Posted in Mental health

The Vaccine Requirement

“Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.”

Titus 3:1-2 NIV

The above scriptures came up during my devotions this morning. I place them at the top of this post to help me to choose my words carefully. For only after soaking in their direction, am I able to responsibly pen the following post.

Let me sum it up for you briefly: I’m disappointed, and a little surprised. Maybe we are all tired of hearing and talking about COVID, and vaccines. But I would like to chime in as a quiet voice. A voice that does not often come through in the news.

I feel that I’m being painted as a villain, and excluded from some facets of normal life. Because I am not confident enough in the new vaccine to get the jab. I’m not alone, there are others. I am not against vaccines. My children have their routine shots. But I am taking a calculated risk. Would I rather risk potentially unknown side effects of a vaccine? Or a highly survivable virus? I would rather get the virus and allow my body to fight it off naturally.

I do my best to keep myself and my family healthy. We don’t get flu shots either. Again, it’s a calculated risk. If one of us had a chronic condition that increased our risk of not surviving a virus, I may reconsider. If it were a more deadly virus, I may reconsider.

And up until now, I’ve been free to make that choice. Flu shots were offered, and recommended, but not forced. All of that seems to be changing now.

We are told that the vaccine is safe, but the truth is that we don’t hear of adverse effects until after they have happened. Everybody is learning. What would the effect be on my body, 10 years from now? 20 years? Many scientists and medical professionals may say: No effect. There will be no effect.

But the truth is, they do not know. They did not predict the adverse effects or even deaths that have occurred in some people after getting the shot. They are smart, but they are not all-knowing. If they knew that a person would experience terrible side effects or even die in response to the vaccine, they would not have given it to them. I should hope not, anyway. But that is exactly what has happened, in some cases.

It has been a long year and a half of not being able to have regular family celebrations, or attend services and groups at my church. Of no extra-curricular activities being available to my children. I name those things because they are the most important ones to me. And now, these things are finally becoming available again. I was looking forward to having my kids mentored at church by adults other than myself; to attending a weekly women’s group that has been crucial for my mental health over the years; to getting my kids caught up on their swimming lessons. Maybe I would even find a place at church to serve. Sing in the choir, or reach out to people with additional needs. I was hoping to get a part-time job.

But last week, the Manitoba government announced that they were “expanding the benefits” of those who were fully vaccinated. Well…that’s a fine choice of words. A not-so-subtly manipulative slant. Because they are not expanding benefits for anyone. They are adding further restrictions, but only for those who don’t want the needle. In addition, they are creating divisions between people. So that those who have been vaccinated can flash their passports and be granted VIP access to things like swimming lessons. While we, presumably thoughtless, unvaccinated people remain safely outside the doors. We are not even permitted to work in many places, unless we get the vaccine.

One thing I’m grateful for, is that places of worship do not have vaccine requirements. Yet. I sure hope they don’t add that requirement but I realize it’s a possibility. I wonder what kind of disarray that would cause. Further divisions between people who used to be like family. All based on a personal choice of something so minor as a needle.

And what will I do, if that happens? I know what the leaders want. They say that these measures are intended to further encourage people to get the vaccine. Can I make this clearer? I don’t want the vaccine. I am not confident in it. No, I don’t have questions to ask you so you can put my mind at ease. You cannot answer my questions. Only time and the course of events will answer my questions.

And I have lost some of my confidence in you. You are taking things away from me that are necessary for good mental health. You are preventing me from getting a job. You are taking opportunities away from my children. You are forcing me to do something that goes against my self-protective instincts. Either vaccinate, or lose your sanity. Vaccinate, or deal with the sadness and loneliness of having your hands tied, your mouth taped shut, and your doors locked.

I will wear a mask, stay home when I’m sick, and physically distance from others. But being forced to line up for a vaccine that may not be necessary, and may even be harmful? Or else I can’t work? Something about that picture is frightening to me.

What about you? Are vaccinated and unvaccinated people being treated differently, where you live? How do you feel about the issue? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below. However, abusive comments will not be tolerated on this blog.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Faith, Parenting

Making the Home a Haven

As September 2019 approached, I remember asking God for a direction that I should focus on in the year that was to come. I got the distinct sense that I was to put my efforts into making our home more of a haven. This was going to involve household organization, cleaning, decluttering, and making sure I regularly had time and energy for things like cooking, doing dishes, and doing laundry. It was also going to involve being emotionally present for the people in my family – as simple, sometimes, as sitting quietly around the table with them after their long days at work and school, ready to listen and respond.

The message on the pot is self-explanatory. The plant, however, is plastic. 😉

At this point I had been a mother for 8 1/2 years, and with the progression of time, God had been steadily and stealthily peeling my clammy grip from education and career pursuits – one tightly wound finger at a time. However, choosing the home as my over-arching focus for the foreseeable future, was still not my natural bent.

And as the beginning of 2020 brought with it the commencement of a small music therapy contract, and a speaking opportunity scheduled for the upcoming fall, I began to wonder if I had heard wrong. Maybe, I would soon transition back to working outside the home.

