Holiday Blues

Just touching base since (as always) it’s been awhile (at least I’m consistent!). My life is coming to a bit of a break now, Christmas break of course. I am off work in a couple of days and will be able to stay home with nothing that I “have” to do. Christmas has always been my absolutely FAVOURITE time of year, until this year. To be honest, I’m dreading it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited to spend Christmas Eve with my kids watching them open their gifts, but I am scared of being alone. For the past 3 weeks I’ve been stuck in a major depression cycle. As some of you may know, Lithium is mainly used for treating the mania side of Bipolar. It can also treat the depression side, but it’s not as effective with rapid cycling bipolar (which I have). So needless to say I’ve been a mess.

Through my speaking with CMHA I’ve been trying to paint a picture of my bipolar depression. It’s lonely. It doesn’t matter how many people are around me, I feel utterly alone. I feel unworthy, desperate, and like I just don’t matter. I feel like I could be plucked out of this world and no one would notice. The worst part of it is that even now, when I’m well aware of the fact that I’m in a depression cycle, there is absolutely nothing I can do to “snap out of it”. I do everything I’m supposed to do, exercise, get out of the house, be around people, try to focus on work, and yet all it does is make it worse. It all feels pointless. Now I’m not posting this to get a bunch of “oh Manuela we like you” comments, I’m posting it because I don’t think people understand. I am not choosing to feel this way, in fact I am doing everything I can not to feel this way, and yet as I sit here listening to the silence in my house I feel like I could die right now and no one would notice.

I’ve been doing some research and have set up a doctor’s appointment to talk about the possibility of combining an anti-depressant with my lithium. I have also put in the paper work to become part of the out patient clinic at our local hospital. I have decided that the side effects of the anti depressants (the 20+lbs of weight gain😦 ) are far outweighed with my inability to ever be happy. In order to keep going, I need to feel like there is a chance that maybe one day I can be happy. I can’t keep living my life with 4-6 weeks of stability, followed by a month of wanting to end my life.

So there’s my update, sorry for the negative view so close to Christmas. I’m really hoping this cycle will end so that I can truly enjoy our small Christmas celebration. This is one of those times when I wish I had a family around me to love me and support me, instead I will put on my strong face and make my kids Christmas the best that I possibly can.

Musings of a Bipolar Mind

My life hasn’t changed dramatically, but I feel like my outlook on life has. I was weary of starting on lithium. One side of me didn’t want to take it in case it worked and confirmed I was indeed bipolar, another side didn’t want the side effects (mainly the weight gain of course), and yet another side of me was and continues to be afraid of the long term consequences of using such a mind altering drug. Knowing my hesitation, my doctor agreed to start me as low as possible and work my way up so I started on 300mg once a day. Four weeks later my blood tests came back and not surprisingly my levels were extremely low, so I was bumped up to 600mg/day. My most recent blood work came back low again, and just over a week ago I was put on 900mg/day. What does that all mean? Well at 600mg I started to notice a big shift in my emotions. I wasn’t feeling myself roller coaster as much. I became more aware of what I call my precursor feelings. I was picking up on thoughts and emotions that have previously led to manic episodes. Now at 900mg/day I finally feel in control. It’s such a hard thing to explain to someone who isn’t bipolar…. I feel normal, or what I now assume is normal. I don’t lose my patience as quickly, I don’t find myself randomly crying or wanting to end my life, and unfortunately I am not near as productive as I was when I was manic. I’m not over reacting to things and not feeling like the world has ended because something didn’t happen as quickly as I would’ve liked. I just feel good. Because it hasn’t been too long on this new dose, I do still feel nauseous, and a bit spacey at night. I’m hoping those will pass as they did with the first two changes in dosage. I have also noticed weight gain issues as well. All in all though, I will trade those side effects for the feeling of finally having control over my own being.

3 months worth

3 months worth

To put that into context, my ex recently told me he was dating someone new. The way he approached telling me spoke volumes of the person he was once married too. He told me he didn’t want to hurt me, but he knew I would want to know the truth. In fact he must have said sorry at least 5x in the course of telling me. I knew where he was coming from. Even just a few months ago I would’ve hit the roof. I would’ve yelled, sent him countless messages begging him to come back, then I would’ve gotten angry and told him just to move on and forget about me. Then I would’ve laid on the floor and cried until I couldn’t cry anymore. It would’ve taken me weeks to pull myself together….and then I would’ve cycled into my manic phase and likely went on 20 dates in one week just to make myself feel better, on top of renovating my house ;p But what actually happened? For the first time in my life I felt genuinely happy for another person. I had never understood when people said that, I had never felt happy myself let alone for another person. I was honestly filled with a sense of happiness. It was almost as if I needed to hear it. I needed to know that he had found someone who could make him happy, before I could let myself completely shut the door and move on. Even writing this, I can’t believe how genuinely at peace I feel with the whole situation. And what makes me sad isn’t that he has moved on, it’s that I spent 33 years of my life quite literally teetering on the edge, and thusly making every one around me walk on egg shells. I was crazy.

Something funny I’ve noticed, or I guess sad would be a better description, there is still such a stigma associated with being Bipolar. The ladies at the blood clinic that I go to, always whisper whenever they ask to clarify that I’m having my lithium levels checked and the pharmacist can never look me in the eye when she goes over the drug uses. It’s as if they think I’m going to have a psychotic break at any moment and they want nothing to do with it or me. I totally get why so many people fight to never be labelled with a mental illness. If anything, I think people who seek help and manage to maintain a successful life while battling mental illness should be praised not shunned.

