You’re Stronger Than You Think

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This past week has been a weird one for me.  I’ve been trying to find my groove with this whole social media thing….Trying to stay true to myself, yet taking it personally at the same time when people unfollow me (recovering people pleaser and perfectionist here).  Anxiety’s been really high, self-confidence a little low, and I’ve let discouragement get the best of me. So…. I guess you could say it’s been a real PAARRTAAAAY up in here!!! 🎉🤸

In my quest to figure out how to maintain a successful Instgram profile, I began browsing other Instagram accounts that had content similar to mine (mental health awareness, personal growth, improvement, motivation).  As I was doing this, I came across a woman’s profile that caught my eye.  I started looking through her pictures, and I noticed her most recent post was a list of how she decides what she’s going to discuss or post next.  Number 1 on that list was; “Wait until I have conquered or mastered a specific struggle before talking about it with other people” (not verbatim, but you get the gist)  Basically, until you’ve walked away triumphant, you can’t really be qualified to give advice to other people concerning said subject.

Well, I don’t know if you’ve noticed yet or not…. but that is definitely NOT what’s going on up in here 😂 So I thought to myself; “Shoooooot. That’s the exact opposite of what I’ve been doing…..”

This totally got me second guessing myself, because I completely understand what she’s saying….

A math teacher can’t teach if he doesn’t know how to find the square root of…. whatever (I hate math).  An employee can’t train the newbie if it’s also his first day on the job.  Likewise, individuals who struggle with an addiction, or bad habit, or disability, need the help of those who’ve been through the same and walked away victorious to teach them.  They know EXACTLY what is needed to win the fight, and there’s a lot of guidance and inspiration that hails from a victor’s perspective.  Success stories.  Beacons of hope for the hearts and eyes of those still waging the war…. Yes, we need those people.

But guess what?

We need you too.

We need the voices of the soldiers.  The ones who are still fighting and finding their way – the warriors who get up every day and try again and again and again, despite every ‘fail’ and setback they encounter.

YOU have a lot to offer.  Your perspective is unique, it is invaluable, and it is needed equally to the triumphant.

It took me almost a year to start this blog.  Do you know why? Partly because I was scared of spilling the mental illness beans… you know, worrying about what people might think of me and all that jazz.  But MOSTLY I was just waiting…..waiting until I got “better” to start writing about any of these issues because I wanted more than anything to do it from the Victor’s perspective. I thought I wouldn’t be able to help people otherwise. I’d be a total hypocrite trying to inspire people when I could hardly inspire myself.

After a year of waiting, I realized that I might be old and gray – or dead – before reaching “completely better” status.  Kind of hard to write a blog without a pulse, so…………….  and it’s amusing that, after 20 something years of suffering from these disorders, I thought somehow I’d magically be cured of it after ONE year without LEGIT intervention 😂👏   #cute #goodoneshawn

But this amazing thing happened once I ditched the notion that I needed a full recovery in order to be useful and allowed myself to be vulnerable….

People starting reaching out to me.

They reached out to me with support, with love, with encouragement…. and they reached out to me with stories of their own personal battles and challenges.  Some trials mirrored my own, while others took a different form.  It didn’t matter though – the feelings of hurt, hopelessness, heartache, pain – those are all universal. And as we share our experience and struggles with those around us, we create a habitat for compassion, support, love, and healing.

I’ve never seen myself as a strong person.  Especially because of my depression and anxiety. I’ve always felt that, since I’ve struggled with these things for so long, somehow that made me weak…or a little broken.  It wasn’t until recently that I realized for the first time – like REALLY realized – that that wasn’t true. I’ve been reflecting upon my life up to this point, and I’m starting to understand that I am so much stronger than I’ve given myself credit for.  I get up every single day, and I keep trying.  Even after my darkest nights or hardest trials….I find a way to keep going.  I struggle, I stumble, I fall, I fail…. I have successes and setbacks. But I’m here, and I’m not going down without a fight.  Even if I live my entire life not having completely rid myself of mental illness, I will live every.single.day doing the best I can.

