Support Groups: What’s in it for You?

We are not meant to go through certain events alone- serious illness, loss, kids with disabilities and other events that shape our lives. This is when the power of numbers comes in. Being around others in a similar situation can be comforting and sharing your thoughts can help with processing. It can also help someone else realize they are not alone.

Yoga Class and Hope

I haven’t been to an AA meeting since I have stopped drinking. I considered it but realized it isn’t for me. I have read the Big Book and went back for a re-reading. I did, however, randomly find a 12 Step Yoga for Recovery group on Facebook. I was a bit nervous when I went the first time. I’m a bit nervous around people that I don’t know, so it took me a few Sundays to say anything besides my name.

I’ve gone almost every Sunday since November and I really enjoy it. I don’t speak every week, but I do like reading one of the two reflections that are meditated upon. This meeting gives me a chance to think about subjects that I haven’t thought about in a while or, sometimes, not at all. I don’t mind this, because new thoughts can be good. From time to time, the topics may stick with me throughout the week- not in a bad way, but in a way that makes me think about making myself a better person.

I started attending the group for two reasons: I like yoga (and needed a beginner class) and I was struggling. It’s entirely possible I would have relapsed without going to this group. I needed extra support that only others battling the same thoughts and emotions could give me. In the months since I think I’ve lost a few pounds and I’ve become somewhat more flexible.

My airplane pose will probably always be awful on the right side, but I can do a terrific downward dog. I have to sit out the sideways plank because I appreciate being able to use my wrists, but my tree pose is slightly improving. I’m pretty sure my future hip replacement is going to be caused by too many Sundays in the half pigeon pose.

I still don’t say much, but I do like listening to other people’s stories. I got my two year (and first ever) chip at a meeting in January, and next up is July when I hit two and a half years of sobriety. The stories I hear give me hope on the Sundays that I come in struggling and I hope that when I actually do speak, I do the same for someone else.

Chairs

Finding a Group for You

Support groups can be online or in person. Online can be a great option if you are in a rural area or otherwise unable to leave home to get to an in-person support group. Most groups are held at hospitals, community centers, churches, or other locations. They can also be led by group members or other facilitators like a nurse, social worker or other professional.

These groups are not the same as group therapy, as those groups are a specific type of treatment for people with similar diagnoses led by a licensed medical professional. Support groups are meant to be informative.

As with most things, going to a support group can have benefits and risks.

Benefits:

  • Feeling less lonely or judged
  • Talking openly and honestly about your feelings
  • Learning new skills to cope with challenges
  • Improving understanding of a disease/condition and your own experience
  • Learning about resources
  • Staying motivated and gaining hope

Risks:

  • Disruptive group members
  • Lack of confidentiality in some groups
  • Interpersonal conflicts
  • Inappropriate medical advice
  • Comparisons of “who has it worse”

You can tell if a support group is risky if you are pressured to pay high fees to attend, are promised a cure and/or are pressured to buy products. Information found at Mayo Clinic

You got this

Making the Most of Your New Support

Once you find a support group, it’s time to make it work. Talking about your struggles in front of strangers is hard. You don’t have to say more than you want to, but even a little helps when you feel you can. It may help lift a weight off your shoulder that you may not know you had.

Most facilitators are used to new people in the group and can guide you through the rules and processes. If the group isn’t for you, you’ll find out in a few sessions. You don’t have to do everything that is suggested- absorb what works and let the rest go.

Enjoy the new perspectives in your life and thoughts they bring.

Pics courtesy of Unsplash

Have you been to a support group? Did it help?

Men and Mental Health

As kids, most boys were told not to cry. They were told to be tough, to be “real men”, and those men didn’t cry and show emotions. They hid their feelings, no matter the cost.

This piece of advice has had terrible consequences, leading to high substance abuse rates, violence against women and children (among others) and other issues. When you can’t let out your feelings in a healthy way, it tends to come out badly. It also leads to higher rates of depression, anxiety and lack of self-care.

Why Men Don’t Seek Help

Everyone needs to take care of themselves, physically and mentally. This is a well-known fact. Men have a harder time acknowledging this because of the stigma they face in doing so. This will be covered in a later post, so stay tuned, but here are a few examples of what many men fear when going for help:

  • Being labeled as “weak”, “sick”, or any number of labels.
  • Having to be vulnerable. I can say from personal experience that starting therapy is rough. You are opening up with some of your worst demons to someone you just met..many men (and women) are not having it.
  • Being judged by those who know that they are getting help.

