Have you ever felt like you do have it all, and it’s KILLING you? Seriously. I know I have...
Rewind to spring of 2016, I had the “dream job”, amazing husband, adorable baby...and yet. It was like the more I had, the more I was disappointing everyone. I felt trapped, and overwhelmed and like a completely ungrateful witch with a B for feeling the way I felt. Quite honestly, I was literally sick and tired.
The truth is we all feel this way from time to time and there are 3 (not so obvious) root causes for the sick and tired feelings that come from "Having it all". Below is a brief overview of each root cause:
1) Perfectionist Syndrome: When we put equal pressure on ourselves to give 100% to every single responsibility in our life we wind up being so depleted and resentful we don't have much left to give to ourselves. We shortchange our REAL priorities and we put ourselves in a chronic state of stress. Symptoms of P.S. include but aren't limited to: anger, resentment, brain fog, fatigue, headaches, body pain, anxiety, sleepless nights.
2) People-Pleaser's Disease: When we can't say no or risk disappointing other people we often wind up disappointing ourselves for years. Symptoms and side effects of PPD include: anxiety, depression, chronic pain, overwhelm, exhaustion, just to name a few.
3) Values Deficiency: If you aren't clear on your priorities and what really matters to you (a.k.a your values) you'll all too often fall into the trap of feeling scattered and lost. Signs of Values Deficiency include: confusion, hopelessness, lack of direction, lack of purpose.
The good news? You can reverse all of these dis-eases in your life through deep reflection, followed by mindset shifts and by putting your new beliefs into action.
And once you're in remission? You guess it...you'll actually experience the amazing feeling of having it all--all of what you actually want!
In my next post I'll walk you through a more detailed approach for curing Perfectionist Syndrome so keep an eye out!
If this post inspired any “ah-ha” moments for you, or you've cured any of the syndromes above, please share in the comments! Your experience could give someone else hope or at the very least make them feel less alone.
Here's to you helping yourself to a happier life!
As promised in my previous article, 7 steps for finding more fulfillment in your day-to-day life, I’m expanding on each of the steps for finding fulfillment in order to go into more practical detail about each and explain why these things are essential to your overall satisfaction. Today we’re going to talk about fitting in your favorite things and, of all of the steps, you would think this should be the most simple to implement. The truth is it’s actually a lot more difficult than it should be.
Because most of us are so out of touch with ourselves we can’t even remember what our favorite things are!
With the speed of the world and the amount of information in our faces 24/7, 365, it’s almost too much to even remember to look up from our phones and engage with actual human beings in the flesh, much less consciously think about the things that make us feel like us! So I’m going to ask you...when is the last time you thought about your favorite things? Like actually made a list?
We were asked to think about these things a lot when we were kids, but these questions seem to fall by the wayside when we become grown ups. I say that’s a tragedy. That’s why I’m going to walk you through a little questionnaire to get you started on fitting in more of your favorite things TODAY.
Tips before we start: don’t go all adult and overthink it. You’re allowed to change your mind or have multiple answers!
So let’s do this, shall we?
What’s your favorite color and how does it make you feel?
What’s your favorite holiday?
What’s your favorite place in your house?
What’s your favorite place in the world to visit?
Favorite piece of clothing?
Who are your favorite people?
What are your favorite quotes?
This is fun, right? That’s because you’re focusing all of your energy on things you love! Hopefully by directing your attention to these things for just a few moments you can start to see how powerful these seemingly simple things can be when you intentionally factor them into your day. Maybe you have a big interview so you put on a scarf in your favorite color. Or maybe you’ve had an awful day but a call with that person who helps put things into perspective and blasting your favorite song can help remind you it’s not so bad.
So I know what some of you are thinking...“Great, I know Christmas is my favorite holiday but it’s April. This does me no good.” Okay, fair. But think about this: WHY is Christmas your favorite holiday? What is it about Christmas that you love so much? Is it the lights? The music? The time spent with family? Getting time off of work? Take whatever resonates with you and right-size it to your life right now! If it’s vacation time, maybe you’re working too much. Maybe what you really need is a long weekend to recharge. Or if it’s Christmas lights that really bring you an extra shot of joy, go out and get yourself some lights and bling out a space in your place! There are no rules here! If you love lights, give yourself some lights and put them wherever will bring you the most joy!
If the example above doesn’t resonate for you, you may still be thinking, “Thanks Kristina, I know I love Spain already and want to move there but it’s not realistic and now I’m even more depressed.” I have a couple of things to say in response to this. The first is similar to the advice above...think of what it is that you love about this place and brainstorm how you can bring more of those things into your life NOW. You love Spain...is it the food? The colors? The warmth? What are the tangible things you could give yourself now? Maybe make yourself some tapas and blast some music! Or infuse your space with the patterns and designs that make you feel alive! The second thing I’d say if you’re in this camp is that discontent can be a very useful emotion as it can propel us toward where we need to go. If you’re drawn to something, or some place, it’s not an accident. Start by making a list of small steps you can take toward making this dream a reality, no matter how small those steps are. Just knowing you’re taking action and moving closer to your dream will give you a boost of positive energy and excitement like nothing else!