Another interesting thing I have had to face is my inquisitive kids. Because I have to take 3 pills a day, my kids will often see me taking my medicine. The first few times they would both ask me if the lithium was my vitamins. Now, I realize a lot of people would just say yes and let them be on their way. Anyone who knows me, or ironically knows anyone with bipolar, will know that honesty is the only way I deal with things. Not only do I think it’s important to tell the truth, even about silly simple things, I also want my kids to be the generation that comes through and doesn’t shun mental illness. So I tell them the truth. I tell them that I have a sickness that sometimes makes me act a bit crazy or a bit sad, and to help me feel better I have to take medicine during the day. So far they have both seemed pretty satisfied with that, and now no longer ask any questions. In fact, they often remind me to take them!

I feel like I am learning something new about myself every day. What has changed over the past few months is my openness to the process and acceptance for myself. People always tell me to keep moving forward and that I’ll get stronger every day, my response to that is this—I am strong, I have always been strong. I don’t need to get stronger. I need to love myself and finally experience real emotion, real happiness, real peace.

2.5 days and I’m done!

So what I feared would happen did. I sent myself into lithium toxicity😦 Here’s what happened. I woke up feeling good, didn’t even have a headache. Started to feel dizzy mid morning, and by noon my fingernails had turned blue, my hands were shaking uncontrollably, I felt like I was going to pass out, every time I tried to walk it took all of my concentration to put one foot in front of the other, and then at 2:30 I tried to do an hour lecture and felt like I couldn’t put one coherent sentence together. I knew something wasn’t right, and it wasn’t just the result of low caloric intake.

I managed to talk to a nurse quickly, who voiced my internal concern, telling me the defining symptoms of lithium toxicity (of which I knew none until now), and told me to do one of two things (1) eat and get my salt levels back up; (2) go to the ER and get an IV drip. Apparently if caught early enough (mild) you can quickly reverse/stop the effects of the lithium toxicity by typically reducing the lithium dose, but because of my low salt intake she assumed it could also be stopped by starting to eat again.

I cried. I felt like and still feel like I was letting everyone down, including myself. I felt defeated and like a loser for not being able to complete such a simple challenge. Thankfully for me, at the same time as I was trying to figure out what was going on I had several friends message with words of wisdom and support. It makes such a huge difference to know that people care about me no matter what, and that not being able to finish this wasn’t going to make me lose respect from anyone I care about.

So eating wise, I started my morning with a delightful juice:
–1 fiji apple
–1 orange
–1 grapefruit
–4 pineapple chunks
–1/4c red grapes
–1/4c strawberries
–1 large celery stalk
–2c spinach

photo-1

For lunch I had the leftover tomato concoction from yesterday.

After my orders to eat, I figured what was the best way to get my salt levels up quickly….you got it, sushi! So I took my kids and went for Sushi. As a side note, I had small moments of joy & pride at the restaurant. We sat down, and both my kids ordered their juice politely, and then proceeded to order their sushi –Ben wanted salmon & mango rolls, edamame, shrimp, and lemon chicken; Madison ordered her dumpling soup, shrimp tempura, udon noodles and lemon chicken. The waitress looked stunned that these 2 little kids could order on their own, let alone actually know what any of the food was. It was pretty cute. Of course they both followed dinner up with their orders of strawberry & green tea ice cream. Can you tell we eat sushi often?!

Within 2 hours of finishing I was starting to feel better. My hands aren’t shaking anymore, and my coordination seems okay. My head is still pretty spacey and I’m feeling rather weak and exhausted. I ate A LOT of food, so I’m really hoping this helps by the morning, or else I’m off for more blood work.

Where do I go from here? Well I do see great health benefits in juicing, so I plan to juice my breakfast. I will then do a smoothie for a second meal, and a small third meal. In between those I will be focusing on eating as many raw fruits & veggies as possible (as well as including large amounts in those meals). I want to get a handle on my health and I think this would be a good way to do it.

Last side note, for those looking to lose weight through a juice cleanse. I managed to lose 6lbs in the 2.5 days (*another reason I needed to slow down). So it’s definitely a way to do that. I’m not an advocate of quick weight loss though, and would recommend changing one meal for a juice and building from there.

Thanks for following, sorry the story is so short!

So tired….day 2 done

I am so beyond tired I can’t even begin to explain it to you. I’m not even sure how I’m sitting upright typing right now. Today has been a struggle. The headache is still there, and I am utterly exhausted. I have never been this tired in my entire life. My body just wants to hibernate, and if I didn’t have kids I would be all for it. Unfortunately for my lack of energy, I have two young kids. I managed most of the day okay, but did convince them both to lay in bed and watch a movie for an hour this afternoon. I of course came in and out of consciousness the entire hour. So grateful for Netflix today.

I am also been obsessing over food. It’s actually strange, I am not at all hungry but all I can think about is food. Every advertisement, every stranger eating something, anything and everything involving food has caught my attention. I’ve already found myself planning my week worth of meals once this cleanse is done. I have always known I have a strong emotional attachment and need for food, and this cleanse is just reaffirming it. I want it because it brings me comfort, but because I’m hungry.

One other struggle I’m facing is drinking water. Because I’m consuming meals as juice, I seem to not want any other type of liquid. It’s as if my body has a certain liquid level for each day and these juices are meeting it. I’ve had to resort to 2 or 3 flavoured (decaf) herbal teas today, just to get some extra water in.

Changes in day two, I added more fruit and it seemed to work for the juicing part. I swapped in spinach for every recipe, which also worked. I still had my smoothie today, to be honest I spent the entire day thinking about it and how delicious it would be (and it didn’t disappoint).

On benefit to this (outside of myself), both of my kids had some of the juice with me🙂 I used them as a sign of how tastey (or not) it was going to be.

