Do Less As A Mother: Take The Options

take the options

I’ve never been an athlete. I’m not an exerciser. It’s just not my thing. Besides, I’m a busy mother and who has the time? But as my metabolism has slowed and slowed in my late 40s and my jeans size crept upward I felt like I probably needed to do something. And soon. Like, SERIOUS BIZ.

Several months ago I paid for and downloaded an app called Les Mills On Demand that allows me to work out from home. I liked that I didn’t have to exercise in front of anyone else and feel stupid. I didn’t have to drive anywhere. I could get some exercise whenever I wanted instead of being stuck with a specific class schedule.

Sidebar: You’re thinking, why is Katherine talking to us about exercise? This is not a fitness blog. But there’s something in particular that has really stood out to me about the attitude of the people who lead these workouts and how it has contributed to my success, and how much I feel like it applies to being a mother. So bear with me …

The instructors, Dan Cohen and Rachael Newsham, continually reinforce the idea of simply trying. That’s it. You are doing by trying. Not by being perfect. They encourage you to take breaks when you need. They encourage you to take the easier options when you need. For example, if you can’t do full pushups do them from your knees. If you can’t do the mountain climbers quickly, do them in half time. They continually talk about doing the workout that is right for YOU. You succeed by knowing yourself and always paying attention to that.

These are people who have perfect bodies; they have sculpted muscles in places you didn’t even know there were muscles. You’d think they’d be in your face shouting, “DO IT. ALL OF IT. BUST YOUR ASS. NO EXCUSES.” I’ve seen that so much from fitness folks, the “no pain, no gain” thing. Yet here are Dan and Rach at Les Mills On Demand talking about focusing on you and what you can do. Embracing who you are. And I, a person who has always hated exercise, am now kicking ass because of it. Because they made me feel like doing the best I can do on any given day is enough. Because they encouraged me to be me and not beat myself up for it.

In the past when I tried exercise it never really stuck. I didn’t get much in the way of results. Certainly not big ones. Nothing ever worked that well. I don’t know if I hadn’t found the right thing for me. Or if I felt like no matter what I wasn’t going to be as strong as all the other people around me so I never enjoyed it.

This time, for the first time, I have really taken in what these instructors are saying and paid attention to me and only me. I have taken the options. I have taken the breaks. I have substituted exercises I can do for things they’re doing in the video that I’ll never be able to do in a million years. And I haven’t felt bad about it AT ALL. And here’s the crazy thing: I’ve lost 20 pounds. No lie. I have had more success than I have ever had at exercising by NOT being perfect. I have succeeded, in fact, by being FAR from perfect and being perfectly okay with that.

Isn’t there a lesson in that somehow? We beat ourselves up as mothers by thinking we need to be doing what everyone else is doing. It’s as if we’re standing in the Gym of Motherhood with all the other mothers around us and instead of judging each other’s squats or situps or workout outfit against ours, we’re judging each other’s bathing skills, baby soothing skills, breastfeeding skills, parenting skills.

I’m imagining being in a different Gym of Motherhood with Dan and Rach up front telling us it’s okay to TAKE THE OPTIONS. The mom next to you is a breastfeeding champ, but it’s not for you. So what! Take the options! The mother on the other side of you is dressed and made up and her hair is perfect and she’s running around the gym with her baby talking to all the other moms like a social butterfly and you’re covered in spit up and haven’t showered in days and want to hide under a rock. Do it! Take the options!

As therapist Kate Kripke LCSW explained in this great post, “… mothers actually need to be flawed and imperfect so that they can teach their children the importance of repair; so that their children learn not to fear mistakes and so that they learn the value of repairing—or bringing resolution to—situations or interactions that are flawed.” Imperfection is good. Not doing it all is fine! Better than fine, in fact!

It’s possible to succeed by not doing. By doing less. Or not doing some things at all. Or doing them very differently from everyone else around you. Being a good mother includes taking the options.

If you are struggling right now and not doing all the things you think you should be doing and beating yourself up about it, I’d like you stop. Stop this very second and try to reframe your thinking. All you are doing is taking the options, and that’s a good thing. Keep up the good work!

Radical Acceptance Can Help Set You Free From PPD

radical acceptanceI’ve been thinking about how easy it is to convince ourselves that our problems will go away. Or they aren’t that serious. Or that it’s someone else’s fault we have them. Or that they don’t even exist. Sometimes we end up being the biggest obstacle in our own lives because we refuse to admit when we need help.

