As restrictions ease up and we start “reentering life”, I can’t help but feel more than a little uneasy. Yes, I am concerned about safety and my family’s health, but there has been more than that weighing on me. The past year has impacted everyone so differently and for me the global pandemic just happened to coincide with being pregnant with my son and becoming a mom. It has certainly been a year of massive change. Both of these life events I’m sure would have been catalysts to life changes, but together they have pushed me through an emotional journey and I’m coming out on the other side sort of a different person. That is what I am so nervous about. I am a different person than I was 14 months ago at the beginning of this and I am not sure I know how to be this person back out in the world.
I won’t explain all of the evolution I’ve been through and revelations I’ve experienced as I have been alone with myself and my thoughts late at night uncomfortable from a pregnant belly or nursing a tired newborn. What specifically the changes are doesn’t matter. The key is that now, after 14 months of happily living with my new self, I have to take her out into the world and figure things out.
This transition is more challenging because we were very, very strict with our quarantine. I have not been into my office in over a year and I have not seen my friends in person since before anyone could even tell I was pregnant. I literally grew an entire life inside of me, birthed him, and he is now almost 8 months old. In that whole time I have rarely seen anyone outside of my family bubble.
The weird thing is, the world was still going on around me while I was almost paused in this quarantine bubble. Protecting my baby was number one so I blocked out the rest of the world and here I am trying to reemerge and things are really different. But so am I.
My anxiety, I’m sure, stems from my lack of control of the world around me. Now that I am out of my bubble, anything seems to be fair game. My carefully calculated life is now open to scrutiny, error, and failure. I don’t have the same priorities, interests, or even fashion sense as I did a year ago. I’m more vulnerable than I have ever been as a new mom just trying to figure that out and figure me out. Our society is not kind to new moms (or moms in general!) and their changes are often seen as weakness instead of growth. I am taking that raw person and putting her out into almost a new world and what used to be default and comfortable is now just the opposite.
My ultimate goal is that I am able to carry on a slower, more mindful pace of life and keep my protective bubble at least partially intact while exploring what, on the other side of the past 14 months, makes me, me. I’m not sure how I’m going to do this and I’m sure navigating this will be a journey in itself.
Maddox's Birth Story
If you have been following along on Instagram, you know that Baby P has made his (early) arrival! On September 4th at 6:24pm, we welcomed Maddox James Pickens into the world. We had quite an unexpected course of events through labor and delivery that got our little boy to us. Let me tell you, it was a journey. But we are here and I’m excited to share. We didn’t have a “plan” and I am thankful we didn’t because we would not have been able to follow it at all. I took a class and did research on what delivery would be like and honestly it felt like everything that happened was the opposite of what I researched. Overall, our plan was that we wanted a delivery with a healthy baby and a healthy mommy. That’s all that mattered and we successfully did that.
If you haven’t read my other pregnancy posts, here is some background. I had been struggling health wise during my third trimester after I went off of my Remicade for my Crohn’s Disease. I had a slew of issues from gastrointestinal ones to extreme fatigue to itchy skin all over my body. As I got further into my third trimester I started to feel like my body was just shutting down. It was very hard for me to eat and baby was taking pretty much any nutrients I consumed which left me in a bad spot. My whole outlook was just as long as he is fine, I can make it through. I was approved for an induction at 39 weeks to get baby out and get me back on my Remicade ASAP. My doctor wanted to let him cook as long as possible to make sure his lungs were good and functioning. Baby boy was also measuring pretty big already at my 35 and 36 week sonograms. His head was measuring over 40 weeks in the 98th percentile at my 35 week appointment! This already had us questioning the success of a vaginal delivery, but I was ready to try. I was coming in for OB appointments weekly until my 37 week appointment.
I went in for my regularly scheduled weekly OB appointment during week 37 and was already feeling dizzy, weak and like something just wasn’t right. For a couple days leading up to the appointment, I had felt like my body was just shutting down and I was having bad diarrhea. As I was hooked up to the non stress test, I started to feel a lot worse and when the doctor came to see me, I let her know that something just wasn’t right. I couldn’t put my finger on what exactly, but I know my body and something was off. My OB sent me to the hospital to have me and baby monitored and get some fluids since I was dehydrated from days of diarrhea. Luckily, Matt was able to go with me since there was a good chance I would be getting admitted at least for a bit. We hurried home to grab our bags just in case and headed to the hospital.
Once I was admitted, I spoke with the OB on call and she let me know that they were recommending to start induction. I was 37w3d so technically Maddox was early full term and could be delivered. A couple weeks prior I had blood work done for suspected cholestasis and while my results weren’t conclusive for me having it, my bile levels were off. They were concerned that the condition could progress and could be harmful for baby so between that and my Crohn’s continuing to worsen, they thought it was best for me and baby to deliver sooner rather than later.
I started on a cervix ripening drug every four hours through my first afternoon and night and by Thursday afternoon, we were able to start Pitocin. I went through the night with some contractions, but major pain in my lower back. I wasn’t progressing and we were having issues tracking and identifying my contractions. Eventually, we concluded that I was having back labor due to baby’s position which was not only extremely painful, but very hard to track. I was in a ton of pain, but my contractions weren’t reading on the monitor. At this point, I was extremely exhausted and frustrated. I broke down and sobbed in my hospital bed. I was at a loss for why my body wasn’t doing what it was “supposed to be doing” and I felt like I was failing not being able to birth my son. Matt was so sweet helping me get through the whole thing and he and the nurses reassured me that I was doing great.
