have. We were made to live outdoors and do hard work. Our bodies and minds are strong and capable, and we need to be nourished with real food. I can see now how my body broke under poor food choices, excessive stress, and inefficient exercise. All of the concepts of the ancestral health movement that are driving us back to how we should live are forcing us to continue to grow and adapt in new ways.

Many of the health issues that we all seem to face come from adaptations our bodies have made to keep us functioning and alive, but not necessarily thriving and growing. I realize now that my insomnia is a fight or flight response to keep me alive in a state perceived as stressful. Despite my best attempts, I can’t seem to make my life any less stressful, but I can begin to understand how to help my body adapts to the stress.

Just like on the camping trip, I have learned to listen to that inner voice that tells me that everything is going to be okay. It’s a very important voice. It’s often right. It’s my wisdom and intuition that has come from surviving stress and coming out on the other side. I’ve learned that it’s the key to adapting and growing. In the midst of our struggles and brokenness, there’s a system in our bodies and minds that is learning and growing and taking notes on how to do it better next time.

I’ll admit that fear holds me back from this struggle. I won’t workout because I don’t want to be sore. Even though I know that sore muscles make me stronger. I resist turning off the TV and going to bed early to be more rested. Sometimes I even eat foods I know I shouldn’t because I don’t want to be judged because my choices are different. But I’m getting better at embracing the fear and owning the struggle, knowing that these are the choices that force me to adapt toward or away from better health.

20131011-174719.jpg

Just last week, I watched Charlotte get an award at school for Self Control. Her teacher told me at her Back-to-School Night that she sees nothing different about Charlotte compared to any other child. Charlotte has completely adapted to living the life of a healthy 5 year old.

She has struggled. And she has learned. We have watched her struggle and learned how to make her better. It’s a been a commitment to learning and growing, knowing that it will never be “fixed” or even “right”. But through it all, her amazing body and mind has changed and grown and developed into a strong and capable child.

It’s empowering to know that we’re all human and we’re all in this together. We are all striving to be strong and capable, and nobody has this all figured out. Our kids are watching us try and fail and then try some more. Charlotte will struggle again. We know that, but what’s different now is that we’re better prepared. I firmly believe that what doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger….but only if we are paying attention.

Mirror, Mirror

securedownload

Last month we celebrated Charlotte’s 5th birthday. She hit a milestone number in a whirlwind week. Between traveling with both kids over the winter break and planning her small birthday party over the weekend, I did manage to find some time to reflect on everything that we have been through since her birth. What I concluded is that I am a changed person. I honestly remember very little about my life from before she was born. I can’t even recall what things I thought about, what I did with my time, or even what I ate.

I would have loved to do a full post on how much I’ve grown and learned since she was born. How the challenges of managing her health issues and my health issues simultaneously are often more than I feel like I can handle. How I now understand the depths of unconditional love in a way that I could have never before. How I see the world through a new lens of acceptance and respect. How walking on this path full of the big and little challenges and changes that raising her brings has taught me more about myself than any other experience I am certain I will ever have in my lifetime. I have found a new level of confidence with a self respect and acceptance that I never thought I would find.

But true to form, Charlotte didn’t give me much time to slow down and reflect. She kept me on my toes all week–her enthusiasm and excitement over her birthday bubbling over into overstimulation, sleep disturbances, anxiety, and repetitive behaviors. It certainly posed a challenge to get in a positive and reflective place while she became dysregulated and exhausted in anticipation of the big day.

The hardest part of managing Charlotte’s anxiety is that it is so much like my own. It knows no boundaries. It starts with happy and anticipatory thoughts of an exciting event. Without enough control to predict or prepare for every possible scenario–who is coming, what will my presents be, why can’t my birthday be here already–a spiraling and magnetic energy forms and begins grabbing at any fear or thought that she cannot control. Long buried fears of bumble bees and flies once again resurface and can’t be put to rest with mommy’s explanation that the flies and bees are more scared of you than you are of them. Her thoughts remain unsettled and the questions are unanswered. And so they are asked again and again and again.

Her repetition is a breeding ground for my own buried fears and concerns–for her future, for her relationships and for the challenges that she will continue to face. It’s at this point that my own tornado of self-defeating thoughts and emotions begin to gain momentum.

