Category Archives: Inspirational

2019’s New Vision

Although I will not be jumping from any planes at this point of my life, I’m up for this challenge.

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In life, it’s important to discover and/or admit to any chains that bind and hold you back. To identify them is the first step. Then, it is necessary to take steps, little or large, in defeating them.
Every single step is a step closer to where you want to be. 
After my experience with postpartum anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder, I learned a lot about what was holding me back from my full potential or even from living in the moment. That is when I began to make it a goal to break as many of these unnecessary chains as possible…
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…including my fear of public speaking.
In less than a year, I’ve come so far already! I was recently able to speak in front of a crowd of 250 students and adults without my involuntary shake, rosy cheeks, or profuse sweat coming to stop by. In fact, I even went off my script (What!?!! Unheard with over analyzing, over-worrying, over-planning Jen). I held it in my hand as only a guide and not verbatim. However, I still have more steps to take with this and some other chains to tackle.
But these are steps that without challenging fear I could never have taken…
Back in May 2018, I started to push myself to read at poetry events and readings, and while at the time there were very difficult, I did not realize until recently how much they helped with current projects and situations at work and life. The seeds that those readings planted.
Those steps back then, seemed like nothing… I was still drenched in sweat and shaking like a leaf as I walked away from those reading, doubting the purpose… but maybe we don’t always need to know the purpose… maybe it adds a value to our lives that will unfold … that will break free … that will make us more alive…
Sometimes it takes just one step …
… sometimes two …
… sometimes ten…
… sometimes just one more …
So how can we give up taking those steps each day when we don’t know what that next may bring. There may be just one more step needed to reach that dream or goal… so we must keep challenging ourselves … we must keep moving forward even after a stumble or two back… we must keep stepping.
Do you have a quote guiding you this year? If so, what is it? If not, join me in making a goal like this for yourself this year. It doesn’t mean you are sky diving or doing anything that puts your life at risk. It certainly does not mean you are looking up every possible cause of cancer on Google, and scaring yourself into isolation. (Been there, done that. Not fun… I do not recommend.)
Instead, it means to take those uncomfortable steps each day whatever they may be. And to be open to where it may take you for it may surprise you.
I plan to use it to press deeper into my goals … deeper into my faith …deeper in life. It’s kind of a paradox: as I plan to push myself past my comfort zone because I know it’ll bring me more peace …
and maybe in the meantime I’ll learn to dance over the mess.

 

The Name Change

The Art of a Messy House

In the midst of the mess, there is unprecedented beauty and nothing less. – Jen
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            When you ask someone to define beauty, most people will ponder for a bit before beginning to describe an emotion, individual, or quality that takes our breath away.  Not many people, would ineptly reply, “beauty is my messy house.”
That is where many of us are mistaken though.   Hear me out …
For myself, there was much of my life that I believed beauty radiated on the outside from what was beneath my layers.  But then again, that was also detrimental for most of my life. Because not only did I struggle with the reflection the mirror shined back at me, but I also agonized over the fact that the qualities that I wanted, I lacked.   Therefore, I labeled myself as beauty’s antagonist for more years than I would like to admit.  My own worst enemy …
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However, as the years continued to tick on and now fly on by, I realized how mistaken I was in every sense of the word.  I spent most of my life writing about these types of questions because my spoken words have had a way of failing me.  In other words, writing has always been much easier source of communicating for me. Although now, I’m getting better at both.
As an individual who battled with anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, anorexia, and depression at different points of my life, writing saved my life.   Let me rephrase that, God saved my life time and time again. In fact by giving me gifts of grace including my ability to write, I have gained a voice.
For like most, I have walked through more valleys in this lifetime so far to know that beauty is often where you least expect it.  For the beauty that lasts…the beauty that defines us … is the beauty that often our eyes fail to see at first. It is the radiance that often blinds us, coaxing or even forcing us to turn our heads before we can truly see beneath and passed it…
It.Is.Beautiful.
It is the vision without the lens.
It is what takes us deeper than aesthetic senses.
It is in the worst of days.
It is in the mistakes that try to devour our inner drive.
It is in the birth stories no one told you, or the ones that they should have never told you. (Until labor, those stories had me believing my son would come flying out…ha)
It is in the newborn book that never met your infant and wasted your tiny amount of mommy brain, taking a year to read.
It is in the maternity leave that left you in tears during it and then again when it ended.
It is in the discovery that your child is anaphylactic to dairy and allergic to everything else.
It is when doctors refer to your child as a sick child.
It is in the pregnancy that you never expected and barely survived.
It is in the kegel you were too depressed to even remember to try or even care about until you were housing dairy-free ice cream in bed. It is in thirty-five years plus of anxiety that no one could even begin to understand.
It is in the realization that your child may have OCD worse than you and it is up to you to break the cycle.
It is in all those moments that you realize that your beautifully cleaned and kept house you spent years building and maintaining really is maintaining you.
For it is not beautiful at all.
Instead, what you tried to avoid your entire life is in fact the truer essence of beauty. Beauty is not running away from or hiding our mess; instead it is embracing it.
For beauty is in the art of a messy house…
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and trust me… I am still working on perfecting ours…
but this is my journey to achieve just that:
The Art of a Messy House 
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The Comeback

