Why We Should Be Practicing Soul-Care, Not Just Self-Care

Everyone knows the importance of self-care. The concept, which involves taking care of yourself so that you can be healthy, do your job, and support friends and loved ones is imperative to your overall well being. It is essential to living a long and fulfilled life. But there is more to self-care than wine spritzers and bubble baths — i.e., there is more to your mind, body, and being than nutrition, exercise, and fitness, and that is where soul-care comes in.

“Self-care is care of your physical body, but soul-care is me asking ‘How are you?’ and waiting long enough for your recent highs and lows to respond with a reflection of your insides,” Sarah Jakes Roberts — the author of “Woman Evolve: Break Up with Your Fears and Revolutionize Your Life” — tells Scary Mommy. It is listening to your feelings and responding carefully and thoughtfully. It is knowing your limitations and nurturing your needs. And it is asking yourself tough questions: the whos, whats, whens, wheres, and whys.

What is soul-care — and how does it differ from self-care?

Soul-care is the act of caring for and getting in touch with your spiritual and emotional self. Or, to put it another way, soul-care is a general restoration of your mental wellbeing. Those who practice soul-care take time to reflect inward. They make both a space and place to care for themselves. Those who practice soul-care nurture their inner child, loving him or her as they would their own little ones. And a major aspect of soul-care involves asking yourself tough questions. Those who practice this form of self-compassion and acceptance don’t just resign to their fate; they explore their feelings and get to the root of the problem. 

Self-care, on the other hand, is any thing you do to take care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally. It is the act of taking care of yourself so that you can be healthy, you can be well, you can do your job, you can help and care for others, and you can do all the things you need to and want to accomplish in a day.

How can we practice soul-care?

Many types of self-care are object- or action-based. Some individuals practice yoga or meditate; others work out or go on a long walk or run, and some individuals “treat” themselves to physical indulgences like massages, manicures, spa treatments, and pedicures. But Roberts tells Scary Mommy that soul-care involves looking inward. “While self-care is going to get your nails done, soul-care is asking yourself when you started biting your nails — and why,” Roberts says. It is understanding yourself at a deeper level.  

Why is soul-care so important?

While self-care is of the utmost importance, it’s all for naught if you’re not practicing soul-care. “Self-care is great for making sure you’re showing up in the world as your best,” Roberts tells Scary Mommy. “But soul-care allows you take a moment to determine how much you’ve grown in patience, knowledge, and empathy. It even allows you to examine opportunities where you could be doing better.”

Where should we start when it comes to practicing soul-care?

If you’re looking for a way to better care for yourself, mentally and emotionally, soul-care may be the answer. After all, you need to feed not just your mind and body but your spirit. But understanding and navigating the intricacies of soul-care can be tricky, particularly if you are new to the practice. Understanding your true feelings can be hard. So how can you incorporate soul-care into your life?

Well, you can read literature on soul-care; many books can help walk you through the process. Meditative practices can help you look inward, particularly guided meditations, and you can work with a life coach or therapist. Faith-based leaders are also great for general guidance, oversight, and support. Soul-care looks different for different people.

However it looks for you, in your quest to be your best self, don’t forget to do the work on your soul — because true happiness begins within.

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I Keep Crying All The Time — And Other Signs Of Burnout

I have a confession to make. (Or maybe it’s not as much of a confession as I think — many of my friends won’t be even a little bit surprised.) I love being busy. I love teetering on that knife’s edge of being comfortably occupied and doing much too much.

Here’s the thing. It’s not normally a big problem. Even though I get stressed, I am a firm believer that growth cannot happen without some outside stressors forcing us to up our game and get better. (Although, let’s not talk about how our culture is obsessed with bigger and better when really, sometimes, it’s enough to just be enough.)

It’s a really big problem.

The thing is, I am always worried that if I don’t keep writing, people will stop asking me to write — and even though that may be true to a certain extent, it’s not true to the extent that I’ve made it out in my head.

I am terrible at saying, “No.”

But here’s the other thing. Even before I got doxxed by a white nationalist forum last year or the increased violence against Asian Americans, I started to constantly feel on the verge of tears. As if I was one slip away from drowning in a torrent of sadness. There wasn’t anything wrong with my life — in fact, it felt as if I were finally getting what I wanted.

And yet.

I cut back on some work and the feeling went away. And then, the anti-Asian racism and violence ticked up dramatically in the news with the Atlanta shootings being the final capper, and I started to cry all the time. I couldn’t stop.

I kept hugging my kids and perhaps traumatizing them forever by sobbing as they hugged me and pet me and were ultimately, super confused.

What is burnout?

We often imagine burnout as running out of ideas or not being able to create or work, but it can also manifest in your body (like crying all the time). The official definition of burnout is exhaustion due to chronic and extreme stress. Whether professional or personal burnout, it can severely affect your work and social lives — and, of course, your health.

In general, you feel constantly overwhelmed, drained, and as if you can’t meet any of your obligations or responsibilities. The more the mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion you feel, the more you get stressed, and the less interested you become in whatever it is you were originally interested in doing.

Negative Effects Of Burnout

The worst part about burnout is that it cannot be contained — at least, not indefinitely. The effects eventually spill over into every part of your life; burnout ends up affecting your social, personal, and professional life as well as can cause long-term physical changes to your body. Your immune system can also weaken so you become more susceptible to colds and illnesses.

On top of that, you may always feel as if you have nothing left to give, and as a result, become less productive, feel lifeless — like all the energy is sucked out of you — and may feel resentful, bitter, and cynical. Now, you might in general be a low-energy person or have a somewhat hopeless personality — but if it’s to the point where it interferes with your daily activities, you just might be burned out.

Signs Of Burnout

In case you have started occasionally Googling some variation of “Why am I crying all the time” or “Why am I so exhausted” or even “Why can’t I get my shit together,” perhaps you may want to consider the possibility that you’re burned out (or on the way to being so).

