Wednesday, October 30, 2013

My Child has an Eating Disorder: Resources and Information

I do not have any children yet.  However, I have personally struggled with an eating disorder for more than 10 years.  I thought because of my experiences, I could share the information I’ve learned during my recovery process.

If you think that your child might be struggling with an eating disorder, please continue reading.  And even if you think your daughters (or sons) are OK, you might want to read on anyway, because our culture is merciless.  Even if you live in a bubble, you might not be aware of how YOU are affecting your daughter’s self-image and self-worth.

Today it is estimated that three out of every four children will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their life.  Eating disorders already kill many people each year.  Click here for more stats.  The most common cause of death is not starvation, but suicide.  This is not something to take lightly.

Eating Disorders, Anxiety, and Depression are often found together. Anxiety typically triggers eating disorder behaviors, and then the addiction to the eating disorder and poor body image/self-worth often causes depression.

This article is called “Helping Someone with an Eating Disorder: Advice for Parents, Family Members, and Friends”.  I thought it was a great summary of what an eating disorder is, how it affects the person suffering, and practical ways to begin to help.  It is a GREAT place to start if you are clueless!

Below is a quick list called “How can I tell if my child has an eating disorder?”
Look for these behaviors, signs and symptoms (adapted from NIMH):
  • Eating tiny portions or refusing to eat
  • Intense fear of being fat
  • Distorted body image
  • Strenuous exercising (for more than an hour)
  • Hoarding and hiding food
  • Eating in secret
  • Disappearing after eating—often to the bathroom
  • Large changes in weight, both up and down
  • Social withdrawal
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Hiding weight loss by wearing bulky clothes
  • Little concern over extreme weight loss
  • Stomach cramps
  • Menstrual irregularities—missing periods
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling cold all the time
  • Sleep problems
  • Cuts and calluses across the top of finger joints (from sticking finger down throat to cause vomiting)
  • Dry skin
  • Puffy face
  • Fine hair on body
  • Thinning of hair on head, dry and brittle hair
  • Cavities, or discoloration of teeth, from vomiting
  • Muscle weakness
  • Yellow skin
  • Cold, mottled hands and feet or swelling of feet
A lot of these listed items are signs that severe malnutrition has already taken place.  Even if a few of these signs are present, there is danger of an eating disorder.  Commonly, the ones you see first are: depression (crying a lot), isolation (spending tons of time alone in bedroom or bathroom), irritability and unaccounted anger, and, of course, irregular eating habits.

Because of the unfortunate lack of understanding of Eating Disorders, doctors often have very poor advice to give.  I would not recommend going to a medical doctor unless the situation is very grim (danger of death by starvation) or unless the doctor is specifically an eating disorder specialist.

Once, I went to a doctor to try to get help and he told me my BMI was fine, so I had nothing to worry about.  When, in reality, I was struggling so much with an eating disorder that I was suicidal.  Sometimes, bad counseling is worse than no counseling at all.

Let me clarify:
I’d recommend going to a therapist, counselor, or a mental health professional 100 times before I would recommend going to see a medical doctor.

I’ve had bad experiences with counselors and doctors, and maybe not all E.D. patients feel this way.However, even so, I think parents and loved ones have the most power to help someone overcome an eating disorder anyway.  The girl in this article agrees.  Her words give great insight as to what it feels like to have an eating disorder.  And in turn, can help people better understand how to help those suffering, by “walking in her shoes” for a bit.

Eating disorders are never about the food.  E.D.’s are always about control.  Eating disorders can be brought on by a number of things.  There is not always just one “cause” but often times a series of events.  Nonetheless, E.D.’s seem to start after certain events that proved out of one’s control.  Big things like: divorce, death in the family, or abuse are common causes.  Yet also other things like: school problems, break ups, moving, or even puberty can be the beginning of eating disorder tendencies.  If things are changing too fast or if the change is too difficult, sometimes, the problems are dealt with by controlling the only thing that seems controllable – eating.

Terrible things can happen if an eating disorder is left untreated.  This article is one parent’s story of having a daughter with an eating disorder (don't worry, it's a happy ending so far).  The site also offers support and additional help for other parents of children with eating disorders.