Nonetheless, March 2020 happened. God had known that it would. Our lives outside the walls of home ground to a halt. Even my son’s schooling moved to the dining room table – and stayed there for the majority of the year. My inbox was inundated with cancellation messages. There would be no music therapy sessions to lead, no piano lessons to teach, and no speaking engagement in the fall.

The realization that God had been preparing me for that very moment filled me with gratitude and joy. I also came to understand that making the home a haven was not only important for my family – it was important for me. As a bit of what they call an “HSP” (highly sensitive person), my surrounding environment has a large effect on my mental state. When the chores get done, the laundry and dishes are put away, and there is a place for everything, with everything in its place, I am a much happier person. These things affect my husband and kids too, but probably not to such a large extent. After all, I am the one who spends the most time within these walls. I think that by directing me to take care of the home in advance, God was protecting my mental health at a time that would stretch it to the brink and back, time and time again.

If having kids has put a damper on my love for candles, electricity and batteries have renewed it! These little candle holders are from a past music therapy client, and they remind me of ice blocks. The wax warmer was a gift from my husband, and fills our home with wonderful scents.

Progress has been slow, and my home still isn’t perfectly put together. I don’t know if it ever will be. But I’ve made a lot of progress! Pandemic or not, home is important. Much time is spent there. So, it may as well be a place that you want to be.

Here are some of the ways I have been working on making our home a haven:

  • As I’ve alluded to in the past – decluttering. There is much more to say on this topic, so it will probably be its own post at some point. I’m very proud of the amount of things I’ve gotten rid of, and have been enjoying the results.
  • Decor. A few carefully chosen knick-knacks that bring me joy, an artificial plant or candle here and there, and beautiful pictures on the wall, give my eyes a place to rest; while the calm, blank spaces in between provide room for my imagination to wander.
  • Recruiting help. Should a stay-at-home-mom require the assistance of her family members to complete all of the household tasks? I won’t even begin to argue a stance on this highly controversial issue, but I will say that doing everything alone was really not working for me. So Saturdays have become housecleaning day, and everyone pitches in to get the bathrooms cleaned, mess put away, and floors vacuumed. Many hands make work light, and we are usually finished by 11 am. During the week, then, I am free to focus on other cleaning/organizing tasks, dishes, laundry, cooking, grocery shopping, taking care of the kids, and (if needed) my son’s remote learning.
  • Organization. Something as simple as $2 bins from the dollar store, to conceal my office supplies, which are all sorted into recycled jars inside the bins, has relieved much of the anxiety I used to feel about my haphazard desk area.

No home is perfect, and neither are the lives within its walls. I could regale you with stories of struggle and hardship, as anyone could. But a home can be a soft place to land, at the end of it all. It can cushion the inevitable fights and heartaches. It can bring rest to minds that are weary of chaos and unpredictability. I pray that my home would be a sacred space of peace and order, filled with the presence and protection of God. And I pray the same for yours.

How do you feel about your home? Let me know in the comments below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Faith, Mental health

Mindsets for Overcoming Self-Doubt

Self-doubt. It can be crippling. For some of us, it lurks around every corner. It causes frustration, bitterness, resentment, and even despair. It makes it difficult for us to accept criticism. It can change us into competitive, envious people who are unable to rejoice at the success of others.

But we don’t need to let it win.

Self-doubt is a demon that I know too well. As a stay-at-home mom who hopes to return to work again someday, I often feel as though I am on the bottom rung. The task before me seems overwhelming…even, impossible. Yet, this aching need for a purpose beyond my walls does not go away.

In the midst of this, my thought life can be a game-changer. What I believe about other people, myself, my past, and my future will change how I behave, and the decisions that I make. From one self doubter to, perhaps, another – here are some things to remember when you find yourself in that pit.

Remember the compliments, not the criticism

Yes, criticism can be constructive. However, if you are like me, it can tear you right to the ground – especially when you’re already in a position of weakness. These are the times that we need to also remember the compliments that people have given us over the years. Perhaps it is more natural for you to meditate on the criticisms. This may happen unintentionally. So, let’s be intentional about what may not come as easily – running the positive things that people have said about us through our minds, over and over again. You may want to write a few of them down. Are there any commonalities? What are the good things that people have called out of you? These can direct you towards future paths.

Pass the blessing on to others

After you have practiced gratitude for how others have encouraged you, you will have a greater understanding of the impact that your words may have on others. Is there someone you can encourage today? Someone else, who, perhaps, has been feeling a little beaten down? Do you see strengths in them that you can help them to notice? The Bible says “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Give it a try, and experience this truth. Everyone has influence – either for the good, or for the bad. This includes you. You have the ability to change the lives of others, for the better.

Turn envy into blessing

Nothing defeats the power that envy has on you, like turning it around on its head. That woman who has what you wish you had? Tell her how amazing she is. Tell her you admire her for it. When I have practiced this, it has softened my heart towards people I would have otherwise harbored resentment for. It has also released me from the captivity that envy is. Yes, you can – appreciate others for the strengths and good qualities that they have, without it taking anything away from you, and who God made you to be.

