How to Have a Great Maternity Leave: Add this Approach to your Time Management.

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Time management. It’s a word that fascinates me. I study it. I present on it. I coach clients and students in this topic extensively. It is one of the most frequent requests that I get.

When we want to improve ourselves – either professionally or personally, the first place many of us go, is google. A close second is people we look up to or trust.

We open the laptop. We google, and then we search. Scrolling down the page, we select the links that stand out, delve in and read the practices, the tips, the tricks and the life hacks. Then, we go back to work with the best intentions, but quickly settle back into the same routines, the same habits and a sense that simply acquiring knowledge is notall there is to this puzzle of how to effectively manage our time.

Time passes, whether we use it or not.   We are so, so acutely aware of this as our babies grow before our eyes and their faces change in a DAY!  A DAY!

We are hyper-aware of this, aren’t we? Here I am writing this article. Here you are, reading this article. We care about how we use our time, and we want to use it better.

It turns out that time management is deliciously complex, and a perpetual balancing act. Any outstanding time manager knows it is an incredibly dynamic area of their lives with ever-changing needs. I’d be worried for a client if they weren’t having to juggle their lives. If they weren’t struggling. To struggle with time management is to engage with it. The people who say that they are constantly working to manage their time? I want to hear that. They are actively avoiding becoming entrenched in a routine. They are engaging with changes in their daily lives. They are moving forward with intention and avoiding becoming stuck. Struggling with time management means growth. Perhaps that is why it is such an enjoyable and ever-rewarding topic to dive into as a coach.

IT IS NORMAL to say you are struggling to balance your schedule because when you tell me you are struggling, it means you are working at it.  Remember that 🙂

There will actually never be a point in your life where everything is running smoothly.  Unexpected variables will come in – call from Daycare for a sick kid. Mega project at work and an injury at the same time. But there is a point in your life you can get to, and that is the ability to not stress when things aren’t running smoothly, to just embrace the bumps and not let it throw you off.  When you see “not normal” as “normal.”

 

Are you the general, or the soldier?

I could direct you to the time management matrix by Stephen Covey, or print out a nice Monday to Sunday schedule and have you analyze your day-to-day existence. Perhaps I could coach you on the way you conceive of time and your mindset around time.  You don’t need that. You already have had an advanced course in time, because you had a baby.  Time compressed, duties increased and you found yourself re-thinking all of your old routines , which got thrown out with the first diaper.

There is an important skill that these people  – these amazing mamas have – with mad schedules – BUT the calmness and presence and peace of mind that we all envy.  This is a skill that is not discussed as often as other time management practices:

This skill is the the ability to fluidly work at two different levels. The ability to operate at a strategic level (think of a Army General doing the goal setting, planning, assessments) and the ability to operate at a tactical level (think of a Soldier carrying out the work, boots on the ground.) You’re going to have to bear with me using military analogies, but I think we all have the gist of what each role involves.

The strategic level of time management is about consistently having the overarching goals and objectives nearby as the plan is made. A strategic time manager defines and understands priorities, can anticipate influencing factors, incorporate changes in those factors, and decide where, when and why to apply their efforts. They don’t lose site of their goal and are anchored. A strategic time manager takes the time to analyze and assess how things went, and looks at the execution of that plan (the tactical level.)

It is absolutley critical to set yourself a few goals, or things you want to get out of the maternity leave experience.  For my first born, it was learning about motherhood and choosing which parts I wanted to embrace, and other parts where I needed to define my own style.  And  embracing it (because I hated the idea of motherhood before I got pregnant.) A key theme was also slowing down. For my second born, it was about integration of motherhood with my professional goals and testing out balancing the twos.  Mental health improvement was also a big goal during my second maternity leave.

The tactical level of time management is about grounding oneself in the overall strategy, and then deciding exactly how to execute that strategy in real life. Tactics are the way that we actually achieve our goal in real, day-to-day life. In my opinion, the bulk of time management resources lie here. For a mother this may be, how do I manage the crushing fatigue, how to get some sleep in to gain some energy for other tasks.  Meal prep, scheduling some solo time, team work with husband and family, sharing a family iCal, and so on.

The weeks expand into months all too quickly. Do we take the time each week to circle back, think about the previous week, and the next week – do we carve out that 20 minutes? What does our execution look like? Did our week wind up being in line with our goals? What did we say yes and no to? Did we take new things on?   How many of those goals do we accomplish and how do we get them done? Were they done in a sustainable way and at a pace that we can keep up with over many months?

A strategic planner will ask these questions.  But a strategic planner will schedule this time into their day and protect it, as well. Outside of the work world, the best time managers I know are ones who get up before everyone else in the family – or take some alone time – in order to have some strategic planning time. They are also adept at dealing with unexpected events or variables because they have practiced thinking at the strategic level.  Those unflappable Moms who just get to work when all of a sudden their kid breaks a leg and they are trying to manage a baby at the same time but seem to make it to the hospital and deal with it all okay and with a good attitude.  You know those moms.

Months turn into seasons, and with this longer view, we are able to see which area we are dominant in, and how this has influenced our daily lives.

Productivity is great! Do more! Be more! There is a strong drive to be an excellent tactical executor. There is an INTENSE pressure in the Mom world to live in the execution world.  Diaper feed satisfy the baby satisfy the family do more be more do it faster.

And the thing is, we are creatures of habit, our brains want us to get into a routine so that it can automate some of its tasks. The danger here is that in this style of time management, this leads to the situation where we wake up one day and think wow, I am really overwhelmed, I’ve taken too much on, and I am feeling a bit out of control. My goal for you with this article is for you to think about how much time you live in the strategic time management world versus the tactical time management world. I want you to gain some awareness.

What does it mean to make good use of strategic planning? To use an analogy, these people are firmly anchored with their boat and know everything about the environment (including weather) around them, but their sails are not catching the wind. They’re not actually moving forward, despite knowing what they need to do. They’re so busy planning and studying the environment they forgot to put the sails up.

Some mamas are dominant in tactical execution.  I would argue this is the most common theme with mothers.  They are productive machines and there is powerful momentum in this approach. Efficient, fast, they don’t think past what has to be done right now and take on more.  But a departure from strategy means that these hard workers can (and do) take on extra tasks that result in loss of identity & fulfillment – away from the objectives and priorities set out in the role, in the sake of boots on the ground / get work done.

Living in a purely tactical time management world is, in a sense, to lose some power and control in ones daily life. Where all of a sudden you realize “I haven’t had a single evening to myself in three months, wtf.”  or “Wow, I am running on empty at this point and coffee and wine are literally helping me survive it.”

A purely tactical sailor, to go back to our analogy, has lost their anchor and are moving at a fast clip, with wind full force in their sails – however, they are so busy managing the full sails, that they don’t have time to assess, plan and reflect on the environment they are entering. They’re moving so fast in their day, that they cannot look up and are heading for bad weather – and when that bad weather comes, they are so busy managing their sails that they cannot adjust – CRISIS! A tactical time manager will experience a shakeup – perhaps the kids are home from daycare because they are sick – or a project has hit a road bump – and say, and I quote this: “I JUST DON’T HAVE TIME FOR THIS RIGHT NOW!”

With these analogies, you now have a feel for what it means to be a strategic thinker or a tactical executor. The most effective time managers get things done – yes – but they also know when to take a moment – to request from their husband or boss, to carve out space in their day and PROTECT that space in their day – so that they have a sacred space to plan, reflect and set their goals and intentions.

