How to Survive Summer with Kids

I’m jealous, mama, of the way you seem to have it all together! Have you ever caught yourself thinking this way about your friends or acquaintances?! I do it all the time. I am that mom watching other moms with envy, wishing I could “mom” as easily as them.

When summer break started for my two littles, ages 5 and 10, I could feel the familiar emotions welling up inside me. It’s hard to put a finger on what the emotion is exactly. I am so happy to have my little ones home with me, to not have to get up early every morning with someplace we NEED to be by a certain time, to avoid the early morning battles of getting dressed or late night shuffle of getting homework done and teeth brushed. On the other hand, I am terrified, as I think about the previous summers when I have left the gate with a positive attitude, only to end up feeling defeated after a mere 24 hours of all of us being home.

I’m sure lots of parents experience mixed emotions about summer. The kids have ample structure during the school year, with their weekdays looking something like this… Wake up at 6:30, eat breakfast, go to school at 8:15, eat lunch at 12, come home at 4:15, go to softball practice, eat dinner, do homework, have a snack, go to bed. If you take the element of school out of the equation you have a mess that might look more like this… Wake up at 10, eat breakfast, watch tv, eat, play, eat, watch tv, eat lunch, play, be forced outside by parents, eat, watch tv, eat dinner, nag to go somewhere and do something, play on electronics, eat, go to bed at 10. Yikes! I am so guilty of letting the summer days look like this, simply because I feel paralyzed! You see, I suffer from mental illness (bipolar and PTSD, specifically). The main thing you need to know about my mental illness for the purpose of this post is that I feel emotion 100% stronger than the average person. What makes you excited would probably make me over the moon, once in a lifetime kind of ecstatic. What makes you a little blue probably turns my whole world upside down and makes me feel like I can’t possibly go on. What feels like a normal obstacle to you would likely feel like Mt Everest to me. This is how my brain is wired and it is SO hard to get past. Imagine trying to go about your day to day life as a parent and ALL that it entails, except with your hands cuffed behind your back. Normal tasks suddenly seem impossible.

We can probably all agree that having kids at home brings on a whole new set of circumstances, such as the inevitable “I’m bored”, “I’m hungry” and the typical sibling arguments. For me, these situations, however normal they may be, create a paralyzing fear inside. I say paralyzing because I become so anxious, fearful and overwhelmed that I end up doing nothing– feeling trapped– until the summer has literally past me by. Back-to-school always hits me hard, with mixed emotions. I am left feeling sorry for myself and for my kiddos that I couldn’t muster up the courage to DO something, anything! I am left feeling defeated about the unsuccessful summer and relieved that they are going back to school all at the same time. I am left beating myself up for being a cruddy mama. I am left to scroll the other mama’s facebook pages, envious of their seemingly glorious summers with their kids, filled with swimming, camping, bike rides, zoo trips, and tons of other fun things! Why can’t I be like that? Why do I have to have a mental illness? Why me…

In my 10 years of being a mama, I can honestly say I have only ever taken my kid(s) to the grocery store with me once or twice. I can count on one hand the number of times I have left my house alone with my kids for any reason other than driving them to school or meeting up with my husband (i.e., to go to the park, to go do something). This sounds crazy, I know. It isn’t because I don’t want to, but because I don’t feel capable. Believe me, my to-do list of errands is just as big as anyone’s. I simply don’t feel like I can take my kids with me. I’m scared, anxious and nervous, I’m sad, and above all, I’m downright MAD. I’m mad at myself for letting my illness control me for so long, in this important aspect of my life! I literally only have 18 summers to enjoy my babies… and even that isn’t guaranteed.

If you can relate to me in any way so far, let me know! I’d love to hear your stories and experiences!

So, what now?! With the help of my supportive hubby, I have devised a plan for summer that is going to help me enjoy and maximize my time with my precious little ones! We had a painful (for me) discussion about what my hang-ups are when it comes to leaving the house alone with my kids. We discussed my fears, what makes me the most anxious, what types of things I enjoy, my favorite places to go, and…most essential… what changes I could make to help me overcome this slump! Here’s a snapshot of what we came up with, based on my answers. Your plan might look a little different than this, and that’s totally fine!! We decided that having a plan, ANY PLAN, is better than diving head first into uncharted territory!

