Posted in Depression, faith, Health, mental health

Staying in my Happy Place

This morning I awoke in my Happy Place. It felt like the world was right. The sun was shining. The birds were singing. I wasn’t overwhelmed by any anxiety. I didn’t have a sense of doom. I wasn’t worried.

When we want to have good mental health it is important to have a measuring point. It is important to identify how we feel when things are going well. My Happy Place, for me, is my measuring mark. It is the place I try to be most consistently in my life. I try not to fall too far below this mark and when I do, I make an effort to get back there.

In order to repeatedly experience my Happy Place I find I have to know what good things happened to make me feel this way? What did I do differently?

Some of the things that contribute to my Happy Place are a good diet, time spent outdoors, and being in the presence of family and friends.

Things that rob me of my sense of well-being are injustice in the world, family conflicts and the threat of losing what is precious to me.

In the same way that I identify what happened to make me feel peaceful and joyful, I also need to figure out what happens that makes me lose my sense of well-being.

I find it helpful to write down whatever I can think of that impacted my emotions in a negative way. Then I put a box around it.

When I write things down, I can see clearly what I have to watch out for. I have a limited amount of time and energy and I cannot allow these things to absorb a disproportional share. In other words, I need to be careful about how much time and energy I spend interacting with them. I am the one who has the most control over how these particular disturbances impact me.

On this list of stressors are some things I can do something about, and other things over which I have little or no influence. Because I am a praying woman, I commit to God the things I cannot change. And then I pray for wisdom and guidance regarding the things I can change.

Maintaining a peaceful life feels good, but it is also necessary for our health. Anxiety and worry and distress cause all sorts of difficulties in our bodies such as high blood pressure, stomach ulcers and even reduced immunity. Stress can also cause people to resort to unhealthy and addictive behaviors and this is another reason why it is good to identify our stressors and learn to manage them.

When I write down the troubling things in my life, I am giving them a name and creating a bit of distance between me and them, enough to take an objective look at them.

This is one of the ways I organize my life. When our lives feel stressed it is often because we feel out of control. Our lives become chaotic. Chaos makes us uneasy. We naturally want to be in control of our lives.

When we see our stressors in front of us in this way, life becomes more predictable. A more predictable life gives us a greater sense of control. A greater sense of control leads to greater peace of mind.

Blocking, or burying things, by refusing to think about them, means that they can pop up unexpectedly and throw our lives into disorder or chaos. That is the reason why I like to be aware of what is going on inside me, particularly the things disturbing me. I like to identify and corral the enemy in this box.

At the other end of the page that contains the box with the things in it that are stressors, I draw another box that represents the good feelings I have when I am happy with my life. It includes the things that contribute to these good feelings. In this way I can keep track of what gives me a sense of well-being.

You may need to wait and watch for your Happy Place to happen–that place where you have a general feeling of well-being. Once you recognize the exact feelings you have, you can begin to try and prolong this good feeling. Make it last an hour, a day. Try and make it happen more frequently.

I draw third box between the box of stressors on the left, and my happiness box on the right, and in it I write action steps I will take. These are the things I believe I can do to make my life better and to stay on track. Sometimes I can’t do much, but I can do a little. Doing a little, now and then, starts to add up over time.

One of the keys for me to be in my Happy Place has been to find out exactly what the “little things” are that I can do well. Not what others expect me to do. Not even my expectations of myself, because I will often put far too much on myself. But just those small things that I feel a gentle nudge to do, things that are a good fit for me in terms of my character and ability.

Years ago I read a book about the difference between faith and presumption. I realized that I had presumed a lot of things were my responsibility when they were not. Faith gives us only as much responsibility as we are meant to carry. Jesus said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” When we find the yoke that is tailor-made made for us then our burden becomes much lighter and easier. The truth is that as long as we are in this life we will have burdens to bear, but they don’t have to crush us.

Peace is probably the word that best describes what I feel when I am in my Happy Place. I have found that I need to pursue peace. Things will always happen to disrupt my peace and then I have to begin my journey back by recognizing the place I want to be, acknowledging the things that are hindering me, and committing to doing what I can do to make a difference.

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Posted in mental health

Emotion Regulation – Coping Skills

What do you do when current world events overwhelm you?

Turn off and tune out?

Post a rant?

Get drunk?

Cancel your internet?

Become a recluse?

Build a bomb shelter?

Move to Whitehorse?

This year I have experienced a kind of rage and sorrow I have rarely ever felt before in response to what is happening in the world. I get particularly emotionally distraught when bad news involves children. I want to cover my ears and shut my eyes. I want to run away somewhere and escape. Other days I feel more militant and I won’t go into that.