This information is in The Stigma of Mental Illness

Untreated mental illness can also lead to suicide, which has a higher rate in men, and men usually use more lethal means.

This fact breaks my heart each time I read it. Suicide in itself is heartbreaking and has far-reaching consequences.

As a mom, I’m teaching my kids that it’s okay to cry. My sons know it’s okay to have emotions. In light of numerous teen suicides in the news and those that I have lost to suicide personally, I feel a huge responsibility to watch out for my kids’ mental health. It’s HARD to be a kid these days.

Cameron started taking daily naps when he started middle school, and at first, I thought it was a phase. Then I worried about his heart because his SVT is pretty severe and can tire him out easily.

He told me that he felt fine, that school was just tiring him out. My next question was if anything was bothering him, and thankfully, he said no. Cameron is a pretty chill kid, but you never know.

Julian is pretty quiet, but he knows where Mom is if he needs to talk. So does Lily, but she is NOT the quiet type. The point of this is, please talk to your kids, no matter how rough it may be. Just check in.

What can we do for the men in our lives?

  • Check in with them. Especially if something major has happened to them recently- a death in the family, job loss, etc.
  • Be gentle. Most men facing a mental health issue don’t want to be forced into talking. Matthew’s parents divorced a few years ago, and there was a lot of drama involved. He’s not a huge talker, so I had to let him talk about it at his own pace.
  • Encourage him through whatever he does, if anything. If he decides to seek help, he needs to know you’re behind him 100%.

Of course, if things are going downhill quickly, please seek immediate help. You can go to the nearest ER or call 911.
Resources:

AFSP

Psychology Today

NAMI

Kids: Is It All In the Timing?

I’ve had a lot of time to think about this topic. Fourteen years, in fact. Cameron turned fourteen recently and I had just turned 22 when he was born. Fast forward and here we are. He has two siblings and I have gray hair.

The Clock Goes “Tick Tock”

Timing can be interesting- eighteen months is all that separates my kids in age. That was not planned, as I’ve discussed in previous posts. Three kids in three years is not for the weak or people who like to sleep.

I like my sleep and I am so damn glad that my kids do. Once everyone slept all night, it’s been great around here unless someone is sick. Julian needed some help in this department- I’d love to shake the hand of whoever discovered that Clonidine helps with sleep. He sleeps great these days.

Figuring Out What Works

Matthew and I really didn’t have much of a plan- we just knew we wanted kids. He wanted two, I wanted four, and then Cameron showed up in 2005.

Matthew got two. I changed my mind. Forget four- Cameron was a difficult baby and I was not up for a repeat. Eighteen months later, I got “the Buddha Baby”, known as Julian. Eighteen months after that, Lily made her appearance and I shut down the baby factory.

I was done. You can read Rewind and Fast Forward to get the full story.

What worked for us doesn’t work for everyone. Some prefer to have kids early. Lily was born two months after my 25th birthday. I had hoped to be done having kids by 30, so I was done a whole 5 years early.

I was worried about the chances of birth defects, the extra wear and tear on my body (which happens no matter how old you are) and my energy levels. I also just wanted to get this part of my life over with. Pregnancy and the younger years of a child’s life are hard. Might as well be young and get it done, right?

The money part isn’t fun to figure out. I think that if you’re a bit older when you start having kids you may have a better shot at being financially stable. I’ve read that many older parents are more patient- in that case, I’d be ready for menopause before I had kids.

Two main worries for women that wait until later is the chances of birth defects or difficulties with getting pregnant in the first place. Luckily, there are maternal-fetal specialists and fertility specialists that can assist with these issues.

The Big Questions

Should you start early? Should you wait a few more years? I think it is up to each couple to decide what is best for them. Having kids is a huge, life-changing decision. Don’t go into it lightly.

Look at where you are in your life- financially and emotionally. How is your health? How will your life change if you do decide to have a child? These are just a few questions to ask yourself.

This post is not meant to talk anyone into or out of having kids at any point- just to bring a few thoughts to the surface.

Did you have kids at an early or late age? How do you think it impacted your life? Do you wish you had done it differently?

Pics courtesy of: Unsplash

Twin Mummy and Daddy

Guest Post With Gina

I have a guest post today! I haven’t had one in a while- enjoy Gina’s post on getting kids to embrace healthy habits.

