To the Mothers Who Are Chain-breakers

My grandma was never told “I love you” growing up.

She eloped with her childhood sweetheart when she turned 18, then struggled with infertility for years before she had a procedure done that allowed her to give birth to my uncle, then my mom. She wasn’t a perfect mom, but she began to break the chain. I never once doubted how much she loved me. She told me and she showed me. I miss her.

My other grandma was a mother before she wanted to be. She was the caretaker for her siblings, devoted to them to the point that she put her own dreams on hold. She gave birth in a twilight sleep, and wasn’t “allowed” to comfort her sons when they cried (according to her, that wasn’t how things were done). She wasn’t perfect, but she did the best she could and offered the gift of laughter and joy, especially to her grandkids.

My mom married young and mothered 3 kids under 2. She was always present. She taught me that it’s okay to cry and feel. It’s okay to be anxious, it’s even okay to be depressed. It’s okay to feel big feelings and not know what to do about them. It’s okay to not perform and fit the mold you are expected to fit. It’s okay to be a little inappropriate at times, because that’s just keeping it real.

My other mom by marriage sacrificed the freedom of her youth to give birth to her son. She blazed a trail bravely, choosing single motherhood as a teenager, despite advice of others advocating for the alternative.

I never anticipated to be ushered into motherhood and adulthood at the same time. It wasn’t how I planned it. I’ve never lived alone. I don’t remember what it’s like to not be “on call.” Showering or going to the bathroom in peace is always a luxury. But my road was paved by strong women who overcame generational bondage and trauma. They did hard things, made choices (some good, some bad), but they laid out the bricks to walk a better journey than the ones who came before them.

As mothers, we break chains. We build upon what went before us… all the good, bad, and really bad. We change patterns. But mostly, we learn as we go. We make mistakes, and we ask for forgiveness. We strive to do better.

I am who I am because of the ones who came before me. I am grateful for my time with the mothers no longer here on this earth and for every spare second I can get with the ones who are. I hope to continue to break chains and build upon their foundation of strength, love, grace, and hope.

Stop Using Exercise to Punish Your Body; Use It to Connect WITH Your Body

Beyond the brain health benefits, beyond the physical health benefits, moving your body is a way to intentionally connect to it and create space for safety and healing and growth.

When you have trauma of any kind, when you have body image issues or a history of disordered eating or disordered exercise behaviors, when you are fighting a chronic disease or are consumed by depression or anxiety… the last thing you want to do is intentionally connect with your body and be present with it.

For this reason, I hold a deep appreciation for movement like yoga or slower, low impact exercises. When I was a runner only, I could escape from the racing thoughts. I could “beat my body into submission,” by pushing harder, increasing my miles or my speed. But in yoga, where the moves rarely change, or when I’m walking slowly through my hilly neighborhood, I’m trapped in my thoughts – and my body. I have learned to lean into the discomfort of being present with my body, instead of punishing it for not acting how I want it to act.

I heavily dislike anyone promoting that you shut down the signals your body sends to you. I recently saw two shirts pop up in Facebook ads (thanks algorithm) that bothered me on such a deep level. One shirt read, “FIT: F*&% I’m tired” and the other read, “Shut up, legs, you’re fine!”

Listen. If I’m tired, I probably need to rest or make an adjustment in my schedule. It is simply unhealthy to keep pushing forward. If my legs are hurting during a workout, I probably need to take a breath, ask my body how to provide it further support. Exercise is an incredible tool for growth and healing. It’s a hormetic stressor that can create stress resilience.

It is not for dissociation and punishment. 

Moving my body is a way to engage, not disengage and dissociate. One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do is be present and move with the body I have – not punish my body for what I don’t.

Movement is therapeutic, it’s a celebration, and yes – it can even be a form of worship.

What a joy to intentionally flood our brains with endorphins and serotonin and GABA and brain-derived neurotrophic factor. What a gift!

Exercise and moving your body isn’t just something that impacts your physical health. Like with the act of eating, your mindset matters. Your thoughts matter, and they send signals to every cell in your body. Using your time of movement to renew your mind, renew your thoughts about your body, and celebrate what your body can do goes beyond simply pumping your arms and legs and getting your heart rate up.

