I don’t feel like working out. I haven’t felt like doing much lately. I’ve been sick and though I am on the mend, I am still tired. Really tired. Trying to listen to your body is difficult when your mind is against it. What do I mean? Well, our bodies naturally communicate with us for what it needs. Hunger cues, pain, sweat, tears, are all things that tell us something about what our body needs. Fatigue and sickness are also ways of telling us to slow down, take a break, rest. But when you have had body image issues, your mind “intercepts” your brain, thoughts fight with the “you’re hungry, you need to eat” signals and “you’re sick, you need to rest” cues. So, back and forth, the body fights with the mind. Specifically, my body is fighting with my mind to be healthy, to get healthy, to stay healthy.

Honestly, for years I thought I was past this. I didn’t have this battle every day. I just went about my business. I worked out, I worked, I took care of my family. I wore the badge of “recovery,” mentored others, blogged, and counseled, and shared my experience. And maybe that was all true. I hope so. I truly felt healed, better, recovered.

But here is what I am coming to understand. It was easy for me to practice positive thinking, stay in my recovery mindset, and share my story, when my weight didn’t change, when I didn’t struggle with other health issues, when the stresses of life, for the most part, stayed manageable. But as I am aging, my health needs change, and as my weight changes (ahem, I have gained weight- a lot), it gets harder. When my stomach hurts, when I can’t run as fast or as often as I used to, when I see a double chin or a roll on my tummy, it’s harder to “walk the walk” in recovery.

It gets harder to do the next right thing.

It is hard to say,

you are more than your body

you deserve rest

you are worthy of love

it’s ok to not workout

It’s ok to not workout two days in a row

you are not a failure

you are beautiful

but even if you weren’t

that’s ok too.

So in the midst of making difficult decisions with my mom about her care, dealing with COVID and 2020 (2021 *eye roll), and all of the challenges that it brings, I still am fighting this battle too. But I have hope. This is a season. A difficult one. But seasons change. The ones we love and the ones we hate. Just like I won’t give up on caring for my mom, helping my husband as he recovers from sickness, and loving my children well, I will not give up on myself.

Ok, before we dive into today’s subject, I need to warn you. I am sharing a part of my story that is really personal, I’ve never openly talked about, and it involves details about my life-long struggle with IBS and how it has affected my physical and mental health, probably contributed to my eating disorder, and what I am doing now to work toward healing. So, if that makes you, well, sick to your stomach to think about, it’s ok to skip this. But, if you have struggled with pain that no one seems to understand, if you have days where you can’t seem to stand being in your own skin or looking at yourself in the mirror, and if you are tired of asking for help and not getting it, then I hope you’ll read this and find encouragement and hope.

Every day, for the past 15+ years, I perform a morning and evening ritual that involves taking prescription medication, over-the-counter pills, and drinking tea all to make going to the bathroom possible. Yes, I know that is really personal, but I warned you. I promise not to go into too much more detail, but suffice it to say, between my childhood allergies, which I have outgrown but left me with some horrible memories of stomach pain and my chronic IBS-C, finding a way to keep my stomach from hurting, from being bed-ridden from painful bloating and distension, has been a decades-long process. And before you dm me about the quick fix drink or supplement. I have been there, done all the things…again. It’s been decades…I’ve tried it all.

So, for years, I have done what “works,” or at least it used to. What I started as a way to help me live pain-free turned into something that not only causes me pain, but it has also turned into something much worse. My focus has slowly switched from being about being pain-free to being in control. Now that I think about it, I am not surprised. One of the things that makes me stay on track with my fitness and personal goals is my ability to stick to a routine, but sometimes the routines can become more like an obsession or a ritual. I had become addicted to the routine, the ritual and had stopped paying attention to how much control I had actually lost. The ritual was controlling me. Of course, I sometimes get fed up with the daily regimen, how I have to plan everything out, be sure to have everything I need, the pain that all of the medication causes, and yes, having to always be close to a bathroom. The problem is that without the medications, I may stop having these problems, but then my other IBS symptoms come back. I have been stuck here for over a decade. Not knowing what to do. Not getting any help from doctors other than more medications.

But I’m tired of doing things just because it’s the way I’ve always done it, especially when whatever that thing is doesn’t actually work. This is true for my physical health, my emotional health, and my relational health. Also, if something is “working” but in the process is breaking other things. That is a no-go too. So, recently, I starting working with a whole team of doctors and medical professionals that are dedicated to helping me break free from habits that no longer work. YEAH!!! Sounds awesome doesn’t it?!