What do you truly want to make a priority in your life? What do you want to say yes to, and what do you need to say no to?  What does a week or a maternity leave, even,  look like with sound strategic thinking? Hindsight and foresight? Clear priorities and goals?

The most effective time managers are able to dance with strategic and tactical approaches, never losing sight of either one. It’s a fluid dance, sometimes we must put our heads down and go tactical, and survive it (with above mentioned coffee and wine) but when there is time to take a breath, we retreat inside ourselves to the strategic and find our anchor. And if there is no time to do so? Ask yourself why this happened.  Why didn’t you make space for this important part in your life. Were you caught up in the day to day?

To work at the strategic and tactical level in time management gives us the awareness and knowledge to clearly and effectively say “yes,” “no,” or “let’s renegotiate this” in our day to day lives.  If you struggle with setting boundaries, saying yes or no clearly, perhaps this is the right article for you. As a mama, life (and our families) will always be banging on our doors, and when they do, our answers need to be given with clarity, courage, confidence and the knowledge that, as Stephen Covey says, there is a “big yes” burning inside.

For further reading and inspiration around the “bigger yes,” you may want to read this fantastic article by Derek Sivers.

 

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Why you should reject the “OMG I AM SO BUSY” Busy Mom Mindset

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In my professional job at a Canadian University, I design and give seminars on a variety of topics that help students be successful at University.  It’s one one my favourite parts of the job and it has some selfish benefits – I get to learn and experiment with these principles in my own life before I share with clients.  I get to read books and research and then teach principles to others, that help me, too.

At this year’s class of 2020 induction the University brought in NYT best selling author, Psychologist & TED Talker extraordinaire Kelly McGonical speak to the class of 2020 on her new book, The Upside of Stress.

At its core, this amazing book is really about how to reframe stress and use the power of our own perspective and our own mindset, to reframe stress into a good thing. Chock-full of anecdotes and research, The Upside of Stress demonstrates the power of mind over body – and mind over life.

Those Books that Make a Difference

Often, the books that resonate with us the most, are the books that simply frame in English language, some kind of principle we’ve understood or known all along, but couldn’t fully frame. I think that’s why the book did so well.  The Upside of Stress hit home in so many ways. I only wish I had read it when I was in undergraduate studies myself.  It would have saved me so much self-imposed “I’m soooo busy!” drama.

I didn’t figure out my stress stuff until the age of 30, when I experienced really heavy stress.

In the spirit of this book, and the approach McGonigal takes on reframing stress, I wanted to talk about how we can re-interpret stress & the cult of “busy” in the journey of motherhood. We can’t change events or circumstances, but we can work on how we viewtalk about and decide to interpret things.

 

Mom 1 to Mom 2:  Hey…are you a member of the cult?

Mom 1:  wtf?

Mom 2:  The cult of busy of course! WE ARE SOOOO BUSY! (takes off chasing toddler)

 

Whenever I mention to people that I have two small children (toddler and 1.5 year old) the first thing they do is shake their heads and say “oh, that’s busy.”  I often don’t even mention that I have children because I don’t want to induce such worry!

Sometimes I get “oh my god, you must be so busy” with a shake of the head, other times, slightly more worringly, it is with genuine concern / resignation.  I catch myself thinking  “oh?” and sort of start to doubt myself, like I should be more stressed than I am.  Maybe I’m not working hard enough?  Am I not doing something right as a parent?  Because I feel actually ok? Am I being a horrible parent because I’m obviously taking time out of parenthood to work on some business goals and people don’t do that?  Oh yes, they creep in.  As much as I keep them out, they creep in when someone looks at me with an alarmed look on their face with the mention of two children under three.

The problem is, I kind of don’t want their perspective.

If bought into this whole “my life is so horribly busy and I work so hard and I am exhausted and omg” it would be a bit of a disaster.  I would have immersed myself in the cult of busy. I’d probably be on a really high SSRI dosage.  I’d be in counselling.  I’d be struggling to deal with the left curve balls that sometimes get thrown my way.

It’s a devious cult, this cult of “busy” and it is hard to emerge from because it takes over the way you see things.  It’s a mindset.

If my mindset is like this:  MY LIFE IS MAXED OUT, I AM SO BUSY AS A MOM HOLY SHIT, I definitely would not be giving myself the mental space for anything else to happen, ever.  Because I’d be red-lining on everything, all the time. I wouldn’t have done any of the things I’d done on mat leave, or started any businesses or projects.

It led me to wonder, how come everybody says “you must be so busy.”

Why?  There’s tons of influences. In coaching we call it societal discourse.  It’s the hum of conversation around a topic that seems to be widespread.

First, it might be a cultural thing.  There’s a sort of pride, achievement in saying how busy you are.  If you are busy you must be super productive and successful.  I must be super productive and successful.  Therefore I must be busy. That’s the underlying assumption that occurs out there in the world when you have a lot on the go.  The ego likes that.  Then it doubles down when you are a Mom, because we have this weird guilt thing where we feel like we have to justify our very existence with double the hard work, right?

Some people are genuinely maxed out with life, and that’s totally cool.  I’m not judging.  But I write this post to help others who want to “catch” themselves in the mindset and take the edge off of it, because I think a lot of opportunity opens up with just a shift in mindset.

Where else does this whole busy mom thing come from?

There’s movies about the harried, flustered Mum.  Commercials that want you to think you are busy because then you’ll need their product.  Capitalist society wants you to be busy and stressed, because then they have solutions for you for only $10.99.

Moms are always portrayed as stressed and frazzled, aren’t they?  Everywhere we go, everything we see.  And it’s kind of our fault.  We don’t look up from our phones to pay attention to a mom calmly playing with their kids in the park – we only notice the exceptions.  They’re more interesting.  The 5 minutes in the day where the kid has gone bat shit crazy, and is about to take down a shelf at the grocery aisle, with Mum valiantly trying to save the kid from himself.  But we don’t notice the quiet moments – not the other 1440 minutes where they are doing well and things are calm.

The exceptions become the norm, then media and society immerses us in that norm.

 

Because of reading books like McGonical’s – books from different people with different mindsets, who all experience the same things we do yet see them in a different way –  I discovered that there is more to it.  There are people out there who achieve amazing things as parents, and they think differently.

The key is if we want to be something, or do something, we need to study those who are successful at it, and look at their mindsets.  

We are not resigned to this fate of busy, harried, stressed out moms.  We can be busy, yes but we can be in control and cooly, calmly and pleasantly say no if we need to, or yes if it’s a priority. We can choose yes or no and make our lives as busy, or quiet, as we want to.

The luxury of choice also extends to our own minds.  We have the luxury of making a choice of whether to believe we are busy or not.  With two under three, I decided that I was not busy; I still had time.  And with that time, I could pursue goals and dreams and projects and priorities.

Sure, free time was compressed from 3 hours (luxurious evenings pre-children) to 1 hour (while children or napping, or while I am on lunch break at work.)  but I still had an hour free time each day in some form or another.  Free time is free time.  I sat down and looked at my week, and where the gaps of free time happened (6-7am, lunchtime at work, and 8-9:30pm) and decided what my most deeply held goals and values / priorities were. A crystal clear priority plan I still have on my iPhone notes when I need to remind myself what I want to say “YES” to, and as a source of strength when I have to say “NO” to things.

In this or that hour of free time, there went the goals and projects.  Writing a childrens’ book.  Running an Etsy store.  Reading and learning.  Finishing my coach training and launching a coaching business.  But they weren’t OMG JUST MORE SHIT TO DO.

