Like many recovering women and moms, “fun” often falls to the bottom of the to do list for me (if it’s even on there). Who has time for fun? I’m WORKING! I’m working being a mom, I’m working being a Psychologist, I’m working running a household!
However, all work and no fun makes … NO FUN! And when there is no fun, this is a set up: for burn-out, depression, relapse, cross addiction, cynicism, unhappy marriages, cranky kids, and wistful fantasizing about times when play included things other than matchbox cars and dressing up like Elsa for the five hundredth time.
Here are some FUN ideas that have worked in our house:
- Get Creative in Your Child’s Play by Being Silly Yourself.
(And create a Halloween costume other than Elsa or Star Wars)
If your child likes to dress up like Elsa, and you feel like you are going to throw up if you have to be her sister, Anna, one more time, be something YOU want to be! Put on black clothes, cut out little green dots and be a Black-Eyed Pea! (That is a free Halloween costume idea. You’re welcome. You can now have fun being something-other-than- yet-another-Star-Wars-Princess-Zombie-Superhero walking down the block on October 31st). You can now dance around singing “I’ve Got a Feeling…”
If YOU are having fun, your child will, as well. If they are laughing, that is the goal. Little ones laughing are the equivalent of liquid gold. And who says Elsa can’t play with a singing, hipster vegetable?
2. Have Fun with Literal and Non Literal
My husband came up with this one when he couldn’t take another 2 hours of matchbox cars racing around:
It’s a Traffic Jam 🙂
Another thing my little one and I have done is put letters around the house on things that start with that letter. You can play with puns like the letter “T” on the Tea box, and the letter “P” on the potty where your little one goes “Pee.” This can be fun for a few minutes during the witching hours. Every little bit helps.
3. Create a Weekly Ritual
Our family has movie night every friday. I know some moms that have actually created theme-meals to go with the movie: “poison” (caramel) apples with Snow White or Pumpkin cake with Cinderella. Olaf eggs for Frozen. (More ideas. You’re welcome.)
I myself am too f-ing tired by friday to do this. We order out and have it delivered. Permission to do this. And if you are in recovery and not a Mom, if you have a fabulous (or good enough) babysitter, then by all means go OUT to a movie!
4. Find a Special Place to Visit Regularly.
It could be a redwood forest or a tree near your house. Whatever this place is, visit it regularly to connect with the-part-of-you-that-knows. This may not be fun in the traditional “Hey, let’s have some fun!” light-hearted kind of way. However, it is the ground from which all creative and fun energy arises. Your Soul/Wise-Mind/Intuition will appreciate having a regular place where you breathe, rest, and reflect. Find a Grandmother tree or create an altar in your home where you can be still. This is that quiet place that is under all the noise of Busy-ness. It is the ocean that all the waves crash back into. Let your mind rest there.
5. Connect with a Friend to Do the Fun Thing You Never Let Yourself Do
Take a moment to ask yourself what you really like doing, but never allow yourself to do. Now: create a date with a friend to do that. Whether it be collage-ing, making art, painting, dancing, yoga, or getting a pedicure, making a date with a friend will make you more likely to actually do it. This accountability can help give you both permission to take having fun more seriously 🙂 Do it before you reach this place, because when you reach this place, you are no fun:
Many Blessings and Have Fun!
Every morning my little one pulls up my shirt, kisses you, and says, “I came from there!” You are fleshy now, stretched. I feel warmth and softness when I touch you. Mother. You hang over my jeans a bit. My sagging muffin top. I try not to mentally airbrush you out of pictures- the little traces of shame that still linger, the empire cut shirts, even though I haven’t been pregnant for five years.
Twenty years ago disgust for you filled my world. And crushed my spirit. All the self-loathing, anger, fear and shame were stuffed into you. I’m sorry. So many apology letters written to you in those first years of eating disorder recovery. But I did grow to accept you! And fed you. And then you created an amazing child! (Ok it was my womb, but you are the flesh that stretched to accommodate). You grew and stretched beyond what I thought was possible
Belly, I’m sorry that there are so many images in the world that don’t look like you. I know those images make you feel unloved, disgusting, flabby. I’m sorry those images make you feel wrong.