But do you know that it is actually a good thing to have these feelings?

I had to tell myself that.

We want to numb ourselves, and we need to distract ourselves for a time, even protect ourselves, but what would be much worse than these feelings of outrage and distress would be to feel nothing. There’s actually a name for that and it is a mental disorder. It is called psychopathy and means lacking conscience and empathy. Much of the evil we see is perpetrated by people who suffer from this disorder.

When we were little we were taught, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This has been called The Golden Rule and it is from the Bible. The Golden Rule teaches us empathy. It teaches us how to live in this world. Since we don’t normally want to be hurt, we shouldn’t hurt others either.

We feel outrage, and hurt, and sorrow when we hear about people who violate the way we believe we are to behave in this world. These feelings show that we are caring humans, so we need to keep on having them.

However, we need to learn to manage our feelings so that we can still continue on with life.

What we need to learn is “emotion regulation” – how to manage our feelings so that we do not remain in a constant state of emotional arousal.

Much of what we hear in the news causes us to be angry on behalf of others, or fearful of how it might affect us. We begin to experience fear when it gets a little closer to home and to those we love. If there is a real threat of harm we may actually need to take protective measures. I’m not going to talk about that here. I am just going to talk about how to deal with those unpleasant feelings.

Here are some things I suggest, which I have started to do. Some will not be new to you.

GET CONTROL OF YOUR MIND

  1. Take a step back. Whatever that looks like. Take some time away from the situation that is causing agitation. Create a bit of distance. We can always come back to it later, when we feel more calm, to take another look.
  2. Admit that bad things will happen. This is not a just world. Sometimes people are evil. I found this hard to do. I did not want to say that people are evil. I wanted to continue to live in a sort of utopia, thinking the best of others. But once I faced it, I actually felt some tension dissipate.
  3. Acknowledge that some things might not turn out well (or as we had wished), even in the long run. But don’t give up hope.
  4. Realize that people will get hurt. Some people will die. Someone close to you is likely going to get hurt at some point, or die. Think about this for a moment and prepare in advance for it, so you are not taken totally by surprise. As my mom says, if we are alive we are also a “candidate for death.” Lol! (She worked in palliative home care so she treats death a bit more lightly than most of us.)
  5. It might look like the bad guys are winning, but it’s only for awhile. My husband reminds me that God will have the final say on that last day. I didn’t find this very comforting, but at least there is that.
  6. It’s OK to be upset and it’s good to be honest about just how badly upset I am. At the same time, I am the only one who can calm myself down. I have to learn to do this, because my health, my welfare, and my sanity all depend on my being able to it. For my own good, I have to learn how to regulate my emotions.

FIND WHAT WORKS FOR YOU

There are other things we can do like meditation, exercise, engaging in uplifting activities. It’s up to us to search and find what we need. But much of the work happens in our heads–the place where we decide how to respond. Rather than a runaway train, we can be at the controls, deciding where we go and at what speed.

CONSIDER BEING AN AGENT OF CHANGE

After we take a break, create some distance for awhile, and collect ourselves, we might want to think about exactly why a certain issue is so strongly affecting our emotions. Is it possible that this may be a sign of an area where we can make some difference, great or small?

If we want to get involved there are things we can do. Sometimes I write letters, sign petitions, or talk to people. We can also join marches or demonstrations, volunteer with organizations, raise funds, donate, and vote. We owe it to ourselves and the world to regulate our emotions in order to be strong in battle.

PRAY

I want to emphasize the importance of prayer. Prayer can bring comfort to your own heart. I also find certain scriptures to be reassuring, particularly the Psalms. I have witnessed remarkable answers to prayer and I believe that prayer can move mountains.

KEEP ON LIVING

Although we may not engage directly in righting wrongs, there is always the necessity for people to affect change by setting an honorable example. Many amazing people are simply going to work every day, caring for their families, and being good citizens. They ought to make the news now and then.

Learning how to regulate our emotions will mean that we are able to function optimally and have a sense of being in control of our lives.

We want to be of “sound mind,” able to think clearly and evaluate objectively.

We want to run the control panel of our lives.

I, for one, have realized that this can take some work. But after working at this for awhile, I no longer find myself with runaway emotions. I have realized I can put the brakes on.

Posted in Love, Marriage & Family

That Loving Feeling – Believe in Your Marriage

joel carter photoThere was a time when you and your partner felt so in love, and thought so highly of each other, that you wanted to commit yourselves to spending the rest of your lives together.

Can you still remember those feelings? What impressed you about your partner? What drew you together? Memories like this can act like glue when you hit rougher seas and most marriages will experience some turbulent times.