How many times in life do we suffer because we aren’t being honest with ourselves? How many people nearly destroy themselves because they would rather believe in a fake version of themselves rather than look at who they really are or what’s really going on inside them?

What makes us think that being the fake person — pretending we’re invincible or that we’re doing okay or that we can handle this or that — while struggling underneath is such a genius idea? Do you know how hard it is to maintain the fakery, the facade AND deal with the struggle at the same time?! How much more work that takes?

I’ve seen this for so many years when it comes to maternal mental health. Women who know something is wrong but don’t want to admit it. Who don’t want to accept that maybe they need help. I feel like I’m watching them swim against a dangerous rip tide. I’m on the shore waving the warning flag back and forth wildly shouting, “Go this way! Go this way!” but they refuse my help because they don’t want to see they are fighting a rip tide in the first place.

If you are a mom out there in the proverbial water feeling like you are about to drown, what if you just stopped fighting against what you are dealing with or trying to hide it? What if you accepted that this is where you are right now? Accepted that as much as you are mad about it and don’t want it and don’t deserve it and are afraid of it, maybe you have postpartum depression. Or postpartum anxiety. And you’re probably going to have to say that out loud to someone and get some help.

Radical Acceptance

I believe so strongly in acceptance. Radical acceptance. I may not be good at it when it comes to everything in my life, but I have definitely radically accepted that I have anxiety. I’ve had it my whole life. It’s part of who I am but not in any way all of who I am. I get the support I need for it. I’m okay with it. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t really suck sometimes, but there are plenty of things in life that really suck sometimes and the majority of them have nothing to do with mental illnesses.

Anxiety is. I don’t have to pretend it isn’t. It is. So I accept it and I attempt to solve the problems it might cause me by being honest about how it affects me and getting help for it. A lot of the times that works. Every now and then it doesn’t. But this is what is real.

Radical acceptance is about realizing you don’t have to exhaust yourself trying to fight reality. Even if reality sucks.  It’s about accepting the present moment. Recognizing what is. Figuring out which parts of the problem you have control over and which parts you really don’t. Radical acceptance is about going forward in spite of.

I’ve been in the middle of a divorce this year. It’s awful. Heartbreaking. But I’m trying so hard to practice radical acceptance. This stinks. I don’t like it and I wouldn’t choose it. But it is reality so I have to deal with it. I have to take care of myself. I have to be here for my children. Spending time thrashing against it won’t get me anywhere. So I’m focusing on really trying to accept it and focus on myself, and I truly believe it’s giving me more peace than I’d otherwise have.

Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward. – C.S. Lewis

Radical acceptance doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to be angry. Or grieve. Or be disappointed. It just means it’s okay to stop pretending. You don’t have to hide what you are going through. There is a beautiful freedom in being honest. In letting go and accepting where you are in this present moment and working with others to find a path forward. There IS a path forward.

There is always a path forward.

 

Grounded: Try This When Depression Throws You Off Center

how to feel groundedDepression (or anxiety) is a thief that comes up behind you and slugs you, just whams you one right in the spine, throwing you off center so violently you feel permanently tilted off your axis.

Once off center, direction becomes confusing. Sight becomes muddy. Which way is up? Down? Why are my measurements so off? Why am I so wobbly? Which way am I supposed to go now? Loss of center feels like loss of self. You are at a loss as to what to do. You are at a loss when it comes to making decisions. You’ve lost the path forward to contentment or happiness. It’s almost like being alive while grieving your own death, as though that person is gone forever and you now inhabit a new soul you don’t like very much. (You’re still there, I promise, but I get that it feels that way.)

I’ve come to recognize that during these times I desperately seek grounding.

In the emotional health sense to be grounded means to be someone who is sensible, stable, calm, fully present and … interesting given the tilted axis … centered.  In the moments when I have felt grounded I have felt confident in the knowledge of who I am, what I want, and that I am fully capable of handling most situations and able to press forward. It’s the glorious feeling of being solid and tall and strong on my own two feet.

