How EMDR saved my Christmas.

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I was first introduced to EMDR (Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) about a year ago by a new therapist. It took me about 3 months of talk therapy before I felt ready to try EMDR.

 

At first, some think the therapy sounds similar to hypnosis. It isn’t. It uses lateral eye movement to get the two sides of your brain working at once. You can go back to a memory, replay it, and desensitize yourself from it. ** It is NOT changing the memory ** It’s only reprocessing, similar to exposure therapy. When you replay it a few times you can spend more time on bringing closure to your feelings, and hopefully be able to let go of the trauma.

 

Christmas for me always brings on tremendous stress and frequent breakdowns. I take on too much, force happiness and get upset when things fail to meet my expectations. Most years I max out our calendar and our budget. We are exhausted and cranky, and end up taking it out on eachother.. And by WE i mean the whole family- kids included. Reprocessing Christmas took many, many sessions. I started months ago in hopes of having a better holiday season.

 

My issues with Christmas are widespread, and have gone on for many years. For the purpose of this post I’ll zero in on one specific thing we processed- the one thing I believe saved my Christmas most.

 

All year the one thing I worry about most is spending Christmas Eve with my husband’s family. Seven years ago when I met my husband I was extremely overweight, unemployed, and a young unwed mother. My self confidence was at a zero. My husband on the other hand was a god in my eyes. He is so smart, so caring, so responsible and absolutely the greatest man I’d ever met. Before I was even introduced to any part of his family I felt like a disappointment. I imagined they’d spent Michael’s entire life witnessing how amazing he was and picturing a perfect wife as a match for him. I wholeheartedly believed I would be a let down.

 

This manifested in so many negative ways for me. First, I felt my physical appearance was a huge turn off, so I’d go over the top trying to make myself look better. I’d cake on the makeup and eyelashes, pull my shapewear so tight I couldn’t breathe and spend hours on my hair. I’d often make us late by trying on a thousand outfits that I hated until I eventually broke down to tears. This was always followed by refusal to go with him, a giant fight, and finally him dragging me out of the house against my will. I always felt so ugly, so low, so inadequate.

 

When I got to the party, I’d be ashamed of myself. Most of the time I felt out of place and over done from all of my over the top preparations. I’d feel dirty and messy from crying in the car and making a mess of my makeup. I couldn’t maintain eye contact or a conversation. I was so awkward I could barely muster a full sentence. My inability to speak made me feel even worse about myself because I was worried I’d come off stupid, or maybe snobby.

The worst of all was what my therapist calls “dissociative body movement.” Basically, I had extreme vertigo. I was so anxious that hallways appeared warped. I had a hard time with depth perception. Stairs were terrifying and I was overly cautious about my footing. I wasn’t able to eat or drink because I could not control my hands properly. If I reached for a cracker my hand would end up way off to the right, not anywhere close to food. If someone handed me a drink I’d practically slap the cup with my inability to judge how far the cup was from me, and immediately panic that I would spill or drop the entire thing. For years I did not, could not eat or drink with his family.

 

I would spend the entire night so consumed with my own anxieties that their conversations would turn to white noise, and my own thoughts took the forefront. This meant if someone did speak to me, I had no idea what they’d said. There’s no way to recover from that, except with deathly awkwardness. I’d cling tight to my husband and hope for the best.

 

How did EMDR change any of this for me?

 

The first step is identifying the negative cognition. For me it was simply “I am not good enough, I’m not worthy of love.”  The goal would be “I am worthy of their love, my true self IS good enough.”

 

We first started with my low self confidence about my appearance. 25 years of being obese gave me plenty of ammunition to deal with. I had to go back and reprocess bullying, like when my “friends” shoved pillows up their shirts and pretended to be me. Before processing it made me feel that the people close to me did not accept me, for at the time I believed they were close friends. I had to go back to the wedding where I broke a chair in front of a table full of my co-workers. That was feelings of embarrassment and shame in front of people I cared about. I went back to holidays as a child where family members would comment about the amount of food on my plate, days where I felt the floor shaking when I walked, and the times the stairs would loudly creak under my massive body.

 

One of the strongest sensations that came up during reprocessing was my hyper body awareness, specifically how large I always felt in comparison to the room. I took up too much space, I told myself it was wasted space. I would feel vast distance between my shoulders, like my back was a giant billboard blocking everyone’s view from across the room. I would feel my neck and chin tingle, like when I was thinking about my double chin as someone tried to have a conversation with me.

