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Health & Wellbeing

I don't know exactly how long I've struggled with anxiety.

When I first started working on this post I thought it must have been sometime in the fall of 2014, post thru-hike, when I named my struggle with anxiety. But I recently found a journal entry from the summer of 2013 in which I wrote that one of the things I hoped to accomplish in hiking the AT was to "learn how to master my mind, to gain the upper hand on my anxiety tendencies".

Sure enough, when I do a search on the blog for "anxiety" that word starts showing up with some frequency in 2013. I was pretty anxious about our hike and all the many unknowns that accompanied that adventure.

I forgot I wrote that in my journal. I didn't accomplish my goal of "mastering my mind" on the AT or gaining the upper hand on anxiety. It was almost the opposite.

Like many people with anxiety I am a really good manager and if I can manage things "just so" and control situations to my liking the anxiety is less prevalent in my life. Generally, I think I "managed" things really well till about five years ago and then things started to go a little off the rails in terms of my sense of security and I was pretty much destined to come face to face with my anxiety.

I know over the years I've recognized times of fear in myself, and of course doubt, but I didn't recognize the underlying anxiety in my life. I'm pretty sure it wasn't as bad when I was a young woman and young mother. I just don't remember it being an issue. I felt fairly secure and confident at that point in my life and that would have definitely helped to ameliorate any underlying anxiety.

One of the tricky things about identifying something in yourself is that you have no idea other people are different. Doesn't everyone always think of the worst case scenario, anticipate the worst? Isn't everyone hypervigilant about danger and risk? Doesn't everyone catastrophize and ruminate? Etc.

I'm pretty sure that the three short episodes of situational depression in my life - late-winter 2012, March 2013 and my trail depression were due to unrecognized and unresolved anxiety.

I have family members who have struggled with anxiety and depression. This isn't particularly special, it feels like in modern society these are common afflictions. My point is, I probably have a genetic pre-disposition to this struggle.

I'm going to share my experience of identifying and dealing with anxiety in my life. I am not a professional, though I've gotten some recommendations from mental health professionals in my family. I'm not in therapy (but I have people to talk to) and I'm not taking medication.

What I share is my own experience and what I've learned from my reading, research, personal practice and disciplines.

My dear friend and wise woman Krista at A Life in Progress partnered with me to share her experiences and educated advice for dealing with anxiety and mood-balance. Krista is a Certified Holistic Nutritionist, women's wellness advocate and wellness research geek. Her posts are:


In addition, last year Rachel Wolf published Ten tips to quiet anxiety. Her ideas, though brief, are very useful.

This is a very long post because I want all this information and the story in one place. There are eight sections and you can jump down directly with the following links:


What does anxiety feel like to me?

  • an overwhelming negative outlook on a situation
  • fear about unfamiliar situations and the future
  • the belief that a negative situation I'm currently experiencing is my future
  • a deep insecurity about belonging (or not belonging)
  • worry
  • overly sensitive reactions to unexpected stimuli (I freak out easily)
  • the belief that I do not have the resources I need to cope with a particular situation

The first thing I recognized when I came to accept that I struggle with anxiety, is that over many years I had developed a pattern of negative thinking, and I was so used to this way of thinking I wasn't even aware of it. I did this automatically.

This was one of the big lessons I learned on the trail, my thoughts could be faulty and toxic.

When I came home from the trail I knew I had to change my thinking. My thoughts were sabotoging me.

I recognized I had a problem, big time, but I also asked myself why the anxiety erupted in my life now. I've always been high strung, "anxious", a worrier, and tend towards pessimism over optimism, but none of that had derailed me the way I experienced on the trail and in the few years leading there.

At that point, in fall 2014/winter 2015, to help me answer the why question, I returned to studying my personality and increasing my self-knowledge. And what was glaringly obvious was that I was deeply insecure. I was crumbling. Some of these insecurities were "real" - the financial instability of our on-line business and self-employment. Others were things I perceived as insecure, and because perceptions are powerful and thoughts can create our reality, these were just as real.

I'm still pretty insecure in a lot of ways, not just related to finances or stability. I'm working on it.

Security & Stability

Security and stability are hugely important to me. I used to be ashamed of this since these traits make me less likely to take risks and more resistant to change. Mindsets that modern people are supposed to embrace in order to keep up with the times.

Years ago, when I met Damien and was assessing if he was "the one", one of the things I looked for was his ability to provide security and stability. These are core needs of mine and we didn't pay much attention to these core needs of mine for a few years. There was a lot of change and what I perceived as risk, and I slowly become less emotionally healthy because of it. (Core needs can also express themselves as core fears and this definitely happened to me but I'm not going into that right now. I talk a little bit about that in the personality section below.)

