The Good, the Bad, and Motherhood

Guest blogger, Karlin Davison, writes a personal account on her experiences with new motherhood.

When I started writing this, I was sitting on a plane headed for Idaho with a lively, almost-one-year-old, baby boy that was supposed to sleep at least 2 hours but woke up after only 45 minutes. This was not his first flight, but it was our first without my husband to help keep us both calm and entertained. Was I panicking? No. Actually, I stayed very calm the whole time. This realization, 11 long months into this journey called motherhood, felt like a miracle.

I am the oldest of 6 children, and number 6 of 41 grandchildren to my maternal grandparents. I spent countless hours of my adolescent life begrudgingly babysitting my siblings and cousins; taking care of babies was not a new concept to me. As much as I hated it growing up, I have always loved children and especially babies. As an adult I was grateful for those experiences and I thought that it would serve me well when I decided to start my own family. I had dealt with some anxiety as a teenager and adult, but nothing that had ever stopped me from living my life. I was 24 years old when my husband graduated with a bachelor’s degree and we moved to Texas. Soon after that I experienced some more serious anxiety and even saw a therapist a few times, but I wasn’t prescribed any medication and it was resolved fairly quickly.

Our baby was carefully planned for and wanted, but I was still a little leery when we found out we were pregnant. I had always dreamt of a big family, but after 5 years of marriage I was so happy just spending time with my husband and doing all the things that I knew would be much harder once we had children. The day our son was born was a joyful day, but it was also exhausting and a little scary. When they finally placed him in my arms after 2.5 hours of pushing, I knew I loved him, but I was not overwhelmed by the kind of love it seemed many of my friends and every mom on social media had described. As soon as we moved out of the delivery room and the nurses started teaching me to breastfeed, the anxiety set in. The first 24 hours were such a blur with nurses coming in and out, a baby boy we were busy getting to know, and trying to catch up on sleep. When the doctor came in and said that our sweet little guy had jaundice, would need to stay another night, and be tested again in the morning I felt my anxiety get stronger. I had a hard time eating or sleeping, and it felt like every hour we were stuck there at the hospital those anxious feelings got even stronger. We ended up having to stay 4 nights in the hospital before the doctors were comfortable sending us home. I felt much better when we finally got home, and I was sure that everything was going to be great from that point on. 

It only took a few days for me to realize that my anxiety was still there and getting worse. There were days when the hair on the back of my neck would be standing on end all day. I would feel out of breath and panicky like I was about to have a panic attack, except that the attack itself would not come; I would just sit right on the edge of it all day until my husband got home. If I was around someone who was pregnant or had more than one child, it was all I could do to not get sick. I was so obsessed with keeping our apartment clean that I couldn’t rest or sleep when the baby was sleeping. I didn’t know how to answer when people asked how we were doing. I am not a good liar, but I also didn’t want to unload my heavy burden onto their unsuspecting shoulders. Every time a well-meaning friend asked if we were getting any sleep, I just wanted to slap the look of concern off their face. I was constantly checking on my baby to make sure he was breathing, but I would also think that if he wasn’t breathing then maybe my life would go back to normal and I wouldn’t have to feel like this anymore. 

The first time I experienced what I would later learn were passive suicidal thoughts, we were staying at my in-law’s house for the weekend and I was sitting up in bed at 2:00am trying to comfort a crying four-week-old baby while my husband slept soundly next to me. I had already fed, burped, and changed him but he just wasn’t having it. I sat there with tears streaming down my face, trying not to punch my husband, and contemplating jumping out the window and running away. My in-laws live in the middle of nowhere though, so it would have taken me too long to find a bus or airport to actually take me somewhere far away. I then found myself pondering other possible scenarios that involved me getting out of the situation. I’m not sure how much time passed before I caught myself, terrified, and thought “am I suicidal?” I had no idea what to think. All I knew was that I was miserable and having a baby wasn’t supposed to be this hard. On top of the anxiety, I was angry. I felt like I had been lied to by all my friends, family, and anyone who had ever said that having a family was a good decision. I was so intensely angry, even though I am a woman – whose body was designed to bear children, that this was all so incredibly difficult and exhausting.

When our son was six weeks old, we took our first trip as a family of three to Idaho to introduce him to my extended family. I was a basket-case on the plane, of course, but we made it. I had hoped that being home in Idaho around my family would help me feel better, but it didn’t. Feeling like I had to put on a smile for everyone just made me feel worse. We happened to be there over Mother’s Day, and I remember laying on my bed in the dark scrolling and scrolling through Instagram in tears as I read all of the sunshine-and-rainbow stories about motherhood. I couldn’t understand how these women were so happy and I hated that I couldn’t feel the same way. I had been pretty open with my ever-so-patient and loving husband about how I was feeling, but it was on this trip that he finally convinced me to call my doctor. My doctor and her nurses talked to me and called in a prescription for me to pick up the next day. When I got in the car alone to drive to the pharmacy, I kept thinking about how easy it would be to just run the next red light and hope someone ran into me. 

When we got back to Texas two weeks later, I had a follow up with my doctor and she referred me to a therapist who works specifically with women experiencing depression and anxiety symptoms related to pregnancy and the postpartum period. Just walking through her door, with the knowledge that I was taking the first step forward for myself, made me feel a tiny bit better. Ladies…that funny, sweet, knowledgeable therapist was amazing! I learned that I was indeed experiencing postpartum anxiety, and that things were going to get better. We talked through the anger I was feeling about motherhood being so incredibly difficult. I learned that I was never expected to do this alone and that I needed to let more people in. I learned that yes, despite it being so difficult, my body and mind were made for this. She taught me that I am capable of getting through the dark days and finding joy. I learned that the intrusive thoughts and passive suicidal thoughts I was having were actually very common and that they did not make me a suicidal person. She taught me to say the words out loud and not let those scary thoughts stay a dirty secret in the back of my mind. By some miracle I never felt guilty about my feelings, or lack thereof, toward my son. I did, however, feel like I owed more to my husband. We had made the decision to start a family together after all, and I felt terribly guilty that I wasn’t holding up my end of bargain. Over time I learned to forgive myself and actually believe my husband when he told me that he still loved me, he was proud of me, and that he knew I was a good mother. 