Can’t answer “What’s your favorite room in your house?” That’s a sign that you haven’t infused enough of you into your space. This can be a real cause of discontent for a lot of people. Some value that’s near and dear to you is not being honored in your space and it’s up to you to figure out how to fix it. And, for the record, it’s not shallow to care about aesthetic beauty. Aesthetic beauty brings joy and a sense of order and calm. Mind your space and be mindful of where you spend your time. You don’t have to blow your budget to put more of you into your space--sometimes just small changes like de-cluttering, unpacking, changing paint colors, or even just adding a vase of fresh flowers can make a world of difference.
So are you feeling inspired yet? I hope so. Take a few minutes to plan how you’re going to integrate more of your favorite things in your life today, this week, and this month, and see if you don’t start to feel more like you.
Here’s to you helping yourself to a better life,
Ah, people-pleasing--or, as I like to call it--Emotional Stretch-Armstronging. We over-commit and over-extend ourselves to the point where we’re spread so thin we hardly recognize ourselves. We think things like:
I couldn’t possibly disappoint anyone.
But I feel baaaad! I don’t want to say no.
I couldn’t possibly make someone (cringe) angry with me.
I want them to like me.
I could never tell them how I really feel!
Does any of this sound familiar? I know it does to me. I totally have the “disease to please” (I’m currently in recovery). It took me years of working on my own personal growth to see how debilitating it is to constantly strive to make everyone else happy and never acknowledge my own needs and desires. But after seeing how much changing this behavior has improved my life and the lives of women I coach, I’d say the need to please may be the single largest reason many people don’t achieve fulfillment on a deep level. Here’s why:
When you’re constantly people pleasing...
YOU RARELY GET WHAT YOU NEED OR WANT!
I know, crazy, right? I have to actually acknowledge that I have needs to get them met!? Nooooooooo….
Your needs matter. Your WANTS matter. They are aligned with your core value system and are the keys to living a fulfilling life. So let’s get down to brass tacks then, shall we? Why do you continue this people-pleasing behavior if it’s clearly not serving you? The answer is a four letter F word.
You guessed it--fear. You’re scared (we all are for the record). You’re afraid of having wants or needs because that makes you feel weak, a.k.a vulnerable. You’re afraid of asking for what you want and having it denied. You’re afraid of rejection.You’re afraid that if you stop making everyone else happy and being so nice and agreeable you won’t be loveable.
Yep, it always come back to that. Love. We all want it, we all need it. And somewhere along the line something happened in your life and you decided that meant that you’re not loveable unless…(you fill in the blank). Maybe unless you’re liked by everyone? Unless you’re selfless? Unless you’re giving nonstop?
So after this thing happened and this unconscious belief was born, you decided that in order to get your most basic need met (love) you had to curate yourself and show only the most likeable, agreeable parts to those around you.
In her book The Disease to Please, renowned clinical psychologist Harriet B. Braiker points out that people pleasers often adopt these behaviors out of a need for control. We unconsciously think things like: If I can just make everyone else happy, the spotlight will stay off of me. No one can criticize or judge me when I’m so nice. Of course this completely backfires because no one can fully love you or accept you when they don’t fully know you so you wind up feeling isolated from the people in your life. Not loved. Not seen.
This is why many people pleasers have a tendency of attracting partners who are takers. “You have needs, I have a need to be needed! Match made in heaven!” Ugh...try hell, or purgatory at best.
I myself had this pattern for years in my early dating life. I had always thought if I was “needy,” I’d be too much for someone. I valued myself as being an independent lady who could take care of business all on my own. The problem was that by not acknowledging my needs, I didn’t attract a partner who could meet them. And because I wasn’t getting my needs met in relationships, I started having negative feelings about relationships in general which only made the cycle worse!
Luckily a lightbulb went off for me one day and I saw the entire pattern so clearly. I had been depriving anyone I was in a relationship with of the simple human need to contribute! I was “needless” so they felt worthless. It made so much sense to me. I had to give and receive. That’s what a relationship is! When I started thinking about the benefits I could actually get from being in a real relationship and acknowledging I had needs that someone else could meet, suddenly being in one was much more appealing. That didn’t mean I was desperate for it--it just meant that I was finally ready to show who I really was to someone else and if they couldn’t handle it, they weren’t the person I was looking for. Funny enough, the year I had this epiphany was the year I started dating my husband. Coincidence? I think not.
