If I Only Had a (Better!) Brain

Ahhhhhhh!!They say if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

But what if you’ve tried and tried for years… and you’re still struggling? What then? I’m all for grit and determination, but what do you do when you’re in the middle of reaching for your bootstraps for the 1000th time and you suddenly remember that other saying, the one that points out rather bluntly that “the definition of stupid is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

Which is exactly where I found myself recently.

I’ve tried for years to turn myself into someone who is more organized, more productive, more focused and—okay, as long as we’re being honest here—thinner, too. I can’t even count how many charts and lists and systems I’ve created to help me reach my goals, or the number of diets, budgets, exercise programs, and housekeeping systems I’ve launched. I’m not afraid of starting over and I’m not afraid of working hard, but despite Herculean efforts to whip my life into shape, I still spend hours looking for my keys, my to-do lists rarely get done, I still have the attention span of a butterfly and my emotional eating continues to be triggered by pretty much any state I happen to be in, including sleeping.

About four years ago a friend of mine who knows a lot about the brain encouraged me to visit the Amen Clinic and have my noggin scanned. I scoffed and went back to trying to improve my life on my own (I think at the time I was on bootstrap-pull-up number 982). But I continued to find myself frequently overwhelmed and, when I would whine about it to John, sometimes the brain subject would come up again.

A couple months ago, I got fed up enough (with myself, not with John) that I flew to the Amen Clinic located in Newport Beach and stuck my head in a scanner. And. boy, am I glad I did.

I walked away with some pretty interesting brain scans and a diagnosis of ADD. I also came home with a whole new perspective on what my future could look like and, even better, how to get from here to there. After years of grit and determination, I’m starting to realize that sometimes the most effective way to improve your life starts with improving your brain.

You know, brain health and enrichment is a hot topic these days. We’re figuring out that sometimes when we’re plagued by recurring struggles, stubborn problems, or behavior we can’t seem to change no matter how hard we try, there’s a reason. A brain reason. I’m not trying to play the victim card here. I’m not saying we’re not responsible for our choices. But I am saying that our neurology plays a factor, and now that scientists are figuring this out, one of the choices we all get to make is whether or not to do something about it. Because in addition to realizing how greatly our neurology impacts our daily quality of life, scientists are also discovering that we’re not stuck with the brains we have—that there’s a lot we can do to change, improve and even heal our brains.

Dr. Momaya from the Amen Clinic had great suggestions for me regarding diet and lifestyle changes. (He and Dr. Amen have put together a book/CD set called End Emotional Eating Now which I love. The information on the second CD about getting freedom from negative thoughts can be applied to any subject, and every grownup, teenager and kid on the planet should listen to it. Get it if you can!). Dr. Momaya also suggested various supplements and even medication. He recommended two medications for me, one for ADD and one to calm the brain anxiety that fuels my emotional eating.

I’m considering the medication he suggested for the brain anxiety piece. But I’ve come to a different decision about the ADD part of the puzzle.

ADD/ADHD medication is a big step, one I’d like to avoid if I can. And there may be a way. In addition to writing and speaking, I’m creative director for LearningRx, a national brain training company that pairs clients with brain trainers for intense mental exercises that strengthen weak cognitive skills. Think of it sort of like physical therapy for your brain. And can you guess one of the groups that gets AMAZING benefits from the program? Yep! People with ADD and ADHD.

So I signed up for one-on-one brain training. Sixty hours over the next three months. I promise to keep you posted on what happens next.

In the meantime, if you’re looking to improve your life, I have two suggestions for you. Don’t give up. And part of not giving up is trying something new if what you’ve been doing for years isn’t doing the trick.

It’s never too late to make the changes you’ve been longing to make. And while grit and determination can take you a long way, I’m starting to realize they’ll take you a lot further with a healthy, happy brain on your side.

Belly Dance Confessions

I’ve taken belly dance lessons off and on (WAY more off than on) for a number of years. Finally, six weeks ago I auditioned for a belly dance troupe and made it! Our debut performance was last night.

