When the Christmas Season Doesn’t Go as Expected

Do you ever have the feeling you just don’t do holidays as well as other people? Or maybe the holiday season hasn’t gone as you wanted it to? 

We’ve had a difficult fall, as I’ve been dealing with some heavy past trauma I didn’t know I had. My Christmas spirit has been minimal. I don’t decorate like crazy anyway, but this year was half-hearted at best, featuring an old artificial tree with busted lights, a couple nativity sets.

I ordered a few presents on Amazon when I was sick in bed with the flu, and we took our kids to Six Flags for an experiential gift, instead of loading them up with more toys they won’t play with more than once.

I waste a lot of time scrolling social media. I look at other people’s decoration pictures, the baking reels, the cute creative reels, the smiling kids in their matching Christmas clothes… and I worry my kids are missing out on something this season. We didn’t do enough. They’ll resent us.

But then I offer myself a different perspective. Our family has spent many evenings in the last month cuddled up on the couch together, watching The Chosen. Richard and I have spent numerous nights, practically every night we can, connecting and sharing – often with hard conversations, but mostly making memories I will treasure forever.

See, I might have made a mistake sometime in September. On a morning walk, I asked God to show me His love in a new way. And boy, has he delivered. I’ve seen his love through the raging tornado of my past trauma, because out of my brokenness comes his promised wholeness. I’ve seen his love through friends who have checked on me and offered a listening ear. I’ve seen his love through the unconditional love and support of my husband. I’ve seen his love through the three very chill, very laid back kids I’ve been gifted.

And I see his love through the gift of Jesus.

As Paul David Tripp writes in his Christmas devotional, Come Let Us Adore Him, “What sense would it make for God to go to the extent of sending his Son to be born for our sake, and then abandon us along the way? Since God was willing to make such a huge investment in his grace, isn’t it logical to believe he will continue to invest in his grace until that grace has finished its work?”

It’s okay that I don’t have an Instagram-worthy living room. It’s okay that my kids didn’t decorate Christmas cookies, that they didn’t see lights, that they didn’t get the usual amount of cousin and grandparent time this year. It’s even okay that they got more screen time than I’d like (it pains me to say that one out loud).

What matters to me is the lesson I’m learning… THAT is the most important legacy I can pass on to my kids, something they can hold on to through any of life’s plot twists.

His grace and unfailing lovingkindness don’t run out. There is no limit. I haven’t reached capacity. I continue to pull from that well of living water, the kind that never runs out, because he can’t be anything other than who he is – a God who sees, who rescues, and who creates life from death. Over and over again. He did it for me. He can do it for you.

Oh, come let us adore Him indeed! 

Merry Christmas, 

Erin

Putting My Mental Illness into Remission

I was medicated for bipolar disorder for 18 years. Ten years ago, I went off anti-psychotic medication. Eight years ago, I weaned off my remaining medication, an SSRI antidepressant.

Today, I am mentally healthier than I’ve ever been, particularly in the last five years, since I have been (mostly) gluten free and eat a lower carbohydrate diet. In fact, my husband would agree that since I changed my eating habits, there has been more of an increase in my mental stability. The times that I consume a bit of gluten here and there, and eat a little more carbs than usual, I typically start to sense some mental instability creep up. The connection between gluten, carbohydrate content, and psychiatric disorders has much clinical evidence behind it, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

I always feel the need to offer a few disclaimers before I share more of my story. Number one, I never encourage anyone to go off medication cold turkey or without the support of a medical professional. Unfortunately, many medical professionals don’t offer much caution in the tapering of medication, so there must be more of a support team in place, in my opinion. Going off medication cold turkey can lead to many unfavorable side effects and can often lead to a person feeling worse than they did BEFORE medication, so it is a very bad idea. When I weaned off my last med, I had a support team in place, and I had established many health practices that had me in the best physical shape possible. It wasn’t a quick decision; it took a lot of detailed planning and prayer.

