BOOK REVIEW, FOCUS ON YOU, UNDERSTANDING EMOTIONS

Complex PTSD by Pete Walker

Without a properly functioning ego, you have no center for making healthy choices and decisions. All too often, your decisions are based on the fear of getting in trouble or getting abandoned, rather than on the principles of having meaningful and equitable interactions with the world.

How does one review a book that is so deeply personal, a book that shifted me from wandering around in despair to starting a healing journey? I know, I’ll write him a thank you note!

Dear Mr. Walker,

During the most difficult time of my life, I started searching the terms “depression,” “anxiety,” “panic attacks” etc. to try to figure out what was going on. I knew I needed help, but I couldn’t seem to find help that actually—well—helped. I also often seemed okay; I know how to fake it very well.

Needing anything from others can feel especially dangerous. The survivor’s innate capacity to experience comfort and support in relationship becomes very limited or non-existent. This is despite the fact that many high functioning survivors learn to socially function quite adequately.

It wasn’t until I found your website that I felt truly understood or even knew what kind of help I needed. I wrote to you and asked if you could take me on as a client. You very graciously answered me immediately with empathy for my suffering but also that you did not have room to take anyone else on. You suggested that I read your book, so I bought it right away and started reading.

That was a time in my life when I thought my brain was permanently damaged and that I would never be able to function normally again. Your book gave me hope and a path. It somehow normalized a lot of what I was struggling with and both reassured me that I wasn’t weak and gave me cautious optimism that it was fixable. Until I read your work, I couldn’t figure out what it actually was.

The inner critic commonly increases the intensity of a flashback via a barrage of… attacks… Flashbacks can devolve into increasingly painful levels of the abandonment depression. One attack can repetitively bleed into another and tumble us further down a spiral of hopelessness. It is awful enough to take a single punch in a fight, but when the punches keep coming, the victim is severely thrashed.

You named a condition that seemed to explain more to me than any other word or phrase. Most of the other terms I was searching just seemed to describe symptoms. Other books just wanted me to be more mindful, feel gratitude, or learn to think differently. None of them were wrong per se (and you make those suggestions too); however, the positive effects of doing those things didn’t seem to last and I couldn’t seem to get to the source of the nonstop triggering from so many potential situations, many of which seemed benign on the face of them. Why was I always so tense and ready to fight? Why did I always want to run away? Why do people scare me, especially if they pooh pooh me or, even worse, if they LIKE me and want to be my friend?

The person who never wrote in her textbooks could not stop writing notes in your book. The person who thought she could never sit through an entire book ever again read your book from cover to cover. The person who never reads the appendices in books pored over the toolboxes.

In summary, your book was exactly what I needed when I needed it and helped me heal and turn my life around. Thank you for what you do.

Sincerely,

Sherry

FOCUS ON YOU

You Bake, I Write

Is there something you’re willing to keep doing over and over again until you start becoming better at it?

I used to say things like, “I don’t have a green thumb,” or “I can’t cook.” I often felt bad about it.. But really, it isn’t that I’m not good at those things, it’s just that I’m not willing to take the time or do the work required to become good at those things. On the other hand, I love writing. I’m not particularly good at it — yet — and maybe I never will be. But blogging heals me, forces me to think about words and ideas, and gives me an enjoyable challenge.

Time flies when I massage a paragraph or wrestle with WordPress. Even if no one reads my blogs, I am still delighted with each iteration of my website. Each incremental improvement of a post or learning a technical skill gives me a little buzz of accomplishment that has nothing to do with what anyone else thinks. 

And now, my kids see that Mommy doesn’t just go to work, do housework, get overloaded with stress, and yell at them about homework and laundry like she used to. She has something she loves to do, feeling pride with every little baby step of creativity and improvement, and making her a calmer and more patient Mommy.

I have friends who are amazing at baking, crafting, and painting. Some are highly skilled in piano, martial arts, yoga, or tennis. Some knit, a few sing, one dances, another plays hockey. All of those activities are lovely, but if I can’t put up with the pain or cost, it means it’s not my thing. After playing around with blogging, I know this is my thing!