 Despite hoping that there would be a magical quick fix, my son was 4 months old before I started to see a tiny window of light at the end of the tunnel. But that light was definitely there, and I kept walking toward it. I took a few more baby steps forward and he was 5 months when I could honestly say the words “We are okay!” and mean it. I cannot not express how amazing it felt when I realized that I really was okay, and could see that it was possible for me to feel good in the future. With all of the patience and love my husband and therapist had to offer, I kept walking forward and the baby steps turned into normal steps. As I kept walking forward, I felt better about myself and my love for my son grew too. I stopped wondering where the guns were, I stopped hoping I’d get in a car accident, and I stopped wondering whether it would really be a bad thing if my baby stopped breathing. My son was 7 months old when I started to truly, deeply enjoy my baby and the new life we were building together.

Now, 11 months in, I am so madly in love and obsessed with our son! He has sparkly blue eyes and a beautiful toothy-but-gummy-at-the-same-time smile. I love the way his tiny hands feel in mine, and the way he dances when he is excited about something. My favorite time to kiss him is right after a nap and his cheeks feel like hot buttered rolls. He is the sweetest joy and I can’t imagine life without him. I have grown and changed, alongside my son, in ways I didn’t even know I was capable of. I am so incredibly grateful that we made the decision to start a family. I am even more grateful for the people in my life who were so kind and patient and helped me through it all, especially my nearly-perfect husband. A couple days after we returned from our most recent trip to Idaho, I took my son with me to the grocery store. Luckily, he was still snoozing away as we made our way to the checkout counter. Another mom, wrangling a wiggly 3-year-old in one arm and groceries in the other, got there the same time we did. I told her to go ahead of me but she replied, “No you go, you’re on a nap schedule!” It went without saying that we both were just trying to work through our to do list and get on our way. I wasn’t embarrassed or uncomfortable that someone was taking pity on me, but glad that we understood each other. She knew what it was like to be in my shoes. At that moment I finally realized that being in the mom club isn’t so bad, it’s actually pretty cool and I am happy to count myself a member. 

While I was pregnant, countless people said to me “motherhood is hard, but it’s so worth it!” At the time I was so annoyed and sick of hearing those words, I just wanted them to shut up and let me experience it for myself. Since then I have wished many, MANY times that someone had at least tried to explain to me how hard becoming a mother actually is. I’m not one to sugar-coat things and I have been fairly open about my healing process, but when I was invited to write this piece, I knew that I had a story to tell. I want to be honest in the way that I wish others had been honest with me. Having babies is hard. All caps, bold font, H-A-R-D. It is nearly impossible to do alone, but there is light and happiness at the end of that impossibly dark and terrifying tunnel. There is hope. Things will absolutely get better. I know that you have probably already heard too many people tell you that “You are doing better than you think you are.” Well, as I finish writing my story, I am realizing that those words are absolutely true. I have come so far since the day my son was born. I am giving myself a pat on the back, a gold star on my forehead.  I am doing much better than I thought I was, and SO ARE YOU!

Karlin Davison is a country girl from Idaho who fell in love with city life while living in Hong Kong. She is an accomplished hairstylist complete with a pink pixie cut she’s been wearing with confidence since 2017.  Karlin and her husband, Preston, live in East Dallas with their 11-month-old son, Beckett.

Q&A: Is My Anxiety Curable?

“Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadow.” ~ Helen Keller

Everyone feels worried from time to time. You may worry about a presentation you have to do in school or work; or perhaps you worry about your spouse on a work trip, or your child away from home for the first time. Feeling worried is a normal emotion. Feeling anxious, however, is different. Maybe you have experienced both sentiments, but presumed them to be synonymous? Join the club. These two terms are often used interchangeably in casual conversation, but, in reality, they are quite different. Read on to learn the fundamental differences between worry and anxiety, if anxiety is a curable or not, and four everyday tools anyone can use to manage anxiety.

How are worry and anxiety different?

In a study where 189 university students were asked about the differences between anxiety and worry, worry and anxiety were defined very similarly. However, certain negative outcomes–like depression and confusion–were more related to anxiety than to worry, and problem solving was more related to worry than to anxiety. Other key differences include the following:

Worry…

Is experienced in the head. 

Is specific

Does not provoke mental imagery elicit a cardiovascular response.

Is accompanied by problem solving. 

Creates mild emotional distress. 

Is caused by a specific concern.

Is often controllable. 

Is temporary. 

Does not impact one’s overall functioning. 

Is considered to be a normal/common emotional state. 

Anxiety…

Is manifest in the body.
Is vague or general.

Provokes mental imagery and elicits a cardiovascular response.

Is not accompanied with problem solving.

Creates severe emotional distress. 

Is a non-specific, broad fear.

Is difficult to control. 

Lingers. 

Does impact one’s overall functioning. 

Is not a normal/common emotional state.

Are you beginning to see the difference between being worried and experiencing anxiety? Though there is some overlap, the two emotions are actually quite different. If I could add one more, it would be that being worried occasionally usually does not lead one to see a therapist, whereas therapy can be very helpful with prolonged anxiety.

Is anxiety a life sentence? NO!

I always tell my clients, who are battling anxiety, that what they are facing is not a life sentence! While you may feel seriously burdened by your anxiety at present, you do not need to be controlled by it. The goal of therapy is not to get rid of everything that may be causing you anxiety, but rather to give you the tools to face your anxiety and to learn from it. 