The truth is ditching people pleasing can transform all of the relationships in your life. All too often people pleasers have relationships that are co-dependent, one-sided, or contingent on what they’re doing for someone else. But when you set boundaries and say no to friends or family, or even colleagues, you’re able to have deeper connections that are based on honest communication. You’re saying “This is who I am. This is how I feel.” You’re trusting that your relationship isn’t contingent on what you do for them, but on mutual love and respect. It doesn’t mean you don’t do nice things for people! And it doesn’t mean that you never put someone else’s needs in front of your own. It just means you do things because you want to, not because you feel obligated to or fear you won’t be loved if you don’t. This makes what you do so much more meaningful! It’s about authenticity. It’s about owning your truth and living it and trusting that the people who love you will love you even more the more YOU that you are!
So have I convinced you to ditch the need to please yet? If so, I have to warn you: You’re going to be tested. Once you decide to change this operating system you’re going to be asked to do a favor for someone you don't want to do. You’re going to be made angry by something someone does or says and have to decide whether to ignore it and shove it down (like you usually do) or admit that you were hurt and even...wait for it…ANGRY by their words or actions. Once you decide to make this change you’re going to realize all the myriad ways you’ve been hiding from your true feelings. So my warning, my friend, is it won’t be easy. But my promise is you will feel so much more connected, powerful, fulfilled and loved once you decide that WHO YOU ARE IS ENOUGH and ditch the need to please for good.
As a life coach who focuses on helping women achieve more personal and professional fulfillment, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what tangible steps people can take to get a deeper sense of purpose and enjoyment out of their daily lives. From my experience working with clients and through my many years of researching personal growth, I’ve identified seven key behaviors and mindsets that contribute toward a woman’s overall satisfaction. Over the next few weeks I’m going to dive deeper into each of these mindsets and behaviors individually, but, for the time-starved lady out there (most likely everyone who’s reading this) here’s my short and sweet list for how to live a more fulfilling life:
1) Ditch the Need to Please
Chronic people-pleasing is an epidemic among women (and moms likely get even worse cases as we must constantly put other’s needs ahead of our own). The thing is, in order to be really, truly fulfilled down to your core, you have to be in touch with your own needs and desires. There is only so much of you to go around, so it’s imperative you build up boundaries and protect your most precious resource: your time. Decide what’s worth your time and energy and do less of the things that suck you dry. As Tina Fey so succinctly put it, “Do your thing, and don’t care if they like it.”
2) Fit in your favorite things
Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens...seriously, few things will bring a greater sense of fulfillment into your life than the small joys that make you uniquely you. If you feel a deep connection to the ocean, make it a priority to get there as much as possible. If you have a favorite color, surround yourself with it or wear it on a day you’re down in the dumps. If you long to travel, make it a priority to start saving and planning your next trip, and in the meantime, bring as much of that place into your life right now as possible. Maybe it’s not realistic to go to Italy tonight, but you can go to that authentic Italian restaurant down the street or watch a movie that takes place there. Your favorite things are not simply luxuries or the “nice-to-haves” on your to-do list...it’s crucial that you make time for these things in order to stay connected to yourself and be fully engaged in your life.
3) Give and get some lady love
Women need other women. We’re genetically wired to connect with each other and can offer a unique kind of nurturing support we’re unlikely to get from a male partner. Studies have shown that women produce a hormone called Oxytocin when around other women that actually reduces cortisol, or what you could call the stress & belly-bloat hormone. So you read that right, hanging with your squad, rollin’ with your homies, twinning with your bestie, snuggling with your sis, actually reduces your stress which could help you lose weight. Make time for your ladies, even if they aren’t local, just a chat is seriously good for your mental and physical health!
4) Know & live what you value
When I start working with a client, we spend a lot of time identifying their core values because it’s essential to know your own conscious and unconscious values and how (or if) those values are being honored in your life. I encourage you to take five minutes to jot down your top-of-mind values. Values can be beliefs, people, places, things & activities. “Love” and “Family” and “Faith” are values, and so is “having close relationships”, “traveling” and “creativity”. Once you’re finished with the list, look for values that may be conflicting for you in practice. For example: You value “comfort and relaxation”--which may take the form of binge-watching your favorite show--and also value “health & exercise” but can’t seem to find time for both. Or you value spending time with your kids on the weekend and but also want to spend more time with friends. Next see how you might be able to honor both simultaneously, for instance: “I only watch my favorite TV show when I’m working out” or “I’ll call my friend and see if she’d like to meet for a play date with the kids”.
5) Invest in you & be grateful
Whether it’s giving yourself some TLC with a monthly mani/pedi, or taking a weekend to go on a yoga retreat, in order to live with a sense of fulfillment you need things to look forward to. You need to give back to you. I’d bet you give a lot to other people in your life, but you can’t give to others what you do not have. If you do, you’ll eventually become so depleted you’ll barely recognize yourself. When we invest back in ourselves-- in honoring our values, in making time for our favorite things--we’re able to live in a deeper state of gratitude for what we have, and gratitude is a mandatory mindset for maintaining overall satisfaction.