Ok, so here’s where the scary part comes in. My new gastrointerologist listened to my whole story, how I have struggled since childhood with stomach issues and how I created this daily ritual to stop them but, instead, have just created more. She didn’t dismiss my concerns or act like what is currently happening is just part of the deal. And then she told me to change the routine. Not everything, but enough to where I was going to have to give up something I’ve been doing for over a decade. I had to trust her, and trust my body which, as someone who has struggled with this off and on for years, is not a simple thing. It is like jumping off a cliff. I had to ask myself if I was really serious about getting better, about healing, about recovering. I had to ask if I was ready to release total control and try something unknown.

So, I did it. Whether or not I can last, if I can continue to slowly adapt and change to a more healthy way of taking care of my body, that remains to be seen. But I am still here, right now, doing things that I am afraid to do believing that sometimes facing the fear of the unknown is better than the continuing the failure of the known.

When I was seeing a dietician for my eating disorder, we often talked about Intuitive Eating, a concept outlined in the book Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works by  Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole. We read the book together and worked on helping me become more intuitive and less tied to my strict routines and rituals surrounding food. When I was really focused on doing the work of learning to listen to my body, intuitive eating worked for me. But over the years, something began to happen. My intuitive eating became less “intuitive” and more mindless. My default switch went back to the “routine” and “ritual” of eating. I would mindlessly eat, whether I felt hungry or not. I was checking out. I had solved the “not eating” problem but was still not listening to my body. I was just going through the motions. A few years ago, I sought to once again become more mindful with my eating. My IBS was out of control and I was constantly in pain. Still well in the “normal weight range,” whatever that means, many of my doctors did not see the problem, but I knew there was one. I knew I was becoming disassociated from feeling and listening to my body’s needs. Often not eating enough or eating “on a schedule” just because, not because I was hungry.

So, I worked with another “way of eating” that temporarily had me focus on my foods, the choosing of them, the cooking of them, and the eating of them. This was kind of scary for me, but I found much peace in spending time creating meals, trying new recipes, and turning off distractions during meal times to savor every bite. This seemed to do the trick for me and put me back in touch with experiencing food in a way that was healthy for my body and mind. I ate foods that did not cause me to hurt physically and focused on foods that gave my body fuel. I had arrived, I thought.

But lately, I have noticed something. This “mindful eating” has become a ritual and a routine for me. While I do think that having a healthy routine around how and what we eat is important, for someone in recovery, the routine itself can turn into something like an obsession. What at first was a way for me to figure out what foods were causing my body pain has now become something that causes anxiety when faced with the prospect of not having “the right foods.” This concerns me because “the right foods” sounds a lot like “safe foods,” a term I used when in counseling for my eating disorder.

I am working through this right now. How do I, on the one hand, listen to what my body is telling me about what foods are harmful to it and, on the other hand, not get stuck or become anxious when I can’t be in complete control over “the menu”? How do I have a healthy routine without turning it into an obsessive habit?

The further along I get in my recovery and the older my children get I also see the impact of the choices I make on them. What am I teaching my children about food, healthy habits vs obsessive behaviors?

I believe that freedom, whether it be food freedom or freedom from obsessive or ritualistic behaviors, is possible, but that doesn’t mean that we can just stop thinking about our bodies or our food. Part of healing is the journey of learning this balance.

There’s a saying that goes, “We are only as sick as our secrets.” So, in an effort to live a healthy life both physically and emotionally, I’m coming clean. There’s an ugly secret about caregiving, at least for me, though I imagine, I hope, I am not alone. As grateful as I am for the privilege of caring for my mother, I get frustrated.

I get frustrated with my mom’s diseases and conditions. I get frustrated with insurance companies making health decisions for my mom and the never-ending paperwork to keep her covered, treated, and medicated appropriately. I even get frustrated with my mom. There, I said it. Now, before you freak out, let me assure you, she gets frustrated with me too. We are two imperfect humans who get tired, cranky, and sometimes say hurtful things. (I’ve been told I can be quite dramatic and sarcastic, so that doesn’t always help either:)

But instead of pretending that I never get frustrated, or angry, or tired, or annoyed, I accept that this is the case, but I also know that I can either hold on to that frustration or I can release it and reach for something else, something better.

silhouette of friends looking at sunset, arms raised, making hearts with hands

There’s a post that went viral on Facebook in 2019 and has since been floating around on the interwebs and was the topic of many blog posts. It was a quote from Nakita Valerio that said, “Shouting “self-care” at people who actually need “community care” is how we fail people.”