We discussed ways to begin. First and foremost, start small. I can’t tell you how important this is. I’ve had too many miserably failed attempts simply because I was trying to go all out (like taking my kids to a huge carnival by myself), or because my expectations were too high (5-year olds are bound to complain about something), or because I didn’t prepare properly. My hubby encouraged me by suggesting I start out with a small goal, such as “take both kids to the park for a picnic lunch”. This might seem a little ordinary and mundane to some people, but to me it would be a huge accomplishment. Then, I would need to determine what I need to do to prepare for that goal. To plan ahead for a picnic with two kids, it’s wise to bring a small cooler of some sort with drinks, prepare food ahead of time, and gather a blanket or camping chairs for seating. Other ideas might be to include sunscreen and a ball, jump rope or other little activities to help entertain the kids. Before heading out, it is important to know that this isn’t going to be a perfect outing, regardless of how well you’ve planned. Someone might get hungry even after they’ve ate, someone might be too hot or too bored, someone might get stung by a bee and someone might throw a fit about leaving. IT’S OKAY! You can’t control everything all the time. I’ve learned that the less I let myself get worked up about little obstacles such as these, the less my kids feed into them. After all, mishaps won’t be remembered, only the energy you bring. They really feed off my positive attitude and carefree, go-with-the-flow vibe!

Here are a few tips I added that are essential to remember, in my book!

One of my biggest hangups, along with the emotional aspect of things, is that I am very unorganized when it comes to this stuff. I’m an efficient and organized secretary, party planner and house-cleaner, but when it comes to mom-business, no way! I have a tendency to wait until the day of, only to become overwhelmed and hung up on making a last minute, frantic decision. Of course, I end up doing nothing! This brings me to my next point… staying home is okay! I compiled a list of things to do at home for the kids- a variety of boredom busters for the kiddos! And, in case your mama never told you, being bored is OKAY too!! No one says you HAVE to entertain your kids 24/7. Summer is a great time for the kids to get their creativity flowing with unstructured free time.

This is about as unstructured as it gets… we were creating potions and casting chants with mud, rocks, leaves, and used cups from Subway. Note the potion smeared across both our faces.

If and when I do want to venture outside the home, I found that it is more manageable to stick to places I know and things that are familiar to me already. For me, venturing out for the first time with both kids is not going to be the ideal time to scope out a new hiking trail. I can reserve new places and things for when my hubby is joining us… just in case! That familiarity will help me, in that I thrive off knowing what to expect. Of course, you can’t always count on the expected, because sometimes things change. I live in Michigan, where the weather, like me, is bipolar. The lake day I had planned with the kids could start off with sunny skies and 80 degree weather, only to take a turn with rain showers and a cold front by noon. This happens… but it doesn’t have to ruin your day! Having a backup plan is a great idea! Instead of going to the lake, we could keep driving down I-94 to McDonald’s play place!

Another go-to is reaching out to my support system. Without them, I would be an even bigger mess. I have a few close, trustworthy friends that I can call at any time, day or night, and they will help me. Sometimes, all it takes is some encouragement and positive vibes from them and I am good to go! Other times, I need to vent and ugly cry face-to-face. Either way, I know my support peeps are right there when I need them. Just knowing this helps a ton– like the placebo effect!

You see, having something solid, something I can count on is what I thrive off! A plan of action, written down well in advance is exactly what I needed to turn summer around and make it enjoyable for all! While I can’t always guarantee the best day ever, I can guarantee my attempts in making it the best possible summer for myself and for my kids. Check out this list of free and budget friendly activities to do with your littles this summer! Notice: they are nothing super extravagant, but they are sure to please your kiddos and make YOU feel like you had an active summer with them!

This list can be added to and edited for what will work for you and your circumstances! I’m sure as you scan my list, tons more ideas will start coming to mind! I keep thinking of more as I’m typing, like have a water gun fight, make foot/hand print art, or make a donation pile! Whatever you do, just remember, do your best because your best is good enough, mama!!

Venting, Openly, About Spirit Airlines, and Others…

It’s not just you, Spirit Airlines. It’s all of your kind. Every airline we have used has resulted in the same traumatic experience. Some people won’t understand my story and just as many won’t care. That’s ok, because my intent is not to gain pity, followers, or “likes”; rather, my intent is to make airlines aware of these faults that have caused an ungodly number of awful experiences for my family. Maybe once they are aware, steps can be taken to ensure others in similar situations will have a more pleasant experience. As I write this, here I sit at the terminal, anxious to get this over and done.

