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

The Mommy Meltdown

I can safely say that I avoided a dreaded Mommy Meltdown this morning. Hopefully, you are familiar with this term, and I am not alone and vulnerable in sharing how it feels when life gets so overwhelming and frustrating that I just lose all patience and any sense of calm and get….well, not a lot of fun to be around. I’ll spare you the details and just hope you understand how trying to exist in an exhausted/stressed/overworked state takes only a pouty-faced look from your 7-year-old send you into a full-blown “I cannot do this for one more second” kind of state.

This morning I won the battle with myself. I avoided screaming at the children. I didn’t even have to call and vent to my husband or best friend. I just dealt with it and moved on. I was so proud of this feat that I decided to do an entire post on what I consider the tremendous act of self-sacrifice that it takes to stifle a Mommy Meltdown.

After getting both girls to their destinations (school and therapy), I took a walk and began thinking about all of the things that led up to my anxious and fragile state this morning. There were certainly plenty of things, just as there always are. Your list may look similar, but in the last 24 hours, I’ve dealt with: a surprise insurance bill for supposedly paid therapy, seasonal allergies and crankiness from both children, my husband traveling AGAIN, slicing my right thumb on a mandolin and the annoying bandage that comes with the tender wound, not to mention dogs, meals, laundry, homework, and activities.

What I reminded myself on my walk isn’t necessarily “Paleo”, but just a life lesson that I’ve learned about managing my stress level and my personal health over the last few years. Dealing with all of the above junk isn’t really fun. It’s a pain in the butt….but it doesn’t have to make me feel miserable. I determine what makes me feel miserable and what makes me feel like I’m doing the best for my family. Simply, I am in control of my thoughts, and this is an especially powerful message that I say to myself when I’m having to deal with lots of the pain-in-the-ass stuff.

This is exactly what I practiced this morning when the pouty-faced look was just about to send me over the edge. I went upstairs (where my children were NOT) and realized that all of the negativity from yesterday’s events had flowed over into my mood this morning. When I had that ONE more thing to DEAL with, I felt like I was losing control of everything. It took tremendous self-control and self-discipline to walk away from a situation that was clearly getting under my skin, but I did it and it worked. I got control of my thoughts. I also made my bed and took a few deep breaths. When I felt better, I went back downstairs and dealt with what else needed to be done before getting out the door.

When I had a moment to myself, I took my walk, listened to Paleo Solution #125 on my ipod, and felt a little lighter knowing I only had to deal with the meltdowns of others, instead of my own, for the remainder of my day.

illustration: courtesy of Google images

What’s for Dinner?

I used to try to do everything right. I was a perfectionist in many ways, always trying to do things just right so that I would not be judged too harshly or fail at anything. Then I had kids and that didn’t work so well anymore. Trying to keep a clean house and have well-behaved kids while being a perfect wife was an unreachable goal that only led to anxious and negative thoughts.

Today I manage my household much differently and have realized the value of our family’s priorities. I learned to say No more often and lower the unreachable expectations for my kids and myself. I still struggle with micromanaging all of it on some days, but for the most part I’m better about enjoying my kids and being a mom.

When we adopted the Paleo diet, we fell into a simpler rhythm and a lower stress lifestyle. It may be difficult to believe that giving up convenience foods can make life easier, but it does. Living Paleo can actually complement a low-stress lifestyle and free you from many other demands. When life is focused on food and family time, there isn’t a lot of time for hectic over scheduling. If you must be home to prepare and clean up dinner, feeding the family takes priority, and you find a way to get it done. Everything else seems not as important.

When I get overwhelmed with being a mom and wonder if I’m doing enough to raise happy and healthy kids, I step back and know that if I get a Paleo dinner prepared and on the table each night, then I know I’ve done a lot of things right.

We focus on our Health. Grass-fed meats, salads, and quality vegetables fuel our bodies after a long day of school, play, or work. Our girls don’t eat food that comes from a package or box. We’re providing them valuable nutrients that are improving their current health and laying a foundation for a healthier future.

We express gratitude. We have recently begun a nightly prayer in Thanks to God before we eat. It gives us a moment each day to be grateful for the journey that we are on toward better health and success in meeting Charlotte’s needs. It’s very sweet to hear the girls thank God for each other, their friends, and their school.

We enjoy the meal. Each Paleo meal is full of nourishing vegetables and proteins that taste delicious. It’s safe to say that Dana is becoming quite the Foodie, understanding and appreciating the flavors and textures of foods while cleaning her plate every night. In addition, the girls are learning to value the time it takes to prepare a meal in consideration of everybody’s needs and tastes.