What delights you and tickles the creative wrinkles of your brain?

FOCUS ON YOU, PODCAST INTERVIEW, UNDERSTANDING EMOTIONS

Healing from Complex PTSD

Heal from CPTSD with Linda Meredith as your guide.

Linda Meredith is Australia’s first Certified Trauma Recovery Coach and the founder of the world’s first Trauma Recovery Academy. She is the mother of three grown children and about to be a grandmother!

Through her own healing journey, Linda has developed a gentle but powerful way to heal CPTSD – at one point, she lost all her cognitive functions. Her recovery is miraculous, but even more inspiring is what she does now to help people.

Linda has made her courses, worksheets, resources and videos available to the public.

She is a coach and a counsellor who is working to make the world an emotionally safer place for all of us, as individuals, parents and children. What a thrill it was to interview her at her home in Brisbane, Australia.

Healing from CPTSD with Linda Meredith

Of course I got the time difference wrong, so I was sitting around waiting for her and had an entire hour free from distraction (what a gift) as the husband and the kids were told to give me quiet time in the kitchen after dinner. I used the time to watch a few more of her videos and ended up getting engaged, the hour went by in a flash. Linda’s videos are short, personable, and accessible. I felt completely heard, understood, and supported. And this was BEFORE I had actually spoken to her in person.

She joined the Zoom call and immediately I just felt, well, safe. She exudes this strong yet gentle, passionate but not overwhelming personality. She has a ready smile and great screen presence. She really knows her stuff and has helped countless people understand what they are going through. In our conversation during and after the interview, she made me feel important and that I had something meaningful to contribute to the conversation.

My journey of recovery from CPTSD has been greatly enhanced by exploring her website, Facebook Community Page, Instagram, and YouTube videos.

In our podcast, we talk about:

  • CPTSD (Complex Post-Trauma Stress Disorder) and how it comes from things like ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences), inter-generational abandonment issues, or emotional neglect.
  • How unspoken rules like “When anything bad happens, we don’t talk about it” are so dangerous for children.
  • She shared some of the changes she made as a parent, such as, wanting to know her kids as individuals, even down to what they liked eating.
  • She touches on how unconditional love of children is non-negotiable; otherwise it impedes their ability to keep being curious, which they need in order to develop.
  • Linda knows what it’s like to be a single mom who struggles, has financial barriers, and wants better for her children. That’s why she makes so much of her work available for free.

Her Key Message: Believe in yourself! You have to be willing to make changes where you won’t see results until your children become adults! Your vision as a parent is to make changes that impact not just your children, but also your children’s children.

I hope you enjoy ‘working’ with Linda as much as I do!

FOCUS ON YOU

Doing “More with Less” Does Not Work!

I would like to flip the Do More with Less mentality to more a Reflect and Rest approach, which ironically allows us to do more with less in the longer run.

Today, A2 and I had a wonderful conversation when he asked me about the “use it or lose it” phrase, which he found to be very confusing. I explained that when someone was in charge of a small budget that rolled up into a big budget, the two levels had very differing priorities and it caused them to have to figure out how to manage things. Like, the people handling bigger budgets had to figure out how to spend money wisely overall and the people managing little budgets had to figure out how to address their own needs. He pointed out that the people managing the bigger budgets once upon a time managed smaller budgets, so at least they would understand the perspective of the people managing the smaller budgets. You’d like to think so, my son, you’d like to think so. I explained that everyone wants to do more with less; we talked about how if you don’t use the budget you said you were going to use, then the higher ups think that you don’t need the money, even though you may actually be saving it for something in the longer run.

On my walk home by myself, the thoughts about how our world keeps trying to do more with less: more work with less people, more projects with less money, more tasks with less time, etc. etc. We keep trying to ‘save’ our resources by doing more with less. But in the longer run, this obsession with efficiency has caused so much burnout and health issues that the cost of doing ‘more with less’ far outweighs the savings we make, which really just ends up being profit for the higher ups in a capitalistic world. (Sorry, my lefty socialist side is coming out.)

More isn’t just about short-term quantity, it is about long-term quality and sustainability.

