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.

A Perfect Storm

A few weeks ago, I was having a conversation with one of Charlotte’s Occupational Therapists about her defiant behavior. I had been noticing a pattern that went something like this: change in her routine due to holiday/illness/schedule, inappropriate sensory seeking behavior, Chad and I jumping in to regulate sensory needs, defiant and uncooperative behavior that diminishes over time. The cycle wrecks havoc on my mental state as I feel relief and exhaustion from the tide of dysregulation just passed and restlessness at the thought of the next swell coming upon us.

As I was talking to her I felt like an old weathered sea captain regaling his tales, vividly describing each cycle as a storm more difficult to bear than the last….with a thoughtful and far-off expression I discuss The Dysregulation of ’11…when we moved from one house to another…….oh, yes, then there was the Starting School Dysregulation last August….that was a really bad one….many nights of bad sleep, impulsive behavior…..and then there was the one just a few months ago when her preschool teacher left….horribly defiant….

She smiles patiently while I carefully explain each harrowing experience after another, all the while, I’m searching for appropriate amounts of validation and sympathy. She finally nods and concludes that this is all “normal”. I really don’t like that word and stare at her as if that answer is completely unacceptable. She squares herself in her chair to look at me and says, “It’s a good thing. The nervous system is resetting itself in preparation for more growth.”

I’ve been carefully considering the therapists words over the last few weeks, as illness stole our family’s sense of routine and order, and we have begun a new and mild cycle of dysregulation. It’s mild in the sense that her sensory issues are more under control, but it has been difficult in the sense that pragmatic speech has been affected. We’re hearing more scripted language, seeing less eye contact, and generally feeling less connected to her. This certainly doesn’t sit well with me as we can’t get Speech Therapy to save our lives, and my anxiety switches begin turning ON as I’m feeling helpless and out of control.

I force myself to come out of the haze of worry and fear and begin to put my concerns into constructive questions. At the next meeting with the therapist, I find myself asking questions like, “now that she’s more sensory regulated, will her patterns of dysregulation look more social and speech related?” Again, she calmly nods Yes. We discuss options for how to regulate her when she seems socially disconnected.

A few days later I’m reading The Way I See It by Temple Grandin on my Kindle and this quote strikes me…

“the best thing a parent (of a newly diagnosed parent can do) can do is to watch their child without preconceived notions or judgments and learn how the child functions, acts, and reacts to his or her world.” (parentheses mine)

I suddenly realize that I can take these two pieces of information and put them together to calm myself and help Charlotte. With careful practice, I begin to observe without my veil of anxiety and worry. Instead of squirming around her nonsense questions and comments, I find her eyes with mine and tell her that she’s not making sense. I coach her into finding better words to explain what she’s thinking and reward her for her efforts. It helps, and she seems relieved that I find this connection with her. She’s excited to tell me more about Max and Ruby’s adventures or what she did at school. She wants to ask what we’re doing tomorrow and when is her birthday. I find my own connection with her and ultimately find my peace of mind.

I tell myself that in giving her the words and safety she needs to communicate, she will experience a new surge of growth. The cycle will complete itself, and the next one will bring new and different challenges. My anxiety continues to rest at bay but these thoughts allow me to breathe a little easier. I remind myself that it just takes time and patience.

I ease up from bracing myself for the impact of the storm and ride the waves as if I’m on the voyage of a lifetime.

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.”

Stress Management for Moms (part 3–It’s All in Your Head)

So if you’ve read the first 2 installments of this series, you may think that I’ve got this all figured out and that I spend my days sipping Paleo-friendly lattes while my kids behave perfectly and my house cleans itself. Read on, my friend.

In the Fall of last year, I was feeling really good about all of the Actions I had taken to get everyone’s needs met. Charlotte was finally in therapy 2 days per week. Activities like swimming and ballet for both girls were in place, and I could still help in Dana’s classroom, walk, practice yoga, attend Pilates, and make a delicious Paleo meal every night. See where I’m going with this? Remember when I talked about slipping back into my old ways? (I’m a recovering type A mom who did everything right)

I was doing a good job, but I nearly stopped dead in my tracks while I was taking a walk and listening to one of my Paleo podcasts on my ipod. The words of wisdom came from naturopathic doctor Bryan P. Walsh. He was talking to Sean Croxton of Underground Wellness about Adrenal Fatigue. Dr. Walsh’s message was….it’s not your adrenal glands that are broken. It’s the messages you send to them that overwork them.

