Reflections on Parenting with a Broken Leg

Woman on Crutches

Parenting when you are on crutches with a broken leg:  Some reflections.  And:  IS IT POSSIBLE?  A report from the trenches.

So I went on a girls’ downhill mountain biking weekend in Fernie.  My husband was worried about me coming home hungover and not useful.

He was definitely correct on the latter.

Which brings me to ask question.

Do you think that the most likely place to break a leg would be…

a.) Downhill mountain biking on technical runs at Fernie Alpine Resort

b.) Technical trail running over a rooty trail on a mountain side

c.) Walking through a wildflower meadow

 

Correct.  C.  Because it makes THE MOST SENSE. 

 

So anyways, I came back to 1 day of wallowing in self pity and pain…1 day of radiology, drs appointments and crutch sourcing…. and then 4 days of my husband being back at his job.  Holy shit.

Remember the good ol days when you got sick or injured and people actually gave a fuck?  Remember when you could rest when you were injured? or sleep when you were sick?

I do too.

But then…it dawns on you.

 

You’re a parent now.

 

As a hobbled around my exceedingly large campus work place on crutches, only made easier by the 5 m closer parking that my disabled parking placard gives me, I realized that there are all sorts of things complicated by a broken leg.

Like…

Inserting / removing a sleeping baby from a crib

Inserting / removing a tantruming toddler from a crib

Driving

Cooking Dinner

Doing ANY activity with your kids

Maintaining sanity through exercise

Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation  Defending bad leg with couch pillows and snatching back ice pack from curious toddler

Getting clothes on naked humans running around

Chasing breakaway toddlers

Putting children in car seats

Getting down stairs with a baby

Any form of housework  WHO ARE WE KIDDING THIS IS AMAZING

 

Yes.  It complicates a few things.
BUT IT IS NOT IMPOSSIBLE.

 

If there are two things I have in my arsenal, it is a dark sense of humour *and* the knowledge that I can figure a way to cope with ANY situation.

So here, I give you, solo parenting with a broken leg.  Day 9 report.

 

Is:  Day 9

Feels like: Day 223.

Husband gone on day shift. Inadvertently wake kids up with ca-clunking of crutches way before I am finished my coffee and generally functioning.

Get them dressed on our bed, mostly involving holding one down with elbow while other falls off the bed.

Don’t even bother with breakfast, hair brushing, teeth brushing.  NOPE.

Slide down the stairs on my butt with baby in my right hand / smushed into right hip, because I can’t walk down the stairs yet. Have toddler (quite happily) throw crutches down (at) me. Only fleeting moment of cooperation from that one.

Manage to evade flying metal sticks of death.

Get out front door with one crutch (I have mastered this skill) – cat runs out – swat at cat with crutch to get him back in the house. Wonder if my neighbour is watching this gong show.  Feel de ja vu. Is this a preview of my 70s?

Suddenly feel much older than 34.

Get generally uncooperative toddler into her car seat.

Baby crawls  down front door steps & takes off crawling down the driveway. Made it FAR in less than 10 seconds. Leave toddler unstrapped to chase Baby who thinks this is h-i-l-a-r-i-o-u-s. Chase him down the drive – he’s giggling and speeding up because he thinks it’s a game.

The game of life has no victors, child.

Catch babykins by his diaper, put 200 lb on my bad leg, drop bad words, and lift all 30 pounds of him up with one arm, hobble back to car, struggle with car seat straps for a bit and angrily jam crutches between car seats.

Meanwhile toddler perfectly enunciating “fuck!” repeatedly, because that’s what mum said!

Safely clip my children into their car seats, so that they won’t be hurt in an accident (not that they’ll know because the crutches will probably behead them. AAAAh. Why didn’t I think about that?!) – Lie in trunk, open ski bag, put crutches in ski bag. Don’t fit.

Shimmy crutches across front seat.

Curse aggressive sports clutch and bad leg as I clutch and start the car.

Then gleefully clap because I DID IT!

I DID IT!

Mom injuries. Like regular injuries. Except you can’t “be injured.”

 

What I’ve Learnt from 200+ Hours of the Tim Ferriss and School of Greatness Podcasts

Podcasts can be a new mum’s best friend.

They are intellectual stimulation and a sense of connection and engagement in what can be a lonely and isolating time.  Today I share the podcasts that changed my life and daily practices for the better.

I discovered podcasts on my second maternity leave, and fell in love with the Tim Ferriss and School of Greatness podcasts.

The range of interviewees and topics discussed was food for my brain, which had recently departed the world of adulting and intellectual conversation, and had entered the rather lonely world of maternity leave.  Podcasts were my intellectual stimulation and each one left me scrambling to record ideas, inspiration, quotes and notes.

One of my fondest memories from mat leave was walking (and then training for a 10k) with these podcasts going in my earbuds. I can’t list off specific guests (guess I’ll blame the brain fog) but I can certainly tell you that each podcast left me completely jazzed up.  No matter the topic, I came away feeling engaged.

Despite not remembering the names of more than a handful of guests, I have absorbed a lot of information, and my daily practices have shifted.  Some were intentional and planned out, others I believe have occurred in a strange process of osmosis.  Here are the 15 ways in which podcasts have changed me.  These are all practices that I aspire to and have worked on in the past year or so.

The 15 game-changers that I learnt and applied from the School of Greatness and Tim Ferriss Podcasts:

The biggest reward of meditation is not immediate.

Meditation is a practice that is performed in the present moment, and connects you with exactly that.  However, its most rewarding application is not the practice itself.  It is the ability to apply the results of a regular practice to times of stress and chaos.