Four things you can do TODAY to get relief from your anxiety:

  1. A deep relaxation technique. There are several options for this tool. I would recommend muscle relaxation, visualization, or meditation to start. Force yourself to slow down, take deep breaths, relax, and release some of the tension you are feeling. Here are some helpful apps: Calm; Stop, Breathe & Think; UCLA Mindful.
  2. 30 minutes of vigorous exercise. This suggestion may seem obvious as regular exercise is recommended to achieve optimal health. Exercising is an amazing tool in combating worry and anxiety. Exercising releases a feel-good hormone in the brain and nervous system that positively affects you physiologically–naturally combating worry and anxiety. Additionally, vigorous exercise during the day will lead to better sleep at night which has many benefits. There is great power found in exercising!
  3. Good nutritional habits. Similar to exercise, having a balanced diet will benefit you in many aspects of your life. When you fuel your body with a well-rounded diet to sustain yourself throughout the day, your overall health with be positively influenced. You will have more energy to deal with life’s stressors, you will be less likely to fall sick, and you will be able to think more clearly. All of these outcomes will aid you in the process of rising above worry and anxiety.
  4. Replacing negative self-talk with positive affirmations to counter mistaken beliefs. Self-care is a major focus with my clients, and one form of that is positive self-talk or affirmations. You are your own worst critic. When you change your self-talk from negative and degrading to supportive and loving, you will break negative patterns to see life (and yourself!) through a different lens. This is a major step in working through anxiety.

Your anxiety does not have to be a life sentence. Seek out an experienced, qualified therapist. Develop a daily practice of deep breathing/mindfulness, get up and move your body for 30 minutes a day, eat a colorful and balanced diet, and speak kindly to yourself. Implementing these four tools in tandem will yield astronomical results in combating anxiety. Let’s get started today!

References:


The Haunting of Trauma Past

“Trauma is personal. It does not disappear if it is not validated. When it is ignored or invalidated the silent screams continue internally heard only by the one held captive. When someone enters the pain and hears the screams healing can begin.”

― Danielle Bernock

You experienced something traumatic. You lived through it. You thought it was now in your past. Then, suddenly, the memory of your trauma is plaguing you as if it happened yesterday. How can you deal?

Many of the clients I see for trauma experience this. They feel they are making progress, personally or in a relationship, when suddenly they are hit by a figurative train and feel like they are back to square one. In every case, I assure my clients that this apparent “setback” is normal and not any sort of sign that they have done something wrong. There are seven steps I advise my clients to follow when facing resurfacing trauma:

  1. Identify the triggers. Think about what may have brought the trauma back into the limelight for you. Maybe it was running into the parents of a deceased friend. Maybe it was returning to the site of an accident. Maybe it was reading a scene from a book or hearing something on the news that resembles what you went through. That is your trigger. 
  2. Notice your physical and emotional responses. Sometimes triggers are not as obvious as seeing something that derails you on the news. The strangest things can be a trigger, and these will be different for everyone based on the traumatic situation and the individual’s personality. Pay attention to what is going on around you when you feel upset or unsettled. Listen to your body — are your muscles tightening? Are you holding your breath? Are you clenching your jaw? Is your heart beating faster? Maybe you are experiencing changes like a loss of appetite or overeating, or you are having trouble sleeping (including oversleeping). Maybe you feel anxious, are having panic attacks, suffering from mood swings, feeling helpless, depressed, detached or disassociated. Knowing your personal responses can alert you to distress, giving you an opportunity to address the trigger quicker.
  3. Whenever possible, remove the trigger. In some cases, it is easy to turn off the news or avoid a place that brings up unsettling emotions/events.  But in other instances, it is uncontrollable or unavoidable. Focus on what is in your power and do that. Do whatever you need to do to put your mind (and body) at ease.
  4. Validate your emotions. Remind yourself that shame, embarrassment, or sadness over “relapsing” are negative emotions that do not help you in the long run. Instead, try giving room for your emotions. Sit with them. Let them be a part of you. Try not to push them away, as that can cause issues for yourself in the future. Acknowledge your feelings, experience them, and then — when you are ready — move forward with a positive mindset.
  5. Be patient with others. A dear friend of mine had a stillborn baby several years ago. To this day, she is hurt when people ask how many children she has. So if you are facing trauma again and someone says or does something that seems insensitive to you, remember that they may not know your story and mean no harm. And sometimes the people closest to you may say something hurtful. Everyone responds differently to trauma; consider teaching others what are helpful and unhelpful responses or actions for you so they can help you heal. 
  6. Practice self-care. This step always comes up! b is invaluable to healing. Take care of yourself. Find an outlet. Be creative. Take up a hobby or practice a dusty one. Journal. Exercise. Travel. Dig in to what makes you tick and you will find that that self-exploration and self-love does a world of good in helping youband find happiness. 

And step seven, whenever possible, seek professional help. Your trauma does not have to define you or your relationships. Trauma is complex, and affects us mentally, emotionally and physically in ways that often do not make sense. Seeking professional help, can aide you in understanding your trauma faster and lessen its impact. You deserve to get the help you need. I am trained and experienced in helping people face and work through trauma, using EMDR, inner child work and other modalities. I am here for you. Contact me today to get started.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

References:

Yoga: Changing How You See Yourself

“Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self.” – Bhagavad Gita.

Yoga is more than stretching, deep breaths and handstands. It is not just for those who are flexible or have good balance. It has been said that it can change your life. I decided to do some personal research for this post because I wanted to know more for myself. How could yoga change a person’s life so profoundly? The answer is that the physical part of yoga is only a small part of this practice, and when you truly understand and apply what yoga teaches, it can actually change your life!

