I am a professional assumer: Raising an intense child #6

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I am a professional assumer. I’ve been at it so long and I’m so good at it, that most of the time I don’t even realize that I’m doing it. 

I assess people and situations. Before I ask questions, seek clarity or perspective, I decide what is true. 

For example, let’s say Bryan walks in the door 20 minutes later then when he said he was going to be home. When our kids were very little, this was the worst offense. Earlier that afternoon, I promised myself that if he was late, I wouldn’t explode. But when I saw him, my heart began to pound, my voice would get loud and before he could say a word I would yell “Where were you? You said you would be home 20 minutes ago. Do you know how long 20 minutes feels when you are home all day with YOUR children?” I would continue on. Finally when I came up to take a breath, he would have a moment to explain. He would proceed to tell me that he was in an accident and when he was about to call me, the person that hit his car walked up to the drivers seat window, took Bryan’s phone and drove away.

Okay, that never really happened. But I think the example drives my point home. 

Without asking questions, seeking perspective and clarity, I decided what was true. Because I was tired and frustrated, I assumed that Bryan stayed at work late on purpose. I assumed that he came home late because he would rather be at work than at home with me and the kids. There is no truth in that assumption. Bryan would rather be at home with us and often times leaves before others. But when I allow my emotions to be my filter, truth gets muddy and I start making assumptions. I then allow my assumptions to drive my reactions. 

I do the same thing with Piper.

I assume and react. 

She doesn’t even have to say anything. She walks in the door and looks at me a certain way. I assume that she is going to be disrespectful. I assume she is about to make my day a challenge. I react immediately. My heart begins to pound. I start getting hot and without notice, I am angry. I don’t pause. I don’t ask questions. I don’t seek perspective or clarity, I allow my assumptions to drive my reaction. And again, all of this happens before Piper even has a chance to open her mouth.

That is not fair to her. And it certainly doesn’t line up with my belief that we can change, that we can be better than we were yesterday. And honestly, I hope no one allows their assumptions about me to guide their reactions. 

I asked someone years ago what the best advice they had ever received. Their answer was simple, yet so profound. 

Assume the best in people.

This advice has stuck with me. 

Because it’s really hard.

It’s amazing to me how good I am at assuming the worst in people, yet it is so unnatural for me to assume the best. But it matters where our assumptions are coming from because it helps frame the situation in a different light. I read something last year that drives this point even closer to home. 

In Harvey and Penzo’s book “Parenting a Child Who Has Intense Emotions.” they talk about important assumptions you should parent from as you parent your intense child. 

1. Your child is doing the best they can.

2. Your child needs to do better, try harder, and be more motivated to change.

3. Your child wants to do things differently and make things better.

4. Your child must learn new behaviors in all important situations in his life.

5. Family members should take things in a well-meaning way and not assume the worst.

6. There is no absolute truth.

When I first read this, I was angry. I was sure of two things 1.They had never met my child. 2. They probably had never had an intense child, if they did-they would have not included number one (or number three for that matter). 

But those assumptions stuck with me. As I continued to wrestle with number one especially, I was brought back to the advice given to me years ago-assume the best in people. What if I tried to assume the best of Piper? How would it change my approach if I assumed that Piper was truly doing the best she could? 

What if instead of assuming the worst of Piper, I paused and waited for her to open her mouth before I reacted?  What if I actually assumed the best from her, that she was doing the best she could? What if instead of assuming the worst and getting angry at Bryan, I actually asked questions? 

In the rare occasion I have done that, I’ve been surprised. When I seek the facts and react out of compassion, I can more quickly get to the source of her angst. It usually involves math or a friendship issue. The sooner we get to the root, the sooner we get out of the funk. The same happens with Bryan. When I pause and ask questions, instead of getting angry-I am able to react out of compassion or understanding. When I do that, it changes the dynamic of our relationship and therefore the atmosphere of our home. 

So I’m giving it a try. I am trying my best to pause, clear my mind and assume the best. Instead of allowing past reactions and negative assumptions to drive my reactions, I am working on asking questions. I am trying to seek perspective and clarity. And like I mentioned, when I do that, the storm passes much more quickly. 

As I continue to learn how to parent my intense child, I am learning so much about relationships in general. I have to manage my expectations, regardless of the relationship. To get the most out of my relationships, I need to be present. I need to clear my side of the street and evaluate why I am reacting the way I am. Then I need to pause, seek the truth and assume the best. I believe if we work on those things, not only will it benefit our relationship with our intense child, it will surely benefit all of our relationships.

This is my last post about raising an intense kid. I hope you feel encouraged that you are not alone. I hope that you have picked up one or two new ideas that may help you along the way as you raise your intense child. I am confident that everyone that is reading this wants to parent well. Some of us may have to work a little harder. Like me, it may not feel natural to you. It may not be what you bargained for or what you envisioned parenting to be. I’m there, I’m with you. I wish that my struggle to raise Piper was not part of my story, but it is. And the more I walk with Jesus, I have more questions than answers. But I know two things for sure. God makes beauty out of ashes. He never promised that this life would be easy, but he did promise to make good out of bad. And he is not done with us yet. He is not done with me and He is not done with Piper. And my hope and prayer is that when Piper is grown, we can look back at our journey with compassion and grace, grateful that we pressed into the struggle and came out better on the other side. 

Lisa 

 

Apologize: Raising an intense child #5

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I have had a really tough week with Piper. She is sick. She is intense normally, but she is especially intense when she is sick. I have had to miss things that are really important to me this week. I have been asked to sit and watch TV when I had a thousand other things I’d rather do. I’ve done my best to be present and speak calmly to her. I have prayed for supernatural patience and love for her. I’ve done the best I can.

Then we went to the doctor yesterday.

She has had a high fever off and on for a week. I really try to avoid bringing her to the doctor. She hates going. She gets very anxious before and while we are there. I have also found that I have to be honest with her. In the past I have tried to avoid telling her that she is going to get shots or get her blood drawn. I do that hoping that maybe if she hears it from the doctor instead of me she will react differently. In case you are thinking about trying that, don’t-it doesn’t work. She may be able to keep it together in the clinic, but the extreme reaction at home and broken trust are never worth it. So yesterday I told her she may have to get her blood drawn.

After telling her that, with all the strength she could muster in her feverish state, she decided she wasn’t going to go to the doctor. She is only a foot shorter than me, I can’t force her to do anything. The battle began….

After about a half hour of fighting, I got her to at least put on a pair of shorts. I let go of my desire for her to change her underwear and shirts. I didn’t even suggest brushing her teeth or combing her hair. We finally got in the car after bribing her with everything I could possibly think of.

I thought I was in the clear. You see, once we are in public, she usually keeps it together pretty well. She isn’t unique in that sense, most of us try to resemble some sense of normalcy in public.

I was wrong. I am going to blame it on her fever. She did not keep it together.

Starting with the nursing assistant, she yelled and cried at everyone that walked in the door. She was scared, I understood that. No one likes to get their mouth swabbed or their blood drawn-especially anxious people. But she had a fever of 103 degrees and we needed to figure out what was going on. I tried to be calm and speak lovingly to her. I tried to sympathize with her. I tried to speak rationally to her. Nothing was going through.

