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The Journey Begins

“What would happen if the strongest women in the world – the ones carrying everyone else — actually started taking care of themselves?”

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For the past nine years I have been encouraging people to “Make A BOLD Move”, go back to find their dreams, and invest in themselves. I am a wife, mother, sister, daughter, friend, auntie, church member, in-law, author, speaker, coach, mentor and in need of a vacation. For more than four decades I have been somebody’s employee, publisher, consultant, idea-bouncer-offer, or gopher. I’ve celebrated successes and cried with people through failure before telling them tearfully, “Now get back up”. I’m Michele Aikens, “The BOLD Mover Lady.” And I’m exhausted.

At the beginning of this year, while everyone else was outlining plans, I had nothing. Do you know what happens when there is no plan????? Me neither – I always had a plan: in my purse, back pocket, briefcase, calendar, under the pile on my desk or floating around in my head right before I went to sleep. What’s going on?

One of my dearest friends said to me, “You spend so much time helping other people. Why don’t you spend six months taking care of yourself? Don’t think about the conference or the other things you do; just pay attention to yourself.” The idea was so foreign to me that I couldn’t process it for a week (Have you ever felt that way?). When I considered the possibilities of focusing on what I needed, I guiltily pushed them back. I don’t want to be SELFISH. What would happen if I fulfilled my commitments to others, but placed priority on taking care of me?

What would happen if the strongest women in the world – the ones carrying everyone else — actually started taking care of themselves? I became intrigued. I eliminated some big projects last year, so I have time to take on the biggest big project of all — Me. For the next six months I’m blogging about self-care, especially for those of us who happen to be over 50. Many of us have a lifetime of putting ourselves on the back burner, so I’m not the only one with some catching up to do. Want to join me? If you’re in, type “I’m in!” in the comments section. But I’m going even if I go alone. Six Months of Self Care – NO! starts today.

How’s that for a dream?

Taking Care of Yourself Can Be Hazardous to Your Dysfunctional Relationships

How’s that for a title.  As I learn how to really take care of myself, I’m finding some things don’t fit anymore, and the process of moving those things out of my life has consequences.  Here’s what I’m learning:

Taking care of yourself doesn’t mean you disregard other people, it just means you regard yourself too.  Many of us, men and women, spend so much time meeting the needs of family, job, friends and others that we have no idea what we want.  I’m finding the most difficult question for EVERY client I see is: “What do you want?”  This is because we are not regarding our own needs properly.  Taking care of yourself means “putting on your oxygen mask before attempting to save everyone on the plane.” If you’ve ever flown you heard the instructions “In the event of a change in aircraft pressure, oxygen masks will drop down.  Place the masks securely over your nose and mouth and breathe deeply.  Even if the bag doesn’t inflate, oxygen is flowing.” (I pay attention when the flight attendants are giving that talk).  Here’s the rest of it: “If you are flying with a child or someone who is acting like one, make sure your mask is securely in place before assisting them.”  Many of us are hyperventilating as we attempt to meet the needs of others.  It is the equivalent of helping everyone on the plane breathe while you suffocate.  Taking care of yourself may cause those who selfishly consider themselves first in your life to stomp off in frustration.  Taking care of yourself will also be uncomfortable at first for those who love you.  Give your family and friends time to adjust to a new pattern in your behavior.

Taking care of yourself means you stop seeking relationships where you can slouch in peace.  The tall girl in the class picture often developed a slouch because she had to be on the top row with the boys.  It made her uncomfortable because she wasn’t in the place with the other girls.  The smart girl was uncomfortable because her brain set her apart.  The extraordinarily pretty girl was uncomfortable because her looks set her apart.  Do you see where this is going?  In all these cases we learn to slouch, dumb down or minimize what is unique about us so that others are comfortable.  Taking care of yourself REQUIRES that you own your height, your smarts and yes, even your good looks, no matter how uncomfortable it makes others feel.  Owning what makes you strong and unique means that your weak friends may have a problem with you but forgive them (see previous blog). The weak friends are the friends that love you if you don’t get too great, shine too brightly, or stray too far past the boundaries of average. Ending your slouch will help you find your tribe; you will recognize them by their authenticity and their willingness to hold you accountable for what is great in you, not what is comfortable.