And at the same time, even the briefest moments of reflection and positive thinking actually pay big dividends. The challenges over the last five years have made me somewhat of an expert in managing my own anxiety. I have learned to painfully dig past the influences and experiences that have created the unhealthy patterns of negative self talk and found a well of acceptance and self worth that only I know how to nurture and protect. Using my own resources as tools for light and hope when the darkest thoughts want to have their way. And while it’s difficult and somewhat painful to have a mirror image of my most annoying patterns of behavior parroting in front of me, it’s comforting to know how to handle it.

It is as simple as telling myself what works for me will work for her and vice versa.

Self Talk

At about 2 years old, when Charlotte was first talking in meaningful sentences, she often repeated the phrases that calmed her. If she saw something that frightened her or if she was feeling upset or dysregualted, she would begin her mantra. “I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay.” It was an early coping mechanism that served a valuable purpose. Her self talk calmed the anxiety storm that was brewing internally. I’ve used it often myself when I feeling myself getting worked up. A couple of deep breaths and Charlotte’s mantra are a quick fix when either one of us are on the verge of a meltdown.

Back to Basics

In the last post, I mentioned a book called The Primal Connection by Mark Sisson. This book can really be best described as a Primal/Paleo Blueprint for a healthy mind. Mark discusses all of the ways modern society has lead us down a path of anxious and negative thoughts. After reading this book, I began to understand my issues with anxiety not as the shameful character flaw that I always thought them to be, but more of a result of human cognitive abilities gone a bit haywire. Mark discusses how “technology–and the noise, sound, light, and thought pollution it produces-the fight or flight response, our bread and butter throughout evolution, is now one of the most abused mechanisms in the human body.”

All of the seemingly innocent thoughts and fears that Charlotte and I should otherwise dismiss are noisy alarms in our anxious and unsettled minds–sending off signals for fight-or-flight and the accompanying stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, keeping us both awake in the nighttime hours.

Mark beautifully outlines in his book all of the way we can counteract these broken biological messages. Simple pleasures like a walk outside, slowing down the pace of a busy day, or taking a bath are all ways to reset the body and mind naturally. And on a day where the stress hormones are free flowing around these parts, we’ll grab a sweatshirt and head outside. A quick walk or bike ride around the block, some creative time with sidewalk chalk or just digging in the dirt for worms really brings Charlotte back to a place where she can better control the anxious thoughts and behaviors.

Ride it Out

There were obviously days during Charlotte’s birthday week that I wanted to scream in frustration. When several sleepless nights and dysregulated days were taking their toll on my mental state, I stayed above the darkness knowing that This Too Shall Pass. Knowing how you got into an anxious situation is often your quickest ticket out of it. As much as I tried to control all of the behaviors to prevent a spiral for both us, I also knew that it would all be back to normal when the birthday excitement died down.

Sure enough, several weeks have passed and I have found the space to reflect and post on how experiences like these continue to lead us down a path of acceptance. The more we anticipate and understand Charlotte’s needs, then more we are in a place to guide her toward a healthier mind.

And as I think further back, before she was born, maybe there are still some parts of me that have remained unchanged. I was a teacher, and I will always be a teacher. But these days, instead of teaching multiplication and reading comprehension skills, I’m modeling lessons in self care and ultimately the most powerful weapon against anxiety: confidence and self acceptance.

Sleep Is My Sugar

Last week my friend Siiri and I were chatting on the phone while she commuted home at the end of her work day and I drove Dana to her evening ballet class. We chatted about our typical stuff–a lighthearted retelling of the day’s triumphs and frustrations. Nothing was unusual about the conversation until she started talking about how her day took a downturn when she indulged in office snacks coated in sugar and carbs. I sighed an empathetic sigh, knowing too well the effect food has on our bodies and minds. And while I don’t struggle with sugar cravings like Siiri does, I felt a connection to her situation like I hadn’t before.

I listened further, her words matching my own unspoken feelings of frustration and longing. There was a familiarity in how hard it was for her to fight against the messages her body was sending her. I had been waking several times a night over the past few weeks, confused and angrily reaching for sleep aids I didn’t want to take, restlessly moving from the bed to the couch–searching for just the right quiet environment to settle myself into sleep. Nagging questions and fear about why this was happening to me again only intensified the tossing and turning. I would wake up exhausted and defeated–having no plan to make it better, only hope for a better night to come. The sense of peace and gratitude that I work so hard to maintain had slipped through my fingers. And then it struck me. I was so inspired by my revelation that I rudely interrupted her thoughtful monologue and announced, “Sleep is my sugar!”

