The Irony Is Not Lost On Me.

In the wake of Robin Williams’ death, I’ve been talking with a lot of my friends about the topic of suicide.

Suicidal Thinking: I know a little about it…

suicideThe first time I tried to kill myself, I was very young. I want to say I was 8. I might have been 9. I was in 3rd grade. I had been through some shit. I took double the adult dosage of some cough syrup. (What can I say? As a kid, I didn’t understand how it worked.) To my surprise, I didn’t die. I did, however, faint, and get to deal with EMTs. I actually was glad I lived, but I never stopped thinking about it. Any time I was down on myself or dealing with bullies, it seemed like the natural, appropriate answer to the situation. It wasn’t.

In early 2003, at the age of 22, I walked into Lakeside and said, “I need help. I can’t stop thinking about killing myself.” The week that followed was horrifying, but helpful. They put me in a room with an anorexic lady who stole my down jacket so that she could sweat off more weight, and I actually had to spend a significant amount of time in group therapy with the very woman who had abused me as a kid at child care and convinced me that I was nothing more than a burden to my parents.

In a very everything-happens-for-a-reason sort of way, I learned all about the abuse she suffered as a child and her messed up reasoning for abusing me. Turns out, I was actually her favorite child from day care, ever. At the time, she was unmedicated, undiagnosed, and suffering from schizophrenia. She genuinely believed that she was trying to teach me necessary life skills and the reality of the world we are living in. Abusers often don’t understand that what they’re doing is harmful because they’re repeating a cycle from their own lives. So, I had to forgive her, in front of a group of strangers, so she could begin to forgive herself. She had been red-banded (a red wrist band told hospital workers not to allow her outside or near anything she could use to harm herself) for more than 6 months. In contrast, I was red-banded for 2 of my 5 days.

The second time I was hospitalized thanks to suicide was 7 years later. Even after going through EMDR therapy to help stop seizures and deal with trauma from earlier in life (much of which I have intentionally kept off this blog), I genuinely believed that I was nothing more than a burden to my family and friends. In the course of 2 years, I had gone from being a socially adventurous academic overachiever to someone who had seizures almost all day long, every day, who couldn’t work and spent all of her days either on the couch or in bed.

suicide2When my parents suddenly let me know that they could no longer help us with rent, Adam and I faced an immediate choice between heading to a homeless shelter and leaving the Los Angeles area to move in with his brother in Romeoville, IL. Either way, we would lose most of our possessions and pride. I felt entirely responsible for our situation, regardless of the facts that Adam had been unemployed for 2 years thanks to the recession and I had no control over having MS or a seizure disorder. I simply wasn’t willing to pull Adam down any further, and I could no longer handle my shame.

I was put on a 72-hour mandatory hold at Glendale Adventist after he called the police because I walked directly into traffic on a busy street. It was the most loving thing anyone has ever done for me, and it helped transform my life. It was there that I learned the truthful phrase, “Suicide is a liar demon.”

I wish I could say that my fight against suicidal thinking ended in that hospital, but it didn’t. It did, however, jump-start some better behaviors, like using aromatherapy to help keep you in the present moment. Unfortunately, I still couldn’t cope with the fact that I’d failed the CA bar exam twice (and wasted $20,000 in the process) or that I still couldn’t magically make myself better enough to be able to work.

It wasn’t until January of 2013, when I started working with a cognitive behavioral therapist to really break the cycle of suicide addiction, that I learned how to stop suicidal thinking in its tracks. It’s probably the most valuable set of rituals I’ve ever learned.

How I Kick Suicidal Thinking’s Sorry Ass Every Single Day

behappyThe best advice I got from CBT was to keep busy. My therapist often said, “An idle mind is the devil’s playground.” But just keeping busy doesn’t get the job done. It only helps distract you from your thoughts so you can get a word in edgewise with your thoughts. You still have to be pro-active. You still have to recognize when you have irrational thoughts and fight them. And any suicidal thought is irrational. Trust me on this one.

Here’s what I do to keep suicidal thoughts at bay:

1.) Every morning, I list 3 Great Things About Yesterday to remember the good that happened in the past and trick my brain into forgetting about or at least not focusing on the bad. Sometimes I write it here. Sometimes I write it on Facebook. Sometimes, I write in a real paper journal.

2.) Daily gratitude rampages help me focus on what’s good in the moment. Most of mine are in the journal, but sometimes I do them here or on Facebook.

3.) Daily meditation helps me focus my intentions. Right now, Chopra Center has a free 21-day meditation challenge going on, if you want some guidance to start your practice.

4.) I am constantly examining my thoughts for truth to figure out what’s real and what’s an ANT (automatic negative thought). If I find out that a thought is an ANT, I challenge it. It’s like running virus protection for your mind.

5.) Move! Even if you only take a 5-10 minute walk a day or do a few minutes of chair yoga because your legs don’t want to cooperate, getting your body in motion makes a huge difference in your ability to be happy.

When I started these practices, they were very difficult and a constant pain in the ass, but so was enduring life! Nowadays, they’re usually easy, quick, and enjoyable.

Rest In Peace, Mr. Williams.

robinwilliamsI have to say though, that I wouldn’t have written any of this if not for the fact that Robin Williams choked himself to death with a belt.

This guy — this actor/comedian whose roles were so intensely life-affirming that I watched many of them (especially Robots, Dead Poets Society, Good Will Hunting, and Hook) multiple times while fighting suicidal ideation — he did the world a horrible favor by dying this way. He brought suicide into popular consciousness in the worst imaginable way — by being the very last person anyone would have expected to do it. The irony is not lost on me.

Robin Williams got us talking about how international fame, ludicrous amounts money, and talent-without-match are absolutely fucking meaningless when you’re dealing with addiction and suicidal thoughts. He reminded us that just because someone is smiling doesn’t mean they’re okay. He reminded us that actors can completely miss the messages for which they’re so loved. It’s profoundly sad.

Here are my favorite quotes from his incredible body of work:

Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting: “You’ll have bad times, but it’ll always wake you up to the good stuff you weren’t paying attention to.”

Armand Goldman in The Birdcage: “So what? The important thing to remember is not to go to pieces when that happens. You have to react like a man, calmly. You have to say to yourself, ‘Albert, you pierced the toast, so what? It’s not the end of your life.’”

Fender in Robots: “You know Rodney, even if you know you had an discouraging day, remember. There is another one coming tomorrow!”

Genie in Aladdin: “To be my own master. Such a thing would be greater than all the magic and all the treasures in all the world.”

Peter Banning in Hook: “To live… to live would be an awfully big adventure.”