One last thing, and this is going to be difficult.

If you want your child to recover from an eating disorder, never get an eating disorder, or have a positive body image overall, than YOU must root out all disordered eating tendencies in your own life.  Click here to see if you have eating disorder tendencies.

This means:
No diets
No good food/bad food talk
No scales in the house
No weight loss talk
No fat talk or body bashing
No gossiping or comparing to other people
(These are what I call the eating disorder triggers)

Diets teach kids that their bodies cannot be trusted – that their hunger cues cannot be trusted – and left to their own, they would make bad choices.  Diets teach kids that you must exercise control over your body because the body is bad.  Click here to read more.

There is no such thing as good food or bad food.  Food is food.  Kids need to learn to recognize how they feel after eating different things instead of what foods they should or shouldn’t eat.  They will figure out that some foods make them feel sick or don’t fill them up when consumed too much.  And they will figure out that sometimes they want something hearty and more filling.  When you associate food with the words “good” or “bad”, or even “junk” or “treat”, you apply a moral standard to food.  Food is neither good nor evil.  It is not sinful to eat certain foods compared to others.  Food is morally neutral.  When you use language like good and bad food, it is confusing to children (and adults) and they start to look for justification in the food they eat.

Get rid of the bathroom scales.  How much you weigh should not determine your worth.  The number on the scale should not matter.  So there is no need for scales.  All they do is provide a perfectionist, and those with eating disorder tendencies, a means to become obsessed with a number.  And it will never be small enough!

Health has nothing to do with weight loss.  You can lose incredible amounts of weight and still be unhealthy.  If health is the real goal, weight should have no place in the discussion.  Sometimes, it’s a byproduct, but not always.  It is not a measure of health, AND it is not a measure of success.  Weight loss should not be applauded or made a big deal.  Comments about weight (yours, mine, theirs, who ever!) only fuel eating disorder tendencies in young children.

Our bodies are a gift.  They should be treated with respect.  If you bash your appearance in front of your kids, you are setting them up for textbook eating disorders.  They learn from your behaviors that they are not good enough the way they are or that they have to change in order to be loved.

Unfortunately, all this information above is counter-cultural.  Our society will say the opposite of everything I’ve just said.  Commercials, TV shows, internet, magazines…all of these things only feed into the eating disorder mentality.  Limited interaction with these things is critical to recovery.  If you find that you or anyone in your family is struggling to have a positive body image, try going on a media fast for a few weeks.  You will be amazed at how much better you feel about yourself.

I know this is a lot of information.  And if you are reading about eating disorders for the first time, you are probably overwhelmed.  Just take one paragraph or section a day and try to get something out of it.  You will learn so much from reading either this information or other information you’ve discovered.  Remember patience – you won’t learn everything you need to in just one day.  It is a journey.  But it is worth it.

And most of all, please don’t give up!  We need you to help us because we can’t help ourselves.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Gossip, Vulnerability, and True Beauty

I’m experiencing a bit of a “vulnerability hangover”.  I heard that term before and it couldn’t be more appropriate now.  It’s how I feel after posting something incredible honest, or when I have a heart to heart with another person.  In the days or weeks following, I am on edge as if there was about to be an earthquake.  I am waiting and hoping that I didn’t do anything I’ll regret.  It always turns out OK.  Being vulnerable just feels weird at first.

So last Sunday I had the honor of speaking to the women in my town at a “Spiritual Makeover” event.  This was the first time I’ve ever spoke to a large crowd, let alone, shared my story with this many people.  Needless to say, it was extremely difficult.  God, however, is already bringing about so much good from the experience – for me and for others.

Below is a part of the talk I gave.  I thought that maybe some readers need to hear this too.
Every girl, deep down inside, wants to be beautiful.  We want to be told we are stunningly gorgeous, that we are enough, and, most of all, that we are loved.  Growing up, I wanted the same thing.  However, I was raised in a family that was very concerned with outward appearance.  Because of this, I thought that true beauty was only exterior.  I thought that true love was being desired in a lustful way.  And, unfortunately, like most young girls today, I looked to the world to give me these things.