And that makes me freaking strong. 💪

So, no.  You don’t HAVE to wait until you’ve defeated the bad, the hurt, and the ugly to feel like you’re making a difference. Everyone’s story is unique and special. Your timeline isn’t going to be linear to the people’s around you. And that’s okay!  Because of that, you have a whole HECK of a lot to offer.

So….

To the person whose marriage fell apart, when that wasn’t part of the plan…..

To the single parents busting their butt for their kids….

To the women who are facing the devastation of infertility…..

To the mom who feels like her world is crumbling and she’s failing her children…

To those battling physical limitations or disease….

To the husband who lost his job…..

To the parents raising a special needs child….

To the parents who lost a son or daughter….

To the girl being bullied at school….

And to the person who wonders if the world would be better place without them…

You. Are. Strong.

Despite the obstacles, the fog, and the pain… you still get up.  Everyday.  You do the best you know how, and you keep trying.

And that makes you victorious.

Heart Shawnee

 

 

 

This wasn’t the plan…..

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The other day I found myself stopped in my tracks. I stood there staring wide-eyed in disbelief as my 5 year old kept wailing in despair to ‘please just have fruit snacks for breakfast’ (it was dinner time).  The lights in the living room were flickering on and off, because my 7 year old (who loves to watch ceiling fans) was flipping the switch up and down repeatedly while sporadically and psychotically screaming “STOP IT!!!” to his crying brother.  And my 1 year old – who had just thrown the tantrum of the century 5 minutes earlier because I wouldn’t let him eat rocks – was refusing to eat the wholesome cooked goodness I placed before him, as if it were poison.

And I thought to myself;  “This….. is my life.”

And it’s a far cry from what I had in mind.

I grew up helping babysit and playing with my 20+ nieces and nephews. I was a nanny for 2 different families. One of which had 5 kids ages 2-12, and I walked away from that unscathed!!! So, naturally, I thought I was some kind of seasoned veteran who was going to slay this whole motherhood thing.  *Brush off shoulders*.

And then the Universe laughed at me.  That girl’s getting pretty cocky… better do something about that.

That must have been what happened, because there is little to no resemblance between my reality and what I had pictured in my mind.  Even pregnancy!  What a train wreck…

I knew women got sick when they were pregnant, but it was just morning sickness and it totally goes away after, like, a few weeks, right? And the rest of the pregnancy is all sunshine and roses, and you look adorable with your cute baby bump and that imminent pregnant ‘glow’.

Wehehehelllll. Sick I got.  So sick.  And 9 months later, I WAS STILL SICK!! But somehow, miraculously, I still managed to gain 45 pounds.  Seems fair.  So, instead of this adorable little mom-to-be who hadn’t gained an ounce anywhere else other than her bump – who smiled endlessly because being pregnant was like, THE BEST THING EVER – I was this vomitting, incontinent, whale-ogre, whose husband sincerely complimented her one day when he noticed she brushed her hair.  “You look so pretty!  Did you brush your hair today?”  True story.

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But that’s okay, right?  Because once the baby gets here, all this discomfort and ugly will be behind me.

*Universe* Muahahahaha

How is it that, with 4 older sisters and a mother who bore NINE CHILDREN, I was completely oblivious to the joyous after math of delivering a baby?

Didn’t they just come out and you’re done?  Wait…..the placenta doesn’t stay in there?  You want me to birth that out too?  Gross.  Yeah, I guess it’s okay if you stick your needle down there and give it a little stich-a-roo.  Didn’t know I was going to tear, but it’s fine…

And sure, the young male intern can watch.

Is it normal to still be bleeding this much, and why am I afraid to poop?

I still look pregnant….WHY DO I STILL LOOK PREGNANT???!!

