Tag Archives: holidays

Reclaim what is mine.

Did you all have a great holiday yesterday? Anyone get any snow for Christmas?  We did not, however since this is Indiana, I’m sure that we will soon have more than we can handle. 

I found the jar that I’m going to use for our HL Challenge exercise in January.  Now all I need to do is cut out some slips of paper and gather a couple of pens so I’m not spending all of my time looking for things to write with/on. 

I’ve been mentally preparing for this exercise by practicing gratitude in my mind but am finding its not the same.  I need to go through the act of physically writing it down and putting it somewhere that I can see it.  Physical reminders are so important and can give instant positive feedback.  Plus, just thinking about what I’m grateful for ends up leading to thoughts of needing to fill up my bird feeders, brush the dogs, clean house, etc.  Not the best use of this exercise.  So, yes – I’m looking forward to starting my Gratitude Jar. 

Yesterday was Christmas.  Even though my morning started out well, things quickly changed as the day progressed. I ended up in a very bad place emotionally by mid afternoon and found myself quickly wishing for the holiday to be over.  Forgive me for not going into detail, here.  Some things are just better left unwritten.  I will say that while I thought I’d set boundaries in place I realized by the end of the night that I will need to take things a step further.  If a family member causes havoc every holiday it’s more than reasonable to want to remove oneself from distress, but the real trick I’m finding is being strong enough to follow through.  I grew lax this year, hoping things would get better, when clearly they only worsened. 

I never again want to be put in the position of spending another holiday feeling anxious and sad.   My husband and I have agreed that if certain conditions aren’t met next year, we’re packing up and taking a vacation over the holidays.  Either way, I’m taking back my holidays.

The thing about going to bed sad is that you almost always wake up in a funk as well, so this gal is signing off and heading straight for the treadmill.  I’m on week 4 of C25K and I think if I run fast enough, I’ll be able to leave this sorrow far behind. 

Gratitude – I’m grateful for the opportunity to outrun a heavy heart.  Or at the very least, make myself too tired to care. 

 

**I will have an official overview of January’s Challenge THIS FRIDAY.  If you’re participating, you wont want to miss it.  See you then. 

~Ellen

My Scale-Free Streak is Over

If I had planned this post better, it would have started off a little something like this:

Friends! Acquaintances!  Newcomers to my blog, this I do declare!  It has been 98 days, 13 hours and 14 minutes since I banished that devilish scale from my sight!

Aside from the dramatic wording, it would have been pretty cool if I’d kept better track.  The truth is, I can’t exactly remember how long it’s been since I threw the scale in the closet.   What turned out to be a week-or-two thing though, ended up being around three months.  And truthfully, after the first week or so, I did not miss it.  

Recently, my husband decided he wanted to drop a few pounds and asked, ‘Honey?  Where’s the scale?’  Crap. 

Okay, so I decided to break my scale-free lifestyle and hop on.  The verdict?  I have maintained my weight.  It seems that relying on my brain to direct me instead of allowing the scale to control me is paying off.  I have surprised even myself.  I never thought I’d be one of those people; it’s true, old habits die hard.  Maybe I’m finally starting to get the hang of this maintenance thing.  Gee, but it’s only been 7 years.

For those of you who are wondering why I crossed over my scale-free zone – it was pure selfishness. I wanted to see how careful I needed to be when making upcoming decisions about some yummy food that will be good and plentiful these next few days – as in: Should I walk into this cupcake bakery and order whatever the hell I want, or should I wait and splurge on half of an after-dinner mint? 

Yes, I do still think like that sometimes.  As you can see, I’m still trying to find my balance.  A lot of work that still needs to be done: practicing moderation.  This is something I still have not mastered in all these years. 

 

 

You may remember this post in which I discussed at length about my handicapped brother and my realization that I needed to to evolve into a different kind of thinker this holiday season. ‘New Holiday Traditions’ is what I called my not-yet thought out plan.  Well, my husband and I put on our thinking caps and decided that we would forego traditional Christmas presents for each other and instead, just pack up and leave town for a 24 hour getaway.   We decided to choose Chicago once again because it’s one of our favorite places plus, we’ve never been there during the Christmas season.