The world’s perception of beauty affected me greatly.  Yet, looking back, I can see two things that affect me even more: Gossip and Self-degradation.  Not necessarily that I was gossiped about, just the fact that I knew it went on was enough.  Women often talk negatively about other women, and women bash themselves, their appearances, their weight, hair, skin, and clothes, whatever…  It’s no big deal, right?  We’ve all done it.

And it’s not just about looks; there is extra pressure to excel, to be perfect, when you’ve been given so many good things.  Also, interestingly, there is a common fear of being accused of pride, vanity, or self-centeredness if you don’t proclaim your flaws and degrade your own goodness.   I call it “false humility”.  It is the rejecting of the good in yourself, yet appearing to be humble on the outside.  If you are complimented, do you say “Thank You” or do you immediately dismiss it like you don’t deserve it?

Because of gossip, everyone is afraid to be talked about in a negative way.  We’ve all experienced this same “what will they think of me?” fear.  Actually, even before this event, old eating disorder temptations crept up.  I was afraid that you would notice my weight and talk about me and how fat and ugly I looked up here.  Or that my hair so frizzy or my shoes don’t match my outfit.

We all talk about other people.  I am guilty too.

We might know that gossip is harmful and degrades the other person, yet, I don’t think we know how detrimental it is to our own self-worth.

When we gossip, we are setting an unrealistic standard for others and for ourselves that no one should have to live up to.  By gossiping or bashing ourselves, we are saying that we must to “earn” our self-worth.  And we are telling ourselves that true beauty is somewhere out there just beyond our reach.

If you do NOT believe you are truly beautiful and have self-worth, you will treat yourself differently – you will reject how you look, degrade yourself, and punish yourself with ridiculous things like extreme diets and excessive cardio work-outs, you will dress immodestly, nit pick your flaws in the mirror, and not stick up for yourself…

On the other hand, if you DO believe you have inherent self-worth – that true beauty comes from God – you would treat yourself different.  You would treat yourself with respect, love, compassion…You would guard your beauty, protect it, cherish it…

The body and the soul are very intricately connected.  Our bodies are a sacrament – an outward sign of an invisible inward reality.  You see, if you do not believe you have inner self-worth then your actions, will reflect that.

I am still tempted to belief the lies of the world.  I am still tormented with self-degrading thoughts and feelings.  It’s taken my whole life to form these habitual negative thoughts about myself.  I know they will take a long time to change.

I also know that I will lead with my actions and my mind will follow.  A Catholic writer, Matthew Kelly, once said “Your lives change when your habits change”.  If you treat yourself with dignity, if you respect your body, and if you take care of yourself, your mind will eventually believe in your self-worth.  Lead with your body and your head will catch on.  Soon, your actions will become daily practices and your practices will become habits.  Your life will change when your habits change.

I want to believe I am beautiful and worthy someday.  So I have to act like it now.  Some of my practices include: eating when I am hungry, going for walks, writing, creating art, going to counseling, praying, and most importantly, repeating positive phrases over and over and over… like; I am enough.  I am worthy.  I am loved.  Even if I don’t believe it in my head, I am still doing these positive things.  Some call it, “fake it till you make it”.  I have reminders around my house like that one to keep myself in check.  Like: Feelings are NOT facts, You do NOT have to earn the right to eat food, and Thoughts do NOT dictate actions…

It also helps me to remember how I treat my own friends and loved ones.  I don’t care what they look like, what they do or don’t do, I love them for who they are.  Instead of “treat others as you would like to be treated”, I tell myself to treat myself the way I treat my friends, to love myself the way I love my friends.

I know I have a long way to go.  Yet, I know I am on the right track.  God created me; therefore, I am beautiful.  I am His creation; I am His work of art.  For that reason alone, I deserve dignity, respect, praise, and all things good and beautiful.  In addition, God gave me this life for a reason.  He gave me this particular body for a reason – to be united with Him in heaven someday.  And because of that reason alone, I will acknowledge its goodness.  I will be compassionate toward myself, take care of myself, and treat my body as a sacred temple.