To be fair, this is nobody’s fault but my own.  Most women do their research.  They’re prepared.  They paid attention in biology class.  I just said, “Let’s have a baby!”, and hoped for the best.

And why, for the love, did no one bother to tell me that breastfeeding actually feels like someone is running a serrated knife over a third degree burn wound?  ‘Oh, that’s normal – your nipples will adjust in 6 weeks and it won’t be painful anymore….’

*Universe* Make it 3 months…..

Then punish her for persevering by making the all of her babies allergic to everything she eats. 

Hilarious.

MOTHERHOOD

Bens didn’t cry one time in the hospital, but I think he was just saving up all his strength so he could do it endlessly at home.  He had reflux and allergies to milk and soy, so he was pretty uncomfortable.  However, beyond that, we noticed from a very young age that something else was off.

At six weeks he wasn’t smiling like most babies do, but I was told it could take up to 2 months.  2 months came, and he still wasn’t responding to us with a smile, so I became a little concerned.  Finally close to 3 months, he started giving us a teeny tiny bit of something, but you really had to work for it.  I had 2 siblings and a close friend who all had babies within weeks of Bens, and theirs were all so interactive at this point! His pediatrician assured us that as long as we saw SOME smiles and interaction, there was nothing to worry about.  And I guess, in a way, she was right; worrying wasn’t going to change who Bens was.  We noticed he was responding erratically to noises; Sirens, thunder, parades, gunshots (recreational target shooting), so we put some sound reducing ear covers on him and adapted. We didn’t quite understand the freak out episodes at the the park when another toddler would approach him, but maybe it was just a phase?? Regardless, things seemed to be going okay for him at the moment. We decided to get pregnant again so our kids would be 2 years apart and Bens would have a little buddy – because…. that’s what you do right?  And SURELY I wouldn’t be as sick this time around – how cruel would that be?!

Well. I bet you can guess how that went.  Although, this time around I only threw up for the first 7 months and gained 25 pounds instead of 50, so…..I guess you could say the universe cut me a little slack this time. #blessed

So our little Tan Man came, and the whole process wasn’t a big shock, and I was prepared to feel the pain of a thousand fiery nipple darts, and blah blah blah, I’d done this before, so it’s going to be great. Two months later we got a diagnosis on B.

Autism.

Are you guys seeing a theme here?  I had all these expectations of what motherhood would look like, and I repeatedly found that my reality paralleled very little of those expectations.

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Now, I want to take a second and make sure everyone is aware that I recognize my blessings.  B’s Autism is not severe – he is very high functioning. Everyone in my family is physically healthy (for the most part). We have a home, reliable vehicles, friends and family who love us, and a job that supports us.  I understand that people all around the globe have it far worse than I do, and I’m not trying to throw a pity party here.  However, I want to illuminate the fact that I (along with many other people) found myself living this completely different and slightly more difficult reality…..and I wasn’t prepared for any of it.

I didn’t know I was going to have to take up a sudden interest in ceiling fans and pretend endlessly to eat up every bit of information my son yearns to tell me about CEILING FANS.  I didn’t think I’d still be pulling up my 2nd grader’s pants in the bathroom, because there is no force strong enough to make him unplug his ears while he’s in a public restroom – because the toilets are just too loud.

I wasn’t expecting to be sick the entire time with all my pregnancies.  And who would have guessed that all three of my children would have food allergies and colic – progressively worse with each one? My easy(er) happy middle child up and decided to be emotionally out of control – to the point where it’s concerning.  Didn’t see that one coming.

Above all, I was NOT anticipating that my depression and anxiety would become more intense as a mother….and I sure as hell didn’t think I’d be grappling with an eating disorder at this stage in my life.  I was also astonished by how profusely I could swear and how enraged I could feel, but, hey!  I guess I’m just full of all sorts of fun surprises 🙂

*Important to me to note, that the swearing is under my breath, inside my mind, or behind closed doors. And the enragement is contained and disguised by a forced smile and deep breaths while World War III ensues inside.*

So here I found myself, stuck.  Unable to let go of that ‘picture perfect’ life I had envisioned for my husband and myself.  Then, about a month ago, I read an article that changed my perspective on things, and my focus started to shift a little. I realized I was spending way too much time dwelling on the ‘Should have been’ and the slight injustice of it all, rather than accepting my reality and moving onward and upward. And, in order to do that, I needed to fully let go of my previous expectations and adapt to the norm.