Here are some of the signs:

1) Chronic exhaustion

It may initially start off as feeling tired or lacking energy — but by the end, you’re completely spent.

2) Feelings of dread

Not only are you always tired, everyday seems to be a bad day and you hate waking up in the morning, unable to face the day.

3) Insomnia

Initially, it may be hard for you to fall or stay asleep a few nights a week — but eventually, even despite feeling physically exhausted, you may find it impossible to sleep.

4) You can’t focus

Nothing stays in your brain — and this is beyond the typical mom-brain where you just have too many things on your mind. You can’t remember important details, concentrate, or even pay attention. You may even end up letting everything pile up because you can’t manage to get anything done.

5) Everything pisses you off

I mean, for some of us, that’s a personality feature and not a bug — but if you’re not like this normally and every little thing annoys you or makes you want to flip tables, you might want to consider the possibility of being burned out. You may even burst into tears because you feel emotionally out of control.

6) Physical symptoms

Among physical manifestations of burnout, you may experience chest pain, heart palpitations, stomach pain, headaches, dizziness, or difficulty breathing. If you find that you are having these issues, please confer with your medical professional.

7) Apathy and hopelessness

Nothing matters. You feel stuck in an endless cycle of depression and pessimism. You’re not channeling your inner emo, you just constantly feel as if there’s no point to anything whatsoever.

8) You can’t perform or produce

You feel as if you are crushed with all the work you need to do. It may start off as blowing deadlines and an inability to get any work done — but this is more than any sort of procrastination. You feel as if you can’t escape, and you’re haunted by (or may actually receive) poor performance reviews.

If You’re Feeling Burned Out

Reach out and get help

Whether it’s turning to trusted friends, family, or professionals to tell them how you’re feeling, do it. Even talking it out with someone can relieve some of your burden.

Reexamine what is important to you

Set clear boundaries around work or toxic people in your life. Take a break. Say no to more work. Maybe even quit your job or take a leave of absence. Create space to think about what you actually want or how you want to live.

Practice good sleep hygiene and physical care

Physical movement like exercise as well as getting enough sleep and eating healthy foods will do wonders. Not only will you get endorphins pumping through your body from exercise, taking care of your body physically will help boost your immune system and make you feel better.

NOTE: If you feel overwhelmed or that you may self-harm, please call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Helpline — 1-800-662-HELP (4357). SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.

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How To Support People With Mental Illness

I’m very lucky. I have bipolar 2 disorder, but I’m surrounded by people who understand what that means. It’s difficult enough to have mental illness: you’ve overlooked; you’re derided; you’re never quite “enough” to modern society, especially if, like me, you can’t work an eight-hour day outside the home (not that I can’t work much longer than eight hours, I just can’t stand the stress of doing it somewhere else or for someone else). Mental illness is hard and isolating. You lose touch with friends. People misunderstand you.

Living around people who don’t know how to deal with someone who has moderate to severe mental illness — and I have — only worsens it. You become afraid: when will my disease show itself? How bad will it be this time? How will I cope alone, and will it be enough? Thoughts like this can turn even a sunny day dark. It feels like being unloved, and in a sense, it is: a failure to love a whole person.

But my husband understands that once in a long while, I will need him to come home from work: my pill bottle has become more attractive as a whole than as individual doses. I am lucky that his administrative staff understands he has a wife with moderate to severe mental illness that occasionally flares up. They don’t ask questions, other than, “Why are you still here?” My best friends understand that I may suddenly go radio-silent. When that happens, I need space, and I’ll get back to them eventually. My own bosses not only tell me to take mental health breaks, but check on me in between. These people make me cry with gratitude. They understand. They take care of me and make my life possible.

People with mental illness need a special kind of support. People may want to give it, but unlike those who surround me — who are all highly educated in how to cope with people who have mental illnesses — they might not know how. Johns Hopkins estimates that 26% of Americans will deal with mental illness in any given year. 9.5% will deal with depression; 18% will cope with an anxiety disorder. You know someone with a moderate to severe mental health issue. Here’s how to support them.

Acknowledge Their Struggle With Mental Illness

No one I know pretends my brain is wired normally. They do not act as if I don’t have bipolar 2. That doesn’t mean they treat me differently. But they acknowledge that I may react differently to situations or misread tone. Many people often lapse into long silences; when I do that, my husband asks, “Are you okay, or just quiet?” He gives me a chance to talk and acknowledges that I might, indeed, not feel okay.

No one who loves me pretends I’m normal. Why would they? If they love me, they accept all of me, and therefore, they have to accept that I have bipolar 2. They don’t ignore that last month, I spent two weeks miserably adjusting to medication.

Be There If They Need You

Be a resource. If you’re a spouse or close friend, that may mean you need to stay with them at odd times and deal with the messiness of mental illness: the tears, the sadness, the rage. But sometimes, they may just need your physical presence. When I had my last bad episode, I spent some time sitting in my friend Patrick’s garage. We didn’t talk about my recent drop into suicidal tendencies. I think we watched Key & Peele and Matt Baume’s analysis of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. I left his place feeling far better. He didn’t do anything in particular other than hang out, let me steal some Pall Malls, and be one of my best friends.

The closer you are to someone with mental illness, the more likely you are to see the messiness. That’s okay. The messiness isn’t their sum total. It’s only a part of them, and while it’s not a particularly attractive part of them, you signed on to love them no matter what. Your best strategy: ask that person beforehand what they need most when they’re having problems. My husband and I started doing a lot better when he realized I didn’t want him to fix my problems, but listen to them.

Know That Mental Illness May Make Them Act Differently

Sometimes mental illness may take over, and people may do and say things they wouldn’t normally do or say. It’s not them: it’s their condition. An astute person realizes when the person they know and the reaction they see don’t match. It might not be the best idea to mention it (nothing will make me angrier mid-breakdown than someone telling me that my emotions, which are very real, are only a symptom of my bipolar disorder). But it may be best to simply file it away or forgive it.