 

The emotions that came up were shame, embarrassment and guilt. We replayed these memories over and over. It sucked. It sucked at first, when I cried again. When my face was hot and red, just like the first time they’d happened. My forehead would sweat and I’d be out of breath EXACTLY like the original memory.. But then we’d replay it, and it was slightly less awful. We’d talk about it, and replay it again. It was even less awful. Replay. Talk. Replay. Talk.

 

In the end, the past started to seem extremely distant and insignificant. It was almost like a movie I’d seen long ago. I could remember the general theme but the specifics didn’t punch me in the gut anymore.

 

At their worst, these memories weighed on me so heavily that I once described it as walking through water in cement shoes. They slowed me down and kept me in the past when I really wanted to be in the present. After I found closure, the weight was lifted. I could hold my head a little higher and felt it easier to move forward.

 

We reintroduced my new feelings into talk therapy, where we set goals for the coming holiday season. I took on less, scheduled less, and tried to go with the flow. I had specific goals for Christmas Eve.

 

  1. No eyelashes, light makeup.
  2. No more than 20 minutes on my hair.
  3. Clothing I was comfortable in.
  4. Flat shoes.
  5. Initiate a conversation.
  6. Eat one thing discreetly. If I’m able to control my hand, eat one thing during a conversation when someone else can see me.

 

Even weeks leading up to the party, I talked about these goals with my husband, sister and therapist. I had so much support, and being able to verbalize my goals reinforced how important they were to me.

 

I’m proud to say I pulled it off.

 

Christmas Eve morning I got up and showered. I put on a sweater, comfortable leggings and flat boots. I blew out my hair in less than 10 minutes, and ran a curling iron just for texture. About 13 minutes in total. I put on mascara only. We went to our morning obligations, and when we got home I fought the urge to shower again or change my clothes. I even took a nap without stressing out about how it affected my appearance. 12 hours and several stops later, we got to his family’s party. Right off the bat I felt better. The stairs were strait instead of something out of a Tim Burton movie. I had two things left on my checklist- speak and eat.

 

I jumped the gun a bit on the speaking when I awkwardly blurted out a compliment on a cousin’s sweater but I somehow managed to recover. That one compliment ended up breaking the dam, and I was able to speak freely all night with his entire family. I felt happy, and like I was part of the family instead of an outsider. When the living room died down a bit I reached for a cracker and ended up grazing the one next to it. “Fuck. Get it together, Catherine.” I took both and gave one to Anna. I moved from a chair to the couch, and realized my vertigo had come back. “Noooo, you were doing so well! What happened?” What happened. The thought of food over the cracker triggered my fat awareness. I was off kilter again. What would my therapist tell me to do? I put my feet firmly on the floor, side by side. I squared my body off and tried to ground myself.

 

At that moment my nephew tried on his Aunt’s high heeled boots and walked around. He was silly, and funny. It made me smile. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Anna reaching for the chips, I blocked her drooly hand and got one for her.

 

Wait, I picked up a chip? I picked up the chip  I was ACTUALLY reaching for? Whoa.

 

I had done it, I had touched food and not fallen apart. I got brave. I actually made a plate for the first time ever.. Mostly grapes and crackers in case I dropped it. Later in the night I gave myself a pep talk and headed over to the dessert table. I tried a new cookie (Hermits, OMG, hermits. My new addiction.) At first bite I was in love. I consciously did not take a second bite. I walked over to my mother in law and held out the cookie. “What are these? They’re amazing!” She looked up and started telling me about hermit cookies. As she spoke I was internally cheering myself on, and took a second bite as the conversation continued.

 

There was a firework show in my chest. I did it! I did it! I DID IT!!!!!

 

I had such an amazing time that I was sad when the night drew to an end. I heard myself tell people (too many times) that I was excited to see them the following day, and that I was looking forward to spending the entire holiday with them instead of rushing out early.

 

At the end of the night it did not feel like I had spent the night with my husband’s family. I had spent the night with MY family. It was the first Christmas in seven years where I did not cry or have a break down. It was the first one ever that I was happy and confident. (Christmas day I was even brave enough to ask to hold his cousin’s baby. Let that sink in for a second. The night before I couldn’t reach for a cracker, the next day I asked to hold an infant.)

 

EMDR saved my holiday. It bettered my relationship with my family, and even kicked off this morning on a positive note. I feel great, and I’m looking forward to telling my therapist all about it at our session on Friday.