By the morning, I had only progressed to 1cm dilated. This wasn’t much, but it was enough to insert a balloon foley to try to encourage further dilation. I was frustrated again with my lack of progress, but very soon after I was distracted by the pain. Almost immediately after the foley was inserted, my pain level skyrocketed. They were still unable to get a read on my contractions, but I could feel them and it was seriously painful. I was really shocked at how quickly they escalated and how painful they got. I like to think I have a pretty high pain tolerance and this was completely unbearable. I got permission for the epidural even though I was only 1cm dilated still. Anesthesia came in to get me set up with the epidural. Matt had to leave the room, but I had my two amazing nurses to help me out. I was nauseous from the pain and shaking, so staying still for the epidural placement was really difficult. They were having issues and kept hitting nerves that hurt the right side of my body so the process took longer than expected. I got really sick and started throwing up as they were finishing up the epidural placement. I couldn’t move so my nurse just had to stand there and catch my vomit. It was miserable. Matt was allowed back in the room and finally, the epidural started to kick in. I spent the rest of the morning into the afternoon pretty comfortable, but still with no progression.
After another day with no progression, I was incredibly frustrated, in pain again and just wanted to figure out how we were going to get this baby out. I asked to talk to my OB around 5pm which I was so happy I did. I was almost in tears begging for a plan. I couldn’t go through another three days of this. She let me know that a c section was definitely an option that I should consider. My body wasn’t responding to the Pitocin, baby was in a weird position and he was already measuring big. She couldn’t technically tell me what to choose to do since the situation wasn’t an emergency, but it was clear the c section seemed like it was best for us. I had time to discuss with Matt. I had the choice to continue trying to push through for vaginal birth, but I was already so exhausted and there was no promise he would even engage and be able to be born vaginally in the end. We walked through any additional potential risks (other than the usual risks associated with a c section) and there was no increased risk for baby so we told my OB we’d move forward. She said to give her a half hour and we could have this baby before shift change. I was shocked at how quickly things went from zero to 100. It seemed like everything else we had to try for 12 hours before any decision was made. All of a sudden everything was a blur of nurses and the anesthesia team prepping me for surgery. Matt had specific instructions on his duties and basically my job was to just lay there and stay calm. When I was prepped and ready, they wheeled me back to the OR where I would get setup before they let Matt in for the procedure. The epidural medication was making me feel really strange and once I was strapped down to the table, I felt like I couldn’t breathe even though everyone assured me that I was breathing. I was so nervous and overwhelmed. Everyone kept trying to calm me down and tell me to just wait to hear my baby cry and focus on that. Matt was brought in and put behind a big blue cloth and the procedure started. I felt pressure which wasn’t painful, but just strange feeling. Everything was fine until they hit what I was told was my bladder flap (?). I started having very intense nerve pain, actual pain not pressure. The pain was horrible and the anesthesia team was injecting me with more medication and using topical numbing spray as well. Nothing was working, but everything had to (painfully) continue. All of a sudden, baby was out, but was having trouble breathing. I didn’t hear him cry which worried me because that was the one thing I was waiting for. Matt cut his umbilical cord and got to see him for just minutes before he was taken away to the NICU. I was panicking so the anesthesia team injected me with anti anxiety medication that really knocked me out so that they could sew me back up.
The next bit of time was a blur until we were back in our room and a doctor came to give us an update on Maddox. He was in the NICU, but fine and breathing. His lungs had some trouble on his way out, but he was sorted out and would just need some monitoring. We were able to visit him after a couple hours, each separately because of Covid, but after about five hours he was brought to Matt and me to stay for good. We were finally all together as a family.
We spent the next two days in the hospital while I recovered and the doctors monitored Maddox. After some pleading, we were able to go home Sunday afternoon instead of waiting until Monday. We were so ready to get out of there after we hit our fifth day.
The scariest moment of my life was when I didn’t hear Maddox cry when he was born. In the moment, I was so focused on figuring out what was happening that the impact didn’t set in. Especially with being in a drug induced blur afterwards, it took me a while to process the whole situation. At first, I pushed it out of my mind because he was fine and we knew we were so lucky. The first few nights I started having flashbacks to that moment and nightmares that would have me waking up in panic. I didn’t realize how deeply that moment affected me. I am still processing it and cry when I tell people the story. I’m just so thankful that he is healthy and here at home with us.
Since we’ve been home I’ve gotten questions about delivery, a few of which I’ve heard several times. I wanted to make sure to address those as part of the birth story as well.
How was delivery different because of Covid?
Delivery wasn’t really different which was great. Matt was able to be there with me the whole time. All of the medical staff had ample PPE and we felt very safe. We had our masks on while traveling through the halls but once we were alone in our room we could take them off. Since I was having diarrhea for days leading up to being admitted they did have me listed as a potential Covid case. I got tested and within two hours got the negative results back. The biggest way that Covid impacted us was not being able to have additional support people come to the hospital. I always thought my mom would be with me when I gave birth so getting over that was hard for me. The c section threw us for a loop because someone had to be up with Maddox 24/7 since he wouldn’t sleep in the hospital crib. Due to the c section I couldn’t get out of bed by myself so I wasn’t able to change his diapers by myself and even positioning to feed him myself was difficult. Matt had to be on call basically the whole time we were in the hospital to help with anything Maddox needed (or I needed!). This meant very little sleep for him and a couple rough days.
How did my Crohn’s affect delivery?
The main issue my Crohn’s caused was actually having to have me induced early. During the induction it was hard to tell the difference between my Crohn’s pain since it was bad when I was admitted and the contractions. I really struggled to articulate the difference to nurses and eventually just started really second guessing what I was feeling. After I gave birth I started feeling better pretty immediately. My appetite was back and I was able to start eating without pain. I was surprised with the immediate relief and I am looking forward to getting back on Remicade to hopefully continue feeling better.
How was Matt?
Matt was amazingly supportive and comforting all through delivery. He made me laugh when I was in pain, rubbed my back, and got me good snacks. It was a long time for us to be in the hospital without help from any other support family members and barely any sleep. I 100% could not have done this physically or emotionally without him and I’m thankful he was there with me every step of the way.
I can’t wait to share more about our lives with Maddox and how parenthood has been for Matt and me. Right now we are overwhelmed with love and emotions. We are taking in every second of our greatest adventure yet. I’m happy I was able to share the details of Maddox’s birth story with you all. I have been very open about everything I have went through during pregnancy so I wanted to be equally as open about this. If you are a mama to be, my advise to you is to not get too stuck on a plan. As long as you and the baby are safe and healthy that is the important thing that matters! If you would have told me two weeks ago that this would be my story I would not have believed you for the sheer fact that I couldn’t even fathom having the strength to push through the ups and downs, long days/nights, and overwhelming emotions. Well, we did it. As a woman and as a mama your body and mind are capable of truly amazing things. You can do it!