The perfect storm had brewed in which anxiety brought me to my knees. Toxic thoughts and ingrained negative thought patterns, an erosion of my sense of security, and a lot of things happening in my life that I couldn't control.

Anxiety is a personal issue but it's also a marital and family issue. How can it not be? So the first steps we took to deal with my anxiety and insecurity were to shift Damien's career back to full-time technology work, increasing our income; and we decided to move to Montreal, and stay here, for the remainder of our active child-raising years. Being able to adequately meet the kids social and intellectual needs greatly reduced my overall anxiety.

It's almost embarrassing to admit that Damien needed to make changes to his career to help with my anxiety, that we needed more money, that we had to change the circumstances, that I wasn't able to rise above this all on my own simply by changing my mindset. These changes haven't been the cure by any means, but it was a step in the right direction.

But that's just the reality, sometimes you have to change circumstances, make shifts in your relationships, etc. to provide the structural support you need so you can make the changes to your thinking. I'm just extremely grateful for a loving husband who recognized what needed to be done, I didn't at the time, and was willing to make those sacrifices for me.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

While I was on the trail a friend and trail angel (and one of the most positive thinking people I've met) told me about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I filed the idea away and came back to it the winter of 2015. I started slow (as I do with all new ideas) with some books from the library and then when we moved to Montreal last summer I got serious with The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Anxiety.

What is Cognitive Behavioralal Therapy, or CBT? Basically, it's re-training your brain and your conscious thought patterns and changing your behavior as a result.

The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Anxiety is a packed workbook, and the ideas repeat themselves throughout but are presented different ways and with different exercises.

I've been working in this book for 6 months and I'm not quite halfway through. You don't have to do the whole book, you can pick the chapters most applicable to you.

There is so much to say about CBT that I just don't have the time to go into here. CBT has shown me that I've lacked emotional resilience and that has gotten me into anxiety-producing mindsets and situations. It has shown me my faulty thinking. It's helped me identity my big anxiety triggers. It's shown me how my behaviors are a direct result of my thinking. This seems obvious but sometimes we think we're stuck in our behaviors, but the truth is we're only stuck if our minds are stuck.

The hardest part for me of CBT is doing it, putting into action what I've learned; re-routing my negative thoughts, being present in the moment of a reaction and choosing to re-direct that reaction.

Some days I'd rather crawl in a cave, where I won't have to interact with anyone or any situations and therefore can "control" my responses that way. And many times I just wish the world would change to my liking and save me all the effort of re-wiring my brain, but that's unlikely to happen.

CBT is hard work. The ideas are not hard, they make perfect sense. I love thinking about those ideas, reading, making notes, but putting them into practice is difficult.

Faulty thinking is a deadly threat to emotional and spiritual health... (and is) even more dangerous because it operates, for the most part, beyond our conscious awareness. Eradicating this deadly disease requires such radical surgery that it can almost be compared to getting a brain transplant.
Geri Scazzero from The Emotionally Healthy Woman

Another book I read last year and am nearly finished is The Emotionally Healthy Woman. My mom gifted this to me and it has been hugely helpful for me. It's not about anxiety, per se, but many of the ideas in this book are straight up CBT strategies and self-awareness principles. I've learned a lot from this book and I love its liberated Christian woman perspective. I highly recommend it.

Diet & Exercise

I have not focused on diet in addressing my anxiety. My diet has changed a bit over the past year, not in response to anxiety, but in response to some life realities: I don't like cooking very much, I have three hungry teenagers to feed, I live in a city with a lot of food options. I'm familiar, on the surface level, with gut mind theories, that what's going on in our gut affects our thinking. I just haven't been able to "go there" yet in my research and experimentation. And I don't know that I will. I'm trying these other strategies first.

And I simply can't imagine giving up my one cup of coffee a day. I'm happy to try every other strategy in the book before that one!

Daily outdoor exercise has been a part of my life for a few years now. I walk, bike, downhill and x-country ski. I recognize the importance of this discipline in my overall health and wellbeing. But I take exception to the idea that all a person needs to do is "get outside for some fresh air" and her anxiety will be resolved.

Things aren't that simple. I disagree with the adage that:

A vigorous five-mile walk will do more good for an unhappy but otherwise healthy adult than all the medicine and psychology in the world.