6) Have a little faith
Flexing your spiritual muscles can add depth and meaning to your life like nothing else. Whatever you believe, we all long for connection and a greater sense of peace and purpose in the world. Spiritual practices like prayer, meditation, visualization, mindfulness and gratitude are universal and have stood the test of time for a reason: They give us an outlet for focusing our energy in a positive direction and somewhere to let go of things that are out of our control. Tapping into the our spiritual selves also serves us by shushing the voice of our inner critic. When we’re still and choosing to let go of fear and a false sense of control, we allow ourselves to hear our true voice: The one that says, “You’re whole. You’re perfectly imperfect. I love you. Everything is as it should be.”
7) Celebrate progress over perfection
When you’re focused on bettering yourself, it’s so easy to fall into the trap of beating yourself up when you fall short of your own expectations. The problem is that NEVER works to inspire your growth. Remember to be a friend to yourself above all else. As Tony Robbins says, “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in 10 years.” Celebrate the fact that you’re making time for yourself, listening to yourself, honoring yourself, and learning more about yourself and what makes you feel fulfilled everyday. Give yourself a break and have a little faith that the small steps you’re taking everyday will multiply and result in a better, happier, healthier version of you in the long run.
Here’s to you helping yourself to a better life,
Confession: I'm a self-help junkie. If there's a book with a title about making myself and/or my life better/happier/healthier, I want it. Suffice to say I've been fascinated with how to live the best life possible for as long as I can remember and have logged some serious hours on the subject. Despite the fact that one book cannot possibly hold all of the answers, in my experience there are few things that have the power to inspire transformation like a book. You hold it in your hands, see it with your eyes, smell the pages through your nose, and feel the words move in, through you. (Phew...is it getting hot in here? Sorry, that's the bibliophile in me coming out). Suffice to say, there is something deeply personal about a book and I recommend these five regularly as they've had a deep impact on my life in different ways. Whatever area of your life you’d like to improve, one of these books will change you if you're open.
If you're looking for "the one": The Soulmate Secret by Arielle Ford
I read this book the last year of my single life...what can I say? It worked for me! In all seriousness, whether this is the reason I met my husband, who knows, but it addresses the importance of healing from past relationships and creating space in your life for another person. Also, it helps you believe the person you're looking for actually exists and this is belief is critical. If you don't believe this, you won't see them when they're right in front of you.
If you want to be more open: Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
I think this book should be mandatory reading for every single person on the face of the earth. Brene Brown is a shame researcher who realized how closely correlated shame and vulnerability are and that most of us are so terrified of being vulnerable we never show ourselves fully or embrace all the experiences life has to offer. It's a beautiful reminder that true strength is found in our willingness to show our humanity to those who have earned it. Being vulnerable in my work and relationships has transformed the way I live and love. I'm so much more me than I've ever been and so much closer to others thanks to the heart work Brene put into this book. Just read it, okay? You'll thank me.
If you're seeking a spiritual awakening: The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer
Do you have a noisy inner-dialogue? Feel like you have a team or critics inside of your brain analyzing everything you do, say, think, feel? In this book, Singer explains that we are not our thoughts and how not identifying with them and choosing what we will believe is how we get in touch with our true, authentic selves. It's a brilliant insight into how we can all achieve a spiritual awakening in our busy lives. And yes, it has helped me quiet the noise in my brain immensely.
If you want to eat more fruits and vegetables: Life-changing Foods by Anthony William
This famous healer has worked with many celebrity clients and his most recent book highlights the amazing transformative "medicine" you can find in the produce section at any grocery store. If you know you need to eat more fruits and vegetables and want to see them in a whole new light, buy this book. Not only are there delicious recipes, there's a glossary for symptoms and illnesses in the back and what foods help heal them.
If you long to create: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
As, always, Elizabeth Gilbert is the coolest of the cool. She has a way of pulling you into her books like it's just the two of you having a heart to heart over a bottle of wine. In this book, she somehow makes creative work seem profoundly critical and fun at the same time. It's like she's that super-cool high school teacher that gives you a permission slip to make what you want, read what you want, create what you want and everyone gets an A just for participating.
Have you read any of the books above and had your own ah-ha moment? I'd love to hear about it (and of course, I always love new book recommendations)!
Here's to a transformative 2017!
I don’t know about you, but New Year’s Resolutions have never really worked for me. Being a self-help junkie, for years--before marriage and mommyhood--I had a tradition of reserving an entire afternoon to hole up in a coffee shop and ruminate on all of the ways I could be better. There were always many. That was the problem. My list of goals and dreams for where I’d be in a year was shiny and oh-so-hopeful...over the course of the next year I’d be making twice as much money with a day job and side hustle, have written a novel, have gone to yoga 3 times a week, lost 10 lbs, flossed every day, read a book a week, all while attending church every Sunday and volunteering with teenage girls.