What is it that makes some marriages more likely to thrive than others? I think I can safely say that it is an ongoing sense of admiration and wonder. Admiration and wonder over being together.

There’s an old song that goes, “You’ve lost that loving feeling.” The lyrics and the melody are heart wrenching, especially the part that says, “We had a love, a love you don’t find every day.” A beautiful thing is falling apart. It is a song of deep regret and longing.

The echo of love is ringing through the song. The singer doesn’t want to let go. This kind of love should never fail.

We often don’t see what we have until it is lost. I think of all the divorcees who later say, “If only….”

A break in a relationship can always be traced back to an incident, however small. A conflict or a disappointment. You thought your partner would behave one way, and they behaved another.

Something surprising happened. Something unexpected. Something that cast your partner in a new light, a less positive one.

And, as a result there was hurt. Maybe slight hurt. Or maybe a very deep injury. And, if it was not addressed and resolved, the hurt was carried for days, maybe years.

Chances are that the surprise happened again. And again. Along with other disappointing surprises. They accumulated.

Maybe you didn’t handle the dissappointment so well. People who are hurt often don’t. Perhaps the inciting incident resulted in a vicious circle of blame and recrimination. As a result the pain was multiplied exponentially.

Or. you went off alone, without saying anything, to lick your wounds. You withdrew, as a form of protection, and it became a pattern.

Injury in a marriage is very real and very deep. The one you loved and trusted hurt you. The one you thought would have your back, turned on you. The one you entrusted your life to, suddenly seemed uncaring and insensitive. This is extremely difficult to reconcile because the emotions around the incident are so intense, especially when one person decides that the other person was, or is, uncaring.

This kind of experience can plunge a person into a lonely pit of despair. Often couples don’t know how to climb out of this place and, tragically, in time they give up on the relationship.

You want to catch your relationship before it falls to this low point because your marriage is worth saving

I think the biggest cry in a relationship is, “You don’t get it.” In other words, I wasn’t trying to hurt you. You don’t understand what I need from you. You are getting it wrong.

If we go back and very slowly and carefully unravel our early discord, we will probably find, to our surprise, that the intentions of the other person who hurt us were not as mean as we thought. There may have been some carelessness involved, some inattentiveness, some misunderstanding. But, chances are that there was no malicious intent because malice is something that builds over time, after repeated injury.

He did it again. Or she did it again. Repetition reinforces the thought that the other person does not care.

This is where we begin to lose our wonder and admiration.

Old hurts from other relationships might surface and blur the image of the person you once wanted to marry (a bully, for example, or a harsh parent). Or they lose their glow in light of other idealized images (when compared with a past flame or an attentive parent).

We all want to keep “that loving feeling.” Just, how do we do it?

We have to find a way. We have to believe there is a way.

We need to be creative, and go back, again, and again, and work at resolving issues, trying different approaches.

We have to pray, and dialogue (talk about it). Analyze (pull it apart and look at it and figure it out). We have to target issues. We have to assimilate (add new information and fit it all together) and reframe (put the pieces together differently for a new meaning). We have to agonize and pray some more. We have to reiterate (go back and repeat).

We have to fight. Both partners need to engage in the fight for their marriage and believe they can make this work.

We can get back that loving feeling. It is possible. I have seen it done multiple times.

We were brought together for a reason and we were meant to stay together. We have to keep this vision of a long term future together. We will endure and prevail.

Yes, some relationships have to end. But not yours. Not if you are willing to work on it.

Abuse is the only valid reason to leave a relationship. The unrelentingly unwillingness to work on solutions destroys hope and once hope is gone, the unhappy alternative is to live in a loveless relationship or make an exit. This, however, does not need to be your story. There are plenty of redemptive stories of marriages where the loving feeling was recovered.

If your partner is asking for change, take it very seriously. Because this is your chance to do something that could be the salvation of your marriage. If one partner’s request for change goes on and on, for years without acknowledgement, then the fabric of the relationship will gradually deteriorate. And when your eyes are finally opened, it may be a case of there being too little invested too late. So take the request for change seriously.

Marriage requires requires constant adjustment and willingness to change.

Can you change? Do you know in what exact ways you need to change? Can you openly ask, what do you want from me? Because, it is worth doing what you can to get the loving feeling back.

The loving feeling is what both of you want and need. You must pursue it, consciously, or stand the risk of losing it.

 

 

 

Posted in Communication, Social Media

Why You Shouldn’t Go Off of Facebook and What You Should Do Instead

I am giving you permission to stay on FB. I don’t know if you need that permission or not. But if you have been feeling overwhelmed, or obsessive, or guilty about your FB use, then you might want to read on.

