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Total Gratitude Thursday (Inaugural Edition)

Hello again! It’s Thursday – almost the weekend and time for an exercise in gratitude.

Countless studies have shown that an integral part of a happy, peaceful life is being sure to take time to focus on gratitude and I’ve found that it’s very true. It’s hardest when you’re having a rough day, or you’re caught in the middle of a bout with depression but that’s also when you need it most. So, because I think that it’s such an important practice to engage in regularly, I’ve decided to do a weekly post called “Total Gratitude Thursday”. The #TBT hashtag has gotten so popular, I’d like to see if we can get #TGT to catch on! So every week, I’ll post some things that I’m grateful for. I encourage you to comment with your own list, and try to even make it a daily practice. Every day before your feet hit the floor, try to think of at least 3 things you’re grateful for. I promise you it will make a difference. Give it a try and comment below!

So here’s my first list of things I’m grateful for right now:

  1. Sleeping in – seriously is there anything better than not having to wake up to a blaring alarm clock? Answer: NO.
  2. My Pooh Bear-esque body. I’m finally coming to terms with my body and all its quirks. I really am built like Pooh – short legs and arms and round little belly. I’m probably never going to be skinny again, I’m definitely never going to be tall and I’m learning to be okay with that. My body isn’t perfect, but it’s strong and it’s healthy and it’s brought 3 amazing human beings into the world. I think that’s pretty rad.
  3. A glass of really, really good wine. Especially if it’s from France.
  4. Michael Franti and his music. I’ve been lucky enough to see Michael in concert twice and it was absolutely amazing! His music is so positive and powerful and that really affects the audience a lot. His music always puts me in a good mood and makes me want to dance – what a gift to give the world! Want to check him out? Start with “Say Hey (I Love You)” and dance your butt off!
  5. Blogging – just the simple act of writing this blog, connecting with readers and getting comments about what I’m writing has made such a profound change in my life – thank you!
  6. Pugs – I’m the proud mama of 2 Chinese pugs. They’re the funniest, sweetest, craziest most loving little dogs ever. You can’t help but smile with a pug around.
  7. The Dalai Lama – I don’t know how it’s possible for so much knowledge, goodness and light to reside in one human body, but he really is a blessing. I am so inspired by him.
  8. Positivity – yep, I’m grateful that I’ve discovered the difference that having a positive attitude can have in a person’s life. It’s affected every aspect of my life.
  9. Down comforters – oh, I’m completely and totally addicted. It’s like being in a fluffy nest of warmth and comfort. I love it!
  10. My husband and kids – they really are the best thing that’s ever happened to me. They’re a constant source of support and love and so much fun to be around. I’m one blessed mama bear.
  11. Glitter – I joke that I bleed glitter, but I’m not so sure it’s not at least a little bit true. I want glitter EVERYTHING!
  12. Sunshine – I think I’m part plant because I really do bloom in sunshine.

Okay, now it’s your turn – tell me what you’re grateful for! Be sure to share the blog with friends. Wishing you happy days ahead!  – Mama Bear

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The Importance of Taking Responsibility

Radical Self Love

This is the book I’m reading right now and I highly recommend it. It’s called “Radical Self Love” and it’s written by a blogger named Gala Darling. It’s out of print for the time being, but is being picked up by a big publishing company and will be back out in stores in February 2016. Put it on your wish list. You won’t be sorry. Until then, check out her website Gala Darling.

The reason I bring this book up is that I read an interesting excerpt from it last night. Here’s what she had to say:

“One of the major pieces of the puzzle when it comes to being happy is that you have to start taking responsibility for your life. 100% responsibility, in fact: radical responsibility. This is not up for debate!”

She’s absolutely right. And I’ll tell you why. Until you take responsibility for your own life, you’ll always be a victim of fate. And what’s worse, you’ll never be able to take full credit for your successes either.

We’ve all made this mistake from time to time. We make excuses for mistakes or bad decisions or just blame bad luck for the mishaps and missteps. And deep down, we know when we’re doing it that it’s wrong and it’s not helpful, but sometimes it’s easier to just blame someone or something else for what’s going wrong in our lives. Problem is, until we take responsibility for our lives and own up to our behaviors, we’re not going to change anything and we certainly aren’t going to make our lives better.

We all know someone that lives to play the victim. Nothing is their fault. It’s always someone else’s. They blame their spouses, their kids, their job, their parents, hell even the weather or traffic. Or they just chalk it all up to bad luck. And they’re usually the ones who will continually harp on how bad their life is and how everyone else has it better than they do and they just have shitty luck. That absolves them of any need to actually take action and try to improve their situation. It’s easier just to piss and moan than actually do something about it.

