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Amber: “So how’s #BF4ME going, any updates?”

Me: Intentionally nervous laugh: “Haha, what’s #BF4ME?” (If you’re not sure, read more here)

Amber: “I have to ask, there hasn’t been a blog or update in a while.”

Nobody’s been asking, so I haven’t been telling, plain and simple. I haven’t actively participated in my commitment to healthy eating or getting ready for a running challenge, in about a month.

My eating habits have improved some, but not as significantly as they need to. The frustration mentally is that I know how to eat healthily, and I used to be known as a healthy eater and how nutrition impacts my wellbeing. So, what’s the deal?

Since that conversation with Amber, I’ve had some inner dialogue, some good and some not. I knew when I started talking about registering for a run, that if I didn’t go public with my commitment, I likely wouldn’t follow through. I went public and I’m still not making much progress. The truth is, after we chatted, it jerked my chain enough to get me going.

Over the weekend I got out my Simply Fit Board, watched the DVD, got on it and found out I actually really enjoy it! I’ve stopped eating before bed, and I’ve realized that some of my eating is purely to keep me company. Sure, it’s only been a few days, but I already feel better physically and I’m also aware that someone is going to ask. Maybe not Amber, but someone will.

I also officially registered for the run I’d committed to way back in November. If you are interested in participating in the Cypress Hills High Altitude Trail Challenge, or in supporting me by being present, check it out [here].

Definition of accountability
: the quality or state of being accountable;  especially  : an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions

What exactly does accountability look like to me in this situation, and how do I ensure its success?

  • I accept that I am responsible for my actions (or lack thereof)
  • I am willing to be asked about my progress and am willing to answer honestly
  • I will ask for help when I’m struggling
  • I will adjust and improve as needed
  • I will attend the race and run in August, to fulfill my commitment

One of the things we discussed early on in the #BF4ME campaign, was that we would find ways to get healthy and active at minimum cost.

I am not a big believer in diets per se but in eating and lifestyle changes. I do believe that in order to succeed, we may need a kickstart, and I’ve found something I’m going to try. I’ve had the tab open on my computer for a couple of weeks now but given that I’ve been brought to task on my progress, I am going to take the plunge and follow Dr. Oz’s 21 Day Weight Loss Breakthrough Diet! Yes, it has the “D” word in it, but for me, it’s about finding what will work to change habits and three weeks is the average time it takes to create new ones. It’s a starting point for me, for a lifestyle change.

I’ve also been made aware of a free walking/running track about 15 minutes from my home, so will take advantage of that.

I’m sincerely looking forward to having some positive updates within the next couple of weeks, and I am grateful that someone kept me accountable. Thanks, Amber!

“The jiggling I’d felt in my head when it hit the ground had most certainly been more than a little whiplash.” Little did I know the impact that fall would have on my brain, nor the long-term, life-altering effect on my life. Two years later and I’m venturing into a new chapter, a new way of living and being.

No pain no gain, right?

Until recently I felt my future was pretty stilted and my ability to pursue my dreams or plans had gone out the window. My functioning brain, my drive, my positive outlook on life seemed a distant memory. Oh yah, the memory was sloppy too.

I started toying with the idea of running in a half (or quarter) marathon after I’d attended the Cypress Hills High Hopes Challenge last August. They were raising funds for BFF and as the ED of our Foundation, I wanted to represent, to share what our organization does and show appreciation for their commitment and donation. Now I shake my head. How silly for me to expose myself to something that would draw me into a whole new world, something I said I’d never do. Run.

The two-year mark of my concussion was looming after that visit to Cypress Hills and I knew something desperately needed to change. After experiencing depression (which is almost standard following a concussion), significant weight gain due to inactivity and lack of desire to take care of myself physically or mentally, the downward spiral had to stop. My neuro-rehab had considerably lifted the fog in my brain, but I still felt so sluggish. All I wanted to do was sleep. My doctor told me I was borderline for hypothyroidism and that she wasn’t going to put me on medication…yet.

Enough already.

As someone who is known for taking responsibility for my actions and not deflecting or blaming others, it was time to face myself and create change. In order for renewal and spark to show up in my life, I knew I’d have to go big or stop complaining while I stayed stuck. Will Smith’s recent viral Instagram video about fault vs responsibility sums up where I’m at with myself. It’s actually nobody’s fault that it was icy when I fell, but how I live going forward is definitely up to me.

Taking responsibility is taking your power back. ~Will Smith

If it’s going to be it’s up to me.

The past two months I’ve vacillated between, “What was I thinking?” to “I can’t wait to feel better!” So now that I’ve got some time behind me, where am I at with my efforts in getting healthy and preparing for a 5K?

The Good | finding joy

I finally have a grip on my eating. I joined four others for a week of clean eating, and I almost nailed it! Eliminating sugar, wheat and dairy is no easy task but I’ve done it before and I’m doing it again. With the exception of a wee bit of coconut sugar in my coffee, I’m very satisfied with my improvement in food choices. It sounds so weird to write this, given that eating healthy used to be my norm. The side benefit is that my kids are eating healthier too, and they’re liking it!

Sure I’ve shed a bit of weight and I can tell (I’m not weighing myself, remember), but it’s the clear head and no naps required that are my main wins. So. Happy. I’m noticing a glimmer of confidence returning.

I’ve noticed an improvement in my emotions and mental processes too. We all know what we put in our mouths affects our well being, but it’s a whole different matter to take charge and ensure we do something about it!

I stumbled upon Dr. Susan David’s work this week and I love her message! I haven’t bought her book yet, Emotional Agility, but I will be. In her Ted Talk, three comments got my attention:

  1. I was praised for being strong. One of my triggers is being told how strong I am. Sometimes I’d really rather not have to be, but in retrospect, I’ve become grateful for that strength.
  2. Courage is fear…walking. Wow. I relate to that on so many levels. I have lived courageously, I’ve survived and I continue to walk with courage.
  3. Life’s beauty is inseparable from its fragility. The juxtaposition of my love of life and the pain I’ve experienced is wrapped up in that sentence.