He went on to explain that the adrenal glands are like factories that send out stress hormones based on the thoughts that I produce. Lots of negative and anxious thoughts (I’m really good at making those) make cortisol and adrenaline, which are the enemies to the serotonin and melotonin I desperately need. You mean I am in control of my adrenal secretions? I stood stunned on the sidewalk for a moment and let this sink in.

I thought back to my schedule, my routine, and my tight grip on keeping everything just right. No wonder my recovery felt so slow and laborious. I was pushing a big rock up hill, and I was the one determining the size of the rock.

A few weeks later, as if the my-thoughts-to-God’s-ears-back-to-my-ears thing was somehow in place, I listened to my favorite Paleo nutritionists, Liz and Diane, talk about Adrenal Fatigue while I was doing a monster sink full of dishes. Diane referenced the Dr. Walsh podcast that I had listened to and talked extensively (to make sure I was listening) about stress management and adrenals.

Okay, so I took Action…again. I was at the bookstore just last week, and I picked up a this book on meditation from the clearance rack. I’m warning you now that this is going to get a little mindful and kooky, so bear with me. I recognize that in order to get my mind in a place where it doesn’t send negative thoughts to my adrenal glands, I need to get mindful of my thoughts and rid myself of the ones that I really don’t need. Consider it like the purging of the playroom…something you put off for ages because you really don’t want to do it, you eventually cave, in order to keep your sanity.

The Backpack

The book said that I would have clarity of thought and more creative energy if I followed the steps, and I thought it sounded a little too good to be true…until…..I had some beautiful imagery enter my mind that when I spoke it out loud, it sounded like someone else’s idea (and it might be, so don’t tell anybody if you read this somewhere else, too).

Here we go…I warned you….

Imagine that life is a journey and you are walking along a path with many other people. These are people you love and trust and want to help you life a better life. If you are spiritual or religious, your higher power is with you as well. Everyone on the journey is wearing a backpack, and everyone’s backpack is full of rocks. The rocks represent all of our issues, problems, and ultimately our negative or harmful thoughts. Just like real life, if you have a lot on your plate, your backpack feels very heavy. So heavy, that you may need to take a rock out and ask someone on your journey to help you carry it.

The carrying of the rocks may be a healthy exercise for you or others, or you may be carrying too many rocks that don’t belong to you. This was the old me…a backpack full of rocks and every limb, finger, and toe weighed down by rocks. The biggest and heaviest rock in my backpack was guilt. But, in my imagery, the new me walked with a backpack full of light things like Hope and Love and Faith. I was strong and powerful because I wasn’t weighed down by the issues of others, and I was good at carrying (managing) the rocks (problems) that did come into my backpack.

When I shared this imagery with Chad, he explained that there’s yet another skill that can be learned on our journey (I’m sure he loves my mindfulness). He explained that you can show others your rock, and they can look at it and tell you what you need to hear about it, but they don’t have to carry it. And if they do, you get to tell them how long and far you can manage it. I love his wisdom when it dovetails with mine.

Okay, back to reality. I love this imagery because it encompasses so many practices I learned in therapy…boundaries, letting go of guilt, and finding a voice.

Just this week, I’ve visualized heaving rocks out of my backpack like one of those massively strong Olympic shot-putter. In just a few days, I do feel lighter, less stressed, and I have found more energy to regulate myself and my kids.

So, next time, you are regulating yourself with exercise/reading/talking on the phone, don’t let guilt or any negative thoughts pull you back to the laundry, your kids’ homework, or a tantrum. Throw the guilt out of the backpack, tend to the problem, and be mindful of how much lighter you feel, knowing you are regulated.

Stress Management for Moms (part 2–Taking Action)

In part one of the series I talked about having an awareness of how our bodies deal with chronic stress and that life’s challenges can force us to check our temperature gauge to see if we need to make any adjustments.

The term regulation became a commonly used word in my family and circle of friends after the sensory related issues with Charlotte were uncovered. My husband and other adults friends of ours felt that we could relate to the dysregulation that we had all seen Charlotte experience. In our world, this looks like an inability to deal with her environment…tantrums, screaming, unable to complete tasks like going potty, getting dressed, following directions, etc. It takes sensory regulation in the form of therapy, sleep, diet, and routine to get her back on track.

We began to use the word liberally and have conversations about what we do as adults to keep ourselves regulated and comfortable in our own environment. Again, having an awareness of our own states of dysregulation and how we adjust leads us to how we ultimately manage our stress. How do you handle stress? What states of mind or activities help you feel your best, or regulated?