I know what you’re thinking...just pick one, genius! (Oooh, I just thought of another that always made the list! Be more decisive.) Of course I was living in Fantasyland to think that I could change so many things about my life at once...but isn’t that what we all do in our 20’s?
Alas, in reality, I never lived up to the ideal version of myself. Year after year I failed to meet my resolutions which meant I was a failure. Sure, I got a raise and made some extra cash with my side hustle, but I wasn’t making anywhere close to double my salary. I started writing a book, but it was nowhere near finished. I’d gone to yoga, but more like 3 times a month than 3 times a week. And that same 10 pounds was lost and gained throughout the course of the year multiple times. I couldn’t see the small steps I’d taken because, in my mind, my goals weren’t met. My New Year’s resolution fails only proved to me that I was a lazy, half-asser.
Luckily, in my 27th year, I was blessed to have a very wise bestie who told me her trick for not over-promising to herself was to have a New Year’s Mantra instead of a resolution, i.e. It’s 2009 and I’m feelin’ fine! This appealed to me immediately. Not only did this approach simplify my focus, I’d get to rhyme! After a quick brainstorm, I decided my new mantra for the year was, “It’s 2011 and I’m in heaven.” This may seem like a corny mantra for a simpleton, but allow me to explain.
In 2010 I moved cross-country from Florida to San Francisco by myself and uprooted my entire life. Though I knew the move was what I needed to do, I had dealt with a lot of loneliness and discomfort as a result. That’s why in 2011 my focus was to appreciate that I was living in my favorite city and finally pursuing writing as a career.
This was what I’d spend lunch hours dreaming of in my former life. I’d wander through Borders in Tampa (R.I.P. Borders.), smell the books, the coffee, and imagine walking the chilly idyllic streets of San Francisco and stopping in a local coffee shop to write something really deep and important while having deep meaningful conversations with deep important people who were also writing deep and important things. Everyone looked like an extra in So I Married An Axe Murderer because that was the way I’d imagined San Francisco. The cool jazz-coffee-bar 90’s version. I fancied myself wearing hats, glasses, and being serious.
Of course reality was a little different than I’d imagined. My deep and important professors called my writing “glib” and it turns out I feel pretentious in hats and don’t need glasses. I had to look up the definition of glib and basically felt like the far less fabulous version of Elle Woods at Harvard. Who was I kidding? I’m not deep, important and serious? I was, like, in a sorority and watched Gossip Girl! And that super cool coffee-jazz-club from the movie is actually a burrito place. So on days when I rode a crowded stinky bus through Chinatown and smelled a different brand of urine on every street corner, I came back to my mantra. It’s 2011 and I’m in heaven helped me remember that all of this, my fragrant reality, was me living my dream.
Since then I’ve realized that having a mantra for the year works because it empowers me to set an intention. It’s about choosing a mindset and approach for how I want to live my life. It informs my decisions, shifts my perspective, and allows me to celebrate progress over perfection.
Fast-forward to today. I’m married with a toddler. (How the bleep did that happen!? It wasn’t on my list of resolutions!) After a tough pregnancy which brought on a chronic illness, over the past couple of years self care has felt like just another energy-sucking thing on my to-do list. I mean, let’s be honest, it’s pretty much impossible to shave your legs when you’re preggers. And, if we’re being really honest, it still sucks when you’re not. But self care goes so far beyond just shaving and flossing...it’s about giving myself the same love and care that I give to others. That’s why my New Year’s Mantra is...drumroll please... It’s 2017 and I am the QUEEN!
Yes, it’s cheesy, but I’m finding it extremely effective. When I find myself caught in a web of people-pleasing or afraid of what other people will think, I lean into my mantra. I’m the Queen. What would the Queen do? Rule. She’d rule.
A queen would prioritize her own needs because she knows that her health and well-being are critical to everyone she serves. A queen knows she can’t do it all so she delegates. A queen works in her sweet spots and empowers other people to work in theirs. A queen rules with confidence and authority. She doesn’t apologize for being herself. She gets her needs met because that’s what she expects and demands. A queen may be afraid of putting herself out there but she puts on that crown, stands up straight, holds her head high and sits on that throne anyway. Hail yeah...I want to be her!
If you’re already feeling de-motivated or bogged down by your resolutions, celebrate your wins and choose a mindset mantra to help you move forward. Nobody’s perfect...consider yourself royally pardoned.
First featured on 32/7 on 12/08/2016:
I recently read an article about a teenage girl whose post about her mother’s “Mom Brain” went viral. Apparently this proud mother took the time to share her daughter’s photos on social media but could not, for the life of her, remember the names of her daughter’s friends in the pictures. The daughter, and everyone else in the world apparently, thinks it’s funny, in the way that children think their parent’s quirks are lame and endearing (like how I love and hate my father’s penchant for wearing tank tops). And though I love a good laugh, this “mommy brain” joke hit too close to home for me to find the humor in it. For me, “mommy brain” was the first stage of, what would become, debilitating health issues.
