Acknowledging Trauma, 30 Years Later

30 years ago, I stood at the bay window behind my left shoulder, and I watched my grandpa die on our front lawn. This was a pivotal moment for me.

This is the reason that I freeze up when there’s an emergency – even a mild one, like when my child gets a nosebleed. This is the reason that I space out from time to time. This is the reason I can’t have a proper reaction to sudden loss and I dissociate (as if there even is such a thing as a proper reaction to loss).

I spent a good 25 of these last 30 years kind of thinking that watching someone die at a young age is normal, that it’s my life’s burden, and I should just get over it and power through.

But my body knows better. Spring carries an undercurrent of sadness within the blooming beauty. When I smell honeysuckles, I experience fear, betrayal, abandonment, and sadness all over again. Every year since 1991, I typically find myself teary at some point in the middle of the month of April. The tears come without warning. And then I remember what month it is.

I don’t share this simply to bleed vulnerability all over the internet and incite sympathy. I say this because I know many of you have also experienced trauma, something that makes you feel alone at times, or different, or a shell of who you are.

Just like with mental health and nutrition, there is no one-size-fits-all to trauma. You may not be even be able to acknowledge it consciously. It may be showing up in ways you don’t expect; it may manifest as a chronic mental health issue or a physical ailment.

While 100% healing may never be a guarantee on this earth, a path to healing IS possible. Part of my path is sharing my story, hoping that it makes someone else who is struggling feel heard and understood. Even if our traumas are different.

Your pain is real. Your feelings are real. Your mystery symptoms are real.

April 16, 1991 was a cruelly tumultuous day in my childhood. While it’s a day that forever shaped my perspective of this world, it also brought restoration and healing and purpose I wouldn’t have had without it. It brought me to where I am today, fiercely advocating for wholeness and healing – mind, body and soul.

Dear 2020 – A Letter of Loss

Dear 2020,

I recently heard that it may be helpful to write a letter as a way to process grief and loss.

Because loss comes in many different forms and there is no one size fits all to grief, I want to say goodbye to you and process my losses in a way that makes sense to me. Since I’m writing to an inanimate object, I will try not to get bogged down by my perpetual fear of offending anyone or hurting anyone’s feelings.

You know the song lyric that goes, “You don’t know what you got til its gone?” 2020, you made those lyrics realer than anything. As I have been processing my grief since March, I realized that most of the things I lost, I didn’t appreciate until they were gone.

The first thing I lost this year is the belief that I don’t have to pick a side. You taught me that the lines are tattooed into the sand so tightly that we must choose. I thought I could avoid that. But it’s not true. We must pick sides, and we must use extreme assumptions. For example: If I believe that black lives matter, I’m a Marxist. If I am pro-medical freedom and body autonomy, I don’t care about other people. If I question Fauci, I’m a conspiracy theorist. If I do my own research, I’m anti-science. If I don’t vote for Trump, I’m not a Christian. If I do vote for Trump, I’m a racist. There is no middle ground, no exception, no gray areas. You are the year that forced us to believe we must all play your twisted version of Red Rover.

At some point during your reign of terror, maybe around May, I lost the silly notion that as humans, we can assume the best about each other and offer one another the benefit of the doubt. These days, thanks to the ease of social media, I see that we only assume the worst, then swiftly cut contact, de-friend, unfollow, cancel anything that we disagree with. We make posts that start with, “I’m about to get real, and if you don’t like it, block me and unfriend me.” I’m grieving the belief that I have the option to share that which offers encouragement and hope, not division and dissent. Many times, what I thought would be encouraging, was offensive.

The other big loss I experienced this year, something I didn’t know was a luxury until now, is the loss of smiles. Thanks to the cooler weather, I’ve started walking and running outside again, and it is such a gift to receive a real life toothy smile from a stranger as I’m passing by. Many people walk by expressionless, not saying a word to me. Were they like that before? I don’t know. But 2020, you have made me hyperaware of how other people interact, or fail to interact, with one another. I really miss smiling. Facial expressions are important to my psychological well-being, and I didn’t know it until now.

Continue reading “Dear 2020 – A Letter of Loss”

How EMDR Teaches Your Brain to Process Trauma and Find Healing

Everyone has experienced trauma in some form in their lifetimes. The fact that trauma is stored in the body is well-documented, and the various tools and therapies being developed for healing continue to amaze me. This is why I was so excited to take an entire podcast episode and devote it to one revolutionary healing method!

