Mom Life During a Pandemic: How We Can Best Support Our Kids’ Mental Health

I don’t have to remind anyone that the last few weeks of this pandemic and period of social distance have been unlike anything experienced or seen in our lifetime. My work schedule has been interrupted, my husband’s work schedule has been interrupted, our social life has disappeared, and my kids are completely thrown off. Field trips were cancelled, basketball season has been delayed, and school went online until…when? Do we even know? Dates spin in and out of my head, fighting for the return of normalcy. Is it April 9th? 21st? Or do we wait for the 30th to resume prior activities? I can’t even keep track.

This kind of disruption and uncertainty is difficult for me. Change of all kind is hard for me, especially as one who fights to stay mentally stable. I get the opportunity to verbalize that, share about it with my friends (via phone or text only, of course), and have long discussions with my husband.

My kids, however, don’t know how to express their fear or anxiety as well. For them, it comes out in misbehavior, aggression, moodiness, hyperactivity, tearfulness, or even closed off apathy. That is developmentally understandable. As their prefrontal cortexes are still developing, it is difficult for them to access emotions or positive decision-making when they are in fight or flight mode. A stressful trigger, like being told they can no longer see their friends or go to school, is going to take a toll on their bodies. Stress hormones get ramped up, contributing to more fear and anxiety that is difficult to process. Chronic stress can also affect the immune system and its function.

This is true for adults as well. Even though we have the luxury of developed brains, it is still difficult to access our frontal lobe and respond appropriately to hardship when we are faced with extreme stressors.

So what is the solution?

It starts with us.

Continue reading “Mom Life During a Pandemic: How We Can Best Support Our Kids’ Mental Health”

The Age of Outrage

I try to be very intentional about what I choose to speak out on. I am a woman with a LOT of opinions on a lot of things, but I prize relationships over my opinions so I don’t speak up if I fear it will hinder authentic relationship-building.

That being said, I have spent the last 5 days silently observing the frenzy taking over my newsfeeds. It has deeply disturbed me, though maybe not for reasons you would think. I’m ready to speak up now.

We are currently caught up in a viral response system. We are tangled up in an age of outrage, and nobody is immune.

As a result of this age of outrage, everyone is REACTING to everything, and nobody is RESPONDING to anything. And there’s a physiological reason this is occurring.

But before I explain that, here is what I mean by the age of outrage:

After a skillful performance that was a dazzling and empowering celebration of Latin American culture at the Super Bowl halftime show, my newsfeed blew up in criticism. I’m not surprised by much anymore, but that caught me off guard. I didn’t expect anything different from performers like Shakira and Jennifer Lopez, so I didn’t understand the outrage and shock. (Side note – I also spent most of the show dancing along and trying to do whatever they were doing, so I didn’t scrutinize every movement either.) Did it bother me that a 50 year old has to strive to look like a 25 year old to stay relevant and desirable? Maybe. But again, I didn’t expect anything different from the entertainment industry.

What affected me the most and what caused me to silently observe, hesitant to say anything at all, is that everyone seemed to be REACTING based on their own perception of the show, based on their own life stage and season, based on their own personal triggers. And so many of these reactions and post fed MORE posts, and shares, and back and forth commentaries.

For this reason, I am NOT going to share any more of my personal views, as they are multi-layered and will cause division and have nothing to do with the reason I am writing this. Now, I could talk about clothing choices and unfortunate camera angles (seriously – was J Lo’s gynecologist filming???) but that’s not what I want to get at here. Continue reading “The Age of Outrage”

The Myth of More

“Our discontent is fueled by the myth of more.”

My brilliant dad, Gary Brandenburg, recently said that in a sermon. It hit me so hard I had to do some major self-reflection.

I am a person who always wants more. This started at a young age:

Why have one Whopper when you can have two?

Why have one doughnut when you can have eight?

Why join one sport when you can play them all?

Why audition for just the school play when you can audition for the community theatre play, too?

Why volunteer in just one church ministry when you can volunteer in multiple?

But it doesn’t stop there. I don’t want to simply DO everything, I want to EXCEL at everything. So I can not only have more activity and excitement, but I can have more accolades and achievement.