My family has been fortunate enough to fly nearly every spring break for as long as I can remember. I have a plethora of spring break memories– my grandparents’ winter house in Paisley, Daytona Beach, Disney World, and for the latter balf of my life, Redington Shores on the Gulf side. Each year has been jam packed with laughter, family, friends, surf, sand and sun. The one downfall to every trip, other than the select few years we drove, has been the experience at the airport.

Yes, it saves SO much time and headache! Two hours compared to more than 18 hours!? Not to mention traffic, bathroom breaks, food and gas stops and the prolonged dread of having to return to reality (post-vacation blues is THE worst). Flying is definitely a convenience to us. The sad thing is we end up stressed out, anxious, and panicked before even leaving our home state of Michigan and long before heading back home from what we know as paradise. Isn’t going to always way more fun than coming back!?

We travel with a group of seven, but that has varied over the years. The one constant has been my sister, a 36- year old confined to a wheelchair. She is physically and mentally handicapped as a result of a tragic car accident at age three. She requires my mother’s care 24/7. You can imagine the level of tenacity required to care for an adult son/daughter and the toll it could take on the mind and body… especially after 33 years. Think about your physically exhausting 40 hours per week job, but make it all night and all day with no breaks in between. It shouldn’t be too hard to imagine, at this point, how nice a warm, beach vacation sounds. If you live in Michigan, you hear me loud and clear, especially as we just emerged from a bitter winter. If you are a parent or caretaker of a special needs individual, I’m talking to you, too. My mom thinks about this trip months in advance, even though my sister’s requirements don’t change or magically become less demanding while we are away. But, vacation is vacation. I can’t forget to add how important the vacation is to my sister, as well. I believe tranquility comes to her easier at the beach than it does other places. You should see her smile in my recent photos of her sitting by the water or hear her squeals as we wheeled her out into some light waves!

At the airport, anxiety weighs on us as much as our luggage. What will happen this time? What will go wrong going through security? How many times will my sister get upset or scared because she doesn’t understand? Will these people be as pushy as the last time? Will her wheelchair get back to us unharmed this time? As excited as we are to get to where we’re going, tension remains high through the entire experience, until we leave the airport.

Anyone who knows my sister is likely to tell you she is a highly sensitive woman, both emotionally and physically. She cries and laughs intensely and takes more delight in socializing than anyone I know. However, she is peculiar about who touches her and who pushes her wheelchair, which is basically an extension of her body. She has grown accustomed to certain people over the years and has her defenses ready for everyone else. She will talk to you and give you as many hugs as you want, but she doesn’t enjoy people coming up spontaneously or unannounced, touching her. She also doesn’t like her feet messed with in any way, due to their extreme sensitivity. If her boundaries of comfort are crossed, she may cry, become tense, display agitation, yell, feel scared or feel violated. It is highly probable that her disapproval would be blatantly obvious, even without knowing her.

We all know airport security has been amped up since 9/11, causing stricter rules and regulations as to what can go through security and how thoroughly each traveler is checked. Since my sister can’t walk, her and my mom go to a seperate checkpoint, where an employee does a physical pat down and through security check. Along with a full body check, there are times when they have had to remove her shoes, to swipe them for residue. This is protocol– I understand. What I could never figure out is why on Earth these employees think it is acceptable to walk up to my sister and just begin grabbing and prodding. Sure, sometimes they briefly start with, “Hello, I’m going to pat you down”. Or my favorite, “Is it ok if I pat you down?”, when they clearly have no Plan B in case she denies them access to her. Inevitably, it is the same story every time we go through security. They abruptly poke and prod and grab, all while my sister experiences anxiety, while begging and pleading with them in her own way.

It doesn’t end there, the discomfort and anxiety. Some how, some way, my sister needs to get on and off the aircraft. This is no simple feat, as she is about 100 lbs, much of which is dead weight, that requires you to carry and maneuver in an akward position. I typically try to be the one to do the heavy lifting, since my dear mama isn’t getting any younger! If you’ve never had to carry someone onto an aircraft before, let me tell you how it works. You can single-handedly carry the passenger on board, as the aisle doesn’t allow for much maneuvering for one person, let alone an extra, helping hand. OR, you can use the provided aisle chair, which squeezes perfectly through the aisle to transport the passenger. (These have always been the options provided in my experience.)