We feel great. If you are currently eating Paleo, then you understand how great it feels. An increase in energy is generally the first positive response most people feel when they begin the Paleo diet. The girls have energy to carry them through their day, have fewer meltdowns before dinner, and generally have better behavior.

We treasure the time together. In the busy-ness of school, homework, activities, and travel, we have one opportunity each day to connect and talk together. Even though our kids are young, they are busy with their own interests. So when they ask me 500 times throughout the day, “What’s for dinner?”  I like to think they are looking forward to the meal and time together as much as I am.

When I advocate eating Paleo, it’s a simpler and healthier lifestyle change. With a focus on family and healthy eating, everything else falls to being less important. We plan to all be home in the dinner hour to come together and finish our day as a family. When we worry less about doing everything for everybody and concentrate on healthy meals and time together, we know we’re doing something right.

Pictured above: The Bacon Chicken recipe from Paleo Parents

A Gift to Myself

Finding an old writing entry is a little bit like finding a lost treasure. Coming across my own words and hearing my own voice can often pull me out of an unwanted emotion or the depths of anxious thoughts like nothing else can. I came across this today…it’s an old entry for the Las Madres newsletter (my local Mom’s group) on the topic of Time for Myself. Reading it today really helped me put things in perspective and again recognize the importance of taking care of my own needs. While the Paleo Lifestyle has clearly been my base for better health, it’s important for me to remember other experiences and components that have guided my journey.

Here’s a little background–this was in August of 2009. Charlotte was a year old and while she was struggling with Sensory Dysregulation, we were not aware of it and had not begun the Paleo diet or any other intervention (you’ll notice this in the chicken nugget reference).  

Time for myself….

Today I got a pedicure.  This one was different than any pedicure that I have ever received. After my polish was applied and I was left alone on the tan leather bench to dry, I cried.  Well, maybe more than cried…silently sobbed into the blue single-layer tissue from a box next to me.  I went into Lavender Day Spa with the intention of switching my toe nail polish to a more autumn-like hue and became captivated by the solitude and the voice of Ray Charles on the speaker. 

On July 12th of this year, I learned that my dad passed away.  Many of my closest Las Madres friends know that this has been a difficult summer for me. I have been dealing with the death of my father while my mother stayed in my home for 6 weeks, recovering from her ankle surgery (my parents divorced 6 years ago).   It was during this difficult period of time that I began to put my children in daycare 1 day per week and take the time to get through my personal challenges.  It was on one of my sacred Tuesdays that my need to sob became real and public.

I would love to say that PMS or hormones played a part in my emotional overflow, but sadly not.  It was in this quiet and safe place that I opened a hand-written, unfinished letter from my father to me.  Just a few days before the pedicure, my sister, my husband and I traveled to Texas where my dad resided, to retrieve his ashes and become the legal guardians of his estate in a Texas courtroom.  As a shocking gift, the letter given to me was found by one of dad’s closest friends.  In the letter, my dad granted me permission to let go of any angry feelings I still held toward him and to use his mistakes to grow as a person and be the best I could for my girls.

One of my friends suggested that I read the letter once and then place it in the drawer with other important documents in file called “Dad”.  While the burying of this letter and my feelings has been tempting, I know that the healthiest action for myself and my family is to come to terms with his death and the fountain of emotions that have followed. 

Is this feat possible with a 19-month-old who climbs like Spiderman or a 4 ½-year-old that asks “Why?” to just about everything? Where in my day between nuking chicken nuggets and folding endless baskets of clean laundry is there time to properly acknowledge my feelings and grieve my parent?  Yes, his death was messy and so is my grief.  Do I save my outbursts and pouring over his letter for my children’s naptimes and bedtimes? Unfortunately, life doesn’t stop so I can grow and learn and be a better parent than my father was to me.

In order for me to answer to my father’s dying wishes and heal from this pain, I need some time away from my children.  Most of us may think of time for ourselves as a luxury.  Grocery shopping without screaming, a massage at Splendid Foot, or the irresistible monthly Mom’s Night Out are any mom’s necessary vices.  However, my experience today at Lavender Day Spa taught me that time for myself is crucial.  Without it, I cannot rest, recover and grow as a human being. Leaving my time to myself to the schedule of my children will only allow me to be as good to myself as the length of my daughter’s nap. 

I encourage us to find deep, meaningful time for ourselves on a regular basis to refuel our souls, feel fulfilled, and find ourselves. Just as we learn from our children, we want our children to learn from us.  We want to be great models of love and respect, and portray the values most important to you and your family. I think most of us would agree that beyond all of these lessons and values, we want to give them our truest and best selves.  Taking time away from our children helps us to reconnect to the values, interests, and new and old experiences that make us who we are while we continue to recreate ourselves.  For if we lose touch with ourselves, we may be writing letters to our children asking them to be better than we were.