The first reason why you shouldn’t go off of FB is because you like keeping up with what your friends are doing. You scroll down the NewsFeed and you see something funny, someone’s unique sense of humor, and it makes you laugh. Then a little further down you read that someone has a health challenge and maybe you make a short encouraging comment. You read further and see that your friend is expecting a baby. Yay! You congratulate her. And so on….

You enjoy FB or you would not be spending so much time on it.

The second reason is, believe it or not, just like you take an interest in your friends, they take an interest in you. Now, not everybody is diplomatic and understanding and some posts are downright offensive. It is not FB’s fault. It is the fault of your friends. But, I suspect that most of your interactions are actually pretty positive and you enjoy them, and others enjoy you. Your friends liked that humorous post you found, and The Happy Birthday banner you posted, or the Memories you shared. Maybe you posted your artwork or a craft you did. Your friends enjoy seeing what you are up to.

Keeping up with your friends and letting them keep up with you are the two most important reasons to stay on FB. If you honestly do need a break, then FB has an option called, “Deactivate.” This means your account will not be shut down forever. You can still see it but others can’t. You can do this while you think about whether you permanently want to go off FB.

However, I have a few ideas you might want to try before your deactivate, or–hopefully not–quit altogether. But first let’s take a look at some possible reasons you might be thinking of going off of FB.

You might have heard that FB is bad and that they are censoring stuff and limiting what people can see, even good stuff. That could be true. But FB is a tool. It is something you can use to satisfy your own purposes. It does not control what you do. Usually. I know there is the legitimate fear that something you post might be deemed offensive by FB and FB itself might shut you down. But that is a problem that has been experienced by a select few. The FB team tries to censor the bad stuff and they go overboard sometimes. But, for the most part, you are safe, if you behave reasonably decently on FB.

You might also be put off by the ads, and believe me, I am. But you can ignore them. There are even settings you can access to limit certain ads. I’ve limited a lot of ads. Whenever I see something that offends me, or that I am tired of seeing, I click the pull down menu on the right of the ad and indicate I don’t want to see any more of this. Of course I can’t control the very fact that there are ads, so I move on quickly. In this way I control my FB experience, to a great degree.

Some things you have no control over, like hackers, unfortunately. Anyone who has been a victim of hacking has felt violated and I can understand this. There is little we can do to defend ourselves. We can simply explain to our friends and march bravely on.

One important way to control your FB experience is to pay careful attention to who your friends are. If necessary, un-follow them if they constantly drag you down. At worst you can un-friend them. But this has caused numerous hurt feelings, so it’s probably best to un-follow, since they can’t tell if you un-follow.

You can also click “hide post,” if you don’t like someone’s post. I recently discovered that it is a good idea to click “hide post” after I make a comment on a post, like a “Happy Birthday” and I don’t want fifty notifications of others who have also wished this person a Happy Birthday.

You have a lot of control over your FB activity. That being said, you might still want to get off FB because it is consuming too much of your time.

Well, how about considering a few other options first. Here are some ideas.

  1. Take a one day “FB fast” every week.
  2. Go on FB to relax, like during a coffee break or in the evening.
  3. Go on FB every other day.
  4. Have short FB sessions of 5-10 minutes at a time, 3-4 times a day.
  5. Have less frequent longer sessions and set a time limit, say one hour.
  6. Don’t go on FB when there are other people around.
  7. Go on FB only once you have completed certain chores.

In other words, craft FB around your life, around what makes sense to you. You still want the pleasure of interacting, but you don’t want FB to interfere with being your present with others in your daily life, or to stop you from doing the things that matter, or become a substitute for meeting face to face.

I find FB is great for keeping up with friends who live far away. For me that happens to be most of my friends. At one point I almost closed my account but then I reflected on how much I would lose. I thought of all those faces, all the people I want to keep up with, and I changed my mind. My reason for wanting to get off of FB was not so much the time I spent on FB, as it was my frustration with changes to FB which reduced my ability to interact with friends as effectively as I used to. But, alas, FB is not a perfect medium of communication.

Instead of leaving FB, I focused on ways I could continue to use FB as a great way to keep in touch.

So, think it over. You might be able to modify your FB use and not quit completely. But if you still find it is taking over your life and making you miserable, what can I say? The decision is yours. All the best!

 

Posted in Depression, Health, mental health

Don’t Let the Depression Monster Get You

drivingIt feels like I have battled depression all my life. I am familiar with a great many strains of depression. Depression is like a bacterial infection. It might go away on its own if left alone, or it might turn into a life-threatening disease. So the key is to get it under control early.