When I don’t feel grounded I feel like a tumbleweed, the buffeting winds of life blowing right through me and around me as I fly this way and that, without control, confused, lost on my path and unsure of myself. When in the midst of depression or anxiety, as I’m sure you’re aware, you feel the polar opposite of grounded.  Out of curiosity I looked up some antonyms for the term “well-grounded” and they sure sound a lot like the words women feel about themselves during postpartum depression: inconsequential, invalid, weak, incoherent, stupid, crazy. Any of those sound familiar?

One of the things I like to do at times like these, and I’m really not kidding here, is lie on the ground. No pun intended. Get grounded on the ground. Have you ever done that?

Try it. Just get down on the rug, the carpet, the hardwood floor, the grass, whatever, and embrace Earth. Lie face down. Arms out, legs slightly apart, prostrate.

Now just hold on to the earth, really hold on to it, and think about where you are right now. And when I say where you are I don’t mean the particular street in the particular town in the particular state in the particular country. Because none of that matters at this moment. Where you are right now is hugging the Earth. Feel how solid it is. You are currently holding on to 13,170,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 pounds (or 5,974,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 kilograms). I believe the proper way to say that is thirteen septillion, one hundred seventy sextillion pounds.

I don’t know why but in those moments of lying there, hugging it out with Earth, I feel supported. What could be more supportive than several septillion pounds holding you up, right? I feel real. It helps me pull out of my micro-focus on all the ways I feel bad or all the ways I think I’m failing and on all the small things that upset or worry me and I move my mind out to as big and as far away as I can think. I am fully present for a moment as a human being on this planet. Hugging on a huge mass as Earth and I travel together through space at one thousand miles per hour.

I am one of the 107 billion people that have ever lived on this earth and I’m okay. I’m not worse than any of them. I’m not failing more than any of them. I’m not less than any of them. I have mass. The earth is solid. I am solid. Going through difficulty, yes, but still solid.

I might remind you that the earth is tilted on its axis too and yet it keeps on going. I can keep going. You can keep going. And when you feel like you can’t, get down on the ground for a minute. Talk to other people who have a little bit of experience being where you are and have found the way back to their center. Let them, and the Earth, hold you up.

For other ways to feel grounded, you might like this article from Psychology Today.

 

Mental Health In Color Initiative: Meet The Scholarship Recipients


To recover from perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, women of color must be seen and heard without the roadblocks of judgment and bias. But too often, racial differences between clients and providers make an already difficult process even more difficult.

There is a massive shortage of mental health providers who are specialists in maternal mental health, and sadly, that shortage grows exponentially when it comes to providers of color.

We want to help change the landscape of maternal mental health for women of color by investing in the future of Black women. That’s why last year, Postpartum Progress launched the Mental Health in Color Initiative. We are providing training scholarships to mental health providers of color who are interested in expanding their professional expertise into maternal mental health. We believe that this training will improve the standard of care for everyone.

Today, we are proud to announce the program’s first scholarship recipients.

Desirée Israel, LGSW
Desirée Israel is a mental health professional who focuses on postpartum recovery. She has a longstanding commitment to postpartum well-being and is active within the Postpartum Progress community. Her areas of professional focus are on Cognitive Behavioral, NTU Psychotherapy, and holistic energy healing (reiki). Desirée works with the pre and postnatal client populations. She applied to the scholarship in order to deepen her reach and bring effective knowledge to the work she is already doing.   

Collette McLean, LCSW
Collete McLean is a mental health professional who focuses on multiple forms of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy interventions. Her specialization is in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Combined Parent-Child Cognitive Behavior Therapy. Additionally she employs Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Cognitive Behavior Therapy, and Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavior Therapy. Collette works with college students at a mid-size state school. She applied for the scholarship in order to provide a resource to pregnant college students, a demographic that is often missed and undersupported.

Olivia Baylor, LCPC
Olivia is a mental health professional whose focus is work with LGBTQI couples. Olivia is particularly passionate about this demographic and often sees additional harm shown to LGBTQI identified individuals due to their lack of visibility in maternal mental health work. Olivia’s theoretical approaches are CBT, Narrative Therapy, Solution Focused Therapy. Olivia is also a gender affirming therapist.

As our operating budget grows, it’s our goal to be able to offer even more scholarships in the future. For questions about Postpartum Progress’ Mental Health in Color Initiative, please contact program manager Jasmine Banks at jasminebanks@postpartumprogress.org.