Trees are a symbol in yoga. The body is a tree. The mind is a tree. The teachings of Ashtanga yoga itself is also described as a tree, and it has eight limbs:

  1. Yama. This first limb is your attitude towards the environment. It includes ethical standards, integrity, focusing on your behavior and how you conduct yourself in life. Examples are nonviolence, truthfulness, not stealing, and not coveting others. Essentially the golden rule–doing to others as you would like done to you.
  2. Niyama. This is your attitude towards yourself. It includes self-discipline and spiritual observances (like regularly attending temple or church services, saying grace before meals, developing your own personal meditation practices, or making a habit of taking contemplative walks alone), as well as cleanliness, gratitude, and surrender to a God.
  3. Asana. This is what everyone thinks of when yoga comes up–the physical postures. In yogic beliefs, the body is a temple of spirit, and caring for it is an important stage of spiritual growth. Through the practice of asanas–also known as “flows” in yogi tongue–you develop the habit of discipline and the ability to concentrate, both of which are necessary for meditation.
  4. Pranayama. In hindu yoga, this step is the regulation of the breath through certain techniques, exercises, breathing practices. Long term, this practice can help with anxiety, stress, depression, insomnia, improved focus, and increased self-awareness.
  5. Pratyahara is sense restraint. This limb is about withdrawing yourself from any external information so you can draw attention internally to hear the sounds from within. The practice of pratyahara allows you to step back and take a look at yourself and objectively observe your cravings: habits that are perhaps detrimental to your health and which likely interfere with your inner growth.
  6. Dharana. This limb is centered on extended periods of concentration which then naturally lead to meditation. In the practice of concentration, which precedes meditation, you learn how to slow down the thinking process by concentrating on a single mental object: a specific energetic center in the body, an image of a deity, or the silent repetition of a sound. 
  7. Dhyana. Meditation or contemplation, the seventh stage of ashtanga, is the uninterrupted flow of concentration. Although concentration (dharana) and meditation (dhyana) may appear to be one and the same, a fine line of distinction exists between these two stages. Where dharana practices one-pointed attention, dhyana is ultimately a state of being keenly aware without focus. At this stage, the mind has been quieted, and in the stillness it produces few or no thoughts at all.
  8. Samadhi. This final limb is appointed to be integration of the other limbs. It is a complete stage of ecstasy. What Patanjali has described as the completion of the yogic path is what, deep down, all human beings aspire to: peace. We also might give some thought to the fact that this ultimate stage of yoga—enlightenment—can neither be bought nor possessed. It can only be experienced, the price of which is the continual devotion of the aspirant.

As you can see, the practice of yoga is so much more than stretching in downward dog. It is a journey of self control and self-enlightenment. It is being at peace with the world and striving to make it a better place. It is listening to your body’s needs and what the universe needs from you. It is a form of exercise that is incredibly beneficial for stamina, endurance and flexibility. It is the ability to be content with oneself as well as a degree of self-mastery. My favorite part about yoga is that it truly is a journey for each individual. Everyone is at a different level, and that is okay! This is the best metaphor for life; while one yogi is working on her lotus press, you might be working on not falling over in your warrior two lunge. Yoga teaches self-compassion; it teaches you to start where you stand and be grateful for each breath. It teaches you to honor all you do have and all you can do. 

Grab a mat, and give it a try! See what your body can do. Start by simply stretching to get more connected with your body. Then download an application, like Daily Yoga or Yoga for Beginners to get acquainted with some basic yoga poses. You may even want to find a yoga class in your area. And if you love it, buy a membership to a yoga studio, find a friend you can do yoga with, or discover another way to you can bring the practice of yoga into your daily life!  You will not regret it! Please feel free to contact me with any questions or if you would like to schedule a session!

References:

Teaching Your Little Ones The Art of Gratitude

“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” ~ William Arthur Ward

Thanksgiving (and the month of November in general) is a great time to focus on gratitude. The added emphasis on being “blessed” certainly inspires all of us to consider our bounty and offer thanks. It is a time of gratitude lists, service, and gifts. I want to focus on how you can get your children involved and inspire gratitude in their hearts!

By age two or three, children are able to talk about being thankful for specific objects, pets, and people. By age four, children are able to understand the concept of being thankful for immaterial things like acts of kindness, love, and caring. Regardless of how old your children are, you can always teach age-appropriate gratitude! The following are ideas you can implement around the holiday season and throughout the year to foster an attitude of gratitude:

  1. Say please and thank you. Our manners show that we do not believe we are entitled to anything and that we are grateful for the kindness of others.
  2. Help someone less fortunate. This could be your neighbor down the street, grandma, or someone you know who is in a tough spot. I have fond childhood memories of taking meals or gifts to members of my church who needed help. 
  3. Model the adage “Tis’ better to give than to receive.” Take young children holiday shopping at the dollar store and challenge them to pick out gifts for others without buying something for themselves. Or go the DIY route and make something; even toddlers can buy or make gifts for others!
  4. Volunteer service or donate to a nonprofit. Nonprofits serve people in need and at this time of the year they are always looking for volunteers, basic necessities, meals and gifts to give to those in need. Help out at a homeless shelter, soup kitchen or non-profit. 
  5. Send out thank you cards or a letter. Express your gratitude for those who have served your or added value to your life. Encourage your children to write a letter to someone who has touched his life in some way or who has given them something. I highly recommend keeping thank you notes on hand and using them frequently!
  6. Intentionally look for awe-inspiring moments in your day. If the sunset is particularly beautiful, comment on it. If the sound of the baby’s laughter warms your heart, tell your children. Encourage them to look for their awe-inspiring moments and share them with you.
  7. Share your gratitude. There are a million different ways to do this; you can take five minutes at bedtime by asking your children what they are thankful for that day. You can go around the dinner table and allow each family member a chance to vocalize their gratitude. You can keep shared or personal gratitude journals. You can create a family gratitude list and post it somewhere visible. You can create a gratitude jar and share each entry at the end of the month. I even saw one idea of gratitude trees–where little leaves are written on with things the family is grateful for, and then hung from the twigs of a branch found outside. (This doubles as decór so win-win!)
  8. Compliment others. I heard a wise woman once say that withholding a compliment is prideful, so model sincere compliments. If you think it, say it! Share the things you appreciate about another person. Encourage your children to do the same. 
  9. Look for the positive. It is human nature to see the glass half-empty from time to time, and children are no exception.  Try to look for the silver lining; find something positive in frustrating situations and discuss it. When kids complain or gripe, it can be helpful to try to find a response that looks on the bright(er) side. It’s called an “attitude of gratitude” for a reason — it’s about perspective more than circumstance. 
  10. Take gratitude walks. While you walk, look for the simple pleasures in the day, such as the warm sun or the birds singing and express appreciation for them. Use this time to ask your kids what they are grateful for.
  11. Work through envy. Help your child work through any feelings of jealousy she may have. Envy can come when we are not feeling thankful for what we have, and are focusing instead on what others have. Easy access to social media surely contributes to feelings of jealousy and comparison!
  12. Have them pitch in when they want something.  When children take the time to save up and take ownership in a purchase, they gain an understanding of the value of a dollar by working toward what they want. It also teaches restraint and encourages them to appreciate what they have.
  13. Make time for chores: Most children have about four hours between the time they get home from school and bedtime where they need to fit in homework, extracurricular activities, dinner, bath, and bedtime. Without chores, children do not understand what it takes to run a household–they will take clean laundry and dishes for granted. So find age-appropriate chores for your children. Consider leaving time-intensive chores for the weekend, but allow your children to be grateful for the blessing of clean dishes or warm meals enjoyed in your home. 
  14. Let big kids take care of little kids: Surely you did not understand all the work that came with children until you had your own. If older children have responsibilities for their younger siblings, it fosters an attitude of gratitude towards you, their parents. Pair up big kids with little kids to get chores done or get through homework. 
  15. Talk about your ancestors: What are your family stories of hardship and perseverance? My grandmother lived in the depression and to this day she reuses her plastic baggies and counts her pennies. I remember hearing stories of this amazing woman and feeling so grateful for the box of endless ziplocs. It really is the little things! (If you are not sure of your past, you can take a family trip to the history museum, a battlefield, or other historic site. You will return home grateful!)

Studies have shown that kids who practice grateful thinking have more positive attitudes toward school and family. Being grateful benefits adults and children alike on a very basic level and can increase happiness levels by around 25 percent! It can help you live a happier, more satisfied life and with increased levels of self-esteem, hope, empathy and optimism. It also grants perspective to what really matters and improves relationships. There is no downside to gratitude!

Now it is my turn to be grateful: I am grateful for my health, my family, and a career I love. I am grateful for you, my faithful readers, and for such wonderful clients who trust me with the deepest, most vulnerable and beautiful parts of their lives. I am thankful I am allowed to live the life I love in helping people work through addiction, trauma, mental illness, and/or relationship issues. I am thankful for YOU. I am your biggest advocate! As always, please feel free to contact me with questions or to schedule a session. Let’s talk!
Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

References:

Self-Care is a Family Matter

“Family is not an important thing. It’s everything.” –Michael J. Fox

When you think of self-care, you might envision yourself with cucumbers on your face getting a massage. Or maybe you think of axe throwing, running several miles, or playing an instrument for fun. Self-care has been in the limelight with endorsements from celebrities and other influencers on their social media accounts. Self-care is important because it helps you maintain a healthy relationship with yourself and others, it produces positive feelings, improves confidence and self-esteem…the benefits to practicing self-care are endless (additional sources on the benefits of self-care are included below). But what about family self-care? What are you doing to make sure your family wellbeing is maintained and functioning optimally?

At the end of September, I wrote about fun family activities to get everyone involved in the nationwide holiday Family Health and Fitness Day. When practiced individually, self care can benefit you and I emotionally, spiritually, mentally, practically and socially. In like manner, when implementing on family self-care strategies, it will greatly benefit you to focus on each of these areas; it will keep your family healthy, happy, and united. The following are some suggestions for each of those areas:

Emotional:

  • Watch a move
  • Write each other positive notes
  • Discuss each others’ talents/gifts
  • Verbalize and talk about feelings
  • Draw self-portraits
  • Say, “I love you”
  • Spend time writing
  • Try a new craft

Spiritual

  • Write a gratitude list
  • Go outside
  • Talk about forgiveness
  • Write thank you notes
  • Volunteer
  • Spend time outdoors in nature
  • Plant a tree
  • Practice positive self-talk

Mental

  • Read together
  • Draw or write stories
  • Meditate
  • Find shapes in clouds
  • Practice belly breaths
  • Go on a walk to find new things
  • Make vision boards
  • Try Headspace for Kids
  • Create mandalas
  • Make mindfulness jars
  • Mind strength games like “Memory”

Practical

  • Clean up
  • Declutter old toys
  • Assign chores
  • Make a grocery list
  • Learn about money
  • Make a weekly budget check-in
  • Make a weekly cleaning check-in
  • Do homework/study
  • Establish a morning/evening routine

Social

  • Play in the park
  • Call or visit relatives
  • Have family dinner
  • Play boardgames
  • Host a sleepover
  • Invite friends over
  • Plan a BBQ
  • Join a team
  • Organize a food drive
  • Discuss friendship and how to be a friend

Maybe by reading this list you have thought of your own ideas for one or more of these areas. Figure out what works for you and your family; what leaves you feeling recharged, connected, and happy? Do those things. And do them regularly. Individual self-care is a daily effort; staying balanced and connected as a family is no different. Carve out time for your family, make it a priority, be consistent, make it fun, and you will find that family self-care is the answer you have been needing for your family. Should you find you need help in increasing your family togetherness, please contact me today to schedule a session. 