And then I got angry. She can sense when something shifts in me. I was still trying to speak calmly. I was still praying for peace. I tried to be loving. But no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t hide it. I was angry.

I was angry at her, because she was crying and yelling. I was angry that she wouldn’t let the doctor look in her mouth. I was angry that she wouldn’t even take Tylenol to help her feel better. I was angry at the doctor that kept looking to me for guidance, when clearly I had run out of tricks. I was angry that I was there dealing with this, when Bryan is so much better at it. And I was angry at myself for being angry. I was angry that we walked away with no answers, just another couple of days to see how she feels. I was angry that there was so much traffic. I was so angry that I just dropped Piper off at home without much explanation. I left. I went to a parking lot and screamed and cried-I was angry.

I was angry because I feel like I’m expected to be this superhuman who is always patient, loving, and compassionate. None of those things come naturally to me. The minute I let my guard down with Piper, something falls apart. And honestly, can anyone really feel patience, love and compassion after being yelled at for an hour?

So like I said, I left. I didn’t say goodbye. I went to a parking lot and screamed for a while. I obviously deserved junk food, so that was my next stop.

As I ate, I had tears running down my cheeks. I feel sad that this is our story. I never imagined my relationship with my child to be so complicated. The relationship I had with my parents were nothing like this. As I thought about that, I was reminded of something. Something that has had an enduring, profound impact on my life.

When we were growing up, my mom apologized.

My mom wasn’t perfect, she would yell at us. She would get frustrated at things she would later regret. Her and my dad didn’t have a perfect marriage. She didn’t always have the right words to say. But you know what, I barely remember being yelled at or the times my parents got frustrated. What I remember the most is when my mom would apologize. When she got upset and she felt like she was wrong, she would be the first to say she was sorry. And it wouldn’t stop with an apology, she would change. She would react differently the next time, full of more grace and compassion. My whole life I have watched my mom grow. She continues to do so. She is closer to Jesus than she used to be, her relationships are deeper and her character is stronger.

I knew what I needed to do. I needed to apologize to Piper.

So I did, I went home and I told piper I was sorry.
She had no idea I had drove away in a frenzy or spent the last hour in tears. I told her I was sorry that I got angry and she forgave me. Her attention quickly went back to the show she was watching, having no idea of my inner turmoil.

I didn’t have any answers or solutions. I still felt angry. But I knew it couldn’t wait. I didn’t want her to remember how angry I was. I wanted her to remember that I was sorry. She will probably remember the times I yelled or when I reacted out of frustration. But the memories that I want to rise above are the times when I was able to recognize when I was wrong, apologize and seek real change. I want her to be able to look back and say with confidence-my mom is different. She is better than she once was. She is much more graceful, much more patient and known for her compassion.

I’m not going to lie, I am weary, I would describe our summer as intense. This battle took the wind out of my sails and I’m still recovering today. I’m not sure what I could have done better at the doctors office. I don’t have a wise tidbit to pass on.

But I’m grateful. I’m grateful that there is power in words and when they are used in humility they can bring true reconciliation. And I’m even more grateful that I can change, that I can be better. I can grow, God is not done with me yet. And he is not done with Piper either.

So thank you mom. Thank you for reminding me then and still today that we were never asked to be superhumans, just people who recognize when we are wrong and work towards better. May my kids remember me the way I remember you.

Lisa

Be Present: Raising an intense child #4

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Like I have shared in my last couple blogs, this is a tough series for me to write. Most of the time when I write about something, I am a couple steps ahead of the struggle. This one is different. We are in the trenches with our intense child. In fact, right before I started writing this blog, I had the opportunity to put the exact principles into practice that I am writing about today. 

[If you are just joining me, I would encourage you to go back and start at the beginning of the series. I share about my struggle to embrace parenting, especially when it comes to parenting an intense child. Knowing the background story will give you context as we journey forward.] 

As I continue to learn how to parent from a healthy place, I have found one incredibly simple, astonishingly difficult principle that can shift the atmosphere of our home and therefore the intensity of my child. 

I need to be present. 

Such a simple idea to talk about, but such a hard one to practice. I find it’s especially hard to do when you are raising an intense child. Because when I say I need to be present, I mean FULLY present. I need to physically set aside what I am working on, clear space in my brain, set my emotions aside, and fully engage. Body. Mind. Spirit. 

Because they know. Our children are so much smarter than we give them credit for. They know when we are fully present or when we are giving a flippant response so we can move on to what’s next. 

With Piper, parenting is a full contact sport. I can’t enter the ring with any distractions or I’ll be knocked out in the first round. 

Let me explain with an example that recently happened. Hopefully the contrast in the story will help drive the point home. 

Me being distracted. The kids came home from the neighbors. They had been playing all day and I wanted them to come home and take a break before their next adventure. I was in the middle of working on something. I could tell that she was on fire the minute she walked into the door. She came in yelling at her brother and stomping around as if she wanted my attention. So I asked, “Hey Piper, everything okay?” She proceeded to yell at me. She declared loudly that she didn’t need a break, everything was fine and that I needed to leave her alone. I immediately got frustrated. I had spent the whole week shuffling her and her brother around to playdates and she was on her way to a sleepover. I am so tired of how ungrateful my children are. I was in the middle of something and I’m tired of her yelling all the time. So I began with my empty threats “If you keep yelling, you aren’t going to your sleep over tonight. Go upstairs right now.” I continued to threaten as she stomped up the stairs and slammed the door. I would sigh in frustration and go back to what I was working on. The tone was set for the next couple hours. I was frustrated and she was on edge, ready to explode. 

Me being present. The kids came home from the neighbors. They had been playing all day and I wanted them to come home and take a break before their next adventure. I was in the middle of working on something. I could tell that she was on fire the minute she walked into the door. She came in yelling at her brother and stomping around as if she wanted my attention. So I asked, “Hey Piper, everything okay?” She proceeded to yell at me. She declared loudly that she didn’t need a break, everything was fine and that I needed to leave her alone. I physically put away what I was working on went upstairs. I knocked on her door and asked if she needed to talk about something. She’s an extrovert and if she is anything like me-things don’t make sense until I talk about them. She said no, she didn’t want to talk and I went back downstairs. I waited. Within seconds, she called me back to her room. I put everything else aside physically & mentally and FULLY engaged. I laid on her bed and waited. She proceeded to tell me about something that happened at her friend’s house and why she was so upset. We talked about different ways she could respond. I laid there a little longer and then she gently told me I could go downstairs. We had a great rest of the day.

I’m not saying the way she spoke to me and Cole was okay, don’t hear that. What I want you to see is the difference it made when I chose to set aside what I was doing and fully engage in the present moment. When I’m distracted, I tend to throw out empty threats and respond in frustration. But when I pause, set things aside and make myself fully available-usually something shifts, both in me and in her. 

Depending on your child, the season of life you are in, or your work demands-the idea of pausing and being fully present with your child may feel impossible. I am not always able to stop everything I’m doing to fully engage with my kids, I get it. But when I do, the outcomes usually outweigh the inconvenience. And to be honest, in the long run, I usually end up saving time. The more distracted I am, the longer the battle lingers on. I don’t get what I need to get done and my relationship with Piper suffers. 

While being fully present isn’t always the most natural response, I’m learning what this can look like on a practical level and how it plays out on a daily basis.