I covered her confused silence with the explanation that a good night’s sleep for me is currently as desired as the chocolate in her bottom desk drawer. The question I asked her is, “Why is it so hard to do the things we know our bodies need?” She immediately understood my struggle, and not having an answer, we laughed at finding the unexpected common ground of our unique situations–wanting so desperately the things we can’t have.

It got me thinking about all of the support in the Paleo community for those addicted to sugar. Programs like the 21 Day Sugar Detox and the Whole 30 provide a structured format to teach us to listen to the right messages in our bodies. Using a group dynamic as support to walk away from sugary temptations in the office, the pantry, and every street corner, they are powerful programs that change the way people think. While I haven’t personally completed one of these programs yet, the idea seems to be to get people to connect with what their individual body needs, not just what it wants.

In all honesty, I feel a twinge of loneliness and isolation in my struggles with sleep. While these sugar addiction programs seem to be a dime a dozen, those of us with insomnia related adrenal issues must learn to decode the messages of our own bodies with only our own thoughts in the middle of the night.

Until the recent conversation with Siiri served as an epiphany of sorts.The more I thought about it, the more I realized that stress in the form of cortisol is equally as addictive as sugar. Just as Siiri blames her sugar addictions on too many early years of junk food and packaged sweets, so is the bulk of stress and anxiety I’ve been carrying my entire life. I was an anxious child that grew into a tightly wound Type A personality. I can’t undo that.

Since my adrenal collapse in 2008, I’ve learned that the body does have limits and will break.  I need to continue to work hard and reading and understanding the messages that formed unhealthy habits and behaviors.  My body could have responded to the stress of the last five years with a different set of symptoms, but my genetics have unfolded to reveal insomnia as an indicator that the body needs a change. I cringe thinking of the familiar struggles my mom had with sleep and stress while raising my sister and I.

sleep sugar post

So how do I change the course of my genetics?  How do I minimize my struggle with stress?  Mark Sisson talks about all of this in his recent book, The Primal Connection. He stresses that we must understand what we need to thrive as human beings. Things like face to face interaction, laughter, sunlight, relaxation, and outdoor sensory experiences are essential to human existence. We live in a world that works against our basic human needs. It makes sense that the nights I take a hot bath, relax with a book instead of TV, and generally slow down in the night hours are nights when sleep comes easier.

It’s so clear now that just like Siiri can expect to feel poorly after eating an office treat, I can expect to sleep poorly if I jump in bed at the end of a stressful day and expect a restful sleep.

Chad and I began a Whole 30 this month to remove treats like corn chips, tortillas, cheese and wine from our diets. I know that this will help both of us in a different ways. He’ll clean up his diet and feel better and sleep better as a result. And while we will be eating many of the same cleaner foods, my experience will look and feel very different. Instead of looking at thoughts and behaviors that lead to poor food choices, I will look at what thoughts and behaviors lead to poor sleep.

I’ll focus on managing my internal cortisol roller coaster–smoothing out the ups and prioritizing the downs. Mark’s book has a wealth of information that I’ve already put to use. We’ve cut back on media for the kids, pushed more outside activity and gotten back to simple things like reading books and listening to music as entertainment. (Stay tuned for another post on how this has helped Charlotte).

It’s as simple as understanding the needs of our bodies and using the appropriate tools to help ourselves succeed. I’m writing this post to encourage myself to fill my days with positive thoughts and behaviors that will lead to good sleep–exercise, nature, light, and gratitude for experiences and friendships that always lead me back to the right path.

 

 

Resolutions Reconstructed

DSC_0014

We are officially one week into the New Year so it’s time to resolve to get fitter, stronger, richer, and better organized. I’m big on resolutions. I love thinking and planning so all of this is fun for my nerdy left brain. You may have read last year’s post where I outlined some very specific Paleo-based goals for my family, and we met many of them. I even revisited the resolutions halfway through the year in this post where I tweaked them and applied new approaches to achieve what I thought would make us healthier.

