My New and Improved “To-Do List”

I’m a big list-maker and the To-Do list has always served two purposes in my mind: write an important task down so that I don’t forget to do it and have the things I’ve done that day written down as visual confirmation of tasks accomplished. I love the feeling of getting things done, and I have even been known to finish something and then write it down on my list just to have the satisfaction of crossing it off.

This task-oriented machine that lives inside of me is both a blessing and a curse. I manage to accomplish quite a few things in a given period of time, but it’s difficult to keep myself in check. When I get going on my list, I get so overwhelmed with everything that has to be done, that I sometimes skip meals, stay up too late, or miss out on moments to relax and do something for myself. Oftentimes the blinders that I wear when it comes to accomplishing things keep me from really listening to what my body needs.

I spent years letting my To-Do list run my life. I was sending constant stress signals to my body to get things done and keep things perfect. I didn’t realize how dangerous these messages were until my body and mind had enough. Charlotte was born, and I got so sick with adrenal fatigue and depression that I had to embrace a different mindset about getting things done. The blinders had to come off so I could listen to the needs of my body and re-learn my limits.

The Have-To-Do List

My To-Do list today looks very different than it did in back in my perfectionist, plate-spinning days.  Instead of a list of tasks that I feel that I must accomplish or the world will end tomorrow, I chose a few things that really need to get done to keep my household running smoothly. Typically, I keep a list of groceries that I need for meals for the week, any items or tasks for the girls’ school/therapy/activities, and another list for finances and making sure the bills are paid. My general attitude is that if I’ve covered these things, everything else kind of takes care of itself.

The Want-To-Do List

My old To-Do list was a combination of household items that MUST be done mixed in with personal challenges or activities that were intended to be fun and healthy, but turned stressful with the wrong mindset. Exercise is the perfect example. I used to tell myself that  I HAD to exercise everyday, and I would wrap myself in guilt if I didn’t get to the gym. Now I reward myself with exercise if I’ve finished what I need to from my have-to-do list. I also switched to doing a variety of exercises that I really enjoy so it really feels like something I WANT to do.

I wrote last week about my near meltdown and learned that when I filled my day with too many have-to-do items, negativity and crankiness spill over into my time with the kids or Chad. Whatever I may have accomplished will never outweigh the feelings of impatience around the kids or a pending personal implosion.

So for me, things like blogging, reading, calling a friend, or taking a nap all fall into the want-to-do list. I’m learning to organize my day so that these important tasks get done and have the same importance as the things that I HAVE to do. When a pocket of time opens up, I fill it with something that I WANT to do. It’s a win-win when I take time for myself and get a feeling of accomplishment.

Paleo

Changing my mindset about which tasks in my life are things I have-to-do and which are things I want-to-do has been very powerful, especially when it comes to the Paleo Lifestyle. I remind myself often that we are choosing to live this way. Keeping Paleo a want-to-do item helps keep the demands of this lifestyle in perspective. Whether it’s trying one new Paleo recipe this week or tracking down some hard to find pasture-raised meats, it’s a personal challenge that I WANT to achieve.

It’s a constant work-in-progress to balance the things we want-to-do with the things we have-to-do, but thinking consciously about the choices I’m making for myself and my family are guiding me toward a healthier mindset while being kinder to myself.

photo: courtesy of Google images

Eat Your Heart (or Liver) Out

I’m not the kind of person who puts a lot of time, energy, or money into my appearance. I put just enough effort in to stay current, but not enough to really feel good about it. I’ll blame it on modern media and the images of perfect beauty that we’re bombarded with everyday. This unattainable perfection causes me to get overwhelmed with fashion trends, make-up and expensive jeans. When I go out shopping, I will come home empty-handed or will spend way more than I should have because I couldn’t make a decision. I avoid it as often as I can and often rely on my husband to encourage me to buy something new or my well-dressed sister to hand-me-down some pieces that are trendier and cuter than what I’m currently wearing.

I feel like this is shocking and strange to the rest of the world, and it has only gotten worse as I’ve had more to deal with in Mommy Land. Fighting for Charlotte’s services and getting my family on board with Paleo have taken over as priorities in my life. Clawing my way out of depression and maintaining my sanity have left little room for online shopping and skin care. Chad often tells me that I tend to hyper-focus on things until they are resolved, so much so that I don’t even notice what’s right in front of me.

So hopefully it makes sense that I didn’t notice that I was losing my hair. I told myself that Classic Baby Hormone Hair Loss Syndrome was the explanation for the thinning, short pieces around my face that l had trained to look like bangs. I shrugged when my hairdresser politely asked how long it took to grow back after my first pregnancy. More questions about vitamins and stress just left me shaking my head.

One day last Summer I looked in the mirror and noticed that my hair looked thinner. And then I felt it. Really felt it. Where there had once had been thick, full locks begging to be cut were now thin, brittle strands slipping through my fingers. Panic and fear ran through me as I raced to the computer and Googled hair loss, adrenal fatigue, hormones. Cursing myself for not noticing and letting it get to this point, I searched in desperation to find a cause. What had I done? Would it come back? Why didn’t anyone tell me? The voice of my hairstylist played in my head. I closed my eyes and visualized the chunks of hair that I had seen in the shower. How could I have not noticed this sooner?

Powerlessness and self-blame roared through my conscious thoughts until I got a grip and started finding some answers. I was on the right track with the adrenal issues. I knew I wasn’t fully recovered from the stress my body survived after Charlotte’s birth. From my issues to her issues, every available vitamin, mineral or ounce of energy reserve had been exhausted. I know enough about the human body to know that it is excellent at prioritizing. In times of stress, the body knows to give available nutrients and energy to the organs needed to maintain life. Hair re-growth after having a baby is somewhere toward the bottom of the list.