I’m learning that I can’t expect to get important things done while I’m in charge of the kids. Yet I set myself up to fail on a nearly daily basis. I am a doer. I have a running to-do list. And I feel like I have to finish everything on my list. So when I am in the midst of accomplishing my to do list and Piper is demanding my attention-I get frustrated.  I have set an expectation of what my day is going to look like and all that I am going to accomplish. I get angry at her when she interrupts my flow and my response to her need is not graceful. That is not fair to her.

I’m learning that I need to adjust my expectations. 

For me it has to start in the morning. I start by going through my day. What do I need to accomplish? Where are my kids? What needs can I anticipate that my kids will have? Then I set realistic expectations for my day based on the realities of my day and all the moving parts. 

And then I need to remember that my day will change.

So after you go through your day, Pray. Give it to the Lord. Give God your day and all the expectations that go with it. Lay them down and open yourself to what He has.

Hold your plans with open hands. 

Even after I do those things, I still find myself struggling to be present. Because of that I have started asking myself this simple yet incredibly convicting question “Is what I am doing right now more important than investing in my child?” 

The answer is no. 

I do want to be clear about the audience I am speaking to specifically. Kids need to learn that the world doesn’t revolve around them. I am not saying that as parents we need to drop everything we are doing at the wim of our children’s demands. I am speaking to parents with intense children. And as I speak to them, I am not even saying that they should drop everything they are doing for their child at anytime. I’m speaking to parents amidst moments of intensity. 

Hear me say this: There is power in being present, especially in moments of intensity. Your child’s intensity will look different than mine. It is SO HARD to be present in the midst of the flurry, but I promise you it will be worth it. It may not seem like it, but it will save you energy and time in the long run. But most importantly of all, being present with your child will establish the foundation for the future of your relationship.

I’m in this with you!

Lisa

 

It starts with me: Raising an intense child #3

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I have found that this series has been difficult for me to write. You see, we are still in the trenches. Often times when I write, I feel like I’m a few steps ahead of the struggle I’m sharing about. Not this one. I share ideas and suggestions and in the same breath seek to implement them. In fact, I’ve started to write this post several times today while continually being interrupted by my intense child.

In my last post, I shared about the importance of grieving the expectations about who you thought your child would be and what your relationship would look like. To be a healthy parent, we need to parent from a healthy place. We need to be able to parent from a place of acceptance and unconditional love, not disappointment and frustration. 

I get really frustrated because I really want Piper to learn to manage her emotions, recognize how blessed she is and be filled with grace and self control. I pray for this daily. I speak truth over her and we try to provide consequences that match her behavior. I desire to have relationships with our children. That style of parenting worked on me.

That’s never been enough for Piper. She is smart, she is intuitive. I often say that parenting her is a full contact sport. She demands that my words and actions match up. Without knowing it, she calls out the depths of my authenticity. She looks me square in the eye and says “No.” What she says “no” to varies by the day, but the look and determination does not waver.

Behind the words she speaks, there is so much more. It’s as if she is saying  “Are you fully in mom? How deep is your love for me? Do you have what it takes today? Are you going to extend the truth and love to me that you claim to bestow on others? Do you have the energy you will need to teach me today or did you give it all away?”

For so long, if I was honest, the answer was No. I hadn’t wanted kids in the first place, I didn’t sign up for parenthood to be so hard. I didn’t have the energy it took and and even if I did, I didn’t want to spend it on her. I didn’t know where to start, I felt defeated before the fight even began. I was parenting out of unmet expectations. I was exhausted, disappointed and I just wanted her to change. 

But slowly I began to realize, it wasn’t her that needed to change, I did.

The change needed to start with me.

I had already let myself grieve. I had come to a place of acceptance, but that wasn’t enough. I needed to seek the answers to the questions that her intensity was demanding. 

I had to ask myself: “Am I as ‘all in’ as a parent as I am in all other areas of my life? Do I have what it takes? Do I even want to have what it takes? Am I extending the grace and truth to Piper that I do to everyone else around me? Am I saving and giving her the energy she deserves?’ 

No. I wasn’t giving the attention  to parenting as I was the other areas of my life.

If you know me, you know I’m the “all in” type. You want me on your team. But I wasn’t giving the fullness of who I am and what I have to offer to parenting my children. I wasn’t extending grace and truth to Piper in ways that matched my other relationships. I wasn’t giving her the energy she deserved. 

I needed to change.

Before I move on, I want to make sure to clarify something. Piper is responsible for her reactions and behaviors. It is our job to provide consequences and guidance towards the right behavior. But, as parents we are equally responsible & accountable to the condition of our heart. Because whether we like it or not, the condition of your heart is reflected in your words and actions, especially to the ones we are closest to. 

I had focused so much of my energy on trying to change her that I hadn’t even considered my role in our relationship. 

I had to ask myself some tough questions. 

Why am I not giving my all to parenting, when I give my all to everything else?

Why am I not seeking answers and resources for parenting like I would in other area where I feel stumped?

Why was I speaking truth and grace to everyone besides my own daughter?

Why did I give my energy so freely to everyone else, to only come home depleted?

Yikes. 

I needed to make some adjustments. 

Those questions led me to another set of questions. 

What needed to change so that I had the physical & emotional capacity to meet her level of intensity? 

Where was I giving my energy away that my kids deserved? 

What would it take for me to me to be as passionate about parenting that I am about fitness, people or ministry?

  • I don’t know about you, but my when I am tired and emotionally depleted, I assume the worst of my kids and I respond in kind. I need to make sure to get enough sleep. 
  • I need to save my emotional energy for the people that matter the most. I know there are some people that you cannot avoid. But in tough seasons of parenting it’s okay to be selfish with your outside relationships. Be selective about where you give your time and emotions; trust me you will need all you can spare. I know I am lucky to have a flexible schedule, but we all waste emotional energy. Little changes go a long way. Take Social media off your phone. That alone could change your relational capacity and therefore your relationship with your intense child. 
  •  I am a problem solver. I tell my kids over and over throughout the day, don’t be part of the problem-be part of the solution. When I am feeling lost and over my head as a parent, I need to seek out solutions like I would any other problem. I need to keep digging until I find something that works.
  • Usually every season I set new goals for myself. I haven’t been consistent about setting goals for parenting. Most of the time my goal is to survive. If I do set goals, they are often lofty and probably unrealistic. I need to set a new realistic parenting goal for myself each season. For example this summer my goal is to actually follow through with a chore chart. We have tried so many in the past and I never followed through like I intended. I so often feel like a failure as a parent. The more wins I have, the more encouraged and motivated I feel. 

 I needed to be all in. Because they know. When they dig in their heels, look you in the eye and say “no” – they will know if you are in. They know if you have enough spare resources to enter into their struggle, love them enough to walk through it and come out stronger together in the end. 

And when we do, we all win. 

Lisa

 

 

 

I had to grieve: Raising an intense child #2

7B9DA82A-6D99-4B98-BEDC-B524A259E99CI feel like there are things that I am going to say in this series that can easily be misunderstood, especially if you aren’t raising an intense child.

My hope and prayer as you read this series is that you remember who I am and my commitment to wholeness. Sometimes the process to get there is pretty messy.

I am a total pushover when it comes to parenting.