I lost 15 pounds for this performance but I wish it could have been a lot more. So exposing typically-hidden parts of my body in front of roughly a hundred folk was a mental and emotional challenge for me. I have to admit that, in preparation, I purchased what’s called a “belly stocking,” made of skin-toned nylon, which covers the midriff and arms. It made me feel a little less exposed, plus it covered some imperfections nicely. Last night I put it on under my costume and drove with one of my troupe sisters to the performance venue.

I parked the car, and my friend and I walked the short block to the dance studio. Opening the front doors, we found ourselves immediately in the middle of a vibrant, energy-filled scene. In a large hall, vendor tables sagged under piles of festive belly dance jewelry, scarves and skirts. Dancers shopped the colorful tables, mingled with family and friends, or flitted about with other troupe members practicing snippets of choreography and adjusting each other’s costumes.

And then a funny thing happened on the way to the dressing room.

As I walked past the other dancers, I was struck by the diversity of the women around me. Young. Old. Buxom. Petite. Hippy. Mid-life moms. Perky coeds. Thick waists. Thin waists. Women shaped like pears, apples, hourglasses, and even a few pomegranates.

And suddenly, in those hundred-or-so steps between the front door and the dressing room, I got it. Which is why, the moment I found myself behind the closed dressing room door, I slipped out of that belly stocking. It suddenly seemed out of place, an aberration in the midst of a Barbie-doll-myth-busting celebration of the beauty of feminine form and movement. And for reasons I have yet to fully explore, wearing it also felt vaguely disrespectful of the courage of the other women of all sizes who would be dancing that night.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t strive to be healthy, or even lose weight if that’s what we need or want to do. I’m not even saying I’ll never wear a belly stocking in the future. I’m just saying we should love and enjoy our bodies every step along the way. And apparently that’s a lesson I needed to embrace last night bare-bellied.

This morning, I sent this text and photo to my two daughters, 18 and 27:Image

Ohmigosh I did it! Here’s me in my costume and cover-up before the performance.The whole experience was fascinating, embarrassing, exhilarating, terrifying, freeing, and both insecurity-busting and evoking. I’m SO glad no one I knew was in the audience for this first one. But I did it and that is immensely satisfying (even though I did forget one twirl at the end). Next performance is in 8 weeks. Here’s to the next 15 pounds and hopefully a little more confidence (and skill!) onstage.

Immediately after sending that text, I looked again at the photo, and then started a second text to my daughter who loves Photoshop, asking if she could tweak the picture and make the skin around my belly button smoother. And then I stopped. I stared at that unsent text. What kind of body-loathing message was I about to communicate to my daughter? I hit “Cancel.” And now I’m posting the photo—belly button folds and all—on this blog.

Coming to terms with our bodies is a never-ending journey, isn’t it? Along the way, sometimes we hesitate or falter. For instance, you’ll notice that the photo I chose to post here is thankfully blurry. (And the fact remains that I did almost ask my daughter to Photoshop me!)

On the other hand, sometimes we have glorious breakthroughs. Wow! I auditioned for a belly dance troupe! I survived my first performance! I even signed up to do it all again!

Two steps backwards. Three steps forward. And in the never ending dance to accept and enjoy our real-life bodies in an airbrush-happy society, that seems like movement worth celebrating.

Smart kids, LearningRx, and sticky jelly fingerprints

Moms get to brag. It’s part of our reward for giving birth and then spending years wiping jelly fingerprints off coffee tables.

So, I found out this weekend that my brilliant daughter + LearningRx Brain Training = $6000 in a college scholarship!

Apparently my kiddo’s excellent grades in high school made her automatically eligible for a $6000 President’s Scholarship at the college she’ll be attending in the fall. I’m so proud of her, I’m attaching a pic of her Registration Statement, showing where $3K was credited to this semester’s fees (the other $3K will be credited next semester).presidential scholarship I didn’t even know this scholarship existed! What a surprise and a blessing.

My daughter has always been smart, but before LearningRx she was struggling with her memory and it was impacting her grades. Ha! Not anymore!!

I’m very proud of my 18-year-old, and very grateful for LearningRx. My daughter did twelve weeks of one-on-one brain training, and I watched her grow, change and expand in the process. I watched her passion for knowledge and learning absolutely soar (not to mention her memory dramatically improve!). Her life and trajectory have been changed forever… and now with this one scholarship I’ve gotten back more than I ever spent on the program. (I already was thrilled with what brain training did for us–and now I’m even making money on the results! I mean, hey, what’s not to love?)