Here’s the low-down on my day 2:

photo-1

Breakfast juice:
–2 fiji apples
–6 chunks of mango
–8 strawberries
–2c spinach

Lunch juice:
–1 small grapefruit
–1 orange
–1 fiji apple
–1 cup spinach
–1 large carrot
–2″ ginger

Dinner smoothie:
–1/2 banana
–1/4c raspberries
–1/4c black cherries
–2 tbsp peanut butter
–1c unsweetend almond milk

I also tried a dinner juice, but heated it so that it resembled tomato soup (and yes you hard core people out there, I am aware that I lost some of the water soluble vitamins by heating. I only heated to warm and didn’t let it sit on the stove)

Dinner juice/soup:
–2 large tomatoes
–1 large carrot
–2 stalks celery
–4/5 basil leaves
–1/2 red onion
–3 garlic cloves
–dash of curry powder
–tbsp of red pepper flakes

Thankfully that made enough for two bowls of soup, so I intend on bringing one to work with me tomorrow to have for my lunch juice.

Off to day 3, only 8 more days to go!

Day One Brings Confirmation

So I managed to get my act together enough to start my Juice Cleanse today….congratulations to me on completing day one right?! How was it you may be wondering?? Well it has confirmed a few things for me.

(1) I HATE Kale. With everything in me, I HATE that disgusting vegetable. Being German I raised with Kale, and I have always hated it, to the point of gagging when it touches my tongue. I know the health benefits associated with Kale and consider myself a pretty adventurous eater, so I figured why not give it a go in these juices (it seems to be a staple), maybe the fruit will mask the taste. I was DEAD WRONG. It was and always will be the most disgusting vegetable I have ever eaten. I HATE it. Honestly, the first juice I made today sounded so good on paper but it was absolutely horrible. I could taste it for the entire morning, and all I wanted to do was self induce vomiting to get that horrible kale taste out of my mouth. So seeing as Kale is a staple in so many juice recipes, I am now opting to substitute spinach for kale in any recipe.

(2) It would be physically impossible to eat as much food as you are drinking through juicing. Here is a picture of my first 5 days worth of fruits & veggies (along with a shopping list):

Days 1-5

Days 1-5

Pure craziness. So much good stuff jam-packed into one little juice.

(3) I am going through some serious sugar and caffeine withdrawals. I have had a wicked headache all day, and I fell asleep on the couch with my kids tonight (which NEVER happens). I am exhausted and just want to sleep.

(4) This is going to be tough. I am aiming for 10 days, but right now I can’t even imagine surviving tomorrow. The juice left such a horrible taste in my mouth today that I feel like I won’t be able to choke anymore down tomorrow. I sure hope I can figure out some better tasting recipes fast.

I have made a small change to my original plan. After reading extensively on cleansing while on lithium, I was scared enough to know that I do need to take in salt (which is not high in fresh fruits and veggies). For those who don’t know, when salt levels are low, lithium spikes in the body and can cause toxic shut down of vital organs relatively quickly (within 12-24 hours). So with that in mind, I have decided to do two juices a day (breakfast & lunch) and a smoothie for dinner. Not only will this help maintain my lithium levels, but it will also help is muscle recovery from my normal training routine.

Here is what I did today:

Breakfast Juice:
–2 granny smith apples
–1 cucumber
–1 cup blueberries
–2 cups red grapes
–2 kale leaves
–1″ ginger

Lunch Juice:
–2 granny smith apples
–1 orange
–1 cucumber
–1/4 lemon
–2 cups spinach

Dinner Smoothie (the delicious looking pink treat):
–2 cups mixed raspberries, black cherries, blueberries
–1 cup unsweetened almond milk
–1/2 banana
–2 tbsp natural peanut butter

photo 2

I am now off to try to find a couple of recipes for tomorrow’s juices, wish me luck!

New Challenge

Hi All. Since starting my new meds I feel like a new person. I feel balanced. I’m experiencing true emotion for the first time. I’m spending my day at ease, rather than on edge. Most things have proven to be very beneficial and positive for me. One negative aspect is the weight gain. Now I am not claiming that the Lithium alone caused me to gain 10lbs in 6 weeks, I know I have also been eating like complete shit. Just over a week ago I decided to go against my better judgement and try a fiber based cleanse. Well it has done nothing but cause my digestive system pain😦 I am now 10lbs overweight and uncomfortable. So what now? Well seeing as my body is such a mess right now, I’ve decided to try a full on reset. I have been doing lots of research into my options, and have decided that I will try a 10-day juice cleanse. Yikes right?! Believe me I hear ya! There are many benefits to juicing, and I believe that this may help me curb some of the food cravings I’ve been having, help my digestive system get back on track, as well as help minimize my daily headaches. If you have never heard of a Juice Cleanse, I recommend checking out the documentary Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead (you can get it on netflix). The basics: (1) you drink nothing aside from water & decaf tea; (2) you juice fresh fruits and vegetables each and every day; (3) you can only injest the beverages listed in #1 and the juices listed in #2 for 10 days.

I am excited to see what differences I notice with my body. I have been reading so much on juice cleanses and have heard many positive stories. I am also nervous about a couple of things. I know my body will go through serious caffeine and sugar withdrawals. I am also nervous about the potential weight loss. Although I have a few pounds to lose, I will have to be very careful not to drop too much weight.

I have my food schedule set, my grocery list written (insanity btw!) and have borrowed a juicer from a friend. Tomorrow I will head out to Costco and stock up on all of my fresh fruits and veggies. I am planning on starting on Sunday and attempting to last the full 10 days. I know the first 3 or 4 days will be a total exhausting detox for my body, so I plan to post on here daily in hopesof keeping myself motivated.

So stayed tuned friends. I will keep every one up to speed with exactly what I’m experiencing for each of the 10 days. Here’s to being successful and hopefully seeing some positive results!