Meditation takes many forms.  If it hasn’t stuck with you, try out different styles.  Lie in the sun and visualize the rays penetrating through the skin’s layers.  Listen to a relaxing song without vocals.  Pull up a youtube video and listen to it with earphones on.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MR57rug8NsM   Download the headspace or flowy app.

START AND END EACH DAY WITH AN INTENTIONAL RITUAL THAT CAPSTONES THE DAY.

Here is my daily greens juice, blasted in the vitamix blender then drained through a mesh sieve.  https://www.vitamix.com/Recipes/Ginger-Greens-Juice/C-Series/Variable-Speed/Classic-64-Ounce here is my go-to. Minus celery. I don’t like celery.

Other capstones I’ll employ in the morning:  Running.  A great cup of coffee.  Loud music in the car.   In the evening:  Foam rolling hip flexors (strangely relaxing) and licorice root or adaptogen teas.

 

FILTER YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA TO THAT WHICH ALIGNS WITH WHO YOU ARE, AND WHO YOU ASPIRE TO BE.

Filter out the noise that distracts you from your goals, and leaves you scrolling aimlessly, looking for something that catches your attention.

Spend a day reducing the accounts you follow to 30% of what you once did.  Pick only those that a.) are your family or friends b.) represent a life or mindset you are working toward.

STOP READING YOUR EMAIL FIRST THING IN THE MORNING.

Today, I slipped up.  I opened my email to a hate message from a troll type on kickstarter.  It was rude, insulting and discouraging.  That is how I started my day today.  No Bueno.

In the first hour of your day, you are rebooting your brain and setting your energy for the day.  Fill it with good things and good energy.

LEARNING IS A LIFELONG PURSUIT.

 

Be curious.  Google.  (But then look into proper research.)  All of the interviewees followed paths of curiosity, whether it made sense at the time or not.

YOU MUST ALWAYS HAVE SOMETHING TO 1.) REFLECT UPON, 2.) ENJOY IN THE MOMENT, AND 3.) LOOK FORWARD TO IN THE FUTURE. SANDWICH YOUR DAY BETWEEN GREAT MEMORIES AND INSPIRING GOALS.

My mum was one of the happiest, most engaged human beings I had the pleasure of knowing.  Her biggest rule was always have something you are looking forward to.  Listening to these two podcasts, every.single.guest lights up while they are talking about a project.  You can hear it in their voice, even if you can’t see them.

TREAT SLEEP WITH THE SAME PRIORITY THAT YOU GIVE AN IMPORTANT BUSINESS MEETING IN YOUR CALENDAR, IF NOT MORE.

WHILE WE’RE ON THAT TOPIC, GO TO BED EARLY AND GET UP EARLY.

BE PICKY ABOUT WHO YOU SURROUND YOURSELF WITH. REALIZE IT IS A CHOICE.

Surround yourself with game changers, inspirations, teachers, mentors and happy people.  If you are part of their lives, their stories will become your stories, and vice versa.

FOR ACCESS TO CREATIVITY, ENTER THE STATE OF FLOW ONCE PER DAY.

The flow state lights up the brain and promotes creativity.

KEEP A JOURNAL FOR THOUGHTS WORTH SAVING, BUT ALSO TO PUT ASIDE UNHELPFUL THOUGHTS WHILE COMPLETING A TASK.

SOME OF YOUR BEST IDEAS WILL COME WHEN YOU ARE DRIVING OR IN THE SHOWER.

SHIFT YOUR MINDSET AROUND HEALTH; BECOME THE CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER OF YOUR HEALTH AND BODY.

Your Doctor is a consultant in your health.  They can offer great advice and services – but it is up to you to do the day to day work.  Treat yourself (within reason) as a science experiment.  Try out different things. Find the unique combination of health practices that work for you.

CREATE A DAILY GRATITUDE PRACTICE.  INSTAGRAM PICTURE AND HASHTAG, JOURNAL ENTRY, FACEBOOK STATUS UPDATE – THE FORMAT DOESN’T MATTER.  THE REFLECTION DOES.

READ THE BOOKS THESE PEOPLE RECOMMEND (YES, THEIR OWN TOO) AND KEEP LISTENING TO PODCASTS!

Great books I’ve read as a result of these podcasts:

The Power of Habit

The Upside of Stress

I Know how She Does It

Outliers

The Myth of Stress

Finding Ultra

Managing Back Pain with Young Children

Coming into my first and second pregnancies there was one thing I was vereeeee worried about.  That was the chronic back pain that I suffer from.  In 2008 I was rear ended at high speed and sustained damage in my spine.  I have damaged disks throughout my thoracic spine, a really nasty herniation at T7-T8 and various states of disrepair between T7 and T12 and the T-L junction.  Also some degenerative discs in my C-Spine and muscles in various states of tension, trying to do their best to hold everything together.  Maybe a bit too enthusiastically.

 

In English, this means I have the back of a 80 year old!

 

I lived in a cave of chronic pain for about 3-4 years before I learnt that managing chronic back pain means a holistic and global approach.

In the early days I thought of managing back pain in a very simple, sequential manner.

are getting married!

That’s a very western approach, isn’t it?  And do you notice how it’s so “out of my hands” – someone else did this to me. Someone else is going to tell me what to do.  Someone else is going to fix me.

There’s a huge piece missing in my first approach.

 “What am I going to do to take responsibility for this?  For addressing this pain?”

The patient must partner with the provider in a team.