This is a popular quote that appears as an image on the web, usually superimposed over a woman running on a beautiful sunny day. I experienced my most intense anxiety, shame, and depression while living in the great outdoors and vigorously walking many miles a day. I didn't need more exercise, I needed psychology, and maybe medicine.

All that to say diet and exercise were not the solutions to my anxiety. They play a role but they are not the answers, for me.

Amygdala & Supplements

In the process of reading The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Anxiety I learned about my amygdala, which was a lightbulb moment. For years I have called myself a panic mom, not in that I get panic attacks (I've never experienced that), but I react and over-react to simple things. The kids know this about me. I freak out easily.

If you have a sensitive amygdala, you'll have lots of false alarms. You are more likely to overreact to things when they are not where you expect them to be, as well as to strange sounds, quick movements, or unexpected changes in emotions.
from The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Anxiety

also,

The amygdala contributes to negative feelings by increasing your perceptual sensitivity for negative stimuli.
from The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Anxiety

As I've gone through the journey of understanding my anxiety I have experienced many "aha" moments when I realize I'm not the only person like this. Learning about my amygdala was one of these moments.

I'm fairly certain I have a sensitive amygdala.

I did a bunch of reading about the amygdala, mostly online, and started taking supplements for the treatment of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). I hate that label, I don't consider myself to have a disorder, I prefer "imbalances in my limbic system".

With a focus on correcting neurotransmitter imbalances in the limbic system, as well as hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis dysfunction, clinicians can choose from several scientifically supported nutrients and herbs the ones that are most appropriate for each patient to modulate these pathways and change the course of this disorder.
from Natural Medicine Journal Treatment Considerations for Generalized Anxiety Disorder

I'm currently taking magnesium and ashwagandha specifically for anxiety. And just recently I added St. John's Wort to help me get through winter. I also take a multi-vitamin which includes 2,000 IU's of vitamin D and 1250 mg (750 mg EPA and 500 mg DHA) of omega-3 fatty acids daily.

Supplements and dietary aids for anxiety is not my area of expertise or research. For that I direct you to Krista's post on supplements.

Meditation

Last winter as I read, researched, and listened to podcasts (and interviews like this one on CBC with Dan Harris) it become clear to me that meditation would probably be really helpful. So last June I asked my friend to teach me how to meditate.

Not surprisingly, meditation and mindfulness shows up everywhere in my "how to deal with anxiety" research and reading.

I started meditating because I recognized the power of my mind and my thoughts. And I could see that my reaction to situations, my anxious responses, were driven by my subconscious.

I'm still learning how to meditate but the most important part is just showing up and making it part my routine.

My intention in meditating is to drive down truth into my subconscious. I want to react and respond from beliefs that are fundamentally different than the negativity and fear that drives me. I want to respond instinctively from a place of freedom and truth. This feels like a very tall order.

I don't do an "emptying of my mind" type of meditation. I'm very purposeful in my meditation.

Meditation for me looks something like this:

  • Focus on my breathing (and bring my focus back to my breath over and over again throughout the 10 minute session).
  • Clear my mind by focusing on my breathing.
  • Choose an image, phrase or mantra to "meditate" on. This is the part about driving down truth into my subconscious. I usually meditate on a Biblical truth, last fall I mostly focused on my identity and I come back to this often. Sometimes I will meditate on a few simple verses from my daily/weekly Bible reading. Sometimes I will take myself to a place in nature and "be there" in my meditation.

This is my goal in meditation (and CBT in general):

It’s creating the conditions whereby we can embark on a way of life that is not dictated by our instinctive reactivity, our habits, our fears, and so forth and so on, but stems from an openness, an inner openness, that is unconditioned by those forces, and that allows the freedom to think differently, to act differently, to respond more fully. And in doing so, to allow the human person to flourish. To realize more fully the potentials that each one of us has.
from OnBeing interview with Stephen Batchelor, The Limits of Belief, The Massiveness of the Questions

Learning how to breathe and relax my belly is part of my morning meditation, but I do those things throughout the day also to release anxiety and tension in my body. Deep breathing and relaxing your belly are very easy strategies to implement.

Personality & The Enneagram

I've been studying my personality since I was thirty-five. In fact, thirty-five was a threshold of self-discovery for me, when I started to want to deeply know and understand myself. It was very exciting.

My introduction to personality typing was Myers-Briggs, and oh how I do love that system. It was thrilling for me to read descriptions about my personality. It was a very validating experience, but also puzzling in some ways because I couldn't make sense of my rebellious, non-conforming behaviors within the structure of my personality type, which is ESTJ/ISTJ.