John Keating in Dead Poets Society: “They’re not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you, their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because, you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it? – – Carpe – – hear it? – – Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.”

The fact that I posted a “Carpe Diem” graphic yesterday felt like a kick in the gut. It deserves repeating.

carpediem

You’ve Got To Be Kidding.

Fucking Awesome.

This weekend, I got a comment from a stranger on this blog. She let me know that whenever she does a Google search that includes both profanity and MS, my blog pops up.

On the one hand, there’s the tiniest amount of shame because, truthfully, my parents and grandparents did their best to encourage me to have clean language. (In high school, I was constantly getting corrected for using coarse language. When I came home from my first semester of college, my grandfather joked that I had become a sailor. In truth, I did use some variant of the word “fuck” between every phrase that came out of my mouth. It had become a verbal crutch.) On the other hand, I feel a bit of pride. It means that I’m unabashedly honest about this bitch of a disease.

Who would have thought that my use of “bad” words would drive traffic to this site? Hilarious and awesome. Or, as my friend J.R. would say, “Rich and compelling.”

I’m not gonna lie.

Last week, I received an email from Healthline asking me to participate in their campaign for MS called “You’ve Got This” where individuals living with MS can record a short video to give hope and inspiration those recently diagnosed with MS. For each video, Healthline is planning to donate $10 to the National MS Society.

I thought, long and hard, before choosing not to participate. At the end of the day, I couldn’t in good conscience tell someone who’s newly diagnosed that MS isn’t a big deal and that they’ve “got this.”

Had Healthline approached me to do this during my first year after diagnosis, I would have been all over it. Despite the MS diagnosis, I both completed a legal externship with a record label and graduated law school. I refused to let MS stop me from doing the things I wanted to do in life. I believed that nothing could stand in my way if I just tried hard enough.

But then I developed a seizure disorder, thanks to the MS.

That seizure disorder meant that I missed the first bar exam that I prepared for, and that I would fail the bar exam twice, despite my best efforts, because it’s impossible to pass that test when you’re repeatedly seizing during it. It would mean that I would not be a CA attorney or even be able to continue to live in CA. It would mean moving in with my husband’s brother in a small town that I did not like because my medical expenses had financially fucked us.

Having a seizure disorder caused by MS meant that it would be 4 full years before I even felt safe enough to try exercising (which also meant 60 pounds of weight gain). It meant not ever being able to have a career, not being able to be in a hot kitchen with sharp knives and cook safely, and not being able to perform with a band as a vocalist.

It would mean never being allowed to drive a car again, and because of that, suffering years of isolation and being trapped in the apartment while Adam went to work for us. It meant that it would take more than 2 years to come off seizure, MS, and depression medications before I could even have the opportunity to be told by an OB/GYN that I still needed to get my hypertension under control and lose 20 pounds before I could even think about pregnancy.

Having MS and seizure disorder took all of my plans for life, laughed derisively, and then took a big nasty shit on them, then looked me in the eyes and dared me to try making more plans.

So, all that being considered, I think it would be at best disingenuous for me to tell someone who just was diagnosed that they’ve “got this,” and at worst, it would be straight up lying.

A Healthy Respect For MS

Anyone who tells you, when you let them know that you’ve got MS, that “you’ve got this,” or who tries to minimize it by suggesting that it’s not a big deal, is totally blowing smoke up your ass.

Multiple Sclerosis is different for everyone who has it. Some folks are lucky enough that it’s “benign” for them. Most of us are not so lucky.

Most of us deal with many of the conditions on this list, caused entirely by MS.

  • Blurred or double vision
  • Thinking problems
  • Clumsiness or a lack of coordination
  • Loss of balance
  • Numbness, tingling, and/or burning sensations
  • Chronic pain
  • Weakness in an arm or leg
  • Muscle stiffness or spasms
  • Fatigue
  • Paralysis, most typically in the legs
  • Problems with bladder, bowel or sexual function
  • Depression and other mood disorders
  • Epilepsy

That list is great, and all, but it doesn’t tell you the larger truth behind what it means to live with MS.

Living with MS means being the embodiment of resilience. You will learn how to live in the moment, if you’re smart, because none of us knows when MS will make our lives more difficult. It means that this disease will, more than likely, knock you down, over and over and over again (sometimes literally!), and that you will have to find a way to get back up every time. It will redefine your idea of what it means to be successful, grateful, or patient.

Living with MS necessitates learning how to deal with insurance companies, just to get the coverage you need to be okay. And, unless you’re extremely wealthy, it will also cause you accept charity, usually in the form of copay assistance for medications that are priced in such a way that you may consider it punitive.

Life with MS forces you to question your faith in both God and man. For some, that means that their faith becomes stronger. Prayer and meditation have certainly been comforting for me. For others, it means leaving religious communities that are not supportive of receiving medical help. Personally, the experience has increased my faith in mankind and decreased my faith in the idea that God’s got a plan for everything. I just can’t believe that the suffering of so many people is part of a plan towards some greater good.

If anything, MS has made me painfully aware of my mortality. I am aware that at any moment, I could suddenly not be able to breathe, or my heart could stop, or any of the other functions that are controlled by neurons in the brain stem could just stop working.

MS is like a box of poisoned chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get, but you know it’s not gonna be good.

On Maintaining Individuality

One of the biggest challenges, for me, has been fighting against isolation and loss of individuality. For more than 5 years now, any time I leave the apartment, I’m with someone else. Usually, that someone else is my husband. This has been out of necessity, for safety’s sake. I’ve made it to the mall once. I took myself to an ophthalmology appointment once. But, those 2 times are not enough. It’s kind of dangerous just wandering around town with an uncontrollable seizure disorder, but my other option involves a level of entropy to which I’m not willing to succumb.

And Adam’s not sick. He needs the freedom to go to game stores and get his geek on. He deserves the time to go to a writer’s group for his screenwriting…but he feels bad doing either of these things because it just means more time alone for me.

That means I need to find a way to stop being “forever alone.”

My challenge is to find a way to make new friends in a city that I barely know, to find hobbies that don’t seem impossible with my physical challenges, and to dare to live normally.

Step one: getting some breakfast so I can take the meds I should have taken 2 hours ago.

SSDD. (Same shit, different day.)

Time Traveler’s Log

Yesterday, I had another time travel seizure. Fortunately, nowadays, they’re much more rare. Unfortunately, because they’re so rare, they really shake me when they happen. If we’re friends on FB, you’ve already read most of this section, but I wanted to blog it so I don’t lose it and because there are a lot of folks who are not on FB who I think will appreciate it.