For example, the day before my last breakdown, I picked a fight with my boss and refused to back down. She kept telling me that “this isn’t like you.” A week later, I looked back and realized that was sign #1 I was spiraling. She knew before anyone else that something was up. Maybe she didn’t know I was heading for a breakdown, but she understood I wasn’t acting normally.

Next time someone says that several times, I’ll listen a little differently, I think.

Always Stay Calm

As the person without mental illness, you have to be the strong person. In this particular situation, being the strong person means not arguing (my boss didn’t really argue so much as keep telling me to chill), not crying with them, and most importantly, not losing your patience.

No, we can’t snap out of it. No, we can’t stop thinking that. No, we can’t stop crying. Don’t you think that we’d stop whatever behavior is annoying you if we could? Believe me, it bothers us far more than it bothers you. It may be annoying to hear us say we’re worried the whole family will die in a fiery inferno; it’s far worse to obsessively think about it. You can gently suggest another activity if we’re not weeping. But don’t ever tell us to stop it, say you wish we would stop it, or tell us our behavior inconveniences you.

Mental Illness Is Like Physical Illness

It’s tiring. We might disappear for a while. Understand that we don’t have enough energy to answer your phone call, text message, or email. We’re not trying to ignore you. We’re trying to save our energy to do other hard things, like shower or eat.

If we were recovering from a broken leg, you’d probably offer to bring us a meal. If you know someone is dealing with a breakdown from severe mental illness, GrubHub them a pizza (I’m not saying this for free pizza). They’re tired, and their partner is likely tired from coping with them and any children they may have.

But most of all, give us space and grace. Please don’t think less of us because of our illness: please don’t think we’re less capable, but please realize that sometimes, we may need help. We may need space to hurt, and we may need grace when we fail to live up to societal expectations. We’re not normal, and we never will be. But if you help and support us, we can be our best selves.

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Don’t Freak — Reopening Anxiety Is Normal

I cry about it sometimes. “I don’t know if I want to go back,” I tell my husband. “I’m scared that when we can finally do things again, I won’t want to.” I have severe social anxiety; insulation from playdate encounters and awkward small talk has come as an unintended but welcome side effect of the pandemic. Reopening anxiety is real for me and many others who cope with different forms of anxiety: social anxiety, OCD, and even depression.

What if I’ve forgotten how to people? My ADHD already makes social encounters difficult; I have problems with conversational turn-taking and staying on topic. Has the pandemic has increased that difficulty? Even if it hasn’t, my worry’s enough to trigger serious reopening anxiety. Maybe I don’t want to go back, whispers some little voice. Maybe I’m glad to jettison uncomfortable small talk with other moms.

Reopening Anxiety Is Common

The New York Times says about half of us are worried about reopening, according to the American Psychological Association. We stress about returning to in-person interactions, to face-to-face meetings, to small talk. But a smaller subset of that half finds themselves very worried: they have severe anxiety, diagnosed or not; they have OCD; they’re simply introverted. That smaller subset may not have suffered as much under isolation as others.

I certainly haven’t.

I’ve missed a few friends. I’ve felt terrible for my children — probably the worst part — but I haven’t found myself desperate for human contact. I remain content to visit my friend Patrick’s garage about once a week, smoke cigarettes, and watch TV. Joey blasts into town about every two weeks and sits on my porch. I’m always happy to see them, and I do need to see them. But I haven’t missed parties, small talk, mom gatherings, or meeting new people.

For people with severe social anxiety, especially those who tend towards panic attacks, the pandemic, while difficult, may have been “a respite,” says The New York Times. We’re people who “find the everyday grind not only wearing, but emotionally unsettling.” We find it hard to people anyway. People-ing after a pandemic? That’s a tall order for many of us who’ve grown accustomed to our comfortable bubbles.

“I am very worried about many of my socially anxious patients,” Andrea Maikovich-Fong, a psychologist in Denver, told The New York Times.

There’s Plenty of Reopening Anxiety to Go Around

What are the guidelines for safe meetings after vaccinations? The CDC says my Moderna vaccine is 94.1% effective at preventing COVID-19. But my kids haven’t been vaccinated. Should I worry as much about distancing for their sakes if we go out and about? If we still have to wear masks and yell at Karens that six feet means six feet, what’s the point in leaving the house?

I was never a sanitizer. But COVID-19 has turned me into a borderline OCD sanitizer (like it has most of us). I find myself telling my kids not to touch things in public — constantly — and sanitizing them when they do. I open all doors with my sleeve. I use pencil tips to push call buttons. COVID-19 guidelines may only reinforce OCD tendencies.

How To Manage It

Psychologists tell us we need to socialize. To help with reopening anxiety, they recommend, according to VeryWell Mind, starting contact with a few close friends, outside, and to be sure all your conversation isn’t centered on the virus. They also recommend that we’re mindful about people we choose for socialization. Are they people who tend to allay our anxiety — like my garage and smoking buddy — or increase it, like mothers I’m forced to hang out with via playdates?

We also need to be mindful, says VeryWell Mind, that masks aren’t helping anyone with reopening anxiety. We can’t see people’s faces to read social cues as well. For those of us with difficulty reading social cues already, this can make a hard task nearly impossible. Moreover, masks only remind us of the pandemic, which can trigger anxiety, a vicious cycle.

Psycom recommends making a “game plan”: list out activities that make you anxious, and rate them from one to one hundred. Then pick something in the 30-50 range to do. You’re pushing yourself hard enough to feel an accomplishment, but not so much that you’re too daunted to do it.

Take things at your own comfort rate while reopening anxiety persists. You need to keep going, but you shouldn’t attend an equivalent of the office Christmas party right away. Start small and work your way up.

Those with a diagnosis, or who suspect they may have a clinical diagnosis, should keep close contact with their therapist or psychiatrist during reopening. Someone safe to talk to helps — either in a clinical setting or outside it.

And don’t be afraid to admit your feelings. I’m terrified to go back to some semblance of normalcy, and I don’t know if I want to. I like staying home in my bubble, but I know I need to leave it. I can admit that scared me — and admitting that is the first step towards beating my reopening anxiety.

