Most people who are attracted to this blog aren’t here for the recipes. Probably because there are none. And they’re not here for the gardening tips because I have killed literally every plant I’ve owned. All of them. No, most people are attracted to this […]
One of the things I strongly advocate for is losing the stigma of mental illness. People are scared to talk about having depression, anxiety, OCD, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or any other combination of mental illnesses because they don’t want to be labeled as “crazy”…and I […]
Just writing that title makes me cringe. A year without sugar? Really? Can it be done? Should it be done? And why? Why in the world would anyone want to go for an entire year without sugar? Well, here’s the thing. I’m not normal. I know this blog has already established that pretty firmly in everyone’s minds, but when it comes to sugar, I’m really not normal. I can’t do “a little” sugar. If there is sugar around I must eat ALL the sugar. I don’t go back for seconds, I go back for sevenths. I can go for an extended amount of time without sugar, but once I reintroduce it I go back to my old, sugar-overload ways. I eat it all.
Research shows that I’m not alone and that there’s a scientific reason for why I keep going back to sugar. According to a multiple studies, sugar is as addictive as cocaine and heroin. Even though I KNOW that sugar is bad for me I just can’t help but eat it. It provides a rush of good feelings and, even better, it’s socially acceptable!! I can scarf all the Christmas cookies and pumpkin pie I want and laugh it off with everyone else. No one’s going to stage an intervention for my sugar consumption because everyone eats sugar! But the thing is, not everyone is eating sugar in excessive amounts- and most who do, do it at home where others don’t see it. And regardless of what any scientific study says, they know that the feeling they get when they want sugar isn’t just a normal “sweet tooth”.
Now please don’t misunderstand. By saying that sugar is as addictive as cocaine and heroin I am not saying that it is as dangerous. Unlike someone with a drug addiction, I could likely live a long, healthy, happy sugar-filled life. But the fact is, sugar is still an addictive food and it is NOT healthy, and therefore deserves the attention of anyone who struggles to control their consumption of it.
Just like some people can drink alcohol without becoming alcoholics, there are lots of people who can eat sugar without becoming sugar addicts (or at least without over-consuming it). That’s not me. I’m a sugarholic. I want it, I crave it, and I eat A LOT of it whenever I have it. So, for me, a year without sugar is probably the best thing I can do for myself. And my goal is actually a life without sugar, but I’m starting with a year. If I can survive one year then maybe I can make my next goal “2 years without sugar” and then “3 years without sugar”. I’m taking this one step at a time just to see how it goes.
Now, what do I mean by sugar? I am basically calling sugar anything sweet that comes in a container: white sugar, brown sugar, pure maple syrup, brown rice syrup, agave syrup, raw honey, erythritol, coconut sugar, molasses… all of it! I will still be eating dessert- lots of it! But they will be homemade and naturally sweetened with fruits and single-ingredient fruit products: bananas, applesauce, dates, raisins, and natural fruit juice. Will my life be less delicious? Yes! Will I feel more in control of my eating though? Yes!! I think it will be worth it.
What about special occasions? Will I never eat a piece of birthday cake again? Will I be a Scrooge at Christmas Eve parties and say no to every dessert? Well, for now I’ve decided that I will allow myself ONE serving of dessert on major holidays and immediate family birthdays- meaning that I’ll eat 15 single servings of dessert a year (and no, I’m not including holidays like Arbor Day and Labor Day!). That means I’ll be saying “no” to sugar 350 days of the year, and hopefully learning to eat sugar only as a truly special treat. Now, if I’m really a sugar addict, will moderation work? I don’t know. I’m going to give it a try. If I find myself spiraling out of control after I have a serving of a sugary dessert I may have to change my policy to 100% abstinence from sugar. But oh, how I’m hoping my life can still include donuts, Reese’s peanut butter cups, and cinnamon rolls!
So, here’s to the next year! I’m hoping it will find me healthier, more in control of what goes in my mouth, and even happier than I am (if that’s possible!). To your, and my, health!