At its worst, the depression monster clouds you with a paralyzing feeling of doom and despair. I have only had this a few times and it made me very sympathetic to those who opt for a way out of this life.

In most cases you have the inner resources to defeat the depression monster. Myriads of people have resorted to meds and they can take the edge off. The trouble is there are side effects. I was prescribed meds by my doctor and I bought them. But I was so low that, knowing how depression medication can also make you suicidal during the first couple of months, I decided not to take the risk. I chose rather to live with what I knew and understood than introduce an element that could feed the monster.

Having spoken with people on medication I have learned that the lows are not as low, and the highs are not as high when they are on meds. It sort of puts you in a middle zone, numbing your senses. People who read this and have experience with medications will be able to tell you much more about how it works. I am not an authority. But I have also seen how medication can cause someone to spiral out of control, emotionally.

You may need to get medical help for depression. If you do, be sure you work closely with your doctor.

But, if like me, you decide to control this monster on your own, there are some things that have worked for me which I will share with you.

I was “down” a lot as a kid and a teenager. Some of it had to do with my home life. Some of it had to do with my temperament. I have the melancholy temperament common with artists and musicians.

We moved away from my friends and it took me years to find friends again, so I was alone a lot.  I was bullied a lot and had constant anxiety as a kid about getting on the bus in the morning or walking down the hallway at school because that is when my bully and his buds targeted me.

I had several things going for me as a kid. One was regular meals and good nutrition. If I were a doctor, this would be the first thing I would check if someone presented with depression. The second would be social support in terms of friends and family or at least associates. The third would be stressors.

Each of us has our own story of how the depression monster was fed and grew in our lives until one day he was out of control. My monster was out of control after I had my second child. Somehow I managed to clamber out of the deep dark dungeon I found myself in. I don’t remember much about that time, but what I do remember is that I told myself I would never let myself get so low again because it was too hard to get out.

As I write about this I have a great sense of inadequacy because of how I have failed to consistently tame the monster. However I am continuing, knowing there are things I have done that have definitely reduced the size of this monster and kept him at a respectable distance.

The first thing you have to realize about this monster is that you will have to fight him on your own. Nobody can do it for you. So you have to get some weapons. You have to understand your enemy. You have to track him, watch what he does, what makes him diminish, watch what empowers him.

What works for someone else may not work for you. You might find some of the things I share helpful while others will not work for you at all. You may have already discovered some things that help you. The only thing I say is don’t rely on unhealthy habits and supports because, even though they might appear to work, they will bite in the end. I’m talking about addictions. Unhealthy substance use and addictive activities. Remember, you want to be in control of your mind and your body. This feeling of control is the most powerful way to stave off the depression monster.

Some of us have already succumbed to addictions. And there are many different kinds. Be gentle with yourself. But make it your responsibility to choose the most healthy and wholesome course.

Cognitive behavioral counseling is the most effective form of counseling for depression and it is sometimes coupled with medication. In fact, medication is most effective when it is used in conjunction with counseling. Cognitive behavior counseling helps us change our thinking and behavior. Unfortunately, counseling costs a lot of money. And people who need counseling often don’t have insurance to cover the cost. So, you have to seek your own counsel.

I looked across at my doctor’s report in his office when he left the room for a minute and he had written down, chronic depression?? He was suggesting that I find a friend and go for regular walks. He said his wife did this. A good friend can be more helpful than a counselor.

There are so many little things I have done to keep my personal monster at bay. A lot of things I do without thinking. Some are pretty random. I’ll share a list I’ve managed to come up with. Honestly, this subject requires a book but I have tried to condense it.