When I went back to work three months after having my daughter, I felt like I was in a fog. I would spend 10 minutes looking for my key fob to go to the bathroom, only to realize it was in my hand. I would leave the 22nd floor of my building and walk a block to my favorite coffee place, order food and a coffee, then realize I forgot my wallet, then walk back to the building, go back up, get it, go back down 22 floors, walk the block, pay, pick up my food and forget my coffee. I suddenly was terrified to drive for the first time in my life...what if I zoned out and forgot to look both ways, or that red means stop? It sounds silly, but it didn’t feel that way. Sure, I could laugh my flakiness off at first, but then other things started happening.
I found myself so exhausted at my desk that I’d have to nap in the mother’s room during my lunch break just to make it through the day. I’d have gotten a full night’s sleep the night before (I’m blessed with a child who’s a good sleeper) but it didn’t matter. I also couldn’t lose weight no matter how hard I tried. Everything that used to work to shed the pounds made zero difference. My body ached—my back and neck were constantly screaming. My feet felt like I was walking on giant bruises and ached with every step I took. It hurt to stand. It hurt to walk. People would tell me if I wanted to lose the baby weight I just needed to exercise more and it was all I could do but to cry. How was I supposed to exercise when it hurt just to stand? On top of that I was dizzy--all the time.
Well-meaning friends and doctors would tell me that everything I was experiencing was normal: You just have mommy brain, welcome to motherhood! It will take time to lose the weight, just be patient. You have a baby to care for now, it’s normal to be tired. But I couldn’t accept that being a mom meant I was just going to be achy, flaky, and exhausted all the time FOREVER. How good of a wife and mother could I be feeling like this? And if everyone felt like this, why would anyone have more than one kid on purpose?!
After some digging, I asked to have my thyroid and blood sugar levels checked, as most of my symptoms aligned with a thyroid or blood sugar issue. After multiple western and eastern doctors offered little to no answers for what was wrong with me, and my blood panels came back within the normal range, I started to give up hope.Maybe this is just what it feels like to be a working mother, I thought. That is when the sadness, that would eventually feel like depression, set in. I had a wonderful husband and daughter, and a really great job, yet felt like I was failing in every aspect of my life. I no longer recognized myself in the mirror. After 10 months of a difficult pregnancy, followed by an emergency C-section and then a year of feeling like this, I couldn’t remember the last time I felt at home and comfortable in my own body. I found myself crying uncontrollably at night at least once a week. (Did I mention my husband is a saint? Seriously, he deserves a medal.) Eventually my husband and I decided that the only choice I had was to walk away from my job and see if reducing my stress levels would help my symptoms. Coincidentally, as soon as I put in my notice, I went to the doctor again, and asked for a more thorough thyroid panel, AGAIN, to find out that I wasn’t just experiencing “normal postpartum hormonal changes.” I had severe adrenal fatigue and a disease that causes your immune system to attack your thyroid.
As strange as it may sound, the feeling I had when I got that diagnosis was relief. I finally had confirmation that I was right! Mommy brain was not normal for me, nor was feeling like I couldn’t keep my eyes open or being in almost constant pain, or the mood swings and depression. I was sick and tired and overwhelmed and I simply needed someone to listen to me and take my symptoms seriously.
I felt the need to share my experience because I know I’m not alone. There are millions of women of all ages out there struggling with symptoms like mine who have been told they are fine. If you are one of them, my message to you is to be your own health advocate. If you suspect that something isn’t right with your body, trust yourself. No one knows your body better than you or knows what you are experiencing. Be persistent, be insistent, do your research, and look for help until you find answers. It will take time and sacrifices, but you don’t have to accept that having perpetual "mommy brain," fatigue, and pain, is the price you pay for procreating.
It’s now been six months since my diagnosis and I’m looking and feeling more like myself every day. I’ve had to try things and adjust—I’m still learning what works for me and my body—but I know I’m on the right track. And, I can proudly say, I no longer suffer from mommy brain.
First featured exclusively on 32/7
With the holiday season upon us, I felt the need to address an epidemic that seems to grow stronger and more vicious during the winter months. I’m not talking about the flu, though I’d argue the effects are just as detrimental on the health of women around the globe. I’m talking about the spirit Grinch that turns so many of us from Ms. Holly Jolly to Ho-Ho-Horrible over the holidays—MOMMY GUILT.
A friend of mine, with two kids under the age of six, went all out for Halloween. Her entire house looked like an autumn Pinterest board. When I told her how impressed I was with her effort, she said, “I freaking love Halloween. It’s all of the fun of the holidays without all of the guilt attached to Thanksgiving and Christmas.” Huh…there’s something to this…I thought.