Taking care of yourself means putting the right people in the right places.  In our workshop, Re-Writing The Script, I talk about the three sets of people in your life:  those in your sphere of influence, those who are familiar with your shell, and those who know your substance.  You may never meet some of the people in your sphere of influence, but they know you by your actions, books, blogs or your influence on other people.  Those familiar with your shell know about you: where you work, what you do and where you live, for example.  However those who know your substance know you.  They don’t just know what you do, they know why.  Sometimes we have mislabeled our friendships: we have people who only know our shells in the place of substance.  They can do harm to your insides because they don’t belong in that intimate space.  Other times we have people as casual friends who have insight into us, but we are afraid to bring them close because of past experiences.   Finally, especially  if we are susceptible to flattery because of our own insecurities, we may have people from our sphere of influence in the place of substance.  These people aren’t in your life for friendship, but as part of your assignment.  You must figure out where they belong and take care of yourself by putting them in their right place.

Every year, it is my tradition to ask God for a scripture to guide my year.  I learned an important lesson a few years ago when His answer to me was the following scripture:

There is another evil I have seen under the sun. Kings and rulers make a grave mistake when they give great authority to foolish people and low positions to people of proven worth. I have even seen servants riding horseback like princes—and princes walking like servants!

Ecclesiastes 10:5-7, NLT

As you take care of yourself, you may see a change in some relationships you believed to be important. Remember that taking care of yourself is not just about eating right and exercising; it is about ending painful patterns of behavior in our lives.

Michele Aikens is a certified life coach and business consultant.  You can connect with her at:  contact@MicheleAikens.com

Forgiving The Weak Ones

It has been a couple of weeks since we talked.  Taking care of myself is not as easy as I thought because my patterns of performing and taking on others’ stuff are not easily overcome.  I will persist.  I will attempt to do better.

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As I continue to look inward and learn how to care for myself, I found a surprising place of unforgiveness.  This source of unforgiveness wasn’t the usual suspects: those who have offended, slandered or openly blocked attempts at forward movement.  Instead I realized I was angry at the passive spectators, the “don’t tellers”, the too-weak-to-speak-up ones.

In my quiet time I was confronted with some old anger – you know the kind you have lived with so long that you only notice it occasionally.  I was angry at people who technically had done nothing.  “Lord, help me to understand where this is coming from.  They didn’t do anything…they just didn’t do anything.”  “Why didn’t they do anything”? I wondered to myself.  They were not strong enough; they aren’t the kind of people who confront wrong; they are …weak.

It’s easy to identify the source of anger and unforgiveness for the person who offended you, blocked a promotion, slandered you, misused or abused you.  You go through the process of identifying, confronting if possible, forgiving and moving on (i.e., using the experience to learn about yourself, others and make necessary adjustments in people and their placement in your life).    But what about the one who was holding the slanderer’s coat, or covering for the abuser, or who knowingly said or did nothing?  What about the one who watched you bleed and looked the other way?  They didn’t technically do anything, right?  You’re right.  They didn’t technically do anything.

Though they could have.

Perhaps your weak person was a parent: a father who technically didn’t do anything including show up, or a mother who didn’t protect you when she knew what was happening.  Maybe your weak person was a relative or a spiritual leader who “didn’t want to interfere” with a wrong committed against you.  Your weak one could even be a spouse who didn’t cover or guard you when you desperately needed it. You may have also experienced the weak response of a corporate manager who knew you were doing the work but continued to give credit to someone else.  While whatever decision you make concerning those relationships is your own, for peace, we must also forgive those who were simply weak.

After the process of forgiveness for the perpetrator is finished, some of us may be wondering why we are still angry.  Do you need to acknowledge your pain about the subtler betrayal by those who were too weak to speak up or stand up on your behalf?  Yes, there will be challenges in moving forward in those relationships but taking care of you requires that you acknowledge that pain.  Even if the one who could have helped is no longer living, the act of admitting your own pain will help strip you of the façade that could one day make you weak to the cries of another.

 

My Self-Care Challenge: I will not talk myself out of ….

By Guest Blogger Christian Martin

Recently, I was driving to work, listening to the radio and heard an interview in which the speaker expressed not talking himself out of meeting a goal.  This brief clip of an interview was exactly what I needed to hear.  I am in transition; my only child will soon graduate from high school and move to a college campus.  We have talked about and planned for college his entire life, so of course, I am very happy.  Now I need to think about myself and consider my goals.

There was a time when I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life after my child would go off to college.  I had a plan, I wrote about it in my journal, and talked about it.  However, I had no idea that I would get older while I was raising my child and that I would change physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.  Now, I think about those dreams and goals differently.  Does that mean that I should abandon those dreams and goals or blow the dust off of them and reassess my commitment to them?

I had talked myself out of the dreams and goals that I set, 18 years ago, because I began to see myself as less important than my child; I valued him more than myself.  I became less important and less relevant partially because the world changed as I was aging.  Well, I have now decided to create a transition plan.

