relationships · self-care

Shortcomings

During our adoption home study, a social worker came out to our house and interviewed Tamara and me – a standard part of the adoption process. It was a little nerve-wracking, somewhat awkward, but overall we knew what to expect and it went okay.

Except for this – this one question the social worker asked. For this question, we were sitting together on our couch.

“What do you think Tamara’s greatest weakness is?” she asked.

Now, in job interviews and in adoption home studies, there are rules for this particular question. The rule is – you don’t give a real weakness. You don’t tell a potential employer at a job interview, “I sometimes have trouble getting my paperwork in on time.” (Even if it’s true!) No, you give a weakness that is ACTUALLY A STRENGTH IN DISGUISE. You say, “Sometimes I am too much of a perfectionist.” TRANSLATION: I will do excellent work if hired.

So, when I answered, I gave an honest answer that displayed one of Tamara’s strengths. “She is one of the hardest workers I know,” I told the social worker. “Sometimes I have to remind her to take breaks and to take care of herself!”

The social worker nodded, smiled, and then asked Tamara the same question.

Tamara answered thoughtfully and honestly. “Kerriann can be defensive sometimes.”

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SCREECH. STOP. PAUSE. SOCIAL WORKER LADY, PLEASE GO HOME SO I CAN GIVE MY WIFE ALL THE DIRTY LOOKS IN THE WORLD.

Defensive?! That is not a secret strength disguised as a weakness! It is just a weakness – an absolutely 100% accurate weakness of mine. I do get defensive, which is evident every single time I tell this story. There is literally no way to tell someone who calls your defensive that you are not defensive. CANNOT BE DONE. Because if you weren’t so defensive – and believe me, I AM DEFENSIVE – then you wouldn’t feel the compulsion to, ahem, defend yourself.

As soon as the social worker left, I calmly explained to Tamara the principle of the “strength disguised as weakness” answer. (Yes, calmly. We were able to laugh about this that same day.)

Now, one of the reasons this story is on my mind today is – I’ve been thinking a lot about ‘character defects.’ This is something that’s talked about often in recovery circles. They can be called character defects, flaws, or shortcomings. They’re sometimes given other names, too, but my favorite is shortcomings. These are things we struggle with – areas where we come up short – in brief, our weaknesses. We talk about them in recovery because we want to be aware of the things that get in our way.

Needless to say, defensiveness is a big one for me, as is perfectionism, numbing, over-sensitivity, self-centeredness, and insecurity.

These shortcomings are on my mind recently because they keep popping up. My theory is this: I’ve been so stressed and overwhelmed for the past year that I’ve barely noticed any of my shortcomings. I was sort of drowning in self-pity and constantly seeking a new job, so my day-to-day inventory of who I am and how I’m leading my life was periodically lost in the shuffle.

Now that I have space and time to breathe, I am noticing times when my shortcomings rise up – times when I am faced with a situation and I fall short of the version of myself I’d like to be.

I’m not writing any of this to make myself feel bad. Sometimes, thinking about the areas where I fall short actually helps me to feel GOOD about myself. I am not a horrible mess; I’m a complex person who does awesome in some areas, average in others, and below average in some. I’m real.

I think the shortcoming that has been bothering me the most in recent history is my tendency to numb. When I get stressed, I become UNmindful. I distract myself, I drink lots of caffeine, I eat lots of candy. None of this helps me to deal with the things that are stressing me out.

I’m trying to go easy on myself this week. Yes, I’m drinking too much coffee and eating too many Cadbury Mini Eggs – but I’m also caring for an infant and have had the most emotionally up-and-down 19 days of my life.

So, instead of beating myself up further, I’m making a few mini-resolutions for myself:

1. Seek out joy and lightness every day. There is always something to laugh at and something to be thankful for.

2. Remember that you are enough. Believing that you don’t have enough of what you need does not serve you well.

3. Be gentle with and accepting of others. I sometimes want to *fix* family and friends instead of just being there for them.