Those images tell you all kinds of crazy sh*t:
“Be smaller! Be flatter! Do this to be loved! Be big and full of yourself until age seven and then be flat and hungry. But don’t feel hungry! Just look thin! Don’t get angry! Hide your intuition. Don’t listen to it. Be attractive by not being yourself! Don’t get stretched. If you get stretched, get sucked and stitched back in.”
I just want you to know, Belly, they’re wrong, those messages. Contrary to what the images tell you, there is nothing wrong with you. Let me say it again as you have received those other brutal messages so many times.
Belly, there is nothing wrong with you.
Guest blogging today is Dr. Marilyn Steele, A Jungian psychologist, dream consultant, author and artist. Marilyn is a dear friend and colleague with whom I have consulted on my own dreams, in mining for wisdom. I am so excited to share some of her medicine with you!
The Doctor Within and Wild Medicine
A few weeks ago I dreamed I was in labor but my OB-GYN, Susan Griffin, was out-of-town on vacation. After an initial moment of panic, I remembered that I had already birthed three children naturally. I know how to do this.
Although now I am laboring to birth a book The Way of the Wild Feminine rather than a baby, the dream includes three themes of my own awakening to feminine power: Dreams. The creative process. And motherhood. I had not actually planned on growing up to be a woman, since it seemed they had very small, boring domestic lives without much power or freedom in the world. But in birthing my first baby forty years ago, I felt in every cell of my body a deep love for the lineage of birthing mothers, and the shocking revelation that we were magnificently powerful. Amazed and angry, I was determined to tell a new, truer story of the self in psychology from a woman’s point of view. Along my weaving life path have been brilliant thinkers like my dream doctor –visionary, feminist author of Woman and Nature (1979). Making art and writing began to root me in my own inner authority, and helped to open a channel to Spirit. My strongest medicine came from dreams. And so became my reclamation of the wild woman.
“We begin our search for the wild, whether as girlchildren or as adult women, because in the midst of some wildish endeavor we felt that a wild and supportive presence was near…We sensed the sound of a familiar breath from afar, we felt tremors in the ground, and we knew that something powerful, someone important, some wild freedom within us was on the move.” Clarissa Pinkola Estes
Because the Feminine has been in exile for so long, we must go down to the roots, to the realm of the imaginal, mythic and archetypal unconscious to retrieve her stories, her values, her visions. Dreams are a direct pathway to this realm.
There is intelligence in the Universe- call it the Great Mystery, Spirit, Higher Power, Goddess, the holy – that wants the best for us and calls us to healing, to wholeness, to holiness. To wake up, we dream. Dreams help us grow soul, strengthen body and mind to house the bigger Self, so that we may bring a new story to ourselves and the world.
We can learn to trust, too, that the symptom or illness, the uncontrollable or irritating or even dangerous behavior has some gift to bestow. Soul speaks through the body. These are signs of a future pulling us in the direction of our divine destiny.
One of the great cosmic jokes Spirit has made through me is developing me into a feminist, an artist who loves science when I had never planned on becoming a woman, certainly not a “feminine” one, and had nearly flunked out of UC Berkeley due to the science requirement. I have learned to trust my dreams, to strengthen the dialogue between ego and Self, and to continue to find and empty those stubborn pockets of perfectionism which squelch the joy from my life.
Some gifts you can find in your dreams:
- A truthful self-portrait of your psyche
- Meaningful dialogue between Ego and Self
- Creative renewal
- Animal allies and spirit guides
- The secret wishes of your soul
- Initiation to your vocation and calling
- The playful and loving presence of the Great Mystery
The archetypes of the collective unconscious function like strange attractors in a quantum field. Our brains are like tuning systems, tuned in to our collective memory and our collective becoming. We are not our past. We are not our present. We are always in the process of becoming and we carry this process into being. We wild women carry the emerging possible.
The journey to a wild Feminine wisdom is a weaving way, a sometimes harrowing path, until we can become self-earthed, rooted in our natural feminine sourceground. We are the weavers and Wayfinders for a different kind of world, one in which it will be easier to love.
Here are some practices to reclaim your own wild feminine power and wisdom:
Welcome your dreams. Take action on them.
