STORYTELLING, UNDERSTANDING EMOTIONS

I Hear You, Panic Attack, I’m Listening

Panic attacks.

I get them when I’m triggered.

I get them at 3 am in the morning.

I get them at 5 am in the morning.

I get them when I have to wake up to start my day.

I get them after reading an email.

They scare me and they demoralize me. They bring me to my knees.

My panic attacks can feel like a thousand chaotic voices.

This isn’t good.

That isn’t done.

You aren’t good enough.

What a failure.

When they start, I end up with waves of fear from my futile attempts to ward off the attacks.

I try silencing the voices.

I recoil in terror from all their accusations and predictions of doom and gloom.

My brain vibrates from the yelling and the shrinking, the pointing and the defending.

* * * * *

I’m learning to thank them, yes, appreciate their intention to protect me from — well — danger.

Danger from harm to the core of who I am.

Somehow, I ended up with a blinding fear of criticism about my judgment and decision-making abilities.

I have had to change my attitude of fear of criticism about my past unchangeable decisions.

* * * * *

Now I try to to tell myself:

  • I accept the past
  • I did the best that I could with what I had
  • There are consequences to all decisions
  • The only thing I can do is think about moving forward
  • My new decisions might still not be ideal
  • In the future I will be dealing with the consequences of my choices today
  • A knee-jerk reaction will be counterproductive
  • What’s the one baby step I can take right now that at least moves me in the right direction?

Okay panic attacks.

I’m ready for you.

I’m ready to listen to your warnings.

But I’m going to respond in a calm way to let you know that I can only do my best, that I did my best in the past, and that hounding me about what a terrible person I am is not going to make my life better. It’s making my present and future worse.

But I thank you for trying to protect me.

I thank you for trying to teach me.

So — now that I’ve heard you, I need you to be quiet so that I can figure out what next step to take.

PARENTAL ASPIRATIONS, PODCAST INTERVIEW, UNDERSTANDING EMOTIONS

A Recovering Perfectionist

Michelle Lee Diasinos is a Conscious Parent advocate, coach, author, and co-host of The Mothers’ Roundtable podcast with two children of her own. Read her chapter in the #1 International Best Selling Change Makers Volume 4, where she shares her personal transformation that led her into this place of service to parents navigating their unique path. A recovering perfectionist, Michelle delves into the challenges parents face when perfection becomes a problem. One of the many exciting projects she’s initiated is “Heal My Story,” a platform for people to anonymously write about their healing journey. Join our chat and hear what moved me to tears in what she said.

Podcast: Conscious Parenting with Michelle Diasinos

I chatted with Michelle about:

  • Motherhood was the first time she truly met herself.
  • She spent a lot of time doing work on her own, making peace with her past, releasing anger, frustration, and sadness. She was able to get to a place where she could be comfortable with the fact that her parents did the best they could at the time and did what they did with love.
  • Prior to parenthood, Michelle was a Special Education Teacher and worked in occupational therapy. She was a very calm person and thought she would be a patient mother. But being a parent is nothing like what you think it’s going to be like!
  • Michelle put immense on herself to be the best parent ever! She then realized that she was also pressuring her son to meet her perfectionist tendencies. As many parents did, she took her son’s behaviour to be a reflection of her (bad) parenting. This kind of situation made her realize she had a lot of work to do.
  • Even as a trained professional who was calm and using all the ‘right’ tools and techniques, she discovered she was capable of raging anger, explosions, and subsequent guilt. She’s come to realize that the anger is just an invitation to look deeper. All it meant was that she had a need that wasn’t being met.
  • Perfection is insidious! Most of us don’t even know we are perfectionists. Listen to the language you are using when speaking to yourself. For example when parents go to bed at night, they’re often thinking, “Did I do a good enough job?” This question might be driving their every action!
  • Children’s behaviour is an expression of their unmet needs. We as parents can do everything possible to meet their every need. How do we help them gain the tools to deal with not having their needs met?
  • Her “Heal My Story” project is a platform where anyone can share aspects of their healing story. I highly recommend you try it out if you are thinking about processing your trauma through writing. It is for anything that has surfaced during your healing journey that you want to put out there in the world.

Michelle’s message to Sandwich Parents is: “I acknowledge you. I know how tough this can be. I want to remind you that compassion is the salve. When you mess something up, and you inevitably will, because you are human, give compassion to yourself. Because each time that you do that, you are showing yourself unconditional love. You are showing your kids how to do the same, so that they can go out into the world and they can show it to others. This is sacred work. I see you. I thank you for doing this work.”

Join her on Instagram and Facebook, where you can learn more about how to live a truly Conscious Parenthood. And listen to her podcast, The Mother’s Roundtable, where every week she and her co-host Jessica Crescenzi  examine a topic related to parenting and give advice based on their expertise as parent coaches and their perspectives as mothers.

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, 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!

UNDERSTANDING EMOTIONS

How Low Will You Go?

Depression is like sliding down a hole in the ground.

Anxiety gets the body moving to try to stop the slide, like pulling at the roots or jamming your foot to slow it down. Anxiety gives you the adrenaline to climb up or look up towards the sky. Depression makes you wonder what’s the point of doing anything, going down is inevitable.