The Comeback – January 2019
And we’re back!
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Stepping back…
When I stopped blogging over three years ago, I ended in a panic.
Here I was writing posts about remaining strong in faith in order to overcome fear; and there I was living what felt like a lie. Don’t get me wrong, I was genuine in my goal to not allow the anxieties of motherhood, food allergies, my miscarriage and life control me. My heart wanted so badly to help others through experiences similar to ours. However, I felt like a hypocrite because I myself was battling a war, invisible to most except those very close to me. I needed to help and heal myself in order to best guide my family. I needed healing in every sense of the word. I needed a break from researching, from reading articles, from adding more worry onto our already allergen and chemical aware plates and homes. I needed to find myself and allow myself the time to heal. I needed to admit that I was not okay, that I deserved more, and that there was more. I needed to do it for my husband, my son, my soon-to-be-daughter, my family and friends and most importantly, myself.
Reflecting back …
Having battled anxiety most of my life, I truly believed it was inevitable. The perfect setup. Since the age of five, anxiety was my middle name. (In fact, since I didn’t have an actual middle name given to me at birth, I used to joke to myself that this was indeed meant for me.) Anxiety was just my way,; it was part of my being and always would be … or so I thought. Luckily, I was very mistaken …
Then add into the mix:
-My 7.5 month old son had an anaphylactic reaction to his first taste of yogurt in the middle of a December snow storm where there were NO Epi-pens in the ambulance…
 
-We learned of his 20 more possible allergies at his follow-up appointment…
 
-His skin reactions, his daily breathing treatments, and his viral-induced asthma every time he got sick from age 1-2.5 after he had pneumonia…
 
-Then my best friend from high school experienced the loss of her son (a heart-breaking stillbirth at 35/36 weeks)…
 