The Bad | what’s not working

I’m still not active enough. I’m becoming more accountable to certain people and I’ve signed up for a jiu-jitsu class. I have a long-standing shoulder injury I’m dealing with so won’t be tackling anyone anytime soon, but the reality is, the movements and stretches can be modified to suit my physical ability. No excuses.

In the days leading up to the Olympics, I came across the story of Mark McMorris, a Canadian snowboarder who almost lost his life last March. He was still named to the Olympic team as long as he was fully recovered in time. He more than met the challenge and I was so moved by his story. He is now my inspiration as I continue on my own journey. It is truly worth the 45 minutes of your life to marvel at his recovery and to gain inspiration from. I’ll be watching him closely as he competes!

The Ugly | what I’m fighting

The mental beating: I’m not doing enough, I’m never going to be ready for the run in August, once again my grandiose venture is just too, well, grandiose. It’s my mental capacity that’s been my biggest challenge, but it’s also been where I’m finding my greatest growth right now.

  • I’m processing grief – the great losses I’ve experienced since my concussion, that only I know.
  • I’m recognizing where my negative self-talk has blocked me and I’m finally getting somewhere with changing it.
  • Some days my emotions drive me around a bend. I’ve been told once or twice that I’m “too emotional”. I’ve come a long way, and the above Ted Talk along with her workbook and quizzes have been eye opening and helpful.

The Takeaway

No pain no gain includes the mental, emotional and physical aspects of what I’m working towards. The same way building muscles can hurt, so does building mental and emotional strength. Step by step, not giving up, falling down and getting up. No matter your skill level or your age, the determining factor is your willingness to take responsibility for yourself.

As Jeff Haden talks about in this Inc.com article, it won’t be fun in the moment… but it will make you a lot happier over the long-term.

Next update I will make myself more accountable by sharing my plan/process to get to August’s run. I better get on that!

Now that Christmas and New Year’s are behind us, all the talk is around whether people are still making resolutions or not. The general consensus is that they set us up for defeat and that very few people are successful at maintaining their resolution.

I’m glad I started this #BF4ME challenge in November because I’m one of those people who could care less about resolutions, I just want to change and grow year round. It does, however, give each of us an opportunity to reflect on what went well last year, what didn’t, and what we can choose to do differently in 2018.

I for one, was happy to say buh-bye to 2017, let me tell you! I did wake up on January 1st, however, with firm resolve. It was a knowing deep down that this year would be different.


re·solve

rəˈzälv/
verb
1.
settle or find a solution to (a problem, dispute, or contentious matter)
“the firm aims to resolve problems within 30 days”
synonyms: settle, sort out, solve, find a solution to, fix, straighten out, deal with, put right, put to rights, rectify
2.
decide firmly on a course of action
“she resolved to call Dana as soon as she got home”
synonyms: determine, decide, make up one’s mind, make a decision | “Bob resolved not to wait any longer”

Resolve doesn’t have a date attached to it, nor does it require creating a habit of some sort.

My paraphrase to the dictionary definition is to make a firm decision to solve a problem. My way of dealing with my health was to make a firm decision to enter a marathon, announce it publicly, and use it to inspire others to not only get active but to find ways to take control of their own journeys and destinies. It comes back to the recognition that bad things have happened, but how I move forward is completely in my control – my attitudes, my actions, my thought processes, and how I want to “be and do” in this world.

Saying that I have had some serious epiphanies in the past couple of weeks and have made some strides towards change:

  1. I am an enabler. I had to choose my own mental health over that of another, and it was gut-wrenching to verbalize my boundaries, knowing they would be met with anger, and it wasn’t even my kids! I also had to recognize that others’ choices are not my responsibility. While I know this in my head, I would just rather look after things (or people) because it’s much easier that way.
  2. If I’m not okay, the influence on my kids and those I care about will be negatively impacted. It’s quite preferable that we look after ourselves, considering that none of us can pour from an empty cup. This has smacked me in the face repeatedly over the holidays, so much so that I have told my teenagers that I’m on a staycation for the next two weeks. What that looks like is them taking care of themselves while I take care of me. So hard to do, and it’s going to be very challenging to follow through on it.
  3. I know that I know this is the year my health takes precedence, and that I am actually going to make sure of it. Between ensuring my brain gets what it needs, to finding sleep solutions, to setting emotionally healthy boundaries, to food choices, to .. ugh .. running to prepare for a 5K marathon, to reflecting on my spirituality, it all matters. Every bit that makes up me is part of my #BF4ME challenge this year, and I know I’m going to win!

So there’s my resolve. Now to how things have been progressing.

The Good | finding joy

  1. I decided not to weigh myself over the next months while preparing for the High Altitude Challenge in August, but rather measure my progress with size change, muscle tone and my ability to actually run. It was a mental boost the second I chose this path.
  2. Kombucha! I’ve discovered that drinking 2.5 ounces before coffee or breakfast has improved my gut health immensely, as well as the acid reflux that has been tormenting me.
  3. Christmas with my parents. I’ve never had my family members in my home at Christmas and I’m more than grateful for the memories.
  4. A wedding. My kids and I were invited to share a special day with friends, a wedding that was planned in a week! It was beautiful and pretty perfect.
  5. I attended a meditation workshop presented by one of our BFF volunteers. My head knows the value of deep breathing, my discipline (or lack thereof), however, has not followed suit. If you’re not sure what meditation actually is or how it works, this Meditation to Embrace Difficulty & Open Your Heart to 2018 is an easy to follow, helpful introduction.
  6. I fully enjoyed the season and didn’t worry about much, outside of the crappy night my kids had with their dad. [read more here]
  7. The Simply Fit Board I received for Christmas is pretty great [unbiased review]. I could never have guessed something so “simple” could work so well. It will be the key to my winter activity, and I actually enjoy using it.
  8. I’ve implemented boundaries and self-care priorities, and I feel like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. A friend of mine suggested that maybe dealing with some of that emotional weight may influence my physical health. I think she may be right!

“Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.” ~Sigmund Freud

The Bad | stuff that didn’t go well

I ate too much. It was a deep freeze in Calgary, and we mostly hibernated which equals to no gains towards increased activity. The Simply Fit Board is helping with that.

