Tag Archives: mental-health

Pick Yourself Up

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Well, I’m here. I’m back. I fell off the proverbial wagon, but here I am. In the past 4 or 5 days, I’ve had two close friends ask me how my progress is going, and I honestly told them what was going on in my life, and why I had fallen off the wagon. I faced my failure, and haven’t given up. And for that, I am proud of myself. I am learning, growing in my abilities and dedication to my goal, and discovering that I am truly not alone – which is astonishing! In the last few days, I’ve come to discover that I am not the only one who struggles with many of the issues I address in this blog. One of those issues is body image…

This past Saturday, I went out with a wonderful bunch of ladies for dinner. After dinner, we were walking down the street (in a very trendy neighbourhood in Vancouver) to grab a coffee. As we walked past a restaurant/bar with an outdoor patio, one of the ladies said to me, “Did you see him checking you out. His eyes went head to toe and back up again!” I laughed it off, and, honestly? didn’t really believe her.  Why would a man look at me like that?

The next day, I was talking to my friend Jenn, and we were talking about body image. I expressed my disbelief that someone would see a full-body picture of me and still be interested in dating. She said to me, “Do you really hate your body that much that you cannot accept that a man may actually like you for you?” I said, “Yes,” with a surety that I think kind of shocked her.

Later that evening, I chatted with a friend from high school, and brought up some of these issues. When she told me that she, too, had body image issues, frankly, I was shocked. I have always seen her as a beautiful woman with a great figure (of which, frankly, I’m somewhat jealous!).

It was then that I realized that pretty much everyone has some type of issue with their body. It doesn’t matter what shape you’re in, it’s easy to find something wrong with your body. Which is crazy, isn’t it? And, I think it speaks to unrealistic expectations placed on us by the media to look a certain way.

While I went for my walk today (my 2nd big long walk in as many days – yay me!) I was listening to some personal growth podcasts. There are a few things that really stuck with me….

A computer, without electricity is simply just a useless object. It doesn’t matter how fast the processors are, how many amazing programs are installed, and what operating system its running if there is no power to the unit. We are like that too – our bodies are simply an object. Our knowledge – everything we’ve learned – are like the programs installed in the computer. But our emotional/spiritual self, well, that’s the electricity that brings life to everything.

I really liked that metaphor. I have been focusing so much on my physical body lately, that I’ve forgotten that this body is not who I am.  When I identify myself primarily through my body (an “object” which, as I’ve already owned up to, don’t like all that much), it is damaging to my emotional well being. When I look in the mirror and don’t like what I see, I beat myself up, and make myself feel terrible.

But, I am SO much more than that! As a wise kindergarten teacher once said, “Karen is awesome.” (btw – JP: I don’t think I’ll ever forget that speech you gave on the last day of school!).  It still feels weird that people could look at  me and not see me the way I do, but I am beginning to understand that people do see me for who I am and not what I look like.

Don’t you think it’s time that I started seeing myself that way?

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Not AWOL

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I’m here. Really I am.

Sort of.

I haven’t written in  a week. And, truth be told, I haven’t really been doing anything towards this goal in that time. Granted, I spent the entire week enjoying life with my 12 year old as his older brothers were away at summer camp. In an effort to focus on the positives: we did a lot of walking around; I bought a new bathing suit and actually wore it at the beach; we went to the sports court at the end of our block and hit around the tennis ball (and it was fun! I actually worked up a sweat); and I got to spend one on one time with an amazing kid 🙂

Now it’s time to get back into the swing of things.

Why is motivation so elusive for me? Why are some people more motivated than others? Why is it that I get on a roll, have a good week or two, then get derailed?

I actually know part of the answer to these questions, at least for me. Some of it has to do with my own health struggles. When I don’t take care of my health, when I’m not super diligent about it, at first, I feel fine. But slowly and surely, my health starts to deteriorate, and then all of a sudden, I’m not well again. Anyone who has struggled with mental health issues understands what this is like. (And, to be completely honest: at first, I didn’t want to bring this up, to talk about my depression and anxiety, but thanks to The Bloggess  and her courage to openly talk about her struggles of this sort, I have a bit more courage).

I am learning that I thrive on routines. When my life is somewhat scheduled, things go well. I take my medication when I’m supposed to; I exercise regularly (anyone remember 5am yoga? Yep, it’s gone now that I’m on break); I eat healthy (it’s easy to pack a salad the night before!); I do much, much better with my health.