I know I’m not the only one. I think our current culture drives this mindset through all the pleasant distractions that trick us into fulfillment.

The result? This “myth of more” causes major boundary issues, and it is completely unrealistic.

When I am consumed by the myth of more, I say yes to too much. I overdo it. I crash. I let myself down. I let others down – typically, the ones who matter most to me.

I can’t do everything and do every thing well.

When I’m rushing to find satisfaction from achievement or excess or MORE, I can’t be present. I can’t be satisfied.

This Thanksgiving week, I have purposefully taken a week off from my usual schedule to meditate daily, enjoy good meals, have fun with my family, read fiction instead of non-fiction health books, spend quality time with my husband, and just BE. When I catch my mind spinning on things I “have to” or “need to” do – usually those things driven by a need to find fulfillment in distraction – I stop my thoughts, take a deep breath through my nose, and tell myself, “This week I am resting. That can wait.”

It is a beautiful thing. I always find contentment when I choose to be present and grateful.

So wherever you are reading this, take a deep breath, hold it, let it out slowly, and tell yourself that you already have everything you need, right in front of you!

“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” -‭‭ Philippians‬ ‭4:19‬

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Kanye, Bipolar Disorder, Religiosity, and My Thoughts

While my entire Facebook feed is filled with articles and comments about Kanye West’s new album and recent conversion, I have stayed silent. Why?

Because number one, I don’t really know anything about Kanye to begin with (other than the time he hijacked Taylor Swift’s speech on the VMAs and the famous rant about George Bush not caring about black people). He has kids with weird names and a wife with an awesome body. That’s about all I know. Superficial? Maybe. I can’t tell you the name of any of his songs. They’re not on my running playlist.

Number two, what he does or says doesn’t have any affect on me personally. If he wants to sing songs about being rich and famous or songs about Jesus – cool. I typically don’t speak up about issues in pop culture unless I feel they have some kind of heart-twisting impact on me and my life… or if they have some kind of mental health connection.

So when I heard he suffers from bipolar disorder, that’s when the light bulb turned on. How did I miss this? Talk about a plot twist! It led me to take an interest in all the Kanye news of the last year or so. While many out there are debating whether his conversion is real or a publicity stunt, my first thought upon learning this is – is this all a manic episode?

Continue reading “Kanye, Bipolar Disorder, Religiosity, and My Thoughts”

Diet Before Diagnosis – Is There a Connection?

“I’m not blonde, and I’m not skinny. Therefore, I’m not attractive.”

That’s a line straight from my journal in 1999.

I have healed from many things in my past, but I don’t think I ever grieved for the young girl who thought that people would only like her if she was skinny.

According to my January 1999 journal entry, I was on a mission to weight 130 pounds. Thanks to Zoloft, I had gained a good 30 pounds or so from end of sophomore to beginning of senior year, and by the first semester of my senior year I spent a lot of time isolating, reading historical romances, and pining away for a college soccer player I cared about who played me like a fresh fiddle.

This diet gave me new life. A new identity. A new way to really love the skin I was in  – because it would come in a much smaller body. According to my journal, I was drinking two special protein drinks a day and going off of carbs, sugar, and caffeine. I was supposedly “retraining my body” to digest and store food, and there was an 85% chance I would NEVER gain my weight back. Continue reading “Diet Before Diagnosis – Is There a Connection?”

Rhett’s Story – How Treating the Root of Illness Changed Everything

Almost 3 years ago, my third child was born. It was my best pregnancy and easiest labor and delivery. The recovery was a walk in the park. I thought for sure that adding on a third kid would be no problem.

I was wrong. At 8 weeks old, Rhett was admitted to Children’s Hospital due to RSV. His little body fought to breathe. He was congested and had to be suctioned out frequently in order to get oxygen and when that didn’t work, he needed an oxygen mask. It was terrifying.

 

He developed an ear infection, so he received antibiotics.

He developed thrush and a yeast infection from the antibiotics.

He got better, then developed another ear infection.

More antibiotics.

Then breathing treatments. Albuterol.