The Ugly

Addressing the choices I’ve made or am making to inhibit healthy living – emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually and financially – has been eye-opening but certainly no fun. One step, one day at a time. The ugly has been the internal struggle, the tears and the feeling of being alone (even though I know that’s so not true!).

When you’re trying to retrain your brain, being kind to yourself is paramount. This article on Forbes.com about changing negative thoughts was helpful for me.

As happy as I am that 2017 is behind me, I’m just as happy to see what unfolds in 2018!

Resources

Join the #BF4ME (Breaking Free 4 Me) Community on Facebook

6 Life Lessons Learned From Running

21 Ways to Help Yourself Heal | #9 is my challenge to myself this week! I’ve never successfully accomplished that one.

Vulnerability seems to have been one of my strengths throughout my life. This video is so powerful, bears watching again and again, and will provide insight on why it’s so important:

My ex-husband showed up drunk at his Christmas with our kids. It really, really sucked. I have three kids; one cried and yelled, one would not acknowledge him, and one disappeared until things calmed down. Something in me broke.

I have spent years protecting both him and our kids, in order to keep his healing journey safe, and so as not to embarrass or expose my kids. While I believe I did the right thing for the kids’ sake, I also ignored that I am part of this life experience too, and it is part of my story. Does it need to be public? No, it doesn’t, but in my life purpose of helping others, my experiences can bring meaning, help and hope to others. This is part of my story and I should be able to share it as such.

Pain comes in many forms. Watching my kids that night propelled my pain to a whole new level. There was nothing I could do to make any part of it okay, because it simply wasn’t. We were able to salvage some of the evening, but when I went to bed that night, I was shattered. Do I understand why his drinking has escalated over the past year? I sure do. Does that mean I turn a blind eye to its effect on others? A resounding NO.

Some lessons from that sh** show night:

  1. I realized a couple of ways I’ve been enabling bad behaviour.
  2. My kids (all teenagers) still need me to be their safe place, and to provide a safe place. While I fully recognize I have done a great job, for the most part, this showing up drunk thing is fairly new water to navigate.
  3. It reminded me that I’m not always strong, and that’s okay. I have a reputation for being kind, compassionate and resilient, but there are just some crappy moments that I’m allowed to be upset about. If I don’t handle it perfectly, I will still survive. One of my greatest fears is falling apart and not being able to support my kids’ emotions through the traumas they’ve been repeatedly exposed to.
  4. I am not alone. I know that, but I sure felt alone that night. It’s the holidays, who wants to ruin someone else’s Christmas?! When I woke up the next morning, I reached out to a friend. I vented, she listened, we talked, and I hung up feeling like I could carry on.
  5. I can change how I do things, I can still be kind and compassionate while drawing strong lines and boundaries for my own mental health, so my job as the mom isn’t derailed. After all, if I’m not okay and don’t take care of myself, I am not teaching my kids how to navigate the deep, dark waters of life either.

Simply put, what I allow is what will continue.

My wish for you and for me is that we will take time during what can be a difficult season to reflect on who we are, how far we’ve come, and how the challenges we face give us the opportunity to become bitter or better.

 

The Good (Finding Joy)

1. My daughter wrote a blog about anxiety and tips on how to deal with it. It was a proud mama, joy-filled moment for me.

2. Our BFF meet-up on Wednesday reminded me of why I chose to take this journey publicly. Those humans who show up and allow vulnerability to be present in a room full of unknowns, are truly magnificent souls. Those conversations fill me up and bring me great joy. Watching people leave looking like a weight has been lifted, simply as a result of meaningful conversation, is nothing short of magical.

3. My week ended with a group of ladies who work together, and although I no longer put in hours there, I am graciously invited to their team events. Christmas dinner, laughter, saying tender goodbyes to a staff member who is a pillar of the company but is moving on…and a gift for each of us that holds rich meaning.

As I continue to look for and be mindful of joy in my life, I’m finding it! Grateful.

Okay, mushiness dealt with, I had a couple of journey wins too. As a result of writing down my food intake, it is in my face that my choices suck. I used to eat so healthy, and surprise, surprise, I felt good then! So, as I’ve committed to making small changes, I started to add in a quinoa salad with my nachos and cheese, choosing to make a much smaller plate of salty goodness. I said I’d cut out eating at night, which I’ve done really well with. With age comes that dreaded metabolism slow down, so I can’t eat the portions I did even 10 years ago and get away with it. I’ve always known that, just didn’t want to face it!

Every time I walk up or down stairs without having to lean against the wall, I could do a happy dance! The simple act of putting on my boots or shoes without leaning on a wall? Priceless! Progress.

My mind has shifted. I have a knowing, a confidence that I didn’t have when I began three weeks ago, that I’m going to do this. I’ve taught my kids that we become what we focus on. It’s not just b.s., it’s scientific fact. As I write, I’m getting a glimpse of how re-jigging my own focus is beginning to turn the sails. Slow but sure, I’m on my way.

The Bad (Stuff that didn’t go so well)

My activity levels are definitely still in the tank. The “fun” part is that I’m not content staying there. I did walk, but any attempts to push the use of my shoulder were met with too much pain. That will eventually get resolved, so in the meantime I will continue with walking.

The Ugly

I didn’t realize how afraid of falling I am. As much as I was hoping to walk outside, I think I may need to find an inside track to use.

I can hardly look in the mirror and see me. All I see are my stomach rolls, my back fat and the grey, thinning roots sprouting on top of my head. While that may sound a bit pathetic, it’s raw and real. For someone who was a size two before kids, it’s not always easy to just accept the changes in my body, even though they’re all teenagers now. Keep in mind that I worked for a modelling agency for three years (part time) and used to host/produce a tv program. Vanity ran deep and I fell prey to the societal norms and expectations of what “pretty” is/was. My body and my looks got attention. The turkey neck I now see wasn’t part of the plan.

I’m looking forward to staying put for Christmas this year and having family at my house for the first time. Ever. I’m already finding joy before the week’s even started!

What are some wins you can share? Or the bad, or the ugly. It all matters, and it’s all part of the journey.

Week two of this thing I call an “adventure” is over. Good riddance.