Embrace humility

One verse that has continually challenged me is Philippians 2:3: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (ESV)

There is a perplexing relationship between self-doubt and pride. Pride insists that a person be the best at everything, and have the best of everything, which leads inevitably to failure and self-doubt. A humble person, however, understands that this is an impossible stance, and that they are no better than the next person. It is ok, natural, and good to be less-than what you see in others. A humble person knows there is more to life than how they rank.

We are each given struggles as well as gifts. And our gifts, by definition, are acts of grace – completely undeserved. Acknowledge them for what they are, and realize that every other person is given both struggles and gifts as well.

Find purpose in the here-and-now

Everybody needs a sense of purpose in order to be healthy. Self-doubt can stem from a fear that you will be unable to fulfill purpose in your life. If you question what your purpose is, look around. Look right in front of you. Where have you found yourself? What must you do in that situation?

Are you at home, with your kids? If so, you have found a purpose: love your kids, keep them safe and fed, and try to stay sane! Are you sick in bed? Rest, and get better. In the middle of a huge argument? Work towards resolution and do what you can to reconcile. In a job you don’t like? Do it to the best of your ability, while praying about and researching other opportunities.

If you are like me, you may think too far ahead into the future sometimes. Your purpose in 5 or 10 years may not be very clear right now, or it may seem impossible. However, I am willing to bet that your purpose for today, for this very moment, is something that you can identify and achieve.

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Matthew 6:34 ESV

I understand that your self-doubt may be more complicated than the points I have outlined here. Nonetheless, I hope that by focusing on the compliments, passing on blessing, overcoming envy, embracing humility, and finding purpose in the here-and-now, you will find yourself in a place of greater peace than you were before.

Do you struggle with self-doubt? What is your advice on how to overcome it? I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Faith, Mental health

5 Small Ways to Stand (On Your Own Two Feet)

Feeling bullied?  Beaten up?  Beaten down?  All of the above?

Sometimes it’s the world that does it to us.  Sometimes it’s specific people.  Sometimes, we have ourselves to blame.

Whatever the case, it’s never too late to get back up again.  Because when it comes to your personhood – your God-given value as a human being – the very nature of you – nobody is able to take that away.

Every human being is created with purpose, and intent, in the image of God (Genesis 1:27; Jeremiah 29:11; Psalms 57:2; Psalms 139:13-16).  This does not give us free reign to do whatever we want (Romans 7:15-25; Romans 6).  However, there is a clear biblical basis for the protection of one’s personhood.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
Proverbs 4:23 NIV

I find it interesting that even though Jesus willingly and sacrificially laid down His life, He never compromised on who He truly was: the Son of God (Luke 22:66-71), the King of the Jews (Matthew 27:11), and a friend to sinners (Luke 23:39-43).  Although people surrounded Him, spat on Him, mocked Him, beat Him, and even killed Him, they could not remove this core truth of His innermost being.  He had come to save the world.  And, save the world is what He did.

With a similar boldness, there are some simple ways that we may stand on our own two feet, assert our confidence, and say: I am who I am, and who I am is good.  Not because I say so, but because my Creator does.

To certain individuals, the following list will seem odd or unimpressive.  And to others, it will make sense, because they too have become inhibited or shamed in some of these areas.  Keep in mind that what is commonplace to some, may feel nearly impossible to others.

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5 Small Ways to Assert Your Confidence in Who You Are

  1. Try a new hairstyle.  You know that short cut you’ve been wanting to try?  Maybe now is the time.  Whether it looks good or not, you will still be you, and you will have some fun experimenting with your appearance.  I did this – read about it by clicking here.
  2. Learn a new skill.  This can even be something small.  Sometimes, we have never done a task simply because others have always done it for us.  After a while, we can begin to feel dependent on that help, even though we aren’t.  It can be very empowering to take the step of doing it for ourselves.  For example, I recently set up our tent trailer on my own.  Usually, this is something I would have relied upon my husband to do.  But I found it gratifying to know I could do it myself if I had to or wanted to.
  3. Refuse to be mocked.  Being open to feedback or constructive criticism that is delivered in a kind and thoughtful way, is one thing.  Intentional mocking, however, with the explicit intent of hurting your feelings, tears down your personhood and is not something that you should be subjected to on a regular basis.  Is there someone in your life who repeatedly mocks you?  Perhaps it is time to calmly set a boundary with them.  For example, you could say, “If you speak that way to me again, I will end the conversation until you are willing to treat me with respect.” Remember to also be kind and respectful towards your offender.  Don’t join them in the destructive game.
  4. Don’t berate yourself.  Perhaps, you are your own mocker.  If so, it’s time to have a little talk with yourself!  No person is perfect.  Ask for forgiveness if you have let someone down.  Then move on, treat mistakes as opportunities to learn, and be the best you that you can be.
  5. Set and work towards a goal.  Giving up says, “I’m not important and will never achieve my goals.” Standing up says, “Even if my dreams don’t fully come true, they may, and I’m allowed to have them. What is one small way I can work towards them today?” It feels hopeless to never permit yourself to dream.  Hold your dreams with an open hand, and be willing to be flexible, because…life happens.  However, so does growth, and achievement – and it will happen to you as well, if you allow it.