So, this will be my last entry until after the holidays.  I will be back on Monday, the 26th with answers to all of your questions on the upcoming Hate-Loss Challenge.  It’s been very exciting to see so many people take interest in a project I feel is so important.  I think January is going to generate a lot of positive energy throughout this community. We are going to be kicking the New Year off right!  :)

One question I want to answer right away is:  No, you do NOT have to have a blog to participate in this challenge.  If you run a blog, you will post your update for Group Therapy Thursday on your own blog.  If you do not have a blog, then you will use my blog to contribute your post, right in the comments section.  Easy Peasy. 

I am sending much love and peace to you all this holiday season.  Be well, and I’ll see you back here on Monday.

 

XO,

Ellen

Extended post on mental illness within a family

I’ve been sitting here lately reflecting on some upcoming posts for the Hate-Loss Challenge that I’m beginning in January.  Specifically the question, ‘What makes me the way I am and why do I still struggle with self-esteem issues, shyness and negative thoughts in my life?’ Something I wrote in a previous post kept coming back to me over and over again:

Chances are if you have an issue or problem that you can’t figure out, look to your childhood and you’ll generally find all the answers you need.

I began to identify some of the baggage that I carry around as an adult as unresolved issues I had when I was younger.  Many people use the phrase, ‘It’s best to just forget the past and move on.’  I believe this is true if you’ve come to terms with it and have accepted it for what it is.  After all, you can’t change it, right?  But what if parts of the past have been ignored or shoved deep back into the corners of your mind where you can’t get to them?  Are they really gone?  No.  And I can’t leave something behind when it’s still taking up unwanted space.  It’s time for me to begin cleaning house.

 

During my Reinventing the Holidays post I shared a bit of information on a family member who is mentally handicapped.  I was touched by the comments and email I received from people who either know of or are part of families similar to mine.  Those of us who celebrate holidays with challenging people tend to become more anxious this time of year.  Additional stress on top of the already fast-paced season can wreck havoc on our physical health as well as our emotional health, both of which need to be protected more than ever if we’re also trying to keep healthy food habits in check.    This is a very delicate subject, and one that is not discussed very much, but with the holidays in full-swing and tempting food at every table, I think it’s a topic that is very appropriate for a weight-loss/healthy living/maintenance blog.  If you happen to be dreading the holidays and a loved one is part of the reason why, then this post is for you.

When my brother was diagnosed with various mental disabilities, there was very little community support.  He was born in the fifties, and at that time doctors were quick to coax parents into sending their handicapped children off to mental hospitals and told to forget they exist.  There has been so much progress since that time, it staggers the mind.  Not only have many state hospitals closed their doors allowing intellectually disabled people the choice of living in group homes or with their families and personal caregivers, but many carry jobs and live very fulfilling lives.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen. 

Growing up in a household with a handicapped sibling is extremely challenging for any family, no matter how dedicated the parents may be to the family as a whole. Not only have I experienced this firsthand, but I’ve spent years working with families who have chosen to keep their children at home instead of utilizing other services such as group homes.  Trust me when I say, I’ve seen things that makes my story look like a fairytale.

My siblings and I grew up in two very different homes.  The one in which my sister and brothers grew up was one where my oldest brother had periods of extreme rage.  When he reached puberty, he became uncontrollable, both verbally and physically.  He would frequently walk the streets at night, spitting on neighbors’ front doors while cursing at the top of his lungs.  He was unable to listen to direction or do things that were asked of him. 

I was two years old at the time of the incident.  My sister vividly remembers the family sitting at the dining room table; I was in my high chair.  As my father made a comment about slowing down as he ate, my oldest brother grew very angry and threw a fork across the room which almost struck me in the eye.  My sister who was 12 at the time,  asked my mother, “How much longer do we have to live like this before he really hurts one of us?”  It was shorty thereafter that my brother was transferred to a state institution. 