Remember, my sister doesn’t like being touched, and she doesn’t tolerate sitting in hard seats or seats that don’t provide proper support. Imagine our dismay, just last week, when an employee abruptly took control of her wheelchair (equivalent to pulling your baby from your arms and walking away), then proceeded to cram her in an aisle chair, also known as a “straight-back”. My mom kept insisting– thanks, but no thanks! My sister kept yelling, “Ow!” and “Nooo!”. The man showed no sign of empathy or compassion as he proceeded grabbing and cramming, insisting we let him do everything. In fact, he said, “You’re fine”, to my sister! He clearly has no common sense.

There is a reason her wheelchair is designed specific to her body. The thing is…these people don’t take into consideration that perhaps she doesn’t want to be carried by a complete stranger. Perhaps she isn’t capable of sitting in this wretched straight-back chair that appears synonymous with a couple lightly cushioned two-by-fours. And perhaps she doesn’t employ the mentally of your average 36- year old. These people are working for a paycheck, and perhaps tips, nothing more.

I appreciate persistence, but not in this context. Not when my sister’s mother/caretaker is insisting she wants to do it the only way my sister will tolerate and the way that is more feasible for us. Why should we have to beg to handle our own business?? And why should we have to stress over the employees’ pushy attitudes?? Oh, and did I mention the dirty looks we get like we are the ones taking their child away?? Offering these services is courteous and is appreciatied, but demanding compliance or rudly expressing disproval when we refuse the assistance is a slap across the face. Afterwards, we are left to console my sister, which can be a task itself! It takes patience to calm her down and get her to relax (both mentally and physically).

Another common occurrence is that her chair has come back damaged… as in, the chair was fine when they took it to put it under the plane and wasn’t fine when it came up from under the plane once we landed. I know the flight gets bumpy, but I would be willing to bet the damages her wheelchair had sustained were the direct result of being mishandled by staff. I know this because I have witnessed it countless times, as they carelessly toss and jerk the chair around. This chair costs more than my car, and possibly my house, mind you! And it doesn’t seem to matter if we tell them one time or 100, “This wheelchair does not fold or break down in any way”, they always try to force it to fold and condense, typically breaking something in the process.

I have lived this story over and over, every spring break for as long as I can remember. Don’t get me wrong, we have come across some exceptional staff, including security, flight attendants and even pilots who have taken the time to be empathetic and ensure our comfort. Unfortunately, those who have the ability to demonstrate that these gestures are few and far between. Maybe it isn’t in the training manual, maybe it isn’t a familiar topic.

I just wish things were different. I wish my family could go on vacation without having some traumatic experience either at the airport or on the aircraft. I realize nothing can ever be perfect, not completely. I also realize our travels will be slightly different than most, because of our special needs loved one. However, it would be so nice if just once we could all breathe easier and relax a little, knowing we won’t be badgered or tampered with by strangers without an ounce of empathy and thoughtful communication first. Knowing we will be respected and our needs will be heard, rather than ignored.

My kids are starting to notice and, this past trip, they felt the tension, as well. In fact, my ten year old daughter now hates flying because of our unpleasant experience(s) this week. The saddest part just might be the fact that my parents just deal with this, because this is their normal.

This article is not to make anyone mad, or to demand everything always go or way. We are very realistic, sensible people and we know the challenges we are taking on when we book a vacation. My hope is that these words will reach people who do care and who appreciate how simple it would be to remedy these failures. To each of you,  especially those working in customer service, take the time to demonstrate communication skills, including verbalizing and truly listening, and empathy. Treat people and their belongings as if they were yours to value and cherish. What if this was your mother, sister, son, or best friend? I know airports are busy and we are all in a rush, but I promise these simple steps will carry you far. And earn you a whole lot of gratitude from my lovely family! (Haha)! Until you’ve walked (or traveled, in this case, a mile in our shoes, you can never know what it is like, what we go through and experience regularly.

Stop with the “shoulda, woulda, coulda” mentality…

I try not to beat myself up over the past… actions, words, circumstances, etc… It’s counterproductive and can consume a person to the point of lunacy. I suppose it is normal to feel a sense of guilt following a life-changing or mood-altering event. As humans, we tend to maintain a “could’ve, should’ve, would’ve” mentality. How often have you thought back on a situation and wished you had said or done something differently? I can’t count the number of times in my life that I mulled over the past, only to make myself feel worse through self criticism. I wish I would have done this… I should have said that… I’m upset that I couldn’t do this…

I recently came to the stark realization that what I was doing was actually hindering me from moving on and, most importantly, was thwarting my happiness. A few days ago, I was discussing this topic, regret and guilt, with someone who put this into perspective. They told me that instead of focusing on would’ve, should’ve and could’ve, focus on what I was able to do and what I did do. For example, instead of focusing on what you couldn’t do for someone, focus on what you could and did do for that person. Maybe you beat yourself up, wishing you could have been a better son or daughter, granddaughter or friend before losing a loved one. You could easily list everything you wish you would have done or wish you could have said. I promise, this mentality will destroy you. What you can do instead is think back on what you did do and say. Think about those moments you said, “I love you” or shared a holiday with that person. Maybe you engaged in deep conversation over coffee with that person. Focus on those things, be thankful and move on.