And that’s a hard thing for me to do, but I’m trying…..

I want to share this short story that illustrates what it’s like to realize that your current situation looks nothing like the plans you had for yourself.  The woman who wrote this was describing what it’s like to have a child with special needs – but I feel like it’s applicable to anyone who finds their life took a complete detour from the route they had mapped out for themselves.

Welcome to Holland

If your life is a complete 180 from what you had planned, I hope you can still find the beauty in the detour – because it exists. And if you can train yourself to focus on that beauty (and your blessings) – even in it’s smallest form- you’ll notice a subtle change.  The bitter will slowly relinquish it’s place in your heart as appreciation begins to set up camp.   You’ll be surprised at how strong you really are. You’ll adapt, you’ll learn, and you’ll grow.

And who knows – maybe you’ll even learn to love this new revised version of your story.

Heart Shawnee

*You can read the previously mentioned article on expectations HERE. *

I just want you to like yourself…..

Me, Age 9

I remember sitting in the waiting room of the Turning Leaf Recovery Center.  I was in a daze – looking around as if it was some kind of dream…or nightmare… wondering how I let myself get to this point.  I felt so guilty.  I’m 31, married, and a mom to 3 young boys..  I’m supposed to be loving every minute of my stay at home life.  I’m supposed to not care too much about my weight and what babies did to my body.  I’m supposed to be focusing on raising my kids and making memories with my husband. I should be harnessing my talents, and feeling empowered, and reading books on the porch while the kids play and the sun sets, and thank my lucky stars for the beautiful life I’ve been given…..

Instead I found myself stressed and overwhelmed. Sad and barely functioning… self-conscious, angry, and a slave to addiction (food addiction).  This is not what I envisioned for myself.  Not even by a long shot.  And I was so mad.  Mad at myself – for going down this road and for letting it get this far.  I was mad at the hand I had been dealt.  Why do I have to have mental illnesses, and WHY IN THE *BLEEPBITTY BLEEP  BLEEP* are they not going away?!  18 years living with anxiety and depression, and 6 years with an eating disorder is enough fun to last me a lifetime. Like, it’s been real, but it’s time to part ways- thanks for the memories, peace out! ✌

But no. Unfortunately this is likely going to be a lifelong “friendship”, and the realization of that hit me like a ton of bricks that day in the waiting room.

I can’t really remember the specifics of that therapy session – other than me blubbering out all sorts of nonsense in between audible sobs and ugly crying. He asked me about myself, what I was struggling with…. you know, the usual.  But there was one thing he said that stuck to me like my kid’s half eaten sucker on my sleeve….

After answering his question about what I’d like to get out of therapy, he looked me square in the eye and said, “Shawnee, I just want you to like yourself.”

Whoahohohoho. Wait, what?  I think I stared at him for a minute trying to process what he had just said.  I was repeating the words back slowly in my mind, “You just…. want me…to….. like….. myself.” As if trying to grasp some bizarre foreign concept.

And then I cried.  I cried because I didn’t know if such a thing was even possible.

That was 3 months ago.  That was during what I like to call one of my “lows”.  It happens often – sometimes once or twice a month – if I’m lucky every 2 months.  I’ll go through a 1-2 week period of sadness, despair, hopelessness and feeling like I’m worthless. I know, sounds awesome fun, huh?!  It starts out gradual. Then it’ll get really bad for a couple of days while I hit rock bottom. Then slowly I’m able to climb out of it and get back to my “normal” life.  Normal.  Whatever that means 😂

Then, for a little while, my life is manageable. I am able to find small moments of joy, and I’m not beating myself up so badly.  This is a small glimpse into life with depression – and I promise to go more in depth with this in another post.  But for now, I want to talk about how I’m slowly learning to love myself and get rid of the negative thoughts that have plagued my mind for so long.  And while I’m far from where I want to be – accepting myself 100% and loving the person I am – I can say that I have made progress and continue to get better day by day.