I got a hold of some vitamins from my hairstylist and began taking them immediately. Several a day. And it worked. My hair began to grow and thicken and maintain its color. After nearly six months of taking 4 tablets a day, I can wash and blow dry my hair again without twinges of panic and guilt.

Even after getting my hair on a healthy regrowth pattern, I was still left with unsettled thoughts about nutrient deficiency. Why wasn’t I getting enough of these vitamins from Paleo foods? What do I need more of? Less of? How long will I have to take these vitamins? With no real expert to consult on this subject, I’m left to the depths of my own mind to find these answers, and that can really be a scary place. Research about depleted soils for growing crops and raising animals and how it’s negatively affecting our food supply is scaring me into thinking I’ll be bald by my 40th birthday.

Just as my search for nutrient rich foods to replace the vitamins had really begun to take hold in my mind, I was sent a powerful information source in the form of our friends Mike and Rachel. (Dr. Mike got us started on the Paleo diet and has provided tremendous support and information in healing Charlotte’s gut and my adrenal issues). Over a delicious bone-broth-based soup dinner on Saturday night, we discussed how Vitamin A is the main ingredient in my hair vitamins and is found in abundance in offal–the organs of animals that we typically don’t eat, especially liver. At these words, my heart rose and sank at the same time. I have read a lot about the benefits of offal in the Paleo world, but even the pictures of these foods turned my stomach.

I looked firmly at Chad, and we listened carefully to Mike explain how I may have begun to have trouble converting Vitamin A after the adrenal issues occurred. This may explain my hair loss and sensitivity to my hormone cycles. More information only leads to more questions from me…will it help my PMS? Will it help Charlotte? How do we get the kids to eat it? No real answers but lots of information about the great source of nutrients that offal, particularly liver provide. He and Rachel then explained their tricks for eating the unpalatable organ meat, and I wasn’t feeling much better–blending the organ pieces in its own blender and plugging their nose to down the “shake”, freezing the meat in tiny pieces and swallowing them like pills–any of their attempts to hide the awful tasting meat in food was fruitless.

Later in the evening, Chad and I discussed the information we had heard. We were encouraged that a natural source of vitamins for I what I had been taking in pill form was available. But did we really need another project? Liver? Really? Trying new foods and incorporating them into what you’re already eating takes time and effort.

On the other hand, it was hard to turn away from such a nutrient-dense food that really could probably improve the health of all of us, particularly Charlotte. It seems obvious to us that the more nutrient-dense foods we get into her system on a regular basis, the more progress we see from her. We weighed all of our current competitors for our time, money, and energy and decided that this was a project we were willing to take on.  

Once our roles were clearly defined we began to get excited about our new challenge. Chad’s job is to make the organ palatable in food while keeping it hidden it from the kids. My job is to procure the product, do the research, and hopefully enjoy the benefits of thicker hair. In addition, we will also share our tips with you for getting kids to eat offal, and observing and documenting any benefits we see regarding Charlotte’s issues.

If you are currently enjoying organ meats and have any suggestions for making them work, please feel free to comment below or send me an email.

Adrenal RUSH

A few nights ago, I was watching the television show Top Chef with my older daughter, Dana. We listened to the explanation of the first Quickfire Challenge, where the chefs are given a specific task and asked to complete a gourmet treat in a given amount of time. Since I wasn’t sure if she had seen the show before, I asked her If she knew what the chefs were supposed to do. I filled in the details for her and she nodded excitedly and added, “and they have to do it all in 30 minutes!”

She was correct, and the energy and excitement that she felt watching these chefs meet the challenge got me thinking about entertainment and adrenaline. I’ve noticed that since I’ve begun the Paleo lifestyle, I look at the environment my girls are living in with a much more critical eye. Feeding them foods that the government and media deemed healthy led to illness and neurological issues, and not to be a party-pooper, but I now I’m thinking that our seemingly harmless favorite TV shows about food and competition may not be good for them.

The adrenal response is very powerful and is triggered by our thoughts. As I’ve mentioned before, our mind sends out stress signals as if we were in fight or flight mode, and our adrenal glands respond with the hormones cortisol and adrenaline. It’s for our own survival. In Paleo days, fighting our wild prey for dinner would warrant an adrenal response to keep us alive and help us fun fast, jump higher, or do whatever we needed to do to stay alive.

The addictive part of the adrenaline rush is that you don’t feel anything else when you are feeling adrenaline. Professional athletes don’t feel the pain of their injuries until days later because adrenaline doesn’t allow it in the midst of a big game. We are tricking the body to think it’s a life or death situation. Can that be good for us?

Television producers seem to think so. More and more television shows like Top Chef, 24, and Survivor want us to feel the adrenaline that the characters feel while they are preparing food or participating in a challenge. It works. We put our thoughts and worries on hold while we “enjoy” these shows.

The short term problem is that even small amounts of adrenaline that we feel from watching television can be felt in our bodies. In prioritizing mode, our bodies know that properly digesting our dinner, preparing melatonin for sleep, or regulating seratonin for a balanced mood are secondary to staying alive. In the long term, a chronic release of adrenaline leads to a breakdown of the adrenal glands.

Four years after my adrenal glands failed, I am still trying to retrain my thoughts to prevent a stress response. I stay away from watching certain shows late at night and often put a blanket or pillow in front of my face to prevent a surge of adrenaline that would interrupt my sleep. It seems to make much more sense to stop watching these shows all together or even stop watching TV, but I’m not ready to go that far.

For now, I’ll watch these shows and sports competitions and try to enjoy them for the entertainment they are without getting too attached to the characters or outcome. I’ll remind Dana just like my parents reminded me when I was frightened during a movie, “It’s not real. It’s only TV.”