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My Privilege Keeps Me Alive

I had a bipolar episode recently. Like Quentin Coldwater says in “The Magicians,” sometimes my brain breaks. It started slowly: I argued too much with people on Facebook. Then I argued too much with people in real life. A sense of inevitable doom closed in, served with a side of debilitating anxiety. When the pills began to look more useful as an entire bottle than as a dosage, I called my husband and my psychiatrist, begging my way into an appointment that day. Clearly, I needed mental health care.

My husband talked to me, pretending he was between classes. He kept talking until he reached our driveway. He knew I’d fight him if he said he was coming home from his job as a public school teacher, and he wanted to keep me talking to him, not that bottle of pills. What happened afterwards would have been impossible without a significant amount of money and privilege.

Mental Health Care Comes From Privilege

That my husband could even leave work was a sign of privilege. He has some stunning colleagues who know about my mental health issues. They’ve let him leave before: skipping his last free block to meet me at my psychiatrist’s office, only a few blocks from his school, so I could take an earlier appointment, for example. More than once, they’ve told him to leave early when I’ve had a breakdown. They understand that my husband has a wife who needs mental health care.

That’s some serious privilege.

That afternoon, he stayed home with our kids (privilege: he was home from work) while I drove to my psychiatrist’s office. She’s the best in our state; in fact, she used to run our state’s Board of Psychiatry. Since I have several comorbid (read: overlapping) conditions, I need someone with serious experience. But my mental health care doesn’t come cheap. My doctor does not take insurance. I can file for it later, but they don’t cover it. We pay for her out of pocket at over $150 per half hour, my usual appointment length.

That’s $150 I didn’t know I’d need when I woke up in the morning. Add another $10 to pick up new medication. That doesn’t sound like much. But we already spend over $100 (with insurance) on my psychiatric medication every month.

My mental health care privilege kept going. My husband spent several days home from work. He wasn’t penalized for taking those days, but because he’d already used up his sick days, he wasn’t paid. His resulting paycheck looked a lot smaller. We dealt. My mental health care is too important. I couldn’t have stayed home alone, and in a pandemic — none of our friends could have stayed with me.

I had: a husband who could leave work, then take time off; a psychiatrist who could fit me in immediately; money to drop on said psychiatrist; money to drop on my new medication; and someone (my husband) to oversee our kids’ education while I took care of myself. Moreover, my own bosses didn’t penalize me when I needed a week off with no notice whatsoever. My mental health care was the definition of privilege.

I’m Lucky I Have Insurance

The Affordable Care Act, AKA Obamacare, provides for mental health parity, meaning that insurance must offer equal coverage for mental health care, which includes prescriptions. Some of my medication is more expensive than others; the ADHD medication I can’t substitute doesn’t come generically, and it costs us almost fifty dollars a month.

But even having insurance is a privilege in America. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the number of uninsured climbed from 2018 to 2019 to 28.9 million, which doesn’t count uninsured elderly. That’s roughly ten percent of Americans. And I’m lucky my insurance offers decent prescription drug coverage. I shudder to think what my mental health care would cost without prescription drug coverage. Most of my meds only have a nine dollar copay.

My Husband Took Time Off Work

There aren’t really statistics available about how many bosses would let their employees leave because their wives had a mental health crisis. But their number isn’t high. My husband works a white collar job, and it’s far more likely that a job like that would give us consideration we need. Moreover, he wasn’t fired for needing time off. They gladly gave it to him.

We were able to weather his paycheck cut. It wasn’t pretty, but we did it. That’s a hell of a lot of money and a hell of a lot of privilege. Half your main breadwinner’s paycheck — or cut your total monthly income by something like 5%. We didn’t plan for that. We couldn’t plan for that. But we managed it. My mental health care is too important not to.

Mental Health Care Is That Important

Without treatment, I’d be dead.

I could try to sugarcoat it, or dance around it, but I have bipolar 2, anxiety, depression, and ADHD. Medscape says that 25-50% of people who have bipolar disorder attempt to die by suicide in their lifetime. 11% of people with bipolar disorder actually do die by suicide. Over a long enough timeline, my disease has a high mortality rate.

Low income, according to one study, was a strong risk factor associated with suicide. And it’s not as simple as “poor people are stressed, so they die by suicide.” The poorer you are, the less likely you are to be insured, to have access to decent mental health care, and to have a support system that can take time off work when it’s needed.

I recovered. I’m fine. I’m working again. But my breakdown would have had a very different ending without my privilege. My privilege gives us not only a cushion to fall back on, but access to good care in the first place.

My privilege keeps me alive. But there are too many people who cannot say the same.

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I Was A Victim of Child Abuse; This Is How I Became a Survivor

My mother never hit me. She never struck me, and while my father (regularly) whipped me with his brown leather belt, I never considered him an abuser. He was angry and temperamental, sure. But he was a parent of the ’80s, embodying dads of a different time. However, when I began therapy in the summer of 2020, shortly after my mother’s passing — when years of traumatic memories rushed forward and I became paralyzed by nightmares and flashbacks — I realized I was the victim of mental, physical, and emotional abuse, by him and my mother. My childhood was punctuated by damnation, manipulation, exploitation, put downs, and neglect.

Of course, I’ve long known my upbringing wasn’t “normal.” I mean, facets of it were. I was born in Florida in 1984 to a “good” family. I had a mother, father, brother, and dog. We lived in a gated community, complete with an eight-foot high privacy fence and above ground pool. And early on, everything seemed rosy. From the outside looking in, things were good. We had the perfect, nuclear, middle class life. But sometime between my fifth birthday and sixth, there was a change, and whether it was physical, sexual, or emotional in nature, I do not know. What I do know is that one day I was comfortable and carefree, a singing, dancing, happy-go-lucky kid. And the next day my head was turned down.

