Well, the time has come to wrap up the "Dr. Coker Ross sessions" and move on to the next stage of content production on the She Did It blog. As I mentioned in an earlier post, this blog is in the process of becoming a full-content vlog with both written and visual materials. The new content will primarily feature videos, but I will also be posting written updates and handouts regarding upcoming events, contests, and special occasions.
I was happy to share my health journey with you, and I look forward to sharing new and more engaging content with you in the near future.
We will be taking about a month and a half hiatus to prepare for the release of the new content, so hang in there, because you won't regret it. I will be posting updates throughout the process, so you won't be totally in the dark.
I will see you in a little over a month.
À tout à l’heure
As I near the end of my work in Dr. Carolyn Coker Ross’ “Emotional eating” workbook, I am reminded of the very beginnings of my search for life meaning, health, and happiness. The search started at age 21 when I was admitted, for the first time, into a behavioral health inpatient facility for re-stabilization and mental health recovery. The coping tools and insights I gained during that time have led me to greater life clarity, understanding and meaning. I want to share my journey toward holistic health and how I came to realize that its accomplishment was only possible in the context of a lifestyle change.
I am the oldest of eight children. My parents are still together and have been married for almost forty years. However, when I was ten years old, life took a tumultuous turn that would end up deeply impacting my holistic well-being for over two decades. In the late 80s, near tragedy struck our family when my brother was hit by a speeding water truck while trying to cross the street toward a convenience store we often frequented. He and I had decided to race across the road to see who would make it to the store first. He never made it, and I was devastated when I turned back to see him outstretched on the pavement as people began gathering around.
I ran into the store, and I remember thinking, “this is a movie. It’s not real.” I walked through the aisles with the image of my brother stuck in in my head, and then suddenly, I clasped my chest, eyes bulging, as I heard a frantic, but familiar voice. “Say Jesus, Say Jesus.” My mother had rushed to my brother’s side and was cradling him in her arms as she shouted to him, “Say Jesus, Say Jesus.” Fortunately, my brother had remained conscious and was able to repeat the words to my mom as they waited for the ambulance to arrive. I don’t remember how long it took for the emergency services to get to the scene, but eventually they came and transported my brother to the hospital.
In hindsight, I realize how critical this moment was in shaping the rest of my childhood and early adulthood. It was the turning point for everything in my family. Particularly, and most notably, it was when we got the first real look into my mother’s struggle with mental illness. Furthermore, it was the moment that sent me headlong into the use of food to cope with adversity. As the months progressed, my mom began displaying more symptoms of depression with psychotic features including unexplained crying outbursts, irritability, paranoia, worry and anxiety. The worse she got, the more I turned to food. My dad, who was already emotionally unavailable due to unresolved trauma from his childhood, struggled to adjust to this new family crisis and became even more distant. Suddenly, I was devoid of emotional attachment from both of my parents.
What followed was countless moves from state to state (from Arkansas to Tennesee to Arkansas to Oklahoma back to Arkansas back to Oklahoma and finally back to Arkansas) over the course of seven years. The instability led to my development of extreme anxiety, depression, disordered eating, and suicidal thoughts. By the time I was in the ninth grade, disordered eating had become a regular part of my lifestyle. At times I would barely eat – due to a bevy of reasons and circumstances – and other times I would be ravenous. This back and forth (yo-yo) approach to eating eventually manifested physically after I graduated high school. By the time I was 19 years old, in my first year of college, I was overweight. For over 20 years, I struggled to maintain a balanced approach to eating, which had negative implications for my weight, body image, and self-esteem. Except for a brief period when I lost 30 pounds to meet the requirements for entering the military, I have been over weight my entire adult life.
Call to adventure
Six years after my mental health crises and inpatient hospitalizations, I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). This is the first time I felt like I needed to become more intentional about taking care of myself. I began studying about PCOS and made subsequent changes to my diet and began exercising; however, those changes were short-lived. But again, at age 35, two and a half years after giving birth, I received news from my son’s pediatric developmental team that my son was autistic. As I tried to make sense of this situation, I became depressed and briefly struggled to make meaning of this new life situation. However, I eventually realized that I couldn’t allow myself to go back to my past. I knew I had to make self-care a priority. This was no longer just about me.
Refusal of the call
I think I initially refused to follow the calls for self-care due to a feeling of helplessness brought on by thoughts that “it’s too hard. I can’t take care of a disabled child and ensure my mental health at the same time.” But this is exactly what I had to do, and as I later found out, it could be done, regardless of how hard it seemed. This was the turning point – increased insight about my power to change my life and be an advocate for my son.
Various mentors helped me arrive at this point of enlightenment including God, my books, and university instructors who pointed out my talents, skills, and abilities. My grandmother was an early mentor, and I wish I had gotten the opportunity to pick her brain a little more before she passed away in the summer of 2000.