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It seems to me that there is very little separating those who stand up from those who lie down, beyond their inner attitudes, thoughts, and beliefs.  The mind, will, and emotions are powerful tools that can be harnessed for the good of ourselves and others.

Do you feel like parts of you have been beaten down?  What are your best ways to get back up and reclaim your personhood?  I would love to hear about it in the comments section below.

And if this post resonated with you, check out some of my other posts related to self-awareness, self concept, boundaries, and generally living in your own skin:

Hey Young Mom, Your Feelings Matter Too!

Mom Fail Number 99

Moms are People Too!

This Shame Problem

Forced to Look

Coming to Terms with Social Anxiety

Warm wishes,

Lisa

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

Psalms 139:13‭-‬16 NIV

Posted in Faith, Mental health

Coming to Terms with Social Anxiety

A few years ago, in a small group at my church, I was sharing prayer requests with two other ladies. I told them about my feelings of loneliness, and that I was often too afraid to approach people, which was a necessary step if I was going to make any friends.  One woman’s eyes got wide, and she said emphatically, “I know exactly what you mean!  I feel the same way.”  The other woman looked puzzled and asked us quite genuinely, “Why?  What are you afraid of?”

I learned two things from this exchange.  First, I wasn’t the only one – there were others who had the same problem.  And second, there were people who did not fear social situations at all, and in fact, found it difficult to understand why we would.

The second woman’s question was difficult for us to answer.  What were we afraid of?  Everything.  Nothing.  I don’t know.  Maybe it was, what others would think of us.  Or whether we would offend them.  Or that we didn’t know how to make conversation, or what to do if the situation got awkward.  All we knew for sure was: it was terrifying.  And debilitating.

Early Experiences

My first memory of being intensely socially anxious occurred in Grade 5.  On a beautiful spring day, it had been postulated that our class “may” go outside at some point and join an older grade for a game of football.  In my mind, there were several problems with this idea.  I was smaller than the other kids, and feared getting pummeled.  I had never played football before, didn’t know the rules, and would surely end up looking like a fool.  Being around older kids, especially in a competitive, sometimes aggressive situation like team sports, struck fear into every part of me.  And finally, I would surely be the last one picked for teams. Even if the picking were randomized, I was fairly certain no one would want me on theirs.  I would feel like the biggest loser in the world.

Thankfully, the proposed game of football never occurred, but its very possibility had ruined my entire day.  I remember sitting on my plastic school chair, heart pounding.  Slightly faint.  Slightly nauseous.  Willing the day to be over, and praying with all my might that we would just stay inside.

I could share other examples similar to these of the fears that I experienced during my school days.  Unstructured recess times when I didn’t know what to do or whom to hang out with. Confrontations with other children when I felt intimidated and afraid.  Now, as an adult, I believe there could have been some proactive measures taken to create a more positive social environment at my school.  My stress may not have been eliminated, but it could have been helped.

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Naming the Struggle

Although I do not claim my anxiety to be at the level of a disorder, I believe that there is value in naming the struggle for what it is.

Social anxiety.  I have social anxiety.

It has become cliche, but is true about so many things, that admitting you have a problem is the first step in becoming able to deal with it.  For many years, I didn’t recognize what I was experiencing.  Usually, I have had at least one or two friends.  I am a functioning member of society.  I have completed schooling, gotten jobs, and worked with some success as an entrepreneur.  Growing up, I often played piano in front of rooms full of people.  I can public speak – I’ve delivered several verbal presentations and even taught a class of university students.

However, there are many commonplace things that cause me undue fear:

  • Talking to salespeople about products that I am unfamiliar with (for me, these would be things like machinery, vehicles, soil and gravel, etc.).
  • Placing restaurant orders over the phone.
  • Eating meals with co-workers.
  • Asking clients for payment.
  • Approaching superiors at work.
  • Attending large parties or social events, especially where I have to dress up.
  • Visiting my husband’s places of work.
  • Trying to understand people with very strong accents.
  • Singing in front of others (a particularly challenging one, for someone who has chosen music therapy as a career!).
  • Having groups of people come into my home.

Again, there are other examples I could share.  But the simple act of admitting to myself that these situations make me anxious, has increased my ability to deal with them.  In doing so, I am acknowledging and validating my own feelings.  It is the difference between telling myself, “I feel fear, and that is ok,” versus “What is wrong with me??  I suck.”  (A pretty big difference, right?)

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Strategies to Cope

Yes, I’m socially anxious.  And if I own up to it, I can make a plan of how to survive the situation.  I can take a deep breath and say, “It’s ok.  I’m ok.”  I can develop thought patterns that prepare me to interact in a more relaxed way.  For example, I have come to think of other people as my “brothers and sisters.”  Not only is this biblically accurate, but it postures me to converse in a comfortable, familiar, and kind way, because I’m thinking of them as my siblings!

Other strategies that I have used include thinking ahead about things to say, or questions to ask a person, in case a conversation grows stagnant.  Allowing myself to become curious about another person is a great way to think of discussion topics.

When a get-together is planned at my house, I prepare as much food as I can in advance, and my husband helps with cooking on the day of, so I have less to think about while entertaining guests.