Drowning in the Unknown

I was just washing my living room floor, normal right? How many of you wash your living room floor with your own tears? I definitely could have. I’m drowning. As I sit here I can barely breathe, the tears are streaming down my face, and the worst part is, I don’t know how to make it stop.

As I’ve talked about on here in my previous posts, I have been seeing a counselor/psychologist for a while now, what most of you don’t know, is that two weeks ago I was diagnosed with Bipolar II disorder. Yep, my name is Manuela and I am bipolar.

I’ve only told a few people before this, and interestingly (?) those who I have told did not seemed shocked. Having to relive my life with my psychologist, and go through the gammet of tests for bipolar disorder, I guess I’m not shocked either. Do I believe I have it? I didn’t for the first week after she told me, but now having really looked back through my life and with the self-reflection over the past 7 months, yes I know I am bipolar.

My entire life I have cycled in and out of depression, that is something I was been always aware of. What I wasn’t aware of was the mania. Surprisingly to me, I had all the tell-tale signs of mania, shopping sprees, hours upon hours of cleaning, excessive exercise, promiscuity (in that I sought out attention from men), feeling like there wasn’t a thing in the world I couldn’t accomplish. Now, I am what they call a “rapid cycler”, my depression to manic episodes happen every couple of months unfortunately. My entire life I have battled this unknowingly. I can remember from a very young age (maybe 4ish) my parents telling me that I was very moody. I can remember not wanting to get out of bed, giving everyone the silent treatment because everything people did annoyed me and I just got frustrated and angry. I can remember the times I have laid, crumpled on the floor, because I just couldn’t convince myself to go on anymore. I can hear people telling me that I would never be happy, that I would never be satisfied, that no one would ever live up to my expectations. It’s funny now looking back on it, I wonder how I went so long without realizing I was sick.

After telling a friend about my diagnosis, he replied with: “Manuela, you’re still the same person you were before your diagnosis.” In a lot of ways I agree with him, of course I’m the same person. But there are so many ways that I disagree. I spent the first week after my diagnosis trying to differentiate between reality and my bipolar states. Trying to look back through my life and realize when I was acting out of depression or mania, and when I was actually stable. As I said, this has been my whole life, but of course I have been focusing on my most recent decisions throughout my marriage.

I am drowning. I have made decisions in my marriage that have gotten me to this point. Do I think things would’ve been different if I had gotten help sooner, yes. With no doubt in my mind, had I have known what I do know, things would’ve been different. Do I think I would’ve left? No, to be very honest, I don’t. When I left I had no emotional reaction, I was so focused on taking on the world by myself, showing everyone that there was nothing that could stop me, that I had ZERO emotional reaction to leaving my marriage. I was so manic that for nearly a month I felt nothing, literally nothing. As he was dealing with the hurt and pain, I moved ahead, unknowingly out of control. This is where I’m stuck. I am living in the “what ifs” and I don’t know how to get myself out. For the past week I haven’t slept because I have nightmares every night about my ex being with someone else. I am so fearful of what my dreams will bring that night actually terrifies me. I’m drowning. I don’t know how to accept what I have come to know as my reality and be okay with not being able to change my past.

I am being treated now with lithium, the go to drug for bipolar, and am in the process of figuring out the right dosage. I do feel different, in that I can feel the manic urges, but they seem controllable now. The depression is a whole other story. If anything I feel like it’s gotten worse, but again to be honest I don’t know if it’s gotten worse or if for the first time in my life I’m actually experiencing real emotion, real sadness, real regret. I cry, I cry a lot. As soon as I’m alone, I cry. I can’t stop crying. The pain that I feel inside me right now is nothing I have ever experienced before, and I’ve been through a lot. I feel alone in a world where I have the biggest and most supportive group of friends that a person could ever ask for.

Interestingly, through my research I have come to understand that most people who have bipolar disorder report not really feeling emotion. It’s as if the lows and the highs are so consuming that our brains just can’t take anymore. Now with the only a couple weeks of lithium treatment I feel like I actually have emotions. That I can feel happiness, that I can feel hurt, that I can feel loss and sadness. It’s such a strange and very hard thing to explain because I’m sure most people think that depression and mania are strong emotions, but for me they’re more like states that I live in, not things that I feel….check out the last video link I have pasted below, she does a great job of explaining what I’m trying to say!

When I found out about the bipolar I started searching websites trying to convince myself that they were wrong…with every thing I read, it only became more clear that they were right. I couldn’t comprehend how my entire 33 years of reality were not “normal”, that everyone didn’t feel the highs and lows like I did. I even went to a support group with my best friend SV and we sat side by side as others described their experiences, thoughts and feelings, and it became more and more clear that I am sick. There is something biochemically out of balance in me, and to my dismay it is something I have never been able to control. I hate saying that, because as those of you who know me will attest to, I think I am a strong person, I like being in control, and I have always felt like there wasn’t anything I couldn’t cope with or overcome. But here it is again, there have been 33 years, broken relationships, a failed marriage, and all of it was hugely influenced by my bipolar and my inability to cope with it. Yes, I wish I would’ve gotten help sooner. Yes, I wish I could go back and save my marriage. The thing is I can’t, and right now I am trying to accept that. I am trying to accept that the past has brought me here, that my failed marriage is what forced me into self-reflection and ultimately forced me into getting help and finally figuring out what my life struggle has been with.

Some people wonder why I choose to talk about these things in a public forum, not only do I find writing therapeutic, but being where I am now, I have read countless blogs on people’s experiences with bipolar, and I want to be someone who inspires other people. Who people can look to and say ya she might have failed, she might have regrets, but she still gets up every day and keeps trying to move forward. I want people to know that yes, I have bipolar, but I am also a good mother, I have two successful careers, I have good friends, and I continue to try to make my life better. A diagnosis isn’t an end, it’s a beginning.

