walk signI need some. The motivation and the self-care, both. Life has become so busy, suddenly. I’ve allowed this to happen, and I am painfully aware it is a problem I would like to overcome–the constant overscheduling, the need to fill every pocket of downtime with something.

Spring is finally here, and if I don’t slow down, I’m going to miss it.

I haven’t written in weeks. I haven’t taken a walk in months. I haven’t finished a book in weeks, which for me is a tragedy. It even feels like it’s been too long since I simply got down on the floor and built Lego houses with Jax.

What the hell have I been doing lately? 

I have been shuttling myself, Jax, and our new kitten to appointments (to a wrist doctor, the dentist, and the vet, respectively). I’ve spent ample time in PetSmart for both the dog and the kitten. I wrapped up my 12-week balance skills/mindfulness group. I’ve gone to countless playdates and birthday parties with Jax. I’ve sorted through tax paperwork. I’ve made more phone calls than ever.

None of this feels meaningful. I don’t remember the last time anything I did felt meaningful. Or fun. I put my to do list before fun every single day.

How sad. And not what I want to role model for my son.

I’ve been avoiding putting myself first because it feels selfish when there is so much to do! But I know better. I know how dangerous that kind of thinking is.

With a loose plan in mind to increase my self-care, earlier this week I cashed in some recent blog earnings and treated myself to a FitBit Flex. Ta-da! A fun way to get myself to take more walks (one of my favorite forms of self-care)!

I am a goal-oriented person by nature, and I enjoy analyzing data. So it just makes sense for me to rely on a trendy gadget to motivate me to get moving, right on out of my slump. I’ve wanted a FitBit since last summer but I’ve been talking myself out of the splurge. But last weekend, I started to think about how much I miss walking during my daily lunch breaks now that I spend that time picking up Jax from school and dropping him off at daycare and then rushing right back to work. I felt depressed that I’ve given up my lunch break walks, even though I can’t tell you how much I truly love and appreciate seeing my son in the middle of the day. (That’s for another post.)

After 6+ months of not walking at lunch (and nearly 3 more still to go), I’m really feeling it now. The days are warmer and brighter after one of our cruelest, longest winters ever. It’s torture to not have time to get outside and enjoy it.

The FitBit is going to fix my life, right? My need to attain the daily goal of 10,000 steps is going to motivate me to stop scheduling my life away and get my pale self outside, walking in the sun–which, to me, sounds like the antidote to being stuck inside a gray cubicle all day long and then spending the evening crossing things off my never-ending to do list (ya know, like dinner, sorting through school papers, laundry, etc).

Yesterday, instead of standing outside my son’s school playing with my phone as I waited for him, I took a 5-minute walk because I wanted to increase my step count. It was invigorating and a much better use of my time than checking Twitter and Facebook for the tenth time that day. While I do love Twitter, it’s not exactly self-care.

My goal this week is to keep my weekend wide open and spend part of it outside. I’m sure I’ll be tempted to fill up the planner with playdates and tasks. But really I just want to play with my new toy, the FitBit! So that’s what I’m gonna do.

Have you struggled with pushing aside your to do list and making time for self-care? If so, what have you done to remedy the situation? 

photo by: rockmixer

In yesterday’s post, Easing Seasonal Depression: Part One, I told you about two kinds of light therapy that can be used to alleviate the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (aka, seasonal depression). Did you know that light therapy can also help with anxiety, PMS, and sleep disorders?

