On Balance and Clare turning Two

On Clare’s 2nd birthday, I find myself reflecting on what a different place I am than I was a year ago. Yesterday I became officially certified as a Childbirth Educator. Last year I was wondering how I was ever going to finish the daunting task of all that coursework.  Perhaps this is also because I am reflecting as I read through submissions for my anthology, The Postpartum Year, and I am remembering how hard those early days were. The uncertainty, the strain.  These stories are transporting me back to that time, and also making me entirely grateful for what a better place I am in, mentally and physically. 

            Her birthday falls in the space between two weekends that I am going through the Yoga Assistant program at the yoga studio that has quickly become such a big space in my life over the last several months. On the 2nd day of the program, our teachers asked us to raise our hands if we felt like we were good at self care and good at balance, and I didn’t raise mine.  I’m not really sure why. I feel like I still question whether I am good at those things, or that I feel like somehow I am not a good enough mother if I AM good at those things.  (Which is ludicrous, I know.) But in a culture that values busy, bottom lines, overworking, super moms and perfection, it’s really hard to put your hand up and say “YES! I’m good at self care,” without feeling weirdly guilty.

            But when I really take a good look at what my life looks like right now, I would say I AM pretty good at those things.  And part of that is because in these first two years of parenthood, I’ve learned that I HAVE to be for the sake of my mental health. If you've been reading for a while or you know me, you’ve heard me talk so many times on this blog about how a mental breakdown following the cessation of birth control caused me to turn my life upside down and rebuild with a better foundation in place.  And because of that, I’ve learned to prioritize self-care, to sleep, to meditate, to do yoga as much as possible, to not neglect exercise, to get regular massages, to read, write and pursue passions that make me happy.  To get up earlier than my family to journal, or just drink my coffee and read The Skimm in peace.   I don’t do these things out of selfishness. I do these things because I am a better mother, wife, friend and person if I’m doing them.  I do them because I know – unfortunately from much experience – that if I’m NOT doing them – I’m at a huge risk for mental health spiral. 

            Am I perfect with them? Of course not. There are weeks that I get too many nights in a row of less than 6 hours of sleep or I don’t get to yoga enough.  And I FEEL it.  I get anxious. I snap at Chris and at Clare.  It’s all bad.

            But while her birthday comes in the midst of a very busy season for me, wrapping up birth and lactation certifications plus this yoga program, looking at her 2nd birthday compared to her 1st, it no longer looks like “Holy crap we survived that year” – it looks like “Wow, we are managing and sometimes even thriving with where everything is at right now.”  Of course a big portion of that is owed to the childcare help of my parents - couldn’t do it without you mom & dad - and a bit of relaxation and confidence on our part as parents, and a whole lot of self-awareness on my part. Not to mention Chris currently having a set schedule (which likely won’t last after the next few months, sadly)

            Clare is a big, brilliant, bright, ball of energy and personality these days.  She is exploding with language and understanding, which is both magical and utterly exhausting. They say a huge part of parenting is that the second you get comfortable, everything changes.  And I’d say that’s pretty much been our experience so far.  But it’s nice, at least in this snapshot moment of time, to feel like we are in a sweet place of comfort and relative balance. 

            Happy birthday my sweet girl, mama & dada love you so much.

My First Tattoo

When I was 18 and a freshmen in college, flaunting our newfound independence some of my best high school girlfriends and I went out to a tattoo/piercing place. Two of them decided to get their first tattoos, the rest of us got random piercings, mine of course being the “tame” second earring hole. (Which now of course are probably completely closed up because I never wear anything in them. Heck, I hardly ever wear earrings in my primary holes!)

I was in awe of my friends’ ability to throw caution to the wind and put something permanently on their bodies. (which they loved and totally didn't regret) But I really didn’t know who I was back then, and there was nothing that felt like it was something that I’d be okay with being indelibly inked on my body.

Fast forward to now, 10 years later, on my 28th birthday, today I got my first tattoo.

As I’ve written about before on this blog, I had a complete mental breakdown when I went off of birth control.  I was anxious all the time, could barely leave the house and was having panic attacks that literally led me to stop functioning and quit my job.  It was scary.  At times, literally all I could do to get through the day was remind myself to breathe. My psychiatrist suggested I try the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program.  Shortly after quitting my job and getting pregnant with Clare, I took the program.  It was a huge game changer for me.  It was uncomfortable and scary and trying to learn meditation in a group of strangers (while suffering morning sickness, mind you) seemed nearly impossible. I was terrified driving there the first day. But I did it, and it made a huge difference for me. After each session I was markedly calmer. I think that the breathing practices I learned in that program not only helped my anxiety, but helped allow me to have a natural birth with Clare and continue to allow me to manage whatever life hands me. (including the many trials of being a mother) I remind myself that I can always come back to concentrating on my breath.  The symbol is the “OM” symbol which is a  commonly used mantra in meditation and yoga chanting. Soon, on the opposite forearm I am going to get: be here now. because it didn't quite fit on this arm and we decided it looked cleaner with just breathe and the om symbol.