The same could be said for future endeavors. Rather than focusing on what you feel you can’t do, focus on what you know you can! You’d be surprised at how empowering this simple shift in mindset can be!

Instead of feeling defeated and beating myself up about not making six digits a year, I will focus on how awesome it is that I have an income that supports my babies and allows us some wiggle room! I’m not sure I will ever make six digits a year, but I do know that I am a smart and capable woman and will continue to provide for my kids.

Instead of worrying that I am insufficient as a mom, I will focus on all the value I bring to my kids’ lives and the fact that I am enough. I might not ever do mommin’ as good as those on t.v. or in the movies, but I know I am the best and only mom for my kids.

There is always going to be something we wish went differently or wish we could go back and re-do. News flash: It’s not possible. We can learn, grow, and try harder than we did before. There might be a second chance. There might not. Either way, just know that you did what you could with what you had in that exact moment.

I hope your mind can rest a little easier tonight knowing that beating yourself up is only holding you back. Change your mindset and focus on all that you are! Accept the past for what it is and move forward knowing you are a wonderful human being! No one could do you better than YOU!

Finding Joy in The Little Things

Some days seem filled to the brim with forced smiles, strained small talk and robotic movements. You know what I mean… the days you DO because you know you have to. The days you abruptly force yourself awake and get out of bed because you know little people are depending you. The days that you make breakfast because if you don’t, everyone in your house will get hangry as fast as you can count to twenty. The days you struggle at work, as you listen to Negative Nancy vent about her latest breakup, because all you want is to be at home. The days when lots of small things trip you up even though they aren’t really a huge deal… like the tiny jelly stain your son got on his shirt in the car on the way to school, or the realization that you’re out of milk when you’re halfway through cooking Hamburger Helper. But you push through the day because… well, that’s just what you do. Being a mom, a wife, an employee, a nurse, a scheduler, a secretary, a chauffeur, a magician, a chef and whatever else you are in one day is demanding. How do you push through days like this? When all you really want to do is drink a glass of wine while absorbing your conscious in a good book. It isn’t really because you have to at all. No one is forcing you.

How do you push through when you feel like you’re simply going through the motions. Eat, sleep, repeat. Eat, sleep, repeat. How do you find something outside the mundane day-to-day aspects that have seemingly become your demise?

For me, it’s the small things. On days that I am struggling to keep my life together, it is especially important for me to remember to make a conscious effort to look for them. The thing that ups my vibe and soothes my soul often seems to find me. But sometimes, I am left creating my own small perks that bring me joy.

Yesterday, that small thing to brighten my day was nothing more than a ceramic cookie jar. Yes, a cookie jar! My girl, Natalie, found it for me at a thrift store for one dollar! I have never owned my own cookie jar. I didn’t even know I wanted one until I seen Natalie’s cookie jar strategically placed on her kitchen counter. Cookie jars are nostalgic to me and my particular vintage-chic cookie jar was a ray of sunlight beaming on my day. It’s the little things!!

The “thing” can be anything that carries personal significance, such as a compliment, a treasure found at Goodwill, a song on the radio, or even a smile from someone. It could be anything really. The other day, the thing was my five-year old son gently rubbing my cheek as he drifted off to sleep by my side. I knew as soon as it happened that it was my perk that day– the light shining in the darkness.

I’m not saying every day is bad. But, we all know life isn’t always rainbows and butterflies. The key is knowing how to find joy in the small things each day. Take the time to polish your nails or soak in a hot bubble bath if that brings you those warm fuzzy feelings. Allow yourself to find joy in these simple pleasures. When your kid says, “You’re the best” or your mom tells you she is proud of you, bask in the joy that can bring you!

A simple cookie jar is all it takes sometimes!