It is sad and overwhelming to me to see the direction the culture is headed.  But, we can only change ourselves.  We must start treating ourselves with dignity and respect so that we can recognize our inner beauty.  And also so others can learn that they possess inner self-worth as well.  We need to stop degrading our bodies and our appearances.  We need to stop comparing ourselves to others.  We need to stop talking about other people – stop gossiping.  And instead, we need to affirm each other’s gifts.

Each one of you already possesses true beauty.  You do NOT have to earn it.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Sometimes, you have to just eat.

If you are like me, you won’t always have the opportunity to eat the “healthiest” or the “cleanest”, as they say.  Sometimes, you just have to make do with what you have. 

Ideally, we’d all have organic and natural foods to eat on a daily basis.  But, that’s just not realistic.  We don’t live in a perfect world.

Sometimes, you can’t be picky – you just have to eat.  Maybe it is not what you want to eat, or when you want to eat, or how you want to eat.  Sometimes eating is just downright dirty; like when you're on a road trip, or away from home, or when your cupboards are almost bare because you need to go to the store.  But, it’s one of those things, you know, that you have to do.  Everyone has to eat to stay alive.

However, when you sacrifice perfection (if you can't eat perfect food), you don’t end up with nothing.  In my opinion, eating is better than choosing not to eat.
It's good to not be so rigid with your eating standards.  For me, this means being OK with it when my Grandpa offers me a Coke, or when my Grandma offers me a chocolate chip cookie.  This means being OK when I am celebrating with my friends and family, or when I am at a restaurant.

Every meal cannot be a perfect example of eating nutritiously and intuitively.  When I first started practicing intuitive eating, it was important to stay focused for a length of time - to try to make the experience of eating a pleasant one, a successful one, and a nutritious one.  But when I got the hang of it, I realized it is also good to cut yourself some slack.

It’s OK if you eat too much from time to time.
And conversely, it’s OK if you eat too little from time to time.
It’s OK if every meal is not the best ever – balanced with fruits, veggies, proteins, and fats.
It’s OK, occasionally, to get distracted and eat the entire bowl of popcorn during a movie.
Every once in a while it’s OK to enjoy second helpings of dessert even if you aren’t hungry anymore.

Life goes on…

Life is too important to spend every waking moment worrying and deciphering what, how, and when to eat.

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Monday, October 14, 2013

To help you overcome depression, pray to your Guardian Angel

Every since we were young, we’ve been instructed to pray to our Guardian Angels to protect us from harm, right?  If you are like me, then it has become part of your daily invocations.  The old prayer, “Angel of God, my Guardian Dear…” is so ingrained in my mind that I don’t even think about the words anymore.
I believe in the reality of my Guardian Angel; it’s not just some old superstitious habit.  Although, I think I still have a child-like view of the matter.  Subconsciously, I pray to be protected from falling off my bike or getting hurt on the playground.  Because, that prayer was a part of my childhood, I see the angels as childhood protectors.  Yes, it is true that they protect children.  However, your Angel can protect you as an adult too – and not just from physical harm.  Your Guardian Angel can protect you from sin.

When I was tormented by severe depressive thoughts, I began to pray to Guardian Angel to save me from my stupid self.  I prayed to my Angel to help me get through what I knew I couldn’t conquer on my own.

Ever since that experience, I’ve graduated my Guardian Angel into my adult life.  I pray for help all throughout the day and especially during the moments when I am tempted to despair.

This morning, something cool happened to me…

I was having a particularly rough time defeating my depressive thoughts.  Commonly, depression is often the most difficult to overcome at night and first thing in the morning.  For me, the mornings are the worst.  It takes everything in my being to get myself out of bed in the morning.  The temptations are to believe that there is “no point”.  “Why get out of bed, you’re a useless, lazy bum and have nothing to offer to the world?” 