These were all consciously chosen and pursued dreams and goals that I looked at as my idea of fun on free time.  I wanted to do these.  That’s just me. That’s what I define as enjoyable and rewarding.  Others may be Netflix or catching up on laundry, that’s okay too!  But do you tell yourself “AAAAGH!” or “COOL, IT WILL BE NICE TO SWITCH IT UP AND DO THIS INSTEAD.”

Is your approach an “ I HAVE TO” approach or a “I WANT TO” approach?

I don’t mean to be a jerk but I do mean to give a cold hard dose of reality with this post –  if you came back and said to me NO SERIOUSLY I HAVE NO FREE TIME I would debate that. I would want to see a week’s breakdown of your life, and I would ask you about your mindset.  I would ask you about what you said yes to, what you said no to. I’d ask you to put “yes and no” in the box according to what you said when that opportunity came up.

What qualifies in your life as free time?  What activities are you designating as “I have to” and  as “I want to.”

Let’s take this external event, I’ll show you an “I have to” and “I want to” mindset.

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Deciding to take the kids to the library.  Two different experiences.

Mum 1:  Agh I have to get them out of the house and this is my to do today.  It’s just one more thing on this massive list of things I am supposed to get done today. Work work work! Busy busy busy! I have to get this done!

Mum 2:  Ah awesome, with this hour I’m going to decide to take the kiddos over to the library, that’s a treat for us, a fun excursion and a break from the day’s routines. I want to do this !

SAME external life event for both moms.  Two TOTALLY different ways of perceiving it. No wonder when you come across people in the library everyone is in a totally different state of mind; look at how different their beliefs can be.

Mum 1 is living in the  “holy shit I’m so busy / stressed” narrative. Mum 1 feels that everything is outside of her external control and she’s just dragging herself along.  Mum 2 is living in a more in-control narrative that doesn’t see everything as obligations and duties.  Mum 2 is operating by choice.  They may both have busy lives and the same schedules, but they have different mindsets and ways of perceiving the situation.

What do you think Mum 1 and Mum 2’s lifestyles look like?  Do their thoughts serve them well?  Do their mindsets move them closer to goals they have?

 

 

When you wake up in the morning and you have a particularly big day of activities coming up – whether you work or stay at home, do you feel that anxious energy and think “I JUST WANT TO STAY IN BED OMG LIFE IS SO OVERWHELMING AND THIS IS JUST CRAZY”  Or do you feel that anxious energy and think “cool, this is a little tingle of excitement and anticipation getting me ready to execute a big day!”

The brain quite literally  changes its wiring and neural pathways to accommodate your thinking patterns.  Each time  you choose to think a certain way, you are either reinforcing the pathways present – or helping the brain to reshape itself and habitually think a different way.

If you start reading books by all of these cool women who have kids and have achieved awesome things, youll notice that most them tend to go through the exact same scenarios that we moms do – but they frame it differently.  They make the choice to think things, and form their brains in ways that will help them toward their goals. You as a mama know how quickly time passes, so think about what you want to achieve.  Whether you use it or not, time will pass.  You already know this better than anyone, as you sit with your baby and think “where did the time go?!”

If you want to join the cult of busy and the stress narrative, that’s your choice but ask if it serves you and gets you towards your goals.  There’s an alternative that will help you take on new things and grow.  You just have to choose it.

xo

 

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Extra reading *and viewing

 

Amazon link:  https://www.amazon.ca/Upside-Stress-Why-Good-You/dp/1583335617

McGonical’s online course through Stanford University http://online.stanford.edu/course/upside-stress

Kelly’s personal website http://kellymcgonigal.com/

 

How to Have a Great Maternity Leave: Create a Vision Board on Pinterest – It May Change Your Life.

 

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Do you remember watching the Secret years ago, when it came out?  John Assaraf, one of the entrepreneurs talked about setting up a cork vision board and he’d pin magazine pictures, etc. to it.  Back in the 90s I had what was like the early predecessor of a pinterest board or vision board.  I had a black journal and in it I added pictures of Britney Spears, dream wedding rings, TONS of nail polish art and urban decay makeup swatches, my dream car, my wedding dress, all that usual teenage dream stuff.

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The strange thing is, I found it the other day and I was more than a bit taken aback by the photos of women I wanted to look like, and the engagement ring I had pinned all the way back then.  I have that wedding ring.  My husband chose it out independently.  My dream car in that book. I am driving it now.

At the time, when I added those magazine pictures at the age of 14 these were all just pipe dreams.  Yet, so many images from that book, I have in my life now.

This brings  me to today’s topic:  How Pinterest has been an absolute game changer for me in strategically and intentionally crafting my goals and lifestyle.

I started Pinterest about 3 years ago and have accumulated thousands of pins and hundreds of boards.  One of my most active ones and a regular practice to this day, is pinning images from the future that I would like, to a board I called “My Future Life.”

It is the most relaxing, enjoyable activity. I could have the worst day possible and aside from having a nice craft beer, lol, this is one of the single best tools to lighten my mood.  But, my pinterest habit has turned out to be more powerful than that.  My life is slowly becoming that board.  I am skeptical and I don’t like woo-woo. I shut down at the mention of feelings, emotions and heart chakras and dreams.  But there is most definitely something going on here.  So what is it?

Actively pinning images onto a vision board has profound effects in the brain, and your own awareness/energy flows.  The act of immersing yourself in visualizing a future life that excites you is good for the body, the mind, the emotions. It turns your attention to your goals and a place of deep motivation.

After an evening of pinning, imagining the future life you will have, it is implanted both in your conscious and subconscious. You can’t help but subconsciously and consciously make small decision that will get you closer to that vision.  I have one beautiful image of the hot tub at the  Willowstream Spa, up here in the castle of the Rocky Mountains – the Banff Springs Hotel.  It is VERY fancy, VERY expensive and something a bit outside of my lifestyle.  But, I pinned it to my board as a future goal, a future vision.  And I wrote under it “one day I will be doing my work from a laptop here with a glass of wine.”

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Pins from my future life 

 

 

I pinned that 3 years ago, and this past March, I found myself sitting in the hot tub at the Willowstream, sharing a day pass with a good friend and business mentor, having a business strategy summit.  The moment I realized it, an excited chill went down my spine.  This stuff works.

The beauty of that hot tub and spa never left me after I pinned to that board, and as I went along my in my day to day life it was there, sitting in my unconscious.  When an opportunity to go there came up (that required some shuffling of schedules) I didn’t even hesitate.  On the secret they talk about how events, people and things are attracted to you if you put the intention out there. Is it a coincidence of all people, my friend asked me to go to the Willowstream Spa with her to do some business coaching and strategizing?

The brain takes in a lot of data, both on the conscious and subconscious level.  It is estimated that it is crowded with more than 50,000 thoughts per day.  We are always thinking of random things we want to do , or see things that make us think “oh wow I want to do that!!” but they disappear just as quickly as the thought arrives, lost in the mass of brain activity. What if we took that thought, captured it on a pinterest board and came back to it once in a while, to keep it there, and present, floating on the surface?

 

Let yourself be absurd. Interior design. Exotic vacations. Laughing family winter pictures.  A hike that looks like it belongs on an outdoor magazine.  Pin it, and in the notes write down how it makes you feel, or something about that image.

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Underneath a hiking family I wrote “our best adventures will be outdoors” – my values and dreams wrapped into one image, and at that point my family was unborn. You can probably guess what we do these days.  I go back and review what I pinned and my weekends with the kids are anything but dull in the pursuit of these dreams.