So here I am one year further along in this journey toward better health. And before I jump into doing more to be healthier, I am pausing. I’m asking myself where I really need to put this renewed spirit and inspiration. I’m thinking back to 2008 when I was so confused and disconnected to own body and mind that I let other people define my health with a slew of prescription drugs. I let others lead Charlotte toward poor food choices and regression in health. What have I learned since then? Isn’t it time to really own this journey? It’s time to think about what it takes to feel healthy, not just be healthy.

My resolutions should be achievable goals that make me feel fulfilled and even happy, and I know now that I’m setting myself up to fail if I don’t really think and understand what it takes to get there.

I want to blog more often. Well, for me to blog more often I need to feel rested, positive, and inspired. I need to have positive thoughts about my life and its challenges. I need to stay above the powerful current of stress and negative thoughts that really want to bring me down. This is no easy task for me. It takes good sleep, clean eating, and appropriate exercise. To achieve this resolution, I need to feel healthy to write more often, which in turns makes me feel fulfilled and promotes positive thoughts.

I want to exercise more. I started doing modified Cross Fit workouts this last year. This basically means that Chad creates really tough whole-body work outs that we do together in our garage. I want to do them more consistently, but I know that Cross Fit type workouts are a breeding ground for adrenal fatigue–raising cortisol and adrenaline and creating sleep issues for me. Exercises like yoga and pilates reduce cortisol and promote a feeling of well-being. So finding a balance between the two types of exercise that promotes quality sleep and generally feels healthy sounds like a good resolution for me.

So when I thought about doing this post on resolutions or getting started on your Paleo journey, it made sense to tell you to make it personal. It has helped me to create unique and personal goals or resolutions that are promoted by my best thoughts, efforts, and energy.

You may know that the Paleo lifestyle is a good option for you and your family, but you need some more direction. I’ll do my best to give you my insight on what it takes for each and every one of us to achieve good health as human beings, but I’ll also give you a bit of direction toward your unique resolutions and personal best health. Nearly three years into our Paleo journey, here’s what I’ve learned and want to share with you if you are using New Year’s resolutions as an avenue to improve your health.

Build a Community. 

Ancestral wellness tells us that human beings thrive in communities and suffer in isolation. Wherever you are in your Paleo journey, you will need some level of support and community. The internet is as good as it’s going to get for many of us. Use the resources tab on this site to connect to other blogs. Many are written by parents of Paleo families, doing all they can to make this lifestyle work.

If you are fortunate enough to know others who live the Paleo lifestyle in real life, create social opportunities to share recipes, resources, or enjoy a good hike or workout. It’s our experience that families that have come to this lifestyle have done so with a unmet need for better health and an open mind to achieve it. Get brave and use sites like Meetup.com to find others who share your passion for good health.

Be selective about your media. When you log on to Facebook or turn on the TV, lessen the energy you put into filtering the misinformation about what health is or what others tell us about being healthy. Get rid or limit TV shows, sites, or posts that give you false ideas or expectations.

Sleep.

Quality sleep is essential to completing any task that requires a significant amount of energy. Adopting Paleo and changing age-old lifestyle habits and mindsets requires will power and a tough mental state. I speak from years of experience here when I tell you that poor sleep will wreck the success you may be working so hard in the day light hours to achieve. If you want to succeed at your goals in 2013, set a bed time and stick to it.

Learn.

Failure is part of the human experience. We will fall down and make mistakes. As a recovering perfectionist, I can tell you that changing your mindset around failure is the first step toward accepting your setbacks and even failing less often. Use each missed step around Paleo eating as a learning experience. Ask yourself why the regretful incident occurred. Did I eat that (bread, pasta, sugar, treat) because I wasn’t prepared, didn’t communicate, or caved to peer pressure? Whatever the reason for the mistake, don’t over-think it (like I tend to do). Move on and promise yourself you’ll learn from it and do better next time.

Find Your Healthy Place.

Here’s where it gets personal and unique to your health and mindset around change. We are all human beings but we all respond, change, and learn a little bit differently. Nothing teaches this lesson better than raising a special needs child.

Just as knowing and anticipating your child’s needs like the back of your hand gets you through life’s challenges and changes, it’s important to know the same for yourself. How do you best respond to change? What motivates you to get rid of bad habits? What thoughts or patterns of behavior promote change or work against you? If you’re not sure, now may be a good time to find out.