I will never be able to forget the past. I will always wonder if things would’ve been different. I will always want to go back and spend the last weeks of my dad’s life at his side, and not in a depression and unable to talk to him. Those are things I have to live with for the rest of my life. My kids are my reasons for going on. I wish I could throw in the towel and just be done with all of the hurt, all of the regrets…I am trying so hard to keep going, I am so exhausted, I wish it was done. But I love those kids with everything I have, and I want to show them that it’s okay to fall down, but you have to pick yourself up. That no matter how much you hurt, you put a smile on your face and you keep going. We are given one life, unfortunately for me 33 years of it were tainted by something I didn’t know was happening, but here’s to the next 33+, hopefully years where I can figure myself out, fall in love and be loved, continue to grow friendships, and raise two amazing kids.

I realize that “coming out” may ruin some friendships, may change the way people view me, but I am who I am, and right now I am someone who needs help. I need support, I need understanding, I need shoulders to cry on, I need someone to throw me a life vest and tell me I will survive.

When I was seeking more on bipolar I came across this video and thought it did a decent job of explaining just how it feels to be bipolar.

This is another good video link if you have some time. The experience she speaks of, is where i feel like I am now.

Live & Learn

I’ve seen a few of these types of posts floating around facebook, and so was inspired to write my own–please don’t expect it to be as clever! Yes, my marriage of 5 years failed, unfortunately for me these lessons came too late and at a very high cost.

Here are my top 10 (in no particular order) lessons learned:

Lesson 1: Hold hands.
It seems like such a silly thing, but holding hands makes you feel not only connected to the other person physically, but emotionally it signals trust, security and interest. There is nothing like walking along side by side and feeling the person’s hand slide into yours. Or sitting beside each other, and feeling the slow slide of their hand onto your thigh. It sends tingles through me just thinking about. 97% of our communication is nonverbal, actions speak louder than words. Even when you can’t say I’m thinking about you, holding someone’s hand lets them know just that. You are important to me.

Lesson 2: Kiss Goodnight.
You see these things all over the place….every wall decal company on the planet has a “kiss me goodnight” product, why might you ask? Because its ESSENTIAL!!!! It doesn’t matter how mad you are at each other, it doesn’t matter if you can hardly keep your eyes open. Kissing goodnight means everything. There are so many times in our lives where we go to bed mad, and no I am NOT suggesting you try to fix that before sleep (see #10), BUT even if you’re mad kiss her/him on the cheek or better yet, on the forehead. Give each other a sense of comfort, the sense of knowing that even though you may be in the midst of a brutal argument you aren’t going anywhere, and let them know that when they wake up in the morning you will still love them no matter what. You never know when you will close your eyes for the last time, let the person lying beside you know how much you love them with one simple little gesture. Kiss each other good night.

Lesson 3: Get dressed up.
All too often life gets the best of us. We walk in the door from a long day at work, throw our “nice” clothes into the hamper and toss on the baggiest sweat pants and hoodie you can find. That’s all fine and dandy, but every once in a while get dressed up. Plan a night out where you get to do your hair and make up, he can put on a suit, you can put on a dress….make yourselves pretty for each other. Take yourselves back to the time when you first met, a time when you wanted to impress each other. Soak in every moment of the way you both look at each other. And don’t kid yourselves, it will feel great to make yourself a priority too. Be proud of yourself and proud of each other. Shine as a couple.

Lesson 4: Date.
Yes, date. Building on #3, find the time….hell, MAKE THE TIME. No matter what you have going on, you have to remind yourselves that you’re in this life together. Remember the time you used to get butterflies in your stomach just trying to figure out what to wear, or how much your palms would sweat just thinking about seeing your new partner?! Do it again, and again, and again. Set a time every couple of weeks, find a sitter, treat it like a doctor’s appointment–stick to it! And no, let me be clear, this date can NOT be in your house. We’ve all done it, movie date, or glass of wine on the back porch date. Yes that’s good too, but that is not really a date… In order to love and take care of anyone else you have to take care of yourselves too. Don’t just be parents, be a couple. Go out for dinner, walk along the beach, do something that is just about the two of you. Somewhere where the only focus is you, not the huge pile of laundry peering out at you from the corner!

Lesson 5: Be Silly.
I am a true believer that there is nothing in this world better than laughing. Laughing is actually the number one thing I miss about my marriage. We laughed, oh god how we laughed. There is nothing like the feeling a true belly laugh. Losing yourself in the moment and laughing so hard that you can’t breathe. Be silly, dance, sing, wrestle, have a food fight! Do whatever you need to do, but please don’t ever lose your laughter. It is what will keep you going long after everything else has been lost.

Lesson 6: Ditch the technology.
This was one of our number one failures. Keep the phones, the tablets, and the t.v.s out of the bedroom. Don’t talk over text, talk face to face. Don’t fall into the trap of convenience, this is the person you have chosen to spend the rest of your life with. Look them in the face, touch them, be in the moment with them. No you don’t need to take a picture of it and put it on instagram or facebook. It isn’t the pictures you will remember, it’s the feeling you have while in that moment that you will remember forever. Do I need to tell you again about the 97% nonverbal communication?! Touch each other. Kiss each other. Spend time just the two of you. Everything else can wait. I would even argue that having a “no technology for a couple of hours a day” rule would be a welcome and much-needed addition to any household.

Lesson 7: Talk.
I am guilty of pulling the biggest silence treatments of all time. Hell, I would get mad that he didn’t know what I was thinking all of the time…talk about silence! How I ever thought that he could read my mind is beyond me. Talk people. Don’t expect him to know what you’re thinking…no this is not a reflection on how much he loves you, or how much he listens. I don’t know about you guys, but half the time I don’t even know what I’m thinking/feeling, so there is no way I should expect someone else to. This is one that I have been working on over the past few months, and I honestly can not tell you how much easier my life is. People are actually getting to know me, because I’m sharing the things that are going through my mind, rather than assuming that if someone cared they would ask or just know. Please, talk to each other.