So try it.  Pin it.  The activity of just pinning is so enjoyable, to let your mind dance among dream places, things and people.  And let your soul go to work on achieving it behind the scenes, because one day you will wake up and realize, holy shit.

I am here.

I Didn’t Have a Motherhood Mentor or a Mom to Help Me – But Everything Worked Out.

Most of the motherhood and entrepreneurial podcasts I listen to emphasize again and again the importance of finding a mentor.  Someone whom you can learn from, look up to, aspire to be, and converse with along this complex journey.

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I couldn’t help but think that this is  an area of life in which I have not had a lot of luck / success.  I’ve had an interesting life path in which I haven’t had many mentors in my life other than my god father and grandfather (family.)

When my daughter was born, I was fresh out of losing my Mum to cancer and swimming in a world of overwhelm and grief and total lack of knowledge in the whole motherhood world.  I was terrified and insecure.  Unprepared, I was thrown into the deep end without water wings. I didn’t know how to bathe her, dress her, or anything.  (We chose not to do birth and babies classes because we were so busy caring for my mum through chemo, medical emergencies and the hospice process.)

In those few months of the fourth trimester, my friends all banded together and supported me in various ways, whether it was showing me the ropes, explaining the totally overwhelming world of baby bottles, or how to dress a newborn (this was totally intimidating to me.)  I also did SO MUCH you tubing, from figuring out my stroller, to installing my car seats in the car.

I have become pretty open to (and comfortable with) asking for help, knowing the day will come when I can help others.  Asking for help is hard, because you never want to be the one draining resources, but there is something more challenging than asking for help – finding a mentor. It is a two-sided process.  The mentee has to seek out or expand their social networks in the search, but the mentor also has to open up, and voluntarily step into that role, which is a commitment in itself, because it asks the mentor to open up and share their insights, successes and failures.

Last year, I met a wonderful friend who also became a business mentor – from whom I have learnt an absolute ton, which I am so thankful for.  Mentorship in this area has been deeply foundational for me as I step into the entrepreneurial world.  Mentorship can be as simple as a voice that says “I believe in you” and “these are some of the ways  you can do it” – someone to learn from as well as bounce ideas from.  The value of mentorship is being able to have open, honest conversations about strengths, weaknesses, fears and excitement.

Do you have a mentor in any area of your life?  In your spiritual life?  Motherhood life?  Self development life? Athletic life?

I longed for a motherhood mentor whose style I looked up to and identified with.  Being one of the first of my social group to have kids, was in it alone.  I had a few friends with older children, with styles of their own, who gave me tips and tricks which was wonderful, but the deeper stuff was experienced internally and at counselling.

People like to complain about the internet but I am SO thankful for it – for vloggers and websites like the pregnant chicken – who kind of became my mentors as I figured things out.

Eventually, I found my groove and the confidence to try things out myself and get a system going that worked for me.  But it was a lonely journey.

But then, looking back, maybe it was a good thing I didn’t have a mentor.  Because, in the absence of information, I went out looking.  I read about RIE parenting, I read about mothers bringing up babies in foreign countries, I created a Pinterest board with about 10 different lifestyle / mom blogs, and threw friends and older parents a million random questions.  I listened to podcasts and searched the internet for different perspectives.  The best way to learn is to seek out the information yourself.

I gathered information, sifted through it, picked a few things I liked and tried them out.

 

But there was a second piece to developing my motherhood style:

I went through a process of journaling, strengths exploration and values exploration with a life coach. I figured out what I really stand for, who I am and what I am good at.  What kind of life I had, and what kind of life I want for my children.

Knowing what your foundation is is so important.  It becomes your own compass – a compass upon which I base my parenting and all decisions regarding the life I am creating for these lovely children. No decision feels 100% correct or secure, but if the compass is pointing in the right direction, I just go for that decision with no regrets.

Mom mentors are wonderful, but if you don’t have one, don’t worry – you’ll find your way and you will develop an internal compass within a few months – or maybe a few years.  As long as you keep exposing yourself to information, exploring yourself, learning about who you are, and reflecting.   Who knows, maybe one day you will be a mentor to another mama.  Maybe they will look at you and think “I want that person in my life.”  Maybe they will look at you, and admire you, and want to understand your journey.

And the thing is, you’ll understand how they are feeling and what they are going through.  And that is what makes the best mentor.

The challenges you go through now – including feeling isolated or lonely – are meant to happen to you, because they are forming who you will become.

And maybe the person you are becoming, is going to help another mama somewhere down the road.

 

 

 

How to Have a Great Maternity Leave – Listen to Podcasts (Like Tim Ferriss and Tony Robbins)

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As usual, listening to the Tim Ferris podcast this morning blew my mind wide open.  Sure, it could have been the bulletproof coffee too, but the combination of the two are magical on a morning commute.  Especially when he has Tony Robbins on.

Like me, Tony Robbins is a life coach, albeit a very experienced and world famous one. 🙂

If you haven’t heard his work, maybe check out his TED talk, “Why We Do What We Do” with more than seventeen million views (!)

Early in the podcast, Tony asks Tim an important question.

Usually I just sit and listen to the podcast, but the moment he asked this question,

I was off in another world, contemplating my 34 years of life up to that point.

I love it when Tim Ferris is stumped on his own podcast =)  There was some serious contemplative silence on the podcast.

(insert suspenseful silence here.)

When I work with a client and they don’t answer, are stumped or say “I don’t know” it is so exciting. In coaching this is gold.  

One of the main goals of a professional coach is to help the client dig deeper, discover and become aware of things they were previously unaware of.  It’s like walking into a dark cave, but this time, you have a flashlight, and as you shine it into the dark, you see pictographs on the wall, stalactites and stalagmites, perhaps the sparkle of some crystal formations.

All of a sudden the story of the cave, and everything about the cave has changed.  Your perception of the cave and your expectations of it have totally changed.  And now, your experience and actions inside the cave are going to change.  Instead of afraid at the entrance, you are immersed in exploration and wonder at the natural world.  Because of a flashlight.

Life is a bit like this, too.  These are “ah hah” moments which are precipitated by powerful questions.  Which is why Tony is so good at what he does.

Magura cave, Bulgaria
Rock formation inside the cave Magura near, Belogradchik, Bulgaria – Image from Colourbox

 

A coach like Tony Robbins shows you how to pick up the flashlight and switch it on, and as you explore the cave, and undergo discovery, adventure, and reassessment of everything you thought you knew, the coach is there, at your back.

 

So back to the podcast…

What was the question that stumped Tim Ferriss?

Tony asked “whose love did you crave growing up

 I thought about this in my own life.  As should you.

My Mum was love itself.  I don’t remember craving it from her, but like Tim, I do remember craving love from my dad.

 

Next, Tony asked this gem.

 “Who did you have to be for your parent, to have his respect/love.” 

“gut reaction, no filter…”

 

This takes a while to answer because it is deep in our subconscious.  We’ve never consciously thought about it.  Ah hah.  Here’s a dark cave.  And Tony’s question is the flashlight that has just been handed to you to shine into that dark abyss.

I don’t mind sharing my personal  life here, if it helps you examine your own questions.  And I admire Tim for going there with Tony live, on a podcast.

In my interpretation, I had to be brilliant, intellectually of high calibre, and also athletic, to  have my dad’s respect / love.  

I think back to childhood, I remember the pride and recognition I received from my dad on my first black diamond ski run, his frustration at my slower learning curve, disappointment when I was cut from teams in my teens or when I cried on said ski runs.  The hard pushes beyond my comfort zones in athletic activities,  and his focus on learning, pushing higher, doing better in mathematics, homework and study time, bring home good grades, the hours spent at the dining room table trying to grasp math and counting coins.  Lots of pushing.  hard.  To be extraordinarily talented was to be loved.