So, this morning, I started praying to my Guardian Angel to help me get out of bed and praise God for the gift of another day of life.  After a few moments of pitiful, pleading prayers, the smoke detector start to beep – not in the fire alarm way, but in the low battery way.  If you’ve ever tried to sleep when something is beeping every few seconds, you know it will drive you mad.  So, I got up with the intention to change the battery or at least dismantle the whole thing to get it to stop.  While in the hallway, I tried to figure out which of the two alarms it was, but it didn’t beep again.  I waited…and waited…nothing.  Then a big smile crossed my face.  It is now many hours later and the smoke detector has yet to beep again.

With God, there are no coincidences.

Thank you, Guardian Angel, for helping me overcome my depressive thoughts this morning.

A different…
Prayer to One’s Guardian Angel
(Daily Protector throughout Life)

Dear Angel, in His Goodness, God gave you to me to guide, protect, and enlighten me, and to bring me back to the right way when I go astray.  Encourage me when I am disheartened, and instruct me when I err in my judgment.  Help me to become more Christ-like, and so some day to be accepted into the company of Angels and Saints in heaven.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Continued Eating Disorder Healing: Meditation on Jesus in the Eucharist

Before I knew better, I used to justify my eating disorder behaviors with a misunderstanding of Catholic Church teaching.

Not by anyone’s own fault, I was, unfortunately, misguided to believe that the body was bad and the spirit was good.  This notion of spirit=good, body=bad is not uncommon.  It is found in Puritanical theology.  Since our country was pretty much founded by Puritan Protestants, I guess its no wonder these beliefs are still lingering around.

For me, personally, I separated the physical from the invisible realities of the human person.  I thought that the true human being was trapped inside the body like a prisoner.  And, it was my understanding that in order to find your true self, one must “die to one’s self” or kill off the body.  My impression was, because of original sin, the body became the enemy, and one must constantly fight the inclinations of the body in order to merit eternal life.

I misinterpreted the meaning of the Scripture verse, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”  I thought that the “flesh” was synonymous with the physical body and “weak” was synonymous with hopelessly flawed.  I thought that, in order to please God, one must exercise control the body because, left to its own devices, would run amok.

At the time, considering my understanding, my eating disorder made complete sense.  I used my eating disorder habits to exercise control over this “evil body” that I thought I had.  I was trying to free my trapped soul that laid dormant underneath.

In adoration the other day, it occurred to me just how much the body matters, just how important it really is.

God became Man – He became flesh and bones…and blood, and organs, and a heart, and hair, and nails, and so on.  He took upon Himself a real, physical, human body and walked the earth.  If the body did not have significance, then it would not have been necessary for God to assume a human body.

Also, Jesus comes to us every day in the Eucharist.  He comes to us in under the appearance of bread and wine, yet it is truly His body, blood, soul, and divinity.  Jesus commands us to consume His Body and Blood (Matt 26:26).  We receive Him into our body -- through our mouths, down our throats, and digest Him in our stomachs.  Then His Body becomes part of our body.  Why would God, the creator of all, do this?  Because He thinks the body is very good!

When the Lord God made the universe, He made the sun, the stars, the land, the sea, and the animals, and He said they were good.  When He made man and woman, He said they were very good (Gen 1:26-31).

Another thought, why would the Lord raise up our bodies on the last day, if our bodies were not that important – if they were evil, and a hindrance to our eternal life.  No, our bodies have value and worth beyond what we can even imagine.

This Puritanical understanding of the body is not a correct understanding of Catholic teaching on the subject.  The body is not something to be controlled like an animal in a cage.  No, the body is a gift.  It is a beautiful gift from God the Father to be used for good.

The body and the soul are very intricately connected.  The body is a sacrament.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that a sacrament is an outward, physical sign of an inward, invisible reality.  The body is an outward manifestation of the reality of our souls.  They work together.  You can see this phenomenon in holy people such as Mother Teresa of Calcutta.  When she was alive, and in photographs as well, you could see her inner holiness radiating out through her body.  She used the gift of her body to do good and to bring the light of Christ to the world.