My voice had been altered forever. I was silenced by abuse — and I stayed that way for years, from age six to age 36. Every fiber of my being was crafted and created in this environment, in a place and space where I wasn’t respected, honored, cared for, or loved.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: How do I know I was abused if I cannot recall the details? If I do not remember the who, what, when, where, or why? Well, because trauma is like that. That’s the nature of PTSD, and sometimes the details are hazy. There are feelings and sensations associated with a memory. But they are not the memory itself. Instead, that is a dark spot. An (un)intentionally repressed moment.

But that’s not the only reason I know I was abused. While I do not recall the details of this first incident or even the second, I do remember large swaths of my childhood. And I remember being hit and called names. I was stupid and worthless. Once, I was called a mistake. I remember being posed, naked. A camera was aimed at me in the pool and while I was in the tub. I was regularly encouraged to “strip down.” And I do recall the belt.

That damn belt.

Of course, I am not alone. It is estimated that 1 in 7 children in the US has experienced and/or will experience child abuse every year, and while many individuals assume abuse hurts — i.e. many assume it is physical in nature, that child abuse involves broken bones and black eyes — most “victims” of child abuse are not hit. Neglect is the most common form of child abuse, followed by physical abuse, sexual abuse, and psychological abuse. Some individuals, like myself, experience multiple forms of abuse. My father struck me, for example, but my mother manipulated me. She took the damn photos. She put me down. She also neglected me, particularly after my father’s passing. At 12 I was forced to feed, care for, and fend for myself, all while being verbally and emotionally attacked. And these “attacks” changed me.

Emotionally, my development was stunted. I am needy and people-pleasing. I desperately need approval and love. Mentally, I am trapped. I am still victimized by the voices that told me I was not good enough or smart enough. I struggle to be more than a “mistake.” And physically, I feel unsafe. While I need others, their touch makes me recoil. I feel unwell, nervous, ill. I literally shake. 

The good news is, I am growing and fighting. I am working closely with a psychologist and psychiatrist to reclaim both my body and mind and to rewrite my story. This week I will begin working with a trauma specialist, one who will use EDMR to help me move past my past. And every single day I tell myself I am enough, even if I don’t believe it — because eventually I will. As my psychologist tells me, the brain hears the words I say. And while this year has been hard — these traumatic memories make me feel as though I have been victimized, again and again — I do not see myself as a victim. Not really. Instead, I am a thriver. A survivor. My life was different, yes, but it is a difference which I can, and will, overcome.

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How To Do A Mental Health Day Right

I’ve been really irritated lately. My boyfriend has noticed, my kids have noticed, and my body has noticed. After apologizing about my behavior and being so snappy (for the second time) to my kids (in front of my boyfriend) he told me he thought I was doing too much and I needed to take a day for myself.

It took a week or so, but I made it happen. My mental-health day was going to be attitude-changing and I’d suddenly feel like my old self again.

But that’s not what happened. You want to know what I did to improve my mental health? I bet you already know where this is headed, because mom-brains can read mom-brains and I know you do the same thing.

I ended up getting out of bed a lot earlier than normal because I had so much I was going to tackle during this mental health day of mine. After getting in a run, and rushing through my shower, I dropped off my tax papers. I was so relieved that it was done, but then I made a trip to the grocery store to get a week’s worth of groceries for four people. 

On my way back to the car, I saw how dirty and disgusting it looked and took it through the car wash, then pulled up to the vacuums to get the sandbox out of my car. (And all the damn fast food wrappers.)

I rushed home to get the groceries into the refrigerator before the ice cream started to melt and realized I forgot the package of sushi I said I was going to get myself for lunch.

It was already past noon, and I didn’t feel like this was a mental health day in the least.

I ran the vacuum and told myself that would be it. For the rest of the day I would watch the Hallmark Channel and just relax.

Just as I laid down on the sofa, my phone pinged with a message from my son’s teacher, my ex-husband called to talk about our son’s upcoming graduation, and I remembered my daughter had an orthodontist appointment.

This is not how you do a mental health day, folks. In fact, my mental health was worse after my poor planning because I felt like I’d lost a day of work and definitely wasn’t relaxed or refreshed. I didn’t plan, and I certainly didn’t think about what I truly needed in order to get back on track.

Scary Mommy touched base with Tess Brigham, a therapist, life coach, and a mother. Brigham offered some great tips on how to do a mental health day right. So listen up. 

The first order of business is asking yourself what you need the most — it doesn’t matter what it is; pay attention to it. Maybe it’s a day reading. Perhaps you want an uninterrupted day to do some spring cleaning because you know it’s going to have a positive impact on your life. 

“While it may seem like taking a long bath or reading a good book is a ‘good self-care thing to do’ if it isn’t what you want or need — don’t do it! We all have different ideas of the perfect vacation, perfect partner, ideal dinner, which means you get to define what is ‘self-care’ for you,” says Brigham.

Having time for yourself is so precious — especially now — so the time needs to be spent doing things you want to do and not what you think you should be doing. “If you end up doing that as opposed to laying in bed all day, reading and watching Netflix because that seems ‘too indulgent’ or lazy you’ll just feel resentful and even more fatigued,” Brigham warns.

Plan ahead if you can. Start thinking about what you need a few days before you take your mental health day and make some plans. “Remember, if you haven’t thought about yourself or your needs in a long time, it might take you several days to really pinpoint what you want,” says Brigham. 

Once you start to have some ideas, put some plans into place, but don’t overschedule yourself. This could lead to your running around like a turkey and completely defeating the whole purpose.

Then you’re worse off than when you started, and you’ll need a whole lot more than a day to catch up.

If you simply cannot plan a whole day right now, there is something you can do if you are feeling burned out. Brigham suggests looking at your calendar and asking yourself what you need each day. She says, “If you know exercise helps your stress and makes you feel good, schedule in several exercise sessions in your week. If you need more sleep, schedule in a few naps. If you need a little bit of everything, schedule it all in.”

I have to say, since my mental-health-day-gone-bad, I’ve been doing this. I know I am better if I do a little something for myself each day. Whether it’s painting my toenails, ordering some new perfume, or watching HGTV every day after work and serving dinner in front of the television, these small things are working. 