-Then my own miscarriage…
The anxiety just continued to build on and on, like a mountain I had no business climbing, yet there was no other way to get down. I was stuck. I was functioning but depressed. I was functioning but anxious. All. The. Time. Looking back, was I even functioning? Was I even present? Was I even living?
Nothing brought me joy. It was a terrible cycle: I would fake it first, then I would get so frustrated with myself for being disingenuous that I would beat myself up even more. A vicious cycle. The whole time my heart had the right intentions. It knew what it wanted and needed. It wanted to inspire others, but inspiration starts within, and fear had tried to wipe me empty. I was a cry for help through broken smile.
Then, I got pregnant with my daughter. It was a difficult pregnancy in the sense that I was nauseous, exhausted and sleep deprived for most of it, nothing like with my son who had spoiled me. She kicked my butt and belly literally! Many told me that it made sense since “girls steal your beauty.” What I didn’t realize yet, it was quite different: she was starting to inspire me…
…to redefine my beauty.
She arrived on her due date naturally just like my son had. What are the chances?!?! (Wish my lottery skills were just as good.) Her birth was a blessing and still the questions stood, why was I not content? Why was I unhappy? I felt so beyond guilty. How could I be this terrible of a person? Of a mother?
I was not beaming with happiness and joy, but she was beautiful and everything I dreamed of. From the time we found I was pregnant, I knew she would have a fighter’s heart like her Mama much like Kip Moore’s song “ Hey Pretty Lady” reminded me. And she had beautiful hazel eyes that resembled her daddy’s baby blues bringing back to Donna Lewis’ “I Love You Always Forever.” I dreamed this dream years before. I dreamed this dream for years. I needed to remember just that, as she smiled back at me … “a fighter’s heart like her Mama”...
The fight back to reality…
Those months that followed my daughter’s birth I found a breast lump, had other OBGYN scares, became engorged for an entire month when she had already been nursing for eight months, … the list was endless and really all added up to one diagnosis in the end: post traumatic stress from my son’s anaphylactic reaction then mixed with a hormonal imbalance leading to … postpartum anxiety.
I couldn’t see it then. I was too caught up in feeling and even scarier, believing, that I was dying. I really thought I was dying. I did not want pity, sympathy nor attention; I wanted someone to save my life. I was in a crisis. I was terrified that I was going to abandon my children. That I wasn’t going to be who they needed. And I beat myself up for it every day and every night. Panic attacks became a normal nighttime routine. I felt so alone all the time but the most isolated times were when those around me, helpless in their own way, asked me to snap out of it. I knew they meant well. But how? If only a snap of the fingers could do such a thing.
Finally, when my daughter was 9 months old I stopped nursing, still exclusively pumping for another 1.5 months. This allowed her to take the bottle that she had refused for the first 9 months of her life when she much rather take the boob. I am Taurus and while I don’t follow signs very often, I do know and admit to how stubborn I am. I was very headstrong about wanting to make it to a year or more, like I did with my son. However, reality hurts when it hits you especially as you are trying to climb your way out of rock bottom. My kids needed me in a different way, much more than just my milk could provide.
Stubborn ways would not save me, but letting go would. So I did just that …
Getting my groove back …
The power of the mind is incredible. I vowed to change my thinking: I would overcome this. I needed a therapist to connect with, to deepen my faith and learn to rely on that faith. I knew deep down that this would be used for good, I just couldn’t see how yet but I knew …
Walk by faith, not sight. – 2 Corinthians 5:7
After therapy for a few months and then even doing some sessions of EMDR light therapy, I had some eye opening experiences, a lot of healing, and even more forgiveness. As the ELA teacher in me would say, I also had some aha moments and lessons learned:
  1. Postpartum anxiety is real! How can it not be? Have you ever watched the news or googled searched something or even scrolled your Facebook news-feed to find only positive posts. I think not! I’ve learned Google was the devil for a Mama like me who spent much of her time being undated by negative judgments and news. What we all really need is someone to lift us up. So do just that, surround yourself with positive words. Click on a Bible app or put some positive affirmations on a notes page of your phone. Google search uplifting quotes so that when you go to search up something not-so-positive, you see the inspiration instead. Surround yourself with those who lift you up and cheer you on, not those who judge. It may mean eliminating or limiting social media or even some people. It’s difficult, but possible and worth it.
  2. You deserve happiness.. I deserve happiness. Everyone deserves happiness. Don’t let the lies of the world make you believe something else. Learn what makes you happy as an individual. Then, do what makes you happy. For me, it’s prayer, writing, poetry, being creative and running. It’s not selfish to know and make time for what brings you joy. Even if it does not involve your kids directly, it indirectly does in a greater way than you think. It’s easy to lose yourself in motherhood, and in life in general. So, recognize and embrace what makes you, you.
  3. Forgiveness is key. Or else you cannot fully move on from the past. I had some major resentment raging in me still and often pointed my fingers at others to temporarily let go of it. Cycles will be cycles if you do not forgive. Just think about it. It doesn’t always mean we have to tell the person we forgive them. Sometimes, it doesn’t make sense to, while other times it is necessary. Either way it is a conscious decision that heals the heart. It was one of the deepest releases and moments when I did just that. It made room for a whole lot more of love, joy and hope. It made room for peace.
  4. You are not alone. Even in a dark room breastfeeding your baby when everyone else seems to be have cocktails at a party or watching television, and you are worried about your milk production or if your daughter’s rash means food allergies like your son, you are never alone. Isolation can happen after a baby. Do not feel guilty. Reach out and build a support system. Like I suggested above, put positive sources of entertainment on your phone as you nurse like a Bible app, read positive news, journal, or write a poem. Sometimes, I would forget calculating how long she nursed and wouldn’t allow my phone near me. Instead, I would sing songs and just talk to my daughter. There are support systems for everything. Find other food allergy families, if you need support. Postpartum groups for breastfeeding are wonderful for so many reasons beyond nursing. Build that village and remember you are never in it alone. Ask for help… that makes you stronger than you think.
  5. Take care of yourself – even if it means taking the drug the doctors recommend or the yoga class you feel like you do not have time for. For those who know me, they would tell you I really try to take the natural, organic, GMO free route as much as possible. However, in hindsight, I should have taken the medication the doctors had prescribed for the postpartum anxiety. But I didn’t and while it took longer, I healed. Healing is possible for everyone.
Reflection back …
So often we label mental health has a weakness. We label food allergies as a weakness. We label asking for help as a weakness. We label, we label, we label. The problem is we label. I found new depths of strength and courage in those labels though. I found a way to stand confident in the fact that history will not repeat itself. But I had to forgive myself and a bunch of others before I had enough room to let amazing joy fill me up.
The reality is once you can learn acceptance in the now, no longer putting life on hold for the greener grass of tomorrow that may never come, that is when you start to live. That is when joy fills your heart. I never had real joy before now. I faked it and was full of shame because of it. But now I realize, through acceptance of myself, forgiveness of my past and that of others who may have left scars, I’m so much stronger than I’ve ever imagined I’d be.
My son, TJ started off with 21 food allergies and has outgrown all but 3 (dairy, eggs, peanuts) at his age of 4.5 now. My daughter Madison Grace has a kick-ass immune system and can’t have sesame or straight dairy milk. And don’t get me wrong, it sticks when we recently learned of her sesame allergy. It stinks when we attend birthday parties and TJ can’t eat the pizza or the cupcakes. However, we have our yummy alternatives and they are accepting of it. They are happy. Don’t get me wrong fear throws a lot at me still as it does for everyone. We all have our own battles but it’s more important to know the battles have all already been won. (John 16:33)
The difference now is I own my joy and it’s wrapped in my deep faith. Its home is in my heart and if it’s possible for me, it’s possible for anyone. Even in my lowest, I’ve never believed in the word impossible. Nothing is impossible with faith. Stand for something, or fall for everything.
And we smile back…
And now I can truly say I genuinely smile with my son who has been waiting the whole time for me to do just that, to let go, smile on… for we are truly learning to embrace the beauty and art of a messy house!
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For All My Impatient Moments