For example, buying clothes or shoes. By buying cheaply made or trendy fashionable wearables, we are just ensuring that we have to keep buying. Buying more isn’t going to solve our problems… buying LESS but APPROPRIATE will. That may involve buying things that are a bit more expensive in the short-run but longer lasting, maybe classy and sturdier.

Another example is the way so many of us want to avoid confrontation, because it takes us off track and it’s pretty painful in the moment. However, by facing confrontation head on and slowly turning it into a conversation or a collaboration, we can create a better longer term solution for everyone. Saving more time by avoiding annoying issues isn’t going to solve our problems… spending the time to think about and addressing it can help us save a lot more time in the long run, even if it may feeling more painful in the short-run.

And when kids are taking standardized tests to ‘prove’ that they know what they need to know at a certain level, we are just encouraging them to study to do well on a test and then promptly forget about it. Instead, we need to take the time to get to know them, their strengths and areas of interest to help them build the skills they need and want to accomplish the goals they aspire to meet. Saving time through standardizing everything may help us measure things that we we need to understand from a big picture level, but misusing those test to measure our individual worth becomes counterproductive.

My final example I learned from the Life Decluttered Facebook group: If you have more stuff than you have space for it, you WILL have clutter. So that not only works from a physical perspective, but also from a mental perspective. When we are juggling more tasks than we can manage, we WILL have overwhelming stress. And the way to reduce clutter or stress is to have less and organize better. But it takes time to be able to develop the skills and the motivation to have less and organize better. We must regularly reflect and rest in order to do a few things:

  • Understand your issues
  • Remember your motivations
  • Get into a healthy headspace
  • Be kind to yourself
  • Get support!
  • Prioritize
  • Understand your resources (time, money, energy)
  • Be kind to yourself
  • Develop a plan and maybe a timeline
  • Start somewhere
  • Be kind to yourself
  • Evolve your plan as you learn from where you started
  • Celebrate the wins
  • Know that many things are not a “One and Done”, but an iterative (phase by phase, step by baby step) process
  • Be kind to yourself!!!!!!!!!

Did I mention that I finally started to learn what it means to be kind to myself?

People have always told me that I was a perfectionist and that I was too hard on myself. And I always responded with, uh, no, if I were a perfectionist, I would be doing much better, I would be more effective, I would be smarter, I would be getting more done, I wouldn’t be so lazy… PUH-LEEZ… I am NOT a perfectionist! But now I understand what a perfectionist is. It’s someone who won’t let go when their ideal isn’t met.

Being kind to myself means that I forgive myself when I didn’t do what I didn’t do. Being kind to myself means that if things take longer than I think they should, then they take longer. Being kind to myself means not labeling myself as stupid, forgetful, messy, a ‘bad’ mom, but rather… Oh! I don’t yet have a solid system or routine to make this happen smoothly… YET. So as a recovering perfectionist, instead of getting mad at myself that I haven’t yet gotten around to cleaning out our storage unit, I’m going to celebrate that I’ve gone through the house slowly but surely, learning and developing systems to help us do more with less. And… I’m going to give myself time to reflect and rest.

Won’t you join me on this journey? Less is more!

FOCUS ON YOU

Easier to Move Mountains

An old Chinese saying (江山易改本性難移) reminds us that it is very difficult to our nature, that is it easier to change the mountains and the rivers. It is a very pessimistic view of human nature, isn’t it? It seems to be telling us not to bother with personal development and growth. That we are who we are and we will do what we do.

On the days when everything seems to be a struggle and it feels like I’m doing everything wrong, I end up with a feeling of wanting to give up. Why bother? I can’t change who I am. Changing myself is too hard, why try?

But today, I’m going to take that as a challenge. Today I am going to tilt my head and look at this saying with a slightly different perspective.

Difficult doesn’t mean it can’t be done. It just means that it is VERY HARD. So if change is necessary, I will have to hustle and expect challenges, possibly even set backs. In addition, rather than trying to change who I am (swimming upstream, against the current), I should play to my STRENGTHS and see where I can go with the flow (like waterfalls).

So, while changing my nature is hard when necessary, harder than moving mountains and rivers, I’ll remember that I can either work hard at it or find a solution that isn’t against my nature.