Of course, after physio, the acute pain improved but the chronic pain continued, grinding me down, especially in 2010 when I was working on my Masters Thesis at a desk for l ong hours.

So, I stepped into another A-B-C type model.

Back to Dr –> Referral to pain clinic –> Medication –>A few workshops on pain –> more physio –> incorporate additional treatments (shockwave, active release, graston, kinesiotaping –> incorporate additional approaches (yoga, core conditioning)

*and the cycle continues.

 

I made progress in terms of pain reduction, functionality and posture going through these programs, but there was a missing piece to the puzzle.

  1. We need to address back pain globally
  2. We, the patients, need a mindset shift.  

We need to address all possible contributors with a global approach and the mindset that we are an expert on ourselves, too.

But, in our medical model, we tend to narrow it down to a few identifiable factors whose diagnoses and treatment is in other peoples’ hands – the experts.

We tend to take the view that we are a recipient of care and healing from a group of experts, rather than a partner in it.

Trying out Different Approaches When Physio Failed:

8 years after the accident and two babies later, I’ve gotten my back pain to a fairly manageable daily level.  It’s funny how pain really motivates you.  In 2013 I started going through some major life challenges in the psycho-social-emotional world.  In addressing self care, lifestyle and mental health, funnily enough, I addressed another component of my backpain.

In early 2014 I started working with a life coach as part of my own coach training.  We did quite a bit of somatics work.  This is an approach in the field of ontological coaching that honours the body as a domain in which we exist & communicate.

It is part of 3 domains:  The body, emotions and language (the mind.)

I learnt to approach my back not as an enemy or a difficult “other” but my own personal messaging system and guide.  We did a ton of visualization, meditations and “talking to my back as a friend” (yes I totally eye rolled every.single.time I had to do this.)

As cheesy as it felt, and despite my initial resistance to all of this “woo woo”  I had some profound mindset changes. Rather than treat my back as a person to be angry at, shut out, or struggle against, I learnt treat it as an ally, part of me, and a friend.

When pain occurred, it wasn’t something to be fought against with treatment, but listened to and engaged with.

Think about a difficult person you know.

When you shut them out and don’t deal with them, it continues to eat at you.  You get NOWHERE.  Nothing will change.  Ever.  Until you sit down and have a friendly, constructive talk.

It’s uncomfortable, but when you communicate with them and at least try to come to some kind of rapproachement, it eats at you less, knowing you engaged with them.  Even if it doesn’t work out.

Think of back pain the same way.  Do you engage with it?  

By sitting up and engaging with the pain, really taking note of it and observing it, and even journaling about it, I was able to determine when it was occurring and what the patterns were.

There Were Connections Between Backpain and My Life.

My physical environment (how much time I was spending sitting down or in positions with my back extended, for example particular chores around the house such as washing the floor or vacuuming) – so much of our day to day is automatic and habit-based.  Once we become a better observer of our habits, we can change them, and for me this involved reassessing which chores I could trade with my husband and being aware of when my posture was shifting into compromising positions.

My stress levels. If stress or emotional experiences happened in my day to day life, it would manifest itself as a flare up in my back pain.  I began to see the back pain as a nice barometer for how the rest of my self care was going, and it became an excellent companion in the pursuit of a good life style and good self care. On a painful day, I am able to sit down and take stock of how things are going.  It gives me huge motivation to pursue a healthful life and has helped me step into a growth mindset, rather than a fixed “this is the way it is” mindset, which I struggled with in the early days.

My life style.  Shockingly, despite the physical labour and nature of being on maternity leave with two large babies, I went through an incredible regression in back pain!  I was constantly in motion all day, without time to sit down in positions that compromised my spine.  With a flexible schedule I was more likely to engage in my core exercises and throw in some extra stretching.  Surprisingly, the constant state of movement was a game changer for me.  How do I know that?  I’ve had the change to return to an office job twice now, and the flare up in pain within days of being back at a desk has been astounding.

My Nutrition.  Pretty easy.  Lots of water and alkaline foods, healthy fats have worked well.  Lots of gluten, sugar and acidic foods have worked terrible.  It’s hard to pinpoint whether the backpain leads to shittier nutrition in the quest for comfort, or whether slips in nutrition lead to backpain (it’s like the chicken or the egg question) but I do know through experiments, these two are interrelated.

Seeing What I Could Control in My Life (That Influenced My Back Pain) Gave Me a New Sense of Responsibility and Confidence

I’ve learnt a ton in the last 8 years, and if I’m totally honest, the journey has been fascinating.  This injury has given me the strength to battle through a challenge and most importantly, a new mindset when it comes to managing our health.

I’ve gone from fighting against the pain as an enemy, to treating it as a friend and a messenger.  And I’ve learnt to put my energy into the areas connected to my pain.

If I was to put managing back pain into a model now, here it is:

052816

 

 

Your Mental Health On Maternity Leave: What is a Real Funk Like?

One of my goals with The Great Maternity Leave, from the get-go, was to step into a place of total openness, transparency, and authenticity. Something I think is so badly needed in our world – and that is happening in leaps and bounds thanks to the internet 🙂 and of course, really brave people.

It’s f*cking terrifying opening up on a blog because it’s such a personal thing to do, and you live in fear of being flamed, or somebody poking you right in that really vulnerable space with a comment on the blog. It takes huge steps to open up in the blogosphere, and I applaud every single one of you, especially you mamas who do it, openly, knowing that others will apply their assessments and judgements in ways that may not be helpful to you in your journey.