Don’t get me wrong: I love the laid back pace of summer vacation. But the routines have gone straight out the window, and I feel a bit lost. I know part of that is I haven’t been taking my medication regularly, which is pretty important. However, I have recognized that this time, I haven’t completely stopped taking it because I feel better and don’t think I need it (I’ve learned that lesson the hard way!)… it’s just that my routine is completely gone.

Summer vacation is half over. I still have time to implement a good daily routine to see to self care, which includes eating right, tracking my food, exercising, taking my medication, and drinking lots of water.

See, I’m not dumb. I know that when I do those things, my over all health, including my mental health, is much, MUCH better. I feel more clear-headed, stronger, more focused and, well, more alive. I miss feeling that way. I don’t like the way I feel now.

Well, I suppose tomorrow is a new day.

The countdown begins…. part 2

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So, last night I was having a wee pity party. Just feeling generally down and discouraged. Then I received the following on my FB wall:

“As your new year begins, you are aware of the possibilities and all your goals and dreams for what is to come. Old habits may resurface briefly as a resistance to change, but be kind to yourself in those moments then bravely move forward into your wonderful new year.”

Of all the kind words and lovely greetings I received today, this one meant the most to me. I needed that reminder to be kind to yourself. This same person recently told me that he thinks I’m a very kind person. And, I suppose it’s true. I do kind things for people; this is how I was raised, it’s just what you do. Like when someone is in pain, sick or injured and can’t get to the store to get some pain relief, you take it to them. Or when a friend is sad, you call them up to say hi. These are just kind things you do. Being kind to others feels good, and it’s good for the soul.

But you know what? I’m willing to guess that a lot of people are kinder to strangers than they are to themselves.

If a friend of mine were to do something to upset or offend me, I’d forgive her. I’m kind to complete strangers: letting someone merge ahead of me in traffic; holding doors open; even just smiling at a complete strangers. I bet you can think of at least one instance in the last 24 hours in which you were kind to someone. If not, shame on you. Don’t be such a grinch, go do something kind, now!

But how many of us are that kind to ourselves? How many of us treat ourselves with loving kindness when we mess up, or are hurt or feeling down? I know I’m not.

And that’s where the pity party last night came from. I haven’t been taking care of myself, and, rather than being kind, I was really hard on myself. The thing is, if someone you knew was consistently not kind to you, you wouldn’t hang around them. You’d, in fact, most likely distance yourself from them. Unfortunately, you can’t distance yourself from, well, yourself.

It’s easy to look for the good in others and respect their journey. Why is it so hard to treat ourselves the same way?

I’m wondering if it has something to do with fear. Every time I’m “stuck” in my life, it seems it’s because of fear. And then, once I face those fears, I am able to overcome obstacles and see my life move in a positive direction. So, what am I afraid of? I have a few theories, but they’re a bit too private to share here.

I do know this: I need to be kind to myself, to accept myself and treat myself with compassion. That’s just my gut feeling about this whole thing. Gut feelings are good, but it’s always nice to have science to back you up. This is a great article on the importance of self-compassion. The author, Dr. Melanie Greenberg, cites the work of Dr. Kristin Neff, a researcher from the University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Neff contrasts self-compassion with self-esteem (which she purports is “based on evidence of superior achievement”), defining it as ” a more constant personal quality, in which we value ourselves and treat ourselves kindly just because we are human,” and views mindfulness as a key element in self-compassion. Dr. Greenberg writes, “The essence of self-compassion is to acknowledge our own emotional suffering and then deliberately comfort ourselves by generating feelings of warmth, softness, and care towards ourselves and, by association, all living beings who are suffering.”

While reading the words “generating feelings of warmth, softness and care towards ourselves,” I thought to myself, “gee. I bet that would feel better than a donut.” And then I kept reading….

Can Self-Compassion Make Me Healthier?

A 2007 study by Neff and colleagues suggests that self-compassion may be an important tool in weight-management and overcoming emotional eating. Students were given donuts to eat and half were assigned at random to hear a compassionate comment from the experimenter, such as ‘Don’t beat yourself up about eating these; subjects eat them all the time.” The other half received the donuts without the comment. Later that day, when given the chance to eat candy, those who heard the compassionate comment ate less. Therefore, self-compassion may help to prevent emotional eating resulting from feeling bad about breaking dietary restriction rules. Future research is needed to look at whether these benefits are also found in clinical populations such as obese people or those with eating disorders.”

So, point taken. Being kind to myself can help me on this journey. And I know, for a fact, that I’m already a kind person. Time to be kind to myself.

How are you kind to yourself?

Sticks and Stones…

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Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

I remember chanting this iconic rhyme as a pudgy 12 year old, not so much to fend off the bullies who were teasing me about being fat, but more to try to convince myself that their harsh words couldn’t hurt me.