Why I Love the Valkee 2

At work, using the Valkee 2

At work, using the Valkee 2

Now that I’ve tried light therapy via both a traditional lamp and a headset with earbuds, I realize I am a devoted convert to the Valkee 2 headset for several reasons:

  • Portability. The headset is small, around the size of an iPod nano, and therefore it is easily transported–sometimes I place it in my back pocket while I’m wearing it. And while I’m using it, I’m not tethered to my desk.
    Quickness. The Valkee 2 requires only 12 minutes of daily use, which is easy to fit into my busy days. After 12 minutes, the device shuts itself off automatically.
    Discretion. It is far more discreet than the traditional SAD lamp. When the earbuds are placed in my ears, nobody can tell light therapy is being used; anyone passing by thinks I’m listening to music. No more co-workers giggling about my Bat Signal. And no more sore eyes (like I would sometimes get with a SAD lamp).
    Charging Time. I’ve been using it for a month now, and I’ve had to charge it only one time. Charging is simple and fast, done via a USB cord plugged into my computer.
These little lights seem to do wonders for my mood.

These little lights seem to do wonders for my mood.

Because of all these attributes of the Valkee 2, I find it incredibly easy to use. It has become part of my morning routine. I typically use it when I get to work around 8:00 am, while I’m checking email. I place the earbuds into my ears, turn the device on (it has only one button), and forget all about it for 12 minutes until it beeps to indicate it’s shutting off. The Valkee 2 has a circle on the front, which lights up when you turn it on. As each minute passes, part of the circle grows dim, so you can tell how much time has elapsed of the 12-minute cycle. For example, when 6 minutes have passed, only half of the circle remains lit. When people stop by to talk to me while I’m using the Valkee 2, I don’t have to remove the earbuds, as they are not noise-reducing earbuds and no sound is emitted during use.

How Do I Feel?

When I showed the Valkee 2 to my physician the other day while I was having my sprained wrist examined, he asked me if I think it’s working. My snarky but truthful response was, “Well, I’m not here asking you for an antidepressant, am I?”

It’s been a month since I started using the Valkee 2, and I feel really good! As I’ve said before, January is typically the month when I feel seasonal depression the most. It’s been a brutal winter here on the East Coast, with so many cold, gray January and February days. But I haven’t felt down, like I usually do in the winter. Of course it’s hard to say whether that’s contributed to the Valkee 2 or other factors (I am also taking a 12-week mindfulness course and I’m giving yoga another shot), but I like to think at least part of it is. I’m considering the Valkee 2 a crucial part of my winter survival plan.

Valkee 2 Giveaway

At the time of this writing, the device, from Finland, retails for approximately US $269 (199 euros). Valkee has generously offered to give one James & Jax reader a Valkee 2 of your own. On Valentine’s Day, Friday, February 14, one winner will be randomly selected to win a Valkee 2. You can enter this random drawing in several ways:

  1. Leave a comment below indicating what appeals to you about the Valkee 2. What makes you want to try it?
  2. Like Valkee on Facebook and leave a comment saying you’ve done this.
  3. Like James & Jax on Facebook and leave a comment saying you’ve done this.
  4. Tweet about this giveaway and comment here with the link to your tweet.

Each of the above is good for 1 entry, so you can enter a maximum of 4 times. Please be sure to leave a comment for each entry. The winner will be notified via email no later than 6:00 pm (ET) on February 14.

Disclosure: I received one Valkee 2 headset, courtesy of Valkee. All opinions expressed herein are a truthful representation of my experience using the Valkee 2 for one month. 

 

Back in November when I was bracing for the approaching winter (like I do every autumn), my therapist asked if I’d started to use my light therapy lamp yet. I had started in October, but only sporadically for a few reasons.

The Problem with Traditional Light Therapy

SAD lamp

My traditional “SAD lamp” (on the right)

First, I rarely sit still long enough to use it for the recommended length of time each morning (I believe it’s 30 minutes, at least to start). I’m a bit frantic in the mornings, packing lunches, checking Jackson’s school bag, and helping him dress and eat while getting myself ready before I race out the door to work. I don’t have the time–EVER–to stop what I’m doing and sit in front of my lamp. I’ve tried using it while I apply my makeup, but I’m sure you can guess how that turns out (I’ll spare you the terrifying clown photo).

