tI used to play college basketball, and before every game, the entire team would meet in a classroom. We would watch film of our upcoming opponent, our coach would have a packet full of material on each player and the team's plays, and we'd discuss ways to combat their offensive plays and defensive attacks. Obviously, our goal wasn't to completely destroy them (though, that would make basketball a much more interesting sport, right?). Acknowledging their strengths didn't mean we thought they'd win, it meant we knew they were real, we knew they could beat us, and our goal was to keep them at bay until the clock ran out. If we hadn't respected their areas of strength and determined ways to stay ahead of their attacks, we would have been embarrassed on the court. When we weren't preparing for a game, we had practices where we fine-tuned the skills we would need to employ the next time we made a specialized plan to defeat a specific team. No matter the day, we were always preparing for something. Idle days meant the competitors were getting ahead of us.
Day 2: Know and Respect Your Opponent
To the average person, all that preparation for a basketball game seems completely rational. For some reason, when we think of the same daily preparation for our mind, we think it's absurd or a waste of time. I'm going to suggest that you create "practice plans" for each day. Of course, you can't prepare for all of the randomness each day could bring, but every morning, I bet you at least have an idea of the day ahead. For example, I have individual student meetings during the average day on my job. Though I may appear to be a people person, these meetings actually heighten my anxiety. In this context, social anxiety is my opponent, and on days when I know I have a lot of meetings, I have to create a practice plan to combat this opponent. I know this opponent is skilled in draining me if I don't take alone time to recharge. So when I schedule these meetings, I make sure none of them are back to back, and I am able to have some time to refill after each meeting. I also know this opponent is skilled in causing me to focus more on the comfort of others than my own comfort, so I also make sure I have a complete hour to take an off campus lunch. I assess the social anxiety, I respect the social anxiety, and I craft ways to help combat the social anxiety. I acknowledge that my opponent will never be completely destroyed, but I also know that I'm bringing my most prepared self into the competition. Acknowledging my social anxiety isn't letting it win. As a matter of fact, it's giving me a better chance to beat it because I'm respecting the power it can have over me if I show up unprepared.
You'll always have easier days (normally weekends) where you won't see opponents. On those days, work on refining those skills you use every day. Meditate. Exercise. Tidy up areas of clutter that will heighten your stress during the week. All the preparation in the world would mean nothing for a basketball team that wasn't in shape or was inept in the basic fundamentals. Make sure your brain is conditioned for success.
No coach would bring their team into a game without having studied and respected her opponent. Don't bring yourself into a battle you can't win. Know your triggers. Respect your triggers. And take the time to craft a game plan for their defeat.
Since my blog is titled "Mentally Healthy Mom," it's probably pretty important that I actually address mental health. My mental health is tumultuous, to say the least - I know I'll battle with it for the rest of my life, and I'm okay with that. Just like someone who has more markers for heart disease might change their diet and exercise habits, I, too, have changed some of my habits to help moderate the highs and lows. For the next ten days, I'd like to share my top 10 thoughts and actions which help me navigate my complex life. Of course, I'm speaking about them through the lens of motherhood, but I think that even if you aren't a mother or parent, you'll be able to take some nuggets of insight.
Day 1: Don't believe the lies.
Instagram lies. Facebook lies. Twitter lies. The media lies. Your friends lie. And before you get your panties in a ruffle, I think MOST of these lies aren't meant with malicious intent (except for Facebook...I'm really starting to believe Mark Zuckerberg is a bad bad man, but that's a conversation for never because we don't need that negativity in our lives).
So, you're scrolling through Instagram on this Monday morning, and you see this adorable picture of my 3 year old dressed with perfect pigtails for her pajama day at preschool. You think to yourself, "How is it 7:32 a.m., and she has her kid all dressed and smiling and ready to take on the day while I'm still in my pajamas screaming at my kid to get out of bed?" The picture really is cute because my kids are perfect (see: I put that lie there on purpose). What you didn't see was me drenched in sweat from my morning run screaming at my kid to get out of bed while she screamed at me because I wouldn't let her wear her holey nighttime pajamas for pajama day. You didn't see me riddled with guilt because she has to wear an "old" pair of pajamas because pajama day comes on October 28th, and I only get paid once a month making money really tight right now. You didn't see me leave my lunch on the living room floor because I'm carrying 800 other things to take into work. You don't see my desk behind me cluttered with work I have to makeup because I had to miss work twice last week to take care of myself and my kids. That picture is a nanosecond of my chaotic life where perfection is frozen for me to place a filter over and display to the world. That's not my life.
I'm not telling you to delete social media. I have friends who have, and their lives have gotten better, so I'm also not telling you not to delete it. You can enjoy those pictures. You can share in the successes of your friends, and you can be proud of the lives they've created. But do NOT believe that those pictures and posts you see paint the entire picture. Remind yourself that for every adorable picture of two toddlers in Halloween costumes, there are at least 4 meltdowns because the same toddlers refuse to wear a sweatshirt under their costumes. For every smiling child dressed as a fireman, there's a mom who lets that 5 year old firefighter eat 4 Reese's cups before bed because she worked all day then whipped up some soggy grilled cheeses while wrangling everyone in their costumes only to miss dinner herself and walk 3 miles trick-or-treating, and she's done when they get home. Maybe you were home all weekend with a puking kid, and you didn't get to clean your house. That picture your friend posted of her kids smiling in her immaculate kitchen doesn't show her completely trashed living room behind her. Like I said, enjoy these pictures because we love our lives and our friends and our kids, and we're proud of what we've built. We need to share in the success of others, but don't forget to paint the rest of the picture in your head when you close the app. My favorite thing to remember is that everyone has to poop. So when someone looks extra perfect, I remember that, like me, she poops, and it stinks...that normally levels everyone out for me.