Walk in Nature.
Do yoga, dance, swim.
Begin each day by writing three pages.
Read inspiring spiritual prose or poetry.
Be quiet for a half hour every day to listen for the still, small voice within.
Create something, often. A poem, a song, a dance, a collage, a drawing.
Be alert to the synchronicities around you.
The more you practice the more you can begin to trust and be peaceful, rooted in the faith Spirit will let you know what needs your attention, what is flourishing as well as offering creative possibilities for your future.
About the Author
A Jungian psychologist, dream consultant, author and artist for over thirty years, Dr. Steele has taught extensively in the Bay Area and abroad on women’s psychology, the wisdom of dreams and the essential role of the wild and sacred Feminine archetype in the evolution of consciousness. Her office is in Lafayette, and she consults via telephone and Skype.
She has published creative nonfiction and spiritual memoir in numerous journals and anthologies such as Psychological Perspectives: A Jungian Journal, SageWoman, Zone 3, and Left Curve.
In 2012 she published a deck of Wild Cards, poetry to empower and awaken women. A memoir, The Wild Feminine: Stories to Inspire and Embolden, was released in May 2013 and recently chosen as one of The Spirited Woman Foundation’s Top Book Picks. A second book, The Way of the Wild Feminine:Tell a New Story, Draw a New Map for the World, is forthcoming in 2016.
For further information, go to theWildFeminine
…and recovery is always possible
My first year with the baby was dreamy, so when I started to decline, I didn’t think it was Postpartum depression (PPD). The docs had said PPD could occur anytime in the first year. They didn’t say what it was when depression occurred after that. Since my self-esteem was plummeting, which is one of the hallmarks of PPD, I concluded that my downward spiral was my own fault, due to poor management of my time and energy. It got ugly as the chemistry in my brain lost more and more balance.
What it felt like is that the sun that energizes the earth and had brightened my day was no longer available. I couldn’t feel its warmth. People often use the sun metaphor when talking about depression. When the depression lifts, they say, it is like the sun comes out again. This is very much what it was like for me. When the sun was absent, it was so frustrating because I knew what was missing – a connection to the universe – but I could not get it back. Movement, light, forward momentum – they were gone.
Usually, when you walk, you go forward.
In the dark season, your footsteps dissolve in the mighty, silent ink.
Lost, you have no choice but to sink into what you cannot see.
You reach out but your hands slide down the slick walks of despair,
This relentless, downward pitch can only be a vein of hell.
the baby sleeps through the night, you get a day off, you lie down and rest.
beats your heart. Your mind says nothing.
You feel heat again in your spine. You see orange at the corners of your eyes.
This quiet place at the bottom where the flame always burns,
must be a chamber of heaven
that it took the darkness for you to see.
I wish that I had known sooner that what I was experiencing was a delayed onset of PPD. I would have sleep-trained the baby earlier, and arranged for more visits like the one I just had at my mom’s. A late-onset PPD diagnosis also might have prevented a lot of anger directed at myself for being such a failure at managing my life. So I say, if you have a child under two and you meet the criteria for PPD, it probably is PPD and deserves to be treated as such. At the risk of stating a cliche, you deserve the support you need to feel better.
Sheira Kahn is a recovered bulimic and Marriage and Family Therapist who practices in the East Bay and Marin County. She teaches self-esteem workshops and classes on reducing emotional eating and is co-author of The Erasing ED Treatment Manual, available on Amazon.
At the age of 50, she gave birth to Alexandria in April of 2014. Her blog can be found on www.sheirakahn.com.