Sometime around 2 p.m. yesterday, I had a complex seizure. I woke up very confused. I had no idea where I was. The last thing I could remember was going to sleep next to Chris in my apartment in Boston in 2000. This laptop was open on my lap, though, open to Facebook, and according to the computer, it was 2014. I didn’t recognize my apartment, my pets, or the name next to my picture.

I clicked my picture. The page it surfed to (my timeline) had a name on it that I recognized (Rachael Shapiro) and it said that I was married to someone named Adam, so I messaged him but he didn’t type back. It also said I had a webpage, so I visited it and got very confused about why I would be writing about MS, seizure disorder, or the paleo diet. I read several entries and felt bad for whoever wrote them. (guh.) I saw on the FB page that it said I had gone to law school. That’s when I decided I was clearly having a bad dream.

I looked all over the apartment and couldn’t find a telephone, and Adam’s timeline page didn’t have his phone number anyway. The TV was playing the same 3 songs over and over again. (I now know I had been having several seizures and in an attempt to stop time travel from occurring, had set up Spotify to play my post-ictal playlist. There were 3 songs there that were supposed to make me remember when I am. It failed. Last night, we added several more songs.)

The next thing I knew, this thing that looks like a TV but that’s the same size as a deck of cards started playing the same music over and over again. I couldn’t make it stop. I kept pushing the green button on the screen that looked like a telephone, but nothing happened. I kept shouting, “Hello?” “Pick up.” “Answer.” and nothing happened. I pushed on the green button again and slid my finger in the direction of the arrows (towards the red button), and that worked. Surprise! It’s a phone. (?!?)

Nearly 24 hours later, I still feel stupid for not recognizing it as a phone.

Adam assured me that this was not a bad dream and walked me through using a program that looks a lot like WinAmp (apparently Spotify) to find a song that helped some of my memories come back. “Call Me Maybe” was the song that worked. I immediately remembered being on I-55 on the way back to Nick’s house after a neurology appointment.

Eventually, my memories came back to bring me up to date. I hate that sort of confusion.

Making Time Travel Easier

In an effort to curb some of the absolute terror that I feel when I go through this stuff, I wrote myself an email. I’m going to post it here too, just in case I end up on this site before I end up on email. Here it is!

Hey, me!

This is Past Rachael, with an important message for Future (present) Rachael.

First of all, everything is okay. I know you’re feeling sick and panicked, but everything will be alright if you read through this email and react calmly.

I’ve been through this situation so many times before that I wanted to find an easier/better way to handle things. I decided to write this to let you know what’s going on and how to get through it! These are things that I know you will want to know if you just woke up, and you’re really confused about where you are, how you got there, and/or how you look.

1.) This is not a dream. You had a seizure! You were not in a car accident, and nobody beat you up. Do you feel like someone hit you upside the back of your head with a 2×4? Are you either super sick at your stomach and think you’re going to puke or super hungry and panicky about it? Those things are completely normal when you’ve just had a complex seizure. Take a few deep breaths and keep reading.

2.) Call your husband, Adam.

You will not find a regular old-school telephone anywhere in your apartment. You do have a cell phone.

It looks like this:
Samsung_Exhibit_II_4G_sidebyside_610x581
It has a purple rubber cover on it, and is about the size of a deck of cards. It’s usually on the arm of the couch, charging. Sometimes, you accidentally leave it in your jacket pocket.

Press the button on the right hand side of the phone, and the screen will light up. Press your finger on the screen and move it to the side, and you should see a home screen. If that’s not what you see, press the little house icon on the bottom of the phone. A screen that looks like a desktop should appear.

Click on the “Phone” icon. It will bring up a dialer program. You can either type in Adam’s number and then press the green phone icon to dial, or you can press and hold down the number 2 and speed dial will dial him for you.

Don’t trust me that your husband’s name is Adam? Think you’re either too young to get married or that you’re still married to Chris? That’s post-ictal (after-seizure) confusion messing with your mind.

You’ve been with Adam since 2006. (That would be 7 years as of the writing of this email.) He was in the room, holding your hand, both times when you were diagnosed — first with multiple sclerosis, and second with seizure disorder. He knows your illnesses better than you do, and he loves you deeply. No one on the face of the planet will be able to offer you more comfort, support, or direction than he will.

Adam and I’ve been through this kind of confusion together a ton of times. You can trust me about who you’re married to and who is safe because I’m you!

Not convinced? Doubting that this is real? Still feeling like calling a “stranger” is a bad idea? Call Mom! She is always speed dial #5 on your phone. Follow the instructions that are above and press and hold down 5 to get Mom. She will probably be a bit upset by the news, and she might get flustered when it happens, but she knows what’s going on. Odds are, she will call Adam immediately if you haven’t already.

Can’t get in touch with Adam or Mom over the phone? EMAIL THEM. You’ve been using webmail since Shadowscape, so I’m hoping you don’t need directions.

To make life even easier on you right now, I added them to the email you will find in your Inbox (It’s the same as what you’re reading!) as recipients so that you just have to “reply to all” on that email, and you’ll get in touch with both of them. It doesn’t get a lot easier than that.

3.) Listen to some music that might jog your memory. I’d say “Turn on Spotify and pull up the post-ictal playlist” but that’s a lot of work for someone who doesn’t know what’s going on. Our TV setup is not simple.

Here are some links to songs that ought to make everything easier.

Click here to listen to “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jespen.  This song has a strong association in your mind. It usually brings you back up to 2012. If you’ve got that knowledge, it’s a lot easier to do more to help yourself because you understand what’s going on with your body and why you’re in Chicago. (Yes, you’re in Chicago.)

Click here to listen to “Timber” by Pitbull & Ke$ha. This admittedly annoying song usually brings you back to November 2013. Your brain’s not messing with you. You *do* have a cardiologist now. You’re following a diet and exercising regularly to treat hypertension.

Click here to listen to “Happy” by Pharell Williams. If we’re lucky, this will bring you back to February of 2014. That’s where I am right now.

4.) Treat your pain. Look around at the coffee table and the boxes under it. Do you have any marijuana? If so, it will probably be in one of those orange prescription pill containers to keep it airtight. If you can, pack yourself a bowl and smoke it. It will help your headache, your stomach ache, and your anxiety. Seriously.

I know it probably sounds crazy, considering how anti-drug you were raised, but it really is a good idea to smoke some weed. Multiple doctors (reputable psychiatrists and neurologists!) have actually prescribed this for you. You’re not doing anything wrong by smoking it. You’ve got MS and a seizure disorder, and it’s good medicine for both.