  1. Light therapy. Don’t stay in a dark room during the day. Open the blinds and let light in. Turn on lights if you have to. Yellow or warm light is better than blue light. There are also special lamps you can get to stave off depression. Do some research. I have a friend who tans in the winter to get light. But heed the warnings about tanning.
  2. Keep relationships healthy. This takes a lot of work and will be a lifetime job. There may be friends you need to drop. There may be relatives with whom you need to spend less time. Conversations to avoid. Take time to study conflict resolution skills and how to share your needs and desires effectively. Express appreciation to others too, so that they will like to be with you. Limit negative influences, and this includes news articles, talk shows, videos, social media, etc. Guard your heart. Stay upbeat.
  3. Don’t watch movies in the morning or afternoon. This is when you want to be using your creative energy on important things. Movies are for the time of day when you wind down. They are a passive activity.
  4. Find a no-brainer game to play for half an hour to an hour a day. Generally a maximum of two hours because you don’t want it to turn into a mindless addiction. If done the right way it can put your brain in neutral and give it time to reset. People who are depressed are often over-thinkers so they need to put their thoughts on hold for awhile. Other activities can do this too.
  5. I’ve already mentioned nutrition. We used to own a restaurant and we frequently saw that vegetarians were the most unbalanced emotionally. They came in stressed and couldn’t make their minds up. You may vehemently disagree with me, but I am only speaking from my own experience. I can sink into a depression very quickly if I don’t have protein consistently on a daily basis. But people with other body types might be different. A small piece of meat or cheese twice a day is very helpful for me. And another reminder, eat vegetables every day for mental health. As far as supplements go, I suggest you consult your doctor or naturopath in addition to doing your own personal research.
  6. Don’t beat yourself up. Be gentle. And be firm. Learn your rhythms and work with them. What I have found very helpful, for instance with household chores, is to tell myself to do a small thing to clean up a room every time I walk into it. Disorder contributes to depression, so you want to focus on bringing order into your life. But don’t beat yourself up. Instead, learn to be consistent. Don’t allow yourself to become slack, but give yourself slack, if you know what I mean.
  7. Find the wholesome thing that brings you joy. It might be window shopping, going to a park, listening to music, painting, playing guitar, volunteering, making creative desserts, poking around at thrift stores, fixing things, hiking, taking photographs. Incorporate these things into each day.
  8. Realize that you can either have the body you want or eat the foods you want. You choose. I learned long ago that I will never be able to eat as many potato chips or donuts as I want. I struggle with getting to my ideal body weight, so I have told myself this will be a process that will take time. In the meantime, I watch that I don’t gain. It is the least I can do because gaining weight is depressing for me.
  9. Root out thoughts of hopelessness and despair. Thoughts like, “I can never do this. I am a failure. I am worthless.” The list is long. Begin by identifying your habitual negative thoughts and then work at reframing them. For instance, “I may have failed at a few things, but I can try again. I have also succeeded a few times and there is a good chance I will succeed again, soon, if I don’t stop trying.” “I am a very worthwhile human being by virtue of the fact that I am on this earth. I have a purpose and I am going to find out the unique ways in which I can make a difference.”
  10. Avoid the downward spiral. This requires recognizing it. Recognize what triggers it. It may be negative thought patterns. It may be wrong foods. It may be the time of month–Midol has helped me. Or it may be nothing you recognize. Sometimes you may just have to get up and show up and tell yourself that tomorrow will be a better day. And if you can’t do that, then you ought to seriously consider seeing your doctor because you could be suffering from an underlying medical condition.

If you try even a few of these suggestions you will find it makes a difference. Come to think of it, I haven’t even mentioned sleep and exercise, which are huge.

I fight this battle consistently. I think it helps to realize that it may be a bit futile to think I will actually slay the monster.

I try not to become too fixated on the monster. Instead I divert my attention elsewhere. I distract myself and work on developing healthy patterns. The monster seems to have less power when it is not the centre of attention.

When I focus on keeping my hope and joy alive, the depression monster kind of shrivels and sometimes even vanishes, for awhile.

Posted in Children, Food, Health, Home

Are You Getting Enough Vegetables?

veggies for breakfastIt’s always been a challenge for me to incorporate enough vegetables into the family diet. I tell myself things like, There’s Tomato in the Pizza. My A&W Buddy Burger has Onions in it. I had Sweet Potato Fries.

I once served a homemade lasagna to a mother and her family and she asked me at the table, Where are the vegetables? Well, clearly there was tomato in the lasagna, and my homemade recipe has a whole package of spinach in it. But she was looking for a salad, I imagine. I didn’t serve the customary Caesar salad with the lasagna.

A friend of mine has a salad for lunch every day. I can’t seem to force myself to do that. I guess I’m still a picky eater, like when I was a kid. I know my mom worried about getting enough food into my stomach.

Back when I was a child there was not so much emphasis on a balanced diet. I had “Tomato Soup” out of a can and “Noodle Soup” out of a box for lunch regularly. Sometimes we had my favorite, “Campbell’s Vegetable Soup.” I didn’t mind the few vegetables floating around the alphabet noodles, which I loved–the bits of carrot, a couple of peas and the occasional lima bean.

I remember two things I liked when I was a kid, besides Alphabet Soup. Macaroni and cheese, and corn. That was until the day I ate too much of it.