Now I’ll admit there are some adversities in life that you really can’t do much about. You can’t go back and fix a bad childhood. You can’t undo trauma. You can’t cure a disease or chronic health condition. But I guarantee you, there’s someone out there who’s been through the same thing, lived through the same pain and found a way to thrive. And that means that you can, too! That’s where a positive attitude and the right outlook can work miracles. Yes, you may have had a bad childhood and there’s nothing you can do about that. But what you CAN do is make a conscious choice to change your attitude about it. What does that look like?

The moment you take responsiblity

It means that instead of looking at yourself as a victim of your childhood circumstances, you can instead tell yourself: “Look, I had a bad childhood. It doesn’t mean I have to have a bad life. I can choose from now on to work to heal my life and forgive those who did me wrong. I can choose not to continue the same patterns in my life. I can choose how I interact with people, how I react to them and how much impact they have on my life. I have power now that I did not have as a child and I am going to use it to better myself.”

If you’re in a bad relationship, you can bitch about it till the cows come home or you can sit down and take a good hard look at yourself and decide if there’s something you can do to save it or if it no longer serves you in any healthy way. You need to be completely honest with yourself and own up to your own part in what’s going on and not take the easy way out.

If your emotions are out of control you can stop blaming everyone else for “making you feel angry/unhappy/depressed/sad/unwanted/unloved” and realize that you control how you react to any person or situation. They don’t “make” you feel anything. You can’t control their actions and they don’t control your reactions.

If you’re stuck in your career, again, take a good hard look at your life and try to figure out what you can do to make a change. Is it time to re-evaluate your career path? Do you need to look into going back to school? Or do you simply need to change your attitude about where you are? Again – people don’t generally stumble into success. They’re successful because they’re looking for opportunities, are smart enough to see them when they show up and brave enough to take chances. If you’re sitting in your cubicle griping about your boss and co-workers, you’re less likely to see opportunity if it does come knocking.

If you’re dealing with health issues, look into making simple choices that might help you deal with your illness or condition more effectively (always with the guidance of a medical professional). Ask questions. Find resources on treatment options or maybe even lifestyle changes that may help. Look to others who have similar conditions for support. Maybe even look on Youtube for videos of other people who have overcome physical obstacles and become successful. Find inspiration and empowerment wherever you can. Take responsibility for yourself and your health.

Every choice you make in life puts you closer to, or further away from, the life that you want for yourself. Maybe the best place to start is to look at one small area of your life that you want to improve. It can be something as simple as learning how to organize your home so that it’s more efficient and you spend less time looking for lost keys or trying to find a clean shirt. Find resources to help you be more organized. Talk to other people who are good at it and pick their brains for ideas.

eleanor roosevelt

You know what the upside is to all of this? It makes you feel powerful. When you sit down and realize that the Universe really isn’t out to get you just because you got a parking ticket (you just made a bad decision and parked where you shouldn’t have – own up to it!), it’s a lot easier to have hope that you can change things for the better. It means you’re not a total failure at being a grown-up if you’re late for work because next time, you can set the alarm for earlier, or set two alarms or whatever works for you. It means that maybe your relationship isn’t hopeless after all – you just need to find a different way of communicating to one another.

And as I said in the beginning, it also means that you can take credit for all of your successes. Because when you’re responsible for your life, that means not only do you have to own your mistakes, but you get to own your successes, too! It also means the sky’s the limit!

So what can you start taking responsibility for today? Feel free to share your insights

-Mama Bear

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There’s No Miracle Pill

happy pills

Let me start off this post by stating that I am NOT a doctor, nor am I a mental health care professional. I’m not offering medical advice, treatment or cures for depression or any other mental health issue. I am simply sharing my own experiences and what has worked for me. Never go off medications without consulting a professional and if you are in crisis, call 911 immediately.

I was diagnosed with clinical depression in my early 20s, but looking back I realize I’ve been dealing with it since at least my early teens. But I think my 20s was the first time I heard about being able to take medications for depression, and so I went to see my doctor. The first medication I tried was Prozac, which helped a little but it also made me so tired I could hardly function. That simply wouldn’t work for me, given that I had two small children at home. Next came Effexor. It helped a bit, too and I wasn’t exhausted all the time. I was also referred to a counselor who I was able to see a total of 4 times as that’s all our insurance would cover. And since we couldn’t afford an extra $400 a month for weekly appointments, that’s as far as I got with therapy then. I found out I was pregnant again after having been on Effexor for several years and had to discontinue the meds. That’s when things really got fun. Withdrawal was pure hell. I was dealing with nausea and exhaustion from the pregnancy and then had dizzy spells, mental fog, and anxiety attacks from the meds.

