TBT – Go easy on yourself

Throwback Thursday – an edited post from December 2017 that feels timely. 

This time of year can be difficult, especially for anyone dealing with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) that may originate from the lack of light and lack of fresh air.

Symptoms I experience can include anxiety, the blues, and changes in my mood or appetite. Many of us have increased cravings for carbohydrates, and we may feel sluggish or have difficulty concentrating.

For several years, I have used exercise, dietary strategies such as a vitamin D supplement in the morning and magnesium at night. I try to get enough vegetables for their anti-oxidant properties and fiber, but in Minnesota nothing is fresh this time of year, so it can be difficult.

Getting enough healthy fats in my diet more recently has been a wonderful benefit to my health overall. I have learned more and more on how balancing our brain chemistry with healthy fats is really important.  “The Chemistry of Calm” by Dr. Henry Emmons, contains some wonderful advice there on how to overcome anxiety. He presents the information from both Western and Eastern traditions. I strongly encourage you to check it out if you want more scientific background on drug-free ways to overcome anxiety.

I still struggle with insomnia periodically, usually when the seasons change and/or when I am under stress. I know how important sleep can be for good healthy, so I try valiantly to get more, and sometimes it still eludes me.

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Over the years, I have learned some strategies which help. It is a learning process, and I have to accept that it takes some time to change old habits. I am undoing a pattern that was established (and possibly reinforced) for 25-30 years. I may not unlearn it overnight. But due to the remarkable neuro-plasticity of our brains, we are capable of training ourselves out of old patterns.

The biggest factor to remember is to have compassion for ourselves, and not to label ourselves as “anxious” or to consider ourselves flawed in any way. Instead of saying, “I am an anxious person” try instead: “right now I am struggling with anxiety and I am learning how to manage it.” Thus, the condition is temporary and not a part of our identity.

It is important not to identify too strongly with any label, as this may convince us we a permanent, unalterable condition. The truth is that we have far more capacity for change than any of us realize. And this learning how to manage our struggles is where wisdom is born. Nothing is wrong with us. This is the human condition.

About half of our life may be happy or joyful (or maybe slightly more). But about half of or life will be negative emotions. This contrast is what makes life so rich and interesting. If we can go easy on ourselves, realize that sadness and feeling down sometimes are a part of life, then we can truly appreciate the joyful moments.

Compassion for ourselves and for other people is really the engine that helps us live a good life. We sometimes have that inner critic that resists compassion, questioning if we deserve it, speculating that we do not. If we come from religious backgrounds where original sin was a big part of the emphasis, this may be harder for us.

It may take some time and practice to cultivate compassion for ourselves. But it is possible. And with this self-compassion comes the ability to have compassion for others as well. In this time of dark, cold, weather, that can go a very long way.

If you are struggling with SAD, anxiety or depression, please get help from a trained mental health professional, and/or seek support. It is not a time to “go it alone” when you are dealing with this stuff. Sometimes families are not as understanding, so try to find someone who can help you get the support you need.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

Wasting paper and killing trees

I spent some time Tuesday morning listening to podcasts with writers. In the meantime, I dusted off the boxes in my office and decided to put some order to my journals. As some of you know, writing for me is somewhat a compulsion. It is a non-optional part of my daily practice.

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1992-1999

I hand write my journal. I am old-fashioned that way. The ideas that pour forth with a nice smooth pen on paper seem qualitatively different than what I write when I sit down to the keyboard. More raw. Less pre-meditated. Just me.

My intended audience for these journals is just me. I made my college roommate  promise me that if anything happened to me she would have the journals burned without reading them.

I was a little embarrassed when I started sorting the piles of journals into decades. The sheer volume of the once-blank books that span the last 26 years astonished me. Think of all the wasted paper! All those poor trees have been sacrificed for my greedy writing habit…Then I was kind of amazed. I started to wonder about the periods when I had been faithful to journal at least weekly, or other periods when journals were either lost or not kept.

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2000-2011

What happened to 2008-2009? No journals from that time. Mysterious.

Did I start journal-writing prior to 1992, the year I left home to go to Swarthmore College? I have a cute little lock & key style diary from when I was about 7 years old, a  that I probably got from my Mom.

I decided to document via photos the journals I have kept. This is as much to illustrate my insanity as to be able to let go of these books at some point, as per my desire to live a more minimalist life.

My collection from 2018 includes 15 blank books (so far, since I just started #16 today). That is really embarrassing. But I suppose in a way, it is something I can embrace. I write. My days flow better when I write each day. I also seem to have less insomnia when I let it all out rather than letting it simmer.