I’ve tried to figure out why I became a pushover. It’s probably because I’ve had my own stuff to deal with over the years. It’s probably because I don’t appreciate processes, I like the end result. For example, I was struggling to teach Cole how to tie his shoes, so I just stopped trying and hoped someone else would teach him (which thankfully someone did). I think I’m a pushover partly because as I shared in my last post, I thought it was going to be easy and since it’s not-I give up quickly.

I’ve tried to be consistent. I’ve tried charts. So many charts. I’ve tried ignoring her. I’ve tried encouraging her. I’ve tried yelling at her. I sought advice. We read books. We sought counsel, we sought counseling.

But I just kept giving in. And not only did I keep giving in, I began to respond differently. Piper & Cole could ask the same question,  I would respond 100% differently to each of them. I could calmly, lovingly respond to Cole. Piper, I would go from 0-1,000 in seconds. They would ask for a snack and I graciously give Cole a snack. Piper would ask for a snack and my response sounded something like this, “What, you want a snack, after all you have put me through this morning? No snack for you.” Okay, maybe I wouldn’t say those words out loud, but I would think them.

Like I shared in my previous blog, I became very resentful towards her. Something had to change. I was not being fair to her and certainly wasn’t being the parent that I wanted to be.

I had to let go of the expectations I had for her and our relationship. I had to grieve the child that I wanted and had expected Piper to be.

For those of you who have read my blog you know that I am passionate about grief. My passion stems from the fact that I have done it so poorly and I have paid the price. I want people to learn from my mistakes. I believe that grief is misunderstood. If people allowed themselves to grieve the way it was intended, we would all be a lot more healthy and whole. The place where I feel like grief is most misunderstood is that people associate grief with physical death only. If someone close to you dies, it is expected that you would grieve. But since Piper is alive and well, what is it that I have to grieve?

We need to expand our understanding of grief. We don’t just need to mourn the loss of physical death, we also need to mourn the loss of dreams, expectations, jobs, health, relationships, etc. In order to truly move forward we need to be able to put to rest the things that are dead, both physically and conceptually.  

Let me give you a glimpse of what this has looked in the context of my relationship with Piper. Because of the reasons I shared earlier, I assumed that Piper would be a fun, energetic, spirited child. I thought that we would have fun adventures together. I’m fun, Bryan’s fun. We are fun parents. I expected us to have fun. Because of her gene pool, I didn’t expect that she would be shy or docile, and I didn’t expect that she would be defiant, explosive or disrespectful either.

I was parenting from a place of unmet expectations. Because of that, my reactions towards her became disproportionate. Like I shared, I would go from 0-1,000 in seconds over a simple question. I would get angry at her for doing things a certain way, because deep down I was just angry that parenting her turned out to be so hard. I would get absolutely devastated at fairly common behavior because I was devastated at the lack of joy and fun in our house. A lot of her behavior is/was explosive and disproportionate, but even when it wasn’t I would rise to the occasion.   

I would cry myself to sleep, angry at God. I harbored bitterness, believing in my heart that she was ruining my life and cheating me of opportunities. When she was struggling with anxiety, mine would rise beyond reason. I would blame myself, thinking it was my fault that her life was going to be so hard. I thought I had hid my anxiety so well. I allowed her to take over all my energy and emotions. I would remind God how faithful I was and plead for him to change her.

All of these toxic emotions started bubbling up in my heart when she was 5. That is a lot of emotion to have towards a little, innocent 5 year old. And as much as I tried to hide my emotions, she knew. And as much as I wish it weren’t true, the state of my heart affects the state of our home. Don’t you just wish you could be crabby without it affecting everyone around you? I feel like moms have it worse, one bad moment sets the tone for the rest of the day. I digress…

I had to grieve. I had to grieve my unmet expectations. I had to properly experience loss so that I could come to accept who Piper is and who God created her to be.

As I write, it may sound like I’m on the other side of grief. I’m  not. Grief is rarely linear. I would say that on some levels I have moved to a place of acceptance, but I still get disproportionately angry or devastated by her behavior. But I’ll tell you this, I recover faster now. My anger doesn’t simmer as long as it used to. I don’t cry myself to sleep as often or as long. My prayer has begun to change from “Why God?” to “God, help me see. Help me see past my frustration and disappointment and help me see who you created Piper to me/ Help me to accept her. Not just accept her, but appreciate her, enjoy her and like her.”

Does that resonate with anyone?

Like I shared in the beginning of my blog, this might be tough to hear for some people. I respect that. I’m not proud of these feelings or the process I’ve had to experience. But I also know that there are parents out there that need to hear this. There are parents who need allow themselves to grieve the expectations that they had for parenting and/or for their child. Because until we can do that, we will never be able to move past our unmet expectations and start accepting our children for who God made them to be.  

If you resonate with what I’m saying and don’t know where to start, start here. When you feel like you over reacting, pause. Ask, why? Investigate the source of your anger. Is it really about the situation in front of you or is there something bigger at play? If there is something bigger, reach out-I’d love to talk. Talk to a friend. Go to a counselor. Go there. Pray. Our kids deserve better. God has designed us to be better and he has created pathway to get you there, it’s called grief. 

Lisa

 

It started with a dream: Raising an intense child #1

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We weren’t going to have biological children. There were too many unknowns around my health. I was scared. We decided that we were going to move forward with adoption. We had actually scheduled our first adoption meeting.

Then I had The Dream.

I don’t remember anything about the dream. But as soon as I woke up, I knew. I knew that I couldn’t make the decision to not have biological kids out of fear; we needed to try.

Before I move on, I want to make sure to clarify that we LOVE adoption and we believe many people are called to adopt. But we don’t believe that you should make any decision out of fear.

So being the faithful follower of Jesus that I am, I gave God a month.

Without a hint of hesitation I approached the creator of all things and declared “Well, I’ve been through enough and now I feel like you are convicting me to have a biological child. I love you enough to obey you. But I will only be brave for a month.”

About a month later I was calling my mom at 6:00 am with the news. We needed all hands on deck. I was pregnant.

When I got pregnant with Piper there were only around 225 documented pregnancies from women post liver transplant. That included miscarriages, stillbirths and births. There is a high rate of miscarriages for women who had had liver transplants. On top of that, there is a history of miscarriages in my family.

The odds were stacked against me.

Between my phobia of throwing up, my traumatic health experiences and normal pregnancy fears, I lived in a constant state of fear for the first 3-4 months of my pregnancy.

And just as I began to settle into being pregnant, I began to itch. Internally. And there was nothing I could do about it. When I was able to sleep, I would wake up with blood all over my arms from itching. To say it was horrible doesn’t give it the credit it deserves. I developed a pregnancy disease called cholestasis. If you want to get more details, you can consult the google:) But I’ll tell you this, being uncontrollably itchy is not for the faint of heart. Cholestasis can also cause still birth for the child. So as soon as they diagnosed me, they wanted to deliver Piper as soon as possible.

Piper Cheri (named after my donor) was born on June 20, 2008 5 weeks and 6 days early.

I had been holding my breath for so long, expecting a disaster at every turn. I remember walking through the door of our house 5 days after she was born. I recall thinking “I made it. I did it. I had a baby.”