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.


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Bulimia Nervosa at a Glance

“For me, the bulimia was about stuffing my emotions. So I stopped suppressing my feelings.” ~Cheryl James

My friend’s dad is a dentist; within the first minute of looking into someone’s mouth, he can tell if the person struggles with bulimia nervosa. This is because bulimia–the binging and purging of food–wreaks havoc on a person’s teeth. The acid from the stomach visibly destroys the enamel of the teeth and causes noticeable discoloration. But this particular side-effect of bulimia is only the tip of the iceberg among much more serious consequences that come from this eating disorder and mental illness. Continue reading to learn what it is, what causes it, as well as the symptoms, consequences, and recovery options for bulimia nervosa. 

Even though Derek Zoolander downplays the significance of bulimia nervosa, it is a very serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder. People with bulimia secretly binge and then purge to get rid of extra calories in an unhealthy and unnatural way. Binging includes discretely eating a large amount of food, within a small amount of time, accompanied by a lack of control during this episode. Purging methods vary from regularly self-induced vomiting, misusing laxatives, weight-loss supplements, diuretics or even enemas after bingeing. Other ways include denying calories to prevent weight gain through fasting, strict dieting or excessive exercise.  The severity of bulimia is determined by the number of times a week that a person purges, usually at least once a week for at least three months. 

The exact cause of bulimia is unknown. Many factors could play a role in the development of eating disorders, including genetics, biology, emotional health, societal expectations and other issues.  Women are more likely to struggle with bulimia than men, but the latter are still susceptible. Bulimia typically begins in the late teens or early adulthood.

Bulimia shares several symptoms with other mental illnesses: Negative self-esteem, problems with relationships and social functioning, difficulty concentrating, poor sleep patterns, withdrawal from friends, etc. Symptoms specific to bulimia nervosa include extreme preoccupation with self-image, body shape and weight; fear of gaining weight; feeling uncomfortable eating around others; trying to “fill up” by ingesting unsubstantial food (ie. condiments), drinking excessive amounts of water or non-caloric beverages, or trying to chew food for an unnecessarily long amount of time; hoarding food in strange places; disappearing after eating (often to purge in a private place); frequently using mints, mouthwash and gum to cover unnaturally bad breath; and maintaining a rigid exercise regimen to “burn off” calories ingested. 

Bulimia nervosa affects far more than how an individual perceives him- or herself or what he/she eats. This eating disorder truly harms a person’s body in the following ways:

  • Unusual swelling of the cheeks or jaw area  
  • Calluses on the back of the hands and knuckles from self-induced vomiting 
  • Bloating from fluid retention  
  • Stomach cramps and other gastrointestinal issues (constipation, acid reflux, etc.) 
  • Abnormal laboratory findings (anemia, low thyroid and hormone levels, low potassium, low blood cell counts, slow heart rate) 
  • Dizziness 
  • Fainting/syncope 
  • Feeling cold all the time 
  • Dental problems like enamel erosion, cavities, and tooth sensitivity 
  • Dry skin 
  • Dry and brittle nails 
  • Swelling around salivary glands 
  • Thinning of hair on head, dry and brittle hair (lanugo) 
  • Muscle weakness 
  • Yellow skin (in context of eating large amounts of carrots) 
  • Cold, mottled hands and feet or swelling of feet 
  • Menstrual irregularities
  • Poor wound healing 
  • Impaired immune functioning
  • Dehydration (leading to kidney failure)
  • Heart problems, such as an irregular heartbeat or heart failure
  • Severe tooth decay and gum disease
  • Absent or irregular periods in females
  • Digestive problems
  • Anxiety, depression, personality disorders or bipolar disorder
  • Fertility issues (in women)

Many people with bulimia nervosa also struggle with co-occurring conditions, such as self-injury (cutting and other forms of self-harm without suicidal intention), substance abuse, impulsivity (risky sexual behaviors, shoplifting, etc.), and even diabulimia (intentional misuse of insulin for type 1 diabetes). 

While bulimia nervosa is a very serious mental illness, the good news is that it is not a life sentence. There are many options available for treatment, including medication, support groups and group therapy, and individual therapy. By identifying your triggers, I can help you manage stress and avoid the cycle of binging and purging. Getting support and help often gives you extra strength to fight your eating disorder.  Because bulimia is related to self-image–and not just about food–bulimia can be hard to overcome on your own. Effective treatment can help you feel better about yourself, adopt healthier eating patterns and reverse serious complications. Contact me today to get started.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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Reconnecting with Reality: 10 Tips to Kick A Phone Addiction

“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

A survey was recently conducted where participants were asked, “If you had to break a bone or break your phone what would you prefer?” The results were astounding: 46% percent of people would prefer to have a broken bone than a broken phone! Before the smartphone era, the average American spent just 18 minutes a day on the phone; today that figure is up to three hours. Three out of 24 hours of our day is being spent staring at a tiny screen…that is 1/8th of our day! Is that how we would prefer to spend our time or would we like to break that cycle and spend our valuable time on something more productive and satisfying?