Today I want to talk about the peaks and valleys of your mental health.  I’m really damn happy most of the time, but sometimes,

once every few years, things get shitty.

Let’s talk about that today.  Because I’m there.

I’m 6 weeks back in at work now, and we’ve dealt with a few major things.

Events:

Wildfire natural disaster:  Extended family were evacuated and my husband flew to the fire to fight it as a firefighter while I helped evacuees at the University (my work place.)

Family Tragedy:  As husband arrived home, his dad was medevaced home from his South American cruise, straight to our local trauma hospital’s intensive care unit.

He was removed from life support 3 weeks ago.

Childcare Scrambling & Training Courses:   In the aftermath of a major loss, my husband was put onto a major 3 week course, which left him having to work his but off and remain totally focused, and us scrambling for childcare.

 

The Deconstruction:

First, the ICU part.  Visiting the hospital was an interesting experience for me.  It bought back many, many memories from only 3 years before – when the cancer / special services building became our second home as caregivers of a terminal cancer patient.  Walking over on my lunch breaks from campus, the halls of Foothills hospital seemed eerie some days. It was a strange case of de ja vu.

On a few occassions, I caught myself getting out of breath and panicky seeing oxygen tanks and hearing someone struggling to breathe.  For a long time, this was a trigger for me. I knew going into the ICU again, it would probably happen.  Each time,  I’d U-Turn and head straight back outside for a gulp or two of fresh air before summoning up courage and heading back in, my step triggering the sliding doors. I’d get through the door then that rush of hospital air, with its chemical smell, bought back crystal-clear memories.

Amidst trips to the ICU, stressed family, childcare logistics (and the difficulty of leaving your sobbing baby at childcare when you already feel crappy) and barely enough time to cook a meal, I was trying to get back into work after mat leave.

It’s difficult when you go through major life events, because they do eclipse your job. Photocopying or printing a report at work pales in comparison to consulting with a Doctor over rescucitation orders. I have to be honest about that. When you are dealing with major family medical emergencies, there are days where you stand at the printer, or type out and email and thing this is so meaningless.  How does this matter?  It’s a natural process in your brain, but at the same time it’s a totally unfair benchmark / comparison to make. You’re constantly struggling with your point of view and perception.

Yet you can’t just give up.  You have to walk from the ICU, to your office, and show up with a smile on your face, with the same dedication and commitment.

I was feeling incredibly proud of how my husband and I came out of this insane 6 weeks, how we handled our stress levels and came together as a supportive team.  I was pumped about how we entered mid-June totally exhausted but emotionally, pretty intact.  Maybe a bit discombobulated – but intact.

But two weeks ago, at the conclusion of all of this, I started experiencing some interesting things that made me sit up and take notice.  

I’m going to be very open, honest and transparent here, because it is my wish that one day, anyone can be themselves without fear – without reservation – It is my wish that we can and talk openly about these totally normal, totally human challenges.

On a camping trip two weekends ago, I had a FULL blown melt down in our camping trailer.  It was a rain downpour and a tears downpour.  I had a full emotional blow out.  It’s been a long time since one of those.  Me, two crying kids, and a very small space. I felt like the walls were closing in on me inside our small trailer.  I couldn’t catch my breath or think clearly.  Rather than gallop away, my brain melted into a puddle. It literally shut down. Went offline.

All I needed to do was pick up a bottle, feed it to my baby and corral my toddler so I could get the crib assembled.  Oh, and put a jacket on my daughter. That’s it.  I.Just.Couldn’t.Even.  I could not think clearly enough to remember those simple tasks were what I needed to do. I was standing there crying, saying “where’s the bottle!” when the bottle was right in front of me on the counter top.  My brain had flatlined and I was so confused.  Bursting out of the trailer, I sat on the park bench, in the middle of our campground and sobbed my heart out, alternating with gasps and ranting about a multitude of things while my poor husband looked on, nervously glancing between me and our crying kids with genuine concern on his face, which in itself felt heartbreaking.  The last thing you want to do is stress someone out, right? That’s why it is so damn difficult to admit you are doing crappy.   After getting my composure back, I entered a careful practice of avoiding eye contact with all of our campground neighbours.  We wound up conceding defeat and driving home 3 hours that night with two crying kids, rolling into our driveway at 1 in the morning.

I also started making a lot of minor mistakes at work; of no concern to anyone, but of big concern to me, because it was unusual; I was double booking my appointments in my calendar and having to constantly correct this; forgetting about meetings until the last moment,  and having a really, really hard time cutting through brain fog to think clearly about what I had to get done each day.  Post it notes became absolutely essential to  check off and execute tasks, and I wasn’t able to think about or remember what I had on the go for the next hour, until I consulted my outlook calendar.  I couldn’t even look at the iCal on my phone without getting thoroughly confused between my personal and childcare calendars.

This strange confusion also occurred in my car.  I’d avoid a back log of traffic with a different route home from work, but then find myself debating my new route back and forth in my head.  Stuck in such indecision, I’d wind up missing a turn off and then really putting myself on the wrong route home.  This indecision hit at other times in my car.  At the weekend I was ridiculously excited to have an hour to myself in the mountains to paddleboard, but the grating indecision between paddle boarding two lakes, led me to drive up and down the highway back and forth between them feeling incredibly anxious.  I almost didn’t get out of my car and paddleboard because of it.

Slowly, my excitement to be back at work and social side faded away. I started closing my office door, and needing quiet time to gather enough mental clarity to focus on a big list of tasks.  My self talk went from “wooohoo work!” to “holy shit, I just overcame SO MUCH just to be here this morning, I wish I could just pin on my door what it took to be here right now.”