~Joy

A Defining Moment

At the end of every post I write, I find the box on my Word Press Dashboard screen that’s entitled Categories, and I click one of several choices that I’ve created that best fits the content of the post. After finishing the Liver Post a couple of days ago, I noticed that the Categories of Mom’s Health and Stress Management were the most often used. I was somewhat surprised at first, and then I put some careful thought into the content of my posts and the direction of this blog.

When I created this blog several months ago, I would have not predicted more posts about Mom’s Health than Recipes or Sensory Regulation. What I had envisioned is different from what currently exists–but I’m okay with that.

So the post that you are currently reading is about embracing and defining what this space has become. I believe what truly calls us and speaks to us is what guides our writing, speaking, and our day-to-day thoughts and interactions. Underlying and unspoken passion sometimes bubble up in our semi-conscious thoughts until we really hear the words we are speaking or writing and embrace them for what they are. If we are brave, we ultimately accept them as part of ourselves.

I have always known that I was passionate about the current state of motherhood and parenting in general. After my post partum breakdown, I had to recognize the thoughts and expectations that were tearing down my mental state and making me internally sick. Perfectionism and doing-it-all were not working for me, and it is clearly a constant challenge for me to sort through my thoughts and expectations around motherhood, Paleo, and life in general and land in a place that feels safe and healthy.

When I began to have tremendous success in talk therapy, I knew that I had found a great power in using my words. Nothing feels better to me than speaking to you about how I pulled through a difficult day or faced a new challenge. It must be the educator in me that feels like if I can explain it, then I know it and understand it on a much deeper level. Existing on that level of understanding is what keeps me coming back to you and keeps me loving–yes, I said it–loving motherhood these days.

However, I know that the pull of perfectionism and the nagging anxious thoughts are not long gone. It’s just like the bread, sugar, and pasta that tries to find its way back to the table; the temptations of our old ways must be recycled into better choices through the tough lessons we’ve learned. Oh, and how I’ve learned…so many lessons with so much wisdom and knowledge about my personal health, that I cannot hold back.

It is with certainty that I say this–had I been told about Paleo only 2 years earlier when I was pregnant with Charlotte, I firmly believe her issues and therefore this blog would not exist. As a result of this truth, helping other families achieve some level of success from diet change is a burning desire that comes from an internal passion I cannot extinguish, no matter how hard I try. So don’t you worry, you’ll still be reading about our Liver Experiment and everything Paleo.

I’ve grabbed this defining moment and reflected on where we’re headed together, and here’s what I’ve come up with…Life’s tough lessons have brought me to creating this space to share what has worked for me–taking care of myself first. When I’m taken care of, then I can meet the needs of my family. Paleo is the beacon of light that guides my journey.

You don’t need to have a special needs child to like it here. You don’t even need to be eating Paleo or even wanting to eat Paleo. All are welcome. If you embrace Parenting as Life’s ultimate journey and sacrifice, want to make good choices for you and your family, and teach by example, then jump on board. Let’s learn together and make the most of this time with our kids.

Good Morning

 
A few weeks ago I was searching for more quiet time in my day. I was feeling like the days and weeks were bleeding into each other. The school week felt like a blur, and the weekend seemed like just preparation for the same mild chaos that we had just lived through.  My hope was that meditation and a quiet space at some point in my day would slow the days and weeks down, and ultimately I was looking for direction down a path to find the me that I know I have the potential to be. I have had fleeting visions of a calm, creative, and centered self that enjoys the day-to-day moments of motherhood and seems less affected by the day’s challenges.  
 
Chad suggested waking earlier and so he and I could have some time together over a cup of coffee before he left for work at 6am. As someone who savors sleep like a fine wine, I thought this was a terrible idea. I loved hearing the first alarm clock in the early morning darkness knowing it wasn’t for me. And when he would leave, I would slip back into a sweet slumber until the last possible seconds before I needed to be up-and-at-’em to get the kids to school on time. In addition to my desperate need to fill my sleep deprivation tank, I also had a concern that waking before the rooster crows would crash me into the proverbial afternoon wall of exhaustion at 3 pm. With homework, activities, dinner prep leading up to dishes, bath, and bedtime routine, this is just when the day really gets going and does not work so well with a pooped out and cranky mommy.
 