How To Assist Someone Who Is Battling Emotional Distress

Tips for friends, family, or other support persons…

The tears stung my eyes and before I knew it, puffiness consumed my face. I could feel a ping in the pit of my stomach, as if someone jabbed a knife right inside of me. I doubled over, cupping my face with my hands, as if I were trying to create a barrier between my intense sadness and the outside world. Unfortunately, there was no hiding, no escaping the fact that I had a full-blown melt down just in time for an audience of no less than three. I wanted to hide under a rock.

The inevitable curiosity followed, piqued by my abrupt and seemingly fatuous public display of dysphoria. “What’s wrong, Christine?” “Are you okay?”. I hid behind my well-practiced illusive half smile. “I’m fine”. But I wasn’t fine. I couldn’t let them know the truth, I just needed them to be there for me.

Some people insist on having their questions answered. When someone cries, witnesses often feel like they need to know why in order to assist. That is fine, if the one doing the crying is willing to tell. Sometimes, though, telling is hard to do. Especially in the heat of the moment. Sometimes, telling is not an option.

Conventional wisdom says knowledge is power. Knowledge of a death or tragic loss cues sympathy, empathy and comforting words, such as “I’m sorry for your loss”. Knowledge of a breakup or romantic heartache cues assistance with moving on in a healthy way, words to boost the ego, offering companionship, and perhaps offering a friendly gesture, such as a girls/guys night out. So, what can be done to console a friend, loved one, or even a stranger, without fully comprehending what is occurring and why? Well, A LOT, actually.

Think about a time when you were extremely sad. Maybe your dog died, maybe you just lost your job, or maybe you suffer from depression. Whatever the case may be, try to think about what would have been comforting during that time. Some people need to be alone and that’s okay, too. But in this case, try to think about what you would want from a friend or loved one.

Since emotional setback is kind of my forte, in a way, my husband is in tuned to what I want and need from him. I can only imagine his frustration prior to having a plan, as I sense that he feels responsible for resolving whatever is ailing me at the time. What I need is likely to look different from what you need, but here are some universal, generic tips.

  1. You don’t need to say anything magical. People struggle with this one. I have noticed that a lot of people have a dire need to fix, diffuse, and resolve problems. In order to do that, they feel they need to say or do the perfect thing. In the case of not knowing the cause of distress, these people feel like their hands are tied. The truth is, people in distress aren’t looking for a magic phrase that fixes their problems. They are simply looking for words like, “I’m here for you” or “I’ve got you, boo”. Either way, lending a shoulder to cry on, a steady arm to grab onto, and a genuine concern is enough.
  2. Don’t pry. When I am visibly upset, I am fully aware that you are not going to buy my “I’m fine” nonsense. I say it anyways, hoping you won’t ask again. Some people insist on getting an honest answer, but sometimes that makes it worse. Don’t get hung up on prying me for answers.
  3. Ask what you can do. There is something refreshing about knowing I have support, if I need it. Showing someone you genuinely care by inquiring what you can do to help or how you can relieve the distress is very powerful.
  4. Space is important, if it is wanted. We all cope with emotions in unique ways. Some people are comforted by the presence of another person. Others would rather have some space. My husband would rather I give him space when he is upset, knowing I will be there when he is ready. I respect that, even though I personally enjoy the opposite.
  5. Silence is okay, too. Sometimes, just having someone there is sufficient. Words don’t always have to be the answer, especially when the “right” words are tough to find. I can’t express enough how powerful a hug, or a hand on my hand, can be during a time of distress. Simple gestures of physical touch and/or physical closeness can speak louder than words.

Navigating social interactions, especially those muddled by intense negative emotion, can be challenging. Remembering these tips can be beneficial to yourself and to those with whom you interact. There is no one-size-fits-all strategy to mitigate others’ struggles, but these simple guidelines have proven beneficial and provide a road map, of sorts, to being a good friend, spouse, parent, or other supporting role.

When the tears are long dried up and my thoughts are rational again, I appreciate the realization that I have a support system. Even if I am a pain, and insist on putting up my defenses, the people closest to me sure know how to help when needed!

Until next time,

How Your Past Influences Your Future

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…and what you can do about it!

The past is in the past. Perhaps that is a familiar concept to some of you. After all, dwelling on something that happened ten years ago seems inimical. Yet, somehow, past experiences tend to creep in our subconscious and play a powerful role in influencing our future. A bad experience, several bad experiences of the same nature, have the ability to wreak havoc on similar future experiences.

A trail of toxic romantic relationships results in swearing off love for good. Sound familiar? Since humans are social beings, we, inevitably, find the urge to date again. However, past romantic fails result in anxiety about future attempts at love. If allowed, the flawed perception that we are doomed, in terms of love, will creep in and influence future relationships.