Even though I make a living working in social media and spend a lot of time thinking about both self-care and care of others, I only recently saw this quote and it resonated with me. Knowing nothing about the circumstances from which this quote arose, I placed it in my own context. One of the things I have learned this week (or maybe was reminded of this week) is that though doing things and creating habits to support my own physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental well-being, trying to do this all on my own will only get me so far. We are made to be connected and relational beings, in community with others. We are meant to share our experiences, partly so we can know that we are not alone but also so because we are made to journey together, to learn together, and to encourage each other along the way.

This week, I let people know not just that I needed help, but what that help was. I asked for time off from work, I asked for others to give more support to my mom so I could focus on my family, I found a social worker to help me create new strategies and tools to cope with my ongoing and stressful circumstances. I want to be the person that does it all, but even self-care is not a solitary endeavor. As they say, it takes a village. But the village won’t know how to help unless we tell them.

So that’s how I interpreted this quote, but in doing research, I found out that Valerio was speaking about something different. She was speaking up about the reasons that self-care is difficult, if not impossible in some cases, for women of color who are often caring for parents, children, and working. And though I too am in the sandwich of caring for kids and mother, I have many advantages that others do not. I can take time away from work and it not affect my family’s day-to-day. I can attend yoga classes, practice meditation in my quiet yoga room inside my home, I can buy the organic foods and grass-fed beef, even if they are not on sale this week. Still, at the end of the day, I need the support of my community to care for myself. Just like everyone else.

My support needs may look different than yours, but we are the same in needing one another. We are not alone. We are all in need of wholeness and wellness. We are all worthy of it. My hope is that I can be a part of or even help create a community of care. One that cares for one another and supports endeavors of self-care and wellness. What if we committed to being for one another, committed to coming together for the common goal of caring; giving care to our community and ourselves?

Last weekend, I hit a wall. The combination of the pandemic stress, my mom’s increasing needs, and my own struggle to keep connected with my children and husband in the midst of our busy and strained schedules, collided into me like a train, and I was knocked completely over. My fatigue, which is always looming, enveloped me. I was down and wanted to stay there…and sleep. The anxiety, which comes and goes with the daily uncertainties of life, parenting, and caregiving, welled up inside me until I could no longer contain it. More than just that overwhelmed feeling that I sometimes get that abates with some yoga or a good night’s sleep, this was a pervasive, full-body reaction to what I have been trying to just “get through” for the last several months. I burned out.

Days later, with a couple of good night’s sleep and some perspective, I am still burned out. I recognize that I have been allowing my circumstances, which I cannot always control, have begun to control me. I have been here before. Tossed by the changing winds of my circumstances, the mood pendulum going to extremes as I grasp for a sense of control, or really, if I am honest, stillness. I just want the crazy to stop. I want certainty. I want a plan. I want an easy button. And, I want someone to take care of me.

When you are called to care for others, parents, children, friends, students, clients, it is easy to forget that you are a person too. And, when we are so invested in the care of others, it is easy to be burned out on caring for ourselves. At the end of the day, there is nothing left. Honestly, sometimes there’s nothing left by 3pm.

But here’s the thing. When we put caring for ourselves first, we have more to give…others and the world in which we live. So, this week, I decided to place myself at the top of my list. Sure, I cannot stop caring for my kids or my mom, but there are many other things I can move off my plate. So I did. I took some time off work so that I could go see my doctors, spend more time in prayer and in journaling, and I scheduled an appointment with a counselor. Why? Because, self-care needs to happen even when I am working, even when I have a lot on my plate, I can’t control my outward circumstances. Self-care needs to happen BECAUSE of all of these things.

Another thing I am going to do is ask for the care I need from my family. I tend to shut down and pretend I can do it all, “I’m fine,” I say. But I am not fine and those around me won’t know it unless I am honest. Learning to speak up for myself is probably the hardest thing I will do this week, but I will still do it. Taking care of myself and asking for others to help me is the key to moving toward healing, wholeness, and a healthy mindset to sustain me.