I want to share my experience, not to provide a solution, but to provide an honest perspective that maybe you can resonate with. For years I have been interested in the correlation of digestive diseases and eating disorders, specifically the lack of dual diagnosis holistic treatment options. Throwing pregnancy into the mix is a whole new game that has me digging even deeper based on my personal experience. How do we deal with the mind fuck of weight gain and body changes while in recovery from an eating disorder? On top of that, how do we manage dietary restrictions or triggers from a digestive disease in addition to the restrictions and symptoms already brought on by pregnancy? Again on top of that, how do we deal with the emotional triggers that are drudged up by these changes and the added pressure of supporting a new human life? There are a lot of questions I want to explore, but right now what I have is my story and how I have navigated it thus far.
A struggle for me in my pregnancy has been eating, specifically what to eat and how to eat enough. My background doesn’t provide the best foundation for a great relationship with food in general, but because of that I’ve worked my butt off to get to a good spot. For those who haven’t read my other posts,I struggled with an eating disorder and then on top of that my Crohn’s diagnosis fueled additional struggles and triggers. I remember in eating disorder treatment, being there with other women who were struggling with how their bodies changed during or after pregnancy. When I thought of having kids, I always braced myself for this new reality.
When I figured out I was pregnant, all of my healthcare professionals who knew my background immediately began asking me how I felt about the weight gain and my body changing. It was so early on I really didn’t have any issues, plus, I hadn’t gained any weight.
During my first trimester my digestive system was a complete wreck. I had nausea that would never go away. I would try to force myself to eat and just ended up gagging instead, unable to get anything down. My new growing baby was messing with my intestines which brought on some new Crohn’s symptoms. Things were a mess, but it was trimester one so I figured it was par for the course.
At my 12 week appointment, my OB brought up that I had lost a significant amount of weight. I was pretty caught off guard by this since I try to refrain from weighing myself at home, as that is a trigger for me. I also didn’t understand how I had lost so much weight when the only things I could stomach when feeling up to it were gluten free cupcakes and Lucky Charms. We talked about it, but it wasn’t a huge concern yet since I was hopefully going to graduate out of the nausea soon. As I left the office I remember feeling a pang of guilt because was actually proud to have someone concerned about my weight loss. That brought me back to the time when that kind of feedback fueled me. I didn’t necessarily feel guilty for having this thought. They happen and you live with them and move on. I felt guilty because I wasn’t trying to lose weight. I was doing everything in my power to give my baby all of the necessary nutrients to grow. I felt like I was failing and having these thoughts made it worse.
My doctor seemed pretty confident that my body would sort itself out over the next few weeks so I tried to push the worry from my mind. The main struggle I was having was the food that I was craving, I know I couldn’t have because they would trigger my Crohn’s. Things like donuts, waffles, and sandwiches are always a no go for me because of the gluten (yes you can get them GF but no where near the same). I worked to find gluten free options but a lot of those are heavily processed though so that brought in more concerns of messing with my digestive system. I also felt shame for relying on processed foods since I was supposed to be giving my baby the best nutrients. I felt like no matter what I did, I was doing something wrong. Everyday I woke up in a stress fog of what the fuck do I eat today… what the fuck CAN I eat today. I also was balancing the regular pregnancy restrictions on top of those to save my digestive system. For example, I was disgusted by meat and could only stomach seafood, but I had to limit how much seafood I ate. I was seriously struggling to get enough protein.
During this time when I was going through my food crisis, we were also going through a global pandemic. Over these weeks I just mentioned, I also had to relocate from my house, live apart from my husband, and wasn’t able to go out in public to grocery shop for myself. This added a whole new layer onto the problem. I know this part of the situation is not relevant for everyone, but I felt it worth mentioning because it had a big impact on my life at the time. I was out of my routine, I was stressed, and I was just trying to get by. This triggered some increased Crohn’s symptoms to even further complicate things.
When I saw my doctor again, she brought up the lack of weight gain and actually more weight loss. I walked her through my struggles and she basically told me to just eat whatever I can. The baby will be fine if its McDonalds fries or a vegan smoothie bowl. He just needs to get fed. This made me feel better about what to eat, but didn’t change the fact that I rarely felt like eating. (Quick side note here: my doctor did prescribe me anti nausea medication, but it made me so drowsy I could only take it in the evenings. I would pass out immediately so while it is great for sleep, I can’t eat while I am sleeping.) Another issue I had was my natural reaction to not eat when I was having Crohn’s symptoms. Over the past however many years, it is like I have been conditioned to avoid that pain. My stomach hurts, naturally I stop wanting to eat to avoid the pain. In those situations I revert back to liquid or soft diets until my inflammation improves. I knew my child would not be okay if I spent the next 6 months eating chicken broth and popsicles. I mean I would not even be okay if I had to do that. The discomfort I was feeling also just caused me to not feel hungry almost ever. I never thought I would be this person, but I had to remind myself to eat. I think this was escalated by me working from home and being in an environment where there was no designated lunch hour where everyone is grabbing something to eat together. I could work through the day and not even think about lunch.
I worked with my doctor to come up with a solution of supplementing my diet with Ensure shakes. These were easy for me to get down and digest, plus they would help with my protein intake. Now I want to pause here for a second. I know there are people reading this that will be mentally shaming me for not choosing a natural option or not creating a protein smoothie for myself at home, blah blah blah. Look, this is what worked for me and my life so that is that. These have been a lifesaver for me throughout this pregnancy. Of course, I don’t just drink Ensure, but knowing I have that as a safety blanket has allowed me to relax and listen to my body more on what it actually wants. It is pretty funny to me that I have seen Ensure as such a helpful tool. When I was in eating disorder treatment it was the bane of my existence. I would (not electively) drink four of these a day on top of my meals to get back to a healthy weight. I swore I would never touch them again after treatment, but now look, they are helping fuel my pregnant body and help my baby grow. Oh how the tables have turned.