He wasn’t around much from the age of 11 onward, but I do remember all of those phone conversations, the first thing I’d bring up was sports and academics, in a bid for his love and attention, which with an absent father, was so craved.

What about you?  Think about what you needed to be for the parent whose love you craved?

Then Tony asked, what about your other parent?   What did you have to be?

Tim, like myself, felt like he didn’t need to be anything with his Mum.  He could just be himself and she embraced and encouraged it.  Same boat with me. The love was there, unconditional, no strings attached, but most importantly, my mum rolled with who I was and encouraged it.

 

Why do these questions matter so much now that we are parents? 

Because we are in the journey of learning about and thinking about the love we express to our children, and how to nurture and encourage them. These questions make us realize that we carry things with us forward into the present day, that were established long ago in the past.  We have the power to become of aware of them, and change them if they do not serve us.

Until 2010 I unconsciously struggled with the impact that my father left on me.  Hard driving, hard pushing to achieve, and show him I am smart. I can do this. A masters degree, no doubt completed in part as one final attempt to get some love and acceptance which I so craved from him (we have an estranged relationship.)   Now I can just accept that pushing myself so hard in grad studies and the difficult journey in 2007-2010 was in part, due to this dynamic in early childhood. I was able to let this go after 2010 through a heck of a lot of self reflection and exploration, but Tony beautifully encapsulated and explained it today and finally gave me a better framework with which to understand the process.  He also made me much more mindful of what I want to do with my own children, and the importance of unconditional love and celebration, and encouragement of who they are instead of who I would love for them to be.

I’m going to guess there’s at least a few people, like me, who are winging this parenting thing and learning as they go, and what a beautiful lesson this morning that I stumbled on by chance as I drove to work.

We go through this world carrying a master assessment.  Our interpretation of our life.  Our story.  It’s like a filter through which everything, every event and situation, flows.  Even our parenting decisions.

To be a great parent, is to know ourselves, and be aware of that which was previously automatic, unconscious.  So that we can make the decision to either continue, or upgrade.

Aside from googling random shit on parenting, poops, and feeding, we can ask ourselves:

Where do our master stories begin? Where do we start to craft our view of the world? What influenced it?

The earliest place is in the home and in our earliest interpretations of love and recognition from our parents.

You are born a blank slate (though my spiritual beliefs include the journey of the soul through various lives) – I like Tony’s words:  “You are born wide open.”

A beautiful, wide open human, open to experiences and learning.  There is no filter yet. Babies and children are simple, pure human beings, operating with pure emotion and authenticity, from day one. Their world is their family and the love surrounding them.

I see this every day in my professional work coaching students.  They walk into my office with a proverbial suitcase rolling behind them.  Before I even work with them on study skills, as a coach I work to unpack and understand the master story they walk in with.

 

Just like the body learning motor patterning (like learning to catch a ball,) we begin emotional patterning. We see and interpret things, craft a master story and then walk with it the rest of our lives. Sometimes it serves us well, sometimes it no longer serves us and we desire change.

I love this idea.  It is beautiful.  

It’s not even an idea, I’d say it is a truth.  

As we think about how we express our love to our children (when, where and how)

we can begin to think about the imprinting that is going on.  What are we passing on? How are we modelling love to them.

It’s such a tricky balance between passing on great morals, values and shaping them into good people, but also embracing and encouraging who they are.  Allowing them to be them selves and the best version of themselves.   That’s why parenting is so diverse!

Ask yourself the questions above.

I’ve said from day one that maternity leave, and parenthood cracks you wide open and you are in a state of deep learning.  There is no more powerful time in your life to explore, understand and reconfigure.

Which brings me to close this long form blog post.

With your child, are you working to model them, or are you working to embrace and let them go with who they are?  It’s a fine balance between passing on great values, morals and shaping them into good people, but also embracing who they are and providing a font of unconditional love.

Babies are the Best Thing To Happen To Your Time and Daily Schedule.

 

Most of us have been unwilling (and unconscious) participants in a popular dialogue.  “I’m a mom!  I don’t have time!”  We just buy into it and assume its the truth, right?   And then we get to the newborn stage and think my life will never be the same again.  It’s like deer in headlights stuff.  What just happened? 

Tell someone you have two babies:  “wow, you must be busy!”  or you tell them you are working and have two young kids – they shake their heads in disbelief and mutter under their breath “have fun with that.”  Then you wonder if you are making a massive mistake, if it’s truly possible.

Before I even had kids people would hush their voices, grab my hands and whisper, as if disclosing a deep dark secret.  “your life is over.” (Okay maybe not that dramatic but their tone conveyed this hidden message.)

I came into motherhood literally bracing for a vortex.  A giant black hole into which my time, my previous life, and my identity would get sucked into. Oh my, it was scary. I was bracing.

To be sure, the “fourth trimester” – the first three months of babykins’ life – are this endless loop of feedings, naps, diaper changes and cooing over a miracle, and googling like you’ve never googled before.  And crying.  Lots of crying  But… BUT…once you get your groove, slowly, ever so slowly you begin to do little things again.

Stand in the kitchen and sip a coffee.   Watch netflix.  Read a book.  Go out for a quick date with your husband.   Paint your toenails (oh yes, believe it!  Those 7 layers of crusty sparkly stuff from your pre-baby life will be removed – it happens!) Laundry.  You get to this stage where you sit down at the end of the day, feet aching, bracing yourself for the night shift, yet you think “shit, I am more productive than I HAVE EVER BEEN BEFORE.”  You, my lady, are a machine.

The argument I am going to make here, is that HAVING CHILDREN IS THE BEST THING THAT COULD POSSIBLY HAPPEN TO YOUR TIME.

A pretty absurd statement isn’t it?  I am sitting here on my laptop, struggling to stay awake at 9:54 pm, but I am telling you that how you use your time will be transformed, and you will use it ore effectively than you ever have before.

Is this shocking? When you are hurriedly showering hoping your little humans don’t  destroy something (or themselves) in the living room upstairs?   Or while they are howling downstairs in the bathroom from their car seat / swing / whatever restraint device?  I hope it does feel a bit shocking.

But hear me out mama.  I speak from two mat leaves, and the future.  

I’ll tell you a quick story.

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I work with olympic athletes.  If you think you are busy, let’s talk about olympic athletes who are studying at University.  Swimmers.  Swimmers are some of the craziest of that lot. 5am swims.  Quick breakfasts.  a full day of university classes.  Back in the pool early afternoon.  Another session early evening, if not dryland training.  Somewhere in between there, eating and recovery activities such as massage (don’t think this is relaxing massage, it’s terrible, I’ve use an olympic team masseuse and it redefines torture) – and rehabilitation if they are injured.  I didn’t even mention part time jobs in here.

Yet, when I work with these people, they are the people who have the best attitude about time.  This group, who have almost NO downtime, can tell me without hesitation how they enjoyed their downtime, and are quite dialled in on their time management! It comes down to the age old phrase of “quality over quantity.”

Olympic athletes are not that much different from us new mamas.  Limited downtime.  A physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting job that goes from the crack of dawn to well past sundown.  They have maybe an hour of downtime in their days.  I know this, because I literally map out their schedules with them as part of my coaching profession. I also map out schedules with new mamas as a professional coach, and the short bursts of free time are not all that different.

