Thursday, December 28, 2017

Balancing With Babies & A Monkey On My Back

Sure, monkeys can be cute and all. Sometimes cute like babies.
What's not cute is juggling a baby and a toddler with a monkey affixed to my back constantly punching me in the back of the head ...

That's a lot what this all feels like, postpartum anxiety.
It's pretty nasty.
It's confusing.
It's isolating.
It's mind numbing.

So here I am, ten months postpartum, just trying to live with it & keep a smile on my face so I don't snap at the invisible chimp driving me completely mad.
skip to the bottom if you just wanna see some of the tools I am using right now

I shared a great article last week which pretty accurately describes what I'm actually thinking when you ask me, "how are you doing?".
I wrote, "If you’re a man please read and hopefully understand the potential of what a mother is feeling.
If you’re a woman without children, please and understand motherhood is a miraculous gift but with that gift are some struggles and it’s okay to talk openly about it.
If you’re a mom: please know you are so absolutely far from alone. Don’t think you have to have your shit together all the time. Don’t think that your feelings aren’t validated or real. Please reach out, seek help; know you’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think."

I stand by this, so please give it a read here.

Since having opened up a bit about my own personal mental health issues and postpartum anxiety/depression, I have received quite a bit of messages and encouraging words from other mothers. I'm not sure exactly how this makes me feel. On the one hand, I feel completely terrible that other people have the same consuming, negative, and scary thoughts that I do.
On the other hand, I also feel somewhat relived to not be alone, and thankful to have a platform to share my experience with other moms so they too don't feel so alone. 

I've known for a little while now that I've been dealing with PPA.
I had it after my first baby - though I had NO idea it was a real thing. I 100% thought I was just losing my mind.
So fast forward 2 years when I'm pregnant with number two and I was determined to stop it before it even started. I did borderline obsessive (hello sign #1) research on how to prevent it, how to stop it, and how to manage it. I started yoga, mediation, crystal healing, breathing exercises, acupuncture. I encapsulated my placenta, I ate it raw, I had it made into a tincture. I was well on my way to a happy go lucky, postpartum positivity train!
.... However here I am.

So, what went wrong?


Even typing that out I'm like "yea, okay Ashley". But it's true. Nothing "went wrong". This is simply how my body responds to an insane influx of unregulated hormones. How nursing exclusively (for nearly 4 years now), getting my cycle back, and day to day life stresses affect my body chemistry. That's what this is - body chemistry.
I am not crazy. You are not crazy.

This IS temporary
... as long as it's not ignored and properly dealt with.

So - how am I dealing with it?

Some days are easier than others. Two weeks ago I hit my rock bottom. My PPA was winning, taking over, and a was a crumbling building of rage. I spent my nights in my own head with horrible thoughts, believing them to be true. My greatest fears and worries coming to life in my head.
To be perfectly transparent, it was about 4 AM one morning after not sleeping and the baby was crying. My husband ran into the bedroom after he heard me screaming at her.
That's not me. That's not the mother I am. But it's what I did because I could not control my own emotions and thoughts.

After that day I called my midwives. I knew I needed help but I was still embarrassed to admit it. I made my appointment for my 6 month post op check up - never even mentioned my feelings. Appointment made for a week later.
Two days later, my three year old needed a diaper change and again, I lost it. Completely normal circumstance with a completely unreasonable response. I started crying and immediately called my midwives back asking for an appointment that day.  We had a phone 'appointment' and I set up a  meeting with the psychiatrist the next morning. One of my closest friends came with me and drove my kids around while I sat in the meeting - she knows how leaving my kids is a major issue for me and was an angel for doing this.
My 30 minute appointment ran to about 50 minutes, with promise of a follow up.
A lot goes into my "diagnosis" and my treatment. Yes I have PPA/PPD, but I also have a litany of other mental health issues. Issues that I previously have worked to manage and mitigate, however at this time have reared their ugly heads in my mental state of disarray.
Because of this, medication isn't an option (at this time). I am not opposed to medications for times like this. In fact, I had ever intention of leaving with a script that day.
For now - talk therapy will have to do. And it is.