I love moving my body. I love connecting to it and creating space for safety and healing and growth. I DISLIKE shutting down the signals my body sends me. 

Remember: every thought you think is a chemical messenger that brings information to your cells, positive or negative. Partner with your body; don’t punish it.

Mental Health Awareness Month: What it Means to Be a Survivor

Someone recently asked me, “What do you mean when you say you are a survivor of bipolar disorder?” I paused for a second. What does it mean?

I ended up responding with this, “I no longer exhibit the symptoms of bipolar disorder.“

I’ve been thinking about this conversation ever since. 

Does not exhibiting symptoms of bipolar disorder mean that I no longer suffer from this illness?

Did my diagnosis match my symptomology in the first place?

This caused me to reflect back on the symptoms of bipolar disorder, which consists of fluctuation between a depressed state and a manic state.

Continue reading “Mental Health Awareness Month: What it Means to Be a Survivor”

Yes, You Are Swimsuit Ready!

A few days ago, as I was getting ready for the day, my youngest child, who’s five, squeezed my belly and asked me why my skin is different than his. He compared by attempting to squeeze skin from his belly, which obviously didn’t happen.

So I told him how my skin is more stretchy and elastic, and it has been stretched out quite a few times from getting bigger and smaller, and back again, because our bodies protect us and keep us safe by always changing. And how amazing is that???

I love warm weather and being in the sun, by the pool, or at the beach. I don’t love bathing suit season. Never have. But every year, I’m reminded of what my body went through in the last year to keep me safe. Whether that’s mood instability, weight gain or weight loss, autoimmune flares, gut issues, skin problems… our bodies do what they can to create balance in a continuously imbalanced world. 

So when that same five year old catches me in action like this (while I am trying to prepare my skin for an upcoming beach vacation) and tells me, “lift your arms up” for the picture…. I let him.

This pose represents one more year that has passed with me in a vessel that has worked so hard for me for a very long time. One more year that I’m still swimming, maybe doggy-paddling my way through life… but keeping my head above water.

My body is amazing. So is yours. Don’t let your current disappointment in your symptoms keep you from being present for the sunshine.

It’s Not Either/Or; It’s Both/And

I started my website four years ago because I wanted to share my story of surviving mental illness, and I wanted to give hope for healing for those that are continuing to struggle with errors. I wanted to share how it isn’t just chemicals in the brain, how it isn’t just in your head, and how there are very real physical deficiencies and imbalances at play, just as much – if not more than – imbalances at the brain level.

I have never been anti-medication, and I have never recommended anyone go off their medication without consulting their health practitioner. But I have always wanted to be realistic about the risks that come with taking medication. While medication may have served its purpose for me in the short term, there were plenty of unpleasant side effects I experienced when I took the wrong medication, or medication at too high of a dose, or because the medication I was given didn’t fit the disorder that I was experiencing. I never hallucinated or heard voices or saw strange things… until I started taking an antipsychotic.

With that being said, there are plenty of people in the world that do benefit from medication and will need to be on that medication long-term. For other people, there may be different solutions that improve their quality of life more than medication does. There is no one-size-fits-all to mental health.

I started my podcast because I wanted to seek out experts in the field who are doing things differently, who are looking for new solutions to an age-old problem that isn’t being solved with medication and talk therapy alone.

Because of what we know of the gut-brain connection, the HPATG axis, the vagus nerve, and even mitochondrial function, we know that there is so much going on under the surface when it comes to mental and physical health. We know that our body works as a network, one huge spiderweb, and nothing occurs on its own.

We are living in a time when everything is being polarized and divided into either/or categories. If you look at alternatives to medication or vaccines, you must be anti-med or anti-vaccine. If you take medication, you must be anti-natural health. If you are promoting any kind of nutritional support, you must be promoting dieting. These things aren’t true. It isn’t either/or. We can live in a both/and world.

Continue reading “It’s Not Either/Or; It’s Both/And”

Five Things I Do For My Mental Health Every Day

While I was officially given a mental illness diagnosis over 22 years ago, I struggled long before that.

That means I’ve spent most of my life battling my brain.