For those of you who are old(er 🙂 ), you may remember a television show titled “Fantasy island.” In it, there was a fictional character Mr. Roarke who ran an island that visitors flew into to fulfill their personal wishes. A mentor of mine calls this place in your mind “the island.” In this magical place, all of your “If____, then___’s” are accomplished, and you feel relief from whatever your particular form of suffering is. Some common versions of “fantasy island” type wishes include:
“If I lose weight, then_____”
“If I am out of debt, then______”
“If I earn (fill in amount of money), then______
“If I am in the right job/career/livelihood, then________”
The Alcoholic version:
“If I find exactly the right way to stay relaxed and socially confidant without blacking out, getting a hangover, or having any other negative consequences, then______”
The New Mom version:
“If I find the right formula for getting my baby to sleep and eat exactly right, have lost all the baby weight, and am not comparing myself to any other mothers, then_____________”
The Eating Disorder version:
“If I don’t eat any ‘bad’ foods, my stomach looks this way, my arms looks this way, my thighs look this way, then____________”
The Romantic Relationship version
“If I am in a relationship (in a married relationship, could change my partner, am no longer in a relationship) then ___________”
Note the irony of the last one. See how the mind creates suffering? As Oscar Wilde famously said:
There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.
You can fill in your personal versions “Ifs” and “thens.” However, the “thens” are often harder to fill in, because they are usually more intangible, like “be happy” or “stop feeling anxious or not enough.” Apparently, even in the fantasy island tv series, Mr. Roarke attempted to teach the guests life lessons through assisting them in seeing errors in their thinking or living in their fantasies.
The Thin Ideal
Carolyn Costin, a leader in eating disorder treatment who recovered herself calls these illusions the thin ideal. The thin ideal goes something like this: of if I were thin, I would be (happy/accepted/worthy/not have uncomfortable feelings…) Many of my clients recovering from disordered eating or body image distress know, intellectually, these beliefs about body image to be not true. They know what they are really looking for is not in there. What they are seeking in the desire to be thin doesn’t provide what they are actually looking for. They know “being thin” is not really going to give them freedom from ever having feelings of anxiety or grief or anger. They know being thin is not really going to give them meaningful relationships. They know that being thin is not really going to give them confidence, contentment, or a sense of purpose in their life. However, this part of the mind gets attached to its beliefs and stories. And when one is challenged, it comes up with new scenarios of “if, then.”
When I was never-thin-enough in my eating disorder 17 years ago, I was unhappy. When I finished my Master’s degree, supposedly “accomplishing” worthiness, I felt disappointed. And when I finished my doctorate, mostly what I felt was tired! After having a baby, I did feel content (amidst the exhaustion). However, none of these experiences provided me with an ongoing and easily accessible “You have now arrived” stamp of approval, feeling of contentment, or belonging in life.
I joke with my mentor about this island not actually being an island, but a mountain. Once I have climbed the mountain, reached the top, I will have “arrived.” Another illusion. One of my favorite authors, Pema Chodron writes:
In the process of discovering our true nature,
the journey goes down, not up.
It’s as if the mountain pointed toward the
center of the earth instead of reaching into the sky.
Instead of transcending the suffering of all creatures,
we move toward the turbulence and doubt.
We jump into it. We slide into it. We tiptoe into it.
We move toward it however we can.
We explore the reality and unpredictability
of insecurity and pain, and we try not to push it away.
If it takes years, if it takes lifetimes,
we will let it be as it is. At our own pace,
without speed or aggression,
we move down and down and down.
With us move millions of others,
our companions in awakening from fear.
At the bottom we discover water,
the healing water of compassion.
Right down there in the thick of things,
we discover the love that will not die.
It’s not about the island, it’s not about climbing anywhere, and it’s definitely not about going up a mountain. It’s about going down, right down into the thick of things, with your heart.
What provides the experience of “then” for me are:
Relationships with people who value the gifts I bring and with whom I value the gifts they bring
Being of Service helping others
Dancing or moving my body
Looking at things that scare me in a straightforward, nonavoidant way
I would love to say it IS about the product and there IS an endpoint! Here is where it is and here is how you get there! I have created a map! Just follow it and you will arrive at fantasy island! But the name kind of says it all, doesn’t it? This is not a fantasy. This is real in the trenches imperfect life, with all of its ups and downs every day throughout a nonlinear journey called your life. What provides the experience of “then” for you? I’d love to hear it!
- a confusing and difficult problem or question.
- a question asked for amusement, typically one with a pun in its answer; a riddle.
I was looking over a list of 10 Mindful Eating Questions asked by Susan Albers, PsyD (EatingMindfully.com):
- Do I tend to stop eating when I am full?
- Eat when I am hungry, rather than emotional?