I can still remember the first time I sat in a therapist’s chair, waiting for my session to begin. I was uncomfortable, embarrassed, and nervous. I looked around the room, trying to distract myself from all of the painful emotions that were boiling over inside […]
My kids are basically vampires. It sounds rude, but it’s totally true. They want to be inside, away from the light, and on technology ALL OF THE TIME. They are pretty much members of the Cullen family- except the Cullens read books because they’re too cool for video games. Whatever. And as my mini-Cullens complain to me every day that they don’t want to go outside and play with friends I honestly don’t get it; because when I was a kid I played outside with my friends all. day. long. My friends and I only went home when we absolutely had to- usually just for meals. I was constantly outside, constantly with friends, and constantly connected to people. I feel like it was just what everyone did- we all played, and laughed, and chased ice cream trucks, and walked around the neighborhood with buddies. Being inside and alone was just boring- and yet that is where my kids want to be all the time. Total weirdos. Even when I got older and didn’t necessarily want to play kickball at the end of the street, I still always had a great group of friends and would spend all of my free time with them. My friends and I had so much fun together and created so many great memories together. My friends were a source of strength, joy, and hope. I was truly blessed.
Let’s fast forward a few years from little Kristen playing baseball at the end of the cul-de-sac to my junior year of college; at age 20 I was trying on wedding dresses, sending out wedding invitations, and making idiotic demands about flower colors and cake flavors. I was the worst. But I was also overjoyed when I was “FINALLY” married, and could spend every waking moment with my true love. And that is really what I did. I spent ALL of my time with my husband. We shopped together, did homework together, cleaned together, went to dinner together, took the trash out together… we were basically connected at the hip. And the more time I spent with my new husband, the less time I spent with old friends. I guess it was a natural transition, but looking back, I regret it. I regret that I didn’t put in the effort to maintain friendships that had been so important to me. My friends were still my friends- but we weren’t tight like we had been. I didn’t put in the time or the effort, and my friendships dwindled as I focused on my marriage. Then, a few years later, when we moved across the country to Virginia, almost all of my old friendships died completely. I had basically cut myself off from everyone. I had infrequent contact through social media and emails, but for the most part it was just me and my husband.
It was during my years in Virginia, when I had very few close friends, that I became a new mom and found myself facing the biggest struggle of my life- the strange, and new, and frightening world of mental illness. I felt so utterly alone, and so confused, and the only person I felt truly safe talking to was my husband- he was the only close friend I had left. I had friends who I knew would have my back for life, but because we didn’t talk frequently I felt I couldn’t turn to them. It was like I had changed overnight and didn’t know who I was, and didn’t know who I could talk to to remind me because my poor husband could only take so much. I’m not saying he wasn’t a great support- he was! But you can only cry to one person for so long before they need a break. And so I would just hold in the pain, and the confusion, and the fear, and wish for a friend to call. But I had cut myself off from everyone, and I had nowhere I felt I could go.
I so badly wanted to be able to connect with people but I was trying to hide what was happening with me and it just didn’t work. I knew I needed to make friends, and that my kids needed to interact with other kids. I would invite another young mom from church over for a kids playdate. Of course, I was too ashamed to let the other mom know what was going on in my head- how stressed I was, how many real fears I was facing, how hard motherhood was for me. I sat there and tried to just smile and pretend I was fine… and it fell flat. I tried to make friends but it just didn’t work. I was weird, I was awkward, and I’m sure at some point I was probably outright rude. And my potential friends didn’t understand why because I was hiding behind a mask. It felt like I was trying to invite people in but was pushing them away at the same time. It just didn’t work.
So looking back on that time, I’d like to share a few things I wish I’d known then, that I know now.