Your fingernails get dirty from the desperate clawing along the sides of the hole. Sometimes you’re just freefalling.

There are times when you’re just sliding along and not aware of how far down you’ve gone. There are days when you’re thinking, this is as low as I’ll go, I can’t go any further. I refuse to go any lower. It has to stop here.

Light shines through the hole at the top, but sometimes you are so far down, you can no longer see the natural light. It can be difficult to remember what the light looked or felt like.

One day, you say to yourself, this is as far as I go. Any further down and I’m going to hit a point of no return. I don’t want to hit that point, because I want to get out of this hole. And yet, it can also feel comfortable and safe when it is warm and dry. The days when it rains or when someone tosses dirt on top of your head are hard and very, very uncomfortable. Painful, really.

Sometimes you feel a rope that someone threw down. You may have the strength to use it to climb up or your hands get so tired, you cannot even grab it. Or if you know how, you tie a loop to sit in and rest.

When the dirt is being tossed down, you may yell at the people to stop throwing dirt on you! You can feel it throwing you off balance, like it’s going to cause you to lose ground and fall backwards again.

When you are too far down, people at the top yelling at you to come up doesn’t help at all. It’s a little discouraging. But as you get closer, you can see them and they have their hands out to grab you and pull you up. Then you realize that they were there the whole time, trying to find ways to help… even those throwing dirt… they thought they could help fill the hole so you could get your feet on solid ground. But since they didn’t know how deep it was, they didn’t realize they were just tossing dirt on your head and in your face.

When you finally get out of the hole, you just never want to fall back in. But there are holes everywhere… so the goal is to work hard not to fall in, but if you do, you know how to stop the slide and you know how to get out and you know how to ask for help.

UNDERSTANDING EMOTIONS

Learning from Overwhelm

The past month has been incredibly challenging as the feeling of overwhelming stress crashed upon me. There were physical manifestations and mental lows.

Many of my friends seem to suffer from this especially during the fall. The days get shorter, the temperature chillier, and for those of us who do not love winter, the season of mush and sleet looms drearily ahead. Aches and pains get worse, fatigue sets in, and the day after a night where sleep is allusive, mini despair and spiraling start: I am tired. Why am I always tired? I didn’t get {such and such} done. I should have gotten it done. Why didn’t {so and so} do it? They don’t care about me. My back is sore. I want to nap. I really shouldn’t nap. I should doing {this and that}. Oh look at how together that person looks. I’m such a loser. I can’t make my life work. And so on.

The slide is a steep ride right down to: I don’t like this feeling. I don’t like where this is going. If I get any more anxious or depressed, I’m going to end up at that horrible moment at the (mental) cliff, the precipice, that line I really, really don’t want to cross.

So we try all sorts of things:

  • meditation (can’t because brain is chaotically in madness and won’t quiet down)
  • distraction (helps a bit, but is only temporary)
  • eating (helps a lot, but also temporary and has side effects that have to be undone at a later date)
  • yelling (sort of a distraction and valve to let off steam, but temporary too and hurts relationships)

The only way past it is through it. I hear that a lot, but didn’t really know what it meant. So many things just start sounding like clichés and sound bites. But today, I had an ah ha moment. Through it means feeling it, not running away from it. Through it means listening to it, not ignoring it. Through it means experiencing it to learn from it.

Okay then. I asked myself: What does my stress tell me? What are my feelings trying to tell me?

Emotions are what we feel after we compare our Expectations with the Reality. If the outcome is good, we feel positive. If the outcome is bad, we sad or mad.

Then I wondered: WHY do I think my emotions are trying to tell me something? And who is it exactly that is using my emotions to talk to me? Is it their language?

My theory: My body is host to so many ecosystems that make it possible for me to function. And when I feel overwhelmed, it is because what I want to get done is more than what is possible to get done with the systems in place and the resources needed. So the systems start shutting down or slowing down to rest. And the systems that haven’t done so start to bear the burden even more and then they start to shut down or slow down. As different ones respond at different times, different feelings emerge – they are the symptoms of what is happening.

My conscious mind is governed by thoughts that I try to control. And it will say things like: Suck it up. Don’t be such a baby. Just do it. You can do this. Don’t be lazy. You can’t afford to stop.

My subconscious mind is the one who is listening to the systems and making sense of it all. It knows when it’s time to stop, secure and start. It can sense when a system is breaking down. It can see when a system is slowing down.

If I listen carefully when I’m overwhelmed, I think I hear:

  • Rest and retreat
  • Recover and repair
  • Reflect and remember
  • Restart

It certainly feels a bit counterintuitive to slow down when everything in my conscious mind is screaming DO MORE! GET IT DONE! HURRY UP! But, when I do, I realize that my subconscious has been working on a solution that may be more creative, efficient or enjoyable. Or it’s trying to warn me of potential roadblocks ahead that need to be considered.

In any case, I’m learning not to panic now when I feel overwhelmed. I’m learning to just stop and let the chaos run its course, come apart and then come together again. It’s very hard and I’ve only tried this a couple of times, but inevitably after I emerge from the overwhelm with some energy or headspace to productively handle something that has been bothering me.