Lesson 8: Let your ego go.
Building on #7, let your ego go. A relationship is not about who’s better than the other person or even who’s right. It’s about making a strong team. It’s about supporting each other, standing up for one another, listening, and saying sorry when you need to. The number of nights I went to bed knowing that I was in the wrong but wanting to save face are countless. If I would’ve just stopped and realized that he loved me no matter how much of an idiot I was, I imagine I would’ve had a lot more restful nights. Your partner is the one person in the world who has accepted you all in, let them see you, all of you. I promise you that if they love you, and you open the door to being comfortable with each other, they will be there waiting. I also know that we lead by example, and if you can’t say sorry when you’re wrong, don’t expect them to either. It’s one vicious cycle that someone needs to break. Be the person who breaks it, be the person who believes that your relationship is worth it.

Lesson 9: Keep some things private.
This is something that I have thought a lot about and it seems so frivolous. There are certain behaviours that we do as human beings that I think should always remain private. Using the bathroom, tweazing, cutting our toe nails, etc, etc. I imagine a lot of you are scoffing right now, but just stop and think about it. How much is still a mystery in your relationship? Why not keep some things private, and let our partner still picture us as the beautiful woman who doesn’t poop?! Not to mention the oh so sweet, silent, alone time you would get out of the deal ;p

Lesson 10: Walk away sometimes.
Sometimes the best thing you can do is walk away. Save the snarky comment, don’t slam the door, don’t yell, just take a deep breath and walk away. All too often we get sooooooo involved in a fight that we lose track of what the fight was even about, and then it becomes more about the anger and frustration with each other than anything else…as soon as you can not hold a constructive discussion you need to separate, regroup and try again. Don’t hurt each other on purpose, don’t do it for entertainment. And say sorry if you need to.

Do I wish I could turn back time? Do I regret these things? Sure, in some part of my mind I guess I will always wonder “what if”. As I said in my last post, I have nothing against my ex, in fact I am still and will continue to be one of his biggest supporters. I was blessed to have him in my life, and I think that my children are the luckiest kids in the world to call him dad. I am a true believer that people are put into our lives for a reason, and maybe he and I were put together to teach each other these lessons, to learn from our mistakes, and to help each other grow into the people we both want to be. I am lucky to have met him, married him, and am lucky to call him a friend. Please learn from us. Be a couple, don’t ever lose that. Don’t just be parents, don’t just be your jobs, be together. Laugh, hold hands, kiss each other goodnight, and above all else be together, in the moment, in the feeling, in the love.

You Can’t Live A Positive Life With A Negative Mind

So life, yep life.  Here it is for all to know and understand.  Five months ago I left my marriage.  That’s where I’ve been….. on the ground, fighting to stay on my feet, trying my damndest to maintain order for my kids, attempting to figure out where everything went wrong, but ultimately I have been taking a long hard look at myself.

Once I managed to pull all the superficial pieces of my life together (house, bills, separation agreement, custody schedule, blah, blah blah), I had time.  No seriously, I had a lot of time.  Because of my profession I am off 2 months of the year, and that “vacation” just happened to fall at the same time as when I was coming “down” from all the chaos.  May sound appealing, but believe me, when you are going through emotional and psychological turmoil the last thing you want is free time.

I spent countless hours, spilled countless tears, and felt hopeless more times then I’d like to admit.  I battled inner demons that I have had my entire life.  Although I’d like to say that I left because my husband was an asshole, I can’t.  He is an amazing man.  Unfortunately we grew apart and it got to a point that I felt I had to leave.  I needed to get past blaming him, and really turn the magnifying glass inward.  Where did my responsibilities lie?

I am beyond grateful for the strong and supportive women I have in my life.  Going through something as significant as a divorce really shows you who you can count on and who your true friends are, and thankfully I have quite a few.  Not many people get to see me weak, in fact weakness is something I have always resented in myself.  I am the person people lean on, not the person who asks for help.  This time though, my life had gotten out of control and I needed help.  I called my best friends at all hours of the day and night.  When I laid my head down at night and couldn’t breathe because I was crying so hard, they were there for me.  There is no possible way I would still be standing if it wasn’t for their unwavering strength.  But as much support as they have offered me I couldn’t keep depending on them to rescue me, I knew I still needed something more.  I needed to figure out why my marriage had failed and why I was so unhappy.  I needed to look more at me.

And so I did something that I have avoided doing my whole life.  I called a psychologist.  Now let me be clear, I 150% believe in people seeking counseling, the issue for me was that I never wanted to be labeled.  I never wanted to be diagnosed with anything for fear of being looked at differently.  The difference now?  I was a mother of 2 and I was soon to be a divorced mother of 2.  If it wasn’t now, it wasn’t ever.

I lucked out and managed to find the most amazing counselor I could’ve asked for.  I have been going once a week for the last almost 2 months, and plan on continuing to go until I feel like I’ve really gotten to the bottom of my issues.

She has asked some HARD questions, I mean seriously hard ass questions.  She made me realize that although I am very confident in the person I am when it comes to work, school, presenting myself, etc….I don’t love myself, and because I don’t love myself I have never trusted anyone.  So many things I thought were normal in my head I have come to realize are very out of the ordinary.  People sometimes go through negative periods, but never going into the positive was not normal.  I have a problem, in fact I have admittedly come to realize that I suffer from severe anxiety and body dysmorphic disorder.