I have to confess to having a constant level of anxiety over providing the right diet for my children when they were growing up. I tried a lot of things. For instance, I insisted on nutrients in my bread and refused to buy “white” bread. When I baked I used unbleached flour, and I added wholesome ingredients like raisins, or nuts, or oatmeal to cookies and cakes. I also made carrot cake or zucchini loaf for dessert. The kids loved these and never complained about the vegetables. When we had pizza, I sometimes sprinkled extra chopped red or green peppers and cheese on top. They never minded. And later I began to serve pizza with vegetables and dip…or no dip, just carrot and celery sticks, maybe broccoli or cucumber slices and peppers. I also made the obligatory Caesar salad with my lasagna!

We had a two spoon rule at our house. When the kids turned their noses up at a food, we would say they had to eat two spoonfuls. That way I was sure that at least they were ingesting some nutrition on a regular basis. I was always conscious of needing to get something substantial into their little tummies.

I know there are women out there who have got this, but I am not one of them. I am still very aware of the need to serve vegetables more regularly in our home. A green salad every day would be my ideal but here I sympathize with the children. Please, don’t force me.

One mother I knew when my children were little would certainly have aced the vegetable exam. She and her family had the rosy cheeks and bright eyes and clear skin to show for it. She religiously incorporated fresh vegetable salads into every lunch and dinner. From her I learned how easy it is to mix cucumbers, tomatoes and onions and add a bit of balsamic vinegar and oil, and, voila! A salad! This was a regular staple of hers.

When I go to my mom’s home the salad is often missing from the table. And this is true of my house too. But I’m doing something about it. Maybe not as regularly as I would like. I reassure myself by telling myself that everything counts. Today I cooked Butternut Squash Soup. The other week I made a Turkey Vegetable Soup. I recently added broccoli to my rice casserole which also has onions. It was delicious! Sometimes I even make a salad.

Breakfast can be another opportunity to sneak in vegetables. Mostly on weekends, I add sliced avocado or a grilled tomato to my breakfast of eggs and sausage or bacon, or fry a vegetable hash of potatoes (pre-cooked in the microwave), red and/or green peppers and of course onion. During the week I will sometimes eat leftovers for breakfast that contain vegetables.

There are days when I just start to fry an onion and then throw in some chopped vegetables, whatever I have in the house, to create a main or side dish. It always seems to turn out alright, whether I add celery and carrots, or broccoli and mushrooms, or zucchini. Eggplant, ochra and bitter melon don’t lend themselves quite so well to this method. But even shredded cabbage works!

I’ve also learned that it is relatively easy to grill vegetables. Simply brush them with oil and put them in the oven. I like to use my toaster oven. A few weeks ago I did this with brussel sprouts and they were amazing. Zucchini and asparagus work well too.

When I go to a restaurant I try and incorporate a salad into my meal. This is a time when I take advantage of having selection. Or, at the least, I will choose steamed vegetables with my main course. There is a place that serves an amazing grilled salmon salad with roasted asparagus and almonds. I have this regularly. Another thing we do is always order a vegetable dish when we have Chinese food.

I know how much better I feel if half of my food intake consists of vegetables, according to current dietary recommendations. I have not reached my ideal and I don’t know if I ever will. But, as I said, every bit counts. Even just two bites per meal.

 

Posted in Abuse, Marriage & Family

Is He Abusive?

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Image courtesy of marin/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’ve been a reading a book entitled, The Emotionally Abusive Relationship, by Beverly Engel. This has led to me ask to what degree I have experienced abuse in my marriage. It has also made me question whether women (and men) have the insight they need to determine both the level of abuse in their relationships and the appropriate response.

I’ve also been doing some reading up on gaslighting and narcissism. Gaslighting is when one person makes accusations and insinuations that cause the other person to question their own sanity. A narcissist refers to someone who lives for attention. Life revolves around them and they do not have the normal feelings of empathy for others.

These kinds of deranged ways of thinking and behaving are the result of neglect and abuse in childhood, something I won’t get into here.

The question is, should you stay with someone who makes you doubt your own mental capacity? Should you stay with someone who repeatedly ignores your needs and is perhaps abusive in other ways?

How do you decide whether to leave or stay?

If a man physically abuses a woman, there is a clear line he has crossed. I, for one, would not tolerate physical abuse. I draw the line there. I would leave if my husband harmed me physically.

But mental and emotional abuse is not so easy to detect and to know when it has gone too far. Things get said in the heat of an argument. You get put down for something and you think, yeah, he’s right. I failed him. I should do better. Sometimes it is true. But when it becomes a pattern and starts to wear you down, that may be a sign that change is needed.

Habitual emotional abuse can go both ways. Women and men can both be narcissists. Either one can be gaslighting.