Not just relationships, though. The idea that history will repeat itself and the anxiety about what could be that stems from unfortunate past experiences is prevalent in a variety of life contexts. A rough childhood may lead to distrust in others as an adult. A run of financial distress may result in the mindset that there is no way out of debt, ever. A string of losses during the football season may cause doubt and worry before every single game, because another loss seems inevitable. You know… those fairweather fans… who only love the Detroit Lions when they win, but talk crap about them any other time (which may be a lot)? Are you with me? Again, negative past events or experiences, especially multiple instances, can easily result in losing hope for future events or experiences of the same kind.

Adults rarely anticipate anything. Maybe that’s because we’ve been disappointed too many times and are afraid to get our hopes up.

Dr. David McDonald, The Adventure of Happiness, 33.

Think about something you have anticipated and truly looked forward to. I look forward to going to Florida next spring break. Why? Because, I have experienced Florida before and had a FABULOUS experience. It is much easier to anticipate and look forward to experiences that either a) are new; therefore, are exciting/thrilling, or b) have been great experiences in the past; therefore, there is no negativity attached.

So, what can we do about bad experiences trying to consume our perception of future experiences?

  • Take back control. To do this, you must tweak your mindset. Step back and notice how much credit you are giving the negative experiences. Do your negative experiences stick out like a sore thumb? Quit giving the negative undue credit. Misery loves company– so allowing the negative experiences to remain in the spotlight is a surefire way to attract future negative experiences.
  • Minimize the weight of a bad past. The past does NOT define you. I didn’t have the perfect childhood. The crud from my childhood has definitely crept in on my adult life, causing me to have some ugly symptoms of trauma. However, by refusing to let the unpleasant monsters from my child hood define me, I minimize their weight. What I experienced as a child is just that: long gone childhood experiences. They are not my life, they are not me, as a being. It is much easier to happily and excitedly anticipate your future when you minimize the weight of a bad past or bad past experiences. Why? Because, the negative is no longer on a pedestal in the spotlight.
  • Give yourself permission. It’s ok, friend, I promise! Allow yourself to freely and fully enjoy life. I don’t consider myself the risk-taking type, per say, but I do believe that every day I wake up, I take a positive risk. I risk my delicate emotions, my flaws, or other pent up issues to being exposed. I risk being vulnerable in a moment between my husband and I. I risk my littles pushing my buttons and taking advantage of my weak spots. AND THAT’S OKAY! Those are risks worth taking. No, not every day is 100% perfect, but giving myself permission to freely anticipate life each day is SO powerfully satisfying and makes it all worth it!

It’s difficult to tell others how to live. I don’t know what you have been through and I have never walked in your shoes. But, I know that everyone can relate to having some type of negative experience in their life. Life can’t always be perfect, right? What we can do about the negative experiences is take back control, minimize their weight and give ourselves permission to live. 

These steps will allow you to anticipate future events with a positive outlook, rather than a flawed perception of how things could potentially go based on negative past experiences. Replace anxiety with enthusiastic anticipation for what each new day might bring! Seriously! Instead of putting so much energy into sulking about negative past experiences, shift that energy towards employing a positive enthusiasm for future experiences!

The Ultimate Guide to Taking Action

Taking steps towards what you really want…

With the start of a new year, I consistently hear and see talk of goals. People tend to rely heavily on the notion that a new year equals a fresh start– what better time to take action, right?! Well, sort of. The problem with this thought process is this: a lot of the time there is way too much hype, not enough action. I get it… setting a goal leads to planning a course of action. If you are anything like me, and the majority of people I talk to, you plan but never get around to implementing those plans. Or, maybe you do, briefly, but not long enough to truly accomplish what you want.

Don’t worry… if this sounds like you, here is a list of guidelines to push you towards ACTION!