Fast forward a couple of years and I was back on meds, but not really feeling I was getting any help from them, so I finally went to see a psychiatrist. After filling out the medical forms and spending 15 minutes talking to the doctor, he diagnosed me as bipolar. That was a bit shocking, but I thought maybe that was why nothing seemed to help me. The next 12-13 years were a blur of anti-psychotics, anti-convulsants, antidepressants, lithium, and benzodiazepines. I’ve lost count of the number of times my medications were switched and I have no idea how many I tried. Most meds didn’t help my depressive symptoms, just made me numb and sedated and the side effects were horrific. I lost my hair, gained a lot of weight, had tremors, confusion, nausea, fatigue. The lithium was the only drug I tolerated reasonably well, but even that required blood tests to make sure I didn’t overdose on it. Somewhere in there I had a nervous breakdown, which just seemed to confirm the diagnosis as well as my need for meds. Newer meds and stronger meds. I also saw several different counselors, but just wasn’t getting the help I needed.

My husband always questioned the bipolar diagnosis, and honestly, I did, too. It wasn’t that I was in denial – it’s just that it didn’t seem to fit me. We both read extensively about the disorder, and while I definitely had depression and some mood swings, they weren’t anything like what we were reading about. I tried discussing my concerns with my doctors and therapists and they were mostly dismissive. One even told me that the “label” (diagnosis) didn’t really matter; we just needed to treat the symptoms. I pointed out that a lot of medical conditions share the same symptoms, but you wouldn’t give someone chemotherapy if they only had a headache and not a brain tumor. I don’t think he liked my attitude. He just let out an exasperated sigh and gave me the prescriptions. Eventually, I got tired of no one listening to me, so my husband I talked to my family doctor. We told him we thought the bipolar diagnosis was wrong and that I wouldn’t be taking any more medications for it. I told him I was willing to stay on the antidepressant I was on (bupropion), and that I would be sure to watch for side effects and track my symptoms. And so I did. And he monitored me for several months to make sure I was safe.

I also started reading more about self care and alternative ways to treat depression. And that’s when building a positive life for myself started to take on a deeper importance for me. The medication helps, but it only goes so far. I would never advocate someone going off medication, but I think that the medical community is using medications as a cure-all, when there’s so much more to the story. People suffering depression sometimes have more than just a chemical imbalance to treat. And depression can do one helluva job on your self-esteem and self-worth. When you’ve suffered abuse or trauma, or when your self image has taken a beating for any reason, you need help learning coping skills and self care. Treatment shouldn’t be medications and nothing else.

So what works for me?

1.Well, I still take bupropion twice a day because it’s one of the few medications I tolerate well. I take the lowest therapeutic dose because I’m extremely sensitive to side effects.

2. I exercise. Yeah, I know, everyone’s telling you to exercise, but believe me when I say this: moving and doing some cardio and a little bit of strength training has helped me more than just about anything else. It’s so hard to get yourself motivated when depression is telling you that nothing’s going to get better, nothing matters, you’re worthless so why even try…on and on. But study after study have proven that exercise helps. So find a way to work some activity into your day. Your body and your mind will thank you for it, I promise.

3. I avoid depressants. I do drink occasionally, but I try not to overdo it. (It doesn’t mix well with most meds anyway.) In addition to limiting my alcohol, I don’t do things that will depress me. I don’t watch depressing movies, I don’t listen to depressing music and if I find that the news or social media are bumming me out, I avoid them.

4. I avoid toxic people like the plague. It sometimes pisses people off and it might make people accuse you of being unsupportive or abandoning them, but this is your sanity and your quality of life and it is sacrosanct. MY health and well-being will not be compromised by people who are not healthy for me – whether they’re family or friends.

5. I don’t push myself when I’m having a rough time. I know we’re Americans and our society seems to think suffering is somehow noble, but I think that’s kind of crazy. I don’t try to push myself to act like nothing’s wrong. If I need a day of staying in, focusing on myself and my needs and some intensive self care, then I do it.

6. I work really hard to maintain a positive attitude. It makes it so much easier to ignore that voice in my head telling me that it’s always going to be this bad, that everything is awful, that life is meaningless…you know what I’m talking about. I work my ass off to inject as much positivity into my life as I can.