4. Treat everyone like a toddler. I am way more patient with y two-year-old than I am with adults. And doesn’t everyone deserve to be treated with patience and compassion?

5. Let go and let God. Have a little faith. Not everything is on your shoulders. In fact, almost nothing is.

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self-care · writing

On Writing About Self-Care

Why do we write about the things we write about?

I absolutely love writing about self-care. I love writing blog posts that talk about how I take care of myself and strategies for self-care that others can use.

The thing is – I suck at self-care. It’s not my strength. I am always setting new resolutions about practicing better self-care, and it’s because this is not something I do well naturally.

Now, this is interesting to me. I assumed that people would gravitate toward writing on topics about which they have some expertise. Maybe some writers do that.

Maybe other writers, like me, are drawn to writing about things that we’re trying to figure out. When I write, it helps me to figure out what I think and how I feel about a topic.

This lines up with something I’ve wondered about: the tendency for new parents to do a lot of writing/podcasting about parenting. Now that I’m a parent, I imagine that this instinct is often about new parents trying to figure out what they’re doing and wanting to explore this new (and veryveryvery important) frontier by writing and talking about it.

Recently, I went through all of my old blog posts (346 so far – yippee!), and I assigned each post to at least one ‘category.’ Many, many posts fell into the category of self-care.  It’s a subject that baffles me and inspires me.  It’s a topic I’ll continue to explore.

And, maybe, someday get better at it?

Sigh. We’ll see.

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self-care

How To Have A Stress-Free Work Week From Someone Who’s Bad At Self-Care

One of my favorite topics to read and write about is self-care, and I think it’s because I’m not very good at it and want to do it better.

Today I’m on Day 5 of a five-day holiday weekend, and I’m feeling pretty good.

Every weekend is a three day weekend for me, since I don’t work Fridays, but I often find that when Monday comes, I don’t feel refreshed and ready for the week. That seems really silly to me. Many people are able to get recharged and refreshed with only a two day weekend. And maybe there are reasons for that – maybe they’re not parents with young kids, or maybe they have better self-care instincts. Or maybe (this is what I’m hoping) they have learned ways to be intentional about their weekends so that those days off from work include activities that are rejuvenating.26230758_1755440331194839_8014070478185042515_n

Lately, I am almost always feeling burnt out halfway through the day on Monday. This is in part due to the structure of my current job. I’m in the car a lot, driving around to meet clients at various locations, and it gets exhausting and irritating real fast. And, since I’m not that crazy about my current job, I get the Sunday blues bad, and I get cranky on Mondays quickly.

So, my work week can get exhausting and stressful really quickly. And it doesn’t help that I do not have the best self-care instincts.  For as much as I love thinking about self-care, and writing about self-care – when it comes to actually taking care of my body, my mind, and my soul when things get stressful, my instincts are terrible. I instantly reach for junk food, caffeine, and candy, which causes me to feel exhausted and cranky.

HOW DO I KEEP THIS FROM HAPPENING?

The only things that come to mind are these:

  1. Plan ahead.
  2. Be intentional.

That’s ALL I got! So they better work.

For planning ahead, the most important habit I want to cultivate is having a date with my planner. I do this sometimes, but not often enough. It’s helpful for me to take a few minutes in the evening or early in the morning to actually think about what I have going on during the work day; maybe I will notice things I need to move around, or times when I’m going to have long breaks. Maybe I’ll be able to plan ahead for troublesome circumstances, like when I have back-to-back clients straight through my normal lunch time.

The second thing that I KNOW I need to do but can never manage to accomplish is to pack everything I need for the day. I don’t like packing my lunch at all. I prefer to decide what I am going to eat when I am about to eat it. But maybe an action item for me can be deciding on some good snacky/lunchy foods to have in the house for work lunches.

And then, there’s everything else that needs to get packed up – my travel charger, phone, work keys, wallet, cash for tolls, water bottle (almost always forgotten), bullet journal – SO MUCH STUFF. I feel overwhelmed by how much I need to take, which sometimes means I walk out the door with none of these things and then feel aggravated later in the day because I don’t have the things I need.