We all want our kids to be fit, whole, and healthy for at least some of their lives. The problem is that kids learn best from what they see, not what you say. Healthy habits for kids begins with you – the parent – taking care of yourself first. That’s your best way to create a family-health home.

6 HEALTHY HABITS FOR KIDS THAT YOU MUST DO FIRST

If you want to create a great life for your kids, begin by helping yourself to have a great life. Here are six ways to get started:

healthy habits for kids

1. Staying – Or Getting – In Shape

I’m not going to lie – getting in shape takes discipline. Starting a fitness routine when you’ve never really committed before takes a huge act of will. The trick is really to trick yourself. You can make goals and push yourself to get them down. Here are some things that have worked for me:

  • Find partners to keep you accountable. Or, go to a gym or sign up with a meetup group of like-minded people who want to get fit together.
  • Do a workout you like. Right now for me, that’s Crossfit, but other fitness routines that have worked for me have included yoga, kickboxing, hiking, and Zumba. What is the workout that you’d like to do for yourself?
  • Set up a reward system. After a year of workouts, I received a shirt at my gym for my 150th visit. My next reward comes at 300 visits. To inspire myself, I’m setting goals in increments of 50. At each level (200, 250, 300), I will reward myself, with each treat getting better. This will culminate in a full day spa treatment for my final reward!
  • Make it easy. Whether or not you are a member at a gym, you can work out at home. That way, there are no excuses – even if it snows. (Although shoveling *might* be a good enough workout for you, depending on how much snow there is!) Go on Youtube and watch free videos that feature yoga, dance or workout programs; you may even want to buy some workout videos,. Do whatever you need to make sure you can exercise in your home.

2. The Food In Your Fridge

We cannot expect our kids to develop healthy habits if we are squirreling away treats for ourselves. And guess what? Even if you think they don’t notice, I assure you, they DO. TRUST ME ON THIS.

So stop it. Extra sugary treats aren’t going to help your waistline or your gut health. Seriously, if you want a sweet treat, have an occasional glass of wine, or do the MIND diet and have a small glass of wine daily. (No kidding, this is part of the anti-Alzheimer’s diet!)

Now, go take stock – what’s in your fridge and cabinets? It should be mostly legumes, fruits and veggies that your system can tolerate, a lesser amount of healthy cuts of meat, fish, and poultry (as in, grass-fed, MCS certified or pastured), and fewer carbs.

For example, I LOOOOOVE pasta and was raised with eating it every few days. Today, I try instead to eat bean pasta or spaghetti squash. (This is not for everyone – my husband won’t get on board!) If your kids love pasta, you can make this switch depending on their age. (Kids love the sauce mostly!) For others, it might take some time, but again, if you experiment with different vegetables and love it, then they’ll likely follow suit!

healthy habits for kids

3. Drink Your Water!

I’ve heard you need to drink anywhere from 50-70% of your body weight! That’s a lot of water but again, the kids are watching! I love drinking water because my dad made a ritual of it: special glass with a handle, loaded with ice cubes, that sat out all day and no one, I mean NO ONE was allowed to touch it. (I did one time and that’s one of the rare times I incurred Dad’s wrath before my teen years.)

So go ahead, make your water drinking a daily ritual. And make sure it’s clean water too, ok? You can buy a special glass, keep a bottle with you at all times, drink seltzer with fruit, eat water veggies, consider buying a water cooler – whatever it takes to make sure you get your daily intake of water.

4. Sleep – It’s Not Just For Kids!

Parents agonize over getting their kids to sleep…it took Zoe until she was 5 to sleep through the night!! We know that our kids require this health habits, but when it comes to our needs, we just stay up as long and as late as we like. But impaired sleep can affect everything, from your heart health to your focus, your productivity, and your mental well-being, not to mention derailing your workout. If you don’t know why you aren’t sleeping, you have to solve this issue. Some possible contributors include:

  • adrenal fatigue
  • sleep apnea
  • dietary issues
  • menopause
  • bladder problems
  • stress and overwhelm
  • poor mattress
  • other health issues, like restless leg syndrome

Getting to the bottom of stress or physical health issues is critical in making your sleep better. If you’re not sure of the cause, consult with your doctor.

5. Well Care When You’re Sick

Now I’m going to say something you won’t like: take care of yourself when you are sick! Way too many people simply keep their same schedule and then dose with OTC drugs. Unfortunately, you are often extending the life of your illness by doing this because you are suppressing the body’s system for clearing illness – such as a fever. Naturally, we all have commitments we cannot avoid, but as much as possible, use sick time for when you are truly sick. Or work from home, if you can. Rest, relax, and make a fresh bowl of chicken soup.