I have decided to reconsider my long-established dreams and goals to determine my current desire and commitment to them and set new dreams and goals.  My long-established dreams and goals seem unattainable because of my current perspective.  So what should I change, my dreams and goals or my perspective? Perhaps, I should change both my dreams and goals and my perspective.

I am committed to exploring my goals and dreams. I will not talk myself out of any dream because it seems unattainable based on current circumstances.  Circumstances are subject to change. I am subject to change.  All of the reasons, obstacles, challenges that I have used to talk myself out of living my dreams and goals may be irrelevant.

When my son would tell me that he wanted to do something, I would say, okay let’s plan for that. I almost never said, ‘That it is not possible’ or ‘no.’  Now, I am working to convince myself that if I want to do something, I should plan for it instead of saying, ‘That is not possible.’  I will do for myself what I have done for my son for 18 years – I am worthy of the same thoughtful planning and sacrifices that I have made for my son.  There is another important factor – FAITH.

How does my faith impact this time of self-care and transition?  I must share my thoughts and feelings about my life with God as I would share with a trusted friend.  He is as concerned about my life and future as I am.  He did not forget about the thoughts and plans that he has for me – I may have forgotten, but He did not.  So I must trust that God will lead me to His will and cause his thoughts and plans to become my desire.  When I want something, I go for it. I work around obstacles, and I navigate the path that God sets for me to reach my desires.  I pray that you will benefit from reading my journey to self-care and that you would stop talking yourself out of …… You fill in the blank.

Christian Martin is a professional and mother who has learned to ‘do it afraid.’ Her motto is I can do it all, but not all at once.

What Do I Want?

Do you remember a few weeks back when I wrote a blog entitled, “What do you want?”  I talked about how difficult it is for some of us to identify what we really want versus what we think we should want or what others want for us.  Well I had an “aha-hour” as I mopped the floors in the quiet of my house.

I realized two things during cleaning time:  1, that I was grateful for the time to do it, and 2, that I would rather be doing something else.  With nothing but my thoughts, cleaning products and a mop and broom to keep me company, I considered what I would rather be doing.  “Anything else,” I thought with some irritation.  The still small voice inside me was firm and insistent, “What do you want?”  and all of a sudden, I knew:

  • I want an end to clutter in my life. Not just the physical clutter, but the emotional, financial and spiritual clutter.  I want to be able to identify quickly what’s going on in or outside of me, unhindered by unresolved “stuff”.
  • I want to live simply and well below my means. In the remake of “The Fly” Jeff Goldblum’s character had a closet full of the same outfit with the explanation, “I never have to think about what I’m going to wear.”  If I could get away with that I would.
  • I want the soothing sound of a water fountain when I come into my house.
  • I want to visit the ocean three or four times a year, and not rush away from it.
  • I want the end to all relationships where I feel tolerated, put up with or where people make the coo-coo sign about me behind my back. If that’s you, no hard feelings.  It’s been…well just bye.
  • I want to go to Bali and the Fiji Islands.
  • Right now that part of me that wants world peace would like to insert what she wants for everyone else. You won’t hear from her because she doesn’t have the microphone right now.
  • I want to write more, and I want the things I write to be produced, either as a book, play, film or something that will be helpful to somebody.
  • I want a kitchen that accommodates gatherings of friends and family and laughter.
  • I want to help people who feel as if they’ve failed to see they can get back up and succeed.
  • I want music – lots of it!
  • I want to one day stand before Jesus and see him hold back a chuckle when he looks at my life and then say, “Well done. Let’s spend some time together before the rest of your friends get here.”

Did you notice the absence of what I want for others?  Can you identify what you want without blaming or making someone else responsible for fulfilling those wants?  What do you want?

 

Dealing With Your Anxiety Part 1

I am a woman of faith, and I know that many of us could benefit from some time on a therapists’ couch.    In spite of our prayers, fasting, and crying out to God some of us are fighting angry stomach butterflies and sleepless nights because of out of control worries.  This week’s guest blogger is Crystal Zanders, LCPC (Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor).  She will discuss anxiety, how to recognize it, and what that means to your faith.  I have been affected by anxiety and spent more time pretending I didn’t have it than trying to understand and deal with it.  This was not good for me, and it’s not good for you either.  I hope you will pay attention and ask for help if you are struggling with anxiety.

A Therapist Talks About Dealing With Anxiety Guest Blogger: Crystal Zanders, LCPC

What is anxiety?