And it feels so good.

Here are some of the things I have done to help reverse my negative perception of myself and start loving who I am a little more.

NUMBER 1RECOGNIZE THAT YOUR INDIVIDUAL WORTH IS NOT SYNONYMOUS WITH YOUR PHYSICAL APPEARANCE.

I’m not proud to say this, but I’ve always cared a lot about what people think of me.  When I was younger, it was all about pleasing everyone and not wanting to hurt other people’s feelings. Then when I got to be about 12, physical appearance was thrown into the mix. I actually remember the first time I was aware of someone thinking I was attractive. It was at the mall, and this guy did the classic ‘head turn’ as he passed me, and gave me the smile of approval. It made me feel validated and important. It was the summer before 7th grade. Such an impressionable age.  That year would be the beginning of an obsession with looking ‘perfect’ and making sure people thought I was ‘pretty’. I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that I didn’t have a whole lot of confidence in any other areas of my life – but hey, at least I could look good, right?  Low self-esteem right there.  So this desire to please others by looking ‘pretty’ became my focus and the catalyst for a whole slew of destructive thoughts and behaviors.

So what am I doing now to change these patterns and habits?

  1. I have to tell myself daily that I am worth so much more than my looks.  A good way to help me remember this is to look at my children and try to see myself through their sweet naive little eyes. When they get older, I guarantee they’re not going to remember how pretty mom looked every day, or how awesome she looked in her swimsuit at the pool, or how many stretch marks and cellulite decorated her body.  They’ll remember how much I loved them, spent time with them, and what I taught them – mostly by example.   *If you don’t have children yet, look at your parents, siblings, friends (real, genuine friends), or spouse and try to see yourself the way they see you.*  Their love is not dependent on how good you look, how skinny you are, or how much money you have.  They love you for you – flaws and all.  If they can love you unconditionally, shouldn’t you be able to as well?
  2. Remember that you don’t owe it to anyone to look a certain way.  This has been hard for me, because I honestly used to think that if I wasn’t pretty…..what else am I good for?  And please remember that this is the mental illness talking – I view other women in a completely different light – no matter their size or looks, I think they’re beautiful, talented, perfect…. It’s myself that I pick apart and expect to live up to this standard.  But I’m trying to live life for me now, and if anyone thinks I’ve gotten too big, or too skinny, or I’ve let myself go, or I shouldn’t go grocery shopping looking like I died yesterday….. guess who’s problem that is?!  Not mine. 💪

NUMBER 2 – IGNORE NEGATIVE THOUGHTS AND FOCUS ON YOUR STRENGTHS

This one has also been a real doozy for me.  Depression can be a Biiiii….. Just like a bully at school, it can be relentless – telling you over and over you’re not good enough. Nobody likes you. You’re not good at much.  One thing I’ve been working on is letting my thoughts just float on by, rather than hanging on to them like they’re actually important.  Again, if you have mental illness and the practice of feeding your negative thoughts has been going on for years, it’s going to be a difficult habit to change.  But it’s possible. I promise.  And (broken record here) again, I haven’t perfected this method, but I’m working on it, and I’m improving.  Basically, if you have thoughts that are negative or destructive, instead of focusing your energy on them, you detach yourself from them. Don’t give into them, don’t try to push them away, don’t try to read into them – just let them come and go as if they’re nothing. It’s like the concept of ignoring your kids’ bad behavior and really praising the good behavior. You notice the ‘bad’ behaviors start to fade and the good behaviors begin to flourish! Do this with your thoughts 🙂 You can listen to a really cool podcast called “The History of Thoughts” by Invisibilia that gives more detail about this (it’s fascinating, I promise!!) Listen to it https://www.npr.org/player/embed/375981020/381439752” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>HEREo

Focus on your strengths. What are you good at? It doesn’t have to be anything grand, either. It can be that you’re kind. You have empathy. Or maybe you’re  good at giving hugs? Awesome! I love hugs! If hugging is your forte, then get out the door and hug the crap out of this world- and I guarantee you’ll change at LEAST one life for the better.