My nausea and discomfort subsided a bit for the latter part of my second trimester and a quick bit of my third, but are now back in full force. I also am feeling the effects of being off of Remicade this trimester so that has added some more turbulence to the situation. I am struggling to identify which symptoms are a result of pregnancy or a result of Crohn's. Right now the cause isn't necessarily my worry, it is how I am going to make this work for the rest of the pregnancy. I have gained weight which my doctor was pleased with and it really hasn’t bothered me as much as I was worried it might. I haven’t gained a ton of weight, but enough to be on track. I am told I should feel “lucky” that this is the case. Yeah, I guess I feel lucky, but I also feel ashamed that this has been and continues to be such an uphill battle. I can’t help but wonder, how would I feel if this wasn’t the case and I did have a normal weight gain during this pregnancy? Would things feel easier or would other feelings be triggered?
To be really honest, I have had countless breakdowns crying on my sofa frustrated about food over the past 8 months. I’m in pain, but I need to eat, but I don’t want to eat and everything I actually might want will make me sick so then I’ll feel worse, but then baby needs nutrients but if I’m sick that hurts him too so what the fuck do I even do. There have been lots of tears and lots of my sweet husband showing up with ice cream, one of the only things I can almost always stomach. He doesn’t understand necessarily what I am going through, but he makes the effort to help in any way he can which is more than enough for me.
It is difficult to unpack all of the emotions that are a part of this journey. I reflect daily on how I am doing and have an honest check in with myself to make sure I am not drudging up old patterns of thinking. It’s hard, but I am confident in the work I have done and the strength that I have. This situation has forced me to revisit painful thoughts and walk through guilt and shame and I’ve decided that is okay. Pregnancy is not a mutually exclusive event and we are still handling other things, physically and emotionally as we go through it. At the end of the day, I think we need more answers on how to support pregnant women in these situations but I don’t know if those solutions are coming anytime soon. This highlights even more the importance of taking care of your own mental health as you prepare for and go through pregnancy. Find others who are going through the same thing, see a therapist, rely on your support system; do whatever you have to do, feel what you have to feel, and most importantly know that it is okay.
f you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, please check out the NEDA website for details on resources and treatment options.
These past two and a half months have been a total cluster of chaos for me, just as they have for pretty much everyone else as we try to navigate our new normal amid Covid. Since my husband was working on the Covid unit, I had to relocate so that me and Baby P would be distanced from the potential of getting the virus from his exposure. Being immunosuppressed and being pregnant have made it even more important to quarantine. Even as the world eases back into normal, Matt and I started with baby steps and finally after six weeks apart were able to move back in together last week. There is still a long road to true normalcy, but being back with my husband and pups under one roof is all I can ask for.
It had been a really rough six weeks that we were apart. We Facetimed and talked all day. We knew this is a sacrifice we had to make for my health and for Matt to be able to keep helping our community the way he did. That was all fine. What really had gotten to me is the fact that he was missing out on our pregnancy. He wasn't there to watch my tummy grow or feel the kicks of his son as he got stronger each week. He wasn't here to talk to him or play him music. It broke my heart that he was missing out on these moments with his first born baby and selfishly I wished he was there to share it with me too. I spent countless nights crying myself to sleep over our situation. I know that we could have it way worse, I am totally, completely, 100% aware of that and I am thankful for what we have. But that doesn't change the fact that I mourned this time we missed as a family. Now that we are back together we are catching up on all of those things we missed. He tries to feel the baby kick everyday and has been taking in all of the little moments. This health crisis is so up and down, we aren't sure if there could be another spike that would force us apart again, so we are appreciating each day.
Of course there are other things that won't be "normal" about this pregnancy during Covid. Doctors visits alone, no traditional baby shower, less time with extended family to share this experience with. This list will continue to grow I'm sure, but the biggest hit to my heart will always be Matt missing out on these moments. Even now that we are reunited, he still asks hopefully before every doctor's appointment if he can come. As a healthcare professional he knows fully well that the answer is no, but it is sweet he still has a glimmer of hope.
As a natural planner and control freak, I was STRUGGLING with the uncertainty of when we would be back together, when I would be back home, and just the chaos of bouncing from living situation to living situation.... all while pregnant. Now that I am back home, my mind has filled with other anxious thoughts... What if we are separated again? What if one of us gets sick? What if the baby gets sick? The way I dealt with this was by taking the time to acknowledge what has changed and what we will "lose" because of this situation, but then moving past it. How I have been moving past it, is by focusing on all of the GREAT things about being pregnant at this time.
I wanted to share these with you all to hopefully provide a positive perspective when so much of what we are seeing day to day is quite the opposite. No matter your situation, I challenge you to come up with your positives for where you are in life right now.
More "me" time and time to appreciate baby
Since I have been quarantined, I have had a lot more "me" time. A lot more quiet time, nights alone in bed, time to think, time to reflect. This has actually been a welcome shift from the constant stimulation my life usually throws at me. During these times, I have been able to really be present with myself and my pregnancy. I am able to actually take time to appreciate every little movement my baby makes and every change that is happening to my body. I am also able to be more present in my faith and reflect on how lucky I am to have a healthy baby who is growing his way into this world. I've had time to appreciate what a gift and responsibility this is, and make sure I am feeling confident
More time with close family
One perks of having to bounce from living situation to living situation was getting to spend more quality time with the family members I was staying with. Especially being pregnant, it was nice to have them there to get to see and experience it with me. Usually this would have been an experience mostly shared with my husband but instead I've gotten to share the anticipation and exciting little moments with my parents as well. I am thankful for this time where they got to be with me while their grand baby was growing!
Comfort and ease of working from home
Not being able to leave my house has allowed me to work in sweatpants from the comfiest seat in my house for almost my entire pregnancy so far. I am able to sit in weird positions to save my aching back without coworkers looking at me like I'm nuts. I am able to let my pregnant belly hang out of my too small t-shirts because I just didn't feel like buying maternity ones. I am able to stop and meditate for 10 minutes when I am feeling too overwhelmed. I am in the most comfortable work environment possible for being pregnant.