5.) Relax. Just find a couch and chill. There’s honestly nothing you can do right now, other than what I’ve listed above, that will be helpful in any capacity, so it’s not worth fretting about. Nothing bad will happen if you don’t clean.

Other important things:
This is not a punishment of any kind. God does not hate you. You didn’t do anything to deserve this. Don’t take a bath. It might feel like a good idea, but getting overheated is dangerous for you.

I hope this helps!

Thoughts about Food.

The Paleo Diet’s doing good things for me.

For a while there, I was not sure whether or not the paleo diet was making any real difference in my life. As of Valentine’s Day, I am sure that it’s doing good things. What significance does Valentine’s Day have? I broke diet for half the weekend. Chocolate. Sushi. Cheeseburger. Pad Thai. I was loving the break… until Saturday night (1 full day into the sugar and wheat binge), when I had so many time-travel seizures that even Adam lost count.

I am now trying to figure out if I have a problem with wheat (since gliadin antibodies are higher in folks with MS, suggesting a sensitivity to wheat), dairy (which would make sense since MS has been linked to consumption of cow’s milk), a combination of the two, or something completely different. I’m not too worried about legumes, since the only legumes I had were crushed peanuts in the pad thai, and that was during Saturday night’s seizure funfest.

I got back to sticking to the diet on Sunday, and had a total of 1 seizure that day, which was a simple partial. (No time travel!)

Splenda – not so sweet.

In the last several days, I’ve also been doing some research on Splenda. There have been a lot of hoaxes and half-true infographics circulating around FB recently, and I’m genuinely worried for my folks, who drink it in beverages regularly. I found a bunch of studies that claim that sucralose is totally safe for you as long as you don’t have too much. I was more concerned with finding peer-reviewed studies that were not funded by the makers of Splenda or a sugar corporation.

Here’s what I found:

Splenda is not an inert compound.
“Sucralose and one of its hydrolysis products were found to be mutagenic at elevated concentrations in several testing methods. Cooking with sucralose at high temperatures was reported to generate chloropropanols, a potentially toxic class of compounds. Both human and rodent studies demonstrated that sucralose may alter glucose, insulin, and glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) levels. Taken together, these findings indicate that sucralose is not a biologically inert compound.” http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10937404.2013.842523#.UwFpL_ldUkZ

Splenda is immunosupressive.
“The cumulative suppression of Interleukin-6 and Interleukin-10 levels induced by sucralose may contribute to the inability in mounting an effective humoral response when posed with an exogenous threat.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24063614

“[E]xposure to sucralose induces a reduced humoral response that may be associated with adverse effects on the immune system.” http://etd.uwc.ac.za/usrfiles/modules/etd/docs/etd_gen8Srv25Nme4_5780_1319022717.pdf

Splenda can reduce glucose absorption and can increase the presence of cholesterol in your blood.
“It could be concluded that consumption of sucralose didn’t induce oxidative stress, has no effect on insulin, reduce glucose absorption and intensify hypercholesterolemia in STZ-induced diabetic rats. Accordingly it is advised that diabetic people consuming high amount of sucralose must check their lipid profile to avoid diabetic complications.” http://www.scirp.org/journal/PaperInformation.aspx?paperID=34006#.UwFqI_ldUkY

The more Splenda you consume, the higher your likelihood of developing leukemia.
“Dr. Morando Soffritti, director of the Ramazzini Institute in Bologna, Italy, and team fed 843 laboratory mice varying doses of sucralose from when they were fetuses until they died. Post-mortems showed an association between leukemia risk and lifetime sucralose consumption – the more sucralose they consumed, the higher their risk of leukemia.” http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/262475.php

Splenda is a known migraine trigger.
“This observation of a potential causal relationship between sucralose and migraines may be important for physicians to remember this can be a possible trigger during dietary history taking.” http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1526-4610.2006.00543_1.x/abstract?deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=&userIsAuthenticated=false

Splenda can negatively affect your insulin response, if you’re obese and haven’t been regularly using it.
“[S]ucralose affects the glycemic and insulin responses to an oral glucose load in obese people who do not normally consume NNS.” http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/36/9/2530.short

I don’t think there’s such a thing as a safe artificial sweetener right now. Thankfully, liquid stevia, raw honey, and maple syrup are ok.

Battling codependent behavior is good self care.

I’ll admit it. I’m a recovering codependent.

Codependence is a bitch. For an enabler, like me, it means that you’re letting someone else step on your feelings of self worth. A good functional definition of the codependent cycle is “Underdeveloped self esteem (dysfuncational boundaries) combined with an inappropriate caring for others (invading a boundary), and an inappropriate reliance on another’s response (having poor boundaries), in a negatively reinforcing loop”. Codependence is very common in folks who have endured abuse. It’s what enables the cycle of abuse to exist and continue.

When I was in my first marriage, I had no idea that our relationship was codependent. All I thought about was how to keep my husband happy, regardless of the situation. He was very rarely actually happy. Fortunately, he left me. That action gave me the push I needed to see a psychologist. I went to therapy during the divorce and after, and I worked with a support group for a long time. I learned that I wasn’t alone in the wrong thinking of “my partner comes first” in a marriage, rather than the healthier thinking of “We’re a team. We matter equally.” It’s all too common for folks to lose their perspective when they’re in love.

I can say, without question, that learning how to see the red flags that indicate codependent behavior (such as recognizing when action by another will negatively affect me) and being empowered to change my behavior based on that recognition changed my life profoundly for the better. It made me responsible for my well being and happiness. It ended a lot of needless upset. It ended a lot of unnecessary hurt.

If a friend is doing things that hurt you, they’re not your friend.

“Codependency, by definition, means making the relationship more important to you than you are to yourself,” marriage and family therapist Tina Tessina says. “It’s kind of a weird phrase, and it doesn’t sound like it means a one-sided relationship. But that’s what it is. It means you’re trying to make the relationship work with someone else who’s not.”

In the last couple of weeks, two people who I care for very deeply, who don’t know each other and are completely unrelated, have been causing me an unnecessary amount of stress, anxiety, and upset. And extra stress and anxiety for me only makes my MS worse. Effectively, by dumping their emotional baggage on me, they were actually physically hurting me.

Caring for your health is your first responsibility.

For weeks, I’ve worried and fretted about these people. I’ve done my best to be a good, caring friend and help them out of their difficult situations. I’ve told both of them what I think about the situations they’ve gotten themselves into. (Which is to say, I advised both of them that their behaviors were dangerous and that they were causing themselves harm.) Neither one of them were willing to acknowledge that they were hurting themselves. Neither one of them cared how their drama affected my life, or how their behavior affected others… so I realized, as I found myself cussing out the married boyfriend of one of them, that I desperately needed to draw boundaries for my own emotional and physical safety.