These five things help me manage my symptoms and keep me checking in with myself. When I’m feeling off, I check in and ask myself how I’m doing in each category.

Continue reading “Five Things I Do For My Mental Health Every Day”

Why I’m Not Bipolar – and Neither Is Anyone Else

22 years ago, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder (or manic depressive illness, as they called it back then) based on a set of symptoms, according to the DSM and failure to respond well to SSRI medication. My identity is not in my diagnosis, and neither is yours.

Imagine if we also said, “I am depression,” “I am anxiety,” “I am Hashimoto’s,” or “I am diabetes.” The phrasing doesn’t work for any other diagnosis. I’d also suggest that anytime we turn our diagnosis into an “I am” statement, we are attaching our unique identity to a set of symptoms, and putting our worth in our limitations.

22 years ago, I was suffering from the symptoms of bipolar disorder. I experienced bouts of glorious manic/hypomanic highs, where the world looked brighter and more alive, when I could stay up all night even with an illness like mono, when I felt charming and unstoppable and like the most brilliant person in the room. I also experienced waves of crushing depression, where I was unable to leave my bed, my body frozen, exhausted, and the world was a dark hole I couldn’t climb out of. It confused me because I was taking an anti-depressant at the time. So we upped the medication amount, and the highs got higher. I didn’t have any other tools for support (except my psychiatrist did mention there was emerging research on omega 3 supplements and brain health – too bad I hated burping up fish).

But here is the point I really want to get across:

Just because you were diagnosed with a mental illness by one person, based on a set of symptoms during one period of your life, doesn’t mean you will struggle with those symptoms for the rest of your life. That’s an archaic school of thought, and it doesn’t line up with newer research on brain health.

Often when we ONLY treat symptoms, instead of looking to the interconnecting root causes in each individual body, we don’t heal, and we limit the opportunity to find healing.

There are so many evidence-based tools to support mental WEALTH. Does rapid relief through medication possibly play a role? Sure! But remember, for some people, like me, it may exacerbate symptoms or make things worse, leading to new diagnoses and treatment cycle.

What are the puzzle pieces in my story that potentially led to a diagnosis of bipolar disorder? Some would say I have a genetic predisposition and leave it at that. But based on what we know of epigenetics, we know that our genes are only as influential in the way they express, and they express according to our environment.

Continue reading “Why I’m Not Bipolar – and Neither Is Anyone Else”

75 Hard? That’s a Hard Pass… And Here’s Why

To all my hard-working, go-getting, goal-digging female friends:

Oh, how I wish I could sit you down and tell you how amazing you are and how hard your body works for you to keep you alive. How I wish you could truly see yourself the way I do. I would tell you to take a big deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth. I would remind you that your body is safe. Your body is on your side.

Instead, I see the pressure. The pressure to punish the female body. To do extra hard things (as if your body isn’t working hard enough already). The latest and greatest in this masochistic movement masquerading as “discipline” is the 75 Hard program.

In case you’re unfamiliar, let me break it down for you.

In a program designed by a man (we’ll get back to that in a minute), it aims to promote mental toughness by engaging in the following activities DAILY for 75 days. Apparently, if you mess up, you start over.

  1. Follow any food plan designed for your goals, but zero alcohol and no cheat meals.
  2. Complete two 45-minute workouts every day – one of them outside.
  3. Every day, drink a gallon of water.
  4. Every day, read 10 pages of an educational or self-improvement book.
  5. Every day, take a picture of your progress.

Okay, at first glance it really seems like a great combination of holistic health – we’ve got the food piece, the movement, hydration, internal processing…. but hold up. A picture? Every day?

That’s the first thing that stands out to me that is troubling. I’ve posted many times about my personal issues with before and after pictures, so I can’t imagine the obsession a daily picture would create in me. I can just picture myself zooming in on every single roll, bulge, speck, spot, zit, crease, and stance. Making sure my pose is the exact same every day, or sucking in, not sucking in, sticking the hip out here, booty out there. Man, by the time picture time is over I could’ve been reading my 10 pages from a book! This seems to be quite triggering for anyone who struggles with body image issues – which is probably the exact type of person targeted for a program like this. Big nope for me.