My running, on a high point after a personal best 10k in May, dropped off.  My legs on runs are currently feeling like concrete blocks.  Running is usually a meditation of sorts, but that clear-headedness, presence and grattitude has been replaced with angst, pain in my foot, worrying, and negative self-talk.

Getting a 3k in has been a challenge. I just stopped going.  Today, I managed a nice 10k but rather than delirious happiness (the usual result of a good trail run) I just felt.  Well… “Meh.”

There’s a fog.  I often hear people with depression talk about how you are walking around in a fog, and you feel strangely detached from everything.  This is the one description I “get” – many of the others I don’t.  It’s like everything is muted. Have you ever had a dream where everything is fuzzy, or you are being “blocked” by some invisible force from what you want to do – like when you run away in a nightmare and you run in slow motion? – my reality feels like that.  Strangely blocked. Things that bring me ridiculous joy and enthusiasm are blunted. I have zero desire to get out of bed.  I’m not singing my heart out on my drive to work like I usually am.  But nobody knows that you’ve gone from technicolour to black and white, because this experience is an internal experience.

I was extremely careful with enough rest, as I knew my body was under extra stress, yet exercise, healthy eating, 8 hours of sleep most nights, and some lunchtime naps wasn’t helping what I can only describe as crushing fatigue.  In the past week, I’ve been  waking up with a start after nightmares, mostly around the 3am mark, and feeling really “amped up” in the morning.  I cut back on coffee and started taking advil to release some of the squeezing pressure I feel in my head.

This morning, running, I felt like my heart was going to explode, yet I was doing a regular pace / distance for my runs.

Self doubt sneaks in too.  Out of nowhere I am doubting myself, whether people like me, whether I am annoying to people.  It’s so ridiculous to say this.  But it’s real.  I went from happy go lucky, couldn’t give a shit, living my life, being inspired and inspiring others to, worrying about all of my least attractive and most annoying traits, and noticing only those.

All of a sudden, I notice myself just being me, and then lump on negative assessments, thinking “ugh, you probably shouldn’t do that.” You get a bit paranoid.  I started wondering if our friends were super disappointed in us and thought we were flaky for bailing on our camping trip after my meltdown.  Of course not, they’re best buddies of ours and totally understand.  But in my mind, it balls into a totally inaccurate and unhelpful self-assessment.  Then I withdraw from spending time with friends because I think “they must find me so annoying.”  This is precisely the thinking I worked hard to escape in my teens.  Why is it back? Ugh.

Four years ago, I went through what I prefer to call a “slump” that mostly presented itself as backslide in sleep hygeine, resulting in brutal insomnia and crushing sadness  – I sought out a good psychologist and with medication and counselling, managed to get my sleep hygeine back on track which slowly led to physical and mental improvements and a great bounce back to my usual happy self.  From that point on, I was incredibly careful with self care, advocacy, sleep quality and quantity, knowing that it was the key to my health.

So in the past two weeks, I couldn’t help but think, holy shit, am I going through a slump again? But then I’d say to myself,

No!  That’s impossible.  You eat healthy, you exercise, you LOVE your job, you have a good life – there’s nothing to be in a slump about!  

This is the struggle with mental health. Our human brains just want to explain everything with cause-and-effect.

But mental health is much more complex than that.

There’s good practices, but that’s only one thing.  There’s your brain chemistry, your biology, your genetics and if you are into that kind of thang, energy dynamics.

There’s so much more to it than eat healthy and sleep / exercise. Some of it is out of our hands, yet we get caught up in the thinking that all of our mental health can be controlled with a nice checklist of good practices.   Nope.  Sometimes, shitty life events happen, sometimes your brain chemistry is off.  And you just need to roll with it and adjust accordingly.  

I’m very guilty of cause-and-effect thinking:

Carina, you shouldn’t be feeling this crappy. Just go for a run and drink your green smoothies.  

You know what else is tricky?  How do you know the difference between a “funk” and a “slump” ?  When should you consider going to a counsellor and checking in with your doctor?  These are questions that are SO tough to answer because the human experience itself, in all its wonder and glory, is a mix of ups and downs.  That is the very beauty and gift of being human.  So when do you bring in the extra reinforcements? When is a down, a down that needs you to come out of the closet  and get help?

I hate that google searches usually returns a few depression questionnaires, or extreme case studies –  because my experience with mental health slumps haven’t necessarily check off the boxes in a neat fashion. There’s lots of days I am happy.  I practice great self care.  I always have an inner  pilot light that says “it will be ok.”

I don’t think anyone’s experience with mental health lines up with clinical questionnaires. Every person’s life, lifestyle, brain, personality is just so unique.

I whole heartedly believe the biggest stride anyone can make in mental health is committing to understanding oneself.

Checklists, questionnaires and professionals are good, but before you get there, work on self-awareness so you know when things are not normal for you.

My normal, is not your normal, is not your best friends’ normal.

Mental health is about picking up subtle changes and saying “ah-hah, let’s pay attention to this.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts, and experiences.  Let’s chat in the comments below.

Sometimes the Depression Self-Screening Tests are just too clinical, and the symptoms don’t really “click” with you. Some of the criteria are general, and if you’re suffering from depression, specifics are easier to understand.

 

The 5 Things You Can Do to Cope with Stressful Life Events

  

I spent the final month before returning to work alternating between mixed emotions (Excited! Sad! Scared! Happy! Yes! No!) about going back to work.