I honestly can’t believe I am sharing this publicly, but I feel the need to in case there is some one else reading this who needs help.  My second session of counseling my counselor, let’s call her J, and I were discussing how I felt about myself.  She asked me the things I liked about myself, to which I gave her a couple standard answer (I’m organized, hard working, driven), and then she asked me to go deeper.  When I couldn’t she turned the questions onto compliments.  She asked me if people ever complimented me, and I said yes.  She then asked me to list a couple compliments I had been given recently.  This was the first break through moment for me…..My chest tightened, my heart began skipping beats, my thoughts got fuzzy, my breathing quickened, my neck and shoulders raised up and got tight, I started crying and felt faint.  In the middle of this comforting room, with a supportive woman sitting across from me, I had a full blown, laid me out flat on the couch, panic attack.  Now I have had many panic attacks throughout my life, several resulting in fainting, and for that reason I am usually very aware of what may set me off.  NEVER in my life would I have guessed that such a simple question would cause my reaction.  It took nearly 10 minutes before I could gather myself and sit back up.  I couldn’t believe it.  I have always known I struggle with accepting compliments, but I have never realized just how uncomfortable with them I am.  It dawned on me, I don’t accept love because I have never believed I deserved it. 

I have had so many people in my life try to love me.  So many people who would say nice things and try to build me up.  I never accepted any of it. I have ALWAYS kept people at arm’s lengths.  For years I avoided being friends with people because I was sure they would figure me out, not like me, and leave me. In fact, I have come to realize that I have always believed that everyone was lying.  That every time someone has said something nice about me I have defaulted to the thought “they are just saying that to be nice, they don’t actually mean it”.  No one ever wanted to be friend or date me, they just did it to be nice or to get something out of it.  It was never me that people wanted.  I was always second rate.  That session is when I finally realized that I had a real, genuine psychological problem.

That was 4 sessions ago and I still haven’t been able to compliment myself out loud (or repeat a compliment). The really sad and honest part is, I wish I was exaggerating.  I wish that I was just making this seem worse because I’m trying to help other people.  Those closest to me, those who have been by my side through all of this, know the sad truth.  I need more than support, I need to restructure my entire cognitive being.  My entire life I have lived my life one way, keeping myself safe from hurt, not letting anyone know me for fear of rejection.  And now?  Now I need to figure out how to love myself, to take the risk of letting other people know me, the real me, all the strong and worse the weak parts of me. 

Although that may sound like I’m not getting anywhere, I truly believe that being made aware of that issue has allowed me to start to consider that maybe some people aren’t just saying it to be nice.  I have started to accept some positive into my life.  Again thankfully, I have wonderful support that has not waivered.  I have people standing by my side offering lists of compliments so that I can read them in counseling🙂

I have also started using a lot of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy techniques in trying to change my very negative mindset.   Here is the basis of what I am doing now (taken from this website: http://www.nelsonbinggeli.net/NB/CBT-CR.html):

Cognitive distortions

 The term “cognitive distortion” refers to errors in thinking or patterns of thought that are biased in some way.  They may include:  (A) interpretations that are not very accurate and which selectively filter the available evidence, (B) evaluations that are harsh and unfair, and/or (C) expectations for oneself and for others that are rigid and unreasonable.  The more a person’s thinking is characterized by these distortions, the more they are likely to experience disturbing emotions and to engage in maladaptive behavior.  A number of common patterns2 of cognitive distortions have been identified, including: 

 1.  All-or-nothing thinking:  Looking at things in absolute, black-and-white categories, instead of on a continuum.  For example, if something is less than perfect, one sees it as a total failure.

 2.  Overgeneralization:  Viewing a negative event as a part of a never-ending pattern of negativity while ignoring evidence to the contrary.  You can often tell if you’re overgeneralizing if you use words such as never, always, all, every, none, no one, nobody, or everyone.

 3.  Mental filter:  Focusing on a single negative detail and dwelling it on it exclusively until one’s vision of reality becomes darkened. 

 4.  Magnification or minimization (e.g., magnifying the negative and minimizing the positive):  Exaggerating the importance of one’s problems and shortcomings.  A form of this is called “catastrophizing” in which one tells oneself that an undesirable situation is unbearable, when it is really just uncomfortable or inconvenient.

 5.  Discounting the positive:  Telling oneself that one’s positive experiences, deeds, or personal qualities don’t count in order to maintain a negative belief about oneself.  Or doing this to someone else.

 6.  Mind reading:  Concluding what someone is thinking without any evidence, not considering other possibilities, and making no effort to check it out.

 7.  Fortune telling:  Anticipating that things will turn out badly, and feeling convinced that the prediction is an already established fact.  It often involves:  (A) overestimating the probability of danger, (B) exaggerating the severity of the consequences should the feared event occur, and (C) underestimating one’s ability to cope should the event occur.  B and C are also examples of catastrophizing.

 8.  Emotional reasoning:  Assuming that one’s negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are (e.g., “Because I feel it, it must be true.” “I feel stupid, therefore I am stupid”). 

 9.  Rigid rules (perfectionism).  Having a precise, fixed idea of how oneself or others should behave, and overestimating how bad it is when these expectations are not met.  Often phrased as “should” or “must” statements.  

 10.  Unfair judgments:  Holding oneself personally responsible for events that aren’t (or aren’t entirely) under one’s control, or blaming other people and overlooking ways in which one might have also contributed to the problem.

 11.  Name-calling:  Putting an extremely negative and emotionally-loaded label on oneself or others.  It is an extreme form of magnification and minimization, and also represents a gross overgeneralization. 

I couldn’t believe when J handed me that list, I read down through each point and realized that I have lived my life utilizing every single one of those distortions.  How could I ever have expected to live a positive life, when every single time I thought of myself all I ever thought was framed negatively? 