And perhaps, the most powerful step that I have taken to deal with my social anxiety, is striving to accept myself for who I am.  There are entire books that could be written on this topic (and probably have been), but for myself I will simply affirm: I am who I am, and who I am is perfectly fine.  One of the first times that I felt the Holy Spirit speak clearly to me, do you know what He said?

He said, “It’s ok to be you.”

Obviously, this was (and is) something that I needed to get into my bones.  Because my fears do not stem from disdain for others, or for being with them.  To the contrary!  I, like any other human being, long for genuine connections with others.  My fears are based in a (faulty, nagging, festering) belief that I will fall short.  That I will be found, sorely, lacking.

And whatever coping strategies I may learn, or use – it is only a restorative work of God, in the deepest part of my soul, that will ultimately bring me healing.

What kind of social situations, if any, cause you anxiety?  What’s your earliest memory of this?  Do you have pointers to share on how to cope?  I would love to hear your ideas in the comments section below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Faith, Mental health

Forced to Look

I got a haircut last week, for the first time in about 9 months.  Usually, I wear my hair long and wavy.  Or, more precisely, tied back in some version of a classic housewife-style ponytail or bun.

This time, I was up for a change.  Here is the picture I showed my stylist:

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The model’s waves, I thought, are similar to mine, so maybe this style would work for me.

The hairdresser gave it a quick look and proceeded with the cut.  She decided to straighten my hair prior to cutting it, to make sure she got it even on both sides.  And she cut it a little shorter in the front than in the picture I had showed her.  So, although I got a nice cut, rather than looking like the model above, I left the salon looking more like the aged Mandy Moore on “This is Us.”

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The next morning, after seeing the new ‘do for the first time, my nine year-old told me I looked “kind of like Grandma.”

Now, I believe that my mother has beautiful features, but that’s not exactly what I was going for.

It all reminded me of what a seasoned hairdresser once told me.  She said that she had often endured being sworn at or abused by customers.  I was shocked, and asked her why.

“People are so broken,” she explained, “they hate themselves so much, and have so much pain, and they want me to fix them.  To make them feel better about themselves.  But I can’t.  Only God can do that.”

This isn’t the first time I’ve gotten a haircut and felt a little disappointed that I didn’t come out looking more like the model in the picture.  And if you’ve experienced this too – (be honest…I think many of us women have) – you will know that the pain it uncovers is extremely real.  It’s more than just shallow vanity.  This is a deep-cutting, heart-rending kind of pain, that has less to do with our hair than it does with something that runs far, far deeper.

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James, the half-brother of Jesus, wrote in what became a part of our Bible (James 1:22-24) about a person who looks at himself in a mirror, goes away, and then immediately forgets what he looks like.  He is using this metaphor to describe a person who reads the law, but doesn’t remember it or follow it.  I think I get what he’s saying.  If you are one to study the Bible, you will understand that it can be like a mirror – revealing who you truly are.  And that, truthfully, can be uncomfortable, just like coming to terms with your reflection in a physical mirror.

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

Hebrews 4:12‭-‬13 NIV

How many times have you looked in the mirror, but not really looked?  I don’t always want to see that latest pimple (yes, I still get them), crease, or grey hair.  I don’t want to accept that my skin has loosened and softened after the birth of my children, or that I have a few more inches sticking to me here or there.

It’s easier to take a quick glance, just long enough to sweep my hair back, give my face a quick wash, and then go on my way.  Maybe, in my mind, I look like Jessica Alba.  Or Charlize Theron.

But the truth is, I don’t.  I’m not a model, or an actress.  And in the process of fixating on what I’m not, I may walk away from the mirror and forget all of the things that I am.  

I am: a wife and mother, who often messes up, but is working hard to do what’s right.  I am: no longer a youth; no longer a woman in her 20’s.  I am: a woman in her mid-30s who has learned a few things, and also has a lot left to learn.  I am: able to make sacrifices and put the needs and wants of others ahead of my own.  I am: endowed with a limited measure of intelligence, creativity, and abilities, that I can use to improve the lives of those around me.  I am: looking more like my older sister and my mother as I age.  I am: dependant on Jesus for strength, guidance, acceptance, and forgiveness, every single day.

I am who I am, and no, I don’t need to look in the mirror only to look quickly away, because my reflection doesn’t comply with some fleeting combination of features and qualities that I wish I had.

And so, although I dislike posting pictures of myself online, here I am with my new haircut.  (For the record, I never said make-up and soft-focus lenses were out of bounds!) 😉

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I don’t look like the model I showed the stylist, or the aged Mandy Moore, or Jessica or Charlize or even the lizard I used as the featured image for this post.  I look like me.  No hairstylist, however talented, will ever be able to change that.  And that is actually ok.

Do you need a haircut?  How do you like to wear your hair?  Do you have any “I am” statements to make?  I would love to hear about it in the comments section below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Mental health

An Imposed Simplicity

As COVID-19 has reached my home province of Manitoba, there have been some dramatic changes.  Organizations and lifestyles are being whittled down to their most essential parts.  I’ve been hearing the reactions to what is happening, and many are mourning the loss of events and socialization opportunities.  People are worried about mental health – depression and anxiety, for example.