So, today, I unfriended both of them. One was a good friend for nearly 20 years. One was friends with my parents for years before I was born, and I was initially afraid of how it would affect my parents. Ending those relationships was hard. It took guts, but I knew I had to put my well being first. I had to practice self-compassion.

Self compassion is not selfishness.

Self-compassion is comprised of self-kindness (which requires that you actually show yourself kindness and understanding about how you feel and don’t judge yourself for it), mindfulness (being aware of pain and not exaggerating it), and recognition of our common humanity. It means putting yourself first, but not being an asshole about it. Caring for yourself is an obligation. If you don’t do it, you’re asking for things to get worse.

Selfishness is when you take care of yourself while lacking consideration, compassion and empathy for others. I know that I’m not being selfish because I genuinely wish both of these people the best. I want good things for them. But I also acknowledge that I have no control over their choices or actions, and that they, in fact, had some control over my emotions. That inequality is not healthy, so I had to take action to care for myself.

At the end of the day, you have to live with you.

I hope that by sharing this, I’ve helped anyone at all. Having the backbone necessary to eliminate toxic relationships is important. The best way I’ve heard it said is by an adorable little girl.

What to eat when you’re sick and keeping a paleo Whole 30.

Being Sick Is No Fun.

Last week wasn’t such a great week, health-wise, for my husband, Adam. He was diagnosed with strep throat and a flu-like virus that completely took him out of commission from Wednesday night until about mid-day Sunday. Miraculously, even with an immune system that’s operating at 60%, I did not get sick! I am praying that I am not in an incubation period, and that I don’t end up ill in about a week or two.

Sadly, we couldn’t go to the gym on Monday or Tuesday of last week because of the polar vortex making temperatures in Chicago dip to forty degrees below zero. The gym was closed! Adam was diagnosed Wednesday, and he wasn’t feeling better until yesterday – so that’s a whole week of working out that we lost. 😦 I guess it’s better for us to have let our bodies rest and been considerate of the other gym-goers than to have pushed ourselves for the sake of keeping with our plans.

Speaking of keeping with our plans… we ran into a hard time on Friday. When either Adam or I have gotten really sick in the past, our diets were incredibly grain-heavy — noodle soups, fresh bread for dipping, Chinese food… that used to be the order of the day. But, you can’t do that when you’re paleo.

My Ginger Garlic Chicken Soup

Thursday and Friday for lunch, I made my ginger garlic chicken soup, which was great. I cut up about 12-15 baby carrots, 3 stalks of celery, and 2 chicken breasts, grated about a half inch of fresh ginger and 5-6 garlic cloves, and added 4 cups of organic chicken broth, 3 cups of water, 1 bay leaf, 1 TBSP of granulated onion (you could always sub 1 medium onion, chopped), a half tsp of poultry seasoning, some kosher salt, and fresh ground black pepper. I let it simmer together for an hour or so, and we had some really comforting, delicious soup.

Unfortunately, that was all I had in my bag of tricks. I became slightly panicked on Friday night because I couldn’t think of anything else that was Whole30 compliant for me to make for dinner that would soothe Adam’s cold.

The Foodee Project & Chowstalker to the Rescue!

Everyone who knows me well knows that I am a research fanatic. The first thing I did was to Google “paleo while sick” and “whole30 while sick” to get some results where I could see what others who were keeping this diet do when they’re feeling ill.

I was shocked and saddened to see that there were few answers or suggestions for anything other than scrambled eggs and bone broth. Heck, some people even advocated fasting. I thought that was crazy. Fortunately, there were a few more helpful suggestions on TheClothesMakeTheGirl – she suggested zucchini noodles with ghee and mashed potatoes. Both are very respectable suggestions. Unfortunately, Adam wasn’t in the mood for any of that.

So, I hit up Chowstalker and The Foodee Project for Whole 30 recipe suggestions. I found a lot of good options, and I thought I should share them with you! I need to add all of these to the Paleo Compendium.

Soups

Curried Butternut Squash Soup
Roasted, Curried Pumpkin & Butternut Squash Soup
Curried Apple Soup
Sweet Potato Basil Soup
Indian Spiced Sweet Potato & Bacon Soup
Beef & Mushroom Soup
Spicy Chicken Vegetable Soup
Smoky Mexican Tortilla-less Chicken Soup
Tuscan Chicken Soup
Ginger Chicken Soup
Curried Cauliflower Soup
Golden Cauliflower Soup
Silky Gingered Zucchini Soup
Avocado Soup with Cucumber
Gazpacho With Zucchini Pasta
Squash & Crab Bisque

Not Soup


Fall Harvest Mash

Butternut Squash & Yam Mash
Turnip-Cauliflower Mash
Lemon Cucumber Noodles with Cumin

Feeling Better

Today is Monday, and Adam is back at work. The sun is shining, and temperatures are back up above freezing. That means that tonight, we’re definitely headed to the gym, and that I need to get something started in the slow cooker about… now, actually. (Geesh! Better finish this entry.) Tonight, we’re having Slow Cooker Rotisserie Chicken & Sweet Potatoes.

Hope you’re all doing well!

Despite Multiple Sclerosis…

Yesterday, a good friend whom I admire and respect left a link for me on my Facebook timeline. The text that he wrote to accompany the link was “Inspiration of the day.” What followed was a link to an article about a woman who, 3 years after her MS diagnosis, has chosen not to take any MS medication and instead to run a marathon every day for an entire year, finishing the year with a double marathon.

Now, I know this friend pretty well, so I am entirely certain that he had good intentions and was looking to lift me up when he sent me this article. I am not upset with him, and I deeply appreciate that he holds me in his heart and wants to remind me that I am capable of more than I think I am.

That being said, something that people who don’t have a chronic disease often don’t understand is that when you send links about people who have your disease doing incredible (sometimes ridiculous) things, it is not inspirational. It is a form of shaming.  It suggests that the disease you deal with on a daily basis really isn’t that bad, and that anyone with that disease ought to be able to do the crazy-ass thing that this person, who has your disease, has chosen to do.

Diagnosed with MS? Climb Mt. Everest!

I remember when I was initially diagnosed with MS, Teva Pharmaceuticals sent me an information packet, asking me to be a part of Team Copaxone – a bunch of folks with RRMS who do things like climb Mt. Everest, lead a team to the South Pole, participate in the Para-Olympics, and so on… (from the Teva Pharmaceuticals website) “Team COPAXONE® is a group of individuals with RRMS who have different talents and aspirations, yet one common objective: to live the lives they have imagined despite their disease.”