Sometimes simply saying things out loud can help. Hearing your own voice say the things you think over and over in your head can help. For me - it helps me to see just how illogical and fear based my thought process has been. It doesn't mean I simply ignore the old thoughts, but I do feel like I WILL be able to get a grip on them and once again overcome them.
The monkey is still there, gripping on to my back, however he's let up on the head banging a bit.

Along with weekly therapy, I have started to focus on my health. Part of my PPA makes it near impossible to care for myself - so I have to consciously make the decision to shower, eat, drink water, and attempt to do something that I want to do a few days a week. It sounds silly to some, I'm sure, but to me this is quite the lofty task. I've begun taking the supplement 5-HTTP, keeping up with my prenatal vitamins and supplements to help with my degenerative discs. More Pain = More Anxiety = More Rage and no one wants that.

The psychologist and I are working on a plan for me. Admitting I need help is far from easy, and I still like to pretend I am fine some days, but it's also such a crucial step to my "recovery". Simply doing something about this is breaking the cycle, which for right now is a huge win for me.

Here are some of the resources* I am utilizing right now.
**Please discuss any supplements with your doctor before trying**
There are some that will have adverse efects depending on the person, so I cannot stress this enough.

* affiliate links

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Self Reclamation Proclamation

I'm sure most of you are familiar with Marilyn Monroe's famous words,
"If you can't handle me at my worst, you don't deserve me at my best".

I've been thinking a lot about this; but in my head I replace the word 'handle' with 'love'. And rather than directing the statement to someone else in my life, I have been directing at myself.

Over my years, I have struggled immensely with self love and acceptance. Perhaps from being the tallest girl in my class since before I can remember, needing a full on bra by the fourth grade, criticism from family members on my looks, or bullying in school - I never really got to a point where I was comfortable in my own skin. In college, I would run to Walmart to pick up the
Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition so I could cut out the models and tape them all over my house. "#Fitspo", I called it.
That's not inspirational. That's not healthy. That's not motivating. The girls in the picture rarely look like that in real life thanks to photoshop edits. Starving myself to lose 30 pounds between Christmas and Spring Break was far from healthy.

It's quite the cycle, when you don't simply love yourself; you pick yourself apart, decide to stop eating to look better (that obviously fails), food becomes a comfort, you overeat, you wind up more unhappy and uncomfortable. Sound familiar?

This cycle came to a stop for me after I had my first daughter in 2014. I felt raw and vulnerable, but at the same time empowered and strong. I had just grown a beautiful, healthy human inside me and delivered her into this world. I better freaking love myself, right?! Not so much.
Shortly after the high of giving birth, I felt really, really empty. I felt lost. I felt naked and like I was in a foreign body. The same body that housed my beautiful baby suddenly became a vacant shell. It was confusing, maddening, and scary. I worked so very hard to lose the baby weight & feel confident in my body.

In just under 10 months I did it. I lost 90 pounds. I reached my ultimate goal of having abs for the first time in my life by my daughters first birthday.
And guess what? I still wasn't happy.
In fact, I was so far from happy I started seeing a therapist weekly, sometimes even more.
The first day I remember her asking me, "Do you think you deserve to be happy?" and just the idea of that question made me so uncomfortable I burst into tears.

Over the next 2 years I worked hard at eating healthy, exercising regularly, caring for my body and trying to stay positive. I really felt like I was happy. I felt like I had finally grown to love my body for what it was. Easy to say when things were on the up and up.

It's easy to love anything when it's doing what you want it to do. It's hard to love something that's fighting you back, acting in ways completely out of your control. This has been my experience over the last 15+ months. My body and mind have been such a battle for me - between my second pregnancy  and gaining the same amount of weight as my first despite valiant efforts to be healthy and fit throughout it, my previa, my csection, the NICU stay, my degenerative disc disease rearing it's ugly head, being unable to mitigate my post partum anxiety & depression through exercise, embarking on a Total Elimination Diet to heal my new baby, and then complete nutritional chaos once that was over ....
Between factors completely out of my control (and some self induced sabotage) things have been far from perfect or ideal and I've found it once again a brutal struggle to love myself and this body I am in.
How unfair is that? I love myself when I'm happy and fit but not when I am struggling and in recovery?
I call bullshit.