- Hold Onto Your Friends: Holy smokes, hold onto them!! When I got married I thought that I had just been hitched for life to the only best friend I would ever need. WRONG! Husbands, boyfriends, significant others…they’re wonderful, but they are not everything you need. Sometimes you’ll have a problem that only someone of the same gender will understand. Sometimes you’ll have a problem that only someone you don’t live with will be able to empathize with. And sometimes your significant other will need a break from your problems. So hold onto the dear friends you have and don’t let them go simply because you become “too busy”. Make time for your friends, and stay directly connected (texts, phone calls, etc) rather than making the random comment on a Facebook post. Friendships are so great for times of joy, but they are also so necessary for times of hurt and pain.
- Don’t Hide Behind a Mask: Oh man, just take the mask off. No one is buying it anyway! No matter how hard you try to hide your hurt, your fears, your shame, it will sneak out and be visible in one way or another. So own it. OWN YOUR CRAZY! You don’t have to tell everyone your whole story, but just embrace your crazy and let people know in some small way that it’s something you deal with. When a friend stops by and you’re distracted by the overwhelming fear that her child is going to give your kid the stomach flu, just say, “Man, I’m sorry I’m not good company today. My anxiety has been through the roof”. And leave it there. You don’t have to say it all, but say SOMETHING. Because from your friend’s perspective she sees someone who is being aloof, and distracted, and looks annoyed. What your body language is saying is, “I want nothing more than for you to leave my presence! Be gone!”, even if at your core you want your friend to keep being your friend with all your heart! So communicate clearly to your friends that they are important to you and that your behavior isn’t their fault.
- When People Reach Out, Invite Them In: For years, I never did anything spontaneous or unplanned. I had to know every detail of every outing before I could safely go out. My anxiety made me feel safe only if I had social interactions on MY terms. If I invited someone over, that was okay- because I could control my environment (including Cloroxing all my toys after my children’s friends left- for reals). If I set up a girls-night-out at a restaurant, I could handle that because I chose the restaurant and knew it was clean and that there was something on the menu I’d like. And then new friends would reciprocate and invite me to an activity of their choosing and I would turn them down flat. The anxiety was just overwhelming and I felt it wasn’t worth it to go. But what I’ve realized is that I SHOULD have gone to every single one of those activities. I should have pushed through the anxiety and realized that people are more important than fears. So whatever your fear or your crazy is, don’t let it keep you from stepping into the unknown (even if it’s just a new restaurant). Because I’ve found that the unknown is FULL of friends.
Now here’s the thing- friends are actually amazing medicine. A recent Harvard study (1) found that strong relationships are one of the most important factors in life-long wellbeing. Like things to be more objective than that? Well, let’s give friendship a financial value then. One study (2) found that the value of a friend whom you see on most days provides the same feeling of well-being as earning an additional $100,000 a year. And I absolutely believe it!! In my old age (haha!) I have come to value my friends so much more and they bring me so much joy. I LOVE knowing there is someone who shares an inside joke with me; someone who remembers a silly experience we had together and has fun memories of me because of it; someone who is thinking of me on my birthday; someone who thinks well of me and would have lots of good things to say about me if asked; and honestly, it brings me comfort to know that there is someone who’d be willing to speak at my funeral someday!! So hold onto the friends you have, and welcome any potential friends with open arms. In my opinion, they are worth much more than $100,000.
*DISCLAIMER* I’m beginning a series of posts that detail some of the natural treatment options available for those who suffer from anxiety, OCD, and depression. I believe strongly in the power of the body and mind to heal themselves, but I also believe that in […]
Let me tell you a little bit about OCD. It’s all about “what if”s. “What if” is the nagging question that plagues your thoughts night and day. “What if the piece of paper that flew out of my car lands on someone else’s windshield, blocks their view, and they get in a horrible crash?” ” What if that red mark on the ground is blood and I contract AIDS if I touch it?” “What if I didn’t turn off the oven and the entire house goes down in flames?” “What if I didn’t hear the teacher correctly and I get the assignment wrong, fail this class, and never get into college?” Sounds ridiculous, right? Well in the mind of someone with OCD it is anything but. It is VERY real, and VERY scary.