By the same token, when parenting, sometimes we are trying to mold our children, against their nature… as children… as humans… This is a reminder that changing is hard. It takes time. And maybe there is a different way.

FOCUS ON YOU

I Am Where I Should Be

We cannot control the past.

We cannot control other people.

As Aaron Burr sang in “Wait for It” (Hamilton, the Musical, with which I am absolutely obsessed), “I am the one thing in life I can control.” Since I don’t have any control over how I got here, the only thing I can do is to make this moment count. That is… two year from now, I want to look back at this phase of my life and say, wow, that was the best thing that happened to me.

If I’m here, I’m going to make this the best here I can make it.

Here is a result of past situations, choices, interactions… Here is where I am now.

My feelings are symptoms.. Discomfort means that my goals are more difficult than I’m capable of, so I need to adjust my expectations or I need to up my game by working harder and smarter. Anger means that I feel like someone has hurt me. Fear means that from experience, something like this has caused me pain in the past. Sadness means that I don’t think this is good for me. These are all symptoms.

When I’m frustrated with my kids, more often than not, they are acting in the way that I believe they ‘should not’ and in a way that I ‘did not’. However, upon more deeply reflecting, it’s that feeling of parental helplessness – 1) finding it difficult to solve their problems and to end their pain or 2) believing that this is a reflection of their inevitable future failure due to my failings as a parent. This often leads to anger and anxiously trying to control the situation. Or it could go the other direction, more like helplessness and depression.

If I focus on the relationship here and now, then my communication becomes more about listening and potentially hearing a solution they already have. Or maybe they just want to be understood in this moment. If I focus on learning from this and preventing this in the future, we can work together to make our future better… together. If I can accept that this moment is exactly where I am supposed to be, then I can stop and look for the opportunity to pause, listen, communicate and collaborate.

FOCUS ON YOU

Not Doin’ Nothin’ This Weekend

According to the World Health Organisation, stress is the health epidemic of the 21st Century. Everywhere you turn, people are stressed. There are many reasons for this, but it mainly boils down to our busy modern lifestyle and the way our reptilian brain is programmed to help us avoid life threatening situations through the fight or flight response. But prolonged exposure to this level of heightened anxiety compromises our immune system and causes inflammatory responses. Chronic stress leads to chronic illnesses and pain. Dude, people are stressed. Not just adults, but youth, little kids, the elderly… like… everyone!

So this has now spawned a billion and one (money making) ways for us to cope with the stress, you know, overcome this challenge, manage our response, because it’s our RESPONSE that’s the problem, not the problem itself. It’s not what happens that matters, it’s how we deal with what happens that matters.

Right?

So we need to work hard everyday on our physical and mental health, eat well (vegetarian? keto?), get enough and good quality sleep (but… insomnia!), exercise (at the gym with weird equipment? rigorously? 30 minutes? 7 minutes?), be positive, be mindful (meditate, do yoga, qigong)… CBT… CBD? THC!? use essential oils, vaccinate, don’t vaccinate, but we have to focus on developing relationships, because relationships are everything, be kind, time flies, the clock is ticking, so we have to seize the day, make every minute count, be a good parent (attachment, authentic, free range, tiger), be a good spouse (thoughtful, organized, do your fair share), be a good employee, manager (get ahead at work, achieve your potential, network, manage up, get along with everyone), learn languages, be good at math, make sure your kids learn languages and are good at math, kids should play competitive sports to develop skills that will help them succeed in the future, travel the world with your kids, if your kids cannot sit still in class, they may have something that requires them to get drugged, be patient, do you have enough money for retirement? make a bucket list, skydive in Paris, eat Wendy’s no antibiotics meat free burger at 11 pm when you’re binge watching all the Must See shows before the Oscars and Emmys, sign up for Oprah’s newly revamped Weight Watchers, while you look at the Must Read Goodreads for your book club piling up by your bed, save your money, make your lunches, but working mothers are happier if they hire someone to clean their houses, every 20 minutes, look up for 20 seconds at something 20 feet away… get fresh air, get sunshine, take your vitamins, blend flaxseeds into your breakfast smoothie, brush your hair and look good, get organized and develop good habits that will make you successful… make a to do list, no don’t make a to do list because it doesn’t work, use a project management approach, break it down into little doable pieces… don’t overshare and don’t forget to keep your kids privacy private because companies make money off of their information… hardwire happiness, make happiness a project, Marie Kondoize your house!