In what areas of caring for yourself do you need to ask for help? Who can you ask to support and encourage you? I am here to cheer you on in your quest to take care of yourself so that you can live a full and caring life with others. You are not alone!

Recently, I was told that I am a great encourager. I immediately smiled because, for me, this is the best encouragement of all. More and more, as I journey to discover what my purpose is, my gifts are, and where those gifts are best placed, I often come back to the idea of encouraging others. In the process of lifting others up, listening to their struggles, and, when asked, offering suggestions or ideas for growth, I feel the most at home in myself. This is who I am meant to be–the champion of the lonely, unheard, and unseen. The motivator of the stuck, the uncertain, the guide for someone on beginning a journey similar to ones I have walked.

Encouragement for others can also serve as a way to encourage ourselves. When we speak into the fears and doubts and uncertainties of those around us, we begin to hear these same words toward our own doubts, fears, and uncertainties. We can learn to be encouraging to ourselves by encouraging others. We can learn to care for ourselves by caring for others. Often we see our own struggles in the lives of others before we recognize them in our own lives, but something compels us to act, to speak into, to encourage.

Cheering other people along their own journeys of health, spirituality, or recovery, reminds me that I am not alone in my own similar journeys. I am learning that you don’t have to have it all figured out to encourage, support, and share insights with others. Sometimes it’s helpful to be a little further along in the journey, but that is not a requirement either. It just takes a willingness to be honest and open about your own journey and what you are learning through the process.

I am not the perfect parent, caregiver, wife, mentor, or friend, but I can be an encouraging one. And you can too!

Want to learn more about how encouraging others can be part of how you care for yourself? Sign up to get more encouraging posts like this with ideas and stories to inspire you!

graphic of male wrist with a smart watch with an overlay text

Recently I posted an image on my Instagram that got a lot of traction. In part, it said, “I don’t know who needs to hear this, but you don’t need to close your rings every day. You know your body better than your watch does, listen to it. Sure, it is rewarding to see progress, to get the rewards, but let us not be fooled into ignoring the deeper needs of our body, our mind, and our spirit. There is work to be done every day, and much of it is not measured by watches.

I know this to be true because I have done this before. After I had my kids, I was determined to get the weight off. The articles I read, the conversations I had with other moms, and the remarks I received when I began to lose the weight only reinforced the validity of my goals. I started a rigorous exercise routine as well as eating routine. I also began to keep track of the numbers. Every article told me where to cut calories in my foods or burn more calories at the gym. I pushed more into focus on food labels and the exercise equipment calorie count. But that wasn’t the only number that I honed in on. The number on the scale was my daily measure of “good” or “bad.” A good day was calories in were less than calories out. The more significant the difference between these two numbers, the “better” I was. And the number on the scale? Well, I had a goal of achieving my postpartum weight, but once I saw that number on the scale, I began to fear losing it. I began to “hedge my bet,” so to speak, and try to creep that number below the goal, “just in case” I gained a few.

Eventually, the number on the scale and the calories in was never low enough. The calories burned were never enough. This frantic mindset is something I worked really hard to break free of for the past 14 years. I have worked hard to re-focus my fitness goals on practical goals that support life-long health and nutrition. It has become more about healing and fueling, not reward and punishment.

And yet, those rings. If I am not careful, I can let those rings pull me back to that frantic headspace, doing just one more thing to close the loop. Even if it doesn’t make sense in my day. Unfortunately, there are no rings for spending time caring for my mom, writing a blog post, or talking with my friends and family. There are no rings for self-care (other than exercise). I don’t get “points” for these things, but the point of the training is to live, love, and be a part of the human race, community, and world.

So remember, goals are great, and we need them. But your watch, your fitness app, even your Bible app, does not determine your worth. Don’t let the gamifying of goal-setting get you stuck thinking you aren’t doing a good enough job at being you.

A dear friend once gave me some wisdom that I hope will encourage you in your day-to-day journey toward health or other goals.

“If you can put your head on your pillow at the end of the day and say, ‘I did my best for today,’ then you’ve succeeded.”

Your best today may not be the same as yesterday or tomorrow, but it still counts. You don’t have to take all the steps, just the next right step. You’ve got this!

Young girl, sitting on swing, early 1980's

I grew up as one of my mom’s caregivers. As her only child, I feel a special connection to her. For a few years between when she and my father got divorced and married my step-father before she got sick, it was just the two of us. Though my general impression of that time is positive, and I have a few specific fond memories, most of my childhood memories are of life post-diagnosis.

