Florilegia: The Whole Brain Child

One of the benefits of working as a school psychologist is that I spend a lot of time thinking and learning about mental health. Though I read many books and attend annual conferences in order to improve my professional practice, I also learn (and re-learn!) so much that applies to my own day-to-day life.

Consider this quote from The Whole Brain Child, by Dan Siegel:

Feelings are like the weather. Rain is real, and we’d be foolish to stand in a downpour and act as if it weren’t actually raining. But we’d be just as foolish to expect that the sun will never reappear.

How often do I feel stuck in a feeling? In anxious or sad moments, it’s so easy to believe that those feelings will last FOR-E-VER. This book explains, however, that on average, a feeling comes and goes in 90 seconds.Yes, really. 90 SECONDS.

Okay, sure. 90 seconds is not the whole story: our feelings can be re-triggered over and over by our thoughts and environment. But here’s the thing. It’s not infinite. All feelings are inherently temporary, just like all clouds, all storms, all sunshine.

A few months ago, I visited a friend who lives in Hawaii. One night we drove to the beach to watch a sunset, but by the time we arrived, it was R-A-I-N-I-N-G hard. Despite the weather, we still wanted to watch the sunset, so we decided to try waiting and watching from our car.

I know that the “rain” of our lives can be unbelievably painful. There are times when the rain becomes a hurricane and the devastation is inescapable. It is helpful to remember that even those moments – perhaps especially those moments – are not permanent.

After only a few minutes of sitting in the car, the clouds began to clear and the sun came out just in time to set. It was one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever witnessed.

So… we’re never stuck. Never ever. Eventually – probably sooner than you think – the clouds will pass and we’ll all find ourselves standing on a beach, watching a glowing sunset

Out the Top of Your Head

I’m a school psychologist. I spend a lot of my time coaching kids to have “positive self-talk” and a “growth mindset”. I’ve spent dozens of hours explaining to kids how their thoughts affect how they feel and what they do. I know thoughts have a tremendous power to determine our reality.

And yet.

For a while now the beat of my thoughts has sounded something like this:

Not enough. Not enough. Not enough.

This beat follows me almost everywhere. It’s a constant companion at work. It plays in my mind when I think about the never-ending responsibilities of adulting. It’s the background music as I deal with the daily grind of Type 1.

I know this is unhealthy. I know this doesn’t help me. At all. It turns out it’s sometimes hard to practice what you preach.

I can think of a million reasons why the “not enough” beat seems like a valid track to play on repeat. Most of those reasons probably aren’t reasonable, but more importantly, they aren’t helpful.

There’s a song on one of my frequent Spotify playlists called Graveclothes by Birtdtalker. A few lines in particular have been stuck in my head for a while…

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Thoughts you’re thinking make you
feel like you’re dead, but
you can grow a garden
out the top of your head.

In the last 6 weeks, I’ve worked really hard to change these constant thoughts. I’ve meditated daily, sometimes two or three times per day. I’ve set daily intentions and affirmations to focus my thoughts on instead of negativity. I’ve tried to give myself grace and space to fail without calling myself a failure.

And you know what?

It’s working. Sometimes. Not all the time, but it’s a start.

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A Girl With a Body

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Me, age 1

 

I’ve believed I was fat for as long as I can remember. I think I was 6 the first time I set a goal to “be able to wear a bikini” like the girls I saw in the catalogs. I cannot remember a time when I didn’t look at a picture of myself and think, “God, I look so gross.” I grew up full of self-hatred and guilt and shame about my body.

 

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Me, age 10

 

Now I feel confused when I look back at photos of myself growing up, or even photos from 5 years ago. I wasn’t fat. I was just a girl with a body. And now I’m just a woman with a body. Yes, I have fat. Maybe more than others. But that is not who I am nor is it what defines my body.

 

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My cousin and I, about age 16. I’m on the right.

 

My feelings about this are so complicated. It’s quite hard to write about. I feel so angry at the culture that was designed to make me hate my body and sad for the tiny human that grew up full of shame for the body that simply made me human. And if I’m honest, I still feel a lot of shame about my body.

 

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Me, Age 25 (2013) I remember looking at this picture and feeling completely disgusted by it. Now I look at it and wonder why on earth I would have felt that way. Why did I not feel proud that I had just CLIMBED A FUCKING MOUNTAIN?

 

It is so important that we heal our relationships with our bodies as adults so that our children do not inherit body shame the way we have inherited it.

 

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Me , on my wedding day (2018, Age 28).
When I first looked at the pictures of my wedding day, I had to work SO HARD to focus on the joy that had been captured and not what I felt was shameful about my body.

 

What if we all felt joy about our bodies, rather than shame? How would that change the world? We have so much work to do to begin healing.

 

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