Anxiety in general terms is an emotional state in which an an individual may feel worried and/or nervous. Anxiety is more severe than being concerned. Often affected individuals may experience intense levels of uneasiness, unrest, and fear. The feeling can be disruptive to their emotional peace and overall function by interfering with the ability to sleep, concentrate and be productive.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of anxiety, inclusive of some factors stated above, can be intense worry regarding “something bad happening.” The “something bad” can oftentimes have no foundation or evidence to support the fear. Sometimes there is evidence. However, the emotional response can be a mismatch given the possible identifiable trigger. Again, the symptoms can include feelings of worry, nervousness, fear, uneasiness, unrest, ruminating/obsessive thoughts, insomnia, and poor concentration. Sometimes anxiety can be externally marked by an irritable, agitated, and edgy mood. An individual who is snippy and snappy, may not be rude and mean, they could be anxious. Physical symptoms of anxiety can include “butterflies in the stomach,” heart palpitations, tense muscles, and teeth grinding. We are a three-part being: we are a spirit, with a soul, that lives in a physical body. Thus, we can carry these symptoms within our triune being.

How is anxiety treated?
I specialize in treating clients with anxiety, depression, and mood disorders. I typically begin exploring with clients in identifying triggers to their anxiety. What are some scenarios, settings, people that may provoke the emotional response of anxiety? Once we can identify concrete triggers, we work on skills to properly manage their symptoms in those various situations. If not, we began to explore cognitive distortions that contribute to anxiety. I identify as a clinician that integrates Cognitive Behavioral Therapy with Christian Principles and Biblical Scripture.  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy focuses on challenging negative patterns of thinking, that shape the way we feel about ourselves and our world, and thus behave. If we can restructure the thoughts, we can restructure our living, and thus reduce the debilitating symptoms and behaviors of anxiety and other disorders. This is soul work! The soul is where we think, feel, and decide with our will. Additionally, I coach and train my client in various anxiety reduction skills that include mindfulness/grounding activities, deep breathing exercises, flex exercises, calming prayers, listening prayer, and scripture to combat spiritual untruths.

 

What causes anxiety?
Research shows several causes for anxiety. Chemical factors indicate that an imbalance of chemical neurotransmitters within the brain can create an inability to properly process scenarios, and thus cause anxiety. While biological factors indicate that a family history of anxiety can create a predisposition to experience the symptoms and behaviors. Anxiety can also be a learned behavior, meaning that growing up in some environments one learns how mom or dad managed their stressors. If mom, dad, or a primary caregiver modeled anxiety or the management of their stressor created a tense environment, one may have a higher than likelihood to live out anxiety. It can be a combination of chemical, biological, and environment/learned behavior. Additionally, anxiety can come in the form of trauma that breakdowns the soul’s ability to withstand stressors.

Does anxiety mean you are a weak Christian? 

Anxiety does not mean one is a week Christian. We live in a fallen world. We have fractured and wounded souls and we are in the ever-perfecting state of sanctification. Due to a propensity toward certain conditions (anxiety, depression, significant mood shift) we are vulnerable. So the goal is to participate with the Holy Spirit in the renewal process, be involved in discipleship, and receive the grace that Jesus established through the cross. One is not weak because they did not practice certain spiritual disciplines but, one is made strong by Christ (because when we feel weak, His strength is made perfect in us!) So, it is a glorious thing!!!
Crystal Zanders is in network with Aetna, BCBS PPO, Cigna, Magellan, and United Healthcare/Optum Behavioral Health. Her network status is pending with Tricare, Blue Choice/Select, and Humana. You can reach Crystal by phone at 708-590-9405 or email at letstalk@counselingwithcrystal.com.

How Safe Are Your Friendships?

For many of us, me included, friendships can be a tough subject. Real friendships require vulnerability, honesty and the knowledge that you could at some point get hurt.

Let’s talk about who knows your heart.  As part of taking care of myself I am paying attention to the relationships I have, and the conversations I have within those relationships.  I tend to moderate my conversations based on who I’m talking with and how comfortable I am revealing my whole heart or just certain parts.  You probably do it too.

I think we moderate ourselves in some relationships because of the varying expectations others have of us.  As a leader, for instance, passion is great but emotional fragility will likely undermine your ability to lead.  As a sister, though, that fragility is safe to share (depending on the sister and the day).  As a mother, mistakes can be teachable moments and opportunities to demonstrate humility.  With a client, mistakes and our responses to them can end a business relationship.   This need to moderate ourselves to accommodate the expectations of others in our lives can create an automatic shield over our emotions that hides our true feelings even from us.