The Good (Finding Joy)

  • Second ultrasound to verify abnormalities came back clean!
  • I was able to spend time with a dear friend, whom I call a lifer. She is one of those people I can’t imagine my life without. She brings me joy, just by being her.
  • I got to wear an ugly Christmas sweater for my first ever ugly sweater event.
  • I journalled.
  • I am thankful for all the positive feedback from people who say this journey is an inspiration to them to take their small steps. I am also grateful to the Board for their support. I told them I’d likely not be doing this without it.

The Bad (My Week)

  • A 911 call left me completely exhausted after having to deal with it. It wasn’t for me, all is well, for now.
  • A cortisone shot (jeez this aging thing…) in my shoulder has left me in more pain. It will get better, I’m told, and I will know in late January whether surgery will be required.
  • A sick day in bed, rare for me and frustrating, to say the least.
  • A debilitating migraine while visiting my friend made me angry. I haven’t had one in a long time, and it had to pick this past weekend.

The Ugly (True Confessions)

In my quest to be transparent and share the good, the bad and the ugly with you, last week was pretty much a write off as far as activity went. I had improved food days and a completely indulgent one, but I can’t say I made any progress at all.

Are the events of the week my excuses, the ones I said I would remove? I’m not considering them as such, rightly or wrongly. It was an extreme week and I am giving myself permission for a do-over. Anyone who knows me knows how hard it is for me to do that. Letting go of self-criticism is a tough one for many of us, I’m guessing.

So here’s me, asking for a do-over.

 

One of the interesting articles I came across last week is something I will explore too, besides my commitments from last week. I know how sluggish I feel when I’m not eating properly, but the new research about how our gut parallels our brain functionality is intriguing, to say the least.

This Success Magazine article gives some tips on how to reset your day. They’re worth considering!

  • Complete the sentence, I’ll feel better when…
  • List three things that are in your control to change right now.
  • Listen to an uplifting song. My all-time favourite is Footloose :).

  • Watch a funny video.
  • Look at pictures from your favorite vacation.

Recap of last week’s commitments…

I will:

  • Continue to track my food/beverage intake and eliminate bed time eating, except popcorn on Friday night :).
  • Continue sit-ups: 20/day this week.
  • Walk: minimum of three walks, whether outdoor or doing a mall walk if it’s too cold. No excuses. I actually had a friend offer to make those our phone call connection times, if it means it will help me get it done.
  • Begin to journal again, daily, free form. All that means is I’ll journal my thoughts as they come out, no editing or thinking too much. You in to try it? It could be three minutes or thirty, again it’s about actually doing it, not doing it perfectly. A friend gave me The 5-Minute Journal a year or so ago. I started it, but it quickly fell by the wayside. I will explore that as a begin-again possibility.

Instead of offering ideas of what you can do, I would appreciate hearing what you are doing to takes those  small steps toward healing and wholeness. You can comment below, and you are also invited to join our closed Facebook group, to share your thoughts, ideas and progress.

Huge thanks to all those who are in my corner, rooting me on! Next week’s report will be better.

Well, Week 1 is already done! How did it go for you? This is how it went for me…

The Good

The individual emails and Facebook posts and support are the best part of this whole adventure! People who don’t want to share publicly are sharing with me privately, and I received this last night: “Just know that you’ve helped at least one person by sharing.” My whole heart and goal achieved in one sentence! Well…except for that little thing called a 5km run!

I’m counting four out of seven days of sit-ups a win!

The Bad

I’m not good at keeping track of my personal well being, because what I don’t give attention to means it’s not really real, right? My commitment was to keep track of my eating, and it was quite eye opening! Ugh. I am now very aware of where my habits have fallen apart. I used to eat quite healthy, so to see in writing what my choices are now, actually startled me. My two most prominent choices? Cheese. Tortilla chips. I also did not consume nearly as much water as I thought I did.

The Ugly

Week 1 ended with a brunch event that rattled my emotions in a way I didn’t anticipate. Beautiful human beings with hearts of love, sharing their goodness with others. I didn’t know most of the people, so I instead of digging in and meeting everyone (my past behaviour), I retreated and watched from the sidelines. Before I got to my Jeep when I left, the tears were pouring down my cheeks. I was a wreck. What was a celebration triggered pain for me. Watching the family, the relationship dynamics, the engagement in the food prep – it was in my face, demonstrating what I don’t have.

What many don’t know is (and boy is this vulnerable, sharing it all for me), that I so desire to have a partner that enjoys sharing and serving together in a home environment, such as I was in yesterday. It triggered loneliness and reminded me of loss in my life. Rarely do I ever feel this way, but it hit me hard. It was a reminder of that saying,

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

Maybe not every moment of every day, but we all go through our stuff’!

Week 2

I will:

  • Continue to track my food/beverage intake and eliminate bed time eating, except popcorn on Friday night :).
  • Continue sit-ups: 20/day this week.
  • Walk: minimum of three walks, whether outdoor or doing a mall walk if it’s too cold. No excuses. I actually had a friend offer to make those our phone call connection times, if it means it will help me get it done.
  • Begin to journal again, daily, free form. All that means is I’ll journal my thoughts as they come out, no editing or thinking too much. You in to try it? It could be three minutes or thirty, again it’s about actually doing it, not doing it perfectly. A friend gave me The 5-Minute Journal a year or so ago. I started it, but it quickly fell by the wayside. I will explore that as a begin-again possibility.

You can:

  • Join our closed Facebook group to share your good, bad, ugly moments. It’s a safe space, not shareable publicly.
  • Track your food. Check out the App Store on your phone if you are a techie-tracker-type. There are free or paid versions, keep it inexpensive if you’ve never done it before. If you are more of a
    paper tracker, you can search online for templates that suit your needs. The key? Don’t make it difficult for yourself! If you have an empty notebook or journal, use it. I ordered an erasable version that fits in my agenda, because that’s what works for me. I’ll take a photo of it each week for the benefit of this journey, but I also like that I can wipe away last week and start fresh! I need a finer pen though.
  • Set a small step goal for yourself and let us know you’ve done it! Solicit someone who can be your go-to for support and encouragement.