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2018 alone – seriously?!?

When then if I want to work on a big project, a book idea? Do I keep writing? Do I perhaps use my journal as the “reward system” for after I’ve gotten my daily pages and work done?

Clearly it’s a habit that’s not going away. It feels like a lifeline to me, and I am sure I would need to spend a LOT more on therapy if I were NOT writing each day. Come to think of it, the gaps in my “years” of journals actually correspond to episodes of major transitions and/or clinical depression in my life: 1995, 2002, 2009.

Wow. Sh*t. Ages 21, 28 and 35. It seems I was due for an episode in 2016 at age 42, but it never arrived. I am giving credit to my consistent pile of journals and some proactive therapy. When you have tasted that flavor of darkness more than once you sometimes recognize the signs before it arrives again. Self-care is now a religion for me.

I told and AirBnB host back in September: I write because I must. Indeed. Apologies to the trees that sacrificed their lives for my mental health. And everlasting gratitude to you.

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The complete pile. Those top two huge piles in the left corner are 2017-2018.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

 

 

 

Wellness Wednesday – What do you do when triggered?

I was not proud of my angry response to an inflammatory post from someone in my WordPress feed over the weekend. I was temporarily unable to step away and I got side-tracked from the intention I had for that morning. It made me want to fight, defend and debate.

In reflecting on this phenomenon later, I realized that I had been “triggered” but that I had a choice about how to respond. Eventually, when I realized I was not going to get anything productive out of the interaction, I stepped away and disengaged. I re-directed my attention and moved on to more fulfilling and satisfying endeavors.

In truth, someone who has been through trauma has a much more difficult time dealing with a situation that triggers them. I cannot recall any specific trauma that led to this response, so I was able to bring my frontal cortex back online relatively quickly from that amygdala “hijack” by telling myself there was no need to add fuel to the flames. There was clearly high emotion on both sides, and we were not able to “hear” one another arguments.

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I also realized in hearing the testimony of Dr. Blasey Ford, and the humiliation she endured after her assault, I deeply empathized with her story. I could feel viscerally that shame she must have felt, even though I am one of the fortunate few who has not suffered assault.

It occurred to me that so many women who have similar stories are likely feeling a little more vulnerable and emotionally rocked by the testimony. And it is good for those of us with empathy to be there to reassure our friends that their reactions are valid, and that we are willing to sit with them during their process.

Some time ago I became intrigued by some research on trauma and PTSD by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, who was featured in the On Being podcast episode. He explains that trauma leaves an imprint on the body, not just the brain, in sensory and hormonal systems. Of the treatment options, body-centered practices like Yoga help develop a body that is strong and feels comfortable.

In an article published at the Trauma Center, explains that “Yoga offers a way to reprogram automatic physical responses.”

“Yoga helps regulate emotional and physiological states. It allows the body to regain its natural movement and teaches the use of breath for self-regulation. What is beautiful about Yoga is that it teaches use – and this is a critical point for those who feel trapped in their memory sensations – that things come to an end…

The process of being in a safe space and staying with whatever sensations emerge and seeing how they come to and end is a positive imprinting process. Yoga helps them befriend their bodies that have betrayed them by failing to guarantee safety.”

Yoga also teaches us to use the breath. Western culture tends to solve our issues through means from the outside, rather than teaching us how we can master our own physiology. This is where the intersection of these practices can and should be used in conjunction with “modern” medicine in the treatment of trauma and its effects.

Perhaps this is why I am such a big “evangelist” of yoga and why I am developing a course on “yoga and mindful leadership.” Based on my own consistent practice of yoga and meditation, I have seen the effects in my own life. I am always grateful when I also come across strong research to back this up.

So, what to do when we are triggered? The first thing is to breathe deeply a few times and slow down. We can realize that our physiological response is real, but that it does not reflect present danger. We honor that part of our primitive brain that is trying to keep us safe, and recognize that we need timely self-care to calm our nervous system. Over time, with practice, it is possible to heal with the right support.

Be well,

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

How Does Writing Help Us Heal?

via How Does Writing Help Us Heal?

Okay, this blog is somewhat self-promoting, because Julie de Rohan mentions me in her post. But the topic is so relevant and I agree so strongly with the the concept that I want to share it with my readers as well.

Julie de Rohan
Photo cribbed directly from Julie’s blog 

Julie is a psychotherapist in the U.K. who works with clients who struggle with overeating issues. As this is a struggle I have faced (and also probably 70% of the women I know) I always find her writing and insights to be right on target.