I can quite literally say that meditation and yoga and learning to just breathe have thoroughly changed my life over the past several years, and I wanted this to be a permanent reminder that I see daily on my arm, always reminding me to come back to now, and come back to the breath. 

It hurt like hell, but I would definitely do it again. I see why people say the first tattoo is a gateway drug. :) 

Rebuilding The Way I Live & Staying With The Present

A few days ago I serendipitously ran into an old friend at a coffee shop.  I had just come from my monthly check-in appointment with my psychiatrist, and headed to the coffee shop to do my usual 2-hour burst of work while Chris was at home putting Clare down for a nap. 

We of course exchanged the usual “How are yous” – and because my friend has such an open demeanor I felt like I could say “I’m doing really well…but I just came from my psychiatrist and I always worry when I’m doing well that I’m one misstep away from a crash.” Rather than just the typical “good” or “fine.”

Which is a hard thing to explain to anyone who doesn’t struggle with mental ups and downs.  Luckily Kathryn is just the person to not only understand that feeling but also give me some sound advice/thoughts about being in that state. 

You see, much of my adult life has been characterized by bursts of busy-ness filled with lots of “get it done” attitude followed by a spiraling crash, breakdown, illness, etc.  In college it usually manifested itself as sickness…and in my jobs out of college, I think it a lot of it was emotional turbulence and anger. (I know I’ve mentioned it a zillion times in these posts, but I really hated the corporate-like-looks-like-societal-success jobs I held just out of school.) They literally felt like they were sucking my soul.  At one point I added a master’s program that I felt like I “should” be doing to an already stressful and frustrating job…and on top of that, tried to compensate for my sheer unhappiness by over-exercising and trying to fill the fulfillment void with too many outside activities that left me over-extended and of course led to more crashes.

Then the icing on the cake of it all was when starting a new job in February 2013, just figuring anything different would be better than where I was…and then pulling the hormonal rug out from under me by stopping the birth control pill. This one sent me completely over the edge and as my psychiatrist described it the other day “forced me to rebuild my life and the way I lived it from the ground up.”  And that's really been the work for me over the last three years. 

(This is not to say that those otherwise shitty experiences didn’t give me much-needed people in my life. Looking at you Lori & Curt)

But now.  Now, my life is so full.  In a good way – full.  I’m busy, but not in an overextended way. I have found a career that allows me to be creative with my time, balance being with Clare and doing something that I truly love. I have been SO much better at making time and space for myself, creating a solid morning routine, starting to pick up a yoga practice, consistently meditating this year, making exercise / zumba and reading a priority. Working on a book, and creating and sharing a podcast that I really believe in. I just got into the amazing Sutter Davis volunteer doula program. I have built a wonderful tribe of moms who all support one another as we go through the ups and downs of motherhood.  Chris and I did almost a year of couples counseling and are SO much better at communicating with one another.  My parents now live close by and can lend a much-needed hand with Clare.  This isn’t to say I don’t go through struggles with balancing it all, feeling burnt out, etc. Believe me, I definitely still do.

But overall, right now,  I’m good. I’m feeling well, happy and strong.  And yet with that wellness comes this nagging, niggling feeling that if things are going well, then something bad must be coming. It feels as if I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop.  For my hormones to betray me and cause me panic attacks again. For my schedule to reach a tipping point where I can’t "handle it all.” Wanna know a weird childhood quirk? When my parents would travel, I was always terrified that they would die in a plane crash, and I somehow felt if I worried, they would be okay, but if I didn’t worry, they wouldn’t.  Nuts? Maybe. The anxiety struggle is real, people.

But I’m a different person now.  I’m in a different place, and I’ve got better support, boundaries and protocols in place.  And as my psychiatrist also pointed out – I LOVE what I’m doing now. Although she put it more softly "I get the indication that you didn't like the work you were doing before." Duh! I hated it. But now, my work and side projects are born out of passion and love, not out of obligation, money or fulfilling someone else’s bottom line. And that’s a key difference. Even with as busy as I am, it’s all positive stuff.  It’s all good. I often get people saying “I don’t know how you do everything you do.” And I think sometimes even that comment alone can shake my confidence.  My monkey mind starts going Should I not be doing everything I do? Is there something wrong with it? Wrong with me? Spiral, Spiral. Anxiety. Etc. 

Kathryn’s words really struck me too.  She said “I hear you. I hear the story you’re telling. I hear you taking past experiences and bringing them into the present. Expecting things to follow the same old patterns. But you don’t have to do that.  You don’t have to bring the past into it.  You just have to stay with where you’re at in the present.”

Wow. I needed to hear that.  All of that.  PS People – when someone tells you something – tell them you hear them.  Because isn’t that what we all want? Just to be heard.  It also struck me – wait a minute, my word for the year was/is Presence, I’ve read probably six books on meditation, mindfulness, Buddhism and presence this year.  But I haven’t really been living it as much as I could.  Kathryn is right, my psychiatrist is right. Right NOW, I’m doing really well.  And that’s all I should be focused on.  Not what’s going to happen with my mental health tomorrow, next month, next year.  Because I can’t predict it.  And I can’t dwell on previous patterns either.  Because just because they were a pattern before doesn’t mean they are going to repeat. 