Flat out on my back, staring up at the early evening sky, all I could cry was, “No, no, no, no!” My laptop had gone flying and landed about three feet from me. I’d had no warning or time to brace for the fall, as the skiff of snow had hidden the ice that had formed in the past couple of hours. It was December 10, 2015.

The emergency doctor advised I might be stiff for a couple of days, and that within seven to ten days I should be totally fine. If anything, I’d probably experienced a little bit of whiplash, and if it was a concussion, it was mild at best. Karen – the friend who dropped everything to take me to emergency – told me he was wrong. She’s had more than one concussion in her life, and I definitely had a concussion.

I tried to lay low over the next few days, but as a single mom trying to recover from a recent layoff and bills that kept appearing for some reason, I couldn’t take time off from the part time work I’d been given. Fast forward a couple of weeks and a few migraines later, I knew something wasn’t right. The jiggling I’d felt in my head when it hit the ground had most certainly been more than a little whiplash. Lights had already been bothering me yes, but my sensitivities worsened, along with certain noises. My poor teenagers!

My family doctor was on maternity leave, so I went in to see one of her colleagues. She advised that I may have a mild concussion, if anything, and it may take up to a year to recover. Sigh. I’d secured a half-time role with the Breaking Free Foundation that was going to start three weeks after my fall. I was not a happy camper. No seriously, I was exhausted from all the trauma in our lives over the previous few years, and this was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back.

Not only could I not afford this setback financially, the added stress only escalated my sense of helplessness, that was fast becoming hopelessness. The downward spiral continued, and as much as my positive outlook on life had carried me through adversity in the past, this time was so very different. My personality changed, my tolerance levels had diminished significantly, and my kids weren’t sure who I was anymore.

I was so completely frustrated. I should be able to get back at it, to push through, as I had so many times before, shouldn’t I? After months of migraines, light and sound sensitivities, I decided to go back to the doctor to find out if there was more I could do to help the healing along. This time, my family doctor was back, and she quickly apologized that I’d not been given the proper care or attention I should have received. We put a plan in place and she asked that I follow up with her in a couple of weeks. Wow. What a complete switch from the dismissiveness of the other physicians! I’ve never really had bad experiences with our health care system, and those doctors were only doing what they’d been trained to do, as far as concussion protocol goes.

Over the next several months, I was able to get some sleep, but not near enough to be functional. My brain was still a complete fog, and some days I wondered how I still had a job. My doctor expressed repeatedly that she wished I didn’t ‘have to’ work at all, and the fact I was only working half time was a blessing in disguise.

When we were close to the one year mark and I hadn’t shown much improvement, she requested an MRI. So a year after I’d fallen, we discovered I had a micro bleed and visible bruising. No small injury at all, if it was still showing up a whole year later! Oh the relief I felt that I wasn’t actually crazy, and that there was a real reason I couldn’t just push through it.

However, that didn’t make me better. The frustration didn’t go away, my confidence was all but destroyed, and those blasted sensitivities didn’t seem to be lessening either. I began to wonder if my life had been forever altered and if I’d ever get back to ‘normal’. Constantly trying to pull words out of my brain that should roll off my tongue, names confused, some memories gone, was this my new normal? I felt for my kids in particular, if that was the case. The last thing they needed was to be looking after me.

I spiralled downward. It got pretty dark. I often felt no one really took me seriously when I expressed it, because it was something they’d never known of me before. I always pulled through, found a way to make it all work. Resilient. Strong. Capable. Confident. Nope, not anymore! Add to that my lack of activity and major weight gain, my self esteem completely tanked. I didn’t want to be seen in public, nothing fit, I didn’t want to buy new clothes, nor could I afford it. Not being able to afford it was another slap in the face that spiralled me further into a deep black hole. The despair to never seemingly be able to get ahead overwhelmed me.

Now what? How do I move forward if I don’t fully heal? How do I look after my children and my responsibilities? It was easier to think about my kids getting my life insurance policy than it was to figure out how to afford life as I knew it. Like I said, very dark. And here I was, the Executive Director of the Breaking Free Foundation, trying to help others heal from trauma. There were days I felt like a fraud and yet, completely grateful for the compassion and patience extended to me by our Board.

My doctor suggested I go see a chiropractor who had ventured into more brain trauma work than her regular practice. After assessing me and taking days to formulate a plan to help me, we began treatment. Weird thumb-in-front-of-my eyes stuff, standing on a foam mat, getting off of it, closing my eyes and standing on it on one leg…nothing that seemed to me to be brain healing work. She turned out to be one of the greatest gifts in my healing journey. My eyes were not focusing together, which was causing constant strain on my brain, and it was preventing me from getting better. As the months went by and we continued these simple and strange exercises, I noticed marked improvement. My migraines lessened, my light sensitivities weren’t as noticeable AND I could balance on one leg for more than a second at a time. I  didn’t always have to lean against a wall to put my shoes on! When I realized that, I knew I was on the mend.

In amongst all of that, I’d been referred to the brain injury clinic. I finally got in to see Dr. Grant in October of this year, two months shy of two years since my brain got bonked. I laughed for most of the hour I spent with him. He told me four things I could do to improve my quality of life, and then he shared a story. He told me about a patient with a spinal cord injury, who’d been a snow boarder and was now left with more than a brain injury. She was paralyzed. At their last appointment together, he told her he didn’t know what else he could do to help her, but would give her a prescription that might help. He wrote the word J-O-Y on the prescription pad, signed it and handed it to her. When she got home she handed it to her husband and said something to the effect of, “What am I supposed to do with this?” He nudged her along and helped her find a snow sport that both excited her and accommodated her new reality. Months later, she went back to see Dr. Grant and told him it was the best prescription any doctor had ever given her!

He then told me I needed to find more joy in my life. Nice. He talked about how after our brains physically heal, we’re often stuck in a type of depression because our brains have told us for so long that we’re not okay. He couldn’t have known that “JOY” has always (since I can remember) been one of my favourite words, and I have it scattered in various ways throughout my house. Apparently, I’d lost it somewhere along the way.