Crossing the threshold
The first time I committed to a lifestyle change was when I received a book called, “Purpose Driven Life.” I was at my wits end, finally ready to give up on life, and as I’ve said many times to those with whom I have shared my story, “God met me at the corner,” and changed my life. It was the summer of 2017, and my marriage was in dire straits; I was also struggling with suicidal thoughts. I had no reason to believe that my life had any real purpose, so I was trying to decide whether I wanted to end my life or just leave my family. Rick Warren’s message resonated like nothing ever had before, and that’s when I decided to go all out and give life the ultimate chance. I started slowly, one step at a time, but with each step I experienced tremendous peace as I saw change happening right before my eyes. I had finally found my life’s purpose.
Tests, trials, and tribulations
Some things didn’t change immediately, however, including marriage problems and parenting issues surrounding the on-going, around-the-clock care of my son. I continued to struggle with lack of a support system as it related to respite care, and the communication between me and my husband seemed non-existent. I felt like I didn’t know him anymore. But, I refused to give up and began working on a plan to understand my role in the growing distance between us.
My husband’s defensiveness and lack of understanding of my combined struggle with mental health and around-the-clock care of our son was almost too much to handle. I started to experience a lack of compassion and love as I continued to reel from the fact that I did not have a close relationship with my family who I blamed for not being there to support me in my struggle with raising a special needs child. This caused me to reflect on what really needed to be healed in my life.
I realized that if I was going to get through this stage of life successfully, it was going to have to start with me. I needed to stop blaming other people for my feelings and start taking action on the things that I could change. This is when I came to terms with the role I had been playing in my marriage problems. I realized that I needed to get my spiritual life back on track, which included working on deep issues I had never fully explored and resolved in the context of my faith. I began attending a recovery support group and counseling. At that time, I also felt a sense of shame and embarrassment by being in a group with people who were in “recovery.” It sounded like I was an alcoholic or drug abuser. I knew I needed to work on busting this myth and stop judging myself and others.
Lessons and rewards
As I have gone through recovery, I’ve learned that we all go through recovery in some form throughout our lives. Recovery doesn’t always mean that we are seeking to redeem ourselves from drugs or alcohol. It can be recuperation from any debilitating life circumstance such as marriage problems, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, etc. I have learned to take responsibility for my own happiness, to get out of my own way so I can see the best life has to offer, to see the good in others, and to accept human imperfection as a way of life. In essence, I have learned to see people the way I believe the creator sees them – with love, compassion, understanding, and openness. Granted, I am not perfect, so there are days when I forget to see others through the eyes of the creator, but that is my goal and purpose in life and I plan to live it out as fully as possible.
Challenges in life persist and sometimes I find myself getting sucked back into the chaos of the life I walked away from. It’s one of those “Just when I thought I was in the clear, here comes murphy’s law” moments. For example, my son struggles with asthma around certain times of the season. Shortly after turning five years old, he developed asthma and had to be hospitalized for stabilization and treatment. Currently, takes daily treatments to keep the asthma under control. Depending on the weather, an asthma attack could strike any day. This has been a constant struggle for me as his primary giver, because I also run a business full time, and if he suddenly gets sick, that means that I have stop everything I’m doing to provide care for him. Without a strong support system, besides my husband, it is very difficult to make consistent business gains. This can be quite discouraging at times, leading to bouts of depression, anxiety, and feelings of helplessness. However, my recovery work has helped me to understand the importance of creating a network outside my immediate family that can provide some relief and keep me from relapsing.
I no longer focus on my weight, get on the scale, count calories, or stress about a personal trainer or nutritionist. Rather, I focus on creating and maintaining a lifestyle change through consistent holistic health practices such as meal preparation, group exercising and eating whole foods. I have also enlarged my sacred space and have become active in the practice of contemplative prayer. These changes have facilitated my focus on my life’s purpose.
The gifts I have gained from this entire experience so far include a deeper connection to the divine, greater creativity, increased confidence, and a willingness to put myself out there. I now have a business where I mentor moms of children on the autism spectrum to help them de-stress using healing artforms, build resilience through shared key processes, and become transformative agents through informed advocacy. All of this has come as a result of me discovering my life’s purpose and consciously living it out with the aim of making a positive difference in the lives of others.
Hey there, guys! As promised, here is the list of 30 ways to mastermind your health and wellness. You will find full descriptions of each recommended way to improve the quality of your holistic health. I hope each one will serve as a guide to help you develop a personalized plan to obtain and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Enjoy!
I am a healing artist, and I believe it is my mission to help other moms like me become masterful life synthesizers and empowered agents through the healing arts.