Because of original sin, we have an inclination toward sin, or concupiscence.  This fallen human nature is not just the soul or just the body.  It’s in the whole person.  When Jesus use the phrase “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” (Matt 26:41), he is talking about concupiscence.  He is not saying that the body is inherently bad.  He is saying that we are inclined to do what is contrary to the will of God.  The body is not the enemy – sin is the enemy, or more accurately, the devil is the enemy.  When St. Paul says “in order to follow Christ, one must die to oneself”, he is saying that you must learn to die to your passions, your sins, pride, lust, etc.

Yes, we all have tendencies to do evil things or things we don’t want to do.  That doesn’t make us inherently bad.  For, God stamped in our very being the desire to do good.  We all have a longing to do what is right.  Deep down in our hearts, we all have a yearning for love.  We know because of this “incompleteness” that we are destined for something greater.

Yes, one has to die in order to get to Heaven.  And for a temporary period of time, we will be separated from our bodies.  However, on the last day, (as we profess in the Creed) our souls will be once again joined to our bodies.

Reflecting on these realities helps me to find further eating disorder recovery.  By truly believing that the body is good, I will treat myself with more dignity, I will take care of my body and it’s needs, and I will not physically or verbal abuse my body.

Instead of fighting it, I will thank God for the gift of my body.  I thank Him for my working arms and legs, for my hands to type this post, for my eyes to see this beautiful sunrise, and for so much more.

Whether or not you’ve struggled with an eating disorder, I think everyone in our world struggles to keep a positive body image.

If you are having a difficult time see the goodness and beauty in your own body, take some time to thank God.  Go over each part of your body and find something positive to say about it.  At the end of it, you will sit taller, walk straighter, smile more genuine, and laugh more authentically.  And ultimately, you will find that, contrary to cultural belief, your body is perfect and beautiful just the way it is.
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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Self-Assertiveness and Personal Boundaries

Many people who struggle with anxiety disorders also struggle with this little thing called “self-assertiveness”.  Whether the anxiety is the result of the lack of assertiveness or vice versa, typically, where one is found the other is near.

It’s hard to say no.  Sometimes you feel pressure from other people to say yes, or maybe, you just want to do the right thing.  Or you feel a lot of compassion and want to help, or you feel like you “should” or “ought”.  Maybe you don’t want to be judged or let anyone down.

But saying “no” is not as negative as you think.  Sometimes, saying “no” is really just an affirmation of your prior “yes”.

I say no to diets because I already said yes to respecting my body.
I say no to too many commitments because I already said yes to taking time for myself.
I say no to working because I said yes to being a stay-at-home wife.
I say no to watching bad movies because I said yes to protecting my soul.

Get the picture?
“No” is a word.  “No” is also a complete sentence. 

When you say “no” you do not need to provide justification or explanation.  Just say no - you don’t need to tell your whole life story or why you do what you do.  For me, personally, when I would feel guilty for saying “no” (when I was less self-assertive), I would try to defend my response to appease the other person and make myself feel less guilty.  But it never worked; I always ended up feeling worse than when I started.

If people make you feel bad for saying no, that is there problem.  If they are truly your friend, or if they truly respect you as another human person, they would not treat you in such a way.

After I started practicing self-assertiveness, my friends and loved ones caught on quickly.  They respected my right to say no, and they respected my privacy as to why.

When you are first practicing more self-assertiveness, ask yourself “what do I need?” and most of the time, you will know what to do.

Being self-assertive is not always about sticking up for yourself, it is also about showing your insecurities.  I have to show my weaknesses when I have to say no.  By saying no, I am saying that I have limits, I can’t do anything and everything, and I must take care of myself and take time for rest and rejuvenation.

Being self-assertive is not about getting back at a person.  Saying no just make someone mad is not the point.  Being self-assertive is not about being above another or too good for something.  It is not this self-absorbed characteristic trait that is sometimes portrayed in movies and such.  Self-assertiveness is about respecting yourself and true humility.  It is about recognizing your limits, but also, enhancing your strengths.

I used to be so afraid of what people think of me, so I would say “yes” to every request made of me.  I was taken advantage of and disrespected.  And I wore myself out time and time again.