I feel like a bit of an oddball in all of this.  I do worry about the normal things – health risks, the economic toll, poverty, etc.  But as far as things being cancelled?  I feel like my mental health is better than it was before.  I’m sure the feeling of loss will kick in eventually…but, it hasn’t yet.

Before the pandemic, my children and I were committed to a variety of activities through school, preschool, church, and family.  Admittedly, I often involved us in these things out of a sense of duty.  We should participate in community.  We should volunteer and serve.  We should fellowship in groups.  My children should spend lots of time around other kids.  We should be physically active.  We should work hard.  We should always be learning – academically, and otherwise.  We should go on family vacations.  

We should, we should, we should.

I would write it all on my calendar, and then feel like crawling into a hole.  I would wake up in the morning, and want nothing more than to rest, because I am always tired.  I would drag myself from place to place.  These events were not feeding me, they were draining me.

I suppose, I’ve been putting too much pressure on myself, and on my family.

Do we really need so many programs, events, and commitments?

Perhaps this is a stretch, but it’s gotten me thinking about the tower of Babel.  Building, and building, trying to reach Heaven.  Striving for that ideal lifestyle.  Covering the bases.  Doing it all.

Look at this building.  Look at this program.  Look at our creativity!  Our ingenuity!  Our abilities!  Our wealth!  Just watch as we go, go, go!

It doesn’t take much to scramble us all up, does it?  A few days, a few weeks, and we’re ground to a halt, forced to re-examine our priorities.

In my life I’ve felt a great deal of stress about things like: finding the ideal job, having a certain kind of home, or getting my kids involved in the right extra-curricular activities.

I bet people who are recently laid off would be happy for nearly any job – not just the one that ticks all the boxes on their wish list.  People struggling to pay their mortgage or rent would be pleased to have a roof over their head that they can afford, even if it isn’t a dream home.  And as a parent maybe I need to realize that “extra-curricular” means just that – EXTRA, as in, non-essential.  And perhaps, at times, unnecessary.

I’m not saying that fellowship, education, and organized activities are bad things.  To the contrary.  They are privileges, and I am grateful for them.  However, I am noticing – in my life, anyway – there is relief in trimming away some of the excess.

Has your life become simpler lately, or more complicated?  Are you experiencing stress, relief, or both?  I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Faith, Mental health

Why You May Feel Sad at Christmas (Part 2)

In part 1 of this post, I shared about the emotional struggles that I sometimes experience at Christmas time.  I identified two possible reasons why this may happen, and gave suggestions of how to cope.  To read it you may click this link:

Why You May Feel Sad at Christmas (Part 1)

Today, I will discuss three more reasons why a person may feel sad at Christmas, along with possible coping strategies.  Perhaps you will be able to identify with some of these ideas.

3. Changes over time create feelings of loss.

As people grow older, the dynamics of a family change dramatically. There are marriages, addition of children, and deaths.  Someone in the family may have grown ill.  Perhaps people have moved away, or choose not to be involved with the family any more.  Children may have left the nest.  Divorces may have occurred.  Parents may have grown old and are unable to host gatherings in their home, so alternate arrangements have to be made.  The home you grew up in may have been sold.  Maybe you used to always get together on Christmas Day, or always had brunch, or always gave each other gifts, and for some reason this cannot happen anymore.  All of these changes over time, normal as they may be, can create feelings of loss.  Christmas just isn’t the way it used to be…and that hurts.

I would suggest that you acknowledge the loss, and give yourself permission to mourn it if needed.  You may want to read this post, which discusses how the passage of time can lead to emotional pain.

Keep those old, good memories locked away somewhere, and treasure them.  You could reminisce by looking at photos or videos of past Christmases, or putting a scrapbook together to preserve them.  If someone you love has passed on, how may you cherish their memory?  Perhaps you could make a donation in their name.  Or create or purchase an ornament to place on the Christmas tree in their honor.

And finally, don’t let your grief blind you to the good things happening in the present.  Some time in the future, today’s Christmas may become the ‘good old days’ for you or your children.  Love your people while they’re here, as best as you possibly can.

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4. Expectations and hopes may lead to feelings of overwhelm.

The holidays have been romanticized to a level of perfection that is usually unreachable.  This is very easy to be drawn into, even if you strive to keep things simple.  There is so much build-up to the various events and trimmings of Christmas and New Year’s: the baking, the cooking, the gifts, the tree, the decorations, the parties, the gatherings, the sparkling eyes of children, and the thrill of romantic relationships.  In Christmas movies and jewellery commercials, each detail comes together with absolute perfection. However, this is not an expectation that is healthy to bring into real life.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, is there something you can cut from your schedule?  Although I love Christmas baking, there have been some years when I haven’t done any of it, and just bought chocolates instead.  Last year, for Christmas Day dinner, my family and I had taco salad.  We all enjoyed it, and nobody had to stress or slave in the kitchen.

If your gift-buying budget is small, perhaps you can cut a few people from your list.  Siblings?  Nieces and nephews?  Your child’s teachers?  Do they all need gifts?  Would a simple card suffice?  If appropriate, you may want to inform them in advance of any changes: “I’m feeling overwhelmed with Christmas preparations, and our finances are strained.  I won’t be able to buy a gift for you this year.”