I remember thinking, “I’m finishing law school and am going to take the bar exam despite the fatigue and cognitive problems caused by RRMS. I’m kind of like the folks in Team Copaxone! I won’t let anything stand in my way!”

And I did complete law school.  I even took the 3-day CA bar exam twice.  I didn’t pass either time, though I was close — and I blame the fact that I didn’t pass on the constant seizures I was experiencing at the time. (It’s hard to pass a test when you have seizures that cause you to fall out of the chair you’re in and bang your head on the desk while you’re taking it.) These seizures were caused by MS.  So no matter how much I wanted “to live the life I imagined despite my disease,” I couldn’t.  That doesn’t mean that I didn’t give it everything I had.

It’s not that you’re inferior. They’re just so superior.

When folks with MS get media attention for do amazing things, like training for the Kona Ironman competition, modifying bicycles so they can pedal with their hands and participate in 2-day long bicycle races, continuing to pursue a lifelong dream of being a basketball player with the NBA, have a booming career as the mascot for an NFL team despite heat intolerance, or be a Major League Baseball player, people who are not knowledgeable about the disease think that the rest of us ought to be able to do these things.

To make it worse, you’ve even got fictional characters, like President Josiah Bartlet of the West Wing, messing with the understanding of the disease for your average person.

The bad logic isn’t hard to follow: If there are people who have MS that can succeed as professional athletes or political figures, people with MS really aren’t that disabled. They’re just holding themselves back.

While I wish that were the case, it simply isn’t.

This is what MS does to you.

Multiple sclerosis is different for every person that has it, for many of us, the symptoms are severely disabling.

The most common symptoms of MS (courtesy of WebMD):

“Abnormal sensations: People with MS often say they feel a “pins and needles” sensation. They may also have numbness, itching, burning, stabbing, or tearing pains. About half of people with MS have these uncomfortable symptoms. Fortunately, they can be managed or treated.

Bladder problems: About 8 in 10 people have bladder problems, which can be treated. You may need to pee often, urgently, need to go at night, or have trouble emptying your bladder fully. Bowel problems, especially constipation, are also common.

Difficulty walking: MS can cause muscle weakness or spasms, which make it harder to walk. Balance problems, numb feet, and fatigue can also make walking difficult.

Dizziness: It’s common to feel dizzy or lightheaded. You usually won’t have vertigo, or the feeling that the room is spinning.

Fatigue: About 8 in 10 people feel very tiredIt often comes on in the afternoon and causes weak muscles, slowed thinking, or sleepiness. It’s usually not related to the amount of work you do. Some people with MS say they can feel tired even after a good night’s sleep.

Muscle spasms: They usually affect the leg muscles. For about 40% of people they are an early symptom of MS. In progressive MS, muscle spasms affect about 6 in 10 people. You might feel mild stiffness or strong, painful muscle spasms.

Sexual difficulties: These include vaginal dryness in women and erection problems in men. Both men and women may be less responsive to touch, have a lower sex drive, or have trouble reaching orgasm.

Speech problems: Sometimes MS can cause people to pause a long time in between words and have slurred or nasal speech. Some people also develop swallowing problems in more advanced stages of MS.

Thinking problems: About half of people with MS have trouble concentrating that comes and goes. For most, this means slowed thinking, poor attention, or fuzzy memory. Rarely, people can have severe problems that make it hard to do daily tasks. MS usually does not change your intellect and ability to read and understand conversation.

Tremors: About half of people with MS have tremors. They can be minor shakes or make it hard to manage everyday activities.

Vision problems: Problems with your eyes tend to be one of the first symptoms. They usually affect only one eye and go away on their own. Your sight may be blurry, gray, or have a dark spot in the center. You may suddenly have eye pain and temporary vision loss.

Very rarely, people with MS may have breathing problems or seizures.”

There is no cure yet for Multiple Sclerosis.

The only thing that upsets me more than being presented with evidence that MS doesn’t stop you from doing amazing physical things (for many of us, it does!), is when people send me links talking about people who have “cured” their MS.

None of them have.

Dr. Wahls, for example, has done an amazing job of regaining ability in her body that she had previously lost due to MS, by eating a modified paleo diet. News sources around the world touted her discoveries as a “cure” for MS — but Dr. Wahls will tell you herself that she still has the disease, and that she is managing the symptoms through diet. She still deals with some symptoms from MS, but she’s much better than she was prior to starting her diet regime.

Then there’s CCSVI (which was proven ineffective), stem-cell recipientsbone marrow transplants, and recently, T-cell reprogramming.

Not one of these “cures” is a real cure, but, they are steps towards one.

Why do I get upset when people excitedly tell me about “cures?”  Because every one of those articles about potential medical therapies carries with it a  mixture of false hope and more shaming. These articles contain the implied suggestion, “If the news says this is a cure, you should try it – and if you don’t, then you’re not doing everything you can to fight the disease.”

I’m proud of how I’m doing.

I have gotten accustomed to a life with seizures, thinking problems, sexual difficulties, muscle spasms, fatigue, dizziness, bladder problems, and abnormal sensations — all occurring during the last 6 years while I’ve been taking medicine to slow progression of the disease.

So, no – I don’t think I’m going to be running 366 marathons anytime soon. I sure as shit am not climbing Mt. Everest, and I have no designs on trying to become a professional athlete or political figurehead.  I’m facing the challenges presented to me by my body and am not looking to increase the difficulty of my life.

The fact that, since the constant seizures abated in January, I have consistently gotten myself to the gym 3-4 days a week proves to me that I am not a quitter.

The fact that, for 6 years, despite being initially needle-phobic, I gave myself nightly injections to fight the disease, lets me know that I’m willing to face my fears and do whatever is necessary to maintain as good a level of health as I can.

The fact that I am, once again, following a modified paleo diet because science confirms that it makes a positive difference in the health of people with MS, shows me that I am not lazy or letting the disease “win.”

The fact that I’m willing to try new drugs when they come out on the market, like Tecfidera, despite the chance of horrible side effects, lets me know that I have not lost hope.

Despite multiple sclerosis, I do my best to live a full life.  And to me, that’s all any of us can ask of ourselves.

Disability & Your Relationships With Your Self And Others

Judgment. It’s not just for other people to place on you. Every one of us has certain standards and ideals that we hold ourselves to. I can’t tell you the number of times that I have read a statement that goes like this: “I’m not the [wife/sister/mother/friend] that I want to be.”  This is almost always placed in the context of disability, suggesting that MS, Lupus, Fibromyalgia, a cancer of some kind, or even seizures are to blame for the reason that the writer does not feel good about themselves.