Less pressure from the outside world
This has been a big one for me. I was insecure about my body changing (I've actually ended up loving it so far, but that wasn't necessarily going to be the case). Instead of having to be on display with my changing body and hormonal acne, I get to grow and change in privacy. Of course, I like to share things via social media/ the blog and there will be posts about all of that in the future, but that is my choice to share. I am free from unsolicited daily judgements in my own home. This doesn't just go for physical appearance. By being pretty isolated, I have also avoided unsolicited pregnancy judgements. Things like... You're really eating that? Do you think thats good for the baby? Oh well when I was pregnant.... I am in a safe environment with those closest to me who love and support me. This has lowered my stress a ton.
Something to look forward to in all of this craziness
I saved the best for last. Despite the world breaking down around us and all of the negativity circulating, we have the most positive thing happening in our lives. We have a new life we get to bring into this world in a few short months and a new little human we can't wait to get to know. As my due date inches closer, I feel like everyday is Christmas Eve and I'm anticipating the best thing right around the corner. Which we are! This has given me a lot of focus, hope, and purpose during this time. I have been able to stay strong because I am staying strong for my baby. I have been able to keep pushing forward even when I want to break down, because I know we are getting the greatest blessing.
Coping During COVID
Woah… how things have changed since my last post less than a month ago. Things have quickly escalated and I am writing this now from my 13th day in quarantine. As we go through this challenging time, I’ve been sharing updates along the way on my social media — some about the positive things this self isolation has brought and others focused on my frustrations around how my fellow humans are handling this pandemic. I’ve been trying my best to remain positive and manage my anxiety as much as possible as life has continued to evolve. I decided this afternoon, after my remote therapy/meditation session, that I wanted to use my platform to share some ways I have been coping with #quarantinelife.
I know this time is difficult, especially for those who struggle with anxiety or depression. Isolation can be very triggering as can living life without a set routine. In a time where it can be easy to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, it is more important than ever to be ready when those feelings come up. This has been a common theme in the chronic illness community, not just during the COVID-19 pandemic, but in everyday life. Due to health conditions beyond our control, sometimes we are forced to isolate. I have been able to live an active lifestyle in the past few years, but unfortunately, not all who are suffering from a chronic illness are so lucky. Now the world is getting a taste of the loneliness and fear those with chronic illnesses suffer with everyday. It makes me so sad that more people have to experience this, but we are all in this together. When I think about my darkest days of suffering and being sick, the online community of those in similar situations was one of the things that got me through it. I am hoping now that our fellow humans can now see the incredible benefit of coming together, sharing vulnerabilities, and lifting each other up during extremely challenging times.
I am no expert, but I have three habits I am implementing to help control my anxiety during these unprecedented times. The habits I am sharing are ones that are a bit out of the norm from the usual stuff you will read — exercise, meditation, walking outside — those are all things I am doing, but these dig a little deeper if you are ready to go there.
1. Different rooms for different things
I noticed myself spending all of my waking hours in my living room. My desk and computers are in there, my sofa and main tv are in there, my dogs like to be in there. It is the hub of our house, but spending so many hours in the same place day after day can be agonizing, especially when there is no separation of work and relaxation. I am making a conscious effort to have activities happen in various rooms. For example, when I meditate in the morning, instead of doing it on my sofa, I can do it in my master bedroom. When I take conference calls I can take them from my guest room. When my husband and I watch a movie, we move to the basement. If you don’t live in an environment where it is feasible for you to move around, at least try changing your space. Light a candle or put on different background music to switch up the vibe. You can even just move your chair to a different location or change the seat you usually pick to sit at on the sofa.
2. Set your intention for the day
When I was talking to my therapist, I was explaining that working from home is normal for me and I can do it well. I explained that actually being at home is comfortable for me, so I am fine with that. The anxiety inducing feeling that is coming up for me is not knowing what my purpose is each day. I have my ‘to do’ lists for work and I am knocking them out, but things are admittedly different. The world seems slower, which can be a good thing, but for someone who feels the need to always be in maximum production and self improvement mode, this is dangerous. My therapist suggested I included setting an intention for my day in my morning meditation. Basically I decide what I want to get out of the day and own it. Somedays it is going to be, my intention is rest and I want to lay on the sofa and cuddle with my dogs while we watch Netflix all Sunday….and that is okay. It can feel okay because I am choosing to set that as my intention and owning it. I realized that I naturally do this at the beginning of my work day, but my personal priorities seem to slip from my intentions when work is the focus. Now I will focus on what my intention will be outside of just being a productive employee. Will my intention to be more mindful and take an half hour break to enjoy tea on my back deck? The intentions I set will be around larger feelings than just completing daily tasks. By focusing on these intentions everyday, I can feel accomplished in my own way. I hope that this is a habit I can form and carry on once we resume regular life.
3. Do not feel guilty about sometimes focusing on the trivial things
I have so fallen victim to this mentality. These are really sad times. People are suffering, the world is in an unprecedented state, and yeah, things are really scary. I feel guilty allowing myself to think of trivial things like painting my nails or ordering something online during a time of such tragedy. I realized that this is not helpful and has caused me to just become more of an anxious mess. In order to take care of myself the best I can, I need to make sure I am preserving my mental health. Life hasn’t stopped just because of COVID-19. It is okay to laugh with your friends (via FaceTime) or order some new nail polish to boost your spirits. I cannot punish myself for what the world is going through or take on the pain of everyone else. There are folks who aren’t taking this thing seriously and who actually need to focus more on the gravity of the situation, but is you are taking the time to read this, that probably isn’t you, and you are a self aware gem just trying to cope.