I kept myself busy and constantly reminded myself to focus on the present moment and just enjoy my time with the kids.  What is the point of trying to anticipate what something will be like, before you get there?

My brain was a mix of

—–

Okay B!  1-2-3 Catch! *throws beach ball to daughter”

(omg how do I sort out childcare, what if one of them is sick? Will my bosses think I am not committed to work if I have to peace out and get sick kids home? How come I am the one getting my kids ready before I go to work? My husband should be doing that before he goes to work to (other feminist / equal parenting ranting, blablabla))

NO!  FOCUS!  You are playing catch!

(but what about dropoff at 8am how do I get ready for that with 2 kids)

NO!  THROW THE BALL TO YOUR DAUGHTER!

——

I was also confused by the greater sadness this time around, which is why I wrote this previous post where I deconstructed my sadness about going back to work. 

 

It turns out, that returning to work last week was really a minor event in the week that was the first week of May.

Just days after I arrived back in the office a few things happened:

-There was a massive fire in a city north of us.  My firefighter husband went to fight the fire, leaving me scrambling for childcare (I wound up booking a few days off work) and handling the nights / mornings / days solo as I adjusted back to commuting, etc.

-My sister in law and husband got evacuated from the fire and came down to see us in Calgary.

-While my husband was away, his sister was dealing with the evacuation, his parents had a medical emergency on their cruise in Mexico.  Long story short, his dad was transported back to Canada via air ambulance in poor health.

-My university became a housing centre for evacuees and I took a full day to work with them – lots of charged emotions among people.

 

***No big deal, right?

 

I kind of giggle now because what the hell was I so worried about with going back into work?

There were WAY bigger things that happened last week in our life.   It certainly put things into perspective.

You think an elephant in the room is big, but wait until 3 or 4 MAMMOTHS walk into the room beside it. Then you don’t even worry about the elephant.

 

So today’s post is just a little bit about how to cope with mega-stressful situations, because there’s a few tools in my toolkit here, since this is NOT my first rodeo with natural disasters, being a firefighting family and sick family members.


Five Ways to Cope When You Are Faced with Big Life Events

1.) Staunchly commit to a daily practice of something you enjoy.

My self-care practice is running.  Last night I barely had time to do anything but I committed to a 2km (15 minute) run. Just 15 minutes.  That’s what you’d spend cleaning the kitchen and unloading the dishwasher.

You know how on airplanes you get the whole talk about if the oxygen masks drop down, do yours first? When the shit hits the fan, put your self care right up there on the list.

This is easier said than done. We have been strongly conditioned to see self care as selfish and vain.  Even writing this I felt a twinge of guilt, the fear that someone would read this and think “how can she go for a run when her family needs her.”  As I struggle with this thinking, as I type this sentence letter by letter, I remember that after my run last night I came home in a good mood and while my husband was at the hospital, I was able to read my toddler a book, give her a cuddle and a bottle, and operate as I usually would. I can tell you right now, if I didn’ thave some kind of pressure release or self care practice last night, it would have looked like me giving her the bottle and plopping her in the crib with a short, business-like demeanour.

2.)Realize that self-care can be small actions & try a new one.

(That you wouldn’t normally do.)  In our day to day operations, we have our “self-care” things here and there. Maybe an occasional massage.  Treat at the coffee shop, etc.

However, stressful times aren’t exactly day to day operations.  The stress is much greater.  Therefore, self-care needs to amp up a bit as well.  During the week of stress, I ran every day, even if it was downgraded to a walk or just 1-2 km.

You may push back with “I don’t have the time, the last thing I can do right now is self care.”  But I would ask you this.  In order to have a great stress response – and use the fight or flight response in your body effectively, you have to give it opportunities to exit out of the fight or flight response and relax a bit, before going into the next one.

The fight or flight response in your body, emotional state, and mental state is amazing.  It allows you to operate at your best in truly difficult situations.  But it is only meant to fire off for short bursts of time.

If it is switched on for extended periods, it wears you down, compromises your immune system, mental state, emotional state, physical state.

To keep it running at its best, give it breaks. Even if it’s an hour massage, reading a magazine, watching a tv show, having a nap, or whatever activity floats your boat and distracts you.

3.) Begin to frame each stressor differently.

Think of them as using different “Muscles.”

I used to do a type of workout called CrossFit which is an absolutely bonkers workout that pushes you to muscle fatigue.  If we had a workout with squats, a core movement and an arm movement, it was easy to go into “I am overall all exhausted.”  The one thing that always got me through it was to think “ok, my legs are shattered after those 10 squats, BUT I am switching to pushups now, I am using different muscles now, fresh muscles.”

Through the workout, I’d remember that as I switched to each movement – that this particular muscle group had been given a brief break and were ready to go again.

You can do this with stressors.  Think as one stressor as using your legs.  One stressor as using your arm muscles.

 

Before I ran last night I was feeling high strung and more on edge than usual

(and my right eye was twitching.  Eye twitching is so incredibly annoying.)

I took note of which things were stressing me:

-My beautifully organized childcare plan for May falling apart.
 -Worrying that my bosses were questioning my dedication to my role with all of this time off.
 -Feeling emotionally tired out from dealing with upset evacuees all day (I am very sensitive to other people’s energies and read auras.

 

These are all things I will just straight up have to deal with in the next few days when we begin to sail into calmer waters and adjust the sails.

I decided that the childcare plan uses my “logistical brain muscles,” worrying about what my bosses will think about my dedication uses my “core value muscles” and feeling emotionally tired out uses my “empathy muscles.”