My OCD is focused on contamination. That “getting AIDS” fear I listed above is one I deal with all the time. Public door knobs? The worst. Going to the doctor’s office? An invitation for germs to attach themselves to every inch of my body. And in my OCD heyday I would go to extreme lengths to avoid all of the contamination-focused “what if”s that ran through my head. I would stay inside for days at a time. If I did go outside I would change my clothes as soon as I came inside. I would wash and re-wash my hands for up to three minutes at a time. All. Day. Long. I would sanitize my children’s hands if they came into contact with anyone or anything outside of our house. I would avoid public places with them and wouldn’t let other people touch or get near them. And why did I do all of this? Because it gave me a sense of control. If I always did all of these things then I was controlling what happened to us. I could keep us all from getting sick, or injured, or dying, if I just kept things under control by doing all of these obsessive behaviors. Always.
Then one day, during a therapy session, I had a breakthrough.
I was telling my therapist how very overwhelming it felt to constantly “have” to keep my family safe through my compulsive behavior. It felt like keeping my family safe was my full time job- something I focused on, worked on, and worried about 24/7. It was exhausting and I hated it. But even though I hated it, I just KNEW that if I didn’t do all of these things, something bad was going to happen and it would be all my fault, because I COULD have stopped it. If one of my children got sick, it would be because I hadn’t kept them safely at home with perfectly sanitized hands. And if, heaven forbid, the worst happened and they died from an accident or disease….I couldn’t live with myself. My brain had become my prison- a prison made of “what ifs” that kept me captive just as well as any bars ever could.
As I spoke to my therapist I paused for a moment as a picture entered my mind. I told my therapist, “I feel like a hamster in a cage. It’s as though I’ve suddenly realized that the cage is moving around the room and I start to run on my hamster wheel as fast as I can, furiously trying to get the cage to a safe destination, never stopping lest the cage go in the wrong direction or fall. I’m exhausted, and bored with the monotony, and frustrated, but I know that if I stop running, something bad will happen. All the while the cage is being moved by the owner, and my running is doing nothing but exhausting me. I’m running myself completely ragged, creating an illusion of control, but I was never in control at all.”
In that moment I realized that I was the hamster, and God was moving that little cage in His capable hands, exactly to where it needed to go. I realized that God was the one who was ultimately in charge of my life. If someone in my family got seriously injured or ill, He was still guiding us. If I somehow came in contact with a red spot on the ground that really did give me AIDS (however improbable and impossible that was), He would still be in control. For all of my hand washing and avoiding people, I really wasn’t controlling anything that wasn’t ultimately in God’s hands to deal with. And even though I found the idea of not being in control absolutely terrifying, it was such a relief as well. This wasn’t on me. This wasn’t my responsibility. I didn’t have to do all of my obsessive behaviors. And that brought so much peace. It didn’t bring immediate healing, but it brought peace.
And here’s the thing. The same goes for everyone- those with OCD and those without. Because I think that everyone feels the need for some sort of control in their life. For you it might be that you try to control who your teenage children interact with. You might criticize others for what you perceive as weaknesses, trying to force them to change. You might keep a mental scorecard with family members, and in the midst of a fight remind them of all the things they have done wrong in the past, thus taking control of the argument and “winning”. Maybe you snoop into what others are doing- reading diaries, private emails, or obsessively checking browser histories. And as much as you might think you need to do all of these controlling behaviors, it’s ultimately like running in a hamster wheel. You’re not helping anyone and are ultimately running yourself (and probably others) ragged.
So why do people try to control their own life and others’? If we KNOW that it is ultimately fruitless, why do we do it? There are a variety of reasons, some of which you may identify with.