Remember: you are worth it. So, take the time and energy needed to plan an effective mental health day.

The post How To Do A Mental Health Day Right appeared first on Scary Mommy.

Britney Was My Celeb ‘Pregnancy Double’ — And I Did Her Wrong By Shaming Her

Britney Spears and I have nothing and everything in common. I’m a Gen-X, West-Coast-born Scorpio to her Millennial, Southern, Sagittarian roots. But she was always around when I was young-ish, the way people who get world-famous are. She was present as I worked my way up in a career, her “Baby One More Time” video on constant rotation at my sports pub. She even filmed her writhing-schoolgirl scenes at a high school near my childhood home. There was something different about this artist, who seemed to own her space in a way other female singers did not.

Then, I got married; so did she. I had my first girl, Faith, in April 2005, and she had her first son, Sean, in September of that same year. Having undergone failed fertility treatment before giving up and having a baby somehow, I was shocked to discover I was pregnant yet again. I had a second girl, Eden, in March 2006, with Britney’s second son, Jayden, arriving in (I assumed) similar surprise fashion in September 2006.

My husband and I were living in a little house in the flats of L.A.’s San Fernando Valley; Britney and her husband were said to be living in the hills just to the West. Whether I was looking for a pediatrician, baby group, or double stroller, she was always at the same place minutes before I got there. People joked that she and I should betroth my daughters and her sons to each other. You develop a relationship with your celebrity pregnancy double, reading what you want to read into the nuggets of information the media doles out. I projected onto Spears that she, too, was struggling. Having been blessed with two bundles of joy within the same year was different from my new-mommy friends, who had settled into life with one child and resumed some normalcy.

One day, 13-month-old Faith bumped her head learning to walk — reaching down to grab her, I was slower in my reflexes because two-month-old Eden was in my arms. That night, a clip of an expectant Britney was on “Extra,” or maybe “Access Hollywood.” She looked stressed. I was sure Britney felt like me, wondering what happened to her identity and her freedom, worried whether she could do right by two precious souls who were so needy at once.

I started crying a lot.

The doctor begged me to resume my old antidepressant, saying those who had back-to-back pregnancies, or who’d taken fertility meds, were prone to postpartum depression, and I’d done both. I got babysitting help and hit the gym. I got better.

But Britney did not seem better — she was getting a divorce and starting to “act out.” What followed was the infamous, prolonged meltdown, as Britney ran from one paparazzo horde or the other. By the time she had shaved her head, and attacked a photographer’s car with an umbrella, I agreed with the consensus: This was one hot mess, embarrassing chick.

Like the rest of the mob, I pointed fingers about her fitness as a parent when she drove with Sean on her lap. Never once did I wonder whether my pregnancy twin’s behavior was due to a total invasion of privacy at a personally-challenging time. I even leaned in when Diane Sawyer heartlessly probed her about her breakup, and sexy persona.

Right on camera, Sawyer made Britney cry.

Time passed. My girls grew. So did her boys. I added another child to the mix, and an emotionally-rehabbed Britney had a triumphant Vegas residency. I did wonder why, if she was fit to headline an intricate live show reaping $138 million over four years, she still needed her father as conservator of her estate, but it was a fleeting thought between carpools and trying to rebuild a career. Then, I turned on Hulu to watch a documentary about the lens through which the public has viewed the star’s troubles, “Framing Britney Spears” (produced by The New York Times).

There it was: The public flogging of a lone girl-turned-woman, doing the best she could with the world waiting to pounce. It all came rushing back: That year in the late ’90s when I worked for the parent company of the music magazine where her paraphernalia littered the office — after all, she had hit our publication’s Hot 100 list for chart-toppers 32 weeks in a row, a record for female musicians. I can’t recall which job at the place I had by then, but I remember passing her poster in the hallway as one of the white, male bosses commented on my dress length. Every time I hit that hallway, I had to hear a description of whatever post-grunge outfit I was wearing as older, powerful men assessed me slowly, head to toe. I always gave the same fake smile, an oversized Britney winking from above.

I realized that my generation of females had hung poor Britney out to dry. It was because the casual aggressions of the hallway had hardened us into believing that if we — the un-revolutionary girls who only dared aspire to be junior bosses, who struggled to dress fashionably but carefully enough not to bring harassment upon ourselves — lived quietly, we might get by, get promoted, get married. But Britney was younger and more rebellious. She hadn’t followed the rules we’d internalized. The singer who could belt a tune like no other had, literally, refused to be quiet at all. Britney and her life were loud, messy. She paid a price, and is paying still.

Somehow, Grammy-winner Spears — holder for 15 straight years of the record for biggest album sales in a week by a female artist — doesn’t command the respect her ceiling-breaking accolades should confer. Today, she’s known as a bit of a hack who might still be bonkers. Meanwhile, consider the men with very checkered pasts and not as many statuettes who are still thriving, from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Robert Downey, Jr. to Billy Bush. Britney’s worst crime was …what, exactly? Having sex as an older teen with steady boyfriend Justin Timberlake? Grabbing lattes while wearing the tragic ’00s fashion combo of miniskirt and Uggs? Getting married young and splitting up, like half the population?

I had once joined the societal shaming of Britney, but it was I who was now truly ashamed. She and I had been through the same things, and I’d been blind to my own prejudices and misogyny.

There, on my couch, I cried.

For Britney Spears, who I thought of (in a very strange way) as a friend. And for my younger self, for not knowing better. For letting all of the Timberlakes of the world exist unquestioned, simply due to their default male status.

There was only one thing to do: atone. It was late, and a school night, but I made my way to my daughters’ bedrooms and woke them up to tell them of my crime, and make sure they understood there will never be justice or peace in this world until we learn to judge people on the basis of merit. Faith and Eden, now 15 and 14, were indignant on Britney’s behalf. Seeing their natural passion to defend the bullied was humbling.