So much of what had been hard with my pregnancy was that no one could tell me what to expect. I didn’t know anyone who had a liver transplant and then had a baby. In fact, no one I knew (including my doctor) knew anyone that had a liver transplant and then had a baby.

But when we arrived home, I had a good idea of what to expect. I’m not a baby person, I knew that. Nursing grossed me out, but I knew it was the best thing. I knew we would be tired. I had been fully warned by the people around us of what a terrifying, exhausting and wonderful season we were entering. I was ready to face it head on.

The beginning was fairly normal. Piper had some asthma because she was born so early. I didn’t nurse long, so both Bryan & I took turns feeding her each night. Both of us got a decent amount of sleep. My liver was fine. It took me a long time to lose the baby weight, but the recovery was a familiar story. We surrounded ourselves with great people. I went to a moms group. Bryan was (is) super hands on. It was what I had expected.

From the beginning, Piper has always been stubborn and spirited. That didn’t surprize anyone considering who her parents are. Her tantrums were intense, her emotions were big. She was just being Piper.

But things began to shift when she was 5 or so. Not just in her, but in me too. Her tantrums became more intense and harder to manage. Her emotions felt big and out of control. It started to feel like she had taken control over our household. We began to shift our plans in order to manage her emotions or to avoid an outburst. Consequences no longer seemed to matter or motivate change in behavior. She was seeking control and we never knew if it would manifest itself in anger or anxiety (which I shared about in my previous blog). We read books and sought counsel and nothing seemed to work. I hadn’t expected this, I hadn’t prepared.

I became resentful.

I’ve shared in other blogs that for many years (and I’m still in recovery) I’ve had a transactional faith and I didn’t even realize it. After my liver transplant anything bad that happened to me would throw me into a frenzy. My conversation with God was on repeat “God, I have been through SO much and I’ve been so faithful to you and this is how you repay me!?” I would not admit it out loud, but in my heart I believed that if I did the right thing then I should be blessed and things should be easy.

So my transactional thinking told me:

God told me to have baby + I was obedient = this shouldn’t be so hard.

My resentment began to change the way I parented. As her tantrums became more intense, I just gave in. It was too hard. She would be emotional and I would switch our plans in order to avoid the outburst of the day. I found myself withdrawing from her. She was making our life really hard. I didn’t want to be around her. I didn’t want to parent her. I would tell myself “I didn’t deserve a child like this, I shouldn’t have to deal with this. I had been through enough. This is not what I expected.”

I’m not proud to say those things out loud. Especially because, if I’m honest, I still feel that way. Some days more than others. But I’m saying them because I don’t believe that I’m alone. I believe that there are moms (and Dads) out there with kids who are not what they expected. It may be because of a disability they were born with or a result of choices that the child has made; a lot of our kids are not who we expect them to be. Our failed expectations lead to changes in how we parent. We give up on parenting and withdraw. We make concessions. We get disappointed and easily give up. We feel guilty, we give it our best shot, quickly get discouraged and take a back seat.

I have done all of those things. I’ve allowed my perceived defeat to drive me to complacency. I’ve made concessions. I’ve felt guilty, motivated and discouraged all within minutes. I know God never promised things to be easy, but it doesn’t keep me from being disappointed. I buy into the lie that I deserve better. I allow my resentment to be the fuel that drives my parenting decisions.

And that is not the parent I want to be.

So I’m going to spend some time talking about it. Not because I know the answers, but because I’m in the trenches. I’ve learned a few things, but I still have a lot to learn. I want to hear from others. I want to learn how to adjust my expectations. I want to dig in deep now because I know it is worth it.

Do you have a child you struggle with? Can one of your children take you from 0-1,000 in seconds? Do you find yourself giving in? Do you feel disappointment and/or guilt? Have you felt resentment towards your child?

You are not alone my friend.

Take a deep breath and begin to take note. Ask yourself “What is fueling my disportionate reactions?” Write down how you are feeling in that moment. Take stock of the condition of your heart. Evaluate your expectations.

Lets do this. Let’s work together to become the parents we want to be.

Lisa

 

Anxiety series #6: When you have an anxious child.

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Not only do I deal with anxiety, my daughter deals with anxiety as well. In fact, her struggle with anxiety happened to start with a phobia of throwing up. If you have read my previous blogs, you know that I too have a phobia of throwing up. When her anxiety began to manifest that way, I was speechless. Of all of things she could be afraid of, she was afraid of throwing up? Really? I don’t think anger would even begin to describe my feelings. Unless it involves me throwing up, I’m actually fairly brave. I am great in crisis. I could deal with ANYTHING else-but not this. At this point my anxiety was fairly well under control, but Piper’s anxiety brought me to a whole new place of devastation and helplessness. Watching your child struggle is SO hard, watching your child struggle with the same thing that caused you to crumble brings you to place that is indescribable. It has been an incredibly painful experience. I have never felt so much guilt and shame. I have been angry and frustrated with God, myself and her. I have felt resentful and if I’m honest I still do some days. I have had to work so hard to be healed myself, I have been at a complete loss for how to help her to do the same. And honestly, sometimes I don’t want to.

As I have talked to other parents that have children that deal with anxiety, I feel like there are two common responses. Parents who have struggled with anxiety themselves tend to feel similar to me. They are full of guilt. For me, even though I know rationally that I did not cause Piper to deal with anxiety, I lay in bed at night wondering when I slipped up. Did she see me have a panic attack? When was I talking about anxiety in front of her? I lay in bed and project the next 60 years of struggle ahead of her. My burden feels heavy. Does that sound familiar?

Parents who have kids with anxiety, but have never experienced it themselves have very different response. Their kids struggle feels annoying, frustrating and limiting. When you have a family member that struggles with anxiety, it doesn’t just affect that person-it affects the whole family. If you have never experienced anxiety, it’s almost impossible to understand. It can come on suddenly, it’s almost as if you have a new kid overnight. As the anxiety continues to persist, it’s hard to understand why your child can’t just go back to what she was like before. And as much as you try not to, you end up modifying your schedule to accommodate your kid’s new norm. It can be very limiting, Is that you?

I have read books, sought a lot of counsel and went to therapy to learn how to deal with being an anxious person with an anxious child. We are still in the thick of it. Our struggle is current and real. We have learned a few things so I thought I would pass them along. We are always looking for new ideas, so send them my way!

Before I move on I want to acknowledge that I use “she” when I speak about a child, it’s just easier than always adding he/she.

Remember that your child is doing the best they can. I know when I’m doing the best I can. It didn’t always seem like she was. Something shifted in me when I read this in “Parenting a Child Who has Intense Emotions” by Harvey & Penzo. As much as I would do anything to be different, I have to believe she feels the same way. No one wants to feel this way.

A lot of times it will start with a stomach ache. People end up in the ER thinking they are having a heart attack before they accept the fact that they are having a panic attack. If you haven’t felt anxious before, your body will feel it first. I always tell people that the one benefit of being an anxious mom to an anxious kid is that I could see the signs a mile a way. We have dealt with intense emotions and worrisome tendencies since she was a toddler, but the moment she started having stomach aches when she was at school and then she was okay when she got home-we sprung into action.