I’ve told this story before but last year, we all got some version of the stomach flu. My kids, the healthiest people in our home because of my diligence, were each sick for about 8 hours. I was sick for nearly 25. My husband? 3 days. It matters what you eat, how you sleep, and if you take care of your gut health, just like exercise matters too. None of us did any OTC drugs; we just chilled out and let it runs its course, mainly because when you’re only sick for a few hours, you don’t even think about the doctor (although my husband did)! In fact, he might have gone – I can’t remember.

healthy habits for kids

6. Taking Care Of Your Own Mental Health

And finally, you need to take care of your brain. That means a lot of things, including getting exercise, good food, enough sleep, and having healthy relationships. It also means:.

  • Taking time for self-care and moments of rest or relaxation throughout your day.
  • Managing your daily stress.
  • Cutting back on an oppressive workload or overcommitment.
  • Working through issues that impact your mental health, like childhood trauma

PARENTING THROUGH YOUR CHILDHOOD TRAUMA

Not everyone has childhood trauma but for those who do, it’s important you deal with your trauma so those issues don’t impact your family in a negative way. Making the connection between childhood trauma and adult illnesses and relationship problems can be challenging, but it can be tremendously freeing. It can guide you on the road to creating healthy habits for your kids.  It also enables you to start the healing process.

If you feel like you’ve been swimming against some invisible current for years, it’s a relief to know where it may be coming from, says science journalist Donna Jackson Nakazawa in Psychology Today’s online forum.

Taking the quiz on adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) is the first and most important step toward healing, according to Nakazawa. Understanding whether you’ve been affected by childhood trauma can help you start taking steps to undo it – and perhaps try some new approaches with your children.  Here is some science-based advice from StressHealth.org:

healthy habits for kids

  1. Realize it’s not your fault. As experts on trauma have pointed out, “It’s not about what is wrong with you; it’s about what happened to you.” This is the start of a healing journey.
  2. Stressed out? Take some deep breaths. Stopping what you’re doing for a few minutes to breathe tamps down your stress response, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Encourage your kids to breathe deeply or even join you in a few minutes of meditation. If you find you’re continually on the verge of a meltdown, consider seeing a mental health professional for help.
  3. Build in some rituals. Scientists say that routines and rituals are critical for healthy child development. Cooking and eating together, playing Scrabble and other board games,  taking a walk around the neighborhood, reading to your kids at bedtime, even sorting clothes together – all these “anchoring” rituals can help create closer, more loving relationships with your children, according to Barbara Greenberg, PhD, a teen, child, and family psychologist licensed in Connecticut and New York. All of these ideas are a great foundation for building healthy habits for your kids. Participating in community traditions that build a sense of belonging is also invaluable, says ACEs expert Dr. Robert Sege of Massachusetts.
  4. Consider taking a parenting class, especially if you often find yourself yelling or acting in ways you’d rather not. A recent study found these five parenting programs especially effectivein reducing drug use, aggression, and anxiety in the teen years. “Of course, it’s important to realize that when it comes to parenting, not one size fits all,” said Dr. Greenberg. “The class has to make sense for your parenting style and temperament. If the class doesn’t feel right for you, try a different one.”
  5. Give your child more undivided attention. Start by putting away your smartphone when you talk with your kids – or when you’re interacting with your baby. Scientists have found that babies develop back-and-forth “conversations” without language by the time they’re 11 months old, but they need to know that you’re listening. She may not develop the needed brain circuitry if her brain isn’t stimulated by talking with an attentive parent, so be sure your phone doesn’t come between you and our child.

With these steps and knowledge of your own childhood trauma, you’ll likely find it easier to help your child be happy and resilient.

Remember that healthy habits for kids start with you and your physical and mental health. Learn how to heal from toxic stress at Stress Health.

Wonder women

My Experience with Body Image Issues

I’m 35 with three kids.

My body has been through a lot of changes.

The Mommy Bod

Before kids, which now seems like eons ago, I struggled with my looks and weight. I’m 5’2″ and not the most athletic type. I have curly hair which I used to hate. Growing up, I rarely saw models in magazines that looked even close to me. If I did, they were skinny with straightened hair.