Being self-assertive takes practice.  If you are not used to it, you will feel guilty when you first begin to say no.  Self-assertiveness will feel weird at first.  But that is only because you are forming a new habit.  The more you practice, the more you will feel comfortable with the boundaries you are setting.

(For example: stand up to your doctor.  Medical professionals are commonly known to over-step their boundaries with their patients.  But just because its common, doesn’t mean it’s right.  They are not used to being questioned, so doctors might make you feel stupid when you inquire or disagree.  But you deserve to understand and agree with decisions concerning your health and well-being.)

As with situation, people can’t read your mind.  You have to ask for what you need.  And say “no” when you don’t need it.

All of this focus on being self-assertive and creating positive boundaries is to allow you to become less affected and become more effective.  Most of the time, you have no control over situations and occurrences.  Instead of constantly being “affected” by things you can’t control, use your self-assertiveness to be “effective”.

You have the power to overcome your anxieties.  You have the power to defend and respect yourself.  Now that you know why it is important, these tips above are the “how”.

I’ll end with one of my favorite quotes by Eleanor Roosevelt, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

Check out these other H.A.N.L. posts about this topic:

If you want more, check out these other articles on PsychCentral about Boundaries:
What are Personal Boundaries and How do I get some?
Setting Solid Boundaries

Monday, October 7, 2013

A Few Tips to Help You Overcome Social Anxiety

I have a really difficult time being in crowds, interacting with people at parties, and talking to people I don’t know or don’t know very well.  I pretty much get nervous in any situation when other people are involved.

Some of my insecurities probably stem from my introverted personality.  However, I think my social-phobia is mainly rooted in my fear of being judged.

Because of my perfectionist tendencies, I want the experience to be, um, perfect.  I want my social interactions to be flawlessly graceful and free of any awkwardness.  I am constantly worried about what other people would think of me.  I am afraid of saying something stupid or forgetting to say something altogether.

One thing that helps me stay calm in social circumstances is “embracing the awkwardness”.    The credit for this phrase goes to my freshman year college roommate.  It was sort of a joke at the time.  Young adult years are full of finding yourself drama that lends to many a regretted experience.  But even though I am six years (!) out of college, it has stuck with me.

“Embracing the awkwardness” means to keep in mind that awkwardness is perpetually present and, in order to make it through life, one must embrace it instead of run from it.

In a particularly awkward circumstance, don’t panic and think this is the end of your social life.  Substitute a smile and remember the other person is probably feeling the same way as you.

You can never fully escape the awkwardness of life.  So, instead of analyzing conversations or repeating an event over and over in your head, let it go and move on.

Recalling the phrase “embrace the awkwardness” helps me to stay in control of myself during social interactions.  I don’t feel pressure to say the right thing, or say anything at all.  I don’t feel pressure to talk to everyone in the room.  And I don’t push myself to talk to people I don’t want to talk to.  Letting go of perfection helps me to listen to what the other person is saying instead of concentrating on what to say myself.  Also, I don’t regret conversations or play back the scenarios over in my head.  So my mind is free to think of the present.  In general, I can now enjoy social events more than I did before.  In the past, I would have avoided them out of fear.

PsychCentral recently published a post title “6 ways to overcome social anxiety”.  In the article, the author wrote about some practical tips to help with social fears.  Number 5 was Create Objective Goals.  Instead of trying measure your success on whether or not you were blushing, sweating, feeling nervous, or anxious, give yourself concrete goals that you have control over.  You can’t control your emotions or what other people do, so don’t use that as your standard.  Alternatively, give yourself praise for just “going” to the event.

The author writes:

Also, avoid focusing on others’ reactions.  It doesn’t matter how your colleagues received your idea in the meeting.  What matters is that you actually spoke up.  It doesn’t matter whether a girl or guy said yes to your dinner invite.  What matters is that you actually asked.  It doesn’t matter how your child’s teacher reacted when you declined to volunteer for yet another school trip.  What matters is that you were assertive and respected your own needs.