Before I was ten, my other siblings were adults living on their own.  My oldest brother came home to visit many times during the year including holidays.  His behavior varied from visit to visit.  Sometimes he would be overly-medicated and often sleepy and lethargic, then suddenly get a rush of excitement and go into the kitchen and eat uncontrollably until he’d vomit onto the floor.  I’d watch as my mother cleaned the mess, begging him to stop as my brother began eating all over again.  Other times he would arrive so agitated and hyper that if I happened to ask him a question or simply be standing in his path, he would hit and/or push me to the ground.  I became afraid of him from an early age, and to this day still find myself on guard within his presence. 

Birthdays have always been a very tender subject for me.  My brother’s birthday happens to be two days before mine so to save time and money, my parents celebrated our birthdays together every year.  Because of his violent mood swings and attention seeking behavior, I usually spent my birthdays hiding away, leaving my parents tending to my brother.  Within the last 5 years I’ve tried having a discussion with my mother about feeling neglected on my birthday.  The conversation did not go well. 

Stories like these may shock those of you who have never dealt with mental illness, but I’m guessing that there are more of you reading who are nodding your head thinking, ‘Yep.  I can relate to that.’  Personally, I think this type of thing isn’t discussed because we feel ashamed if we express how difficult it can be.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the phrase, ‘You have it easy compared to him.  You have nothing to complain about and should be grateful.’   But how could I learn to be grateful when everyone around me, including my brother was absolutely miserable?    It’s true, I am not a mother of a handicapped child. I don’t know what it’s like to see that child sent away as you are left to deal with the guilt you feel about not being strong enough to parent him. I am also familiar of the stigma attached to needing but refusing to seek therapy back then in order to deal with feelings of inadequacy and frustration. It just wasn’t done. And so, life carried on as it always had. Back then there was no outside intervention, no therapists to talk to, no one to intervene and take some of the pressure off of my parents.  They did the best they could under the circumstances.  

I’m going to share something else with you.  When I first mentioned my brother, that was the first time I’ve ever discussed it in length with anyone who wasn’t extremely close to either me or the situation.  In other words, I’ve always kept it within the family.  I’ve since come to realize that this is a subject that begs to be discussed more often.  If I hadn’t first addressed it with my therapist and then with all of you, I don’t know how many more holidays would have passed before realizing that I deserve Happy Thanksgivings and Merry Christmases and wonderful birthdays as much as he does, they do, or you do.   I may be my mother’s daughter but I am not a child anymore.  Being an adult can be freeing but it can also bring on some serious backlashing.  Unpopular decisions aren’t easy and someone always gets hurt.  I am preparing myself for some people to become upset and overwhelmed.  When we quiet conformists do things that are unexpected, especially if our job as Peacekeepers is being compromised we have to anticipate some resistance. 

I’m not saying that we should all ditch difficult people and forget they exist.  What I am saying is that it’s easy to feel as though we have no control when it comes to tender situations.  In lowering my inch thick wall of guilt, I’ve found that I’m mourning many lost birthdays and holidays.  I can’t undo the past but I can agree to give myself the gift of control over Christmas this year, which I am doing.  My husband and I have decided to forego presents for each other, instead giving ourselves new traditions.  I will be seeing my brother on Christmas Day, but with the understanding that when things become too stressful, we will excuse ourselves and spend the rest of the day at home with our dogs and enjoying each other’s company. 

I’m leaving this post wide open for discussion.  Here, you can share your stories, tips on dealing with stressful people over the holidays, or post questions of your own.  I’m sure someone will have words of wisdom (I get a lot of those around here).   ;) I have one lucky blog. 

Thanks for reading today, everyone. 

 

XO,

~Ellen

Holiday Decisions, Upcoming Challenge and apparently, I Am On Fire!

Three things on the Monday Agenda today.

First, my husband and I sat down to read all of your responses to my holiday dilemma post on Friday.  I know I’ve mentioned this before but it never hurts to remind you that this blogger feels so deeply lucky to have the readers she does.  Many good ideas were given along with loads of support and encouragement.  What more could I ask for? 