While social media can paint some pretty filtered lies, the biggest liar in your life is your own brain. You're not doing as poorly as you think you are. Earlier, I talked about my guilt in not being able to buy my daughter a new pair of pajamas for pajama day (Please, don't feel bad for us. I am adjusting to getting paid once a month, and I haven't perfected it yet). If I let it, my brain would rip me to shreds today. You know what's funny, though? I care way more about those new pajamas than my daughter does. You know what she does care about? PAJAMA DAY! And she has clean, decent pajamas on today, and she is so stinking pumped. She doesn't care that they're not new. My brain took that idea of needing new pajamas and ran with it, and it almost stole my joy of seeing her proudly skip into her classroom and show off her "old" pajamas. Today, I shut that voice off, so I could take in the moment. That doesn't always happen for me, and when I feel my brain starting to believe the lies, I have a conversation with myself as if I were a friend instead of myself. Would you berate your friend for not being able to buy new pajamas? Would you berate your friend for skipping one workout? Eating one cookie? You wouldn't. You would hug her, and you would say, "Try again next time. You're beautiful, and awesome, and I love you." Treat yourself the same.
Keep fighting the good fight!
When time allows, I take a walk through the nature trail on campus during my lunch. It's my little piece of solitude and silence in the chaos of my daily life. Lately, everyone has been posting pictures of the beauty that is fall (I'm included). I'm sure you've seen the viral post with the quote, "The trees are about to show us how beautiful it is to let things go." I'm a big tree hippie. I have the tree in our backyard tattooed on my back, and I've always found their resilience and annual transformation to resonate with my own life. Today, I realized trees might carry an even deeper metaphor. Most of these posts on social media show a collection of trees, and together, they are awe-inducing.
Together, they are full of a variety of brilliant colors because they are all changing at their own pace. I like to find new views when I'm out on the trail because I think perspective is an underappreciated element of all of our lives. So today, I stepped off the trail, and I looked at the trees from a panoramic perspective (see the image above). As I returned back to the trail, I realized that the individual trees weren't nearly as beautiful as this panoramic view.
This guy here is even hard to see because he's so sparse. He is thin and appears frail. He has a few leaves left, and those leaves are full of holes from bugs and disease (maybe? I'm not a horticulturist, so don't hold me to that). I started to think about the trees and how they're so similar to humanity. Individually, some of us are sparse. Some of us are at a season in our lives where we aren't nearly as vibrant as we've been in the past. We might be sick, we might be tired, we might have been beautiful yesterday. But, our leaves have fallen, and alone, we look so sad. Some of us are at a season like the tree behind this little guy. We are vibrant. We look healthy. It is easy for those around us to appreciate who we are because of our beauty.
Even though each tree is at a different part of their annual transformation, together, they create a beautiful sight. I think humanity is the same. We have value as individuals, and each individual will go through seasons of lush brilliance, and seasons of death, and seasons of disease, and seasons of renewal. However, collectively, we can be quite a sight of beauty when we allow ourselves to be one despite being in different seasons of evolution.
This has nothing to do with my larger work. I was just working through a complex metaphor, and I find comfort in sharing it with you.
Keep fighting the good fight!
Everyone has to start somewhere, so here we are. I remember doing a blog about 10 years ago. I remember writing about my job at Subway and how stressful my job was. I don't even want to try to find that blog anymore because I'm sure I would punch 19 year old Emily in the face because she had absolutely no idea what stress was.
I've been asked to start writing a book, and I've finally decided to take on that process. One of my friends suggested I begin blogging so that I have a platform and maybe develop a following. So, here we are.
I've researched different types of books I might want to publish. Frankly, when I was working on my writing degree at Bluffton University, I would have told you I'd publish fiction someday. However, I've started to learn my true gift might be in nonfiction. So, I started researching, "How to write a self-help book." Can we all take a step back for a second and take in the irony that is googling how to write a self-help book? Google tells me that, contrary to popular belief, it's important to have a narrow scope. For example, instead of writing about how to be a mom, it's actually better to write about how to be a vegan, success coaching, running, Uno-loving mom. That's not me; I hate Uno. You get the idea though.
It seems that most of my "popular" content on my social media platforms are my musings on motherhood. But Google said I couldn't be that broad. I sat down and made a list of things I want to share, and I think the basis of the essays in my book will be how to remedy the complexities of developing your own identity (through tragedy and mental health struggles) while molding little brains of your own.
I just completed my first "essay," and I plan to share previews of each of them with you as I complete them. This is supposed to serve 2 purposes: 1) to hold me accountable and 2) to give room for feedback as I work through this process.
My first essay is about the first major tragedy I experienced in my life. In retrospect, I realize the tragedy had even more of an impact on my life than I'd previously imagined. So, here's your preview:
"Regardless of your religious or nonreligious beliefs, tragedy is always a breath away. Yet, we continue to work and love and live like we will get to return to our jobs, relationships, and hobbies tomorrow. That requires some faith. I learned at 9 years old that all of this is fleeting. I learned that you could be jumping on the trampoline with the spring sun shining on the back of your pony-tailed neck while your mom is figuring out how to tell you something that she knows is going to change the course of your life."
Thanks for being a part of all of this. Your job is to keep me on track. To critique me. To ask me where I've been when I've been gone for a while. To tell me when something sounds stupid. I know you've got my back.