Sometimes you will know the why, most of the time you won’t. My separation anxiety began in 3rd grade when I had a substitute teacher. I had had a sub before, what was different about this time? My mom and I have racked our brains about why I developed a phobia of throwing up. We have never been able to find the answer. Your child might change slowly, but I have a lot of parents tell me that feel like it comes out of nowhere. Ask questions, seek answers, but acknowledge that you may not find the “why” you are looking for.

Seek professional help for both your child and yourself. People that are dealing with anxiety want it to just go away-it is so alarming and all-consuming. It will take time. Counseling will not change things overnight. Find someone good and stick with it. Seek professional help for yourself and find someone that can give you tools to help your anxious child. I went to a therapist for a while just to discuss how I felt about Pipers anxiety. Ask for 10 minutes of your child’s therapist time to discuss goals and a plan. Piper saw a therapist for a year and the only time we would talk would be in the lobby in front of 10 other patients as she rushed to her next client. I didn’t even know what they were doing most of the time. Now Piper’s therapist takes the last 10 minutes of Pipers session to just talk to me and go over what they talked about and the plan. You need to advocate for your child. If the first therapist you find isn’t the right fit, don’t give up! Keep looking!

Life might have to look differently for a while. One of the reasons I struggled so much when Piper was first anxious is because her emotions seemed to dictate our life. I felt frustrated with God that we had to deal with this when I had just gained more freedom. Every shift, every change, every transition was/is hard in our household because of her anxiety. We have tried to just ignore what was happening around us and go on as planned, but then we all suffer. You may have to cut back on activities. You might have to say no. Stay home more. Your house will be more peaceful because of it, I promise.

You have to be your child’s advocate. There were years when Pipers anxiety and intense emotions did not leave our house. That all changed in 3rd grade when I started to get calls from school that she was having stomach aches and wanted to come home. Within a week I had a meeting with her teacher, the principle, and the school counselor and we had a plan. I can’t speak for yours, but we have an incredible school system. Most importantly, you are your child’s voice and no matter how hard it is-you need to speak up on her behalf.

It will be so hard, but there are certain things you are going to have to make her do. She needs to go to school. She needs to play outside. She needs to eat. And she needs to sleep. My mom has told me of days where she would watch my sister drag me down the driveway while I was crying and begging to stay home. As soon as the bus pulled away my mom would fall to her knees crying. It was the best, hardest thing she had to do for me.

Find safe places and lean into them. There will usually be a few people that your child feels safe with outside of you. Let them into what’s goes on. Ask for help. Most people will welcome your child with open arms and feel honored to be a safe place. It truly does take a village to raise a child.

Raising an anxious kid is hard. It will be hard on your other kids. Create fun adventures for your other kids. Explain to them what is going on in a way they understand. Try to keep their life as normal as possible but acknowledge that this might be a harder season for your family. It’s going to be hard on you. You may feel overwhelmed with guilt and frustrated beyond belief. I don’t think anyone would blame you for those feelings. You are going to want it to go away. It will change. It will get better and then might get worse again. Go to a counselor. Lean into your community. Remember who your child is-that they are more than their anxiety. Try not project your emotions on them. Take some space. And remember you are doing the best you can!

This is going to be my last post about anxiety. I hope that you have taken one thing over the last several months that will help you along this journey. It’s so hard. I am so sorry if you are dealing with anxiety. I would never wish it on anyone. But my hope and prayer is that as you continue on this journey you will lean into God. I pray that you will look for the good in the midst of the bad. I hope that you will try new things and figure out what works. I pray that you will remember you are more than your anxiety. And please, please remember-you are not alone.

In this together,

Lisa

ps. Another book I would recommend if you have an anxious child is “You Can’t Make Me. But I Can Be Persuaded” book by Cynthia Ulrich Tobias

Anxiety series #5: Dear Friend…

 

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Dear friend,

First of all I want to thank you for being such a good friend. If I did not trust you, I would have never told you about my anxiety in the first place. I have given you access to a sacred, vulnerable place in my heart. While you carry it, could I pass on a few tips? I don’t want to be hurt again, so I’m hoping you would take my straight-forwardness as a helpful tool.

Remember that I am more than my anxiety. There have been times that after I share about my anxiety I’m looked at differently. People probably don’t mean to, but I feel like they consider me less than. My abilities and value come into question. There may be days were my anxiety overcomes me and I need to sit out. When I show up, trust that I am fully there. I may not be, but the more you treat me that way-the sooner I will emerge. It is true that I struggle with anxiety. But remember that I am also friendly, driven, passionate and thoughtful. The more you remind me of who I am, the quicker I will return.

Please don’t tell me to stop worrying. I know that anxiety is hard to understand. I didn’t understand it either until I experienced it (and I still don’t). But I promise if it were as simple as me just telling myself to stop worrying, I would have stopped being anxious a long time ago. I would do anything to not experience these feelings. Can I add a couple other phrases to avoid? It’s really irritating when people say things like “calm down,” or “just relax.”  And please do not tell me that  “Everything will be fine.” When you say things like that to me it makes me feel like my struggle isn’t valid and that you don’t think that I’m doing my best.

Please don’t compare your stress to my anxiety. I know that you are just trying to relate when you compare the stress of your finals to my struggle with anxiety. Stress is a natural response to an upset in our daily lives. Stress is a reaction to a situation or circumstance that makes us uncomfortable. Stress is acute. Anxiety lingers on after the circumstances resolve and life goes back to normal. Anxiety overcomes us and changes who we are. It takes on a life of its own. We become spectators.

And I know this one is hard if you follow Jesus, but will you promise to never quote Philippians 4:6-7 or 1 Peter 5:7 (or any scripture about worry) to me? Again, I’ve tried that. In fact I try it every day. I know he loves me. I try to cast my cares on him. I try so hard to not worry about anything. I want to be thankful. I want nothing more than the peace that passes understanding. In the midst of my despair God feels far away. Those verse make me angry, I’ve tried so hard and yet my heart has not been guarded from anxiety.

If you are my person, I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I have been selfish and focused on myself. I know you are struggling too. Hopefully someday we can share the struggle, but today my burden alone feels too heavy. I need to be carried for a while, hopefully someday I can carry you. But for now find a person, find support. You need it.

A lot of these responses may seem like natural reactions, especially when you’re on the outside looking in, but they are not always helpful. Since you are on this sacred journey with me, can I tell you a few things that would help?

Ask me to help you. One of the quickest ways for me to get out of my head, is to focus on something else-something bigger and more important than my anxiety. Remind of my gifts and purpose, not through words but through opportunities. One time I was at my lowest point, I was stuck in bed filled with anxiety and a friend called. She was having a panic attack and she was alone. I was struggling, but I wasn’t alone. Without giving it a second thought, I was out the door and by her side. I was immediately pulled out of my present reality, and the anxiety that had once anchored me to my bed quickly became a thing of the past as I sat with my friend.

Pray for me. Pray that I will see God in the midst of my pain. Pray that I will know God as a comforter. Pray that I will experience a peace that passes all understanding. Pray that I will have the strength and faith to read His word and know him more. Pray that I will see God making good out of the bad. Pray that I will have wisdom and the tools I need to experience healing.