The urge to pick up our devices is similar to other forms of behavioral addiction. Like gambling or shopping addiction, a small shot of dopamine is released in various regions of the brain through phone usage. That is what keeps us coming back for more, even when we know it is not in our best interest to do so. Instead of improving our lives, technology is actually getting in the way of us living and enjoying our lives. How can we overcome our addiction to distraction so we can focus on the things that actually matter? Here are ten practical suggestions we can implement immediately:

  1. Scheduled screen time. Set a timer for 15 minutes. When it goes off, spend a quick minute checking your phone’s notifications and be done. Push back the alarm to go off every 30, 45, or 60 minutes. You can even ask for help and accountability from your friends and family; tell them you will not be responding to messages as frequently as you used to.
  2. Remove distractions from the home screen. Most of us have Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc at the forefront of our screens. If we make those apps less accessible, we will not use them as much. Keep the apps that you want to encourage yourself to use (like those for reading or learning a new language) front and center, and banish anything you want to limit your time with to folders on your second page of apps (or if you have an Android phone, off the screen entirely).
  3. Disable push. An incredibly simple way to cut down on distractions is to turn off “push” notifications for as many apps as you can. Just head to Settings > Notifications to control your preferences. 
  4. Moon mode. On iPhones, there is a little icon of a moon if you swipe up to control brightness and wifi and whatnot. That little moon represents “do not disturb,” and it is kind of magical. It is a glorified silent mode, ideal for nighttime settings or undistracted time at work. Use DND and airplane mode to silence incoming distractions. 
  5. Use a filler. Instead of opening social media to scroll aimlessly, open a different app and be productive. Replace bad habits with good ones like learning a new language through Duolingo, creating flashcards for anything with Anki, self-reflection journaling with Vertellis, or using any number of apps to read or listen to a good book.
  6. Go old school. Many people use their phones as an alarm clock. But because the phone is easily within reach while in bed, many people find themselves scrolling right before bed and first thing in the morning. Cut that bad habit by reinstating your old-school alarm clock.
  7. “Alexa, do what my phone used to do for me.” You can ask these smart devices to play music for you, to check the weather, to read you a text,…the list goes on and on. Use Alexa instead of your screen!
  8. Grayscale. Time Well Spent, a nonprofit focused on changing our relationships to technology, recommends switching your phone to grayscale to make it less appealing. On an iPhone, find “Display Accommodations” and then turn on “Color Filters.” On a Samsung device, find “Vision” and then scroll down to “Grayscale.”
  9. Put it away. Unless there is an important phone call we are waiting for, we really do not need our phones within arms reach at all times. My dad leaves his phone on top of the refrigerator unless he needs it. Think about it–a smoker trying to kick the habit will still reach for a cigarette if it is sitting right in front of him. Ditto for phones; remove the temptation by stashing yours in your bag while at work or in a drawer when you want to have a real conversation at home.
  10. Don’t stop! Keep trying. Stay accountable. iPhones come with a built-in tracking system so we can see just how much time we have spent on any given app each day. There are also apps like Freedom, Moment, and Space that can help us see where we are spending our time and help us set limits. 

No doubt, Steve Jobs’ inventions, in the field of technology, have changed the world. But what most people do not know is he would not even let his children use an iPad. He told The New York Times, “We limit how much technology our kids use in the home.” Steve knew the power and addictive nature of these devices. So let’s be like Steve and limit our use of technology and break the cycle of addiction. The ten suggestions above can get us well on our way to getting off the phone and back to real life connection. If you are reading this on your phone, text or email someone you are thinking about. Let them know you care. Set a time to see them.  And then put the phone away.

(As always, if you find you have questions or would like to schedule a session, please do not hesitate to contact me today!)

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Clear and Present Danger: Teens and Vaping

“We see clear signs that youth use of electronic cigarettes has reached an epidemic proportion, and we must adjust certain aspects of our comprehensive strategy to stem this clear and present danger.” ~ FDA, September, 2018

There’s a new cool kid on the block according to statistics published by Child Mind Institute. Smoking cigarettes has taken a backseat to the accessible and underestimated–yet still highly addictive–e-cigarette. E-cigarettes are now the most frequently used tobacco product among adolescents; some 2.1 million middle and high school students used e-cigarettes in 2017! This is far surpassing traditional combustible cigarettes. What is the e-cigarette? How does it work? Is it harmful? Because so many individuals are using these devices, it is important to be educated on this new behavior, especially popular amongst teens and young adults.

What is vaping?

Vaping devices include e-cigarettes, vape pens and advanced personal vaporizers (also known as ‘MODS’). When the device is used, the battery heats up the heating component, which turns the contents of the e-liquid into an aerosol that is inhaled into the lungs and then exhaled. Vaping is the act of inhaling and exhaling the aerosol, commonly referred to as vapor, which is produced by an e-cigarette. The difference between traditional tobacco cigarettes and e-cigarettes is that e-cigs do not contain nor produce tobacco smoke, but rather an aerosol. The vapor created by e-cigarettes consists of many fine particles which contain varying amounts of toxic chemicals that have been linked to cancer, as well as respiratory and heart disease.

E-cigarettes look like regular cigarettes, cigars, or pipes. Some look like USB flash drives, pens, and other everyday items. E-cigarettes have many names, including e-cigs, JUUL (JUUL Labs, Inc. is the name of the leading electronic-cigarette company), ENDS (electronic nicotine delivery systems), e-hookah, and so much more. JUUL, the newest and most popular vape device, is sleek and tiny (reminiscent of a flash drive), and can be charged in a USB port. It comes in several enticing flavors like crème brûlée, mango and fruit medley. Every JUUL product contains a dose of nicotine, with one pod or flavor cartridge containing about the same amount of nicotine as a whole pack of cigarettes. The JUUL’s subtle design makes it easy to hide, which certainly explains why it has become so popular among middle and high school students. It now accounts for about 72 percent of the market share of vaping products in the United States and more than half of the e-cigarette market. E-cigarette company, JUUL Labs, Inc. recently exceeded a $10 billion valuation faster than any company…including Facebook! 

Is vaping bad for you?