Second, and this is directly related to the first reason, I keep my lamp on my desk at work. The only time I sit still for 30-minute increments is at my desk, so it seemed like the perfect place to sit in front of my lamp. However, the lamp is too bulky and fragile to lug home on the weekends, so I don’t use it on Saturdays and Sundays at all. Also, there are some mornings when sitting directly in front of the lamp isn’t feasible. Maybe I have to work on the computer, or maybe I have a meeting. Most importantly, it’s kind of embarrassing to use the lamp at work. I’ve had several co-workers stop by, curious about the light beam being projected from my cubicle to the ceiling. They’ve started calling it the Bat Signal.

Of course even with all those limitations, if something helps to relieve my seasonal depression symptoms, I’ll deal with the downside and just do it–when I can, anyway.

The Valkee 2: A New, More Convenient Light Therapy

The Valkee 2, which is the size of an iPod (approximately)

The Valkee 2, which is the size of an iPod (approximately)

So back to that November day in my therapist’s office… She asked if I’d heard about a Finnish product called the Valkee Bright Light Headset, which is essentially light therapy via earbuds. Intrigued but skeptical, I said I had not but I would look into this.

I found the company’s website and I started to read up on what seemed to me like a completely crazy idea–how could projecting light beams into my ear canals help my seasonal depression?! Because of my day job as an editor of several health care publications, I often read peer-reviewed studies and am familiar with and respect the peer review process. I appreciated that the company seems to have gone to great lengths to provide links to so many such studies, indicating promising results about “transcranial brain-targeted bright light treatment“–talk about a mouthful, right? I clicked through and read some of the abstracts to these studies, published in some very reputable journals.

My curiosity mounted. So what would any blogger do at this point? Find them on Twitter & mention them, of course! With astonishing speed, the company replied to my tweet, inviting me to contact them about perhaps receiving a Valkee of my own. It felt like Christmas to this girl who has suffered from seasonal depression for years!

Not only was I impressed with the idea of a new, portable, convenient way to use light therapy, but I also was impressed by the company’s responsiveness on social media. What’s even better is that the Valkee CEO himself responded to my emails, often within minutes. We talked about the product, and I grew more and more excited to try it myself.

In part two, I’ll tell you how it’s going, now that I’ve been using the Valkee 2 for exactly one month, and tell you how you can win one! 

 

My winter lifeI disagree with T.S. Eliot; January is the cruellest month. Taking down the holiday decorations is itself depressing. Add in 31 short days and long, dark nights, ice and gray, and for me it’s a recipe for disaster. I find it difficult to get outside in nature during January, whether due to the weather (I live in the Northeast) or my own lack of motivation (I experience seasonal affective disorder). With no vacation days usually taken in January because I’m still catching up on days of missed work in December, there isn’t much to look forward to. Well, besides February, with its 28 days and promise of the approaching end of winter, not to mention Valentine’s Day chocolates. February is brutal but short. I can handle February because it turns into March.

In March, I start to come back to life. Little things like a bud on a tree give me hope and remind me nothing is permanent, not even the cold and darkness of winter, which feels so permanent in January.

But that effing month of January nearly destroys me most years.

BUT! During last night’s therapy session, I realized this January may be different, and I feel hopeful now. I’ve made goals, not quite resolutions. And one thing I learned during my postpartum depression is that goals can reignite your passion, and that changes your life for the better. Always.

So what am I up to in January?

The Building Balance Skills Group

I signed up for a 12-week mindfulness group (class?), hosted by my therapist. The group setting makes me feel a little vulnerable. But I’m convinced that a little vulnerability will be good for me. The group is called “The Building Balance Skills Group” and it’s described in this way:

A 12 Week Group for Women Designed to Help Restore and Maintain the Balance in Your Life

Balance. Who couldn’t use more of that? The group will also cover distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness–all skills I’ve learned in therapy already, but skills I need to keep in the front of my brain for regular use because of how much they’ve helped me already.