Celebrate my successes with me. Most of the time, healing comes one step at a time. Each step is heavy, clunky and awkward, but nonetheless is a step forward. When you extend grace to me, it’s easier for me to be graceful to myself. When I was pregnant with my daughter, I was extremely anxious. There were so many unknowns. I was sitting in my living room with a friend and I was sharing my struggle. She said to me so lovingly, yet so firm “You need to celebrate that you got out of bed this morning and got dressed. There are a lot of people in your situation who would not have done that.” Her grace was equally empowering as it was disarming. That simple phrase permanently shifted something in my heart. It gave me permission to celebrate the wins and find grace as I failed. When I shifted my focus to celebrating my small successes, big breakthroughs followed quickly.

Say you’re sorry. Not because you have done anything wrong. Tell me you are sorry that I am going through this. Even if you don’t fully understand it, acknowledge that it must be incredibly difficult. When you acknowledge my struggle, there is 100% more chance that I will respond to any advice you give me.

Ask me. After hearing about all the things you shouldn’t do, you may feel helpless. You aren’t. Ask me questions. Ask me what it feels like to have a panic attack. Ask me about my triggers and what has helped in the past. Get me to talk. Sometimes I don’t even have the answers until someone asks for them. I’m often surprised by my own answers. Questions often lead to clarity. Ask me how you can help. “Would it help if I stayed here with you? Do you want advice or do you just want me to listen? Do you want me to come over?” Your questions show me that you want to understand not only what I am going through-but that I can walk with you.

Join me in my hole. I don’t where this parable originated from (neither does google) but I first heard it on The West Wing. “A man is walking down a street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out. A doctor passes by and the man shouts up, “Hey you! Can you help me out?” The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole, and moves on.Then a priest comes along and the man shouts up, “Father, I’m down in this hole. Can you help me out?” The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole, and moves on.Then a friend walks by. “Hey, it’s me,” the man calls out. “Can you help?” And then the friend jumps in the hole. The man says, “Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.”

The friend says, “Yeah, but I’ve been down here before … and I know the way out.”

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Friend, my hole is deep and wide. I either don’t know how to get out or I don’t have the strength, but regardless I am stuck in a hole. And no matter how many times I say otherwise, I don’t want to be alone.

Join me there. Ask me questions. Pray for me. Seek to understand. Remind me who I am. Help me get out of my head. Celebrate my successes. Don’t give up. And before we know, it we will both be out of the hole.

Eternally grateful,

Your anxious friend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anxiety series #4: The Spiritual Things

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This is a tough one for me. It’s tough because it continues to be something that I wrestle with God about. God has healed me in miraculous ways, why hasn’t he healed me from my anxiety?

I don’t know. I wish I did

I have never prayed about something more. I have never asked for more prayer for anything. I’ve never tried so many different worldly methods. I’ve never felt the same level of desperation than I have in the height of my anxiety. But no matter how much I try or how many prayers I send up, I am still not healed.
But just because I haven’t been healed, doesn’t mean God has not showed up.
Before I continue, I want to acknowledge that some things I’m about to share are going to sound trite to those who are not ready to hear it. When I was at my worst in terms of my anxiety, my anger and sadness blocked any ability I had to see God in the midst of my anguish. If anyone brought up God or prayer, I would politely listen while forcefully pushing down the hulk that was rearing his head. I wanted to scream “You obviously have never felt this way. If God really cared, he would take this away.” If you are there, I understand. I’ve been there. If you need to yell, let me know. I can take it. If you need to stop reading, I also understand. But if you are at all able, I challenge you to open up your heart a little bit. If you look closely enough you may see God in some unexpected places. I know for me, sometimes when God isn’t showing up the way I WANT, I forget to look at where he is showing up.

Here a few ways I have seen God show up…

God uses anxiety to remind me of my need for him. This sounds weird, but one of my biggest stumbling blocks is that I am a very capable person. I work really hard and I get things done well. Because of that, sometimes I have a hard time relying on God. Without even realizing it, I quickly rely on my own strength instead of tapping into the true source. I have tried everything on my own to be healed from my anxiety. I have no place to go besides on my knees in surrender. Nothing brings me to my knees like my anxiety will. Nothing else reminds me how out of control I really am. It reminds me of my place. No matter how capable I am, no matter how hard I try, I need God.

God uses my anxiety to remind me that there is a bigger story than mine. I wish that the world revolved around me. And most of the time I act like it should. But it doesn’t and when I’m in a healthy place, I’m glad it doesn’t. What if the reason God doesn’t take my anxiety away is because of how my story is going to encourage, challenge or bless other people? What if my story of anxiety is part someone else’s story of healing? There have been so many times where I have shared my story and people have to come to me sharing how my story has encouraged them to go to a counselor, seek prayer or start medication. If my anxiety is not going away, I’m at least grateful that my story encourages someone else.

My anxiety makes my relationship with God more authentic. For a long time I couldn’t figure out how to live in tension. I felt like I could either trust God or be anxious. I thought I either had to grieve or be grateful. Somewhere along the way I started to believe that I couldn’t do both. I couldn’t see that God was in the midst of the mess. So when anxiety would overcome me, I would muster up all my strength, grit my teeth and dig into the fight. But I would always lose. So eventually instead of digging in, I cried out to God. I cried out from the depth of my soul in true desperation. I wish I could say that when I did that my anxiety went away. It didn’t. But it begin a shift in me. A shift in my relationship with God. I couldn’t try to separate my emotions, I was too raw. I went before him with all I was, the good and the bad-just the way he wants it.

God uses my anxiety to make me more like him. I’m not very graceful by nature. I tend to be black and white. I had a roommate in college that struggled with depression. She had so much going for her, I couldn’t figure out why she couldn’t get out of bed. I felt like with enough willpower and a little help from God we should be able to push through anything. Wow I was wrong. Not only did my anxiety bring me to my knees, it softened my heart. I am much more quick to react from a place compassion instead of judgment. I listen better and give less advice. I pray more.

God uses my anxiety to remind me of the power of community and prayer. When I ask my people to pray for my anxiety, I literally feel a shift in the atmosphere. I can feel their prayers carrying me. Not only is my faith increased when I feel God’s presence through prayer, it is also an opportunity for others to step into faith. Anytime you get to be part of an answered prayer, whether it’s for you or someone else-your faith will increase. When I share my struggles, my friendships strengthen and my community grows. I have found that when I am honest with others, it releases them to be honest with me. That is when true community begins.

Sometimes God uses my anxiety to reveal that there is something bigger going on in me. I don’t stop very often. I am always on the go mentally, spiritually and physically. Anxiety stops me in my track. Most of my anxiety triggers are physical, but every once in a while there is something bigger at play. Am I trying to control a situation that is beyond my control? Am I harboring bitterness that is causing angst? God uses every means possible to break down barriers that keep us from walking in the freedom he has for us.

I have said many times before that I would do nearly anything to be free from anxiety, it’s true. I have never experienced anything so crippling and devastating. I will continue to pray that God will heal me. But until he does I can at least cling to this truth-he will show up. He is always there, but if you are anything like me- you forget to look.

Are blinded by your pain? Is your anger keeping you from looking for God? I’ve been there and I’m sure I’ll be there again. But my goal of this series is that you will learn from my mistakes. So pause and in the midst of your tears, take a moment. Look for God. Write it down. If you don’t see him right away, try again. He is there, he has shown up-now it’s our turn to look.

Always looking,

Lisa

Anxiety Series #3: The practical things.