Try a program like the 21 Day Sugar Detox or the Whole 30 for a structured format with strict rules telling you what and what not to eat, or you may benefit from an 80/20 approach that allows more flexibility while still achieving your goals.

Give Yourself Permission

It’s my belief that we do not hear this message enough as parents. Taking some of our energy and inspiration and using it to better ourselves to promote our personal health while  leading our families toward creating uniquely healthy habits is our life’s work.

It’s my wish for you that 2013 brings learning through experience, growth, and resolutions achieved.

A Happy Holiday Season

ARUK07-1-F

I often use conversations with friends and family as inspiration for my posts. It inspires me to know that others around me fret about the same kinds of things I do. And after a couple of lengthy chats with friends this week, I have come to realize that the holiday craziness is officially upon us and we’re all feeling the pressure to make it just right.

A couple of mornings ago, I was stunned with guilt when Dana announced that Annie, our Elf-on-the-Shelf, had not gone to the North Pole (to tell Santa that Dana had been a good girl and return to a new spot in the house) and the Tooth Fairy had left her tooth untouched. Suddenly, what should be fun and whimsical turns into a weird twisting of the truth for the sake of keeping the “magic” alive.

Thankfully, Dana bought my story about the storm keeping Annie away and her tooth in its case, but what about next time? In the midst of decorating the Christmas tree, finding matching dress shoes for tomorrow’s holiday performance, making dinner, helping with homework, and preparing gluten-free holiday treats, something else is bound to be forgotten. These thoughts leave my friends and I asking–How can I get it all done? Should it feel this hard? What if my kids are disappointed? And most importantly, how do I deal with all of this stress?

I think I learned the answer to this question the hard way just a few weeks ago. Upon returning home from Disneyland (a trip that took loads of preparation), our dog passed away. A few days later my identity was stolen. The dryer broke. I blinked and it was Thanksgiving, and we were hosting. I handled it all fine. No mommy meltdowns. No major dysregulation. Everybody was eating and sleeping and behaving just fine. Until, I couldn’t   sleep. And my cycle was jacked up. And then I thought I was losing my hair again. The stress that I thought I had beaten found me in a dark alley and had its way with me.

I was sure there was something terribly wrong. Again. I had bloodwork done to make sure I was okay, and I was. Just more adrenal issues in response to stress. Things are back on track, and well, now it’s Christmas as well as Birthday Season around here, and I feel the same pressures as my friends to make everything special and sweet and wonderful for my children over the next few weeks. I want to do it all without stressing myself out too much. Is that possible? I can only continue on my journey and learn as I go.

I realized that over the month of November, where it felt like the universe was working completely against me, I pushed through some important messages from my body. Sit Down. Skip Your Workout Today. Breathe. Eat. Relax. Smile.

I got a lot done, but I let my Type A tendencies kick the pants off of anything restorative or helpful. So, today, with less than 3 weeks until Christmas, here’s how I’m attempting to find some balance and cheer this holiday season.

Sit. Breathe. Read.

Since Charlotte is in school more often this year, I have more time to myself in the middle of the day. I’ve learned over the last few months that I’m only going to find quiet and restorative time if I do it during the school hours. Once I pick the girls up, the second half of my day begins, and I’m pushing myself too hard if I start at 6am and don’t stop until bedtime. I’m forcing myself to stop what I’m doing and sit down in the middle of the day  to have a cup of tea, read a blog, pick up a magazine, or just close my eyes until pick up time.

Bathe.

A hot bath at any point in the day is a restorative luxury for me. I instantly feel my cortisol drop and am forced to relax, once I clear Ariel and her mermaid friends out of the tub.

Write.

After I did the Disneyland post, I felt more reflective and connected than I had in a long time. It was a very healthy exercise for me to think back over our previous experiences and  tell a positive and inspiring story. Taking a look how far we’ve come keeps me focused and  inspired to keep doing all I do for my family. (And thanks for supporting this habit by reading what I feel inspired to write about)

Observe.

Dana takes ballet class two evenings per week. Often, I drop her off and run errands, chat on the phone, or try to get something done. But lately, I’ve been watching her during her class. Really watching her. Studying how strong and graceful she’s become. Taking pride and feeling grateful for the sacrifices we’ve made to make her lessons happen. And feeling pride and gratitude as a parent is never a bad thing.