  1. Don’t wait for the “perfect time”. News flash: the perfect time is NOW! While a fresh mindset can be productive, it can actually be counterproductive to put things off for a better time. “I’ll start Monday”, “I’ll make it my New Year resolution”, and “I’m waiting for my friend to do it with me” are only going to lead to thoughts like, “Eh, I’ve waited this long… one more day won’t hurt”.
  2. You don’t need to wait until you have all the answers. How? What? Why? When? Where? Who? These questions and a slew of others are bound to come up, especially if what you want to accomplish involves unfamiliarity. Research can typically provide the answers to several questions; however, some answers are best found by simply starting. Some actions require trial and error and learning by doing. If I were to wait to start writing until I had all the answers, I would never be able to start… ever. Get comfortable with not knowing everything and leaving some questions unanswered until a later time.
  3. Stop Overthinking. It’s okay to put thought into what you do, but too much thought can be dangerous. Overthinking often leads to stress, intimidation and giving up before starting. I am one of those people… I tend to overthink everything. I wonder, ponder, contemplate and think until I have exhausted my brain power and experience burn out. Overthinking is counterproductive, more often than not.
  4. Take messy action. This is one of the most valuable tools I can pass along. I can’t tell you how many years I have been carrying on about starting a blog. While the ideas were always there, I let my flawed thought process get in the way and never actually put pencil to paper. Until now. So, what changed? I am still me– scared, hesitant, and slightly intimidated. There is one difference: I was introduced to the concept of “messy action”. The friend who brought this concept into the light for me taught me that it is way better to just do it! Messy action is still action. No, it isn’t perfect, but it is something. No matter your endeavor in life, jump in with both feet and just go with it. This leads me to the next tip…
  5. Let go of perfection. I realize how hard this is for perfectionists, like myself. I rewrite my grocery list as many times as it takes to get a copy with zero errors, because I refuse to have scribbled out words. The problem with this is: I spend way too much valuable time trying to be perfect and less time focusing on the real goal. Half the time, I give up on writing the list, then have nothing to refer to at the grocery store! Focus on the goal, not on how perfectly you can get there.
  6. You can always re-evaluate/reorganize. Here is where trial and error is useful! You might not have all the answers, you might not have a perfectly foolproof plan, and it might be messy, but you will learn from doing. We already know that doing something is better than nothing. The first week of exercise might teach you that working out in the evenings is not for you. No problem! Next week, try working out in the morning! Edit and rework your course of action until it best suites you.
  7. Planning is overrated. Some planning is inevitable and can allow our actions to run smoother. However, becoming obsessed with planning the future prohibits us from moving towards actions in the present. I am all too familiar with getting burnt out on planning before I start actually doing. Somtimes, planning creates a wall, leading me to feel stuck, intimidated, stressed, tired or overwhelmed. Focus on the goal, create a plan, and move on to implementing that plan.
  8. Baby steps count. If you’re anything like me, you love instant gratification and seeing immediate results. I hate waiting. Sometimes, though, we fail to realize the power of progress. Maybe we haven’t completely achieved the goal or end result, but look at the progress that’s been made! Each baby step counts as taking action and moves us closer to the end goal. Tracking each baby step on paper helps when visualizing progress. Smart phones have several fun options for progress trackers, as well!
  9. Act with intent. Actions are deliberate. All too oftem, we get caught up in the daily grind and act out of habit. We go to work, take care of kids, cook dinner, etc… However, if you know what you want and put forth a conscious effort, you can intentionally achieve that thing you want. For example, if weight loss is my goal, but I haven’t exercised in years, then I am most likely not going to habitually start exercising and eating clean. Rather, I am likely to think about working out briefly, if at all, only to find myself scrolling through Facebook while eating chips on the couch. If I truly intend to lose weight and start exercising, I have to put forth much more mental effort and take intentional steps towards that goal. Living life in a passive way, out of habit, might be easier than living an intentional, active life; but, it rarely gets you what you want in terms of goals and achievements.
  10. You may or may not want to work alone. I consistently see people partnering up to make gains and hear people claiming that they are incapable of “doing it alone”. Finding your tribe and linking arms with like-minded people is fabulous! However, don’t feel like you have to take this route to begin your journey. Some people do better and stay more focused when they work towards their goals solo. Support from friends and family is always beneficial, but this doesn’t mean these people need to be doing exactly what you’re doing. Do you and do it well. I noticed that when I try to work with a friend on a common goal, I end up obsessed with comparisons on our journey, which only hinders my progress. Sometimes working in pairs or teams is suitable, but not always. Don’t get hung up on finding someone to join you, because you may find it actually slows you down.

If you feel like you are spinning your wheels and getting no where fast, go through this list and see if anything applies to you. Taking action isn’t always easy. If it were, it wouldn’t be so exhilarating when we achieve what we want! This doesn’t mean that all is lost, though, as these tips and tricks are easier than you may think. Always remember, you can accomplish anything, especially if you tweak your mindset a little! Have faith in the process and take action!

Until next time,