Number two, every mental illness manifests differently in every individual who experiences symptoms. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1999, back when they still called it manic-depressive illness and didn’t distinguish between bipolar 1 or 2 as they do now. The symptoms I experienced at the time met the diagnostic criteria. Unlike most clinical diagnoses, diagnosing a mental illness means checking boxes on a list of symptoms, not looking at a blood test – and definitely not a brain scan. Because of that, and because I no longer experience the same symptoms, I consider myself to be in remission from this illness.

Here are the symptoms I experienced at the time that categorized me with bipolar disorder: periods of depression, lasting longer than a week where I felt fatigue, loss of interest in regular activities, sadness, apathy, worthlessness, and an inability to get out of bed at all. I also experienced symptoms of mania and hypomania, which meant that for short periods of time I felt increased energy, euphoria, an inability to sleep or slow down, racing thoughts, distractibility, and an increase in risky behavior and impulsivity.

Continue reading “Putting My Mental Illness into Remission”

Freedom from the Mental Illness Shame Cycle

When I was 21, I made a suicide pact with myself. I felt the weight of the world on a consistent basis, as I struggled with depression, mania, and the chaos of jumping from one failed medication to the next. My mind was not my friend, and I didn’t feel safe in my body. At the young age of 21, I was fatigued from fighting the swirling thoughts and the heavy waves. I was burdened by being the only one who suffers from such a debilitating disorder.

I didn’t want to be on this exhausting earth any longer than necessary.

I decided that by my 41st birthday, I would end it all.

Today I turn 39. I have been in a stable place mentally for over a decade. The giant roller coaster I used to ride with my moods is now just a soft swell, a gentle up and down of a kiddie coaster.

I have no intention of ending my life. Not now. Not ever.

img_7600My life is a gift. My illness is a gift. For so long I lived in shame about my diagnosis. I didn’t want to share about it, and I didn’t want to look “abnormal.” I knew I carried a stigma. Today I am learning that thanks to my moods, I get to see the world from a different lens. Colors are richer and brighter to me. The air is fresher. Sounds are more soothing and meaningful. Everything is vibrant and alive. And even when they are not, and I experience a drop in my mood, I see the dark side and feel more deeply than others… meaning I can empathize with others’ pain in a way I wouldn’t be able to otherwise.

I know now that my pain has a purpose. My pain showed me who I can be in spite of a broken brain.

Continue reading “Freedom from the Mental Illness Shame Cycle”

Green Lentil Curry

I’ve been in a pantry cleaning mood lately. I didn’t say organizing. You can ask my husband – organization is NOT my skill set. But I’m trying to make use of ingredients we have hanging out in the back of the pantry. You know those things you need for a recipe, you use a tiny bit of, then you forget about them? Those things.

So when I found green lentils that, for the life of me I can’t remember what we used them for, I decided to go searching for a way to cook them.

I found the original recipe here, and apart from the green curry paste, I had all the ingredients I needed on hand – total win. I added a few different things to the recipe, took away some others, and the result is a flavorful, hearty dish that is thicker than soup but just as warming. Continue reading “Green Lentil Curry”

New Year, Same Me: And That’s Okay

The biggest transformation that happened for me this last year had nothing to do with my body and had EVERYTHING to do with how I see my body.

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January 2019 compared to January 2020 – same me, but transformed perspective!

If you want to lose weight this year, great. If you want to take a different approach to health by balancing things from the inside out, that’s something I will continue to share about in 2020.

Just remember – someone else’s before and after doesn’t tell the full story. What looks like “discipline” may actually be disordered eating. What looks like gaining weight or hitting a plateau may actually be a year of grief and stress. We can’t measure success or failure from a picture.

What’s always missing in these before and after pictures is the DURING.

Continue reading “New Year, Same Me: And That’s Okay”

Re-Focus 2020: See Yourself More Clearly

Is it time for a change?

I’m not talking about weight loss, or a new goal or resolution. I’m not talking about a diet. I’m talking about getting a new view of YOU in the new year.