I just wanted to look like everyone else but that was not possible. I couldn’t change my skin tone, hair or any other physical characteristics. I got busy with school and work but stayed at a decent weight. Over time, I even started liking my curls.

These pictures represent my weight loss and gain in the last few years. After kids, I got up to almost 200 lbs. I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in late 2009 (which I no longer have thanks to diet, exercise and losing weight) and got serious about my weight. I wanted to be healthy for my kids.

A Sharp Turn

In 2013, that weight loss took a different turn. My anxiety kicked into overdrive because of the issues I was having with Matthew. I began thinking if I was skinnier, things would get better. I tend to not eat much when I’m stressed so this became a bigger issue. I would eat one meal daily for days on end due to stress.

Sometimes it felt like I was punishing myself in a way for not being the wife and mom I was “supposed” to be. I may have been punishing myself for making Matthew so angry. I also spent lots of time in the gym- at least an hour four days a week. I’d have done more if I had time.

At my lowest weight, which was August 2015, I was 125 lbs and a size 4. I was so small that my co-workers asked if I was sick. My doctor told me that my pancreas, already not able to produce all the insulin I needed, might give out entirely and result in Type 1 diabetes if I didn’t stop losing weight and pushing myself so hard. I’m not sure I cared.

I loved the way I looked- I finally fit into a string bikini but I was so nervous about it I didn’t want to take off my cover-up. (A friend yanked it off, but in a good way.) I don’t think Matthew cared either way- he had seen me before and after three pregnancies. It’s not like he saw me naked much at this point.

Jake was worried- one of his last worries about me was that I was too skinny. He told me I was still gorgeous but I needed to gain “like 5 or 10 pounds.”

Jake got his wish, but he didn’t live to see it. I gained 60 pounds after his death. I ate, drank and didn’t think about exercising for a long time. I was deep in a hole of grief and depression.

Comeback of the Curves

I stopped drinking and move around a bit more these days. My pancreas survived and it’s functioning quite well. Thanks to having RA, it can be a bit rough but I do what I can to exercise. One of my medications has a side effect that messes with my appetite but I’m not going to be upset if I lose a few pounds.

I don’t weigh myself- there isn’t a scale in my house. I’m not entirely sure what I weigh, my best guess is around 170. I’m a size 12/14. I’m okay with this. I’m happier, I’m funny again, I love food, I’m healthy as I can be, and I got my curves back. The second picture is me in Daytona Beach in August. I look much better.

I can’t say there was a moment where everything clicked and I stopped going so hard on my body. I was a little sad when I didn’t fit size small sweats in late 2015, but I had much worse things to deal with. While I was in therapy, I worked on how I saw my body. It’s been through a lot, and I realized I should have a lot more love for it.

There are three people that are on this planet because I grew them inside my body. I lived through a mini-stroke. I have two chronic health conditions but they are manageable. I’ve had three major surgeries (tubal, gallbladder removal and a partial thyroidectomy). I may have a few rolls but there are curves, stretch marks, surgery scars, and tattoos.

I still have bad days like every other woman but I remind myself of where I have been. I remind myself that I’ve looked a lot worse and that I’ll probably look different in a few years. I’m good where I am now.

Tips for Better Body Image

It can be very difficult to change how you feel about your body.

My helpful tips?

1. STOP LOOKING AT MODELS FOR VALIDATION.

I’ll confess, I’m a huge fan of Tess Holliday. She’s a plus-size model, and I love her message. I don’t look at her or other models anymore for what I should look like. I like her because she has amazing red hair, great makeup and #effyourbeautystandards is empowering. If you’ve never heard of her please look her up on Google. I like a handful of other models but for makeup and other reasons. Models work extremely hard to look like they do and it’s almost unrealistic for most of us to pull it off.

2. Remember what your body has done for you. Have kids? Even one kid changes your body permanently. If you’re a runner like my friend Lauren, there’s a lot of maintenance involved that I don’t want to imagine. She looks fantastic. I’m sure she will thank herself later in life for keeping herself in such great shape. (I hate running. I don’t even run to my mailbox.)

3. Realize that you are more than just what your body looks like. This may take a bit of work in the self-esteem department (lots of work for me) but it is well worth it. Everyone has interesting and/or quirky qualities about them that are likable besides what their body looks like. Do the work- make a Pinterest board of quotes, write in a journal about it. Talk to someone if you need to. The work will be worth it.

Have you had issues with body image? How did you work through it?

Quotes courtesy of Pinterest

My Random Musings