 

It took many years for me to discover EMDR. I wasted so much time on talk therapy that I felt counseling was ineffective. I changed therapist time and time again without finding the right fit. I can not say this enough- you do not have to suffer. If you feel therapy is ineffective, you have not found the right therapy. There are infinite options out there- even more than just EMDR. Keep going, keep trying. KEEP GETTING HELP. You are worthy of receiving care. You are worthy of memorable holidays. You are worthy of being part of a family. You are worthy of love.

 

With healthy hearts,

Kate and the Kids.

Your presence is a present. Be in the moment, and enjoy your holiday.

This was my first holiday in seven years that did not include tears or a mental break down. Battling mental health is so much work, but enjoying a holiday with my family for the first time makes every second worth it. We had the merriest of Christmases. I hope yours was blessed as well. 💕🎄

With healthy hearts,

Kate and the Kids.

Moms don’t sleep, they worry with their eyes closed. – Maintaining mental health in a blended family during the holidays.

Today is only Christmas Eve, but we have been Christmasing for days and we’ll continue for days after the 25th. Christmas in a blended family home is celebrated many times, in many places, with many different people.

Last night my husband and I prepared for Santa’s first visit. We had already spent the day cooking, then hosting a Christmas with our mothers and my sister. We came home, put three over excited children to bed, lugged two carloads of gifts into the house and buckled down to make some holiday magic happen.

Mike had to build three toy chests. I stuffed the stockings and wrapped what wouldn’t fit. As the clock ticked later and later into the night, exhaustion, frustration and irritability kicked in. I had to dig deep, and pull out some of those therapy skills to hold it together. When I finally got into bed I was overcome with the dread of doing this all over agin the next night.

Then I woke up this morning. I first opened my eyes in a silent house. I was afraid to get out of bed and wake the kids, so I just laid there and thought about our day. My heart melted when I realized that there was a reason for the craziness. At first glance, I see multiple trips, lots of time in the car, and a whole lot of stress- then it dawned on me that the reason we go through all of this is because so many people love us! How lucky are we?

How lucky are we that Santa comes twice? That Mike and I get two mornings of gift opening. Two nights of eves, snuggling up and watching Christmas movies. Two mornings of thankful hugs and kisses. Having to make a trillion stops and visits just means that we are loved by many- an absolute blessing.

Christmas is stressful. It’s even more stressful trying to coordinate the craziness with sliding custody agreements, but it’s totally worth it. There’s a reason they call step children “bonus” kids.

Lucky for us, the bitter years are (for the most part) behind us. We are in a holiday routine that reduces the stress on both the kids AND us parents. Extended family members don’t always understand. They want us to push to have Arielle on Christmas Day, but it just isn’t for us. This is. This works.

So now that things run mostly smooth, here’s my advice for blended families-

1. Be patient. Two households and two sets of parents can be quite a lot on a kid. The last thing we want is for a child to feel like they’re in the middle of a tug of war game.

2. Be flexible. As in everything, there is a give and take. Everyone has holiday traditions that are important. Having a rigid schedule may mean that your shared child will miss an important tradition in the other home. Think about the child’s best interest, and their entitlement to cherished memories. This is where I’d like throw some of my favorite words from Jurassic Park, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” Don’t take your child just because you can. Stop and think about their wants and needs, and what you SHOULD do.

3. Make new traditions. For us, Santa comes on the 23rd and the 24th. It’s different. It makes my kids feel special that they get a trip from Santa on night most don’t. That night of the 23rd has a different energy. It’s magical, it’s personalized. They don’t take it for granted, but it makes them feel so special. For me, it completely makes up for not having her on Christmas Day. I may even think it’s better!

4. Remember the reason for the season. Spending time with your loved ones is most important, and it really doesn’t matter what the number on the calendar is. Make everyday special, memorable, and loving.

If you’re a member of a blended family, I’d love to hear what traditions make your season special! Let me know in the comments.

With healthy hearts,

Kate and the Kids.

In a panic over holiday desserts? Trying bringing this easy, 2 ingredient, sugar free treat!

ingredients:

box sugar free chocolate instant pudding mix

Heavy whipping cream.

Directions:

Make pudding as directed on box, substituting the heavy cream for the milk. Pudding will be thick, like a mousse.

I’m a separate container, whip cream as directed on carton. Add sugar substitute if desired (I prefer mine unsweetened.)