UNDERSTANDING EMOTIONS

Life Decluttered

When you are physically or emotionally not at your best, there is often this exhaustion that permeates through your foggy brain and slow body. Maybe even a stress that vibrates through your spine down to your feet. It saps the energy from your mind and body in a way that makes every single thing on your to do list a monumental ginormous project that seems too hard to complete or even start.

As my mental health was going down the tubes over the past 5 years, my house was a constant source of stress and pain. It definitely contributed to the feeling of my life falling apart. Actually, it was never quite as bad as my brain made it out to be. However, it was never as perfect as the HGTV programs and Home Make Over shows had their homes. Whenever I saw socks on the floor or clutter on a counter top or a pile of clothes (mine or otherwise), I’d lose it, ‘knowing’ that I was terribly lazy, because I hated cleaning the house and didn’t train my husband and boys to do their parts. I ‘knew’ that I was a lousy mother. When I saw dust, I would worry about what it was doing to the lungs of the kids. When I saw clothes spill out of the kids closets, I could feel my blood pressure go up, because they just would not put away their clothes in the organized way I showed them. I fluctuated between blaming me and blaming the other members of my family. I hated doing the dishes, I hated seeing dirty laundry, I hated mopping the floor.

This was particularly shaming for me, as my parents are incredibly disciplined people who keep their house so nicely clean and organized. They have always taught us to put things away, clean as you go, everything has to have its home base, don’t buy too much stuff, etc. etc. I’m not sure where I went wrong… somewhere down the line I developed a huge resistance to chores and housework.

Recently, I found the Life Decluttered community on Facebook. It’s a group where people are incredibly supportive and encouraging of each other’s efforts to declutter. Everyone is very realistic too, about how difficult it can be to declutter, organize, purge, or have all our stuff ‘spark joy’ in spots that are their resting places. (They are also very strict about kicking out people who are not nice.) I found my flock! They showed before and after photos. They provided tips and tricks. They shared their stories of difficult health issues, feeling overwhelmed, or having financial challenges. But everyone takes a step forward and continues to make an effort.

What I’ve learned:

  • Make routines!
  • Be nice to yourself.
  • Be ruthless purging.
  • Done is better than perfect.
  • We all have way too much stuff.
  • Reorganizing a room can take a long time.
  • Clutter means that things don’t have a home base.
  • Keeping the house the way I want it isn’t a once and done.
  • If it doesn’t work this time, you can always try something else.
  • Too much stuff taking up precious space means less room for stuff you like.
  • We put a lot of emotional attachment to things that make them difficult to discard.
  • Someone somewhere struggled with the same thing and someone somewhere will have an idea that could help you get to your answer.

The more I throw out, the more I feel my home opening up and the more I feel like it’s a sanctuary. I never thought I would LIKE cleaning and organizing. But this group has inspired me!

More importantly, the boys have followed suit and are getting better at keeping their room clean and organized too. I guess it’s more effective to show them (and develop routines for them) than to tell (or yell at) them!

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?

UNDERSTANDING EMOTIONS

The Perfection of Mediocracy

“Mommy,” my 11-year old gravely starts off, “Mommy, I know that you probably won’t be too happy about this, but I think I have to tell you anyway.”

As a parent, you are always worried about your children, their safety, their happiness, their future… As I braced myself for his confession, I tried to guess what this was about, predict how I might react, manage how I should not over-react, and keep my mind from getting carried away with what he could possibly tell me that I might not be “too happy about”…

“Mommy, I know you want me to be a straight A student, but I think I’m going to be a B+ student. I might be able to get some As, but I’ll probably get mostly Bs… maybe even a C or two…”

The Tiger Mom in me just wanted to roar at him and indignantly state why he should strive for better and how important grades are, but the calm mom in me marvelled at his self awareness as we proceeded to have a conversation about why he felt this way.

I quickly admitted to him that I had mixed feelings, that I admired him for knowing himself but that I hoped he had confidence in himself to achieve anything he set his mind to. We discovered that he wasn’t sure the additional effort to get the As were worth it to him. It sounded like he was practicing self care and managing his resources based on his goals of learning and getting enough sleep to be healthy.

It got me thinking about how much we celebrate success, strive for perfection, and encourage achievement. For some, this is absolutely appropriate and they go on to do great things. But how many people are struggling every day, feeling like failures because they did not live up to some lofty goals they set and constantly compare themselves to? For some, overcoming obstacles and barriers to reach their goals makes them happy. But is that true for everyone? Are others comfortable achieving what they think is good enough so they can focus on aspects of life that make truly them happy? Maybe they are content being content.

My son got me thinking about happiness. You don’t have to be successful to be happy. You don’t have to be perfect to be happy. You don’t have to be rich to be happy. You have to want what you have to be happy. You have to appreciate what you have to be happy. You have to enjoy what you have to be happy.

So he wants to get good enough grades that accurately reflect his ability and still have enough time and energy to enjoy his life. He knows what makes him happy. I’m good with that.