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I’ve done all of the things in regards to my anxiety.                                                                      I have gone to SO many counselors. I have tried changing my diet. I prioritize sleep. I have begged and prayed for God to take it away. I have sought prayer from people around me. I have a toolbox available when I feel like anxiety is coming my way. I have studied the brain. I’ve tried forms of hypnosis. As I shared in my last blog post, I take medication. Yet, I am still not free from my anxiety. But I live in more freedom than ever and I’ve learned a few things along the way. This blog will be different than most, I’m going practical.
Before I move on, let me remind everyone that I’m talking about what has worked for me. If you try these things and they don’t work-keep on researching, keep on trying until you find the things that do work.
1. I prioritize sleep. I’m one of those that needs 9 hours of sleep. It’s incredibly inconvenient. No one has time to sleep 9 hours a night. I’ve tried so many times to live on less sleep, but it doesn’t work. Those that know me, know that I have a hard time not expressing all of my thoughts and emotions to everyone around me in my most healthy state, so when I’m tired, it’s not even worth the effort. I have 0 filter. I am mean. I get anxious. So when I start feeling my anxiety creeping up, I stop and think-am I really anxious or am I just tired? If I conclude that I’m just tired, I cancel things or rearrange my schedule. And I go take a nap. An hour of sleep can keep me from days of anxiety. This should be a no brainer. I recognize that my schedule is very flexible but I firmly believe that we make time for what is important to us. So at nine o’clock when you decide to watch just one more episode, you need to ask yourself “Is this show more important than a day free from anxiety tomorrow?” If you struggle to answer that question, let’s talk.
2. I prioritize exercise. Most people have heard that exercise is important when you are anxious and depressed. If you hate exercising, find the thing that you hate the least. There are hundreds of ways to get your heart rate up. Weight training is incredibly important, but for emotional regulation, cardio is what you are looking for. And please, if you haven’t been exercising-don’t start with running. You will hate it and you may never exercise again. I can hear people pushing back, “Well, that’s nice. I work full time and have three kids. I don’t have time to exercise.” You do. I always tell my clients if you have time for TV, you have time to exercise. Jog while you wait for your kid’s practice to finish. Run around with your kids at the playground, that will get your heart rate up. 20 minutes is all you need. I would love to help you figure this out.
3. I practice mindfulness. I’m a super practical person and honestly even writing this bothers me. It sounds so out there, so let me break it down. Anxiety generally is worrying about things in the future that we have no control over or agonizing about how to change our present reality. When I say I practice mindfulness, this is what I mean. When I start getting anxious, I pause and I say to myself “What is real right now?” I simply acknowledge the reality of each of my body parts. My feet are on the ground, they are touching the sidewalk. My knees are sore. I am sharing a space with (fill in the blank). My arms are at my sides. I go through as many body parts that I need to in order to bring my thoughts down to reality. When my mind quickly begins to wander away, I start again “Where are my feet?”
4. I tell someone that I’m feeling anxious-in the moment. It’s really vulnerable to share your current emotions, it’s much easier to talk about them after the fact. But I don’t find as much healing when I share later. I make it sound better than it was. I downplay the significance. So I push myself and reach out in the moment. I ask my friends to pray for me and allow them into my moment. This is hard to do in person, but I’m telling you it’s powerful. When you can’t muster enough strength to share in person, text someone. I’m grateful for texting. Everything feels bigger and scarier when you don’t tell anyone. I find that when I share that I’m anxious, it takes the power away. But let me caution you, keep that group small. Share with people that you know will pray for you and will stand with you. I have found that when I have shared with people that don’t get it, I feel like they downplay my feelings and it makes me even more anxious. I feel ashamed. Text me or even tell me in person! I’d love to pray and walk with you through this journey!
5. I create a time to be anxious. I do want to acknowledge that sometimes my anxiety is so visceral that this doesn’t work. But if I can catch my spiraling thoughts early on, this has worked for me. When I find myself getting really worked up about something, I tell myself, right now I can’t deal with these feelings, I will think about these feelings later tonight. I even plan a specific time that I can be anxious, from 3:00-4:00 pm as an example. Personally I have found that one of the worst things I can do is tell myself to stop being anxious. It never works. So for me, I don’t try to tell myself not to be anxious, I just give it a space and place. Most of the time I don’t end up using my allotted time to be anxious.
6. I accept it. The more you fight anxiety, the more it will fight you back. When you are in the midst of having a panic attack the worst thing you could do is try to not have a panic attack. It will just get worse. Ride the waves. Make accommodations if needed. The more you fight it the longer it lasts.
7. I try to remember that my anxiety is not who I am, it’s just a strong emotion I am experiencing. When I feel anxious, it helps me to say out loud “I’m anxious. But I’m also passionate. I’m also friendly. I’m also a fighter and a seeker of truth.” My anxiety is one of the many aspects of who I am.
8. I try to remember that anxiety comes in waves. I have gone up to a year of being fairly anxiety free. When I would go long periods of time without anxiety and then it would resurface, I would feel despair and assume that I was going back to square one and that all the work I have done was worthless. There is nothing true about that. There is a good chance you will experience periods of anxiety your whole life. The less I freak out when a wave of anxiety hits, the less damage it seems to create.
9. I try to refocus my attention. This has looked differently for me in different seasons. When I have an idle mind, that is when I tend to get anxious and crazy. Sometimes it just helps to binge a TV show, which I usually would never encourage. Read a book. Take up a cause. Learn how do something new. Learn about something new. Reach out to someone in need. Anxiety is obsessive thinking, try to obsessively think about something else. Once I was in a deep pit of anxiety and a friend called me and told me she was in the middle of a horrible panic attack and asked if I could come over. The request took my attention off myself and onto to her needs. All of a sudden, my anxiety no longer mattered.
10. The last one is the worst one, but I have to say it has been the most helpful for me. You have to fake it until you make it. Even when I am anxious I do the next planned thing anyway. Even if it means taking more medication for bit, you need to get out of bed, you need to get dressed and fake it until you make it. One step at a time. The first time I heard that, I was appalled. When I am anxious all I want to do is curl into the fetal position and cry. But if I let myself do that, it’s just going to get harder and harder to take that first step. Keep your expectations low for yourself. Celebrate that you showered and got out of bed. Don’t expect to be yourself. Silently be angry at all the happy people around you (I think we would all be surprised at how many other people feel the same way we do). Acknowledge that it doesn’t feel fair that everything is so hard for you. I’m not asking to change your feelings, I’m saying you must act in spite of them. If people ask what is wrong, and they are not safe, tell them that you feel sick. But stick it out. I’m usually pleasantly surprised by how I feel by the end of the event. Then when it’s over, go back into your fetal position and cry and be grateful that you made it. Then get up and do it again. I promise you the more you push on the front end, the less time you will spend pushing.

If you read my blogs, you know that I love Jesus and my world centers around my faith. In this blog post, I have intentionally kept faith out of it. I feel like there are many wounded Christians out there that have been given trite answers to deep agony and distress. So take a breath. We will go there. We seek will Jesus in the midst of our pain. But today, just look at the list, pick one you haven’t tried and try something. Don’t focus so much on changing how you feel, but just focus on changing something you do. Share what you did below and if it helped. We will meet again soon.

We are in this together,

Lisa