One way to determine if you are suffering from abuse is by comparing the person you are now with who you were before you were married. A couple of simple questions you can ask yourself are, has your confidence level changed, or have you become isolated and stopped seeing people, because of your spouse? If the answer is yes to either one or both, this reason for concern.

There are other indicators. Are things always your fault? Are you always the one expected to change? Are you made to feel inferior because of something you did or said, or the way you look, or the level of your education, or for any other reason?

In a healthy marriage one partner will be supportive and encouraging of the other partner. They will be willing to change when they recognize they are doing something that is potentially harmful to the relationship. They will also agree to be held accountable.

There ought to be a willingness both to see and admit the need for change and a willingness to change. But if one person has experienced abuse or neglect as a child they may feel very insecure and easily threatened by a request for change. Maybe they fear their partner no longer loves them, or will leave. For this reason it is important to preface a conversation about change with the reassurance that you want to stay in this relationship and this change is something you see as improving your marriage.

The goal is to have a great marriage. You can agree on that. Can you also agree on the importance of addressing what is hindering you from having this kind of marriage?

Any discussion of this nature has to come from a place of personal humility, not superiority. It is also necessary to recognize that you cannot make your partner change. The best you can do is paint a better picture and hope he or she will buy into it.

In our marriage, my husband has in the past tended to lose control of his temper. After a long time I finally confronted him and said this was not helping us to have a better marriage. He needed to control his anger. He saw that it was true and he agreed to work on it. From that point on there was an awareness on his part that he could do better and he did. Not only did he control his anger, but together we looked at possible triggers and we worked on those too.

It is important to spend some time and think through what needs to change. You may want to preface a conversation with something like, “I really need to talk to you about something that’s been on my mind for awhile. I love you, and I want to have the best marriage we can have. When you get angry, it makes me afraid and anxious. I don’t think that’s good for our marriage.” Or, “When you keep forgetting to take out the garbage, I feel like my needs aren’t important to you, like you don’t really care.” Or, “Sometimes I feel like other men care more about how I am feeling than you do. I feel like we are not really connecting emotionally a lot of the time.”

In a healthy relationship the other partner will see and admit a need for change. Because they are invested in making the marriage better they will also express a willingness to change. And remember, it is not a matter of who is right and who is wrong, but, what is best. Either of you can bring up the problem, but together you need to come up with a better plan.

Early in our marriage, when I brought up an area that needed change, my husband would immediately shift the conversation to something I needed to change. Tit for tat. This was not helpful. It brought confusion and meant the issue could not be fully dealt with. When we recognized that we could only deal with one issue at a time, we began to move forward and gain insight. We focused on the one issue, and, out of respect, we focused on the first issue that was brought up. The others could be dealt with at a later time.

A husband and wife will both have areas where change is needed. The all important question is, can we talk about this?

If one partner is always tiptoeing around the other, not wanting to rile them, or to hurt them, this is not a good indication. It might be necessary to say, “I feel like I can’t talk to you about things that are really important to me, because you will get hurt or angry. But, if we want to have a good marriage, there are things that I have spent a long time thinking about that I see as needing to change and we need to talk about these, or we will grow distant. I think that’s already started to happen and I don’t want us to be that way. Can we talk? Is this a good time? If not, then let’s do it another time. But let’s not put this off too long.”

Remember when we learned to do speeches in school? Well, here is a real life application of that lesson. You may need to think through and prepare a speech, actually plan the right words to use. You will find that some approaches are much more effective than others.

One more thing. Conversations like this should be rare. Too much time spent on fixing can drag a marriage down. The focus of the majority of your time together is to be on creating pleasant memories that will serve kind of like bank deposits, building a cushion, that will have a shock absorption affect in rougher times.

Do you talk together as a couple about the goal for your marriage? Do you paint verbal pictures of want your marriage to look like? Are you feeling better about your marriage this year than you did last year? Are you more relaxed, more content? Do you feel more loved?

Although some marriages need to end because of abuse, I think many times marriages could thrive if partners are able to get to the root of their problems and learn ways of working through things with the goal of an improved relationship.

Target the specific problem. Hold each other accountable and expect change. Your marriage is worth the effort.

But, if there is an unwillingness or inability to change in essential areas, you may be living in an abusive situation and you need to seek help or even consider leaving your partner. This is especially true if you fear for your own safety. In extreme cases you need to have a support group to help with a strategy.

Is he or she abusive? If you are being hurt over and over again, yes. If promises are made and repeatedly broken, yes. If you cannot trust your partner, yes. If you feel like you have diminished to a person you no longer recognize, yes. You need to seek help.