Warrior Mom Leadership Team

In early January, you’ll find me at Postpartum Progress as part of the Warrior Mom Leadership Team. Katherine Stone has described us as:

a group of survivors and bloggers who have been dedicated over the years to raising awareness of postpartum depression and all other perinatal mood and anxiety disorders

So flattering. So scary! Again with the vulnerability! I’m sensing a theme for my January, possibly for my 2014. I’ve been writing notes for about a month now in preparation for my week of blogging at Postpartum Progress. I plan to write about my experience as a full-time working mother with postpartum anxiety. The implications of publicly discussing how I handled my career while struggling with a mood disorder scare the hell out of me, but I’m going to do it anyway.

Yoga

And the third experience I’m opening myself up to in January is another attempt at yoga. It’s been several years since I tried it (and hated it). Yoga has been this thing I’ve always wanted to love but never could, despite trying it again every few years. I could probably write a list of 100 reasons why I need yoga in my life. And then I could write 50 reasons why I don’t like it. Maybe I will do that in a future post! But a yoga place opened up a block from my house right after I was reconsidering yoga, and then I got an email about a Living Social deal that I think is the Universe’s way of screaming at me, “Jaime, just take the freaking yoga classes!”

So I’m going to commit to the 5 classes (for $27!!) and see what happens. If I hate it again, I’m letting myself off the hook. But I think this time I’m going to really give it my all and try to allow myself to be vulnerable (physically and emotionally) in order to become stronger.

It’s going to be a very busy January. But I don’t mind busy. And this is a new kind of busy for me–all three of these things fall within the realm of self-care. After the fall and winter I’ve had so far, I could use a month or two of what is for me “extreme self-care.” No guilt. :)

What’s in store for you in the new year?

 

 

photo by: Lida Rose

Earlier this year, I wrote about one of my biggest pregnancy regrets–foregoing the opportunity to bank placenta blood cells, cord blood cells, and tissue because I thought we couldn’t afford it. Since my pregnancy 4+ years ago, the cost and application of this innovative technology has improved. And things will only get better going forward.

The ability of stem cells to save lives via cord blood banking has already proven successful for replacing abnormal or diseased cells, and treating life-threatening blood disorders such as leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma. In fact, since 1988, stem cell transplants have been used to treat some 80 diseases.

Through cord blood banking, you can collect and preserve potentially lifesaving stem cells, and doing so could one day save the life of your child or a blood relative. You can bank even more stem cells by collecting them from 2 usable sources of stem cell-rich blood: the umbilical cord and the placenta. This service is called Placental and Cord Blood Banking, and it’s available only from LifebankUSA. Whether you choose Placental and Cord Blood Banking or Cord Blood Banking alone, there are many important reasons to choose LifebankUSA.

When you bank with LifebankUSA, tissue banking (tissue from the placenta) is included for free.* Placental tissue contains mesenchymal cells (MSCs) and MSC-like cells. While stem cells found in cord blood and placenta blood have been used to successfully treat patients, there are currently no approved uses for stem cells derived from the umbilical cord or placenta tissue. Possible therapeutic applications are in early research stages and LifebankUSA’s parent company is actively involved in their development.

LifebankUSA will store the placenta tissue for you as part of its complete banking package using their cryogenic tanks for long-term preservation. In the event your baby’s tissue cells are ever needed for future therapies, the tissue may then be processed and cultured using available technology at that time.†  Tissue banking is just one more layer of protection and peace of mind offered by LifebankUSA.

I will always regret not finding the means to take advantage of this service when I could. I urge those of you who are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant to research more about LifebankUSA.

LifebankUSA is having another awesome contest on their Facebook page. They’re giving away three top-rated and highly desirable Britax Marathon 70-G3 Convertible Car Seats (value $260 each) in a random drawing from entrants in the Facebook contest. You can learn more about & enter the contest here.

FB-image-post-for-contest

*Storage fees apply after the first year
†Clients will be responsible for the cost of shipping the tissue and any culturing or expansion of the cells.