Bam! Sugar free dessert ready in minutes. Since the whipping cream replaces the usual milk, dessert will be much thicker and should stand on its own. This looks absolutely beautiful layered in a parfait glass, and is delicious with added fruit or nuts. There’s so much you can do, without guilt!

Enjoy, and Happy Holidays!

With healthy hearts,

Kate and the Kids.

Put down the cinnamon rolls and back away slowly!

oats in white ceramic bowl
Photo by João Jesus on Pexels.com

Is there anything better than waking up to the smell of cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning? For those of us susceptible to keto-flu, yes. Get the aroma and that warm, fuzzy, comforting feeling without refined sugar! Try my amazing apple cinnamon oatmeal recipe!

Ingredients:

2 Apples
1 cup Steel-cut oats
2 packets stevia
1/2 tsp Cinnamon
1/4 tsp Salt
1 1/2 tbsp Butter
1 1/2 cups Milk
1 1/2 cups Water


Directions:


Peel, core and cut the apples
Overnight, Slow Cooker, Apple Cinnamon Steel-Cut Oatmeal. Delicious, nutritious, and ready
Coat the slow cooker with cooking spray.- Or better yet use a disposable crockpot liner (i never use my crockpot without one!)

Pile everything in the crockpot and give it a stir.

Set it to cook on low for 7 hours


Go to bed, and wake up to the sweet smell of cinnamon and apples on christmas morning!
We like to top ours with lite cool whip, granola, sugar free maple syrup and nuts. The longer I do keto, the less I like sweet things so I’ve been mixing my oatmeal with plain greek yogurt. Added protein and it cuts the sweetness.
Enjoy your breakfast, and if you do indulge in cinnamon rolls make sure you savor a bite for me! Remember that health is about balance, and you are allowed to enjoy yourself- especially on holidays! Wishing you and yours happiness, health, and a very Merry Christmas.
With healthy hearts,

Kate and the Kids.

You are beautiful, and that’s the least interesting thing about you.

Two nights ago I took Jacen for a haircut. It was a two hour wait, and the stylist looked absolutely burned out. As she cut Jacen’s hair, she thanked me for calling ahead and making an appointment. She practically had tears in her eyes when she told us how busy they had been, and how she hadn’t had a chance to eat or even sit down. My heart went out to her.

Then last night I walked my children through Target so they could pick out a gift for their dad. In the health and beauty section a woman stood in front of the hair color, on her phone, sobbing. She ran her fingers through her hair, and crying into the phone she explained that she could not get an appointment for her hair and she would not be seen on Christmas with her roots showing. She was overwhelmed by all of the choices, and asking her friend what color and brand she should buy. My heart went out to her.

My husband and I have not celebrated one single holiday in the last seven years that didn’t include a major meltdown. I’m always weighed down with my own anxieties and low self worth. I wake up earlier and earlier each year, planning to fix my roots and slather on elaborate makeup. I’ll wear fancy shoes that kill my feet, and change a million times before settling on an uncomfortable, over the top outfit. Once we get to our holiday destination, I’ll feel overdressed and out of place, not to mention uncomfortable.

This is exactly what came to mind as I watched the poor woman sob, and the hairdresser hold back tears.

Truth be told, I’ve been working on this topic in therapy for the last 6 weeks. I have an undying, almost obsessive desire for my in-laws to love me. It ends up that I go over the top trying to look my best and dazzle them. Working through my issues I’ve come to terms with the fact that I want them to love me for me, and dressing up crazy isn’t going to help. If anything, it makes me look ridiculous.

My own goal for this Christmas is to keep the makeup in the closet, and get some use out of my favorite Christmas sweaters and leggings. I am a great mother. I am smart, I am fun, and if you listen closely I can be quite funny.

I’m not trying to dazzle anyone. I’m trying to be myself. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have had my therapist this time of year, to put my appearance into perspective and take some of that holiday stress off. I wish so badly that I could bestow this insight on my sobbing friend in the hair color aisle.

I just want to remind my readers- you are beautiful. More importantly, you are beautiful on the inside. Christmas is not about the way you look. It’s about the love you shower your family with. It’s about being present in the moment, the laughs, the memories.

Christmas will pass before you know it. Resolutions will kick in, and all my ladies will be trying to change their bodies. Please, please, please know: I respect any health journey. I support it, but you are so much more than a body. You are a soul, you are a mind. You are a family member, a friend, a coworker, a friendly face.

I hope you’re able to relax this holiday season, and enjoy being yourself. You are beautiful, and that’s the least important thing about you.

With healthy hearts,

Kate and the Kids.