Thankfully, I think that children in particular can be satisfied with very little.  They usually don’t need the largest or most expensive gifts to be pleased on Christmas morning.  We’ve cut back on what we spend on our kids, and I don’t expect them to be any less happy because of it.

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5. The holidays can be physically draining.

The children are home from school, so the house is busier.  You may be travelling long distances, or staying away from home.  Get-togethers with friends and family go on for many hours, and you go to bed later.  You have additional responsibilities such as shopping for and wrapping gifts, cleaning, decorating, hosting, cooking, and baking. Depending on where you live, it may be colder and darker outside, like it is where I am.  If so, you may not get much fresh air, sunshine, or exercise.  You may consume more sweets, junk food, and alcoholic beverages than usual, while not having time for your usual self-care routines. These things, taken together, impact your physical well-being and increase your tiredness, which can significantly impact your mood.

Perhaps this is a simplified answer, but a good sleep can do wonders.  If you get a chance to grab an early bedtime, or an occasional nap, go for it!

Regarding exercise – I have found that the most difficult part of getting active, or bundling up and going outside, is getting started.  But when I do, I feel physically better for the entire day!  If the weather is nice, I may take my kids tobogganing or skating.  If I’m just too wimpy to brave the cold, I enjoy about 30 minutes of brisk walking on our treadmill.  Do what works for you, and reap the benefits!

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My little snowman.  We had our winter’s first taste of Arctic air this week.  Crisp!

And since it is potluck season, remember that healthy foods are welcome additions to table spreads that usually contain an overabundance of fatty, sugary, carbohydrate-laden foods.  Bring a tray of fruit or vegetables, and watch it be devoured!  Maybe you’ll even eat some of it yourself.

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This list, of course, is not comprehensive.  But if you are struggling emotionally, I believe there is great value in acknowledging that fact, identifying what the causes may be, and taking whatever steps you can to address them.  Even when you do these things, however, the holidays may still be stressful and difficult!  All we can do is our best, as we try to focus on the blessings in our lives.

I pray that God will give you peace this season, and infuse Christmas with the kind of meaning that circumstances and emotions cannot deplete!

With the warmest of wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Faith, Mental health

Why You May Feel Sad at Christmas (Part 1)

Before heading home from a family gathering, you take a drive with your husband and kids to look at Christmas lights.  Everything’s going fine.  Suddenly, however, you are flooded with intense feelings of sadness that catch you off-guard.  You stare out your window (supposedly engrossed by the beautiful views) and hope that no one notices the flood of tears coming down your cheeks.

It’s New Year’s Eve.  The kids are in bed, and it’ll be a low-key night for you and your spouse.  Snacks from the leftovers in the fridge, maybe a glass of wine, and fireworks on the TV – if you can stay up late enough to catch them.  But for some reason, you’re having a hard time keeping yourself together.  Every 20 minutes or so, you nonchalantly retreat to the bedroom.  There you lay on the bed, cry quietly until it’s out of your system, and return to the living room…hoping your spouse doesn’t see the red rims around your eyes.

Either of these scenarios sound familiar?  They do to me, because they are personal examples!

Many people feel sad, or depressed, during the winter months.  The holidays may be an especially challenging time.  The impression I get from what I read and hear on the topic, however, is that people who have recently lost a family member or undergone a traumatic event, or who are clinically diagnosed with depression, are most prone to struggling.

I’m sure that’s true.  However, I don’t really fit any of those categories – and yet, I struggle.  Maybe you, like me, have a pretty good life.  And yet, Christmas rolls around, and it’s just hard.  Overwhelming emotions blindside you.  Or your energy is totally zapped, and you can hardly accomplish a thing.  There may be many reasons for this, as every person and situation is unique.  However, I have compiled a list of 5 possible causes, and suggestions of how to cope.  Perhaps you will be able to identify with some of these ideas.  (I will address the first 2 points today, and will share the remaining 3 next Friday.)

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1. Buried or hidden memories and feelings are brought to the surface.

The holidays are a naturally reflective time.  Another year is ending, and we may find ourselves re-living strong emotions, or dwelling on memories of past events.  To top it off, we are surrounded by music, movies, and messages that are designed to tap into tender feelings.  Music, in particular, is proven to be strongly linked to memories.  Christmas songs that you hear every year may carry you back to your past in a powerful way.  This is sometimes uplifting, but it can also be painful.

As feelings or memories are elicited, it is usually healthier to deal with and process them directly, rather than dismiss or avoid them.  My favorite way of doing this is through prayer.  The Spirit of Jesus is always present to help me carry my emotional burdens; He has never failed me – not one single time.

Some people may find it helpful to talk things through with a trusted person or counsellor.  Others may prefer to write it out in a journal, or express what they are feeling through some other creative medium.

And let us not underestimate the power of a good sense of humour, to balance all of the emotive, wistful stuff.  Is there someone who can always make you laugh?  Spend time with them (my husband is great for this).  Or put away the tear-jerkers for a while, and watch a funny movie (“Christmas with the Kranks,” anyone?).