When she came home from the hospital, our existence went from the two of us to four: my mom, my new step-dad, me, and her illness. We were learning how to deal with each other and life in what was to become our new normal.

At the time, I did my best to be a good daughter. I eagerly tended to my mom, helping with her medications, prepared meals, and helped around the house (as much as one does at age 8). It was fun for a time. I was “playing house.” But eventually, the newness wore off, and things got more complicated. The stress of living with mom’s illness and her changing abilities affected us all, and it showed.

This stress manifested itself in several ways. It slowly sunk into my understanding that mom was sick, but not the kind of sick where she would “get better” in the way I had only known before her diagnosis. Though not a conscious decision on my part, I began to try to control what I could. In my child’s interpretation of my mom’s disease, I knew that any stress could worsen her. So, I rationalized that making good grades, not getting in trouble at school, and NEVER breaking the rules would help her stay out of the hospital.

Sounds great, right? Except that what started as a good intention, turned into a perfectionist and people-pleasing mindset. I became unable to speak up for myself. I developed a fear of confrontation and continued to struggle with expressing my feelings. (I was known as a bit of a crybaby. Even in high school, some people called me “spilled milk.”)

This way of coping became the “new normal” for me and something that, as I continued to experience more and more complex circumstances in life, I retreated to for comfort. Perfection and people-pleasing were the way I learned to “control” things around me. (Spoiler alert: it didn’t work:)

As an adult, my caregiving continues. Thankfully, mom is still here, fighting every moment. But as I have matured, faced crises, developed new relationships, including getting married and having children, I have had to learn a different “new normal.” One that wasn’t about what others thought or how my mom would react. I needed to learn how to cope with my mom’s illness, with life’s curveballs and stressful circumstances, in a way that WOULD work.

Healthy coping skills were not the norm for me, and learning a new normal of self-care has taken decades. And honestly, I’m still a work in progress, but that’s been part of the healing for me. You see, I wanted to be perfect at coping just like I wanted to be perfect at caregiving and marriage, parenting, working, and friendship.

The new normal for me is that though I can work to be compassionate and caring in all of these roles, I will never be perfect. Learning this truth has made it possible for me to cope with the things I cannot control better. And while my life is definitely NOT normal, it’s normal enough for me.

Mom and me.

I have been a caregiver for my mom longer than I have been a mom. In 1984 my mother was diagnosed with an illness. She was hospitalized, surgery performed and then sent home months later with a ton of medications and a whole new way of maneuvering through life. One of my earliest memories is counting out her pills for her to make sure she took the right amount of the right kind of pill at the right time. I am not sure now whether this was something she needed me to do or if she was just giving me a job to keep my mind occupied. Either way, I took the role of pill-counter very seriously and performed it well. During the early days, I don’t remember much else that I had to do that was directly related to her illness, but I do remember the laundry, the dishes, and the house cleaning. I know that most kids have chores and that helping around the house is a normal thing, but I am not talking about “put your plate in the dishwasher” or “hang up your clothes.” It was more like there were things that needed to be done and the more mom tried to do them, the weaker she got. If I could do more, she would get stronger. So, the laundry didn’t get done every week and the sink was usually full before the dishes got washed. As I grew older, we all had our own things to be working on. I had school, my step-dad had work and mom? Her main job was just getting better, stronger. Sometimes she was able to work, but even then, we were always just doing things as they came up. We were surviving. This is not to say there were never good times, vacations, or other family members to help out, but the overall feeling was one of survival. My mom’s survival, my family’s survival, my own.

I was 8 when my mom was put in the hospital the first time. When she came home, she was still my mom, but things had changed. Over the last 37 years, I’ve learned to be both a child and a caregiver, a wife and caregiver, and a parent and caregiver. I’ve lived away from my mother and lived close, I’ve gone to college, traveled, vacationed. I’ve had my own illnesses, surgeries, and traumatic experiences. So far, I’ve survived. When I started this site, I was going to share all the wisdom, the tips, and practices that I have developed over the decades to survive, yes, but also to thrive! And while I do plan on continuing to share my experiences and the lessons I have learned, please know, I am still learning, I am still a work in progress. I have no secret formula for caregiving or marriage or parenting. And, in my life at least, there is no “balance” per se. But I’ve been on this journey a long time and if you are on a similar journey, I want you to know you aren’t alone. You will survive.