The one thing I’ve realized from your comments is this:  I have been giving these holidays too much power over me.  It took me all this time and my last post to realize that my anxiety and depression stemmed from the fact that I was relying on others to give me something that deep down I knew I’d never receive: expectations of having a normal, happy holiday season.   Now I see that it’s up to me to carry out that desire, and it doesn’t have to mirror the slightest resemblance of a Martha Stewart Season.  It can be whatever my husband and I want it to be.  We’re currently throwing around some ideas and are also preparing ourselves for consequences; I’ve come to find that some people react negatively when others around them don’t act the way they’re expected to.  In other words, we may not be the most popular kids on the block this year. That will be a challenge, but I already know that no matter what we do, we won’t please everyone, and after trying and failing to do just that all these years I think it’s time to start aiming at making ourselves happy.

Thanks everyone.  Big hugs to each of you.

 

 

Next on the agenda:  you may have noticed a new grab badge on my sidebar.  If not, direct your eye off to the right for a moment or take a gander below:

Hate-Loss Challenge 2012

For those of you who were with me at the beginning of the year, you already know about my Hate-Loss Challenge back in January.  It began as a counterbalance to the Weight-Loss Challenges that many bloggers like to host after the New Year rings in.  Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately and re-reading the entries from the participants.  After it was over I received numerous emails from people who’d missed it, asking if I was going to bring it back at some point during the year.  It brought me such pride and joy to see so many people embrace that challenge that I decided to host it again this coming January.  Yes, I know I’m a little early, but I’m hoping my badge gives off a ‘Can’t Wait!’ vibe…doesn’t it kind of trick you into believing that something HUGE is coming??  Oh, and in case you’re wondering why the peacock? Ever heard the saying, ‘proud as a peacock?’ Well, this challenge is all about taking pride in ourselves, so it just made sense to me. 

If you would like to know more about the significance of this challenge and why it’s different than any one you’ve ever considered, just click on the Peacock badge off to the right and it will take you to the information page.  Scroll down to the title Hate-Loss Challenge.  If you decide that you’d like to participate, you can grab my badge on the sidebar and help me spread the word.  The code appears below the badge.

 

 

…lastly on today’s agenda is my email from Teresa at Good Day to Diet who honored me with the Blog On Fire Award:

 

 

It always makes me smile when a blogger peer honors me with an award, and for Teresa to think of me with this particular award is very kind.  She’s such a beautiful person inside and out and is such an important part of this community so I’m doubly thankful.  I will address this award and pass it along very soon!

I’m off to visit with a friend of mine this morning, then on to work.  I hope you all have a great Monday.

 

XO,

~Ellen

Reinventing the Holidays

Every year I sit back in my little home office and watch as Joe, my neighbor decorates his house with Christmas lights from top to bottom.  He takes great care while balancing on a ladder as he hangs icicle lights around his gutters, plugs in his glowing reindeer and lines the driveway with plastic candy canes.  He and his wife, along with many people I know, consider this their favorite time of year.   

I however, always being the oddball, am having a difficult time this holiday season.  Dare I go as far as to say that I’m dreading it, as I have done every year for as long as I can remember.  I’ve gone back and forth as to whether I should even share these thoughts, considering my blog is open to those who know me.  Just thinking these things makes me feel like I’m keeping some horrible, unforgiveable secret.  But then I thought well, maybe it’ll be therapeutic to just get these thoughts out.  Maybe I’ll feel better, or at the very least, feel understood.    

When I began therapy after my mother’s accident last year, my therapist asked me about the upcoming holidays, how I celebrated, and whether I was looking forward to them.  I sat there, dumbfounded. I think I summed it all up when I said that if past years are any indication, I’ll have the tree and every trace of holiday decoration down, packed away and stored in the attic by Christmas morning.

I have no particularly fond family memories of Thanksgiving growing up, but I do have short bursts of pleasant memories at Christmastime when I was quite young, like watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman on our television, and waking up to the belief that Santa had come to see me the night before.  But most of my memories of Thanksgiving and Christmas, especially over the past 20 years or so have been filled with anxiety and stress.  Our home used to be very turbulent growing up, in part, due to a mentally handicapped family member who had, and unfortunately still has a tendency to be violent.  For me, holiday memories are sprinkled with a crying mother, a frustrated father, and me left feeling helpless and frightened in an out of control household.