You’ve got this. JUST DO IT!

If you can’t do all this successfully, happily, and through beautiful photos on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google+, Snapchat, Vimeo, Whatsapp, WeChat, you are an utter failure and it’s your own fault that you are stressed.

Because it all boils down to you doing the right thing at the right time…

Now even thinking about things that are supposed to help with stress is stressing people out!

So… I’ve decided… I’m not going to do anything this weekend.

I’m not going to make a list, I’m not going to feel guilty, I’m not going to pressure myself into working on being a better person.

FOCUS ON YOU

Lazy Procrastinating Mama

You know where I’m going with this, right? I’m not that mom who spent a month planning and creating the perfect homemade costume, who is decking out the porch in Halloween decorations, who spent the weekend carving Jack o’Lanterns with my kids and their cousins… Nope. I had to all day work Sunday. I was shuttling kids to their extra curricular programs on Saturday. And most days I have barely enough time to get home, sit down for dinner, check homework, yell (firmly… uh… point… out…?) about why homework didn’t get done, teach them to check their agenda for homework, actually do homework with one or the other or both kids, read a chapter of Harry Potter, brush my teeth, and fall asleep.

So. Halloween is that perfect mix of craziness that triggers my inner critic to berate me about just what a lazy mother I am. I do not make costumes. I do not bake cupcakes with awesome orange and black icing and plastic spiders. I do not decorate the house with amazing fall colours and cotton as spiderwebs. I do not buy boxes of treats to hand out to strangers. I do not dress up in a cool Halloween costume. I am SO NOT festive. Plus, I’m already stressed about the whole should / they shouldn’t they go to the houses of perfect strangers and beg for food that is totally processed and full of poisonous sugar, threatening them that, if they do not comply with providing a treat, they would have a trick played on them by my children. Seriously. The weirdest thing ever. But The Judge likes to take this opportunity to jump on every Instagram photo, Facebook post, family chat, story told by colleague, every decorated neighbour’s house… to pass… well… judgment about how I just don’t measure up to what a mother should be doing, leading up to and during Halloween.

So there I found myself on the Sunday before a Wednesday Halloween (oh why don’t we live in Palo Alto where they all do their activities, like Trunk or Treating on the weekend prior?) driving my 9-year old to Walmart at 6:30 pm, hoping (and pretty sure, but not quite 100%, I-probably-shoulda-googled-this, but-we-just-needed-to-go) that Walmart was still open. Yay. They were. We must have circled the two and half aisles at least 6 times, rummaging through what was left (25% off, as a bonus surprise that I didn’t really notice until we left) and argued over 10 things he refused to consider.

I think we both did okay, considering we were both privately worried that we wouldn’t be able to agree on something. ‘Okay’ meaning he apologized for being so picky and I grumbled a bit but tried to be patient.

And… we did it! We found something that was not overly expensive, that would work with all the logistics (it’s going to be cold, he has to carry his candy bag too, we’re not putting colours in his hair or make up on his face), and that he was happy with!

I’d like to end my story by sharing that after this successful trip, we got home and I happily and joyously confirmed they completed all the homework they were supposed to. But then I would not be telling the truth. And that is for another blog post.

What I can say though, is, I can own it. My little skeleton assassin with the bleeding knife (with black polka dots, no less) was happy. He reassured me, when I started making questioning facial expressions about the idea of such a violent concept, that, no, he isn’t violent in real life, and yes, he agrees that violence is not a good thing, and no, dressing up like this doesn’t make him more violent, and yes, most kids do this sort of thing without becoming violent in real life. So, in the end, we spent some together figuring out something, we are both comfortable with the solution, and we are all going to enjoy Halloween.