Now, let’s get back to the whole “program started by a man” thing. I’m sure Andy Frisella is a very motivating person. He’s a CEO of a large company, and he gets things done. He’s created a movement. But Andy’s body is driven by a different kind of rhythm in order to get work done – the circadian rhythm. And while we females have a circadian rhythm as well, we also have something called an infradian rhythm. And where we are in that infradian rhythm – meaning, which phase of our menstrual cycle we fall into – makes a huge difference in how our bodies are going to be functioning optimally.

Continue reading “75 Hard? That’s a Hard Pass… And Here’s Why”

How to Stop Dieting in 2022

2021 was a year of emotional upheaval for me, and I know I’m not alone. Aside from the division and tension caused by a certain virus and all the politics (unfortunately) intertwined with it, our family went through a major transition. My husband made a career change and we moved cities to follow our dreams. We left family and close friends. I grieved the loss of what we left behind, along with broken relationships that didn’t get mended.

This took a toll on my hormones and digestion. While food consumption and movement didn’t change, my emotional environment did. And my body decided to protect me by storing weight. While I can wear my clothes still, I’m a little fluffier in them. They don’t fit the same. I don’t have the ease of movement in certain yoga poses that I used to.

Because I know I’m not the only one feeling this way, I also know this is where many of us are tempted to go on an extreme diet to lose the weight.

Here’s the thing I want to remind you – your body cannot let go of excess weight until it is in a place of safety and healing.

Trying to drastically cut calories and restrict food consumption in order to lose weight quickly may work at the beginning… at the expense of putting your body into a greater state of survival and fight or flight. This is why 95% of diets fail.

There has to be another way to restore the body to a place of healing.

For me, the key has been creating a healthy relationship with food and exercise. Here’s what that means:

  • Food isn’t something to earn.
  • Exercise isn’t punishment for poor eating.
  • Overconsuming food that has been chemically altered and designed to be overconsumed isn’t a moral failure. It doesn’t mean you lack willpower or discipline.
  • While calories are units of energy, calories in carbohydrates alone provide different types of energy than calories in protein and calories in fat, not to mention calories from a piece of cake and calories from a sweet potato. This looks different for every individual.
  • My response to certain foods changes throughout the month as my hormones shift. What is filling and fueling one day, may not be filling and fueling on another.
  • The state of stress I’m in while I’m eating may matter more than the content of what I’m eating.

Instead of placing an emphasis on food restriction and punishment, I must emphasize nourishment. What can I do for my body that is healing? What can I do that gives it a break from the stress? I think for many of us, it looks like changing the mindset first.

Until our perspective on food and health changes, we can’t make progress. We will always be battling a negative attitude toward our body and food, which perpetuates a state of survival in our already stressed out bodies.

Continue reading “How to Stop Dieting in 2022”

When the December Blahs Hit

December is my mental slump month. I recently posted about the top triggers for holiday anxiety, but to be honest, holiday anxiety is not something I struggle with throughout the month. But my “December Blahs?” They’re definitely a struggle and always have been.

Though I’ve never been formally diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder, my mood definitely shifts after Thanksgiving. The husband often catches it before I do. This year, I started feeling it earlier than usual. For me, it shows up as complete lack of motivation and willingness to engage. That’s the first symptom. I know from past history that if I let it linger there, I’ll take a deeper dive into true depression.

Last week, I made a trip to the library to load up on some fun holiday reading. As I gathered my stack of no less than seven books, I had this sudden despairing thought that it seemed like such a task to start a new book. Listen – new books bring me so much joy, so that thought was definitely an alert for me. When things that I consider fun stop feeling fun, that’s a sign that my mood is starting to tank.

At that moment, I realized I needed to take a step back and slow it down. I made no plans to fight the lack of motivation with excess activity, to beat my brain and body into submission like I used to. Instead, I came to the realization that for the rest of December, I’m committing myself to erasing to-do items off my lists. I’m not going to fight the blah. Instead, I’m going to recognize it for what it is, and re-adjust my expectations of myself.

This is a difficult mindset shift for me. I like to fill my schedule, I thrive with activity and overscheduling, and I love to have a thousand different plates spinning at one time.

Not for the rest of December.

Continue reading “When the December Blahs Hit”