More yeast.

More antibiotics.

Reflux and spit-up and projectile vomiting.

Ears.

Antibiotics.

Breathing treatments.

Ibuprofen. Tylenol.

ANTIBIOTICS.

Do you get the picture? Do you see the cycle? We were on a cycle of insanity. After the 8th round of antibiotics, he got ear tubes and that seemed to lessen the frequency of the ear infections… but it didn’t heal him. Continue reading “Rhett’s Story – How Treating the Root of Illness Changed Everything”

The Biggest Issues in Children’s Health Today – an Interview with Dr. Alina Olteanu

img_8840I recently sat down to interview Dr. Alina Olteanu, integrative pediatrician and owner of Whole Child Pediatrics of North Texas. Dr. Olteanu played a major role in helping my youngest heal from chronic ear infections and restrictive airway disease (which I share about here).

I was thrilled to pick her brain about children’s health in the 21st century, and let me tell you – she is a wealth of knowledge! You can find the full audio recording from the show page here, or on iTunes here.

Below is a transcription of the interview. All that is missing from the recording are a few comments I made here and there, but I encourage you to listen to the audio or YouTube link to hear the emotion and passion in both of our voices as we discuss these fascinating topics. She definitely speaks my language on all things gut health and brain health. I hope you enjoy what she has to say and please share with a friend!

What brought you to integrative medicine? Continue reading “The Biggest Issues in Children’s Health Today – an Interview with Dr. Alina Olteanu”

Mental Health Awareness Month: Kathie’s Story of Healing

img_3137I am so thrilled that my friend Kathie Pagliaro offered to be a guest contributor in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month. Like I always say, there is no one size fits all for mental health. Kathie and I met almost 4 years ago at a leaders retreat for our company, and we instantly connected (we even had the same Rosie the Riveter costume idea)! She has 3 kids: Grace (12), Jackson (7), and Vivi Lee (1).

She shares her story in hope that others who struggle – despite being on medication – can be empowered to search for other forms of healing and recovery.


When I think back to May of 2014, my life seems like a blur. Although, I was married to my high school sweetheart, a mama of two precious kiddos and working as a first grade teacher (my dream job), my life was a mess. And I don’t mean the “you’ve got two week old McDonald’s cups and old mail in your floorboard of your car” mess (although I had that too). I mean an actual miserable mess. A life full of anger, anxiety, fear, sadness, sickness and exhaustion.

In order for you to see the whole picture let’s back up…

img_3294Around the age of 22 I began having periods of anxiety. I was in my first year teaching, while also planning our wedding. I thought it was just normal stress stuff so I brushed it off and moved on. Four years later, after the birth of our first daughter I began having major mood swings. I would be crying and angry one minute and full of joy the next. I struggled like this for months until one day felt so depressed and hopeless I considered suicide. Even now, writing those words makes me cry because it was such very dark place. I felt my sweet little family deserved something better than me… that this world would be better off without me in it. Thankfully, God gave me the strength to speak up to a dear friend that morning, and she encouraged me to seek help. I found myself in my doctor’s office crying to him about my situation. He told me it was most likely postpartum depression and if I would just take this antidepressant, within a few moths I would probably be fine and be able to come off of it. At the time I wasn’t on any prescription medication, but I went home with that pill bottle – and a lot of hope.

Unfortunately, the meds didn’t do much for the symptoms of depression and I began experiencing unwanted side effects. So I called back to the doctor’s office, only to have them inform me that it could be a bit of a dance trying to find the right dosage and right prescription. Little did I know how long this dance would last… 8 years to be exact.

After a few different dosages and different pills, we finally settled on one that seemed to have the least amount of side effects with the best results. Continue reading “Mental Health Awareness Month: Kathie’s Story of Healing”

Mental Health Awareness Month: A Postpartum Journey

img_2536In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, I want to introduce you to my former college roommate Cole Gilbert and allow her to share her story. Cole is a homeschool mom to 4 kids –  Ava (10), Grayson (8), Brogan (5), and Livy (3). Her husband is Associate Pastor of Community and Missions at Trinity Baptist Church in Lake Charles, Louisiana. She is a reminder that there is NO one size fits all to mental health. Everyone has a different story to tell, and we MUST be our own health advocates and trust our instincts. I hope her story touches you as it did me.