Each of these stressors places different demands on me in different areas.  By separating them out and thinking about how they use different facets, it made me feel less “globally overwhelmed” and not as drained as I move to a different task.

4.)  Turn to humour.

It could be the fact we carry British genes & we Brits love our black humour, but all of our lives, in stressful events both my brother and I always turned to hilarious youtube videos, reddit feeds, and other random things that made us laugh. Monty Python’s Life of Brian, “Always look on the bright side of life” singsong is a classic for us Brits.

During heightened stress, if I sit down to hit the Facebook or the Instagram, I also make a point to find some funny videos to watch.  There is something about having a good laugh, -for just one moment – that is therapeutic.  It releases as much steam as a good cry.  You feel so much better afterwards.  If anything, your sense of humour becomes enhanced in stressful times.  You are quicker and easier to laugh at something stupid when you are tired.  Maybe it’s because the body knows we need to laugh?

Laughter physiologically undoes the fight-or-flight response.  Did you know that?

In fact,

Philosopher John Morreall believes that the first human laughter may have begun as a g­esture of shared relief at the passing of danger.

5.) Be open with people about what you are going through.

As a supremely open person, I do have to remind myself that people have varying degrees of privacy.  But here’s what it is like to be open:  Talking about something a few times with someone else helps you process it and removes the power from that event.  It’s like draining the battery on your phone.  The longer you have your phone out, interacting with it, the faster the battery drains.   The more you have your heart out, sharing it with other people, the faster the emotional charge drains.

Soon you just look at the event and think “yeah, that sucked” but without the lip tremble, the tears in the eyes, or the tightness in the chest.

 

Another thing that helps with being open is it removes the situation where we have an “invisible background.”  Do you remember when I talked about worrying that my bosses would think I am not dedicated?  That is a great example.  It WOULD be a problem if they didn’t understand the background of my situation.  It would be a problem if I was not open with them.

 

If I had not shared what I am going through, for sure they would notice (and not in a positive way) having to adjust my hours to leave early, taking two days off, having to leave a meeting to answer my phone, being cooped up in my office at lunch.

But they know that background.  I made sure it was not invisible.

They know that when I look at my phone in a meeting, it is because I am keeping tabs on messages coming in updating me on how my father in laws surgery went in the hospital, when I am cooped up in my office at lunchtime, it is because I am talking to my husband in Fort McMurray.

When I take a day off, it’s because I couldn’t throw together childcare in a moments’ notice for an entire day for a baby and a toddler (and that’s what our family days off are for anyways.)

 

 

My friends know that I”ve been through some big ass life events in the last few years  and I did consistently get comments like “how do you get through all of this ok” “how do you stay so positive?”  “How do you cope with all of this.”  Aside from having a positive attitude (and I suspect a fairly positive “set point”) it really comes down to these five items.

 

I am also a positive realist.  Here’s the thing.  All of us have parents now who are approaching their 60s and 70s.  We are soon going to be initiated into that stage of life where our parents get cancer, get sick, have medical emergencies, possibly pass away.  I don’t mean to be fatalist, but these things are going to happen.  The first time they happen, it SUCKS.  It’s just an initiation by emotional fire.  The second time, the third time, you start gaining tools to cope and these five above are an example of those tools.  And each time you go through the fire, you become a bit stronger, a bit more skilled in self care, and a bit more resilient.

 

Shit is going to hit the fan in our lives, and sometimes several piles of shit hit the fan, like this week.  But we all get through it.  We all survive and come out of the other end a better person.  We manage to quell the fight or flight response with some extra self care after the fact to “come down” from the fight or flight response.

 

Big stuff is going to happen to us in our lives.  Do we want to go into crisis mode each and every time it happens and fall apart?  Or do we want to take the chance to develop some coping skills, become stronger and  be better prepared for the next time it is going to happen? Because it will.

 

Xo

 

Carina

 

 

 

 

 
 

How to Get the Most out of Your Prenatal or Post-Partum Massage

Why you should read this:  Receive far greater benefits at your next massage and shift from passive recipient to (somewhat) active participant.   I talk about going beyond the surface level benefits of massage: muscle & mental relaxation and how to access deeper benefits like addressing injury and emotions.

Reading time:  Less than 3 minutes

I just sat down in my local coffee shop after a wonderful massage at our local pre & post natal health clinic.  Having a massage is a regular practice on maternity leave.  (Note I didn’t use the words indulgence or treat.)   With the word practice comes a kind of sacred space, or commitment.  It is a mindful way to acknowledge what we need, and need regularly.  I don’t know about you – but I need massage regularly. I book it into my calendar as a standing monthly appointment.

The RMT I keep returning to has this inexplicable energy to her.  Her massages are consistently the best I’ve received.

Today I was in a chatty mood (usually I’m semi conscious and drooling) and our conversation got onto her Reiki training and energy work.  She’s an intuitive. An energy person.  I love these people.  They have an extra level of consciousness and awareness to them.  Ah hah, I thought.  That’s why she’s so good. 

We began a deep discussion of her body work and energy training, and how people can truly benefit from massage.

What I learnt today is that you can be an active participant in massage, not just a passive (SUPER passive and drooly I may add!) recipient.  

EMOTIONS HAVE THEIR OWN STORAGE BOXES IN OUR BODIES

Yoga instructors and massage therapists both know that the body stores emotions, memories and experiences.  Have you ever been in a yoga class where one movement has set the brain off in a chatter?    Where a hip opener for some reason wanted to make you cry?  It’s because we all have collections of emotions, and each one of them has a storage area in our body.