I have recently re-listened to a favorite resource on this topic, an Audible book by Geneen Roth called Women, Food and God. Every time I explore another layer of this issue, I realize how much relationship with food is a microcosm of my beliefs about the world. But not until I excavated this issue in my writing and my meditations did I start feeling peace toward it.

Thanks so much for exploring this issue, Julie. You write about it (and many other topics we share in common) in such an accessible way.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

Saturday Share – Untangled

Happy weekend, peeps!

This Saturday’s blog love goes to Alexis Rose of the Untangled blog. Alexis writes about PTSD and mental health and she has written a book about her journey as well.

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Untangled blog – link 

I really love her poetry and her wisdom. She posts on topics I find inspiring and I really appreciate her work. When you need some beauty or inspiration head on over to her blog and you can find it.

Cheers & enjoy your weekend!

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

Reading, writing and rhythm

I am a voracious reader. My nightstand is typically piled with books, and I have about 3-4 going at any one time.

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There’s at least one fiction book, which is my treat reading before bedtime, and the way I wind down before sleep. I am not so into e-books. I have a Nook, but forget to charge it. I have a love for real pages that I can turn, a visceral and physical experience of a book that I am too old-fashioned to replace.

When I write, I integrate the things I read, the practices I attempt, and the swirling thoughts I notice while meditating or navigating my days. It helps me slow things down enough to consider how it all fits together.

My philosophy teacher used to recommend that we write to remember. When studying, write out concepts and ideas we want to understand or explore.

In biology or chemistry labs, we wrote to capture our protocols, and our results. Writing is a part of science, part of study, part art-form and part formal work.

Reading and writing do not come easily to everyone, and I am grateful that I have always enjoyed both since a young age. Fifteen years ago, toward the end of graduate school I was diagnosed with adult a.d.d. Now it makes sense to me that I can either hyper-focus or be challenged to finish a page without distraction.

I do not have the “h” part of the usual diagnosis (and women often do not manifest that part, or they train themselves out of it to be quiet, compliant little girls from a young age). But clearly the difference in my ability to focus was palpable after treatment and medication.

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Before the diagnosis I had suffered from 2-3 periods of depression in my life, precipitated by burnout and anxiety. I had always struggled to pay attention during my “boring” classes, and often escaped into my imagination. Teachers knew I was smart, but they often said I was not working up to my potential. I finished salutatorian of my high school class, so clearly a lot of students may not have been working up to their potential…

What I find these days is that life is more about establishing the right rhythm for my days and weeks, rather than pursuing the elusive “balance” many strive for.

Filling days with to-do lists and activities may help us feel productive and in control of our lives. But resting, pausing and re-evaluating need to be a part of our lives too. An a.d.d.-oid brain is typically in motion constantly. I describe my thought processes as cascades, and they are very fluid and dynamic.

Normal people can typically compartmentalize their thoughts, like putting them in boxes, categorizing and organizing them. The a.d.d. brain tends not to work that way, instead flowing from thought to thought, in associative “play”. We create new categories, with different boundaries. Our brains  leap outside boxes like playful puppies or kittens.

For years I spent time hiding my a.d.d., at the advice of well-meaning professionals that explained to me that employers would not necessarily understand, and may penalize me for it professionally. In every job I needed to “prove myself” with consistency for quite some time before advancing, very hard for the a.d.d.-oid mind that gets bored once it knows the routine. The first time I was able to hire administrative support to help with the details while I could focus on big picture work, I finally started realizing my potential.

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My current position as an operational manager for an international team requires me to be quick thinking and to balance many factors in making decisions. I get to help my employees with career development (which I love) and coach them to develop their skills, especially when it comes to influence management in a large corporation with a matrix reporting structure.

I turned a weakness into a “superpower” of sorts, at least the way I am choosing to author my life and my story. I do not see it as a disability. I see it as a way of seeing around corners, flexibly solving problems, and bringing creativity to many teams.

As long as I find the right rhythm in my days, get time for rest, play and taking very good care of myself physically, I thrive. When I neglect myself, or slack off on good self-care routines, like getting enough sleep, healthy food, affection, love, and exercise, I suffer.

What I want to say to those suffering from depression, anxiety, a.d.d. or any other type of diagnosis: it does not have to define you or your life. You will need to learn to manage it, that is true. But it will give you unique insight, skills and resilience when you learn to manage it. You will benefit from more compassion for those who struggle. And if you learn to love yourself, and the unique way that your brain and body work, you can fully use your gifts.

 

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Find your rhythm, find what makes sense for you. Find others that support your strengths and help you cultivate them. You deserve that. And it is possible.

Have a great week, friends.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com