I really like Myers-Briggs and all it has taught me, and recently I've been learning about the cognitive functions of my personality type - how I learn and make decisions - and that has been fascinating and again, validating (yes, I need lots of validation).

MBTI has helped me understand my anxiety by validating the importance of tradition, security, and structures to my wellbeing (when those feel threatened, my anxiety increases), but I found the Enneagram provided greater clarity to understand the root of my anxiety.

The two systems are quite different. One of the main differences, that I see, is that the Enneagram provides a very honest assessment of your weaknesses and explains the unhealthy expressions of your type, but then also provides a path to healing and psychological and spiritual growth.

I don't want to spend too much time talking about the Enneagram here but I do want to say this. I'm a Type 6 and after all the soul-searching I've done the past year it was pretty easy for me to type myself.

All three personality types of the Thinking Center have a problem with anxiety, but Sixes, as the primary type, have the greatest problem with it. They are the type which is most conscious of anxiety—"anxious that they are anxious"—unlike other personality types who are either unaware of their anxiety or who unconsciously convert it into other symptoms..... Even though they belong to the Thinking Center, Sixes are also emotional because their feelings are affected by anxiety.
The Enneagram Institute Overview of Type 6

I could go on and on with quotes and links. "Sixes want to have security, to feel supported by others, to have certitude and reassurance, to test the attitudes of others toward them, to fight against anxiety and insecurity", etc. etc.

I could talk about how my personality type - my loyalty, my anxiety, my desire to be under trusted authorities, my fear of being unsupported - a complex stew - affected our marriage in unhealthy ways, which then increased my anxiety. But all that will have to wait. I do plan to publish that someday.

Suffice to say, looking back through the lens of the Enneagram and MBTI has given me a lot of insight into why my anxiety exploded the way it did.

A lot of people are initially discouraged or disappointed with Enneagram typing. It's not pretty to see your faults, weaknesses and your emotional unhealthiness in black and white. But for me, it was liberating. I'd already identified my junk. I've written it. I've journaled it. Cried it, prayed it, talked to Damien about it.

I wasn't ashamed to see it in a book, I was relieved.

I've looked into my heart and mind and observed things about myself that are not pleasant. I understand how people can do dark and evil things because I saw how in a really unhealthy place I could do the same.

What the Enneagram did for me was shine a light on what I already knew about myself and provide a path forward.

Understanding my type within that framework has given me great hope in my quest to overcome my anxiety.

One of the key features to the Enneagram is what is called integration, which I'm not going to explain here. But what was really cool for me to discover was that the activities I've been engaging in for the last six to eight months in attempting to address my anxiety are the behaviors and attitudes of my type moving in the direction of integration.

In other words, I've been instinctively moving towards mental and emotional health. The Enneagram is giving me language to understand that process and a vision for what it looks like to be a healthy individual with my personality type. And honestly, that vision excites me. I just wish I could be there, now.

Truth & Identity

For a while in my life, perhaps a long while, I had lost sight of my true identity. And I don't mean my personality. That's not my identity. My personality helps explain the way I think, interact with the world, make decisions, my weaknesses and strengths but it is not my true self, or my Essence.

When we are willing to say, "I want to be who I really am, and I want to live in the truth," the process of recovering ourselves has already begun. Riso and Hudson, The Wisdom of the Enneagram

Last year I found my true self again in Jesus Christ. My true self is not a role: "mom, homemaker, wife, writer". It's not my personality type, preferences, or issues: "anxious, traditional, beauty-seeking, etc."

Who I am in Christ is none of those things.

The list of my true identity is vast, but there are certain truths that have really resonated with me over the past year. These are the things I meditate on, as they speak to my particular need, at this point in my life.

Here are two truths that have really impacted me since last summer:

I am hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3) - For me, this feels like the ultimate position of safety and security.

I am free forever from condemnation (Rom. 8:1) - I felt so much shame at the height of my anxiety and I needed to cling to this truth.

Jesus is setting me free from my anxiety because my identity is in him. He died and then conquered death to set me free. This my birthright as a child of God.

I wish I could say I don't struggle with anxiety and insecurity because I've kicked it to the curb with Ninja-like CBT practices, Tibetan monk meditation discipline, and continually living (and acting accordingly) in the knowledge of my true identity.

Not so.

I fall, fail, and trip up a lot but I am confident I have the tools, resources, and knowledge I need to fight this. Anxiety made me feel broken and that there was a problem with my essential self. But I know that's not true.