What do you know about yourself?

I know that I need to sleep at least 8 hours per night. This is no-brainer, right? It’s important to stop and rethink the importance of sleep. As moms, we push our DVR/to-do list into our children’s sleeping hours all the while pushing our adrenaline up and sleep patterns out of whack. I wouldn’t have survived my adrenal issues if I hadn’t made sleep a priority and let go of any expectations of staying awake past 10pm.

I know that I have the need to spend time away from my kids in order to regulate myself. After the birth of my first daughter, Dana, I struggled with mild PPD until I returned to work part-time. Making space in my brain for my own challenges, relationships, and goals is crucial to my mental health. Blogging anyone?

I know that I need to stay away from sugar, breads, and empty calories. I have always had a fast metabolism and low blood sugar issues. In order to feel comfortable and sleep well, I need to eat higher fat and protein foods that keep me full for longer. I heart bacon.

I know I need exercise but I also know that I get very tired when I exercise too hard. I need to exercise, and I love my routine of walking, yoga, and Pilates. When I recently tried to add a high-intensity hour-long cardio yoga, I was sore and exhausted even after several weeks of classes. Sadly, kicking ass in CrossFit will have to wait.

Are you really tired of being stressed out?..okay, then. Make. Some. Changes.

I’m going to use my teacher voice here with you, beause this is important. You deserve to feel happy/sane/calm/in-control. Find out who you are and what makes you feel good. Take action to regulate yourself.

(Don’t worry, you’re not turning this into anyone….unless you want to…if that’s the case and you’re a SAHM missing your old working-world days, pretend you are going to be asked about your stress level at your Year End Review.)

Here’s what my Taking Action looked like…

I realized that I felt better when I ate Paleo food, I slowly eliminated all of the foods that were making me feel less-than-great. It only takes a few weeks of eating clean food to realize the differences you are making. Lots more on that here, here, and here.

I scheduled my week to attend Pilates and Yoga classes when my kids are at school. I set up a 2-mile walking loop near the center where Charlotte takes therapy. I have learned to respect my body and it’s limits when it comes to exercise.

I communicate my needs (without whining) for having a girls’ night or date night with my husband. I also have a babysitter who watches my kids basically whenever I need her. My time away is crucial. It was important for me to recognize the feelings of anxiety I feel from being smothered by the needs of my kids or trapped in my own home. I let go of the guilt and do what I need to do to feel better. See one of my favorite blogs Momastery for some hilariously-written permission to take time for yourself.

Regulate yourself so you can regulate your children

Our children need us to help regulate them. Even typically-developing children need regulation in the form of routines, consistency, and attention. Special needs children may demand even more effort from their parents for effective regulation. Recognizing your child’s need for regulation is crucial for their development, but recognizing your need for regulation is crucial for your health and well-being.

In Part 3 of the series, I’ll discuss how our thoughts create our stress. It’s all in your head. Really.

Stress Management for Moms (part 1–Awareness)

I decided to do this series on Stress Management because it is a constant work-in-progress for me. (teaser–I share a big Ah Ha! moment in part 3) I see so many moms dealing with chronic stress that I wanted to share some specific strategies so that managing our day-to-day stress becomes an essential part of caring for ourselves.

I had no idea that I was mismanaging my stress before I had Charlotte. I thought that it was completely normal to be doing ten things at once, carrying around other people’s problems, and thinking deeply and heavily about things I couldn’t control.

When I went into therapy at the onset of my Post Partum Depression, my therapist dubbed me ‘omni-competent’, a ‘pleaser’, and a ‘plate spinner’. These titles made sense to me. I knew I had always been a type-A overachiever, and I can still recall my 7th grade teacher calling me a Perfectionist. What I didn’t know was that a lifetime of these negative thoughts and labels ruined me. In 2008, I was handed a severely depressed and anxious state after the birth of my second child.

After many years of a non-sensible low-fat, high-carb diet and a I-can-do-it-all-attitude, I was nutritionally depleted and mentally exhausted. Something had to change, and I received the signals loud and clear. (Read my Adrenal Fatigue experience for more details). Thankfully, I had a wonderful therapist to gently guide me out of my old ways and into a more peaceful existence where I spin fewer plates and say “No” more often.