- Not “pick” at my food?
- Taste each bite before reaching for the next?
- Think about how nourishing food is for my body?
- Be nonjudgemental of myself when I accidentally overeat?
- Not multitask when I eat: when I eat, just eat?
- Be able to leave some food on my plate if I don’t want it?
- Eat slowly, chewing each bite?
- Recognize when I slip into mindless eating (zoned out, popping food into my mouth)?
The good news is that we can always come back to mindfulness. That is why mindfulness is a practice! And the gift of being an imperfect mother that chooses to continue to grow and become/stay conscious, again and again, is that we model this for our children! So if we eat emotionally (Um- are there any mothers out there that haven’t had a piece of birthday cake or goldfish crackers? That would be, by definition, emotional because the nutritional content would be nil), then we can notice this, and choose to be kind to ourselves. Notice I didn’t say stop doing this. All food has some emotional content. And saying to yourself Stop doing that is just another version of the Overdeveloped-Superego-for-Mommy guilt.
Here is my revised-for-moms list of 5 questions for Mindful Eating:
- Do I attempt to provide a variety (colors, textures, food groups) of foods for myself as well as my family without making any foods “bad”?
- Can I allow myself to sit down and eat with my children/family (rather than serving everyone but myself)?
- Would I consider forgiving myself if I eat something emotionally because I am tired, frustrated, or lonely?
- How about if I lower the bar and dedicate 1 bite of the meal to mindfulness (notice the texture, taste, savor it)?
- Can I model good boundaries by protecting my plate of food as mine and not allowing toddler crumbs to be thrown on it?
I threw that last one in as a conundrum 🙂
Before I had a child, and before recovery, I was someone who ALWAYS finished books. Even if I didn’t like them. If it was nonfiction, there was something to be learned by the end of the book, and I might miss it. It might be the secret instruction in the manual of life that would turn the key to (insert topic here: being a better therapist, being more recovered, learning how to deepen spiritual practice, understand theories of psychology or physics…) If it was fiction, again even if I didn’t like it, I might end up liking the character by the end of the book. There might me some redemption or twist that turned the story…
Sometimes, in my life, I struggled with finishing other things or being with endings, knowing when it was time to hold on and stay with and when it was time to let go and release: funerals, graduate school, the dissertation process, relationship endings.
This past week, for I believe the first time ever, I returned a library book UNFINISHED. It was actually a good book, a parenting book that I would recommend to parents, to colleagues, to clients. And yet the book was something else I needed to get done that never got done. And I thought, hmmm, is this something I would regret not finishing if I were dying? And the answer was, No. Is it something that is giving me pleasure or assisting me in reducing my or other’s suffering? Is it helping me be a better parent, therapist, wife, person? No, not really. It has some good advice, but it’s not anything that I haven’t already been exposed to in other early childhood trainings. So on our weekly trip to the library, along with my son’s books he was returning, I put it in the slot. And the weight of relief was immediate.
There are other things in my life I would rather not finish or show up for that I need and actually want to now: endings, difficulties that lead to growth, showing up for greater connection and competence on the other side of fear. Those are opposite action practice. Those are important. The library book? Nope. That is not one of them. Halleluiah for letting go.
Where do you need to hold on and stay with; where would you like to give yourself permission to let go?
One of the most surprising aspects of the baby blues and Postpartum Depression for me to learn was how it can show up as irritability, anger, or anxiety. I know I personally never felt like a b*tch (Yes, I know from 16 years of recovery, 14 years of working in mental health settings, and a doctorate in Clinical Psychology that “bitch” is not a feeling) nearly as much as I did after becoming a mom. After becoming a mom, my “b*tch” feeling levels skyrocketed.
How does one know if these feelings (irritability, anger, sadness, loss of self-esteem) are in normal range of mommy/personhood and when they are of concern and needing attention and mental health support?