I have a vision now for what it looks like to be an emotionally and psychologically healthy person of "my type": she's self-confident and self-affirming because she recognizes and trusts her inner guidance. Her faith in God and God living in her manifests as outstanding courage and leadership. She leads from a deep understanding of people's insecurities and frailties. She is filled with the presence of God and feels solid, steady, and supported, as if she were standing on a massive bed of granite. She knows that this rootedness in the presence of God is the only real security in life, and this is what gives her great courage.

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I got sick last month. I'm pretty sure it was the flu, the same thing Laurent got in early February. The girls also got sick.

Damien escaped the worst of it. Thank God. As a self-employed person there are no sick days and to have Damien not working right now would be a real financial stretch/stress.

What I experienced last month is the sickest I've been in my whole adult life. I tend to forget bad things, this is actually a healthy thing so I don't mind too much this tendency of mine. But I'm sure I've never been that sick before. I could not function for a week and for the week following I could barely function and when our kids were really little that would have been awful. I'm sure I would remember something like that.

I speculate we got hit so hard because we're new to the city (public transit, homeschool co-op, church that meets in a theatre, etc.) so we were exposed to a lot of new germs this winter. And I wasn't ready for it, at all. I was low on herbal remedies and I didn't really know what to do with the essential oils I had, nothing seemed to work. Was my timing wrong? Did I not use enough?

I'm working to change that situation for next year. I felt helpless. I need to get educated and stock the cupboard. Remedies are already brewing and I'm considering this course. Do you know of an exhaustive "do this in the case of flu" resource? Please recommend in comments. (I'm not looking for vague, internet-search stuff. I did that myself. I want to be taught specifics and I want protocols, not "try a little of this, little of that". I don't want to experiment. I want effective solutions.)

Damien's mom came to visit in the thick of it, not because we were sick, it was a visit that had been planned for months. She lives in Edmonton, Alberta and we haven't seen her for two years. She helped cook and brought a motherly/grandmotherly vibe to a house of sickies. She also bought us a few small kitchen appliances while she was here. God bless her.

Laurent's birthday happened during this time and we were too sick to celebrate. With grandma's help we managed to pull together our traditional birthday breakfast before we crashed back into bed.

I spent so much time in bed that I developed muscle and joint aches from sitting and laying down. Within a couple days I had maxed out on Netflix and social media. Getting sick actually helped me reset my social media consumption, which had been getting a little out of hand. When I emerged from the fog after two weeks it felt like I had restart my whole life (that first grocery shopping trip was monumental) so I restarted with much less Facebook and Instagram.

Being sick was awful, and recovering hasn't been a cake walk either. Physically I was weak and have been more tired than usual but the real struggle has been in my mind.

This season of late February and March is the hardest time of year for me. It is not spring where I live, it is the end of winter, and it is not pretty. At this time of year, I am at my lowest point emotionally and mentally; getting so sick felt like a low blow, like someone kicking you when you're down.

I've been foggy brained in my recovery. And because I have a history of March malaise or situational depression I feared that in my weakened, post-sickness state I was fast-tracking down that path again.

And so I've had to fight.

I know now how my mind works, the paths I can and cannot let it go down. I know the principles of CBT. I'm very self-aware at this point. I know the importance of exercise and the outdoors. I know the importance of music. I know the importance of meditation and prayer. I know the importance of reaching out.

But I tell you, doing these things is hard work. I'm not asking for kudos, the reward is in the fact that I am not depressed. I am uninspired about this time of year, I am still tired from being sick, but I'm not crying every day. I'm not dwelling in negative spaces mentally or emotionally. My mind wants to go there but I am holding fast and firm against that.

Here's the hardest part about self-awareness and fighting the dark places: you still have to do the work.

It's not enough to have head knowledge and understanding.

I love book learning. I love to read things, nod my head, underline, make notes in the margin, and say "this is good". I love to listen to lectures and podcasts that teach me how to understand myself. But none of this is doing the work.

Doing the work:

  • Going outside even in these grey uninspiring days. (Ski season has probably come to an end, after a pitiful winter, and we missed a couple weeks because of sickness. I was so sad about this, skiing is my favorite part of winter.)
  • Forcing my thoughts in more positive directions. My thoughts are like misbehaving children who need continual correction and discipline. Just like training my toddlers, it can be exhausting to re-train my mind.
  • Meditating.
  • Overcoming my nesting/homebody urges to explore things that I know will give me a boost but that require the initial effort of changing the schedule, leaving the house, etc. (Made more difficult because the weather has been so yucky.)
  • Working on my income earning and writing projects even when I want to procrastinate and do other stuff around the house instead. There's always some other homemaking or homeschooling work I can do, but I have this tendency to self-sabatoge my personal income earning projects and this is something I must push through. (Sometimes you don't push, you rest, but trust me, this is something I must push through.)