I will provide more frequent updates on this COVID-19 journey via my Instagram. I hope that some of the content I share helps you through this time. As I’ve checked in with other spoonies around the world who I have met, I am heartbroken by what just the domino effect of this virus has done for their lives and health, but at the same time I am so inspired by their strength and positivity that never fades. That is why, even when it is easier to put my head in the sand and try and wait until this passes, I want to put myself out there to be vulnerable about what is going on and offer support to you all in this time. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you are struggling. We are all in this together.
Little Habits, Big Changes
It’s the middle of January and, let’s be real, a lot of those big resolutions that were set into motion for the New Year have fizzled out. I’ve been in that boat many times before, not because I haven’t wanted to make big changes, but because the goal was so large and I didn’t have a plan to get there. Now I take a different approach to making changes and especially resolutions. Instead of saying things I am NOT going to do, I choose habits to fill my routine with positive little actions that can add up. To really get specific, I break down the year into three month increments and have specific things to focus on during each of those times. The goal is to have these little changes become habits so every few months I can build on the progress. I pick one to two simple things in a couple different categories: mind, body, spirit, and business. I have a journal that I track my habits in each week and record how I am feeling.
Okay, so lets get into how I actually come up with these small habits. I brainstorm my intentions for the next few months and decide on my top words or phrases that speak to me. For example, my intention statement for these next three months is: “Level up. Comfort. Intention. Building trust and confidence by keeping promises to myself.” Once I am clear on my intention, I can come up with habits or small changes that will help me to get there. The more simple the better, because you are more likely to actually do these things. Making small changes that build over time is way more effective than setting out for a big change without a plan you can execute on. Try things like, “meditate for five minutes everyday” instead of aiming for what might be your ultimate goal of a half hour per day. The more you get used to these small habits, the easier it will be to build on them and get closer to your ultimate goal. It also builds your excitement and confidence when you can actually achieve the goals you are laying out for yourself.
I also find that the way I word my small changes also has a big impact on my mindset around them. This might not be for everyone, but for me it really make a difference. Instead of working the habits as things I have to do, I word them in a way that makes me feel like each action is serving me. For example, if I am trying to work out more, instead of saying, “I want to go to a workout class at the gym x amount of times per week”, I say “move my body in ways that feel good x amount of times per week”. This takes away the feeling of “having to” and also allows for some wiggle room. Having a little wiggle room in some areas is key for me. Life can get crazy, plans change, and especially with my health I need to have ways to adapt that don’t get me down and discouraged. If my goal is to move my body in ways that feel good, that means when I wake up with body pain on a Sunday morning, I don’t just ditch the gym because I can’t do that specific class I was aiming for. Instead I listen to what my body is asking for and can substitute yoga or pilates. I am keeping with my habit and serving my body.
So far since I have implemented this style of making changes and forming habits, I have been really pleased with the results and my overall mindset. This is just an overview of how I set these goals and stick to them, but if you want more details and specifics I can definitely share more. Just shoot me a message to let me know! I can also send you the details on how I lay out my journals.
This is a newer area for me to dive into on the blog, but as I’ve gotten more into achieving better mental health in the way of balance, I have become super interested in things like this. I read a ton of books and articles, which I take ideas and approaches from and adapt them into what works for me. It took me a while to find these specific things that really speak to my soul and just work, so I want to spread the love and hopefully my method can help someone else!
2019 has been a year of transformation for me. Probably one of the most emotionally/mentally transformative years I’ve had. It was a fucking hard year though and I haven’t had one of these “transformative” years since 2009. A decade later I went back on a journey to dig deeper in myself to find more happiness and be a better wife, friend, daughter, sister, and hopefully eventually mom. I became more spiritual in a sense of truly believing in the universe and a higher power’s plan. I’ve reached higher self acceptance and found grace within my mistakes and flaws. I’ve developed more love and understanding for those around me. I believe in myself and trust myself more than I ever had.
2009 was the first time I was strong enough to seek a better understanding of myself. To make a fully committed effort to deal with difficult shit and better my life for the future me I didn’t even know was ahead. Making the choices I did in 2009 set me up for the year of emotional exploration 2019 gave me. And I hope the work I have done this year will set my up for the me I will be in another 10 years. The past decade has given me some of the worst, lowest, and most confusing times of my life but also some of the best, most rewarding times I’ll cherish forever and all of those have shaped me as a person. I feel like we can mostly all say that in regards to a decade, especially one that spans almost your entire 20s.
Looking at the me in 2009 - little, fierce, scared but brave at the same time, confident in the future but so unsure about myself. Then I could never imagine what my life would be today because the journey has had many twists and turns. But now looking back I see the fight and passion in 2009 me and I can see how I made it to where I am. Although this isn’t what I imagined, it is better and what I am meant for in every way possible. I am thankful for the experiences both good and bad that have shaped me these past ten years and I know there will be equally and more emotionally turbulent events that this next decade brings.
Starting this next decade I wish for myself to continue to trust in a higher power, to gracefully accept things I can’t change, to use my passion to do good for others, and to fully appreciate every little gift life bestows me. Instead of going into the New Year with resolutions and things I want to change, my goal is to be the best me I can be everyday and be confident that doing that is enough. I want to leave behind expectations of what I "should" be and appreciate every bit of who I am and who I am becoming.
I hope that as you read this, you are thinking of what you have done to make yourself proud this past decade. I mean, you made it this freaking far, that is an accomplishment in and of itself. I for someone this is an inspiration to channel their strength into dealing with some difficult shit they are going through in hopes of a better future. I hope that someone is reading this and is like YES GIRL I am with you in this journey, because the journey is a beautiful place to be.
I am so ready for the magic this next decade has in store for us and I am feeling stronger than ever as I embark on this new adventure.
Getting Real Uncomfy With This One...
This post is about something I am super uncomfy talking about. I want to put it out there and get more comfortable because whenever I’ve shared things with this community it has lead me to more connection with other amazing ladies, often going through something similar. I mentioned this briefly in a previous post, that I took the leap and started talking to my doctors about fertility. Matt has wanted a baby since the moment we were legally married (and honestly before that) and I have been the master of excuses to push it off. Through a bit of self discovery I came to terms with the fact that I was actually truly terrified to be a mom. I had spent so much time focusing on just trying to get things stabilized to get through life, that it seemed such a distant possibility that me, myself, my body, could handle actually bringing a life into this world and then taking care of that life. To be honest, as soon as Matt and I started seriously talking about the potential of becoming parents, it triggered my anxiety to an ALL TIME HIGH. It is like every insecurity I ever felt about my body physically or emotionally bubbled to the surface, trying to convince myself that I would be a horrible mom and I was not qualified in any possible way.