What we can learn is when we have just one precious hour, one delicious break where we sit down with a sigh, feet aching, we are that much more mindful of the beautiful but short break we have. More so than we have ever been before.

Remember the days spent on a couch, 10 hours passing by with only our hunger telling us to get up and go to the kitchen?  There’s no time to waste time away anymore.  I don’t ever hear a mom say “just killin time.”  NOPE.  If there is an hour of free time, the mums I know are strategically planning out the best use of that.  Maybe it’s laundry.  Maybe it’s making a meal. Maybe it’s some kind of critical budgeting or administrative activity.  Maybe it’s (equally important) sitting down or having a nap.  No drop of time is wasted.  It is planned and used with intention.  And that occasional glorious break? A glass of wine? A magazine?  We remember those moments.

I challenge you to remember one moment drinking a glass of wine in your house ten years ago, versus one moment doing it now (probably chugged because you’re not sure when the baby will wake up, haha.)  We savour that which is sacred.  So much more.

And this, is why I think children are the best thing to happen to our free time.

We are so much more conscious and intentional with it.

I was chatting with a friend the other day about my instagram feed.  I do enjoy social media and it is part of my wake up in the morning routine.  I get my housecoat on, sneak into the lounge before anyone is awake, sip coffee and wake up.

I know I only have 30 minutes to do this.  I want to make sure I use those 30 minutes well, and a few months ago I thought “wait, why am I wasting this amazing break on useless shit on instagram that doesn’t help me?” so I’ve pared down my social media to 25% of the accounts that I followed previously.  Most of the accounts I follow now are connected to a greater meaning.

They either give me ideas or inspire me to work towards the vision I have for my life, the lifestyle I am working toward, the goals I aspire to, or remind me of the values I hold.

I’m sorry random online business hustler taking selfies with hot women – I’m not giving you a few minutes of my attention.  My time is too precious.

That which is limited, we value even more.

Think about anything in your life that you love.  If it becomes limited, you appreciate it even more.  It’s true.  Try drinking just one coffee a day and then come back and tell me how much you appreciate that one cup of coffee. 🙂

When the quantity decreases, the quality increases.

Your downtime may have literally decreased, but figuratively you have gained so much more.

Will you take advantage of that?  Or continue to pine for that which was in the past?

 

 

Taking Anti Depressants on Maternity Leave – An Official Q&A and my own Q&A!

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So I was browsing the interwebs for information on anti-depressant medications from a student services point of view (I work as an advisor and many of my students take medications in the SSRI and SNRI categories.)

I came across a Duke University Psychological Services Page that goes through Anti-Depressant Medication Questions & Answers.  I thought it would be interesting today to juxtapose my experience with SSRIs, with the Q & A on the official website.

I haven’t actually read the Q&A yet. I am literally going to read it as I go along here with you and type my answers in blue below the Duke text.  Let’s see how this goes!  My goal is to reflect upon my own experiences once I made the decision to go on some medication & also to inspire others to be open 🙂

 

The writing in black is the Duke University Q &A Text.

The sentences in purple are my own personal reflections on how the above Q&A applied to my situation.


1. Why would taking a pill help the way I feel?

Anxiety, sadness, and even depression are normal feelings that all of us have experienced for brief periods at one time or another. Usually we have an idea of what led to these feelings and what we can do to feel better. However, prolonged, more intensely down or anxious feelings are different from everyday sadness or anxiety, and medication can help with these symptoms. Often caused by changes in chemicals in the brain, these more tenacious problems sometimes make no “sense” to you. Even when you can identify a starting cause, the depression may get in the way of clear thinking and interfere with your ability to figure out coping strategies.

It may feel like nothing you try to do helps, or you may notice changes in yourself that you can’t understand, such as problems with sleep or appetite, low energy, or frightening thoughts. It’s also not normal for bad days to outnumber good ones for weeks or months on end.

Because depression and anxiety disorders are sometimes caused by biological changes in our body, a biological treatment, such as a pill, can be helpful. In some cases a biological treatment is absolutely necessary. Antidepressant medicines correct the chemical changes that lead some people to feel depressed or anxious.

In a lot of reflection of late (I’ve been re-reading my childhood & teen journals) I’ve realized I was actually quite depressed throughout my teen years, much more prolonged and intense than the typical teen ups and downs. For months at a time.  I’ve also experienced what I’d describe as 3 minor depressive episodes.  However, I did not know it at that point in my life.  

It didn’t make sense to me at the time, because I was using my tool kit for happiness and had a great life.  In terms of family dynamics,  I had one parent who was super intense on the tough love / suck it up spectrum and I bought into that mindset and sucked it up, held my chin up and carried on.  

At the time I was not simply aware of what was normal and what was not. I also did not understand that how I felt could be caused by chemical imbalances.  As a teen and in my 20s, I just felt like I was going through similar ups and downs to everybody else.  Life is a struggle, right?

I was very positive and engaged / active in my life, but couldn’t escape the internal biological feeling of crushing sadness. Only now, at the age of 33 with development and the power of hindsight, do I realize I’ve had ups and downs in mental health over the years.  

2.  Why can’t I do it on my own?

If you could just “snap out of it,” you probably would have by now. Often students try hard to “get over” their unpleasant feelings before coming to CAPS. Medication is not the only treatment option: some kinds of depression and anxiety get better with counseling. Sometimes, however, the level of pain is high enough, or interferes enough with your ability to function in your daily life, that medications are especially needed. Just as people with high blood pressure can’t simply “will” their blood pressure to go down to normal and have to take a pill to help it, people with certain kinds of emotional suffering need a pill to get back to normal.

That’s not to say there aren’t things you can do to make a big difference. Just as people with high blood pressure can make lifestyle and diet changes that help bring their blood pressure into normal range, so can people with depression or anxiety. A pill won’t solve all of your problems, but it will help diminish the symptoms which interfere with your ability to work on them.

My thought processes do improve with counselling, because in my down times, my positive nature and great self talk spiral down slowly and gradually.  I am able to observe and catch it now in its earliest stages, which has taken work over several years.  I noticed it just recently and that made me pick up the phone and resume counselling. Externally I still show up as positive, but the % of positive self talk slowly decreased on the inside.  They say depression is an invisible disease; it is. You are battling it on the inside, without it showing on the outside (or if it does, it is subtle.) 

This is just personal preference:  I would not have gone on meds if I only needed to work on the mental component. I think therapy, journalling and personal research /CBT work helps with that patterning. 

What made me sit up and take notice and consider professional help & medication was the body component. For me, that’s when shit gets real.  I’ll give you an example of the last two months at work:  Though I was on my game performance wise, I was working my.ass.off. to show up and perform at a relatively average level for me.

My brain felt like it was wrapped in cling wrap, I was struggling with simple cognitive tasks (missing normal turns on my commute home from work), focusing on reading an email, this internal “heavy” feeling, brain fog, and feeling panicky when I laid down in bed at night. I was crushingly exhausted ALL day every day.   In the past I have had a major insomnia episode and I felt myself going there- trouble falling asleep and jolting out of bed at 4am with nightmares.  

I was feeling so energetically down and drained that  I HAD to take a nap at lunch to get through 3 hours in the afternoon.  Lunchtimes I was desperate to find some space on campus to rest.    For me, that is unusual. That is when it started interfering with my life. That is the benchmark –  When things become “unusual” for me and they start making basic tasks difficult.

3. How do these medicines work?

The answer to this question is not entirely clear. The brain is a very complex organ and we are just beginning to understand how it malfunctions in anxiety states and depression. Having said that, it is clear that these medicines do work, and work very well.