Of course part of my therapy has been to figure out where this mindset came from.  To look back at key moments and relationships in my life and look at the points in which I was stomped down, made to feel worthless, made to feel like I would never live up to expectations.  My challenge now is to learn to let those go.  To be aware of the terror of my previous rejections, and to not let that fear rule my life anymore.  So much easier said than done, but I feel like even over these past 2 months I have made some significant progress.

So there it is friends.  My life has been forever altered.  I have fallen down, I have gotten back up, and I have learned.  Best of all, I am continuing to learn to love me and let others love me.  Yes, I am sad it has taken me 33 years, but I am also ecstatic that it didn’t take me another 33.  This is the life I want to lead.  I want to be the example.  I have been in dark, very lonely places, but I have always gotten myself back up and headed toward that light.  This time I don’t want anything to get in my way.  I want to learn to be happy.  It’s time, my time.

No More Chunky Dunking–Natalie Tardiff

My journey started about a year ago. I was having dinner with a good friend and she was telling me how she used to go to bootcamp classes. I looked at her (whose body is amazing) and thought wow, she is amazing to do a class like that – I could never do anything like that. But in the back of my mind, i started to think, could i ever do a class like that? Fast forward a few months to September when I signed my daughter up for gymnastics. I would take my daughter to her class and would curiously watch all these women walk downstairs and I wondered what they were doing. They were all gorgeous, fit women who walked with such confidence and I envied them (too shy to talk to them, of course). When I discovered that they were taking Bootcamp class, I cautiously signed up for the class. I thought, this is my chance, if I can’t do it, then I will just cancel. I was nervous and convinced my mom to join the class with me. There was no way I could do it alone. The first class I was so nervous. I could barely look at all of these women in the eyes, let alone carry on a conversation with them. Lets just say my first class was brutal. I realized just how out of shape I was. I don’t know how I survived! For the next two days, I couldn’t lift my arm to answer a telephone (which was tough because part of my job is to answer the telephone!), but I did it and I went back for more.

I’ve always always been “chunky”, well overweight is a better term, but I never saw myself as fat. I was always the girl on the sideline. Even in middle school, I was never active in sports, I was the girl that handed out the trophy’s, not the one that received them. I lacked the confidence to even go out on the field. I never wanted to put myself out there. I hated family get togethers. I would be surrounded by my gorgeous mother and sister-in-laws and would just feel so horrible about myself and the way I looked. I would retreat inward and just be silent the whole gathering. I was the girl that got all of the dessert leftovers because “you will eat all this junk”. I was at my heaviest right before I got pregnant with my first child (around 225 lbs). Funny thing is – I didn’t realize how heavy I actually was. I didn’t feel heavy, I just felt normal. It was once I looked through pictures of a family vacation that it really hit home. After I had my first child, I lost the baby weight, plus a little more. I think the lowest my weight got was 205. I felt good, I didn’t think about actively trying to lose more weight. I was satisfied with how I was. I have never been a dieter or an active person. Sure, I joined gyms in the past, got the workout clothes and looked the part, but always fell short when it came to actually doing it. I have a great partner in life in my husband, but even his encouragement and motivation wasn’t enough to keep me going. I didn’t want it bad enough. After I had my second child, everything went downhill. I suffered through a bit of depression while I was off on maternity leave for a number of reasons, but one of them was my weight. My body just looked different and for the first time in my life, I felt ugly and fat and wanted to make a change. I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror or stand to have my husband tell me how beautiful I was. I hated compliments. I couldn’t play with my kids without getting winded. Getting down and up off of the floor would be a three step process, with me huffing and puffing the whole time. I didn’t want to be that kind of mom. I wanted to be the mom that was in all of the pictures rather than the one taking them.

This brings me back to that fateful first class last November when I met Manuela. I was in awe of her, she was so confident, so fit, and had a permanent smile on her face. I think it was the second or third week of bootcamp classes when Manuela invited me to join her workout group on Sunday mornings. I was stunned – are these women really asking me to work out with them? I was at least 40lbs heavier than any one of them and couldn’t do half the stuff they could do. With a pit in my stomach I decided to go for it, and it was the best decision I have ever made. When I first started working out, Manuela asked me what my goals were. I really had to think hard about it. I have never in my life had an ideal weight number in my head. I literally just wanted to be able to get out of bed in the morning without my back or knees hurting me. To be honest, I still don’t have a number in my head of where I would like to be weight wise, part of me thinks that I am too nervous to set a goal for fear of not achieving it. I’m happy where I have come this far, but I want more!

My journey this far has had good accomplishments and bad setbacks. Little things have been amazing, like being able to get up out of the bathtub and not use both hands to heave myself up or being able to sit down on the ground and play with my daughters without my back killing me after 5 minutes. A wonderful surprise has been the group of women that I have met. Reading about their journeys and having their motivation and support and being a support to them has changed my outlook on my life. My setbacks have been 100% mental. Interestingly enough, my body can handle the work and whatever is thrown at me, but my brain keeps saying “retreat, retreat!” I am still struggling with that on a daily basis. It’s hard to look at myself and say I am proud of what I have accomplished so far (although I do hear praise from my husband every day). This is the first thing in my life that I have done that is just for me, no one else. It has allowed me to relax a little and try new activities and not be the girl on the sideline anymore. I may always be the last one across the finish line, but I am learning to appreciate the fact that I am crossing the finish line. At this point, I weigh 190lbs, I have lost about 27lbs so far and inches like crazy. The past few months have been difficult, lost all my motivation and my body is not responding to workouts like it did in the beginning. This too shall pass, I am sure, but it is a hard thing to keep going. Eternally grateful for the support system of amazing women that I now call my friends.
We have a sign in our pool area, “we don’t skinny dip, we chunky dunk”. Well, no more chunky dunking- I am tired of it!