Since December when we learned the hard way about all of TJ’s food allergies, I would be lying if I denied that there were not days that I wished away.   I wished away the moments because I was so fearful of a reaction that I could not wait until nighttime came so that I could be relaxed that I had kept him safe another day. Then, I would start to feel so guilty for thinking that and doubting myself as a good parent.   Before all of this, I had truly felt like I was great as this new role of Mommy.   TJ was thriving and so happy all the time.  I felt that that had to do with how we were both raising him.  The world of food allergies and eczema truly made me doubt all of that for awhile. That irrational thinking was definitely not helping any of us at all.   Therefore, with lots of prayer and faith in God,I have really been recreated, for lack of better words, as a different, stronger person. However, since I have always been one who cannot tell a lie, I must admit that there are still moments, not days, when I start to wish away  to a day when we can all eat dinner together like a family or when I don’t need to worry about issues like cross contamination.   As awful as that sounds, it is simply the truth. It doesn’t make me a horrible mom like I used to feel about it.  Instead, it shows how much I care as long.   However, I didn’t want to waste my days away worrying anymore.  I have always been a planner who writes everything out and then gets right to accomplishing that list. “Don’t put off until tomorrow, what you can do today” has always been my motto in life…really, to a fault sometimes.   Anyways,  since eczema and food allergies are beyond my total control, time has become my friend. While I trust in God to heal TJ, I do have to remind myself to slow down and enjoy all of these moments even the stressful ones because they will soon become some of the most cherished memories of my life. Here is the link to a poem that helps me to remember this exact thing as we smile on…