Now to this post and the reason I’m writing it. I took his comments seriously, and wanted to find a way to get back to joy. I am also a person who figures if I’m going to tackle something, it should benefit others as well. In my quest to help others, and in my role with BFF, I figured what could be better than looking after myself, sharing my journey, and removing the excuses that have kept me from getting after my own healing back towards fulfilment and joy?!

I also determined that many others are likely in similar positions. Trauma that has changed our lives. But instead of staying stuck there, let’s take back our power, our control over our own destinies, rather than feeding our “woe is me” stories, especially when there are things we can be doing to help ourselves.

So today it starts. We launch #BF4ME – Breaking Free for Me! Breaking free of hurt, hopelessness and helplessness. Breaking free to move towards more smiles, more activity, better mental health, and especially more joy. Are you ready to take steps, however small, to making some positive change in your life?

I’ve committed to run a five kilometre run next August. I’ve never run. I don’t even remotely like running. But I felt compelled to do it. In order for that to happen, I’ve got to overhaul a lot of stuff like what I eat, my sleep and activity (lack of) habits. Going public with the Board’s support, I’m no longer able to live in my excuses. Join me, okay, so I’m not doing this alone?

I will:

  • tell you what I’m committing to weekly
  • share my experiences – the good, the bad, the ugly – with you, in a weekly blog post, possibly including photos :-/
  • provide resources that are inexpensive and easy to use
  • encourage you along the way (I hope)

You can:

  • commit to your own small steps toward healing, whatever that looks like for you
  • share with us on social media and use the hashtag #BF4ME
  • join our newly created private Facebook group to create a more personal and interactive connection as we go on this journey together

This week, I will do 10 sit-ups per day, and will record my food intake so I can get a grasp on how far my eating habits have slid into the abyss! I will eat as I have been over the past couple of years, without filtering it or changing it for this week.

Over the next few weeks we will talk about food and exercise as they relate to trauma healing, and we will also talk about how to get through the holidays without crashing emotionally. Holidays can be the worst for so many.

Bookmark our blog, join our Facebook group, declare your commitments and please, please, please, don’t leave me in lurch on this!

 

First, a shout out of gratitude to Susan Rochow, Registered Psychologist with Eckert Psychology and Education Centre, for being a guest facilitator!

Our meet-up conversation this month took us through three main topics:

Ongoing #MeToo coverage and its effects on us, what actions are taking place

At times it’s overwhelming and at times we need to learn how to “put it away” so that it doesn’t trigger us. Some suggested they have to compartmentalize the discussions or avoid listening to the news. Others commented that it has opened up the ability to talk about abuse and harassment more openly. Still others shared their frustration with the difference between all the talk, but question what we’re actually doing to create change.

Learn to be assertive. Many of us tend to be nice, use humour or avoid inappropriate comments. One question to ask is, “Why is okay for you to feel uncomfortable in those situations but it’s not okay for the other individual to be offended – or uncomfortable?”

Various reactions stem from fight or flight. We are either avoidant or aggressive. Assertive might look like this: “Hey buddy, I love you (depending on the situation!), but when you say or do that, it makes me really uncomfortable and I’d like it if you would not do/say that.”

For those who are frustrated with lack of action or ‘what next’, we were invited to reflect on the idea that what we do in our meet-ups IS part of the action.

Trauma impacts our triggers

Trauma changes the brain, whether it’s a brain injury from a car accident to surviving war, or an experience with physical or verbal abuse. The type of trauma doesn’t really matter.

We have pre-conscious memory, usually until we’re 4 or 5 years old. We’re learning more and more about kinaesthetic and emotional memory as well. While some of the words can sound big, it basically means that even though we may not remember consciously, trauma experienced in the womb or as a toddler impacts us and creates triggers we may not understand, even into adulthood.

The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk is a recommended read, to help us understand our brains and why we get stuck and feel like we’re on a hamster wheel in our trauma.

Self-Care

When asked what each of us do to look after ourselves, these were some suggestions*:

  • While you’re healing, release yourself from the responsibility of how others react or respond to you.
  • Peer support – like our meet-ups.
  • Structured sleep, pay attention to your sleep hygiene.
  • Nutmeg, turmeric/curcumin are good for relaxation, sleep enhancement, inflammation reduction.
  • EMPowerplus Formula (vitamin/mineral supplement). A few attendees knew what this was and use it – overall health formula. It is available at natural or health food stores, or online. We must include a disclaimer here, that we are not endorsing this product, just sharing the information from our meet-up.
  • Naturopath to discuss personal sensitivities and nutritional needs.

Check out this resource re: the container exercise we learned at the end of the evening. As many found it beneficial, you may want to try it, too!

Other Resources:

Safe Place Relaxation Techniques 

The Body Keeps the Score – by Bessel Van Der Kolk
Getting Past Your Past – by Francine Shapiro
The Haunted Self – by Der Hart Van (Author),‎ Ellert R Nijenhuis (Author),‎ K Steele (Author)
*These suggestions were expressed by those at the meet-up and are not necessarily an endorsement by BFF.
Next week we launch #BF4ME – a holistic approach to removing excuses and taking control of our healing journey! If you aren’t on our email list but would like to find out more, please sign up here.

 

You never forget the day you’re told your kid has cancer. December 6, 2001. My boy was diagnosed with a Wilm’s Tumour when he was 10-months-old. It’s a tumour that grows on the kidney and isn’t usually found until a child is three to seven-years-old, and is commonly found at stage four because there are virtually no symptoms.

He was extremely fussy from birth and we just thought the ‘colic’ would never end! The diagnosis came quite by accident—or not. He had the flu and his colour just didn’t look right. After a visit to the doctor, life catapulted us into a world we knew nothing about.

Ten days later Mitchell was in surgery to have both the tumour and his left kidney removed, called a radical nephrectomy. The surgeon did a dance (seriously) when he announced that they had successfully removed the entire mass, and proceeded to kiss me on the cheek.

I remember thinking as I drove to and from the hospital over those months, “I had no idea the lives that are impacted here on a daily basis, or how huge this place actually is.”