Can I just say something here? That whole “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” thing is complete crap. A big, fat lie. Sure, sticks and stones hurt, but those wounds heal. The wounds inflicted by words last much, much longer.

I bring this up for two reasons: (1) My relationship with the words used to hurt me about my weight, and (2) the overall power that words have, and how we can use them to help us or hinder us.

I was teased mercilessly when I was a kid. Kids called me many names, but the ones that stuck had to do with my weight. While I wasn’t fat, I definitely had a bit of baby fat that stuck around until junior high. But, those words I heard as a pre-teen stuck, and I eventually began to believe those mean voices. Even though I wasn’t fat, I saw myself as such. Fast forward to my twenties. I found myself married to a man who was often heard saying, “I’d love you if you were thinner.” Ouch. All of those words added up, causing unseen wounds that damaged me more than any physical violence ever could have.

It has taken me a lot of hard work to overcome the scars those words left. But that’s not why I bring it up. No, I mention this because I just realized the creative power possessed by those words. When I was being tormented in grades 9 and 10, with kids calling me “fat,” I was, in fact, not fat at all. I stood at about 5’9″ and weighed 160-165 lbs. That means my BMI was around 24 – by all means, a very healthy weight. But now? Well, let’s just say I’m not a healthy weight and my BMI needs some serious attention.

Think about this: The words were spoken. I believed the words. I became fat. Words are incredibly powerful things. They have such an amazing ability to create. This is why I start each day with some very healthy, positive words each morning after my yoga work out.

I recently read don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements. His first agreement is “be impeccable with your words,” since words are so powerful:

“Your word is the power that you have to create. Your word is the gift that comes directly from God… Through the word you express your creative power. It is through the word that you manifest everything… The word is not just a sound or a written symbol. The word is a force; it is the power you have to express and communicate, to think, and thereby to create the events in your life… But like a sword with two edges, your word can create the most beautiful dream, or your word can destroy everything around you.” (The Four Agreements p. 26)

Before I encountered this book, I never really thought about the magic power of words. I’m sure I had a sense of it; as a teacher, I suppose I’ve always known that the words I tell my students have great power. Since becoming aware of Ruiz’s Four Agreements, and trying to put them into practice, I have endeavoured to be impeccable with my words. I’m not perfect, and sometimes I’m not as careful with my words as I could be. But the best part of the Four Agreements is that last agreement: Always Do Your Best. Slowly but surely, my words are creating a much more beautiful life for myself.

When I began, I focused on being impeccable with my words towards others; I try to speak kindly about others and avoid gossiping. I have definitely noticed a difference in my relationship with others. Lately, I’ve been focusing on being more aware with the words I tell myself. Slowly, I’m beginning to see myself in a different light.

I wonder what would happen if I just started thinking of myself as an athlete? If I heard the words “You’re fat” so many times that I began to believe it, and then it came true, couldn’t the same happen in the other direction? What if I harnessed the creative power of words to create a more fit, healthier me? Sure, it may not be true…. yet.  But the more I tell myself that I am fit, strong, healthy, active and athletic, the healthier, stronger and more active I will become! Isn’t that amazing?!

 

Post Script:

(This has absolutely nothing to do with my whole “Fit By 40” theme, but it does illustrate my point)

I can’t help but wonder how this applies to my profession. What if, as a teacher, my words had the ability to create the atmosphere in my classroom. What if I, when talking about my students, I said things like, “My kids are amazing! They are creative, energetic, curious, and social.” What type of class would that create? On the other hand, if I always said, “Oh my god, my class is insane. They are so messy, they never sit still, they don’t shut up and listen. I’ve had it.” I wonder how that would effect the atmosphere in my classroom? Sure, it sounds like one of those “which came first? the chicken or the egg?” type of questions… but with my understanding of how amazing words are, I can’t help but think that the way I talk about my students can affect their behaviour.

To be honest, in my short career as a school teacher, I have observed this already. I’ve heard teachers sing the praises of their students, and I’ve heard teachers moaning about how terrible their kids are. I honestly can’t help but wonder if the teacher’s words create some of the problems in their class. All the more reason to be impeccable with my words.

Stress

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Today was kind of a stressful day. I had a few money issues to deal with after work, and I could feel my stress levels rising. Really, it was no big deal – just a few minor things that needed taking care of… but when you throw an anxiety disorder into the mix, a minor thing can quickly trigger an anxiety attack. And for me, that means eating, because I use food to soothe my anxiety.