Think of a closet jam packed with clothes.  Lots of little boxes crammed with scarves, handbags, piles of sweaters, etc.   Body work allows us to get into that closet, declutter and organize so we can easily access the things that benefit us and not get overwhelmed in the chaos.  That closet is our bodies, jam packed with piles of sweaters (perhaps sadness) and belts (perhaps resentment.)  What if we took everything out, took a good look at it, decided what to keep and what to toss, and then organized things?

This is exactly what body work can be if you silently participate in it.  Massage or Yoga can help you can access areas of your body, get it chattering so that you can assess what is happening, acknowledge what emotions are sitting in that that area of the body, and then make the decision to toss or keep.  

 

A SOMATIC COACHING TECHNIQUE FOR YOU

As an ontological coach I am trained in working with three different domains:  The mind, the body, and emotion.  In professional coaching we call our work in body domains”Somatics.” I want to incorporate a professional coaching technique here so that next time you get a massage or go to yoga, you can use this technique and become aware of what exactly you are storing in your body – then you can make the decision to let it go (if it is not helping you) or keep it (if it is serving you right now.)

As you get your massage just remain an observer of your thoughts.  When the therapist accesses an uncomfortable place, watch what thoughts come up.  What are they related to? is there a common pattern?

I’ve been experiencing a lot of headaches lately.  As the therapist got into the base of my skull and traps, my brain started chattering as I thought about blog post ideas and what business to-dos I have on my plate.That’s a lot of thoughts around “to dos” and “business.”

Then I thought about what the head traditionally represents.  Thought.  Thinking.  Analyzing.  Planning.  Yes.  I’ve been doing a ton of that lately.  When we overuse a part of our body, it fatigues, gets tired and sore.  Why wouldn’t I get a headache? Duh  

I once had a coaching client who had ridiculously strong legs but was suffering from shin splints and all sorts of injuries which she’d never encountered.  What do strong legs symbolize?  Strength, being grounded, being stable.  It turns out that the events in her life required her to constantly be strong, be grounded, and be stable amidst chaos around her. The domain of the legs.  And it showed up in the cells.

Another client.  So strong with upper body workouts, crazy strong shoulders.  Headaches as well from her traps.  What do the shoulders make you think about? What do we use them for? They carry weight.   The weight of the world perhaps?  This client certainly did. She was carrying a heavy weight of responsibility in her life and those emotions were stored in her shoulders.

Language that comes through the mouth is easy to understand; language that comes through the body is harder to understand, because it is so subtle and in a different language (tension, pain, twitching.)  We have to give it space to come through (the hardest thing to do, right?!  I’d rather just reach for an advil and call it a day.)  We have to sit with the discomfort and then understand its language by connecting it with what is going in our lives.

WHAT TO DO DURING YOUR APPOINTMENT

I will try  my damned best to write this without getting too woo-woo on you.  It’s not my style, either so bear with me.

As soon as you know you have accessed a place that has a lot of mental chatter, a place that has aches and pains, undertake a visualization exercise.

As the massage therapist was working on my head, and I explained to her that I’d had a lot of thoughts on my mind, she suggested a visualization.  As her hands moved up my temples she said to imagine the top of my head opening, like a lid opening on a kettle, and the steam coming out (the steam representing all of those thoughts and all of that mental energy.)

An alternative would be to imagine that there is a dark smudge on your skin where the massage therapist’s hands are.  As they move their hands over the sore spot, imagine that smudge being cleared away.  The key is to go with a natural image you get in your mind.

I’ve heard of other techniques that involve replacing a glowing red light with a blue or white light. That one didn’t resonate with me because it wasn’t my style.

You are doing this all in silence in the treatment room, or the yoga studio.

At yoga, hip openers kill me, I’ve cried before.  Clearly I hold grief in my hips.  The people that audibly moan when the teacher announces it’s a hip day – guess what, they totally have a crazy ass closet of  jumbled stuff in that hip space.  I can tell you that because I’m one of them.  Pigeon pose is the worst.  I’ve started thinking about all that crappy burning and bad energy and emotions flowing down my leg that is extended out behind me and out through my big toe into the mat.

Yup, it’s going into woo-woo territory.  lol.

 

But let me tell you this, I’m sitting here at my laptop with a clear head, thoughts flowing nicely and a lot of focus. My headache is gone and I’m feeling much less anxious.  My massage was only 30 minutes.  Usually I can only get to this place after a 60 minute massage or 90 minute yoga practice.

Try this technique out some time.  

This is your private little secret, because it all happens in your mind. Nobody has to know.  

What have you got to lose? 

 

You, my dear, are officially encouraged to go get a massage. 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Workout at a Playground – Workouts for New Moms on Maternity Leave

 

As you may recall, I wrote about how I had an epiphany regarding the playground and getting more exercise into my life that costs a bit less than a CrossFit Membership (which I’ve had for FIVE years!)  I have recently temporarily given that membership up – I simply can’t afford it right now on maternity leave – so I’ve been forced to become creative.

I’m really excited to finally bring you a rundown of some of the things I do while my toddler plays at our local playground and my baby is hanging out in his stroller.

This workout took about 30 minutes – NOTHING needed –  and the beauty is, you can adjust the pace, level of intensity and reps to your own energy levels.  Some days I sit at the park on the bench and do not want to do anything – and some days I want to crush a workout.  Every day is different on maternity leave with a baby who may – or may not – sleep through the night.

So enjoy!