As much as I was relieved, it’s my task as a parent to help build a better world for this new generation, who views different as a good thing, to someday soon inherit. My Faith and Eden — and Britney’s Sean and Jayden — are almost grown. And when they go out into the big world, I pray their humanity will be, just maybe, at least as important as their gender identity.

The post Britney Was My Celeb ‘Pregnancy Double’ — And I Did Her Wrong By Shaming Her appeared first on Scary Mommy.

From The Confessional: Breastfeeding Can Be Hard AF, And Your Judgment Is Not OK

Throughout my first pregnancy, I knew a few things for sure—I was going to be a super fun mom who popped my baby into the carrier and still lived a fun life—hitting up coffee shops and festivals with my husband, hit the gym frequently, and I’d breastfeed with no issue. I had motherhood in the bag.

Hahaha. None of that came true. Literally not one thing went the way I thought it would go. We stopped going anywhere, because, frankly, it was too stressful for me. I didn’t go back to the gym for years. And breastfeeding was brutal. It hurt, he wouldn’t latch, and I cried about it every day for the first six weeks.

Looking back, I don’t regret that I kept trying, as my baby and I did eventually figure it out and I went on to breastfeed my other two kids after him quite easily. However, that experience taught me to have empathy for other moms—those who breastfeed and those who don’t. That experience landed me firmly in the “fed is best” camp, as I don’t believe any mother should feel she has to breastfeed, nor does she owe anyone an explanation for how she feeds her child.

Because the truth is, although breastfeeding did turn out to be a positive experience for me in the end, (my favorite part being that it was free), that’s not the case for so many women. It can be painful, exhausting, affect our mental health, and it changes our bodies permanently.

Breastfeeding is no fucking joke and all mothers—regardless of how they feed their children—need to be supported, not judged.

Confessional #25757052

“Breastfeeding is causing me so much pain , milk bleb , mastitis, shooting pains. I'm so over it.”

Confessional #25801594

“Breastfeeding my 3rd child & it hurts so badly I often scream and cry in pain. Never had problems with the other 2 & this is distressing. One latch had me concerned that my nipple had been torn off. This is torture.”

Confessional #21323358

“Breastfeeding hurts like the frickin’ dickens. I wanted to go for one year, but after three and a half months I just want my boobs to be LEFT ALONE!”

Confessional #18625133

“I am constantly battling clogged ducts while remaining pump dependent for breastfeeding. Yes I have tried everything and I am exhausted and constantly in pain. This is total b@llshit.”

The most frustrating thing I heard when I was trying like hell to figure out breastfeeding was “If it hurts, you’re doing it wrong.” Ummmm… no, Cathy. It hurts because a tiny piranha child is gnawing on me every all day and night. Can we just admit that breastfeeding can be painful, even if you’re doing it “right”?

Confessional #25753591

“B4 kids had nice firm boobies. After 2 kids & breastfeeding for 30 months between them, I can literally put my hands under my boobs and they melt into my hands like a puddle. I'm 27.”

Confessional #25747789

“I wear C cup silicone inserts in my bra because after birthing and breastfeeding 3 kids, my tits are nonexistent. Everything I wear looks ridiculous without boobs. Its embarrassing and makes me feel like less of a woman.”

Confessional #25775024

“Breastfeeding has been making me not as wet, even when I’m turned on. I’m just too embarrassed to tell H I want to try using lube.”

Confessional #24300360

“I daydream of a mastectomy because not having breasts seems better than the mess I was left with after breastfeeding my third.”

It also changes our body, permanently. Our boobs never return to original form, and our vaginas are dry as a desert. But honestly, we’re so freaking tired that half the time we don’t even care.

Confessional #25752909

“I want to stop breastfeeding my 9 month old son but I feel guilty about it. He's my 2nd and last baby. I'll never breastfeed again when he's done. His sister got a full year, part of me feels like he should too.”

Confessional #25748968

“Gave up breastfeeding a week into DD being born. I’m going to snap at anyone else who questions this, my mental health matters too!”

Confessional #25773971

“Breastfeeding was a huge contributor to my ppd and anxiety. I stopped and baby and I are so much happier, so to the next person that judges me for feeding my baby a bottle, I don't apologize if I snap at you.”

Confessional #21581920

“If I could go back in time I wouldn’t have obsessed so much about breastfeeding my almost-impossible to-nurse colicky baby bc of societal pressure. We both would’ve been happier those first few months, and it was really nobody’s business anyway.”

It’s no secret that breastfeeding—especially if it’s a struggle due to low supply, or c-section recovery, or having a NICU baby, or having a baby who can’t latch, or a million other reasons—affects mom’s mental health. And her health has to be prioritized, even if that means quitting breastfeeding. Moms should be supported if and when they start, throughout their breastfeeding journey, and when they quit. And they shouldn’t feel guilty when that time comes.

Confessional #25319093

“I hate the baby shit. I stopped @ 2 kids cause if I had to go through the 1st 18mo more than 2x u would have to light me on fire cause it would be hell. Constant needs, whining, sleep deprived, constant needing held, breastfeeding, no breaks. HATE IT ALL.”

Confessional #25756937

“I am mentally and physically exhausted from tandem feeding my 3 yr old & 1 yr old (over Breastfeeding the 3 yr old). Ive seen my dog when shes over it too, she growls, snaps & is mean to her puppies. Used to judge her but now i understand!”

Confessional #21334003

“Breastfeeding is draining the life out of me. My 10 week old screams bloody murder when we even bring the bottle near him. I’m so tired, and touched out. Also have a 2.5 yo. Need a break.”

Confessional #25758713

“I am so tired of cleaning, cooking, breastfeeding ( a toddler & baby), changing diapers, working, while being a SAHM, & DD complain i dont give her enough attention, DH complains not enough sex. I dont even have fucking time for me!! Feel like a failure”

Because the truth is, moms are tired. So fucking tired. All moms, not just those who breastfeed. But letting your babies use your body for nourishment brings a mother to another level of exhaustion—mentally and physically—and she needs rest.