Every year around the beginning of November I try to head into the holidays with an open mind; I keep a mental list of Things I’m Grateful For to help me focus on the positive things I have in my life. I bake pumpkin bread for family and friends; I enjoy the act of giving. But by mid November, I wish I could just leave town and not return until after December 25th;  it would be nice if I could skip over that time of year altogether.

Our family situation has always been very precarious.  I think that my brother enjoys being with his siblings, but he has many disorders that, even with medication, rarely allow him to remain calm and it’s very difficult to carry on a conversation with him.  I’ve been unfortunate enough to have crossed his path at the wrong time and as a result ended up on the floor with my ears ringing from a blow across the head.  Still, he is my brother and I love him, and I realize that he cannot control these outbursts any more than a deaf man controls what he cannot hear. 

The strange thing is, I’ve worked with the handicapped for over 20 years and have a good deal of experience with violent and non-violent people alike.  But when it comes to my brother, all of those years of experience fly right out the window.  I am so emotionally involved that I cannot separate feeling from logic.  I have no idea how to relate to my situation with him. 

How do you react to upcoming events that you are not looking forward to?  For me, the anxiety I feel as the event gets closer makes me want to pull out that old comfortable habit of emotional eating.  It is the one thing that has always soothed my nerves.  Of course this is exactly what I don’t need, and I realize this.  Still, that pull is always there, and this is one of the few times per year that I truly feel like I’m one step away from losing control of what’s happening around me. 

Seeing that therapist last year helped me realize why I have anxiety issues and why I feel more at ease when I have a plan in place (chances are if you have an issue or problem that you can’t figure out, look to your childhood and you’ll generally find all the answers you need).  As far as answers to my adult problems, my therapist suggested that my husband and I create our own holiday traditions, even if that means planning a vacation from the holidays.  If I thought I could do that without suffering any guilt from it I would, but two of my siblings will not be attending either holiday this year, even though they both live nearby; therefore I have a hard time considering the idea of leaving my mother with one less child during Thanksgiving or Christmas.  I love my family – all of my family, but sometimes I just wish that things could be different but the outcome is always the same.  I arrive and within an hour I am stressed, anxious and just downright sad.

I think I need to accept the fact that things aren’t always going to go smoothly, no matter how much I want them to. I need to stop mourning that loss and accept the things I can’t change.  Maybe then I can let go of what I can’t have and begin concentrating on the things I can change.

My husband and I have begun discussing the thought of creating our own holiday traditions, although we really don’t know what that means, yet; just starting from scratch and throwing out the traditional.  It’s pretty clear that traditional just doesn’t work in our lives, anyway.  All I know is that if there is a way for me to figure out how to get through this holiday season having somewhat relative peace without gaining 10 pounds, then I’m willing to tackle this project head-on. 

How do you get through the holidays? Any tricks or tips that you might be willing to share that might help those of us with the holiday blues?

T-Zero Hours

Good morning, and Happy Holidays to my fellow elves…ah, readers out there.  Hope you are bright-eyed and bushy tailed after last night’s…dinner out? dinner with the fam? Movies and popcorn with the kids?  Well, all things food-related then.  I have found that my clock was only ticking up till the witchy hour of Christmas Eve, then all hell broke loose and suddenly I was bombarded with homemade cookies, chocolates, cheesecakes and a killer dinner out with my husband and sister-in-law.  Nice evening but I’m a bit blurry from ‘whatever I ate last night’.  See, even though I didn’t drink I’m going to just play hangover and say that I don’t remember. 

I’m off to wake up the Husband and hopefully have a peaceful, relaxing morning before beginning the day’s craze of heading off to my Mom’s house for dinner (i.e., the dumping ground for many of the treats given to us over the last few days).

Happy Holidays to you all and thank you for being a part of my world these past few months.  Now, get out there and have a great day!