I know that stress causes weight gain. There are a lot of studies out there that indicate that when you are stressed, your body releases cortisol to deal with the stress. This chemical helps regulate how your body releases and stores fat. Did you know that increased cortisol levels can lead to increased cravings for sweet and fatty foods? (C’mon – who hasn’t  eaten a chocolate bar when stressed?!? ) Here’s a really informative article about the effects of stress on weight gain:

Stress Cortisol Connection

So there I was, renewing my car insurance and trying to deal with some banking stuff. At the best of times this is a minor annoyance, but with everything else that’s been going on in my life, it brought on a wee bit of anxiety. Granted, not a full-blown anxiety attack, but enough for me to notice physical symptoms. Shallow breathing, increased heart rate, difficulty focusing, that sort of stuff. Once again, I proudly drove right past Starbucks, Tim Hortons and a dozen other yummy places, and focused on what I could do once I got home. (My word, 152nd Street in Surrey has a lot of places to eat!)

I knew that if I didn’t make a plan, I would come home and eat anything and everything in site. I knew I didn’t want to do that. I couldn’t trust myself to go to the grocery store to pick up something healthy, as I just wasn’t in that mind set. I knew I had some leftover spaghetti and meat sauce in the fridge. Not the healthiest thing in the world to eat, but I figured it beat binge eating when I was feeling anxious.

As soon as I got home, I warmed up the leftovers and sat down to eat. I’m trying to be more mindful and aware of my food consumption, so I kept the TV and computer off (and my phone as well… always a major distraction for me). While I was eating, I began thinking about the connection between stress and weight gain. I realized that the high-carb meal before me was probably going to be converted directly into fat cells. Oh well. At least I didn’t binge.

This got me to thinking: maybe I shouldn’t eat when I’m stressed. If there are chemical reactions occurring in my body when I’m stressed, and these chemicals promote fat build-up, perhaps I should find another way to deal with stress.

The only thing I can think of is exercise and meditation. I really need to add more cardio to my week. I’m good with the 5am yoga (although lately, I haven’t been focusing as much – I’ve been going through the motions, but not with real intent). A cardio workout increases levels of all of those “feel good” chemicals, which probably do a good job counteracting the stress-induced cortisol.

I’m really really good at making excuses when it comes to cardio. “I’m too busy tonight,” “The kids have something on the go,” “I’m too tired” and so forth. This has to stop. I am never going to be “Fit by 40” if I don’t exercise. 5am yoga just ain’t enough. Lately, I’ve found myself thinking “Ah, just wait until summer break. You’ll have two months off, you can exercise then.”

Yeh. Nope. Just another excuse. Doesn’t cut it. No good.

If I truly want to be fit before my 40th birthday (just, gasp, 54 short weeks away), I need to change my habits, change my mindset. My ex-husband was always fond of saying that, “it takes 21 days to create a new habit.” (Funny thing is, he’d start something new, and quit within 14 or 15 days! I don’t remember him ever making it to that 21 day mark.)

I need new habits. How can I make cardiovascular exercise part of my daily routine? A workout partner comes to mind, but it seems that all of my friends are either too busy, or a lot more fit than I am… there’s no way  I could keep up with some of my fit friends.

The other habit I need to establish is regular meditation. I need to deal with stress and anxiety in healthier ways. I need to find a way of truly understanding that I am in control of my life and my health, and it’s not controlled by stress and anxiety.

 

If anyone has any suggestions, ideas, or things that have worked for them, please share them in the comment section. I know that there are other people who read this blog who are going through similar issues as I am, and it would be a great help!

Thanks 🙂

Testing the theory.

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The other day, my therapist and I were discussing my difficulty with emotional eating. She helped me find some potential ways of dealing with this issue, and the one I settled on was tea. I went out to a tea shop and bought some gourmet tea (none of that “sitting on the shelf wrapped in plastic” crap for me, nosiree!) I bought a delicious Mulberry tea, which I later found out, coincidentally, is supposed to help with weight loss and carb cravings.

So, today I’m testing this theory, to see if I can find comfort in a cup of tea instead of a cookie. Oh, I should mention – my therapist also wanted me to come up with some positive affirmations to use when faced with emotional eating. The favourite one I’ve found so far is, “I’ve worked too hard and come too far to let a cookie tell me what to do!”

As I write this, I’ve got a cup of said mulberry tea beside me. It’s actually quite yummy.

Today was tough. It was a professional day at the school where I work, and we had a guest speaker talking to us about strategies for dealing with Autism Spectrum Disorder. While professionally this topic doesn’t apply too much to me, as I do not work with children in such a capacity, it does apply to me personally. I don’t want to go into a lot of detail about how it applies to me personally, because I’m just not ready to discuss it publicly. However, those dear friends of mine whom I’ve trusted with the information and who read my blog will understand.