 

Chad and I recently went on a date to celebrate . . . Prozac.

Yep, you read that right. I’ve been on Prozac/Zoloft for 5 years and our date night celebrated one week since I had taken my last pill. I’m officially medicine-free and that’s worth celebrating!

But we were also celebrating and thanking God for how much this medicine has helped me these last few years. I’m glad to be off of it, but I have NO SHAME from needing to be on medicine!

If you are dealing with postpartum issues, depression, anxiety, or other mental illnesses, please hear my encouragement to talk honestly with your doctor and/or counselor and get the help you need. This may be medicine, but it could also be counseling to help process issues (trauma or fear), or someone helping you see changes in your life that need to be made (diet, boundaries, relationships, activities). Whatever it is, you will not regret getting help!

I’ll share my story below for anyone who could benefit from my experience with postpartum anxiety, but if you can only read a little bit, then I want you to know this:

  1. You are not alone when life is hard. There is help available. It’s hard to be vulnerable, but getting help is worth it. You know yourself best so trust your instincts.  If you feel like you are not yourself, please talk to your doctor.  You will have to push through the embarrassment or urge to explain your symptoms away, but it will be worth it.  Fight the shame and fear.  Call your doctor, call a friend, call someone!

  2. You may not deal with these issues, but chances are good that someone around you does. Be gracious. Be a good friend. Check on new mamas.  Beg them to be honest with you about how they are doing. Offer prayers and practical support even when you don’t understand what they are going through. Resist the urge to minimize their issues, judge, and shame. Please don’t suggest that something that is chemical/hormonal is really just a spiritual problem or a lack of faith. Walk through the hard WITH them. The Church can do better at this!

My Story

When Brogan (my 3rd child) was 10 days old, something changed. I was of course exhausted and a little overwhelmed with bringing a 3rd baby in the mix, but this was more than just being overwhelmed. I woke up a few hours after going to bed and was having the first panic attack of my life. I spent the rest of the night having panic attacks, throwing up, crying, and praying. By the time Chad woke up, I was a mess. He took one look at me and knew something was very wrong. In wisdom, he asked me to immediately call my OB. I was so confused because I wasn’t having the symptoms of postpartum depression and at that point I didn’t even know postpartum anxiety was a thing. All I knew was that I was not myself and I needed help asap. Continue reading “Mental Health Awareness Month: A Postpartum Journey”

The Stockholm Syndrome of Dieting

It’s a high in the beginning, isn’t it?

Making lists, planning it out. Calculating the numbers. Feeling in control.

But then…the hunger hits. The panic sets in. Do I eat when it will put me over my limit for the day? Do I choose celery when I really want guacamole? Do I sit there at the restaurant and smile while everyone else is digging in? Saying, “No, that’s okay…I’m not really hungry” when meanwhile, you’re about to eat your own finger???

It’s confusing and it’s awkward.

Some people love it, these highs and lows of dieting. I think some even thrive on them. Because the second that scale goes down 16 ounces, all is right with the world…and it makes it worth pressing on through the pain.

It’s like being kidnapped and falling in love with your kidnapper. Nobody loves being on a diet. But we like the feel of perceived control, the success of the numbers decreasing, the rumbling tummies and the willpower of steel that says, “Nope, I’m not listening to you.”

Is that REALLY how life is supposed to be lived?

What if there was a better way? What if you could become in tune with your hunger cues and find food that makes your body SING? What if you learned to address the emotions behind the urge to hop on the next diet trend. What if you learned how to find freedom in the body you have?

I want to challenge the entire concept of dieting as a means to finding contentment in your body.

I believe that for most people, the weight you need to lose is in your mind. Dieting is being held captive by something you hate to love and love to hate. It is enslaving. It is anxiety-inducing. Though we love it, it does more damage than good.

How do you know you are enslaved by the dieting mindset? Continue reading “The Stockholm Syndrome of Dieting”