http://www.bellebebes.co.uk/2014/08/the-last-time/

Why We Still Smile On

When I first started this journey of motherhood, I never knew the person that I would and could become.   I could not even begin to imagine all of the experiences that I would encounter and the lessons that I would learn whether I was ready or not.   Before all of this began, I was a rather simple person on the outside: I loved my family and friends, running, listening and helping people through problems, teaching, tutoring, drinking wine, eating pizza and spending time with my best friend/husband.    However, like most people, I was and am a much more complicated person on the inside.   From as early as I can remember, I was always a deep thinker with a lot more to say that ever came through to my lips. Sometimes, if I catch myself in the right moment, I put these thoughts to “paper.” Back in 2014 when giving my breastfeeding support group friends a long-winded update on my son’s food allergies and our journey together with it, I made fun of how wordy I can be. I said that, I should start a blog instead of pestering them with my rants. So that was exactly what I did!

Then, it stuck…. it was something that I knew I had to do.  While there is a lot of information out there about food allergies, much of it is very conflicting.   Everyone has a different theory, suggestion, and plan of action.   Often, when I first told people about my son’s allergies, they would say, “Did you eat a lot of peanuts and eggs during pregnancy?” Or, “so you are definitely going to start him on formula now right?” Or even the doctor who thought it would be funny to make the joke only two days after my son’s food reaction. “What did Mommy eat or not eat during pregnancy to cause this?” He asked my son and I held back tears before coming home and losing it to my husband. Mommy guilt is no fun! (Looking back at this, I know this doctor did not mean anything by the comment at all.   At that time, I was not ready to understand that.)

 

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Due to these questions and a lot of this mommy guilt, I spent much of December and January trying to defend myself to others as a good person who hardly ever ate eggs or peanuts during my pregnancy.   Or, explaining why I chose to continue to breastfeed through these allergies.   I was trying to explain myself to everyone to prove that I did not cause this and I was not an awful mom.   It was exhausting in itself; let alone the fact that I was on a strict elimination diet and dealing with all the fear and anxiety that comes with food allergies.   I knew I had to change my thinking about it all. I knew I needed to research more and learn as much as I could about all of this.   I knew, as hard as it may be, I could not sit around and feel bad for myself and try to defend myself to others.

While I spent the first month doing this, I have learned to take this whole experience on quite differently.  I could and can no longer selfishly wish away the rest of my son’s first year to be at 12 months so that we could retest again.   I needed to learn to love every second with him like I had before all of this and stop living in fear.   Therefore, I started to research and reach out to a lot of people.   Many people had a story similar to ours; however, none exactly the same.  

But, whose story is ever is?

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That is the beauty of this life.   Everyone has a story so uniquely different from everyone else. However, everyone’s story deserves to be heard and told.  I found I was able to relate to each of the food allergy stories that I heard on some kind of level, learning something from everyone.   That is why I want to share our story.   If it encourages, educates, or motivates one person out there, it will be worth it.   Even if that one person is me.  Also, I can stop sending people novels about food allergies when they simply ask how my son is doing. =)

Last, but definitely not least, I have been and continue to be inspired by my now four year old son each and every day, even though the name of my blog has changed. You see, throughout all of our emergency room trips, endless doctor and allergist appointments, and even the worst of days, he always smiles on. 

It is in his smile that I first learned of my own courage to do so too.

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That is why I first chose to call our story, “Smiling Away Allergies.” However, food allergies does not and cannot define us because we have learned to embrace life throughout all the stages… as we are now learning to love it all, including our beautiful mess. 

TJ CARTOON WHY WE SMILE ON