Regular tobacco cigarettes contain 7,000 chemicals, many of which are toxic. Though it is speculated that e-cigarettes expose the user to fewer toxic chemicals than traditional cigarettes, nicotine is the primary agent in both and it is highly addictive. Nicotine causes you to crave a smoke and suffer withdrawal symptoms if you ignore the craving. Nicotine raises your blood pressure and spikes your adrenaline, which increases your heart rate and the likelihood of having a heart attack.  Additionally, many e-cigarette users get even more nicotine than they would from a tobacco product because you can buy extra-strength cartridges (a higher concentration of nicotine) or you can increase the e-cigarette voltage to get a greater hit of the substance.

Although e-cigarettes have been marketed as an aid to help you quit smoking, they have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a smoking cessation device. In fact, a recent study found that most people who intended to use e-cigarettes to kick the nicotine habit ended up continuing to smoke both traditional and e-cigarettes!

Why does vaping appeal to teens?

There are several reasons why e-cigarettes are grabbing the attention of the young people: First, many teens believe that vaping is less harmful than smoking (the packaging does little to convey the risks; it says 5% nicotine, which sounds like nothing, so teens think 95% is water weight or vapor). Second, e-cigarettes have a lower per-use cost than traditional cigarettes. Finally, vape cartridges are often formulated with flavorings such as apple pie and watermelon that appeal and seem less harmful to younger users.

What are the effects of vaping?

Vaping drugs affects how someone thinks, acts, and feels. Some may argue that vaping does not include nicotine, but most do. Even those without nicotine still have chemicals in them that irritate and damage the lungs and other internal organs. Vaping also slows brain development and affects memory, concentration, learning, self-control, attention, and mood. It serves as a gateway drug and increases the risk of other types of addiction later in life. Because this drug was only introduced to the public in 2007, there is limited research on the long-term effects.

If you are vaping, or participating in other addictive behaviors, and want to quit, there is hope! You CAN do it–you can kick this addictive habit and behavior. Start by deciding why you want to quit; own your reason and stick by it. Then, pick a day to quit. Get rid of your vaping supplies.  Avoid your triggers. Tap into available resources like apps, family members, friends, support groups, a therapist, and healthy hobbies. Get the help you need and deserve. I am your cheerleader; please do not hesitate to contact me today to schedule a session! 

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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Self-Care is for Men Too!

“When you recover or discover something that nourishes your soul and brings joy, care enough about yourself to make room for it in your life.” ~ Jean Shinoda Bolen

Everywhere you look there are articles, blogs, advertisements, and pictures about how women can become more beautiful or healthy or happy. Just as important, but receiving much less attention, is the topic of self-care for men. 

Self-care is defined as the practice of taking action to preserve and/or improve your health. It has a renewing, refreshing, and sharpening effect. There are many practical benefits to regularly implemented self-care: Improved overall health, sharpened mental health, decreased stress levels, heightened focus, greater levels of resilience, broadened creativity, and a myriad of other advantages. 

Self-care has many faces. Women think of chocolate, sleep, massages, shopping, relaxing by the pool… When men think of self-care, they may not immediately picture a bubble bath with essential oils. So what’s a guy to do for self-care? Here are four practical suggestions:

  1. Make yourself a priority. Sounds simple enough, right? Maybe you really enjoy music: listen to your favorite album on your daily commute. Maybe you know you feel better physically and mentally when you exercise: take a few hours a week to get to the gym. Making time for yourself is not selfish, it is necessary to being at your best…which unavoidably seeps into every other aspect of your life! Making yourself a priority does not mean that you sit lazily on the couch, ignore the important people in your life, or allow screen time to absorb your stress.  It means being intentional with your time and doing what will refuel, refresh, and reinvigorate you for another day. Know what brings you joy, and be proactive about practicing or engaging with these aspects of your life. 
  2. Interact with others. Having meaningful relationships positively influences mental health. These relationships will allow you to share aspects of your own life and also escape from your day to day routine. This might mean grabbing wings during game time from Buffalo Wild Wings, going hunting or fishing, grilling or smoking the results of said hunting or fishing outings, shooting hoops at the gym, or a myriad of other options!
  3. Be healthy. Both men and women need to take care of themselves physically; this is self-care 101. By this I mean eating a balanced diet, getting adequate sleep, exercising regularly, etc. It might also include meditation, practicing gratitude, regularly assessing goals/resolutions, and any form of stress management. Additionally, be sure to make yearly doctors’ appointments with both your primary care physician and specialists (where applicable).  Take care of your body and brain and you will be better equipped to perform to the best of your abilities! 
  4. Recognize burn-out signs. We all have them. Maybe you get snappy, easily irritated, on edge. Or maybe you feel exhausted, lethargic, or depressed. Such symptoms may serve as warning signs that you need to put on the brakes and take a personal day. This is where you might return to number one and repeat the cycle of making yourself a priority, investing time in meaningful relationships, and taking care of your physical and mental health. As you do so, the time in between your warning signs and necessary “reset” will lessen because your manly self-care will become more instinctive and effective.

There are several reasons why men do not practice self-care regularly: First, it is not considered to be terribly masculine in our society, and some men worry it will make them appear weak if they take time for themselves. Also, some men might think it is not for them because not many men are promoting it. Lastly, and most commonly, many men may find it difficult to prioritize self-care with work/life being too demanding, or they may not understand the need. 

Self-care is not just an activity you simply schedule into your daily life (though that is a great place to start if you are not currently doing any self-care!). It is a mindset that requires listening to what your body and mind need, and then regularly practicing those things. As you put yourself first, foster meaningful relationships, live a healthy lifestyle, and avoid burn-out, you will see the many benefits of self-care. Women swear by it…and so should men! In fact, I firmly believe that many of the issues that we face in our relationships would be alleviated if we all simply practiced self-care! If you have questions or feel you need assistance implementing self-care into your life, please do not hesitate to contact me or schedule a session. You will not regret making self-care an important part of your life!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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