It’s Not About What You Do. It’s About Who You Are.

If there’s anything truly helpful that I’ve learned over the last 7 years of battling MS and the last 5 battling seizure disorder, it’s this: You are not your disease(s). To everyone else in the world, you are the victim of your disease(s), and anyone who loves you wants to fight the disease itself because they see how it negatively affects you.

I had a particularly hard time differentiating my self from my ailments for a very long time. I thought that because I had these afflictions that they were a part of me – and that maybe they even existed as proof that I wasn’t good enough as a person. (Otherwise, why would God let me end up this way?) I considered myself a burden on my family and my husband. I hated myself for having MS, a seizure disorder, PTSD, and depression. I consistently put myself down for not having a job, for not doing the cleaning around the house, and for not being “my best self,” thinking inaccurately that “my best self” existed free from the challenges of disease. I became suicidal because I thought that the only way to end not only my suffering, but the suffering of anyone who had to care for me or bear witness to my pain, was to end my life.

When I was in the mental health hospital, on a 5150 (involuntary psychiatric hold), my husband said something very important to me, that I hold in my heart to this day.  He said, “MS or no MS, seizures or no seizures, you are my wife and I will always be here for you – because I want to be. Nobody held a gun to my head and said I had to marry you.  If you kill yourself, that’s leaving me, and I don’t want to spend the rest of my life without you.”

Prior to that, I hadn’t, even for a moment, considered that he wanted to care for me. I hadn’t let myself believe that I was desirable as a companion, regardless of ailments.  The delusional thinking that I was engaged in had me convinced that my disability made me bad for him, worthless as a person, and that by killing myself, I would be doing him (and the world) a favor. It never dawned on me that I was more than the sum of my problems. I was also me.

Finding Your Worth With Disabling Conditions

It has only been a few months since I started working with a therapist (Let’s call her “K”) to find out who it was that I had become and to get myself on a path towards who I want to be.

When we first met, K asked me the question “Who are you?”, the answer I gave was, “I’m a housewife who is on disability because of MS and seizure disorder. I failed the bar exam twice, so I am not a lawyer.” I defined myself strictly by my career and my disease. I ignored the fact that I am a woman first, a daughter, a wife, a person with a unique viewpoint on the universe. I forgot that there were other important aspects to my personality, like loving to sing and to cook and to help friends. I defined my worth by my ability to make a paycheck.

And that way of thinking had held true for a long time before I started working to change my way of being – for years, defining myself by what I could not do caused cyclical suicidal thinking.  I was, for a few years, a very miserable person.

It is only recently that I have come to realize that my worth as a person is not determined by how much money I can make, what things I can do, or what other people’s opinions of me might be.

She had me create a chart that said on one side “Worth =” and then I had to fill in the other side.  Together, we examined each statement that my “fill in the blank” chart created to see if the thought was rational or an ANT (Automatic Negative Thought) that we could challenge.

Sometimes, the statements were just plain silly – not even a believable negative thought, but just thinking that didn’t make sense.  Things like “Worth = Not Needing Help.”  I actually had let myself believe that I was only a worthy person if I never needed help. I had to ask myself, when confronted with that statement, “Who, in life, doesn’t need help from time to time? Does needing assistance actually negate a person’s innate worth?”  The clear answer was, “No.”

Then, there were other statements that were very true, like “Worth = Irreplaceable/Precious.”  “Precious” means that something is of great value and is not to be wasted or treated carelessly. It’s true that there is only one of you in the universe for all time. This makes your life immeasurably valuable. Because of that, you should not waste your life or treat yourself carelessly.

doctor

I was forced to admit to myself and to allow myself to really believe the truth: that being unique in all of time and space means that regardless of how I feel about myself, I am valuable and deserving of care. It’s objective truth.

What You Do Is Not Who You Are.

No matter what actions I take in life, it’s not going to change a few very basic things.  I will always be a human being (as opposed to “a piece of shit” – regardless of what my inner bully might want to shout at me). I will always be a daughter. Because I my parents chose to have another child, I will always be a sister. Because I have been lucky enough in this life to meet a man who loves me as deeply as I love him, I will always be a wife.  Nothing that I do or fail to do will change these designations.

So, I had to ask myself the really tough questions… “What does it mean to be a good human being? What does it mean to be a good daughter or good sister? What does it mean to be a good wife? What is goodness?

After reading through the dictionary and thesaurus and taking some time to really think about it, I’ve determined that a “good” person is one who is virtuous, genuine, and commendable; kind and benevolent.

Regardless of physical status, anyone can still be “good” and “worthy.”  Being “good” is a question of character, not whether or not you meet the arbitrary goals you set for yourself. It’s about being loving, sharing of yourself, and making the effort to connect with others, emotionally, on a genuine level.

So, stop confusing your worth or your goodness with your ability to do certain things.  A genuine connection with a precious person is all anyone could want out of a relationship.

There’s No Better Time To Foster

It’s kitten season! Finally, the weather is warming up, and love is in the air… but not just for us humans! Cats around the world are feeling that spring fever that creates so many new babies too. Every year, from late spring to early fall, animal shelters have a massive influx of homeless kittens, and in an effort to save the lives of these sweet babies, they look to the community to find people who are willing to foster an animal (or three) and raise them into good pets.

What It Means To Be A Foster Parent

Baby cats need a lot of attention, whether or not they have the advantage of being around their mother. Kittens can’t properly see until they are 5 weeks old, so they need help with the very basics of life: eating, going to the litterbox, and keeping clean and warm. They also need to be socialized so that they know it’s okay to trust humans and other animals.

In some instances, the kittens are separated from their mother so early that they need to be bottle-fed. The experience of bottle-feeding a tiny kitten creates the strongest bond possible between a cat and a human. They actually come to think of you as their mother. But don’t think that it’s all cuteness and fun — bottle-feeding requires that you mix formula (KMR – kitten milk replacement) and clean bottles every 2-4 hours. In many ways, it’s like feeding a human baby.  It’s important when bottle-feeding that you hold the kitten properly so that there is a smaller chance of the kitten contracting pneumonia by inhaling the milk instead of drinking it.

Working with kittens that have reached 4 weeks of age is significantly easier, because you just have to help them learn how to eat solid food. It is always best to start with wet food and then move to dry food once they have stronger and larger teeth.

Regardless of the age of the kitten, a foster parent will always need to bathe the animal, sometimes more than once a day.  Kittens are messy, and they can’t clean themselves with their tongues yet!  It is the responsibility of a foster parent to help keep the kitten healthy.  This also means cleaning the litter box every day.