7. I use the techniques I learned in therapy to cope with tough situations and stressors. I’d definitely suggest finding a good therapist, support group or if you can’t afford it, finding a good friend or loved one who can listen to you objectively and help guide you in positive, healthy ways to deal with issues you may be having. A good support system is crucial.

8. And I try to eat right, although this is the hardest one for me. Processed foods and junk food definitely don’t help anyone dealing with any type of health issue.

Self Care

So, while I’m not advocating for anyone to quit medications, I’m definitely suggesting everyone get a good self care program going for themselves. You can tailor it to fit your individual needs, but definitely do it. I’ll be offering more information in the coming posts about self-care methods. No one should have to spend decades of their life suffering. A better life is out there – it just requires some work and creative thinking. You deserve it.

Please comment with your own self care strategies or any insight or feedback about this post.

Take care.

– Mama Bear

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WWDD?

Hero

I have to be honest: I’m never really too shocked when it’s revealed that some celebrity or other has fallen from their pedestal. Some of their falls from grace are a bit more surprising than others, but somewhere deep down, I think I expect it in some way. And I think it’s because celebrities have never been my heroes. Okay, full disclosure: I think I wanted to be Sheila E., or one of the girls from “The Revolution” for a minute back in 1984-85. Or else the girl from “Flashdance”. But those dreams died out in the harsh glare of reality. I have never had any musical talent and while the fantasy of being a welder/dancer was a great one, I found out Jennifer Beals didn’t even do any of that stuff. Illusions shattered. So yeah, I burned out on celebrity heroes at an early age.

My hero was my grandma, Dorothy.

I’ve talked about her in another post. “Bless Your Heart”? Yeah, that was her. And in many ways, that summed up some of what I loved best about her. She was funny as hell, and never afraid to be goofy or silly in front of her grandkids. I was convinced until I was in my late teens that she had invented spoonerisms (I didn’t know there was a word for what she did). She’d say “bon of a sitch” instead of cursing in front of us kids (because we were evidently not too bright? I dunno.) She was empathetic to a fault. I never once cried in front of her that she didn’t start crying herself. She was that way with everyone and everything – couldn’t stand to see suffering. And she really did that whole “bless your heart” thing – she didn’t say anything bad about someone without following it up with something good or just a “Bless her heart, she’s trying.” She was kind and a genuinely sweet person, unless you messed with her kids or grandkids – then it was straight-up Mama Bear. Even then she was sweet – you just knew not to push it any further. I honestly never met anyone that didn’t like her.  Even her sons’ ex-wives really never had anything bad to say about her – a couple of them came to her funeral services to pay their respects.

Was she perfect? No, not at all. And she was the first one to point out her flaws. My dad used to love to tease me with stories about how vast the transformation was for her between being a mom and becoming a grandma. And when I got to be a little bit older, I learned about some of the struggles she’d had in life and some of the mistakes she’d made. It didn’t change my opinion of her one bit. Because her good qualities outweighed the bad. And I knew that she’d never willfully done anything to hurt anyone; she was just human. She was a good soul. And for as long as I can remember, my deepest wish was to be like her. Her opinion mattered more than almost anyone’s. When I found out I was pregnant just a couple of weeks after high school graduation, I was more afraid of her reaction than anyone else’s. I just couldn’t stand the thought that she’d be disappointed in me. My parents were going to tell her, but I told them I wanted to do it myself. Do you know what she said?

“Well, these things happen. It’ll be okay.”

I bet you were expecting something crazy profound, eh? Nope. She wasn’t Buddha. She was just Grandma. And she knew exactly what I needed to hear, and you know what else? She was right. It was all okay. And 6 years later, when I had a really bad miscarriage and was absolutely heartbroken, she called me. Now, I have to point out, she was a product of her generation and not at all comfortable talking about matters of reproduction and the like. All she said was, “The same thing happened to me a few times and the doctor always told me to get lots of iron, eat lots of red meat. You take good care of yourself.” And when I started to cry, I could tell she was, too. But once again, she knew exactly what to say, and it wasn’t anything profound or deep. She just let me know that she cared.

So yeah, I never needed sports stars or movie stars as heroes. (Not that I wouldn’t do a “Wife Swap” episode with Brad and Angelina if they asked *hint hint*.) And when it came to raising my own kids, trying to be like Grandma became the way I dealt with most things. I adopted a sort of “WWDD” attitude – What Would Dorothy Do? It just meant that I tried to do my best, tried to make sure they knew I loved them, and tried not to be too hard on myself when I made mistakes. And I tried never to take life too seriously and be silly and goofy whenever I could. I’ve even come close to making fried chicken as good as hers, but I know close is as good as it’s probably going to get.