You probably have heard me say it – I’m a big fan of treating the root. And as much as I love partnering with people to make healthy habits, I also believe that focusing on laying a solid foundation FIRST is key to success.

That’s why I have partnered with Christian author and body image expert Heather Creekmore to bring you a 10 day wellness group to get your mind and heart ready for the new year.

Whether your goal is to lose weight, be more mindful of what you eat, or just feel healthier physically, spiritually and emotionally – this 10 day community can help kick start your goals.

Each day I will offer strategies to personalize your nutrition and become more mindful of your eating habits. I will bring you my favorite tools for learning how to listen to your body and find what’s right for YOU!

Heather will bring strategies to help you lay a solid, spiritual foundation for improving your body image and quitting comparison. She will encourage you with ways to improve your spiritual health so that your physical goals are easier to meet.

The 10 day group will take place through a private Facebook group January 6-16. We will post daily during the 10 days, and we will be available throughout to offer you support and answer all your questions.

In addition to daily tips, challenges, and special video lessons, we’ll be giving away two gifts to thank you for participating. I will provide my “Fast Track Family Recipes” booklet and Heather is gifting you “Mountain Top Experience: A Personal Body Image Retreat.”

The price to participate in this group is only $20! Sign up here or contact me in the contact tab if you are interested!

I hope you have a happy and healthy new year!

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Healthy Holiday Sides with Carrots and Sweet Potatoes

Carrot souffle and sweet potato bake that are grain free, dairy free, and refined sugar free? Yes, please!

Now, before you head to the recipes, I have to say one quick thing. I know it’s a pain when you are looking for a recipe and the blogger spends all this time with the description and build up and pictures and you’re like, “Just get to the dang ingredients, Karen!”

But after I say this I’ll be done – and you can go on your merry way to try out these recipes.

I get annoyed with the phrase “healthy” in regards to food choices during the holidays. Holidays are celebratory, and if you’re stressing out about whether something is “healthy” or not, and you’re panicked about every ingredient in your meal, you’re less likely to be able to digest the nutrients from that meal.

Stressing about food is the opposite of health, in my opinion.

That being said, it seems to me that every year I get busier with celebrations. We have countless parties, and all of them feature lots of food and lots of alcohol. Because monitoring my mental health is always priority for me, and I will do whatever I can to fight seasonal depression, eating loads of sugar and drinking sugary alcoholic beverages can be taxing on my mental stability.

Consuming lots of sweet treats and drinking alcohol frequently during the month of December will throw off my sleep, make me less well-rested the following day, and then cause my cravings to skyrocket – perpetuating the cycle. So while I don’t want to stress about my food, I do want to be MINDFUL about what I’m choosing and how those choices will make me feel afterward. (For more on eating for mental health and my thoughts on that, check out the Sparking Wholeness podcast episode 10.)

Which leads me to the recipes.

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Continue reading “Healthy Holiday Sides with Carrots and Sweet Potatoes”

Eating for Mental Wealth

Nourishment comes in many forms beyond food.

Being aware of triggers that negatively impact my mental and physical well-being (because they’re connected) is key.

Your relationship with food affects your mental health as well. If you’re stressed about what you’re eating – or what you can’t eat – that sets off a fight or flight response in the body that is not health-promoting.

 

Eating for Mental Wealth

 

There is comfort in food. There is joy found in a good meal with friends, in a special holiday gathering. So the last thing I would say is you have to turn down dessert at every special event because it’s going to cause some mental health relapse. It probably won’t. If you have a leaky gut and food sensitivities, it might cause problems. I don’t know your body and your situation. It will take trial and error and individualized support.

I do want you to be aware of some of the most important things I’ve found that hinder and benefit my mental health, based on my own experience and all the latest research on how food IS mood.

Check out my most recent podcast episode, Eating for Mental Wealth, for more information on how I view nourishment! Click on the tree logo on the right to access the show page or listen on iTunes here.