Boo to you, Judge. This mama is going to plead Not Guilty! I may not have the skill to be crafty, the energy to be decorative, or the goods to bake cool treats… but this mama can still healthily and joyously enjoy Halloween with my kids doing it my way. So take that!

FOCUS ON YOU, UNDERSTANDING EMOTIONS

Raging at Kids is Signal: Need Self Care!

For the first few years of my kids’ lives, I thought that yelling at them was my way of disciplining and teaching them. But over time, I came to notice that 1) I wasn’t consistent in what I yelled at, 2) I had some specific triggers, and 3) while some things might have made a little sense to yell about, other issues were way too small to be mad at. Lastly, the fear and pain in their eyes were wrong. I hurt and scared them! As their mother, the one person who loves them most in the entire world, the one person who would do anything at all to keep them safe… *I* was causing them pain and they feared me.

It got me thinking.

And it got me digging.

It got me working on this issue.

I’d like to say that I quickly came to the conclusion that I could fix this by never yelling at them ever again, but it’s not quite that easy. There are so many levels of this and it’s very hard work to sort things out. But ultimately, I have come to the conclusion that something wasn’t quite working. And, while I was doing the best that I could, something needed to change.

Uncontrollable rage is never about the children. It’s about us as parents. It’s about our own insecurities and fears. It’s about our lack of control and our past traumas. Rage is what we turn to when we feel like there’s nothing else we can do. It’s our way of throwing temper tantrums. The problem is that rage literally does nothing to solve the problem at hand. If anything, it only makes things worse in the long run. It damages the relationship we have with our kids; they lose trust in and respect for us.

Raging at our kids doesn’t make us terrible people. It just means that we don’t have enough energy, headspace, or wherewithal to skillfully deal with the challenge in front of us. We feel so helpless that we can only rage.

It’s really a signal to stop and breathe. It’s time to remember the bigger picture. It’s a moment to love yourself and your kids. Once you find your equilibrium, then you can reconnect and communicate. It doesn’t mean they didn’t deserve a scolding or discipline. It doesn’t mean they don’t still need your guidance. It’s doesn’t mean you can’t be mad about what they did (or didn’t do). It just means you need to make sure that you are responding appropriately and thoughtfully rather than reacting in a knee-jerk manner.

But… when was the last time you had enough sleep? When did you get lost doing something you loved to do? When did you put yourself first? When did you pamper yourself? When did you have alone time to regenerate and rebuild your resilience?

If your answer is “I don’t remember…” then give yourself a break. You are running on empty and none of us are at our best behaviour when we don’t take care of ourselves. And guess what? The most vulnerable people around us suffer when we run ourselves to the ground!

So, without judging yourself for that rage, will you join me in taking care of ourselves first so that we can be the best version of a parent for our kids?

FOCUS ON YOU

Perfect Mama, Exhausted Mama

We hear this cliche all the time, we say it all the time, but how do we actually apply it to our lives as mothers? “No one’s perfect.” No one’s perfect, we say, when someone makes a mistake. No one’s perfect, we remind them, when they complain about a friend at school. No one’s perfect, we reassure a dejected kid who just cannot seem to understand a math concept.

Most Moms I know pretend to be perfect in front of their kids. We pretend to be calm, logical, organized, decisive, right, knowledgeable, strong, thoughtful, loving, honest, kind, emotionally stable, with it, put together… I don’t know about you, but I’m not all those things even half the times. I am such a flawed human being, I make mistakes all the time. I’m not even sure we realize how hard we are trying to be perfect for our kids, how we try to model the right behaviour for them. It’s exhausting! If we keep it up long enough, we end up blowing up or burning out.

We are all human beings. Therefore we are never perfect. And that’s why we learn, practice, and grow. That’s why our children push us to be introspective, self-critical, and eager to improve.

A wise mama friend said to me: We respect our children’s opinions, we apologize for our mistakes, and we engage them in decision-making. Then they learn to trust us. Pretending to be perfect is exhausting and not sustainable. When they see us do our best and own up to what we can or cannot do, it is much healthier for them and for us. We can develop better relationships with them when we are ourselves.

Signing off today as,

Flawed Mama, Happy Mama