Getting through this hardest part of the year and recovering from being sick is not all "work". This is probably the ugliest time of year outdoors. It's melting dog poop season in the city, beauty is really hard to find, so I must make it and find it where I can.

I've been drawing again, mostly in the evenings. I'm working on a tangle for Lent called "Hidden in Christ" and I'm also learning new tangles.

Something I did this winter was to choose a color theme for each season. I started a bullet journal in January, I'll probably blog more about that later.

My bullet journal is my weekly to-do lists, but it's also full of spiritual wisdom and insights, self-awareness stuff, things I want to meditate on during my days, seasonal menu plans, and some other stuff. This journal is a record of my year, not just what I did week-by-week but what I am thinking and how I am growing and changing.

I use a black pen to write but I wanted to use colored pens to underline and highlight. I decided on gel pens and chose two colors for each season to be used in my journaling, drawing, and miscellaneous stuff (all the little notes of encouragement I write to myself).

My winter colors are icy blue and sparkling orange. They are inspired by the colors of January. For me, the essence of winter, its most beautiful expression, is sparkly snow, crystalline clear blue skies paired with the warm and golden light of early afternoon sunsets and candlelight. This collage of images express the essence of winter that I love.

All of that is to explain that using my blue and orange gel pens (the blue isn't the same tone as the blue of winter's essence, truthfully, I was just using what I had on hand) has brought me a lot of pleasure this winter, even now. And I'm working on a little Zentangle that incorporates these colors.

My spring colors are lime/celery green and lilac purple. And the essence I want to capture is "fresh, pretty and clean". Last weekend I bought my pens and I'm not using them yet but I've been playing around a little.

I finally hung these photos and art in our bedroom. My first Power Hour project and it didn't even take an hour. And this brings a bit more beauty into my days.

While I was sick my mom sent some money to buy flowers. Damien was unable to get out to purchase them for me, so it wasn't till post-sickness that I was able to buy some. The bonus of this is that I can choose my own arrangements and if I buy them at the market my flower dollars go farther and I'm aiming to get three bouquets, enough to see me through the end of March.

Next weekend is my retreat with my mom, a plan I made in January because I knew I would need to go somewhere this month.

This week I bought our family pass for the Montreal Botanical Gardens, which is fabulous in summer, but also has greenhouses to explore this time of year. This afternoon the kids and I went to experience the Butterflies Go Free exhibit.

And we're starting to make our summer travel and camping plans. Last summer I didn't want to go anywhere. Tired of hiking and moving I just wanted to stay put and explore our new city. This year I am so anxious to travel and explore out of the city.

I am longing to sleep in a tent, be by a lake, hike in the mountains. Vermont, Ontario, and "out west" are calling. Some ideas are becoming reality with reservations and squirreled away funds, others are dreams that need a few things to align to make them reality. But either way, we're going places this summer.

March is now a third over and I know I'm going to make it. I'm being proactive (making summer plans, getting out of the house, going away next weekend), I'm doing the work, and I'm finding the beauty.

Post three in my Heart of the home series.

Again, the photos in this post are all from instagram, not my favorite for blog posts and only a pathetic few, but they're all I've got right now.

Self care is almost cliche. In my daily living I don't call the activities I do for me "self care" anymore than I call cooking "family care". These are just "things I do".

I hope I'm taking care of myself all day. Except for regular exercise, meeting my basic physical needs isn't hard for me to do. Those are habits.

But I like to reserve time each day for personal growth and development and just pure enjoyment.

I feel very strongly about guarding my personal time in the full-ness of our family life. I don't mean any disrespect to my family, but the only person who really advocates for what I need is me. As an adult, I am responsible to make sure my needs are met by meeting those I'm able to meet and expressing where I need help. Hand in hand with this is teaching my kids to know themselves, identify their needs, and help them advocate for those. And respecting the individuality of every person in this family.

This sounds like I have to withstand my family's objections to me taking care of myself. Which is comical, they never give me grief for the time I'm doing my things. They're big, which helps. (Though my youngest doesn't "like" when I spend the whole day out of the house, "doing my own thing".) But everything else in my day wants to encroach on this time. Most everything in my life feels in-progress, undone, half finished. When I was a younger woman it was harder for me to look past all that and "be still" (which is a big part of my personal care) because I think I was holding out hope it might get "finished" one day.