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2. Holidays bring us into the presence of family members.

Family members bless us and give us a sense of belonging, so there may be joy in seeing them again.  However, if you struggle with an unhealthy level of comparison, you may feel less satisfied with your life after seeing siblings or cousins who seem happier, better off, or more successful than you in some way.

Also, if your relationships with family members are not healthy, family gatherings can elicit negative feelings such as anger, sadness, or anxiety.  If there is so much division that you do not see your family members anymore, Christmas is a time when you will likely be reminded of this fact.

There aren’t really any short-cuts to dealing with weighty issues such as these.  However, on the topic of comparisons, gratitude and thankfulness – focusing on the things in your life that are going well and that you are thankful for – can be helpful.  Remember that you, and your spouse and kids, are uniquely and wonderfully made.  Your lives will not be the same as your siblings’ lives.  And that is totally ok.

Even when you are going through struggles that the rest of your family doesn’t understand or appreciate, remember that God sees you.  His purpose is to work good from the trial that you are experiencing.

Regarding difficult relationships, you may find it helpful to learn about healthy boundaries.  Boundary issues may be at the root of a whole host of problems.  Click here for my past post on relational boundaries, and a suggestion of a book to read on the topic.

Otherwise, if you can think of a kind, appropriate, reasonable gesture to extend to your family members, go ahead and do it.  (Without the expectation of receiving anything in return.)  A simple greeting card?  A short phone call, email, or hand-written note?  A small gift or helpful act?  Try not to worry about the spirit in which they receive it – only the spirit in which it is given.  If possible, spread your love in some small way, as difficult as the circumstances may be.  Even if the person doesn’t receive it well, you will know that you are trying to do the right thing.

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How about you?  Do you experience difficult feelings during the holidays?  What do you think is behind them?  How do you cope?  I would love to hear your ideas in the comments section below.

And I look forward to touching base again next Friday, when I will discuss 3 more possible causes for sadness at Christmas time.

Until then…Warm wishes!

Lisa

Posted in Mental health, Parenting

Moms are People Too!

Recently, I took a break from household and childminding duties to watch an educational video about music therapy.  It felt like a breath of fresh air.  Not because of any ground-breaking content, but because it had been so long since I was in my ‘element.’  So long since I had heard someone speaking my language – talking about the area I had studied and worked in.  I felt a scholarly and professional comradery with the video-taped members of the audience, despite my vast removal from them, as a stay-at-home-mom who no longer works in that field.

After watching the speech and taking notes on it, I felt as though something had come alive in me again.  Something I had been ignoring.  But why had I neglected that part of myself for so long?

Having unique interests, and allowing yourself time and freedom to explore them, is a part of what it means to have healthy personal boundaries.  A person with healthy boundaries will also:

  • Have their own opinions, without fearing what others will think – and will respect the rights of others to do the same.
  • Have a unique identity (sense of self) that is not consumed by any one particular role, or person.
  • Know that their value is innate, and not dictated by what they do or how other people view them.
  • See their personality as valid and overall good, rather than berating themselves (for being too shy and quiet, perhaps; or, too loud and exhuberant).  They will also enjoy and respect the personalities of other people.
  • Be aware of their own feelings, and take personal responsibility for them.  (See this post.)

In short, a person with healthy boundaries will respect him or herself, and also be respectful of others.

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Cultivating a healthy sense of personal boundaries is a skill that does not come naturally to everyone.  Perhaps you grew up in an enmeshed family, where these unique aspects of who you are were not nurtured.  Instead, you were expected to change or hide them in order to please other members of the family.

If this is the case, the same tendencies may continue into adulthood.  For moms of young children (a role that can be all-consuming), the topic of personal boundaries may be of particular importance.  I’ve heard moms say that they have forgotten who they are.  I would tend to identify with this statement.  Our responsibility to love and care for our children is essential for their well-being.  However, it is better (for ourselves and our children) that we also retain some sense of self, apart from being moms.  In this way, we will avoid using our kids to meet our own emotional needs.  We will also show them the example of a parent who enjoys her life, is able to care about others, and makes unique and positive contributions within the family and beyond.  That is an example I would like my kids to follow!

We’re allowed to have individual interests and opinions.  We’re allowed to say ‘no,’ and ‘stop.’  We can be ourselves: our personalities are valid and acceptable just as they are.  We each have failings but are not condemned by them, because we can receive forgiveness and are able to grow in character.

To develop this in my own life, I am becoming more aware of my wants, likes, and dislikes.  I even express them verbally from time to time.  I’m trying to be ok with standing in a crowd.  (Even if I feel awkward or funny looking.)  I’m researching educational and career options within the realities of my life.  I’m trying not to berate myself for the things I cannot do.  Rather, I am focusing on the things I do well.

For whatever reason, God wanted one of me.  So here I am.

What have you lost yourself in?  If you are a mom, how do you retain your sense of identity?  I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

Note:  If you are interested in learning more about personal and relational boundaries, I would recommend consulting the book “Boundaries” by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend.  It is the source of much of what I have learned on the topic.

Warm wishes,

Lisa