Zach Herrin is a Licensed Professional Counselor trained in EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). In this powerful episode, we discuss how trauma impacts our lives, the affect of grief, and how EMDR can be a powerful tool for healing. Download here or find it wherever you get podcasts!

Key Topics:

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  • Why is a trauma focus important in counseling?
  • How do you know if you have trauma?
  • The connection between grief and trauma
  • The history and science behind EMDR
  • Who can benefit from EMDR
  • The methodology behind EMDR
  • Kids and EMDR
  • The importance of emotional vulnerability

Learn more about Zach’s practice at solacecounselingcenter.com.

Being Bipolar in a Global Crisis

No amount of sugar or substance can make my brain buzz the way a dose of hypomania can. The ideas, the thoughts, and the LIFE that course through my head – all those are amplified in a time of crisis or extreme change. Being thrown off my daily routine or sleep schedule is a risk to my mental health. So throwing me into a global pandemic and giving me access to information 24/7 can really shake things up.

I find myself hopping around from medical research sites to conspiracy theory groups to political commentaries and read over all the comments and opinions. I am an excellent mimic. In order to manage my symptoms early on, I found a way to adapt to acceptable behavior and commentary, so I wouldn’t have to stand out any more than my buzzing brain could allow. I know what I shouldn’t voice in public or on social media, at risk of anyone thinking I am “crazy,” the C word accusation being one of my biggest threats. I fear other people’s opinions of me more than the average person, because deep down inside I know that my brain functions differently from everyone else’s, and that is scary. So I turn inward, and obsess, and research some more, and head down rabbit hole after rabbit hole, at the expense of my sanity.

At first the racing thoughts and buzz are a high, and they fuel me and energize me. At some point though, my brain reaches breaking point and I have to make it stop. I’ve been down these roads long enough to know where they end – in verbal explosions or in heavy medication to shut it all off.

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The carousel ride that is bipolar disorder.

So I fight. I maintain my mind by shutting off my triggers. I stop researching, stop listening and reading to anything that will throw me into a black hole of information. I take naps, and I go to sleep early. I’m fortunate in that I’ve never struggled with sleep. I can always breathe myself to sleep. In for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds, out for 8 seconds. I burn off the energy through heavy exercise. I write, I dig into my feelings and name what is going on instead of escaping through obsessive behaviors.

The thing about bipolar disorder, is that it manifests differently in everyone. Everyone struggles in a unique way, and everyone has different triggers.

*To hear more details from others who suffer and how they manage, click to listen to Episode 29 of the podcast on my show page or subscribe on iTunes.

I’ve compiled a list of my favorite tools for finding stability during times of major stress or life change. Before I list them, here is the caveat – these tools aren’t always effective in the middle of a full-fledged episode. It is really hard to tell someone who cannot physically get out of bed due to depression, “You should just lace up your shoes and go outside. Why are you just laying there?” Or telling someone who’s manic, “Slow down and go to sleep.” It doesn’t work like that. These are physical illnesses that affect the physical function of our bodies. Our brains aren’t capable of telling our bodies to do what our bodies need to do. This is why we have to be on the offense and employ these tools REGULARLY, during times of stability, so that they are habitual and instinctual. The sooner we can tighten up these strategies at the beginning of the roller coaster climb or at the beginning of the dip downward, the better off we will be. Continue reading “Being Bipolar in a Global Crisis”

A Taste of Grace – Interview with Melissa d’Arabian

I was thrilled to get the opportunity to sit down and talk to Melissa d’Arabian, Food Network host and author of the bestselling Ten Dollar Dinners, about her newest book Tasting Grace.

In her book, Melissa describes 16 invitations that transform the way we view food and our relationship with food.

I don’t know about you, but I have felt burdened by all the food rules lately. Everyone has an opinion on what is “good” or “bad” food. This book was a breath of fresh air in shaping my perspective on food as a gift and a joy.

In my interview with Melissa, she talks about why she chose to write this book, the intentional process she went through in forming it, and she shares some of her views that helped shaped the invitations in this book.

If you are feeling caught up and confused in the “eat this, not that” culture we live in, this book and episode of the podcast offers a fresh and balanced perspective. Food can unite us, and we can utilize what we’ve been given to be filled with more gratitude – and grace.

If you love this interview, I can’t recommend the book enough. It is a love letter to food and the Giver of good things. For more information on Melissa, check out her website here.

Be sure to subscribe to the Sparking Wholeness podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts! To access my show page, click the tree to the right!

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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.