And not to mention, that the whole premise of my blog is that we have a choice everyday in how we act, react and see the world.  So I’m choosing to be grateful for and celebrate the fact that, right now, I’m well.  And I’m happy.  And man, has that been a long time coming. 

Dear College Freshman

 Fall at Sac State is the best. #Cityoftrees

Fall at Sac State is the best. #Cityoftrees

Dear College Freshman:

This article: “Four Steps to Choosing Your College Major” got me thinking about those early days of college.  Age 18, so much journey ahead of you.  So many choices.  So many changes.  SO much.  So I wanted to write an open letter to those about to go through this life change.

·      First, really, don’t stress too much about what your major is.  And it’s OKAY if it changes.  Conventional wisdom leads us to believe that this major choice that we make at age 18, 19 and 20 is what will completely decide where we will be in 10, 20, and even 30 years.   And to think that is always the case is just crazy in the world that we live in these days. Especially as a millennial and beyond.  We are a generation known for moving around, for exploring our options and for often choosing out of the box creative or tech careers that just don’t look like traditional work used to.  I was always a little bit jealous of the people who vehemently knew exactly what they wanted to do at 18 and followed that career to completion.  Those that want to go into medical school and follow that trajectory, or want to be a college professor and follow that.  Major props to them.  But you know what, it’s okay if you aren’t one of those people, and it’s okay if you think you are and then change your mind later on.  I promise, it’s okay.

My husband has a degree in Sociology…and drives Amtrak trains for a living.  My dad has a bachelor’s in advertising and nearly a master’s in film. He delivered Fedex while I was growing up, and was and continues to be a writer and DJ in retirement.  One of my dear friends just found an awesome career with her master’s in communication, late 30s, military veteran and 2 kids later.  I started out at one college as an English major, switched schools to become a music major and then switched back to being an English major with a Music minor.  Even within English, I wavered between teaching and between creative writing, settling in the latter. 

I worked in publishing, marketing, corporate and state environments, I played around with the idea of early childhood education.  And then at age 27 after the birth of my first daughter, I fell in love with Birth work.  It was a meandering path that led me here, but when I think about it, there really was no other way for me to get here.  Paths are rarely straight.  Dear new college freshman, the path is long, and it winds, changes directions quickly and sometimes you come upon a major roadblock that keeps you stagnant for a while.  It’s all okay.

·      Enjoy it. (Cliché as all hell I know, but it’s true) There will be stories that you will continue to tell for years to come.  You might get as lucky as I did and meet your soul mate and husband at 19.  You might make friends at your college orientation or concert band that will be in your life for years to come.  (I’m looking at you Annie and Rose!)  Or you might be afraid a certain someone isn't going to like you when you meet them after switching colleges and then they become your forever friend, no matter how far apart you are - love you Steph. 

·      Take as many classes as you can that make you excited.  You might find something obscure that leads you to a path that you might not otherwise thought of. 

·      Do internships.  Get a feel for all different kinds of jobs.  You can really find out what it would be like to actually be in a career, not just in some abstract way, but in a real tangible way.  You might love it. You might hate it.  Try to find paid ones or at least ones that give you college credit.

·      Learn to QUIT things you don’t love. This is the big one. We aren’t good with quitting.  For some reason as a society we equate it only with failing, but sometimes quitting can be the healthiest thing for you. You hear it SO often with people in my age bracket.  People have a master’s degree in something they don’t care about because they just felt like they “SHOULD” do it after undergrad, or they went to law school because they ‘didn’t know what else to do’ after they graduated.  I almost fell into that trap doing a master’s degree that made me incredibly unhappy or staying in Music when I was beginning to hate music as a music major.  (FYI -When you come home crying once a week from classes or a job, that’s probably a pretty decent red flag.)  Quitting being a music major, and quitting my master’s degree program were two of the hardest choices I’ve ever had to make. I still remember both of those days crystal clear.  The terror.  The relief.  In those moments, they felt like life altering choices, and I guess looking back they kind of were, but not in the way I thought.  Not in the “I’m failing this” way.  Instead, now I can look back and say Wow, thank GOD I did that.  Could I have continued on either of those paths and been successful? Sure.  Would I have been happy? Not a chance in hell. Be brave.  Don’t be afraid of quitting because of what others will think. Be afraid of staying because of what YOU may feel.

·      It’s just the beginning. When you come to the end of the 4 or 5 years you spend in college, you know what? You still may not have it all figured out and that is okay.  It’s just the beginning of your path. I will never forget sitting in the car on top of the parking garage next to Capistrano Hall the day of my last final crying my eyes out on the phone to my brother.  The “what am I going to do with my life, NOW?” feelings are totally normal.  I had already been married a year and even had a decent job out of college but I still felt that crushing doubt and inadequacy.  Remember, it really is just the beginning. At 23 I had no idea where I’d be now at 27.  Or what I'd go through to get there. Trust that you will figure it out.

I’ll leave you with the sunscreen song. 

Be Brave. Have Fun.  Take it as it comes.  You’re gonna do great!

And because it's #throwbackthursday here's Chris and I at a concert in Tahoe my first year of college.