- INSECURITY: Insecurity is the main reason I practice all of my controlling, OCD behaviors. For a long time I felt so completely insecure in my relationship with God. I didn’t trust Him to take care of me or my family, so I decided to take that on myself. For you, your relationship with God might be completely secure, but your relationship with others might not be. Perhaps you try to control others because you don’t feel secure in their love for or commitment to you.
- LOW SELF ESTEEM: People with low self esteem often depend on the accomplishments of others to build them up. They want their children to do well in school or sports or music so that they can look and feel better. Such people may need to have a handsome and accomplished boyfriend/husband so that they can feel important. If a person like this has a child who does poorly in school they feel it reflects badly on them. If their spouse is an underachiever people might think they are the same way. The controlling is their way of keeping their self esteem intact.
- NARCISSISM: A person like this controls people simply to get what they want. They don’t view people according to the other person’s needs, they view them according to their own needs. Gross!
- PERFECTIONISM: I often find myself trying to control my environment (including my family’s behavior) simply because I enjoy order and dislike chaos…a lot! I love to have a clean house, calm children, and no serious problems to deal with. I sometimes struggle to know if this is simply because I have high standards or if it has crossed into the realm of perfectionism. So what’s the difference? Well, it’s a thin line. Where someone with high standards wants to achieve great things, those things will be within reach. A perfectionist sets standards that are beyond reach or reason. Someone with high standards can actually find enjoyment in the process of achieving something. A perfectionist can’t enjoy the process because it is not yet perfect. Worried you might be a perfectionist? Luckily there’s a free test for that. Try it here.
So what’s a control freak like me to do? How do we stop running the hamster wheel and trust that things will work out without our interference? For some of us (including me), therapy and perhaps medication will be needed. Some problems are too big to take on alone- they can’t be solved by simply trying to step back and stop controlling so much. However, I think everyone can benefit from some deep introspection to discover WHY they are doing what they’re doing. It won’t necessarily stop the problem, but it can help diagnose it and give you a place to start healing from!
Now, I’d love to say that the ideas below are mine, but I actually found them from another blog and thought they were perfect. If you’d like to see the original article check it out here. I’d suggest you go through the following seven questions step-by-step, writing down your answers rather than just thinking through them. (I just realized that I’m trying to control what you do with these 7 questions! Never mind- you go ahead and do it any way you please!)
7 Questions to Help You Hop Off the Hamster Wheel
- Consider what your beliefs are about control. Why is it so important to you?
- Ask yourself this question: “What do I gain from control?”
- Once you have an answer, check in to see if you really do gain what you think you do! (usually the answer here is no)
- Consider the concept that there is no such thing as control and the only certainty we have in life is death (a heady subject, but a useful one nonetheless)
- Choose to let go of any beliefs you have around control
- Experiment by noticing the next time you feel the need to control something and simply decide to just go with the flow and see what happens
- Take this a step further and start to look for opportunities when things out of your control pop up. How can you use this as a positive?
Obviously, this isn’t a 5 minute meditation fix, it is WORK. But when I consider how exhausting it is to try maintaining the illusion of control, I KNOW that the work is worth it. I didn’t have this list of 7 steps when I started my therapy. I wish I had. I struggled to understand the reason behind my OCD behaviors. I figured it was a chemical imbalance that I would have to deal with for life, or just a personality quirk I inherited form my parents. But through years of therapy and personal work I learned that, while chemicals and genetic inheritance were part of the equation, there were also some really false beliefs that were impacting my behaviors. Once I was able to attack those beliefs and work to change them, things really started to turn around. My OCD wasn’t fixed in a day (it still isn’t!) but man, did it get better when I began to understand it!
After writing this blog post I know I’m going to try harder to hop off my hamster wheel. I’ll try it for a day, and if that’s too overwhelming then maybe I’ll do it for an hour. If I can handle that, then I’ll try it for two tomorrow. If you struggle to control others as well, maybe you could do the same. You may be surprised at how well things go without your efforts to be in control. Because the fact is, no matter how hard we run, God is ultimately in control. And that’s a great feeling.