Antidepressants adjust the brain’s balance of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and norepinephrine. When these and other neurotransmitters get out of balance your brain doesn’t function normally; the neurons become less responsive and less adaptive. This translates into symptoms such as changes in sleep, changes in your ability to concentrate on schoolwork, excessive worrying, panic attacks, changes in eating patterns, loss of interest and motivation, loss of pleasure in one’s usual activities, feelings of hopelessness, thoughts about death, and even loss of interest in sex.

Once the medicines have corrected the imbalance of neurotransmitters, gradually over days to weeks the brain resumes its normal functioning. The neurons start responding normally and the depressive symptoms resolve. After a period of time on the medicines, usually six to twelve months, the brain regains its ability to maintain its healthy balance without the help of medication.

I take a 10mg dosage of an SSRI, Cipralex.  I went on it 3 months post partum in 2013 when I was in the deepest stages of grief from losing my mum and struggling to adjust to new parenthood. I was just so raw and emotional after 18 months of emotional lockdown as a cancer caregiver and preggo with hyperemesis.  I was quite acute at that stage, crying every day.  It’s hard to separate grief and depression, but I knew whatever it was, it was a lot to overcome and my physical symptoms (listed above) were beginning to interfere with being able to function on a basic level.   It’s hard to remember that stage but looking back, I went on it in the new year of 2014 and I do remember many moments of joy and grattitude in the spring/summer – I had a fantastic time the rest of my maternity leave and was in a really, really great place.   That means it took about 3 months for me to see some results. Everyone is different.

I am currently adjusting again, from 10mg to 15mg which hasn’t really had any side effects. I am now 2 weeks into a different dosage but I have not noticed tangible improvements yet.  The key point to underline here is how holistic this whole process is.  With a decision to take meds comes the decision to employ EVERY tool in the toolkit.  It means commitment and making promises to yourself, as well.   

 

4. What are the side effects?


All medicines have the potential to cause side effects, but, fortunately, modern antidepressants don’t cause major side effects in most people. Some people feel a little queasy the first couple days as they get used to the medicine. Some people feel the medicine wakes them up like a cup of coffee and can interfere with sleep if they take it late in the day while others feel it makes them a little sleepy so they take it at bedtime. Other possible but not too common side effects include vivid dreams, headaches, and increased sweating. Most of the newer antidepressants don’t cause any significant change in weight.

Occasionally, an anti-depressant can make a person feel restless, agitated or anxious. Very rarely, these feelings might trigger thoughts about harming oneself. It is very important that you call your doctor immediately if you experience these side-effects.

The most common side effect of some anti-depressants is a sexual side effect. It usually manifests as delayed orgasm in both men and women. Some women develop anorgasmia, the inability to have an orgasm, which can be very frustrating. In contrast, some male students find that mildly delayed orgasm improves their sexual function. Your doctor can suggest solutions for this particular problem, or discuss changing or stopping the medicine if you are troubled by sexual side effects.

All of the side-effects that can occur with anti-depressants go away once you stop the medicine. There are no known long-term problems caused by these medicines.

 

Surprisingly, the SSRI had a profound effect on my chronic back pain and took me from a 6/10 daily pain level to a 1-2/10 daily pain level.  I didn’t know this would happen when I first decided to go on it. It was a great, unexpected outcome.  I decided to stay on the SSRI from 2013 to now, because of this one game-changing effect it has had on me.  With a back injury, I manage daily pain and have attended  pain clinics and pursue regular manual therapy – the SSRI bought it to manageable levels for me in combination with continued treatment and corrective exercise.

It’s tricky talking about SSRI side effects because it really depends on you and what you already had challenges in to begin with.  I have a pretty low sex drive (I am comfortable owning this part of myself at this point in my life) and I have noticed it has been REALLY low since 2013 (I also have had 2 children in 3 years –  this may be a factor LOL.)

I’ve always thought that for my activity levels and clean eating and healthy lifestyle, my body is surprisingly resistant to losing weight.  I was able to lose the baby weight first maternity leave – about 40 lb over 10 months.  I am still on the same dosage of meds, on a second maternity leave but haven’t been able to shift more than 20 / 40 pounds up to this point.  So I don’t think the meds are the issue. I think the issue is me 🙂  

5. Are these medicines addictive?


No. Because these medicines don’t make you feel high and because their onset of action is over many days, they don’t produce any psychological craving to take the drug. They also don’t produce any physiological dependency. You can stop taking the drugs at any time. It’s important to understand, though, that your risk of lapsing back into depression or anxiety is much greater if you don’t stay on the medicines for several months.

Some students have physical discomfort if they stop some of these medicines too suddenly. You might feel dizzy, have minor visual changes, nausea, or fIu-like symptoms. These symptoms can usually be avoided by tapering the medicine slowly. If they do develop they are usually mild and fairly short-lived. If you have trouble with these symptoms talk with your doctor about a remedy.

Not addictive at all, BUT I was so surprised when I tried quitting SSRI meds. I tried coming off of them 2 different times and I had really, really bad headaches and after a week felt pretty down, and threw in the towel.

 That frightened me a bit, I’m not going to lie, because a part of me is, and always be a bit resistant to medicating.  I am not 100% comfortable yet, talking about the fact I am on medication.  I do have a lingering fear that coming off of them will mean more struggles.  But I want to come off of them.  

 Part of me still believes (even though I know this is not the case) that if I really wanted to, I could fix this myself without medication.  So taking meds still feels a bit like cheating and giving in to big pharma.  I have to remind myself that this is a chemical imbalance in my brain that needs some pharmaceutical care, because I am already using all of the mental, physical and spiritual tool sin my tool kit and pursuing the best life I can.  

 

6. If I start one of these medicines do I have to take if for the rest of my life?

No, but taking the medicine for several months will reduce your risk of relapsing back into a depressed or anxious state. Anti-depressants take several weeks to start working, and once they’ve returned your brain chemistry to normal, it takes several months before your brain is able to maintain the restored balance on its own. The research shows that the longer a person stays on the medicine the less likely he or she is to redevelop depression. Current recommendations are to continue the medicine for six to twelve months after your symptoms are gone. Most people feel that if the medicine has been helpful and there are no troubling side-effects, then it’s not a problem to continue taking it for this length of time. Obviously, if the medicine is not particularly helpful or you have side effects you don’t like, the medicine can be stopped at any time.

The bottom line is that if an antidepressant works for you, you’ll increase your chance of staying well if you stick with the medicine for six months or more.

Another disclaimer, this is my experience:  I was excited to to get off the meds as soon as possible (during my 2nd pregnancy I wanted off of them) but my doctor was in favour of me continuing to manage my back pain (which goes through the roof in pregnancy) and staying on it because it was such a small dosage (and safe for the baby.)

I’ve been on the meds now for 2 years, and was feeling like I’d totally restored my brain chemistry, but 2 months ago, I started to cycle down into a tough episode that I am working to climb out of now.  This was a really important reality check for me, that I am still vulnerable & dealing with a few major life events did knock me off kilter (we had a death in the family, natural disaster and family stress.) I recently decided to increase my dose by a very small amount. 

7. How do I know if it’s working? What will I notice?


Most antidepressant medications take two to four weeks to begin having their effects, although some people notice improved energy sooner. You can expect to feel less moody, and less tearful. Your concentration and memory should return to normal. You may also notice you’re “back to your old self,” enjoying the things you used to enjoy, and less preoccupied with negative thoughts. That does not m’ean you will feel happy all the time. These are not “happy pills” – they simply seek to return you to normal functioning, where you can feel the full range of human emotions rather than mainly sadness or anxiety.