During the first part of the presentation, the speaker was discussing the ways in which children on the Autistic Spectrum behave, and I let out a sigh. A friend of mine (one of the world’s most awesome kindergarten teachers, and someone who knows what I’m going through) was sitting beside me and asked me if I was okay. She may not know it, but that meant a lot to me. While the day was informative, I had a hard time focusing on what the speaker was saying, at least from a professional point of view. I continually kept relating what he was saying back to my own issues.

In the car on the way home, I broke down in tears that I had been saving up all afternoon. It’s probably a good thing that I’m broke right now and can’t afford Starbucks, because had I the money, it would have been one of those prime opportunities to soothe myself with a toffee nut latte and a white chocolate macadamia cookie. Fortunately, I keep an apple in my bag for something to munch on while driving home, so I had that.

When I got home, I sat in my car for a few minutes and zoned out. I knew that in the pantry sat an entire box of cookies, some chocolate pudding, and a bunch of granola bars. The ingredients for my ultimate comfort food, a peanut butter and chocolate chip sandwich, were in the kitchen.

In the past, I would’ve went straight for something sweet, without even thinking it through. But today I didn’t. I sat down and played a mindless game on my phone for a while and realized that I was still completely stuffed from the Chinese food I had at lunch. I didn’t need to eat because I wasn’t hungry.

That bears repeating: I didn’t need to eat because I wasn’t hungry.

That’s when I decided to make myself a cup of tea and sit down at the computer to write this post.

I still don’t feel better. My heart is still heavy and the tears shed in the car probably won’t be the last ones I see today. However, I haven’t made myself feel worse by using food to deal with the pain.

Whoa.

I get it now.

I rely on emotional eating to avoid dealing with other emotions. Anxiety, depression, sadness, anger, frustration…. all of those “negative” emotions can be scary. So, instead of dealing with them, I eat, because I can handle the guilt that comes from emotional eating better than I can handle my fear of those scary emotions.

Ok, I sorta already knew that…. but for me, having a cognition about something and really internalizing it are two separate things. I think I’ve just internalized this. Yay me!

I can be proud of myself today because I’m facing my fears without the aid of a cookie. This mulberry tea is actually quite soothing.

So is writing.

Thanks for reading 🙂

Yay me!

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It’s week three of my blog. And, in those three weeks I have begun to notice a few changes. But, before I tell you what those changes are, I thought I’d review what changes I’ve made:

  • 5am yoga: I get up 4-5 morning per week and do an easy yoga DVD.
  • Cutting back on my meat consumption: I wouldn’t necessarily say that I’ve gone vegetarian, but I am only eating meat a few times per week.
  • Eating more fruit and vegetables: I’m trying to shop mainly around the outsides of the grocery story, cutting back on my prepackaged and processed foods.
  • Increasing the amount of exercise that I do: in addition to early morning yoga, I try to go for a walk or some other form of exercise two or three times per week.
  • Cutting back on my coffee consumption: before starting this blog, I drank a venti-sized coffee with fat-free flavoured creamer (mostly just vanilla-flavoured chemicals!) every morning. I haven’t completely given up coffe, but I have switched it up. I’m drinking green tea a few mornings per week.
  • Meditating: when I’m feeling stressed or anxious, I’m trying to remember to take time and centre myself and meditate.
  • Daily affirmations: I’ve programmed my phone to send me reminders throughout the day. My favourite is “You deserve to be healthy” which pops up every day at 3:30 pm. Every morning as I finish my yoga, I take time to remind myself that I deserve to treat my body with love and respect.
  • Simply trying to do my best: In Don Miguel Ruiz’s book “The Four Agreements” one of the agreements is “Always do your best. I also remind myself to be impeccable in my words. (I will write more about how I apply Ruiz’s work to my life later).

So there you have it. Those are the changes I’ve made lately. And lemme tell you: I have been noticing the difference. The first big thing is that I’ve lost about 6 pounds. Yay me!!  I have more energy, and just feel healthier in general. In the last week or so, my back hasn’t been hurting as much (I haven’t needed as much painkillers as I did when I started this blog).

But, I think the biggest improvement overall has been my mood. I am a lot happier, and a lot more pleasant. I feel mentally and emotionally stronger. This is pretty major. As I reflect on my life in the last 10 months, I can see a monumental shift in my emotional health. I finally feel like I have my emotional and mental health issues under control. Having that area in my life under control is allowing me to have control of other areas.

I can’t wait to see what the coming months will bring!