Though the mommy-guilt struggle is real all year long, it comes to an ugly head as obligations and expectations soar during the “happiest time of the year.” I personally have always loved the holidays. I’m a December baby who for years believed that all of the bright and glowing Christmas lights were just for me. But now that I have a child and family of my own, I’m so much more aware of the expectations on me as the woman of the house. On top of all prior obligations, moms also have to figure out how to create magical memories that last a lifetime for our kids (no pressure!), decorate our houses like we’re Martha-freaking-Stewart, send out the cutest card to everyone on our list to show how together we are, and shower our extended family with lots of presentsand our presence.
And our reward for all of our hard work? Standing in the kitchen cooking and cleaning up while the rest of our family enjoys the day socializing and watching football. Merry. Freaking. Everything. (And if you don’t cook or clean…how selfish are you? I’m immediately revoking your Lady Card! You actually have the audacity to enjoy the day?)
Look, I know I’m generalizing here. There are plenty of men who contribute during the holidays, and extra special hats off to the men out there who do the holiday cooking and/or cleaning. But this was not the dynamic in my family growing up and though my mother was a Super Saint during the holidays, I’m not eager to follow in her very tired footsteps. As a mom of a toddler, I’m acutely aware that I have only scratched the surface on how deep this mommy guilt during the holidays goes—I don’t have to deal with the school plays, concerts, projects, yet, but I see the stress on my friends with older kids. In short, so many women out there are running around in a frenzy, motivated by their fear of disappointing or failing someone this time of year…spreading themselves so thin they spend their holidays feeling overwhelmed and run down.
And so, for all those mothers out there who’ve experienced or are experiencing this thing called holiday mommy guilt, here are some ideas for how to bring a little more comfort and joy to your holiday season:
If you’re not into cooking:
Start a tradition of going out to dinner, ordering food from a favorite restaurant, or suggest a pot luck so everyone only has to bring one thing (and yes, your thing can be store bought!).
To avoid hours of clean up:
Use disposable plates and utensils for these two days out of the year where the dishes tend to pile higher than the presents.
To avoid stressful hours of shopping:
Ask family members to create and send you their wish lists so you don’t have to guess or spend your precious time searching for the perfect present at a retail store.
Suggest a Secret Santa or white elephant gift exchange with a spending limit for all adults.
To avoid the stress of holiday cards:
Be a rebel and send a card during the time of the year that’s best for you. It will be even more fun for everyone to receive because it’s unexpected. Gretchen Rubin, writer and happiness researcher, says she sends Valentine’s Day cards instead of holiday cards. Such a great idea!
Say no to anything optional that doesn’t bring you joy. Yes, that may include disappointing some people and that’s okay. You matter, too.
You may love cooking, decorating, and shopping on top of everything else you do—you may be in the camp that finds it therapeutic. But if you don’t, you shouldn’t feel guilty about it. The holidays are supposed to be happy for everyone, not everyone but mom. Lose the mommy guilt and your holiday to-do list will suddenly look a whole lot nicer.
As I’m writing this, I feel like a hypocrite. There are plenty of days when I choose to not deal with the funk and, instead, fully embrace it and lie around in my pajamas. On these days I’m an ostrich and, instead of burying my head in the sand, I hide under the soft, safe covers of my bed or live vicariously through the people in the box (a.k.a our friends in TV land). I know there are things I could do that would make me feel like a worthwhile human being, but in these “funky” moments, they feel like too much work--everything feels like work...LIFE feels like work. So isn’t the best counter to ‘too much work’ doing ‘nothing’? This seems logical and is easy to justify in my mind. The problem is I can spend hours on a TV bender and, most of the time, the funk only seems to grow funkier. I’m more tired. More powerless. I don’t feel refreshed...I feel even more drained. Then I feel guilty for having squandered precious hours locked inside. It’s a vicious cycle I’ve repeated year after year.
The summer I moved cross-country to San Francisco, with dreams of Golden Gate Bridge bike rides and scenic hikes in my future, I binge watched the entire Friends series, only leaving my apartment to walk around the corner to Walgreens to buy boxed mac-n-cheese. I swear if I ever interacted with an actual human, I would think things like “Could she be more of a Monica?”. I did eventually leave the house, meet real-life friends, and make a life for myself on the West Coast. But what I came to realize about that time of my life, and many others where I found “solace” with my TV screen, is I was coping with my fear and discomfort by attaching myself to the familiar. Everything outside was scary and different. But I knew how every episode of Friends would end. I could predict every “How you doin’?” and “I KNOW!” But a crutch is a crutch. And though there’s nothing “bad” about TV or using it as a mindless coping mechanism from time to time, if you’ve been wallowing for too long, you’ll eventually have to try something different.
Here are my top 3 tools that always seem to snap me out of a funk:
1) Write it out. It’s amazing what putting pen to paper can do. Study after study has proven the healing power of journaling. Once that fear, or lingering task, or grudge leaves your consciousness and exists in the physical world, it releases it’s hold on you. Moreover, for me, when I write I really tap into the thoughts I’ve been telling myself and can more objectively decide if they’re helping or hurting me. I recently heard the amazing Gretchen Rubin quote, “Don’t believe everything you think!” Writing helps me sort the “mean-girl gremlins” in my head from my actual voice.