Forgive.

Last week when I was fretting about the food budget and gifts and affording everything we needed to buy, it was Chad who gave me the permission to just buy the cheaper eggs and meat at the grocery store. No, we haven’t left Paleo or high-quality, real food, but we have given ourselves permission to eat less-than-perfect foods this month without guilt or anxiety. We’ve put our time in with this lifestyle and we’ve learned what allowances our bodies can handle. I can forgive myself for subbing conventional ground beef for grass-fed when there are many other expenses this month.

Keep it Real.

At a time when we’re bombarded with society’s images of the perfect holiday, I’m going to remember all that our little family has gone through. Many less-than-perfect moments have added up to a lifetime of happy, shared, memories that are uniquely ours. I don’t look back and regret any of the lessons we’ve learned, the mistakes we’ve made, or the triumphs we’ve shared.

As I continue on this journey toward better health for my family, the more I realize there are no easy answers. Each day, each season, and each experience brings us closer to knowing what works and what doesn’t–if we pay attention. Christmas time will never be easy and our grandmothers and mothers will tell us it was equally hard for them. There’s no extra credit points for getting it just right, and no reward for the picture-perfect experience.

Happy Holidays. May your holiday season be uniquely yours.

TGIF

Thank God it’s Fall.

This summer we faced challenges that forced us to take a hard look at our expectations, our lifestyle, and our reality. We had to dig deep, reevaluate and refocus on the health of our family.

We didn’t go off the rails with food. I wish we could say that having a few cheat meals or non-Paleo parties taught us that our health is a fragile state that cannot be taken for granted. It has nothing to do with food. While staying squeaky-clean Paleo we learned the hard lesson of how stress can be just as toxic to the body as gluten-filled pastries or a plate of pasta.

It is with relief and gratitude that I write this post to share how we weathered the storm of a stressful and dysregulated summer and made it to a place where we can continue to share our experiences in the hope of inspiring your journey toward better health.

When I reread the post where I regretfully signed off of this blog for the summer, I can feel the underpinnings of stress and anxiety in my words. I can sense the unrest that was setting up shop in our world and the waves of challenges that were forming. The girls’ dance recital, Chad’s emergency surgery, and other emotional stressors in the month of June began to shake our rock solid sense of control.

Reality

Parenting a fairly well-regulated, mainstreamed child whose ASD symptoms stood safely in the distance became upended with the change of seasons. It started with Charlotte’s nighttime wakings and like a switch that was flipped on her last day of preschool, restlessness took hold at night. Limited sleep descended upon all of us.

It was the first hint that the excitatory neurons that cause her ASD behaviors were unsettled and disorganized and had come out to play in the summer months.

Charlotte’s typical mildly defiant nature was replaced with regressive behaviors in unusual and unpredictable patterns. A lack of effort and defiance at ballet class, a loss of skills at swimming lessons, and screaming and tantruming at occupational therapy sessions were windows into the stress and disorganization she was feeling inside.

This unsettled and disorganized state is familiar to us. Charlotte tends to have more ASD symptoms in times of stress and change of routine. What was different about this period of dysregulation was how the change in her behavior effected the dynamics of our entire family and each family member individually.

I can tell you with certainty now that stress spreads. Like a virus that doesn’t respond to your best herbal treatments, it creeps into the thoughts and behaviors of all family members showing symptoms like conflict, exhaustion, pouting, and insomnia, not to mention the marital and sibling discord.

Without the distractions of school and activities the stress is constant–unending from daytime to nighttime and back to daytime again. Can Mommy get a break?

I was faced with the daunting need of my own flailing mental health while managing a household that was clearly but temporarily off track. It was all so familiar and traumatic. Like 2008, but with bone broth, salmon, and grass-fed beef instead of Zoloft and Ativan.

Choices

It was on our family vacation that my insomnia set in, and I recognized my adrenal and mental health issues were at a point of no return. As much as I tried to undo the anxious and negative thoughts that had gotten me to a place of unrest, I couldn’t undo the nighttime wakings and unsettled thoughts about Charlotte and her future that had set up camp in my consciousness.