In the end, I think that’s our job as parents – to be heroes to our kids so they don’t have to go looking elsewhere for them. And that doesn’t require heroic effort. It just requires loving them unconditionally, being there, realizing they’re always watching and emulating us and admitting when we make mistakes and trying to do better next time. Those cardboard heroes can’t ever live up to the pedestal that people put them on, and just one news article or paparazzi photo can make them lose heart. They might not ever say so, but we’re their first heroes by default. Just like Grandma was mine.

So today, on the occasion of what would have been Grandma Dorothy’s 91st birthday, I challenge you to find your hero and think of ways that you can be more like them. And while you’re at it, realize that you are probably someone else’s hero – act like it.

Happy Birthday, Grandma! And happy Friday to all of you!

dorothy
Grandma Bear

– Mama Bear

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The Thief of Joy

Comparison Thief of Joy

“Did you hear about Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck?”

I’ll bet a thousand conversations started with that phrase when the news broke that one of Hollywood’s power couples was calling it quits. Not being one that follows celebrity gossip, it came as quite a surprise to me. I’m betting country music fans felt the same way when Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton announced their plans to divorce. We see these celebrity couples together in photos, on red carpets, on magazine covers, smiling together, posing with their kids and it all looks so wonderful. From the outside. But in truth, if celebrity life were as perfect as a lot of us think it is, how do we explain the eating disorders, divorces, addictions, multiple trips to rehab and all the other ways that celebrities show us just how imperfect they are?

Simple – we don’t have any clue what their lives are like on the inside.

It’s the same way with us “normal” people. I’m betting a lot of us go through the same thing in our lives. And social media makes it worse. We see our friends and family posting statuses about trips they’re taking, meals they’re eating, how wonderful and smart and romantic and perfect their children/spouses/significant others/pets are (well, maybe not the romantic part), and we look at our own lives and try to compare the two. Invariably, we’re gonna come up short. Their grass is ALWAYS gonna look greener.

But is it? Short answer – NO.

It’s comparing apples and oranges. Why? Because you’re comparing their external life with your internal life and there’s simply no comparison. You’re seeing all the best parts of their lives, edited and filtered and cleaned up and posted for all to enjoy and envy. Meanwhile, looking at your own internal life, you’re aware of all your faults, your dirt, your unresolved issues and mistakes and anger and junk. But a lot of people don’t post that kind of stuff on Facebook because it’s not what we want to remember about our lives and because it’s personal. We all try to hide our insecurities and foibles from everyone else. It’s human nature. We don’t have any idea that 15 minutes before that shiny happy photo of a family on a beach was taken, that 3-year-old was screaming bloody murder and going dead weight on her mom trying to get out of wearing a dress. We see beautifully edited senior pictures of kids full of promise – not the times the kid won’t speak to his mom, or how terrified he is to start college next fall, or how embarrassed he is about his acne. Someone posts about their weight loss and we feel like a failure, but we have no idea what they might have gone through to lose the weight or what their health is like. We just don’t know what’s going on in other people’s lives. We don’t see the fights and scars and struggles and messiness of other people’s lives unless they want us to and usually they don’t.

Highlight reel

I had a very vivid illustration of how little we know about other peoples’ lives recently when I ran across a newspaper article about a high school classmate that was having a self-help book published. I remembered her from high school – a cheerleader, popular, always very bubbly and cheerful. Then I ran across her blog later that evening and saw an entry in which she described being put down by a college roommate, a fellow cheerleader, even one of our teachers! She described growing up being raised by a single mom and how they struggled financially. I was shocked. I had absolutely no idea. From the outside, she was the girl everyone wanted to be, yet inside she was having a rough time just like I was and I had no clue about it. I was watching her outside and living my inside.

Comparison really can be the thief of joy – Teddy Roosevelt was absolutely right. You’re not competing with anyone except yourself. You can’t possibly know what’s going on in someone else’s life, so it’s pointless to compare where you are with where you think they are in life. So just don’t do it. Don’t compare your kids, your house, your relationships, your job, your car, your happiness, your mental health, your body – just don’t.

There’s no need for comparisons. Vow to yourself that you will no longer compare your insides to someone else’s outsides. And if you find yourself doing it, stop and remind yourself. You’ll be much happier in the long run. And remember, somewhere out there, there’s someone looking at your life and wishing they were you.

If this post speaks to you, leave a comment! And be good to yourself.

– Mama Bear