Shoshana Bennett, Ph.D. (co-author with Pec Indman, Ed.D. of Beyond the Blues: A Guide to Understanding and Treating Prenatal and Postpartum Depression, 2010) offers two simple criteria:
1. The symptoms last longer than two weeks
Postpartum Depression, like non-perinatal depression, includes symptoms for at least two weeks that can affect changes in appetite, sleep, loss of self-esteem, and lack of pleasure. Hormone changes are dramatic postpartum and the baby blues are usually a result of feeling this dramatic change and resolve within two weeks postpartum. 50-80% of women experience the baby blues. The baby blues are much shorter in duration. PPD can be difficult to detect as what new mother isn’t struggling with changes in appetite, sleep, and self-esteem?! However, PPD is more persistent, and:
2. The symptoms are severe enough to get in the way of normal functioning, even if they occur during the first two weeks.
Perinatal mood disorders (including not only depression, but also anxiety, OCD, psychosis, and Bipolar) are more persistent and pervasive and can interfere mildly or dramatically in functioning and care for yourself and your baby.Postpartum Depression (PPD) affects 1 in 5 women (this is the latest evidence- it used to be 1 in 7. I imagine this is due to more women speaking up and receiving help, not more women being affected). If the symptoms are severe enough to get in the way of normal functioning, even if they occur during the first two weeks postpartum, it is considered to be PPD.
But what ARE the symptoms and how do they show up?
The following are a list of symptoms interspersed with statements made by women suffering from PPD (excerpted from This Isn’t What I Expected by Karen R Kleinman, LCSW and Valerie Davis Raskin, MD, 2013) and comparisons between the baby blues and PPD (excerpted from Kristin B. Hodson, a psychotherapist, and founder of The Healing group.com, a center for Women’s relationship health):
“Every little thing gets on my nerves lately. Sometimes, I am even furious with my baby. Often, I am angry at my partner.”
The Baby Blues: One minute you love your husband and the next you want to bite his head off.Postpartum Depression: You are beginning to wonder why you married your husband in the first place, you are continually angry at him, and you consider throwing the vase at him.
The Baby Blues: One minute you are smiling at the baby and the next you feel irritated that you have to get up to feed them the fifth time that night.
Postpartum Depression: You’re dominated by anger daily, not just waking up to feed but towards others and life’s situations that you used to be able to handle.
“I cry at least once per day.”
“I feel sad most or all of the time.”
The Baby Blues: You haven’t showered in three days, you have dried milk on your clothes, and you burst into tears at a moment’s notice.
Postpartum Depression: You haven’t showered in a week, you don’t remember the last time you did laundry, and you are crying most of the day, every day.
“I can’t concentrate.”
Baby Blues: You walk into a room and forgot what you were looking for.
PPD: You cannot remember/memorize facts and figures needed in your professional life, that prior to pregnancy, were easy for you and your baby is 9 months old.
Loss of pleasure/lack of sex drive
“I can’t remember the last time I laughed.”
“I have no interest in making love at all, even though my doctor says I’m now physically able to resume sexual relations.”
“I don’t enjoy the things I used to enjoy.”
Fatigue and difficulty sleeping
“I can’t sleep, even when my baby sleeps.”
“I have no energy, I’m tired all of the time.”
“I have no appetite and no enjoyment of food or I am having sugar and carbohydrate cravings and compulsively eating all of the time.”
The Baby Blues: You haven’t had a thought about putting makeup on in a week and you don’t care that you are wearing your pregnancy pants because your focus is on recovery and the baby.
Postpartum Depression: You’re feeling so overwhelmed and out-of-control that you start focusing excessively on your outward appearance so people don’t know how bad and out of control things really are for you.
The Baby Blues: You wonder from time to time if you are really cut out for this mothering thing.
Postpartum Depression: You think you are not cut out for the mothering thing and start having regular fantasies about getting in your car, driving to Canada, and never returning because everyone would be better off.
This list is not intended to diagnose or treat PPD. A full assessment and screening can be done by a therapist (MFT, Psychologist or Psychiatrist) trained in perinatal mood disorders.
If you are having thoughts or a plan of hurting yourself or your baby, you need immediate attention and support. The following is a 24-hour crisis line for new moms.Postpartum Depression Phone Support: 1-800-773- 6667 (1-800-PPD-MOMS). This helpline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for anyone experiencing depression during and after pregnancy, as well as for anyone concerned about a new mother. The telephones are answered by trained crisis counselors who can provide information and referral for treatment.