I had the needs of my kids in my face 24-7, and I was beyond the point of yoga and meditation to help myself and my family. I considered going back on my meds as a quick fix. Numbing the pain would be helpful to my daily functioning, but I knew they would also blunt my creativity and passion for fighting through this challenge.

Digging Deep and Finding the Light

I’ve done it before and knew I must do it again. I reread my favorite self-help author Brene’ Brown and got inspired to Dig Deep. I found comfort and restorative energy in reading other blogs of special needs parents, learning all I could about Autism and regression, and continued to eat clean and get as many nutrients as I could find.

I got smart about the challenges that Charlotte was facing. I really wanted to combine all of her challenges into one big ball or misery and exhaustion, but I forced myself to peel apart the behaviors and address each one separately and deliberately. I made social stories to present acceptable and unacceptable behaviors in a visual format.

I began to feel like there was an overlap in the issues and feelings that Charlotte and I faced–a unsettledness that changed from day-to-day, a general feeling of not doing enough with our bodies and minds to feel fulfilled. I built on the exuberance and excitement that Charlotte felt on our family vacation to the mountains, and I got us outside as often as possible. I plugged into Paleo philosophies that were new to me–beach trips and bike rides, and as many trips to the pool as I could manage. We ventured out to nearby lake for fishing and playing, and we all found nature peaceful and calming like nothing inside the home could ever provide.

Toward the end of the summer, we began to find a rhythm within ourselves again. I had more energy to keep the girls entertained, and I began to understand that boredom was the bane of our existence. A more stimulated Charlotte was a better behaved and more regulated Charlotte. Everything and everyone felt better. It was counter-intuitive to everything I was working toward, but I let go of a strict routine, structure, and predictability, and let adventures and experiences help everybody. I tested my theory and took both girls on a road trip by myself right before the start of school.

I was amazed at the children that I saw before me. A full day of new experiences–from the beach to the zoo and out to dinner, their behavior was manageable and acceptable. I was in control again and having fun. I could feel my cortisol levels dropping as we connected and healed.

Learn and Grow

There were so many times when I wanted to come to this blog and write/scream/vent all of feelings of anger and frustration at the state of my life. How could I let this happen again? What had I done to deserve this state of stress and misery?

I knew you didn’t have the answer. I knew it was within me. I had some growing to do, and I was the only one that could help me with that. I went back to what worked in the past and built on it. Living Paleo has taught me to find strength and positive energy in things that come from natural sources–a good meal, a talk with a friend, and a walk around the block build patience and trust that lead a well of happiness and gratitude at the end of a long road.

The rhythm of the school year is upon us and I’m already seeing the familiar behaviors of motivation for learning, play and a good night’s sleep to finish the day. Boredom and restlessness have been replaced with inspiration and excitement.

While I’m happy to see this long and challenging summer come to an end, I know that we are all richer and wiser for the experience. I will take these powerful lessons and turn them into tools to stay healthy next summer. We will plan to stay busy and active, get outside everyday, approach behavior and sleep with a new perspective, and focus on staying relaxed and connected.

Life’s challenges are seasonal–always changing and deeply rewarding. This particular season taught me so much about my own health, the depth and power of my own strength, and the gifts that are my children.

Solving the Mystery of PMS

Have you ever had one of those moments when you are going about your day, feeling like you’ve got a handle on yourself and your emotions and then all-of-a-sudden you’re freaking out and completely overreacting? It almost feels like you’re watching yourself cry/scream/fight in some kind of B movie that you can’t turn off. You feel completely out of control and you hear the voice in your head telling you that you need to get a grip/calm down/relax, but that voice is being slapped around by a force that wants to be reckoned with.

It’s a horrible feeling to completely lose control over your words, thoughts, and emotions. Regret and guilt rush in and take over when the anger and frustration have exhausted themselves. Anything said or done in front of your family, friends, or coworkers cannot be taken back and embarrassment and shame fall quickly in line.