2) Walk it off. It’s so simple, yet it can feel like climbing a mountain to pull yourself up from a horizontal position and move your body. But the effects of walking to stimulate creativity and boost mood are well documented. The bottom line is getting fresh air and time outdoors is sometimes all I need to take myself from ho-hum to get-it-girl! Often times a problem I’ve been avoiding seems simpler and I notice ideas start to flow. If I’m ever upset or angry, a walk can take me from a ‘10’ to a ‘5’ on the pissed off meter in 20 minutes. And the best part is, walking is free and available to you no matter where you are!
3) Watch what goes in. Turns out the old adage our parents used to lecture us with has so much truth in it: Trash in, trash out. It’s true with food and nutrition, and with our choice of friends and entertainment. It’s so ironic that the crappier we feel emotionally, the more we seem to be drawn to junk food. Or the lower our self-worth, the lower the bar for who we’ll spend time with. But I’ve realized to pull myself out of a funk, which is a very vulnerable state, I have to handle myself with extreme care. I have to watch what goes in my mouth. I have to watch what I read. I have to watch what I’m listening to. Sure, there are moments in life when listening to emo music and letting yourself bawl is cathartic, but when you’re ready to come out on the other side, you have to start acting the way you want to feel. Put more food, people, and things that are good for you in your life and see if that funk doesn’t evaporate!
What about you? What are your go-to’s for getting out of a funk?
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
— Henry David Thoreau
Recently, a burnt out friend of mine quit her high-profile corporate job in San Francisco without another position lined up. When co-workers started asking her the inevitable question “What are you going to do with your time off?” I couldn’t help but get a kick out of the fact that her answer was “I really want to stay home and knit” and that her next “dream job” was to become a park ranger.
The comedic irony I found in her response was mostly due to the fact that for the past four years I’ve been writing a novel that deals with the plight of 19th century women and how they were forced to a stay home and knit. And yet here was this hip, 30-something year old, in the peak of her career, and her sexiest ambition was to knit and disappear into the woods Thoreau-style.
Upon reflection I realized that my friend wasn’t alone in her yearning for the simple. A look at pop culture and the evidence was everywhere. There’s a folk revival in music, a farm-to-table movement in food, a rustic trend in home decor. Things are no longer old...they’re vintage. HGTV’s Chip and Joanna Gaines have captured the heart of America with their down-home family values, thrift store finds, and all-around slower approach to living. (Anyone else, for a split-second, imagined buying a $200,000 mansion in Waco, Texas just to be friends with them? Maybe it’s just me…) My point is, our society today has a serious case of nostalgia for simpler times. But why?
The thought occurred to me that modern women are craving the simple luxury of the downtime a slower, less connected world offered, just as many women of prior generations craved opportunities outside of the household. The fact of the matter is, most women today are running so fast toward having it all that we’ve forgotten to slow down and ask if we even want or need all of it.
It’s the perpetual, in-your-face speed of the world that has us all clinging to whatever semblance of simplicity we can. I myself have had moments of wishing I could pause time so I could hole up in a cabin in Big Sur and write for months on end Henry Miller-style. But I’m not Doc Brown and this is not Back to the Future...the last time I checked I can’t pause time and, that being the case, I don’t think my husband would be super jazzed about being left solo with our 14-month-old while I fulfill my writerly-hermit dreams. Instead, I make the space wherever I can. Whether it’s an hour here, a Sunday afternoon there, I’ve learned if I don’t create the space to listen to myself, I slowly start lose myself.
The fact that I’m a part of a privileged generation of American women, able to decide what it is that we want out of life thanks to those who came before us, does not escape me. I can only imagine coming of age in a time where my life’s expectation was only to become someone’s wife, i.e. property, as it were. But the unique challenge we face today is that, though we are able to do it all, that doesn’t mean we should.
So, perhaps my friend was onto something. Instead of measuring our contribution to the the female sex in terms of having an impressive job title, or the Facebook-perfect family, or a home worthy of being a Nancy Meyers movie set, or having the body of Kate Hudson...or feeling like we should have/be all of the above (let’s be honest)...what if we, instead, take a moment to reexamine our expectations. Let’s just pause. What the hell...let’s knit! Because we need to slow down. Like Thoreau, we need to deliberately disconnect from the daily chaos in order to remember what it truly means to live a life without regrets. We need to remember that, when it’s all said and done, the only thing we’re really accountable for is becoming the very best version of ourselves. And it’s not about attaining, it’s about maintaining what’s essential: our souls.
With the runaway train of social media and the pressure to be connected to the world 24/7, have you found yourself wanting to pull a Thoreau? Do you ever disconnect long enough just to hear your own voice?