I think another action item for me might be waking up earlier. This is a little funny , to me, because I’m a natural early bird – it’s not that unusual for me to set my alarm for 4 a.m. so that I can go to the gym early. So resolving to get up early isn’t usually a problem for me.  EXCEPT THAT PARENTING IS EXHAUSTING, and sometimes I stay up a little later to either do some housecleaning or to get some writing done, and then I find myself hitting snooze until 6 a.m., which is really the latest I can get up and still do everything I need to do to get myself and Edgar out the door for school drop-off and work. But the nice thing about being an early riser is that I can resolve to get up earlier and I know I can do it. This might be a good strategy for getting more writing time, too, now that it’s summer and I’m getting exercise in the afternoons and evenings.

I don’t know! Sometimes, I think the answer to my stress level is finding a new job. But, in general, I want to be better at self-care – I want to know that even when circumstances suck, I can do the things I need to do to feel healthy and well. 

So – plan ahead and be intentional. Let’s give it a try. And if you have other ideas, PLEASE share!

self-care

Routines: The Making & The Breaking

A few weeks ago, I sat down with my bullet journal and wrote out a plan for my morning and evening routines.

This plan included things that normal people probably don’t have to write down – things like wash your face or brush your teeth. The plan also included The Big Three Things That I Want To Do Every Day – writing, running, and meditating. Oh, and reminders for small acts of self-care or planning – things like laying out my work clothes the night before or remembering to use lotion or perfume.

I am most definitely a creature of habit, though I often struggle to form and stick with healthy habits.

The thing is, routine is good for me. I’ve heard it said that highly sensitive people benefit greatly from a regular routine. I struggle with this occasionally, because I greatly value diversity, spontaneity, surprise. But yeah – when it comes down to it, I am usually the happiest and the healthiest when I have a regular routine.

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I can break out of my routine, of course. I do it all the time. For special events, for parties – but I am noticing that it’s important for me to be honest about what adjustments I can make without sacrificing too much energy.

For example – socializing on week nights. I just don’t think it’s for me. Our farm is about 30 minutes north of Baltimore (more with traffic), and I’m trying to remember to be realistic about what I can commit to on a week night. I made plans on a week night several weeks ago, and honestly? It took me over a week to get back into my groove. And I had SO MUCH FUN during the actual socializing – I loved it!

But the next day, I felt sluggish and cranky. I’d been up too late and didn’t get any writing done or any alone (or just Tee-and-me) time. It threw me way off, and it’s because I wasn’t realistic about what I can handle in my daily routine.

I can be somewhat flexible and spontaneous – ON WEEKENDS, when there is way more wiggle room in my schedule.  NOT Monday through Thursday, with very few exceptions.

This weekend has been really lovely – lots of good time with friends and my little family. And I am ALMOST excited to get back into my morning and evening routines on Monday. (ALMOST. Really, I am never excited for Mondays anymore. But I’m hoping that will change sometime in 2018!)

parenting · self-care

This Is How You Remind Me #heart

When my son Teddy was a little younger than a year old, he had a pattern. He would start to fade out sometime between 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. every evening. I’ve heard parents call this “the witching hour.”

When Teddy would get into that zone, one of two things would happen: either he would erupt into adorable (and often unprovoked) baby giggles, or he would start having back-to-back meltdowns in rapid succession.

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An interesting phenomenon would occur at this point: Teddy would forget his coping skills.

Yes, even though he was still a baby, Teddy definitely had coping skills. What I mean is – he had activities he could engage in that were reliably comforting and calming for him.  Like standing by the front door looking outside at the cat napping on the porch.  Like looking at a book of baby first words.  Like playing in one of ‘his’ kitchen cabinets.

However, when Teddy is exhausted and burnt out on the crazy baby life and not thinking straight, he forgets about all the things that help him feel better.