It's time for me to do some serious soul searching. To love everything I am: the good & the bad, the fit & the chubby, the happy & the not so happy. I need to learn to love the me who teaches 12 bootcamp classes a week and also the me who's spinal arthritis makes it hard to stand up straight. I need to learn to love not just the me who can cook and host a killer Thanksgiving dinner but also the me who struggles to get dinner on the table every night. To love the me with a six pack and skinny jeans in a size I never thought I'd see & the me who struggles to lose the 65+ pounds of baby weight. I want to learn to love myself and all the seasons of me that comes with.

Damn - If I can't handle MYSELF at my worst, who am I to deserve me at my best?

It's time I love the shit out of me, regardless of any and all circumstances. That started last week with admitting I am not okay and do need professional help for my mental state. Postpartum anxiety and depression are a real bitch and shouldn't ever be taken lightly. I am thankful to have such amazing resources to turn to in dark times like this.

The feeling of relief and knowing I can get through this has really motivated me to look at my life as a whole. Do some evaluating of the things I can and cannot control. 2018 will be the year I reclaim my body, mind and soul. It is mine. It is the only one I have in this life.
I encourage you to follow along and join me in my quest for self love, acceptance, and happiness.

xx Ashley

Friday, December 1, 2017

25 Days of Kindness

Happy December!

This month is so magical to me: the close of the year, reminiscing on everything that's happened over the last twelve months, thinking about how to show the ones closest to me how much I love them, Holiday decorations that warm my heart, crisp air with the promise of snow flakes ... I can go on and on.
I absolutely love this time of year!

To be perfectly honest, I've meant to get this post done for about a month but #MomLife...

Every December the stores stock up on Advent calendars, and 25 Days of Christmas (insert activity here) is all the rage. This year, my oldest is three and just beginning to understand the holiday season, especially with everyone asking what she wants for Christmas this year. We've talked about making a Christmas list and talked about the spirit of Christmas, but my girl - just like her mama - learns by DOING. I grew up where community service was just part of my childhood. We were by no means wealthy, but doing something for the good of others can cost literally nothing while putting a smile on someone else's face. I loved it and that love for helping others has stuck with me to this day.

Today's kids are so wrapped up in the hot new "it toy" & the flashing lights and bright colors of the season, I see it with my daughter and she is only three!
So what's a mom to do?

This year, I'm implementing a new type of advent calendar.  A 25 Days of Kindness countdown. 25 days of giving back, in some way shape or form. It doesn't have to be extravagant, expensive, or completely time consuming. But I do want it to take enough time each day that my daughter remembers it and hopefully even looks forward to it. I've wanted to do this since 2014, the year she was born, and this year I'm diving in.

My dream is that she actually enjoys this, as I do. That she makes better choices the whole year because of this. That when she is older, she uses her time & resources to do something for others and one day hopes to instill that service upon her own children.
... although I suppose I should just focus on today and not worry about that too much just yet #SmellTheRoses

Each day I will post a random act of kindness that we are going to do that day, with the hashtag #SpreadCheer. I invite you to follow along here, and join in on this too!


Smell the Roses

“Don’t forget to stop and smell the roses”

I feel like this may be my motto for 2018. 

So often I get wrapped up in the future, be it personal goals, events, or simply just time. I try to live passionately & not take a single day for granted, yet in doing so sometimes I miss out on the moments. 
Once I get to my figurative destination, I’m mentally checking out of there and into my next plan attempting to make it perfect....
I want to slow my mind down. I want to enjoy the days’ activities whole-heartedly. I want to peacefully chill out and smell the damn roses without worrying about where and when the next flower blooms. ✌

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