But after years of hearing yoga teachers and other mindfulness experts talk about being centered and present, I decided it was time to set the excuses aside and go find this elusive concept. After a few weeks of gradually setting my alarm clock back to 5:30am, I found that waking up earlier isn’t as hard as I thought it would be. After Chad and I talk about the day’s schedule and the evening’s dinner plan over our morning coffee, he leaves for work, and I have 30 gloriously silent minutes that I use to clear the cobwebs from the old attic that is my mind. And what I find is beyond any benefit of an extra hour of sleep–free, usable, precious, empty space that gives way to feelings of gratitude, peace, and even happiness to carry me through my day. 
 
Truthfully, this early morning time has become crucial to maintaining my mental health as I’ve come off of anti-depressants. After experiencing years of a drug-induced haze that kept me from going too high or too low, I’m pulling myself out of the lows, savoring sweet moments, writing to you about overcoming our challenges, and generally living a better life.
 
Oh…and I should mention that getting up before the sun means that I am fast asleep during the first DVR’d show that we had planned to watch together after the kids are asleep, but somehow I’m okay with that and so is Chad.
 
 
 
Here’s some images from a week of beautiful weather that I am proud to say that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Charlotte and Dana at ballet class.

Charlotte soaking up some Vitamin D at the park yesterday.

The girls and I enjoying salads at Chipotle.                                                                    

 

 

 

 

 

 

A salad for a picnic with lettuce, chicken thighs, grapefruit, radish, and sliced almonds.

Have a great weekend.

My Box of Truths

Life can be tough. Just when we think we have all of the coping mechanisms in place to knock down stress and anxiety, things still just seem too hard. Exercise, clean diet, and even medication are no match for tough competitors like the fear, uncertainty, and disappointment that can sneak into our thoughts and control our behavior. And just like a sensory-seeking and dysregulated 3-year-old, we feel uncomfortable in our environment and find ourselves trantruming our way out of the pain.

Being overwhelmed with self-doubt often feels like something has broken open inside me. The box of thoughts and emotions that I like to keep closed up tightly has unlocked and its contents are spilling out for the world to see. I’m scrambling to pick up the negative thoughts and spiraling anxiety and close them back up before anybody notices that I’m less than perfect.

So my question today is…what do we do with all of these truths when they are out in the open of our own consciousness? How do we handle it when feelings of abandonment, worthlessness, disappointment, fear, sadness, and judgment are out of the box eagerly waiting their turn in line for their chance to take us down?

We can sit and wallow in sadness and despair like our dirty clothes that litter the laundry room floor.

We can drive guilt and fear around like passengers in our mini van.

We can trudge on and ignore our truths, forcing them in the closet like the old toys and clothes that need to be donated.

Knowing that these are not the real answers and only fill the box with feelings of failure and mismanagement…how do you squeeze in the time to effectively deal with your truths? It’s challenging to say the least, to find the time between your older child’s cough and fever and the younger one’s refusal to sleep when your husband’s out of town and there are no clean dishes.

And what’s worse? If you suffered at all in these truths, you know that getting your head in the right place to deal with overwhelming emotion and trying to be a parent at the same time is like watching the sand slip through the hourglass, knowing that it will be desperately harder to get a grip on yourself when time runs out.

Nothing screams louder at times like these than the need for space and protection. The urge to go hide under the darkness of my covers is so strong, I’ll go back to it only minutes after being out of bed in the morning. I must find the sense of peace and quiet that is a like a precious power to stop the spinning demands and self-doubt. I’m seeking a chance to reconnect with the adult voice in my head that leads me back to my strength and faith, and when I finally find it, I take a deep breath and hold it, allowing all of the positive energy to enter my core in the form of strength and self-acceptance.

Strength and courage in these quiet moments allows me to sit with my box of truths and open it slowly, pulling them out one by one. And if I’m feeling really brave, I’ll examine and feel fear, judgment, and worthlessness for what they really are. I’ll embrace the pain and ask myself some tough questions. Where does this come from? Why does it hurt so bad? Who can help me with this?

And with even more bravery, you may find the strength to wear your truth like a piece of fine jewelry–knowing that only others who own and wear pieces such as yours will complement your truths for their uniqueness and antiquity. You find pride in yourself and your truths will tell your story. Until one day you feel so good to be beaming in your truths that you notice your box lays empty and shattered. There’s nothing left to lock up and push down. You’ll wear each truth that enters the box proudly, handling it with unique strength that comes to only you in your quiet and brave moments.

And so my dream is this…we will no longer suffer in isolation. We will unite as mothers, empty our boxes, share our truths and emerge from these dark days of motherhood with our jewels on and shining bright.