Mitch spent his first Christmas in the hospital. On Boxing Day, he had a second surgery to insert the port (I-VAD) they would use to deliver chemo for the next six months. When the biopsy came back to determine what stage he was at, everyone in the Pediatric Oncology Ward was overjoyed that it was Stage one. That meant his prognosis was 96 per cent sure of complete recovery. At the end of his treatment and at the ripe old age of 18 months, he was declared cured and cancer free, but will go for annual checkups until he is 21.

Even though we have what other parents faced with childhood cancer consider a happy ending, the trauma as a result of the entire experience is very real and impacted each of us differently, even now.

My then-husband disappeared for hours at a time, triggered by what seemed like an insurmountable hurdle, too painful to face. It left me carrying the bulk of the responsibility and we ultimately ended up separated for two months during Mitchell’s treatment. Although I understand now why I was abandoned to deal with the situation, in the moment I was devastated and felt completely unloved, and alone.

I went on auto-pilot, but I also exhibited anger whenever anything else difficult showed up during that time. I’d get teary-eyed (for years afterward) when I went through a cash register that had a coin collection box for the Stollery Hospital or for Kids With Cancer organizations in Edmonton, where we lived.

Imagine as a baby, being handed over to an army of adults who poked and prodded, ripped you open, put tubes in you and didn’t let you sleep while they constantly checked on you. Imagine have chemo injected into you during the most important neuron-development time frame of your life. Imagine going into chemo with 4 teeth, and a month after it was over, getting the rest of them within a month! What a way for a little guy to experience those first years of his life.

One of Mitch’s most significant long term impacts is that he thinks I’m mad at him. All. The. Time. I could be telling him I love him and yet he thinks for some reason, I’m mad. Along with some of his other long term diagnoses, can you imagine that he may be experiencing PTSD? At the age of 16, we are now discovering that may be our next venture – working through some of the trauma he doesn’t even remember (although, I sure do)!

Our oldest daughter who was three-years-old while this was all going on, had to deal with taking the backseat for quite a while. She handled it in a very mature manner for a little girl, but I feel a bit like she missed out on some her childhood. I think I have more regret over that than she does.

Because we are so many years past the actual experience, some say forget it and move on. He’s fine. But that actually triggers me, because we have much to remember and be grateful for. It’s shaped the fabric of our lives.

Trauma happens to all of us in some form – at some point – in our lives. It’s important for me to remember where we were then and where we are now. It’s also important for me to share our story, in case someone needs hope and encouragement that even in our darkest hours, we can get through it and our resilience can surprise us.

   

What a gorgeous, blue sky day. As he cinched the rope around my waist, I instinctively knew this was no blue sky, innocent outing.

I begged Mom not to make me go outside to play with him, but I was met with no choice. How could she have guessed my discomfort? At the age of four, my inability to communicate the fear of being alone with him left me vulnerable. I felt helpless. It wasn’t the first time he’d tied a rope around my waist.

As he led me down the back alley, I wondered what was next. Last time it was just a walk. Would it be the same this time? Of course, my Mom had no idea he had a rope at the ready, nor that his intentions were less than pure.

As a curious 12-year-old, he found a ditch for me to lay down in, and promptly pulled down my underwear and began to explore. Part of me wished it was a more private spot as other neighbours drove by, trying to figure out what we were up to. He told me to get my panties up fast, and promptly walked me home to avoid questions. Yes, the rope was still around my waist until we’d reached my yard. He never asked me to ‘play’ again, thank God. I wonder sometimes who else was subjected to his curiosity.

Fast forward to when I was twelve. I had a friend down the street who invited me to join her on the wild side, meeting the gang at the park, smoking and drinking. I never could get the hang of smoking and refused to drink – the smell was disgusting to me and I had absolutely no desire to try, but oh how I wanted to fit in.

One night after dark, the guys started talking about us girls and our various stages of development. As the most under-developed of the bunch, they began to mock me, teasing that they should “feel me up” to see if there was anything there.

Initially I didn’t take them seriously but then they started heading my direction. I told them not to even think about it and I was scared. I started running but it didn’t take much for them to catch me and throw me down on the gravel.

As three or four of them held me down, the guy I’d had a crush on for months stuck his hand up my shirt. His buddy was next. They laughed and laughed as they announced to the rest that there was nothing to feel.

I got up off the ground and took off running again, but this time they didn’t chase me. As I got closer to home I tripped on the curb and fell, resulting in a cracked elbow.

At least it was a good cover for my tears.

Years later, as an adult, I shared those experiences with my precious Mom. She was sad and mortified, apologizing that she hadn’t picked up on the fact that the neighbour kid was unsafe, or that there was more going on with my rebel friends than what she already knew. I didn’t blame her. How could she have known?

That was a time when stranger danger wasn’t a thing (but neither perpetrator was an unknown anyway), and such topics weren’t discussed. She wishes she knew then what is common practice now.

I don’t know that I’ve talked about it much, but I felt I’d resolved some of the underlying issues as a young adult and didn’t need to discuss it.

Given the community I am now involved with here, however, leads me to believe there is power in sharing my story. If even one person feels they aren’t alone in their silence and finds their voice, it will have been worth it.

Even though I inherently knew I hadn’t done anything wrong, shame lived inside me for several years. The ‘not good enough’ self-talk was prevalent too. No wonder hey?

We’re scared to talk, we feel ashamed, we want to protect ourselves and maybe even others, thinking it’s better if they don’t know.

As children, we may not know how to put a voice to it. As parents there is often talk about age-appropriate discussions regarding safe touch, but when age-appropriate isn’t considered from a perpetrator’s point of view, when exactly do we talk to our kids? Knowing what I’ve experienced and what stats indicate, I’m beginning to wonder what age-appropriateness and stranger danger conversations should sound like.

What I do know is, staying silent is never the answer. Encourage your ‘others’ to talk, provide a safe and trusting environment, even if it’s uncomfortable for you. Their safety and security may depend on it.

The Board and I recently participated in a team building workshop. Each of us had a different idea or expectation of what was going to transpire, and I think it’s safe to say we were astonished at what we’d learned about ourselves and each other. It was an exceptional day and experience, one filled with grace and connection.