The most important thing that a foster parent does, however, is provide a loving home where the kitten can live and grow. They also provide fresh food and water and give medications to the animals when necessary.

Foster parents also are responsible for following shelter guidelines and taking the kittens to the veterinarian to be spayed or neutered when they are of a proper age. By making sure that the fostered kittens have been altered prior to adoption, foster parents help disrupt the cycle of breeding that leads to there being so many homeless kittens.

The Benefits of Fostering Kittens

My husband and I have been fostering kittens since 2007. We have raised over 50 kittens, and in that time, we learned a lot about ourselves as people and a lot about kittens themselves.

These animals are, in many ways, like us.  They have distinct personalities, basic needs that must be fulfilled, and they can show appreciation and affection.  They want attention, and they want to play.

For a couple who has not had children, it can help provide insight into how you might act towards each other when you have children. There are many chores that need to be done, and division of labor is an important thing to establish. Fostering kittens also gives you the opportunity to nurture and love a creature that is in real need of protecting and care, while at the same time knowing that eventually that animal will find its “forever” home because of you.

For many people who are disabled, fostering kittens provides an opportunity to care for an animal who needs more help than they do. It is empowering to be able to see a kitten grow and become playful and happy because of the things that you are doing to help it along.  Also, there are many therapeutic benefits to simply taking the time to love on a kitten.  It’s been scientifically proven that petting an animal lowers your blood pressure and stress levels.

For folks who are single, the animals provide companionship and hours of entertainment.  Adam and I have countless videos of kittens playing. Those videos never cease to make me smile.

But there’s a hidden gem of a reason to foster kittens — and that is that volunteering for an animal shelter makes you a better employee and leader.

Volunteers Are Better Leaders and Employees

According to Forbes, “one of the greatest challenges in motivating employees to sustain strong business performance is to make them feel like there’s a larger purpose to their lives than just meeting financial goals… .” (http://www.forbes.com/sites/karlmoore/2011/12/21/volunteering-a-great-way-to-learn-real-executive-leadership/) When you are fostering an animal, there is no question that your life has meaning. All you need to do is look into the eyes of the animal that you have saved from extermination to know that you are doing good in this world.

Forbes goes on to say, “By volunteering for projects in nonprofit organizations, experienced executives can hone their supervisory and leadership skills, and aspiring executives can gain the experience and networking opportunities that could lead to plum positions in the company.” If your company sponsors a particular animal shelter, working with kittens could help your job prospects!

Whether you’re networking for business purposes or not, a foster parent can’t help but make friends with other foster parents in their organization. You see each other on a regular basis at regular animal shelter meetings and adoption fairs.

Fostering takes you outside of your comfort zone, and gives you an opportunity to work with new challenges, people, politics and interpersonal dynamics. In this way, working with kittens offers new perspective on priorities.

Fostering also helps you practice the skills of patience and compassion, and when your kitten gets adopted, there’s a feeling of pride. Many times, people who adopt kittens that were fostered decide to stay in touch with the foster parents. That’s a second opportunity for networking and friendship building.

Thousands of Kittens Need Homes

There’s no better time than now to begin working (and playing) with kittens.  Every year, thousands are put down due to inadequate room at local shelters.  You could be a hero to an animal and play an important role in its life.  Pets change the lives of their owners in many positive ways.  Giving your time to help a baby cat become a good pet is immeasurably rewarding.

If you’re ready to sign on and become a foster parent, check your local animal shelter’s website.  Oftentimes, there are forms to fill out for prospective foster parents. They will also have more information about their program there.  You can find your closest local shelter and tips about fostering by visiting http://www.petfinder.com/animal-shelters-and-rescues/ .

On New Year’s Resolutions

If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It

It’s the end of the year, and many of us are looking forward to 2013 with a hopeful glint in our eyes, thinking to ourselves, “How can we better ourselves?  What ways can we improve ourselves and the world around us?”

While New Years’ Resolutions are wonderful things to make, I think many of us would do well to take stock of where we are before we get the ball rolling on where we need to go. The first, and most important thing, in my mind is this: don’t forget about what’s already good in your life, and take care to continue the actions, thoughts, and attitudes that have gotten you this far.

Set Achievable Goals

One of the great things about the beginning of a year is that gives you a fresh start, so you don’t have to look back at what you have or haven’t already done.  When you begin looking at what you want to do, you can create goals that you know are within your grasp.

Many times people will unconsciously set themselves up for failure with their New Year’s Resolutions by not being specific enough — they will say things like, “This year, I’m going to lose weight and be fit.” rather than saying “This year, I’m going to lose x pounds by exercising y days per week and sticking to z diet.”

By creating achievable goals that have specific action plans and dates associated with them, you set yourself up for success rather than disappointment and for future happiness.

Don’t Use Resolutions As An Excuse For Self-Deprecation

I see friends do this to themselves again and again. Every year, folks commit to losing “all their extra weight” or they start badmouthing themselves in some other area of their lives – like saying how they need to get a new job so they earn more money, or how they’re “finally going to start using that gym membership.”  Inside of each of these statements is a negative statement — a harsh “put-down” about how the person feels about themselves.

Resolve to lift yourself up with positive feelings.  Change can often be a hard thing to do, and the only way that you’re going to stick with it and grow as a person is if you’re consistently willing to be your own cheerleader.  Even if the change is something as simple as resolving to not leave your wet towel on the floor of the bathroom after your morning shower, it’s going to take time and effort to make a difference in your living pattern. Creating a chart where you reward yourself with a gold star sticker -or- using the good fabric softener after a week of good behavior might be a good way to give yourself the pat on the back that you deserve for modifying your behavior.

Above All Else – Be Reasonable

It may be that this last year didn’t turn out quite the way you had hoped.  You might be in a funk right now.  I know that for the last few months or so, I’ve been in a depression of sorts.  But be wary of loading yourself up with resolutions! You’re only one person, and this is just the beginning of the year.  You can’t do everything all at once.  More importantly, you don’t need to.

Now, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start down the path of trying new things and becoming more like the person you want to be — but don’t expect yourself to get everything done overnight.  That weight you want to lose: you didn’t gain it in a day, a month, or even probably a year.  That hobby you want to get better at: it takes time too.  And if you’re aiming at being a rockstar, I can tell you from close, personal experience with very successful friends: they still play their scales — daily. (It’s not a matter of liking it!)

The most important thing you can do to have a great new year is to allow yourself the freedom to try things that make you happy and to keep going at them, even when you have little failures along the way.

Practicing happiness is an artform all to itself, and one that takes a lifetime to master.  I hope you resolve to make it a priority this year.