NUMBER 3 – STOP COMPARING YOURSELF TO OTHER PEOPLE; ESPECIALLY ON SOCIAL MEDIA!!!

Interesting fact:  I actually went through a brief period of time where I was blissfully unfazed that I was a little overweight and wasn’t at my ‘prime’.  It was after my 1st baby.  I had gained a few (45 😂) pounds, and it wasn’t just coming off from breastfeeding like everybody promised it would (cruel, cruel, world).  I didn’t really care though.  I wasn’t obese by any means, and this was just motherhood, right? I was exercising and eating a pretty healthy diet (baby was allergic to dairy and soy, so I wasn’t, like, eating pints of ice cream every night).  Eventually I made it back to my pre-pregnancy weight, which was still about 5-10 lbs heavier than before I got married, but… meh.  Who cares.  Then I got pregnant with my second, delivered, and six weeks post-partum I became obsessed with bouncing back and having the perfect body.  What changed?

I got a smart phone for the first time and was spending hours on social media while I held, nursed and rocked my colicky baby.  I was seeing image after image after image of these ‘perfect’ body types.  Pinterest, Facebook, Blogs.  Telling me to do this that and the other to get rid of those stretch marks and lower belly fat.  For someone with OCD and a history low self-esteem and eating disorders, this was the perfect opportunity for those bastards to sneak their way back into my life.  The kicker is, I’ve spent the last 5 years doing this!  5 YEARS YOU GUYS!  Ain’t nobody got time fo’ that no more.  NOT TUHDAY!! So how am I reversing it?  When I come across something that portrays an illusion of perfection (lifestyle, body, hair, make-up, outfit) I just keep swiping.  “Good for them.” *moving on….*

Comparison is the thief of joy.  You want to be healthy and look good in a swimsuit?  You go girl!  But do it for yourself – not so you can keep up with ol’ whats-her-face on Facebook.  Remember that we live in the age of filters, angles and photoshop, so don’t be so quick to believe that what you’re seeing is being portrayed accurately and honestly.  There’s some good examples of this HERE (some language in this one) and HERE

If you find yourself constantly comparing yourself to others on social media, maybe take a little break.  Unplug for awhile, regain your confidence and find contentment in your life. Then hop back on when you’re ready.  If there’s someone you follow just for the sake of looking at their perfect body, face, and lifestyle…. unfollow.  Your time is so much more valuable spent elsewhere!!

NUMBER 4 –  SERVE

How often do we find ourselves overwhelmed with all that’s on our plate?  I’m not trying to make anyone’s problems seem insignificant – we’re all dealing with something, and one person’s trials are no less significant than another’s.  I have spent a lot of time feeling bad for myself, and I’m pretty sure that’s not doing me a crap-ton of good – and it’s certainly not what God had intended for us when He sent us here.  When I look for someone who might need a pick-me-up, I am suddenly pulled away from my despairs and worries as I focus my attention on them.  Bake cookies for your neighbor, go visit a widow(er) in your neighborhood.  Offer to take another mom’s kids for no reason, other than to give her a break. So even when you feel like your life is just one big ball of suck, try and look for ways to serve, and I guarantee your self confidence will blossom. mahatmagandhi1 copy

That’s what I’ve got for now.  Tell me what helps you be confident in who you are and how you gain more self-love!  I’d love to hear from you ❤

Heart Shawnee