Confessional #25343502

“Breastfeeding misinformation makes me ragey. You can have a glass of wine every day! You can eat whatever you want! Support should be stronger and much more accessible!!”

Confessional #25335588

“Trying to figure out breastfeeding and pumping (for when I go back to work) is more confusing than any college course I ever took. There should be more consistency among the resources that are available.”

Confessional #1543729

“I want to go to a LLL meeting or breastfeeding support group to get help, but I'm afraid I'll be judged harshly for having to supplement. So I don't go.”

Breastfeeding moms need support—start to finish. They need resources, education, and to never be shamed if they supplement or quit altogether.

Breastfeeding knocked me on my ass when I was a new mom. It was one of the hardest experiences of my life to date. Thankfully, I had a supportive partner and never felt shamed when supplementing with formula to ensure my baby’s belly was full.

My message to all moms is to take care of yourself. If breastfeeding is your chosen journey, seek help and support and resources and feed that baby whenever and wherever you choose. If breastfeeding is not your path, whether that’s your choice or not, you’re still a good mother if you love your baby and ensure they’re fed.

Because nearly 13 years into this gig, there are two tenets of motherhood I believe in more than anything else:

1) Fed is best. And 2) Mom’s health matters.

The post From The Confessional: Breastfeeding Can Be Hard AF, And Your Judgment Is Not OK appeared first on Scary Mommy.

How Understanding ‘Psychological Reactance’ Can Help You Understand Yourself — And Your Kids

Humans are not as complicated as we think we are. Yet, without self-awareness and some baseline understanding about why we do the things we do and think the things we think, humans are really good at making life more complicated than it needs to be. For example, when your boss tells you to rework part of an assignment and you instantly become defensive and refuse to get to work on it — even though you know they are right — you have created a self-sabotaging mindset that often wastes time and energy.

Perhaps you have been on the other side of this type of situation when you ask your child to do something, and instead of just doing the simple ask, they immediately resist and argue with you. Why are we like this? Because we all have a psychological reflex called reactance.

Psychological reactance is that knee-jerk reaction to not do something when we are told to do it. It’s the voice inside of us that digs in our heels, turns our back, crosses our arms in protest and says, Nope. Not doing it. Even if it’s something we want to do, need to do, and will eventually do anyway.

This is different from Oppositional Defiant Disorder, where kids and teenagers lash out against and actively refuse to respect and obey authority figures and rules. Reactance is a reaction to feeling like our freedom and choices are being taken away. This can be a great tool to protect us and our autonomy because we get a rush of adrenaline that encourages us to fight or flee.

When someone tells us what to do, our brains freak out and demand that we do something about the threat to our personal safety. We become cornered prey; we need to fight. We need to find a way out! Reactance is like an overprotective friend who is always on the lookout for danger. Our brains plan an exit strategy and our behavior becomes defiant, rude, self-sabotaging, and/or violent because we need to regain the sense of control we think we lost.

This response is useful for actual threatening situations. If someone demands you go into a weird, dark room, drink an unknown liquid, or send your bank account number to an offshore account, that fuck no instinct is great. But often the danger isn’t real, and we need to thank our primitive instincts for trying to keep us safe and then reframe our thinking and actions.

Let’s look at the way we do this to ourselves. We schedule a walk with a friend, plan several hours to finally organize a room in our house that has been driving us bonkers, or sign up for time at the gym. We want to do these activities. We even took the time to take the steps to make them happen. And yet when we “force” ourselves to do said activities, we have to convince ourselves that past us knew what was best for future us while present us makes excuses and rather do anything else than following the plan that we set up.

Author Nir Eyal says we do this because “In that moment, it doesn’t feel as though you’re deciding what to do. Rather, it’s you from the past giving orders to your present self. Ugh, who does that guy think he is? Psychologists tell us this paradox is why we can often be hypocrites — we say we’ll do something, but when the time comes, we don’t.”

In his book “Indistractable,” Eyal writes about the importance of reframing these thoughts. Instead of bristling over the idea that we have to do something, it’s better to think about the task as something we get to do. When we tell ourselves this, it gives us a sense of control even though we were in control the whole time. See? We’re really pretty simple creatures. We want control or at least the sense of having it.

This is one reason why the pandemic has been so difficult: the uncertainty of what we are experiencing makes us feel threatened and out of control. This bleeds into the reluctance of folks wearing masks. Just the suggestion of wearing a mask made many people refuse to do it. When masks became mandated, the resistance grew stronger. Masks become political and a perceived threat to people’s freedom.

Many people turned the narrative into one that celebrated our ability to protect ourselves and others. Masks give us more freedom to live our lives safely. They are a gift to get us through this scary and uncertain time. Of course they’re uncomfortable and inconvenient at times and a reminder that we are still fighting a very serious virus, but when we reframe the idea of having to wear a mask into getting to take care of others, the choice becomes easier — for some of us — and one that feels like ours, especially when we take the time to pick out fun designs or styles.

Our kids also show reactance. We ask them to brush their teeth, get ready for school, or wear a jacket when it’s 20 degrees outside. Few children are instantly compliant to our requests. I pick my battles and sometimes don’t have time for negotiations, but I have learned that by giving my children choices, it helps to get them to do what’s necessary to move the day along. They are choices I pick, but asking my kids to pick up their toys now or before dinner or asking which chore they want to do to help around the house gives them some say in the matter and a feeling of autonomy.

We don’t like being told what to do, even when it’s good for us or the right thing to do — and neither do our kids. But there is a legitimate, cognitive reason for this bristling. It’s important to acknowledge this reactance in ourselves and then let go of our defenses before they become too big to prevent us from taking advice, suggestions, or directions from others. If we struggle too much with input that really isn’t a threat to anything but our ego, we will often have to deal with karma, if not the humbling experience of natural consequences.

The post How Understanding ‘Psychological Reactance’ Can Help You Understand Yourself — And Your Kids appeared first on Scary Mommy.