My worst PMS moments have been like this, and the term “mood swing” doesn’t seem to do justice to the range of physical and emotional turmoil that I have the potential to feel. A few years ago, I sat in my psychiatrist’s office and awkwardly tried to describe how I awful I felt each month. I explained that I could feel the out-of-control feeling coming on as early as ovulation, and it didn’t subside until day 1 or 2 of my cycle. I took a deep breath when he promptly pulled out a little book, hoping there was a cure for the worst parts of myself in there. He began to read aloud a list of symptoms. With each symptom I answered “yes” to, my chest tightened a bit, and by the end of the list, he looked me in the eye and announced that I had PMDD. (PMDD is basically a more severe set of PMS symptoms that negatively impact day-to-day life) I wasn’t really surprised and anxiously waited for something…anything that would help me. The only alternative he presented to me was to increase my medications at ovulation and taper off when I felt better.

I was already eating Paleo and was making a conscious effort to use my nutrient-dense diet to come down from the sky-high amounts of drugs that had been prescribed to me at the onset of my adrenal fatigue/depression. It was shortly after this appointment that I sought out acupuncture and herbal remedies to help with the monthly mood swings. I found relief in this practice, but not in the fees that were not covered by my insurance. For the next 6 months or so, I continued the herbal treatments with some relief in the form of mood stabilization and increased energy, but struggled with late periods and longer cycles.

A couple of months ago, to my delight, I noticed that I didn’t need to take the herbs as often. I’d feel fine past ovulation and sneak in a couple if I needed them, but generally felt more in control, and I even noticed that I was actually pleasant to be around during the luteal phase of my cycle. I even wrote about how I avoided a meltdown.

And just last month, I felt a little edgy but still under control during a tense conversation with Chad, so I checked the calendar. You can imagine how I felt when I realized I was 1 WEEK AWAY from starting my period–7 days out, and I was in control of my mood. I promptly reported to Chad, “I’m normal! I am only having 1 week of mild PMS symptoms!” His reaction was a priceless mix of fear at having the wrong response and general relief.

I began to ask myself what had happened over the last few months that could have improved my symptoms so significantly. The answer may not surprise you…liver has been dubbed a Superfood in the Paleo world, and now I can safely say that I agree. In addition to regrowing my hair, the liver has helped with my PMS (I mean PMDD). The best part is that it’s not that hard. You may have read that we have been eating 4-6 ounces of liver consistently every week in our burgers or meatloaf. It’s relatively inexpensive, and we have not noticed a difference in the taste of the food. Click here for the burger recipe.

With a little research and a hunch, I also discovered that these nutrients are required to make the menstrual cycle happen each month.  I was listening to the Balanced Bites podcast #32 on my walk a few weeks ago, and when Liz began talking about how Vitamin B-6 and A were key in synthesizing the delicate dance of estrogen and progesterone every month, I listened carefully, knowing that these were in the vitamins that I used for relief of my symptoms.

What I can conclude is that every month around ovulation, my body strips the available nutrients from my liver necessary for the rising and falling of hormones that allow an egg to drop, ready for fertilization. The mood issues come into play when I’m trying to function without sufficient nutrients. When I eat just a few ounces of beef liver each week, I get enough Vitamin A, B-6, and B-12 to allow the hormones to ebb and flow like they are designed to and there’s enough leftover in my system for me to function normally.

[graph courtesy of Fit Day. Nutrients for 1 ounce of beef liver]

You may be asking yourself why I don’t just take the vitamins instead of dealing with cow’s liver. Somehow my body seems to know the difference between the synthetic vitamins pictured above and the real deal. I feel better in the short-term, but the communication of hormones is interrupted and my period is delayed when I pop the pill form.

I think I may be on to something here as anything I read online having to do with PMS and food has to do with so many women being unable to keep their cravings in check. My theory is that the body is low on nutrients just before bleeding occurs. The body is starving for nutrients and tells the mind to go get food. That may explain why we crave sugar, salts, carbs, and all of the foods we know we shouldn’t eat.

In addition to the cow’s liver, I’ve been supplementing with magnesium for cramping and breast tenderness. Chocolate contains magnesium and may be a reason why women can’t stay away from chocolate certain times of the month. Magnesium is an essential mineral that relaxes the body. We also use it for soreness from exercise and help with sleep.

I am so full of hope and overcome with relief as I begin this leg of my journey toward wellness. I have learned so much about what my body needs to function effectively, and after years of living in a depleted state, I can finally enjoy the benefits of a healed and healthy body. In addition, my girls enjoy the liver burgers every week and magnesium supplements a few times per week. Hopefully, they will be better equipped to win the battle over their own hormones someday.