I’ve been working through this for the past few months. As both a recovering perfectionist and people pleaser, the thought of having a little being that I am responsible for and could potentially totally mess up feels absolutely terrifying. I mean, I am already crazy about caring for my dogs, how will we throw a baby human into this mix? Everyone keeps telling me, “You’ll figure it out”. And, yeah, I know we will. I’m resourceful and have basically played the figure it out game most of my adult life. What worries me is my body being on the same page as my brain.
As much as I know that rationally this thought is not healthy, I feel like it is my responsibility to bring children into the world for our family. I haven’t gotten this pressure from anyone else, but my own feeling guilty brain. No matter how many 'green lights' I get, somehow I still feel self conscious that something is wrong with me. Ever since I was diagnosed with Crohn’s, I have been told that pregnancy was going to be harder for me. I was also threatened with that when I was 18 years old suffering from an eating disorder. I will never forget hearing “If you keep doing this to yourself, you’ll never get pregnant and you’ll never have babies”. I get that those telling me that were worried about me and trying to scare me into ‘getting better’. Now it rings in my head every time I visit the Obgyn or see a baby in the grocery store.
I’m scared of ‘failing’ my family because my body isn’t ‘good enough’. The thing is, if a friend were to spill this situation to me, I’d tell them this way of thinking is totally irrational and they are being so incredibly mean to their beautiful body and hard on themselves. But when the dialogue is directed at yourself, somehow things always are narrated a bit differently, huh?
How do you get past the fear of ‘failure’? How do you believe in your body when you feel like it is out of your control? How can you trust this body to bring the most precious gift into the world when it is hard to trust it to make it through the work week.
I’ve been working on positive self affirmations. I’ve been living by the mantra, “You are doing the best you can”. I’ve been making lists of all of the amazing things my body can do. And I’ve been praying to the universe. It’s hard to share these fears with those close to you, because they are all so hopeful and they are the people you don’t want to let down. I’ve been following along with the journeys of strong, inspiring, and truly amazing women on Instagram. Some of them I have the pleasure of knowing and some of them, just strangers, who are brave enough to share their stories with those who need to hear it. I know that my story has barely begun and it might sound crazy to those who have been through so much that I am so initially paralyzed by fear. But this is how it is, and I’m working to be okay each day with just doing the best my body and mind possibly can.
Got a little real on this one, and I hope to feel inclined to continue to do so. Please drop me a message if you are a fellow spoonie, member of the chronic illness community, or struggling in a similar situation. Let’s stand by each other.
Photo by Jade Nikkole Photography
Our next vacation is just a little over a month away and I am ready to go. I mean, I’m always ready for vacation, but this is our last Disney World trip for a little while. I know I always say this, but for real it actually is going to be. We have another fun, very Disney related trip that we’re planning in the winter so really we have to chill on the trips to WDW for at least a little bit. The other day someone commented that we literally always have a vacation/trip planned. Yeah, we do. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Honestly, for me planning the trip is almost as fun as going. I love researching where to go, hunting for deals, and looking forward to the plans. Disney World is probably the vacation spot where it is the most crucial to plan ahead. I think this might kind of be why I love it so much. There is so much involved in the planning it’s an activity in and of itself. The way I think about it, if you’re going to spend money on a vacation, why not enjoy the anticipation and planning of it.
I’ve done Disney World enough times to appreciate the planning that goes into it and respect the hell out of people who do that as a job. (Shout our to my sister). Luckily she helps me with all of the tough stuff (reservations, fast passes, etc.). I do always make a 30 days out plan no matter what trip I’m going on to make sure I’m ready when takeoff comes and my stress is as minimal as can be. One thing I’ve realized about traveling with Crohn’s is minimizing the stress in the front end of the trip can be critical in preventing a flare.
For those who aren’t anxiety ridden Type A’s like myself, you may think I’m crazy for planning so far out, but I promise you, there are a few things that if you do early will save you so much stress come travel time.
My first piece of advice is to make your packing list. I know this seems far out but I swear there is a reason. By making your list early, you can identify items you are missing/ need to order. You can cue up your Amazon Prime list to fill in the gaps on your list. I like to plan outfits ahead of time so I can look for deals on additional pieces I need. I also like to start ordering cosmetic items from Amazon because I can usually get a good deal for them and I’m not scrambling at the last minute to pick things up.
Extra Tip: A little bonus tip here... I get SO many samples of beauty/makeup/skincare products. Between subscription boxes, free samples, and gifted items I have a big collection. I keep all of my extra sample and travel sized products in a special bin in my bathroom closet. This way, I can grab items to pack quickly if I need to. This is also great for guests that are staying at your house! Real friends enforce each other’s skincare routines, okay?
Check for upgrades. I LOVE this one. For our honeymoon, our cruise line sent out and email to bid on upgrades. This was the first time I saw this, but ever since I’ve been ON IT. If a cruise ship or resort hasn’t reached capacity by 60 to 30 days out, sometimes they will let you bid to upgrade your accommodations. This usually means blindly putting forth an amount of money, designated by you and usually A LOT less than market value, to score a nicer room. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s always worth a shot. Sometimes vacation packages will offer add ons as it gets closer to your travel date that you can purchase for a discount. This includes things like drink packages!
Make sure dinner reservations are made and activity plans are solidified. This is a big one if you are traveling to a destination hoping to hit a hot spot for dining or drinks. When we went out to LA I knew SUR and Pump were on my ‘must see’ list, so I made sure to lock down reservations as soon as they were available. You can always switch things around as it gets closer, but it’s better to at least have something on the books. This is so key in Disney Parks where you can get highly coveted dining reservations six months in advance. Now this requires a TON of foresight so soon I’m looping my Disney planner sister in on a post to give you the whole scoop on that. Definitely it is something to be aware of though. When it comes to activity plans/ tours it is also important to research and plan in advance. Especially if there is something you really want to do or see, book it early so you don’t miss out.