Once you’ve started a medication, it’s very important to meet regularly with your doctor to monitor your progress. As you start to feel better it may be hard to remember just how badly you felt, and an outside opinion may be especially helpful.

What I noticed:

The overwhelming heavy, dark, sad, lethargic  energetic feeling slowly lifted.

My aches and pains improved (especially my back pain)

I was able to muster the motivation to take part in little challenges for myself (ie a walk, going to bed early one night, eating healthy, etc.)  and those built on each other like building blocks.  I do believe the meds got me back to that initial motivation stage (they got me to the start line) then it was up to me to keep building on that (and get myself to the finish line.)

Less meltdowns.  I have spectacular “let teh steam out of the kettle” crying / grief bursts.  A totally normal part of the grief process when you lose one of the most important people in your life.  However, the frequency of them decreased.

Thinking patterns:  The overall % each day of positive self talk to negative self talk totally improved to a 90% positive self talk ratio.  Again, it got me into the right place to practice it and it was up to me to practice.  

Hobbies became fun again.  Running left me feeling euphoric.  **Right now, going through a relapse, I’ve gone from running 10ks and loving runs, to feeling absolutely nothing on runs – no joy, no grattitude, just”meh” – for me that is such an obvious indicator something is not right.  Sometimes you don’t have the classic symptoms of depression, but I do believe pattern that is consistent across the board is you do lose the level of joy you once got from your favourite activities. You feel more detached / not present during the activity, when it used to be a source of presence and flow. 

 

8. Can I drink alcohol with it?


Alcohol can interact with medicines in unpredictable ways, and different people react differently. If you drink alcohol while on antidepressants, you might get drunk much faster than without the medicine or the alcohol might interfere with the medicine’s ability to help your symptoms. Driving after drinking is especially dangerous. Because these medicines need to be taken consistently-every day-to work, you can’t stop the medicine for a day in anticipation of going out and having a drink.

Certain medicines may have more dangerous interactions with alcohol, so be sure to ask your doctor about the specific medicine you may be taking.

Keep in mind that alcohol is also a depressant, meaning it can make you feel worse whether or not you’re taking a medication.

I am a social drinker and have gotten pretty drunk a few times being on these meds. Over the last few years it hasn’t had any side effects, but in this latest episode I am noticing that I am in a really, really down mood the day after getting drunk.   My mental state and self talk are pretty bad and my energy is non existent.  (Oh right, that might be a hangover.)  Yes it could be a hangover, but it feels more intense than that.  I just feel SO blah.  Lately I’ve really noticed that.    Also, I notice if I lie down after a night out and a few beers, I feel “spinny” sooner than I ever did before medication.  It would take me a lot to feel like that before medication.  

 

9. Will it change my personality?

If you are having trouble with depression or anxiety and you take an anti¬depressant, after a period of time you will feel “normal” again. Students often report feeling like their old selves again. If you have been depressed for a very long time, then perhaps this change could make you feel like your personality changed. Most students find they think more clearly and are better able to get their work done once their anxiety and depressive symptoms are successfully treated.

This is a difficult question to answer fully, because the depression experience has a mostly internal component, with possible external components, too.  People who know me would have to answer the external piece.  I would say personality wise, yes, the medication helped –  because I think overall my friends know / see me as a really happy, engaged person – but they’ve seen me at two major lows (my mum dying in 2013 and my father in law dying recently which were both times I decided on medicine.)  They can see the difference between outgoing bubbly enthusiastic Carina, and quiet, reserved, hermit styles.  The medication helped a ton with clear thinking and regaining the precision focus and intellectual ability that is important in my job at a University (and similarly important for a student!)   

10. How much does it cost? Is it covered by insurance?


Most of these medicines are fairly expensive, costing from $70 to $100 per month. They are virtually always covered by insurance. The Duke Blue Cross plan pays 80% of medication costs, reducing the out of pocket expense to $14 to $20 per month. Other insurance plans may have insurance cards that allow you to get your medicine with just a small co-payment.

In Canada I have two Alberta Blue Cross supplemental plans through our employers, one is a University and the other is the City of Calgary – so we are very lucky.  My medication is fully covered under both plans, but one plan does not cover “brand name cipralex” – only non-brand name (huge price difference so the insurance companies obviously support the ones whose prices haven’t been jacked.) There is a serious financial consideration to medication if it is not covered, because you will be committing to it for some time to re-balance your brain chemistry which is a gradual process.  We’re talking months, not weeks.  

Conclusion

Depression and anxiety cause miserable symptoms, as uncomfortable as any physical pain. Although medicine is not always the answer to this kind of psychic pain, often it can be extraordinarily helpful. If you are struggling with anxiety or depression, you owe it to your self to talk to a professional about the option of medication. If it’s appropriate for you and works for you, you will be amazed at the relief treatment can bring to your life.

I like that they call depression psychic pain but for me, my thinking patterns and thought patterns are quite evolved through lots of work with a brilliant psychologist, reading, worksheets, podcasts, practice and journalling.  In my experience of it, minor depressive episodes are in the form of  energetic and somatic pain – a dampened aura (for the metaphysical types,) exhaustion, aches, crippling sadness, lack of engagement, a foggy head and feeling detached, and supremely unmotivated (my normal is a very motivated, engaged form of life.)

I decided to medicate and work on things before getting to what I knew would be the rock bottom stage which involves crying, misery and deep sadness. I have never been to the next level, and never want to, which I’d assume is hopelessness.  

My pilot light, the little voice that says “it will be all ok!” NEVER goes away. I know I will be fine because I have all of the tools that are needed to climb up and out and re-balance my mood.  Maybe this is the gift of sub optimal mental health? Knowing you can fall down and get back up?

I’ve done this a few times now and have accessed the appropriate help.

That’s why I wanted to write this article because I’ve been in and out of these processes. I stand here in another “valley” but am confidently working my way out and back to normal. This time I have no expectations around timing, because it is not a step-by-step sequential process.  You can’t look at it that way:  “If I do A+B then I will feel C.”

If you are going through your first major “down” in your life, and you are thinking about counselling, medication, doctor consultation, etc. I encourage you to explore your options. 

Leave your expectations and judgements at the door. Go in, be you, be authentic. Be honest. Be open.  Embrace the unique version of your own mental struggle and be able to elaborate on it.

 It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help.  But did you know that up until the 1980s in research literature, it was considered a bad thing to seek help ?  There is still a powerful stigma against seeking help, and it is because only 30 years ago (when some of us were kids) it was not okay to ask for help. It was a sign of failure, and researchers AND the media told us that.  Crazy, no?

 There’s also powerful conditioning amongst us millennials when it comes to big pharma. We have learnt to see it as the scourge of the earth. I think there are horrible, horrible practices in the big pharma world and their corporate ethics are questionable – yes – but I also have a chemical imbalance in my brain that I need to manage. I hate the system, that pharma is for profit, yes, but I also realize the profound impact of medicine.  

If you’ve worked your butt off and things aren’t improving with your own self-help, or you can’t even bring yourself to help yourself, TALK TO SOMEONE.

Speaking from 3 years down the road and about 3 episodes in my 20s and 30s, each time you go through it and climb back out, you acquire new tools, and most importantly, that powerful inner messaging that stops it from swallowing you. That inner message keeps telling you that you will get better and be back to normal.  

Every time you go through depression or a prolonged decline in your mental state, you become that much closer to unbeatable.  The most powerful people I know / have studied, are those who have struggled the most.  

Stay strong 🙂