That’s where Mommy comes in to save the day.  I’d pull out his favorite baby book and turn it to the page with all the cars on it. I’d shake his little tambourine so he could pretend to dance. I’d scoop him up, carry him to the window, and point out the cat. Then I’d set him down beside the window, and he’d stare at the cat, smiling occasionally. Tantrum over. He didn’t even need me to sit by the window with him.

 

He just needed me to remind him of the things he can do to feel better when he’s struggling.

Oh, boy. Don’t we all need reminders sometimes?

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http://www.nunnovation.com/2018/02/28/self-care-luxury-necessity/

I constantly forget to do the things that help me to feel happy, healthy, and whole as a human being. I start to feel sluggish and it takes me days to realize it’s because I haven’t been running or eating healthy food. My monkey mind starts twisting and turning like crazy, and I forget that going to meetings or meditating or journalling helps me to get out of my head and back in the present moment.

Sometimes Tee or a good friend can remind me; I’m always grateful for that. Often, though, I wish I could remind myself. Sometimes, when I slow down and allow myself a little bit of Kerriann time, I’ll feel myself calming down and getting back to neutral. I daydream about writing messages to myself on giant post-its all around the house.  YOU NEED TO RUN. YOU NEED TO READ. YOU NEED TO WRITE. YOU NEED TO MEDITATE.

I’ll consider it.

For now, I’m grateful to have just finished a day that included reading, writing, a long run, and pancakes. Excellent self-care.

self-care · Uncategorized

Changing My Perspective

I’ve been getting pretty stressed out by the ups and downs of everyday life lately. And I don’t think it’s necessarily because my life is hard right now – I think that a lot of the time, when I feel stressed, what I need most is a change in my perspective.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of perspective. Our perspective is EVERYTHING. When I’m struggling with perspective, it’s often connected to anxiety about the future and making assumptions.

UGH. Assumptions are the absolute worst.

There’s a veryveryvery old (possibly Taoist) parable about a farmer that I’ve been thinking about this week.

There is a story of a farmer who used an old horse to till his fields. One day, the horse escaped into the hills. When the farmer’s neighbors heard, they said to the farmer, “Oh no! How unlucky!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

A week later, the farmer’s horse returned with a herd of horses from the hills and this time the neighbors congratulated the farmer, saying “How lucky!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

Then the farmer’s son was attempting to tame one of the wild horses, and he fell off its back and broke his leg. The neighbors cried, “How unlucky!” The farmer replied, “Maybe not, maybe so. We’ll see.”

Several weeks later, the army marched into the village and conscripted every able-bodied youth they found in the village. When they saw the farmer’s son with his broken leg, they let him off. The neighbors said, “How lucky!” The farmer replied, “Maybe not, maybe so. We’ll see.”

We don’t know the future. We don’t know the effect of things that happen today on the days to come.

But I act like I do. ALL THE TIME.

I look for a job for a long time. I can’t find what I want. I’m devastated, because clearly this means I will never have happiness at work ever, ever again.

But I don’t know the future. I don’t know what’s coming down the road. We waited for two years for Our Baby to come home, and at the end of the first year, Tee had a major health crisis. Now, it didn’t occur to me at the time – but I really don’t know how we could have handled that crisis while also caring for an infant child. Emotionally, mentally, physically. We would have made it work, of course. But it would have been a big strain on our family at a time when we really needed to be focusing on attachment, bonding, and joy. (And, of course, that baby wouldn’t have been Teddy, who was 100% meant to be ours.)

We don’t know the end of the story, and making assumptions is rarely helpful. I do not have the detached nature that I imagine a Buddhist monk has. I do not allow events to simply happen, and then watch them, non-judgmentally, drift by as I mindfully contemplate the present moment.

I wrestle. I struggle. I try to bend circumstances to my will whenever possible.

But I strive for a little more faith, a little more trust, a lot less ego, and no more assumptions. Because we don’t ever know the end of the story – we just make assumptions and jump to conclusions and (if you’re me) forecast disappointment with the perverse aim of preparing yourself for the worst.