I am finding automatic shields to be a lot of work.  For many of us, me included, friendships can be a tough subject.  Real friendships require vulnerability, honesty and the knowledge that you could at some point get hurt.  I believe true friendship is such a gift that it’s worth the risk.  As I thought about this blog, I started to consider who might be my “Core Four,” “Big Three” or “Dynamic Duo.” I’m still trying to figure that out, quite honestly.   I’m paying attention the the shields and understand they are raised in response to my concerns about my safety in a relationship.  Consider my seven rules for safe friendships.

  1. Safe people know the real YOU, not the moderated you.  Those in your circle of safety can be trusted with you because they know both shortcomings and strengths.   You don’t have to moderate your words or overly explain your actions because they know the “heart of who you are”.
  2. Safe people are neither intimidated by your strengths or excited about your weaknesses. You don’t have to slouch intellectually to make safe people feel taller, and they don’t celebrate your mistakes or  inappropriate behavior.
  3. Safe people can hold you accountable if you ask them to, and still be ok if you don’t. Because they know who you really are, they may have insight into the reason behind your goals. While they will love you whether you meet your goals or not, taking their advice is not a condition of the friendship.
  4. Safe people don’t just have information about you, they know what to do with it and what NOT to do with it.  They protect you and the friendship by not talking about you negatively with others.
  5. Safe people value the relationship they have with you and don’t treat it casually. You don’t have to talk every day, every week or even every month, but the ability to love, respect and guard the friendship should never fade.
  6. Safe people will defend you when you aren’t there to defend yourself.  I think this one is pretty explanatory.
  7. Safe people can be trusted with your doubts, tears and fears.  You don’t have to be strong or perfect for them, just perfectly imperfect and authentic.

Are you a safe person?

The Value of Your Scars

Do you have a scar, a limp or occasional pain from an old bone break or fracture? Sometimes we spend so much time concentrating on the scar that we forget the message behind it: there was a battle, and you survived to behold the scar.

The blog is late because I didn’t feel like I had accomplished anything worth sharing. That’s the problem with us performers — if we haven’t outwardly produced something “to show” we don’t feel accomplished. I completed an exercise class and am going back, along with my regular workouts. I even made a video, but I won’t upload it until later this week. Here’s one unrelated point: just because you don’t see outward signs doesn’t mean growth isn’t happening. If you are feeling discouraged right now and planning the exit from your goals of self-care, here’s the nudge to keep going, it will pay off.

I was meeting with a client last week and the conversation went to things that hurt. I looked at my hand and told a story: When I was about 6 or 7 years old, I was fighting in the alley behind our town home. The girl I was fighting went to our house to open the door and tell my mom. Mom was taking a nap and if someone woke her up, I would have to come inside, so I put my hand on the glass screen door and pushed it closed. My hand went through the door, glass cut me across the wrist and vein, and suddenly blood was everywhere. I had stitches and pain for a while and five decades later I can still see the faint outline of that scar. The scar doesn’t hurt, though. It is merely a reminder of what happened.

Do you have a scar, a limp or occasional pain from an old bone break or fracture? Sometimes we spend so much time concentrating on the scar that we forget the message behind it: there was a battle, and you survived to behold the scar. I served with a woman in ministry twenty years ago who found a lump in her breast. She was a woman of great faith and laid hands on and spoke to the lump every day. When she went to the doctor there was no lump and he told her there probably never was. She insisted and asked for a mammogram. The doctor relented and to his surprise, the mammogram showed the presence of scar tissue where my friend had discovered the lump. She believed the scar tissue was evidence of the lump being there, and the healing God accomplished in her body. Consider this scripture:

But Jacob stayed behind by himself, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he couldn’t get the best of Jacob as they wrestled, he deliberately threw Jacob’s hip out of joint. The sun came up as he left Peniel, limping because of his hip.

Genesis 32:24-25, 31

Jacob limped away from a battle, but he prevailed. Have you ever been ashamed of a scar? I know I have. Some of us even define ourselves by the scars we have. On this journey to self-care let’s re-define how we view our scars. Some of us bear scars that came from having children, mastectomies, life-saving surgeries, burns or maybe even suicide attempts. Some others bear the scars that can’t be seen: you survived rape, incest, domestic abuse, rejection addiction or some other internal injury. Stop and look at your scars. They are evidence of a battle that was fought and that YOU lived to tell about.

And just like Jacob limped away from his battle to take care of his family obligations, you also have purpose to fulfill. Don’t quit. I won’t either.

You are loved,

Michele