In expert hands of our Facilitator, Kim Barthel, we discussed what triggers us in life, how our young lives formed our reactions as we get older, and how our interactions with one another can be more meaningful now that we have greater understanding about some of these things. We play-acted regular, everyday interactions to see how the others responded, and we learned how our behaviours contribute to the good, the bad and the ugly! There was also discussion on implementing various communication techniques to gain better connection and response from others.

Team Building

Personal development and growth are priorities for all seven of us. We believe that as we support others in their healing from trauma, it is only appropriate that we work on ourselves. No one of us escapes life unscathed by trauma and we each have opportunity to heal, to practice new ways of being, and to move forward beyond the ‘victim-hood’ that can sometimes consume us.

By definition, trauma is a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. The kinds of experiences that can be deemed traumatic are vast and differ from divorce, illness, natural disasters, abuse, war, torture… the list goes on and on. (BFF website)

Some of the barriers to growth and healing can include:

1. Harbouring an “I am not weak” mentality. It can take courage to reach out to find ways to improve our lives, but I often use the analogy of someone with diabetes to help reframe this barrier. If a diabetic refuses to adapt their lifestyle and take the insulin required that allows them to live, we would consider them irresponsible and self-destructive. When we are hurt by life’s experiences, we can practice our ways into living as a victim, or we can practice our ways into discovering tools that will help us live a full and enjoyable life, just as a diabetic does when they care for themselves. Read a book, talk to a counselor or a trusted friend, do some research online – just do something towards your personal growth.

2. I don’t need help. This is different than “I am not weak.” If you don’t believe you need help, your blind spots can be detrimental to not only your success in life, but can impact your relationships. The truth is, we all need help. Just as the saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child,” it also takes a community to build healthy, strong and emotionally stable adults. I learned a saying in my early twenties that I’ve carried with me since: No one of us has it all together, but all of us together, have it all. Good, right?!

3. I can’t afford therapy. This is a tough one, particularly when jobs have been slashed and access to benefits no longer exist. The truth of the matter is, sometimes we can’t afford not to access therapy. Many hospitals and health centres have a mental health department, and there is also access through the Canadian Mental Health Association. At BFF, we may also be able to support you through our Therapy Grants via an application process.

4. I am a private person. While each of us has our own way of handling things, being a private person does not mean you are required to handle everything internally. Speaking with a therapist or counselor protects your privacy while allowing you the benefit of seeing things differently and learning more about yourself. Always a good thing

Kim

Are we saying everyone needs therapy? Not necessarily in a formal setting. But we do all need to be open to growth, development and change. The only constant in life is change! Just as we choose to work on ourselves as a team and as human beings, we truly desire the same for all humanity.

We encourage you to search out ways to be a new and improved version of yourself. You will be happy you did.

– Written by Shandra Carlson

Yesterday was Random Acts of Kindness Day and somehow I missed it. I was offline for most of the day but it still seemed weird that I was completely unaware. I’d love to think I am practicing kindness every day, but we all know some days are better than others, right?

I immediately felt guilty and then caught myself. Should I really be feeling this way for missing an assigned day – a fairly recent addition to the list of growing ‘days’ on our calendars? Actually, no. How often do we do that to ourselves, sometimes over the simplest of things?

Sometimes extending a random act of kindness toward ourselves is the best gift we can offer, not just for us but for those closest to us. If we’re mad at ourselves it can often come across that we’re not happy with the rest of the world either. Can you relate?

It may sound a little overboard, but I found myself asking a few questions:

  1. Did I do something wrong? No
  2. Should I feel guilty? No
  3. Where is this coming from? The guilt gremlin that sits on my shoulder for no good reason, hoping I’ll succumb.
  4. What do I do with this then? Personally, I reacted with a bit of humour. I posted online that I guess I’ll have to make up for it with random acts of kindness every day. The reality is that if I live a kind life, then when RAK Day arrives I can reflect on all the days that I’ve done kind things for others and for myself.

Maybe on RAK Day (or the day after), I can be kind to me too.

What say you? What kindness can you extend to yourself today – and every day?

 

 

Picture1

What an appropriate mental picture of our unsaid words and unresolved issues. We may not physically see the “elephant”, but boy is it there!

“When you avoid something, you automatically create a void.”

Life is filled with experiences – good, bad and ugly – every one of us has them. But what about when hurt happens? What about those moments that shut us down, shut us in? It could be as simple as a misunderstood text or email, or as complex as a traumatic experience that hasn’t been shared with anyone. It could be an incident that impacted you, that the other person has no idea took place.

We had an incident in our family that hasn’t been talked about for years. Over Christmas it came up, a complete surprise for me that anyone even wanted to discuss it. It was a true Christmas gift for all of us. I immediately thought about how we invite the elephant in, feed it, watch it grow until it becomes an adult, and then wonder how we’re going to walk it out the door, because it’s not going to escort itself out.

What happens then, when it gets so big it seems impossible to deal with? I think that’s where the question, “How do you eat an elephant?” comes in. “One bite at a time.” It’s generally used in reference to projects that overwhelm us that we need to dissect into segments so we can manage it, but if we applied that principle to all areas that seem larger than life it could potentially make a significant difference in the long run.

So, why do we tend to avoid our mental health? Or the discussions that need to happen – but haven’t? What about those conversations we know will never take place? Where and how does resolution come? We can be so overwhelmed, feeling hopeless and paralyzed by it. Or we may not even consider its importance. So many of us are willing to take care of our physical health but zoning in on our mental health doesn’t always cross our minds.

“If we cared about our mental health like we care about our dental health, we would be okay.” — Howie Mandel

Mental health carries more significance than most other parts of our being (besides oxygen), because without it we lose so much of who we are. Caring for our mental health may be as simple as an extra half hour of sleep at night. That’s one bite out of the elephant. It may mean being courageous and saying something vs keeping it hidden inside. It could be phoning your mom to tell her you love her, or booking an appointment to talk to someone. I don’t know what those bites might look like, but I do know you’re worth the effort. If you take time to invest in your whole health, you and those you love will most definitely reap the rewards.

Bell Let’s Talk Day is January 27th, and you can participate on social media by using #BellLetsTalk. Find out more about Bell Let’s Talk and ending the stigma around mental health, here.

Helping is healing and healing is possible.

— Written by Shandra Carlson, follow on Twitter