Which, in my experience, never works. Preparing myself for the worImage result for perspectivest to happen does NOTHING to make things better when the worst DOES happen. All it does is robs me of the joy and peace I could be experiencing in the present moment.

So – perspective. Shifting the way that I look at my circumstances so that I can see them in a different light.

And gratitude. So often I find myself reaching for what I don’t have instead of appreciating what I do have.

And TRUST. For me, it’s not just about trusting that most things usually turn out okay, or that the universe or my higher power or whatever will take care of me. It’s also just about having trust in others in my day-to-day life. I may make mistake and trust someone I shouldn’t trust. But overall, I am a much happier and healthier person when I assume good intention in others.

In closing – an amusing poem from Valerie Cox about the assumptions we make and how wrong we can be,

The Cookie Thief

by Valerie Cox

A woman was waiting at an airport one night,                                                                 with several long hours before her flight.                                                                            She hunted for a book in the airport shops,                                                                      bought a bag of cookies and found a place to drop.

She was engrossed in her book but happened to see,                                                        that the man sitting beside her, as bold as could be. . .                                                grabbed a cookie or two from the bag in between,                                                        which she tried to ignore to avoid a scene.

So she munched the cookies and watched the clock,                                                            as the gutsy cookie thief diminished her stock.                                                                    She was getting more irritated as the minutes ticked by,                                           thinking, “If I wasn’t so nice, I would blacken his eye.”

With each cookie she took, he took one too,                                                                       when only one was left, she wondered what he would do.                                                With a smile on his face, and a nervous laugh,                                                                      he took the last cookie and broke it in half.

He offered her half, as he ate the other,                                                                                  she snatched it from him and thought… oooh, brother.                                                  This guy has some nerve and he’s also rude,                                                                        why he didn’t even show any gratitude!

She had never known when she had been so galled,                                                         and sighed with relief when her flight was called.                                                            She gathered her belongings and headed to the gate,                                               refusing to look back at the thieving ingrate.

She boarded the plane, and sank in her seat,                                                                     then she sought her book, which was almost complete.                                                     As she reached in her baggage, she gasped with surprise,                                           there was her bag of cookies, in front of her eyes.

If mine are here, she moaned in despair,                                                                                the others were his, and he tried to share.                                                                            Too late to apologize, she realized with grief,                                                                    that she was the rude one, the ingrate, the thief.

self-care

Self-Compassion Reminder #soul #mind

Today I attended an art therapy training with the knowledgeable and wonderful Dr. Patricia Isis.

She told a little parable at the beginning of the training that I’ve been thinking about all day.

A mom is at the grocery store with a rambunctious four-year-old child in her shopping cart.  The child is antsy and bouncing, sometimes rising to the level of yelling and causing a ruckus.  The grocery store manager notices the mother and her daughter from a distance.

As the mother winds up and down the aisles, she keeps her voice calm and even.  “Just a few things we need to get, Monica, we’ll be done soon,” she says.  

The child continues to bounce and fidget.  As they continue their shopping, up and down the aisles, up and down, the mother again speaks in a calm and gentle voice.  “Just five more things to get, Monica, we’re almost done,” she says kindly.

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As they approach the checkout, the child is contained, but antsy and wiggling.  “We’re at the checkout, Monica,” the mother says, patient and compassionate.  “We’ll be on our way home soon.”

As they walk to their car, the grocery store manager follows them.  “Excuse me,” he says, “but I just wanted to tell you how much I admire how compassionate and kind and gentle you we’re with young Monica here.”

The young mother laughs.  “She’s not Monica,” she explains.  “I am!”

Wow. I love this. SO MUCH. What an amazing expression of the need to take care of ourselves FIRST.

I haven’t been able to get it out of my head all day. When I heard Dr. Kristen Neff speak, several years ago, she told a personal version of this story; she talked about being on an airplane with her son, who’s diagnosed with autism, while he screamed and tantrummed, and how she held him and took deep  breaths and just SHOWERED herself with compassion and love. Because, when someone we love really needs us – WE NEED  COMPASSION AND LOVE. We can’t take care of anyone else without it.

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