These next 30 days as we gear up for our trip I’ll be knocking out these items on my ‘to do’ list. I’ve gotten a bit of a head start and have a huge Amazon clothes haul on the way, along with my outfit for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. I’ll continue to update y’all on my finds and my preparation process!
It’s been a while since I’ve done a post about me. I talk about what trips I’m going on, products I’m trying, recipes I’m cooking. But, it has been a while since I’ve pulled back the curtain and given an update on what is going on behind the scenes of social media perception. Honestly, when things are feeling crazy in my life, it is a whole lot easier to keep my content light and airy. It is an escape from having to deal with the hard stuff. The thing is, the reason I started this blog in the first place was to talk about that hard stuff. The outfits, beauty products, vacations, and shopping recommendations are an added plus. Through feedback I’ve gotten, I know it is the hard stuff that makes the most impact and means the most in this community. It is also Mental Health Month so... what better a time than now?
The past two and a half years have been a total whirlwind. I bought a house, I got promoted, I bought a new car, I moved into my house, I got engaged, I got married, I planned another wedding, I had a big wedding, I planned a honeymoon, I went on a honeymoon, I finally feel like I got my health under control. And last fall I freaked the fuck out. It was literally the weekend of our first wedding anniversary I had an anxious meltdown. I had done so much and checked so many things off my list over the past two years, what do I do now? I thought it was just me being affected by the season change and feeling a little more down in the dumps. But, as I continued to have overwhelming anxiety week after week I called my mom because I knew I couldn’t keep being that miserable.
When I talked things through with her, it really made me realize what was going on. For the past two years I had been going, going, going. It had been great. I had been achieving goals and conquering huge life events. I had been in a constant state of planning, working, and productivity. I was at a point where I had so many big things planned, that once they were done, I was lost. I’ve always been someone who need to feel constantly productive and if I can’t be I pretty much lose it and shut down. Don’t worry, I’ve been in therapy for this for a long time. I also love and crave the stability of always knowing what is next and having a plan.
So here I was, coming out of my first blissful year of marriage, not knowing what is next. People were asking me left and right when I was going to have a baby, as if that were the only logical next step in my relationship. Was I a horrible person because I selfishly wanted more time to spend with just my husband? I came out of busting my ass at work only to find I don’t know what my next step is or what I am working towards. I was happy in my house, with my dogs, with my family, with my life. But I felt so, so sad and hopeless. For absolutely no apparent reason. My anxiety was back in full swing and my OCD that I struggled with as a child was back and terrorizing me. This also truly didn’t make sense to me because my Crohn’s was the most under control it has been in years and everyday was no longer a fight. But what do I do when I’m not just fighting to get by? Its like I had no idea how to function in a calm world.
I started up therapy again and I have gotten medication to help with my anxiety and OCD. Its a work in progress to simply be happy with how things are instead of always chasing the next achievement. I am getting there day by day and I’m also being a lot more open with what I’ve been going through. I was reluctant to share how I was feeling before, because I felt ungrateful. If I was sharing how anxious and unhappy I was when I was blessed with so many things in life people would 100% think I was a selfish, crazy, asshole. Turns out, that is not the case and the more I share, the more I realize there are a lot of other women (and men) out there going through the same thing or who have gone through it before. Its like you have an emotional hangover that you can’t get rid of. It can happen after a big life event, after achieving a goal that you’ve been working towards, or coming back from an amazing vacation. I just listened to The Skinny Confidential Him & Her Podcast episode with Mark Mason and they were literally talking about exactly this. For those of you who don’t know, Mark is the insanely successful author of “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck”. If he feels this emotional hangover and is so wildly successful, that in a weird way, made me feel even more validated in my feelings. The fact that he shared his experience so openly AND wrote his next book about it too, is a testament to his vulnerability and drive to help others. I recommend for everyone to listen to that podcast episode because it may make things click just a little more. It might make you feel like you’re not alone and it is valid what you are feeling. Or maybe this post will do that for you too. Who knows?
I think we all have our own “why’s” behind why we get this dark, heavy feeling. I haven’t figured out my “why” yet because, truthfully, this is always how I’ve been, and it's probably going to take years for me to unravel the root cause. Over the past 5 months, I’ve been working on balancing being happy with the now while still moving forward to whatever “next” is. Its been a test of my patience, self awareness, and mindfulness. While it hasn’t been easy, I feel so much better and more equipped to deal with life in general. My anxiety can still be crippling some days. I might have meltdowns about stupid shit. But, hey, at least I am owning it. I don’t know what is next for my family, my career, or pretty much anything else in life. Do we ever really know? Instead of focusing on the unknown I’ve been focusing on embracing that wild freedom of the universe and appreciating it for what it is.
I know this post got a little deep, but I feel like it needed to happen. I’ve been focusing inward so much the past few months and if you have noticed or not, I felt it would be beneficial to provide some context. As you all know, mental health is something I am very passionate about, whether it is in relation to chronic illnesses or a stand alone battle. It is something that impacts me, my family, my friends, pretty much everyone I know, in some type of way. Whether it be for fear of being judged or other reasons entirely, a lot of us suffer in silence. In today’s world that seems absurd. We are sharing what we have for every meal on Instagram but we aren’t addressing something that has such a large and painful impact in our lives? I hope moving forward we start sharing more about the real shit.
Mental health advocate.
Sharing my raw and real journey through motherhood and navigating Crohn’s Disease. CrohnicallyBlonde is a place where I serve up my unfiltered commentary on chronic illness, mental health, pregnancy, and motherhood alongside lighter lifestyle content like beauty product reviews, travel tips, and book recommendations. My hope is that by authentically sharing my story I can help others going through similar situations not feel so alone and maybe even laugh along with me.
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