Keep in mind these helpful hints the next time you are in a social setting.  Hopefully they will help you have a better experience.  Social-phobia is no fun.  You don’t have to live with it.  Of course, with every habit – eeeeeeeerch – that’s breaks screeching to a halt.  Side note:  Yes, social anxieties are the result of habitual, fear-based reactions in social settings.  Example:  If you beat yourself up each time you are in a social setting, then you will begin to fear the social setting itself.  So, in order to break a habit, or, in this case, replace it with a better one, you need time, practice, and patience.

But it CAN be done.

You can do it too! I believe in you!

Friday, October 4, 2013

How do you know if you are self-medicating with alcohol?

“According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately 50 percent of individuals with severe mental health disorders are affected by substance abuse. NAMI also estimates that 29 percent of all people diagnosed as mentally ill abuse alcohol or other drugs.

Each disorder has its own unique symptoms that can impair one’s ability to function and often interact with each other. For example, when mental health disorders are left untreated, substance abuse is likely to increase. One may try to self-medicate with substances to reduce mental health symptoms. One may also increase substance use as a result of stress and inability to cope with issues or situations.”  (Click here to read the complete article)

It is not uncommon for people suffering from a mental illness to abuse alcohol or other drugs.  This behavior is called “self-medicating”.  The point of using (whether conscious or subconscious) is to lessen the pain.  Alcohol is more commonly abused because it is socially acceptable in most places.  And depending on where you live, getting drunk is not such a big deal either.

For me, I had definite problems handling alcohol.  In college, I drank, drank more, and then more.  I must have known that I had some sort of problem because I decided to give it up entirely for one year.  After the year was over, I drank a little, then more, than more frequently.  Then, before I knew it, I was back to where I was before I gave up drinking.  Admitting it now, I can see I was close to being an alcoholic.

Diagnosable alcoholism is (but not limited to): getting drunk three or more times a week, drinking alone, drinking to escape feelings or situations, pursuing drunkenness over enjoying the taste.  In addition, this behavior has to continue for a lengthened period of time.

Alcoholism also has the potentiality to run in the family – it’s hereditary.

So, considering all these things, Katniss, the odds are not in my favor.

I’ve been thinking ’bout drinking lately because I’ve been having weird dreams about alcohol.  I dreamt I had a glass of red wine the other night.  It scared me and enticed me at the same time.

I was determined not to drink while taking the anti-depressant medication (click here to read more) because I wanted to get better and certain things, like alcohol would inhibit the effectiveness of the medication.  I have been off the meds for a few months and I am doing OK.  Soooo…..

Now, I have my days, but I am so much better than I was about a year a half ago.  Would alcohol still affect me the same way it did when I was severely depressed?  I am more equipped to handle my moods since receiving treatment.  I am sure I could handle having a glass of wine every once in a while, right?

Well, I don’t know.

If I admit that I am not an alcoholic, that the alcohol only made depressive moods worse and was not the cause of my depression, then I might have a "pro" case.

Yet, if I admit that I was an alcoholic, then even if my depression is better, I still should not drink at all.

So, I do admit that I had alcoholic tendencies.  I think given more time, I could have been “technically” diagnosed.  After contemplating long and hard, I can see that giving in to alcohol would not be the best road to take.  Why risk it?  Why see if I was really an alcoholic or not?

To be committed to not drinking, I have to tell myself that I was an alcoholic, or was, at least, on the fast-track.  I have to be OK with never drinking again.

Maybe, a lot of relapses occur because people suppose they are “cured” enough to start drinking again.  And if they do have alcoholic tendencies, then they might have several relapses due to drinking.  Had my life been different (a.k.a. “But for the Grace of God”), I could see myself being right there too.

So, long story short…everything’s still the same.  In case you were wondering, which you probably weren't, but anyway...
TTFN - Ta Ta For Now.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Just thinking...

Sometimes I feel so not like myself.  I think that I must have lost myself somewhere in the shuffle.  And I try to find "it" back by doing what I think might return me to a normal state of "myself".  But then I think, "Is this still myself, even when I am not myself".  "If I am not myself, than who am I?"  And then I think, "Am I thinking too much?"
The last sentence is probably the truest of true.
I think too much.
Or do I?