It has not been easy to face the challenges of the last 4 years with this foreign-Zen-like attitude. While I sometimes do not recognize myself, I also catch myself sliding back into my old ways. I feel like I am constantly integrating pieces of the old me with new information that I learn about my children, the Paleo diet, and my overall health.

However, I know the key to my success with my adrenal issues is having an awareness of my stress level and keeping a constant eye on myself. It can be time consuming and overwhelming to manage myself on top of everything else, but I know that being aware of and reducing my stress has lead to a better life.

What does it mean to be aware of your stress?

Being a former teacher and a visual learner and if I want to understand something intangible like stress management, it helps for me to create a visual for what I’m working with. One of my favorite images is the one below:

The green zone is safe and my feeling of happy/sane/calm/controlled. I find that I can deal with life’s ups and downs. I know I’ve let myself slip when…. I feel irritability, digestive distress, muscle tension, or illness, and if I have really let things get out of control, I meet my old friend, Insomnia. All of these symptoms are telling me to deal with the stress differently. My adrenal glands are typically overworked, and I have to react immediately.

Your symptoms of stress response may not be as severe. Everybody works differently under stress and each one of us has our own markers for making changes or slowing things down. The most important piece to managing chronic stress is an awareness and acceptance of how our bodies work and developing an appropriate reaction to what they are trying to tell us. One of my biggest struggles on this journey was learning my own limits and not viewing these signals as a sign of failure.

Through much trial and error, I am learning to use life’s challenges in a positive way. I have written in this blog here and here about how I must put myself as a priority and use the powerful tool of self-forgiveness to get back on track. I have learned to accept myself as a work-in-progess, and instead of fearing life’s challenges, I use them as a gauge to see how my body and mind react.

This week my daughter Dana got the stomach flu on her 7th birthday. Of course, We had a beautiful day planned that we could not enjoy. The disappointment was intense, but in the end, I was proud of how I pulled it together, made it a special day for her, and most importantly recognized how well I now handle life’s curveballs.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this Stress Management series–Taking action.

My 2012 Paleo Resolutions

One of the things that I love about the Paleo lifestyle is that it is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Shortly after beginning our journey, Chad and I realized we had different tolerances and responses to different foods. There is no such thing as Perfect Paleo, and we have accepted that each person in our family is on a unique journey of listening and responding to their body’s needs appropriately. My personal journey with Paleo includes a sense of responsibility to lead my family on this endless quest for better sleep, less stress, and cleaner food.

This Christmas season we have been inundated with treats in our environment. After indulging in more than a few non-Paleo and even Paleo treats, I am reminded of where I am on my journey. Even a small amount of sugar and refined flour sends my blood sugar on a wild ride, leaves me feeling weak and shaky, and depletes the healthy energy that I need to care for my kids and run my household.

Thankfully, Jan 1 is quickly approaching, and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t craving schedule, planned meals, earlier bedtimes, and cleaner foods that make our family function optimally. In addition, I’ve had a few Paleo resolutions rolling around in my head for a while that I think are reasonable and appropriate goals for us, sometime in 2012.

1. Start a Paleo blog–this is nearly checked off. While I was planning to start this blog when Charlotte entered Kindergarten, I jump started it to help others and to kick my stress management skills into gear by holding myself accountable. I hope to be honest and accepting and steer clear of preaching or judging.

2. Make more homemade bone broth & sauerkraut–this is a bit of a confession. How can I consider myself a Paleo blogger if I haven’t made these Paleo wonders that are full of healthy nourishment that help heal a leaky gut? Diane and Liz, I’ve been listening…so stay tuned for posts on these super-Paleo foods.

3. Darken our bedrooms–This has been on the list of home improvement projects since I read Robb Wolf’s book, but after listening to podcast from Underground Wellness with T.S. Wiley, I learned how sleeping in dark room facilitates melatonin and Vitamin D production, therefore positively affecting insulin, serotonin, and other key hormones that make us feel good. Charlotte’s fear of the dark has lessened significantly, so I need to grab this opportunity for better sleep and regulation with her while I can.

4. Less TV for the kids–With winter illness and icy weather running rampant in our household for the last month, TV gazing has become more prevalent for the kids as they are looking for a way to wind down after hectic schedules, heal from runny noses and sore throats, and generally stay out of mommy’s way while she runs around like a crazy person during the holidays.

Mostly importantly, I need to remember to be kind to myself and enjoy our journey. A few symptoms of dysregulation and falling off the Paleo wagon only give us more motivation to take another step toward overall wellness, as defined by us.