Deep in my heart I knew that wasn't the case but I was hoping I could do better than most.

Self care or personal care for me includes tending to my intellectual, spiritual, emotional, and physical self. Taking care of myself physically is quite ingrained in me at this point. Damien and I value physical health and this has been an area I've attended to decently for many years. I'm not as experienced with tending to my emotional and cognitive wellbeing, so that's where most of my personal care energies are focused these days.

For me, self care is not so much about doing, a list of things I check off. I've had years and years of doing, I'm a good do-er. I don't need to grow in "doing". I need to grow in the opposite direction, in practices of "being", learning how to be comfortable with the light and dark parts of self and others, learning how to sit with the full range of emotions and not wrestle, or "do" my out of that place. I have a preference to squeeze myself out of the emotional discomfort I feel when people I love are navigating through difficult personal terrain through managing, doing, and working to resolve issues that aren't mine to resolve. It's not healthy though it appears to be very helpful.

I've been physically healthy for years. I've eaten well, been physically active, more so in the last five years. I don't struggle with body image. I actually love my body. That's a real gift I know. But there is more to health and wellbeing than our physical selves, it's so much more than what we eat and if we exercise. I have learned this lesson, it seems like all important lessons, the hard way.

For years I focused on a healthy diet and regular outdoor exercise as the path to wellbeing. In this life season I'm focusing less on diet and more on the whole picture of wellness, with special attention to my emotional and cognitive health and resiliency.

I have three points in the day where I specifically focus on my personal needs. Early morning, mid-day lunch, and evening.

Morning

Early mornings are my time to take care of those essential "me" things before I start my day.

I aim to get up at 6:30. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. When I get up early I have enough time for the following list, when I get up later (7:00-7:30) I have less time. And I have always envied those rare birds who get up really early, naturally. 6:30 is my consistently earliest natural wake up time. I haven't used a morning alarm since I was a university student.

Mornings are my time to:

  • Drink a Klean Kanteen of water, get out my supplements for the day (I actually have to pay special attention to this or I don't take my supplements that day), and brew a cup of coffee. I'm trying to tweak this a bit to have some food in my belly before I drink my morning coffee.
  • Writing. My writing anxiety is over and I'm usually chomping at the bit each morning to put something "on paper" to post here.
  • Self-therapy and spiritual care. This is some combination of working through my CBT workbook, devotional material, Bible reading, prayer, journaling and general pondering. I can only do one, maybe two of these on any given morning. It's like a bag of tricks or prizes and I choose the one I want to do, or feel led to do.
  • Drawing. Before Christmas I had been drawing nearly every day in the morning, instead of writing (which I was fitting in other places, usually around lunchtime). At Christmas I completely got out of the morning habit of drawing and haven't resumed since. I am wondering how drawing will fit in my life but like I noted to myself in my journal: "I can't knit, draw, write and photograph every day or every season, choose my focus..." This month/season my focus is writing.
  • Meditating. I was doing really good with this until Christmas and then, like drawing, I lost the habit after the holiday. In February I resolved to make this a "check it off the list" morning activity. It needs to happen, so I do it. And it only takes ten minutes. This is the last "me thing" I do before I enter the fray of family life.
  • I use my Happy Light while doing most of these activities.

I aim to wrap all this up by 9:00. In reality, it wraps up by 9:30, especially if I got up late. Then I grab a quick breakfast and eat while I start the morning's work.

Exceptions to the rule: Wednesday and Friday. Two days out of five is a big exception, but it's reality, and again, part of the season's priorities. Wednesday night I can usually recoup my morning time with personal reading and writing when we get home from skiing and the family disperses, happy and physically exhausted, to their personal interests.

Noon (ish)

Lunchtime is when I read personal growth, other self-help, and classic non-fiction books. Book examples: Daring Bravely, Life Together, Bird by Bird, Better Than Before. If I was reading a marriage, parenting, or homeschool book, it would fit in here. I read those types of books very rarely.

I am a fast reader but I take my time to digest ideas and I like to write down my thoughts so overall, reading these types of books is a slow and steady endeavor. All of those books I listed above I've only half finished, and some of them, I've been reading for years!

In this season, I structure my daily reading like this:

  • spiritual & deep self care - morning
  • personal growth - lunchtime
  • fiction, memoir, great stories, poetry - evening

Do I always follow this, no? Especially if I'm really "into" something. But I like the structure of this to help guide me through the myriad of books I want to read.

After lunch is when I try to get out the house for a quick walk.

I am most successful with this goal if I have a destination or purpose to fulfill. Neighborhood errand runs work really well for me: picking up last minute supper ingredients, cat food, a walk to the post office/pharmacy, picking up a book at the library, etc. If I have a task to complete I am good at getting out the door. If I have no task it is much more difficult to accomplish my goal to get outside every day.

Evening

On the nights I cook supper I like to listen to podcasts and video presentations. I gravitate to talks, lectures, interviews about: education, philosophy, Christian theology, democracy, sociology, psychology, spirituality, creativity, and health.

I like substantive material.

(I'd love to have a podcast discussion in the comments: what I'm listening to and what you're listening to.)

After supper, my family likes to do some combination of retreating into personal media and sharing media with each other in the evenings.

Our fall and winter evenings look like reading, listening, and watching on our own devices and watching favorite shows or gaming together. Usually a combination of both. I don't game but the rest of my family does.

Last fall I started watching Gilmore Girls with my girls (and Laurent). It's the only TV show, since Downton Abbey that the three of us like. In the evenings I like to write/do blog stuff or draw, watch an episode, or two, of Gilmore Girls. (If it's a 2 episode night of GG I'm probably getting up late the next morning).

Then I go to bed and read. Lights out by 10:00/10:30, sometimes 11:00. That's a late morning for sure. I'm an 8 hours of sleep person, at least.

A lot of people have asked about my Personal Retreats days that I take every 6 weeks. As you can see, there is no space in this post for that. I hope to write about that sometime before summer.

Seasonal Shifts

My weekly schedule is always subject to interruptions and situations out of my control. A week never looks like the plan on paper, but the plan provides the guideline.

Life changes and most of my routines work best for a given calendar season, and sometimes they only work for a month, and then I have to adjust. This took me a few years to learn.

We had a good groove last fall, it changed this winter and I'm already anticipating the change when ski season ends and again when co-op/homeschool year finishes. Which will free up time for other pursuits. I'm already excited about the changes I'm planning for that season. But the point is, that's next season, not now, and I need to work with what I've got right now.

I've come to see that although I love routines, I also thrive on the change in routine, different seasons. Like my family will be quick to tell you, I DO NOT like the transition period itself, that bumpy time of "figuring it out". I feel stretched thin during those times. But I like knowing that a shift will come and I can re-direct my energies at that time. Because I actually get bored of doing the same thing over and over.

Once I've identified the practices, habits, routines I really need to work on/achieve/pursue in a given season I do my best to focus on those things. I can't "focus" on whole bunch of goals. One or two at the most.

While focusing on those changes or shifts, I rely on the other well-oiled habits and systems that have become routine to our family to move us through our days. I don't have to make decisions about those things, they just are.

Last October/November my focus was working with the kids to get used to the rhythms and expectations of the co-op. Teaching time management was the big goal for me.

In January I focused on supper on the table by 6:30, making ski day work in our schedule, and getting back into the groove after the holiday.

This month I'm focusing on re-establishing morning meditation and butt-in-chair writing. After a year of anxiety/midlife crisis/moving to Montreal I need to re-establish the habit.

I am not going to live my life beating myself up for things I'm not accomplishing and I'm not going to live under the burden of self-improvement, "if you just do this one more thing you'll be a better person", because the trap is there is always one more thing.

I want to be content with who I am right now, while recognizing I am working on things that will help me be more connected to people, have better health and wellbeing, and further my personal and professional goals. But in that striving and changing I need to be content with myself and my family, in this life season.

Which is why you'll notice I use the word try because it's true: I try. I have intentions and usually, not always I meet them. Always is a hard burden to bear, so I don't do always.

These systems of self-management and home management work for me because of how I'm wired. It will not work everyone, so this isn't an advice post, just a "this is how I do it" post.

And now I'm going to get spiritual and then subjective. And I take back what I just said, there are a couple sentences of advice.

Firstly, I was not called to give my life to my family, I was called to give my life to Jesus. Of course family life is one working out of that, but it is not the sum total. And having re-discovered this truth in my life my personal time is really about resting in that knowledge. And learning more about myself to serve and love people in healthy ways.

I think a lot of women are way too busy caring for everyone else but themselves. I recognize right from the get-go of this argument that I only know the reality of a two-parent household. I have access to time that many people simply do not.

In the same way you prioritize your family's needs and wants, you need to put yourself on the radar. And if you're like me, that means you won't do everything to the standard you had hoped, because there simply isn't enough time. But I keep showing up for the slow journey. And that's the next post.

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