Into every life some unpleasantness (and sometimes even tragedy) falls. But sometimes things turn out WAY better than we expected.

Opening a letter and discovering a $6000 scholarship credit was one of those things. The daily-life benefits of brain training has been another. And, of course, being a mom. Not that I didn’t think it was going to be great, but being a mom continues to yield emotional riches that amaze even me.

I know I said I was bragging, but… really… I’m grateful.

Kinda puts labor pains and sticky fingerprints in a whole new light.

On the Journey of Life…

Video On the Journey of Life

If you’re looking for a humorous, inspirational speaker for a church, community or corporate event, click on the image to watch the video. If you like what you see and think folks attending your event would, too, give Renee a call at 360.929.1391 and set something up. I’d love to meet you and your peeps!

P.S. Check out more videos here.

Jessica Ridgeway: Where Does Such Evil Come From?

In dealing with my sadness over the murder of Jessica Ridgeway, I posted my thoughts on this blog and, before that, on Facebook. Lots of people, also shocked and grieving, responded with insights poignant and stirring.

In addition to all the public comments, one friend wrote me privately, responding to my musings about what atrocities may have been visited upon Jessica’s murderer when he was a child, to have twisted him into someone capable of such inconceivable evil.

In her letter, she responded to the question I’d suggested—where could such evil possibly stem from?— from a particularly heartbreaking viewpoint:

She wrote from the perspective of a mom of a violent son.

Her note so moved me, I asked her permission to share her thoughts. Here are a few passages from her letter to me:

Not every monster was raised by a monster. I should know, because  I raised my children well, but one of them…well, I am afraid that he will be one of those people on the news someday….

…My son is an addict. He has been through rehab twice. He has a host of mental illness diagnoses. He is on a cocktail of psychotropic medications. He is violent. Before he was 16, he had 2 disorderly conduct tickets and a restraining order. He assaulted a girl, a friend, and me. He broke two of my ribs. He is now 17 and lives in a specialized foster home. Family services removed him from my home, not to save him, but because *I* wasn’t safe. He told his therapist he was going to kill me. I believe he meant that. So did she, which is why she called the law. They had been called before because he was beating me, but the laws in our state did nothing to save me. I thank God for his therapist. She prevented me from ending up in a pine box…

…And yet, my son was raised with two loving, Christian parents. He was brought up in the church, prayed for, prayed with and prayed over. I homeschooled for 13 years. We were actively involved in a very large homeschool group, various community service activities, community theater and pee-wee type sports programs. He was loved and cherished every moment of his life and told what a treasure he was….

…Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that not all bad people are that way because they grew up in bad homes. I can only hope that this man’s soul will be saved. I pray it for my own son, too, for God to free him from these chains that bind him….

Where does evil come from? Reading my friend’s words, I am reminded that there is an enemy of our souls, and his passion is to kill, steal and destroy. Abuse, mental illness and addictions are just a few of the myriad weapons in his dark arsenal.

Jessica Ridgeway Memorial at Chelsea Park

Signs of community grief  at Chelsea Park, where more than 1000 people gathered to remember Jessica Ridgeway. Jessica was abducted while walking to the park from her home, three blocks away.

Answers? I have few, if any. But conversations like these help, you know?  Being able to share my thoughts–and hear yours in return–helps me process my immense sadness over this unfathomable tragedy. Grieving together, at least for me, feels a bit like being immersed in a warm current of healing waters.  Grieving alone, we run the risk of becoming stuck and stagnant. But in grieving together, our sorrows are given the chance to be washed, softened, loosened and perhaps eventually carried away in the salty, healing stream of our shared tears.

In Romans 12:15 we are encouraged to “weep with those who weep.” A few verses before that one, we are told to “abhor what is evil.”

I think that, this week in Colorado and perhaps in the nation, we’ve got both of these covered.

Jessica Ridgeway Remembered

So tonight I met this very nice woman in a well-lit Target parking lot to look at a pair of cowgirl boots she was selling on Craigslist. We chatted briefly as I tried on the boots (which happened to be very cute) and, after some small deliberation, I bought them.

I was getting ready to climb back into my car when the woman, already tucked behind the steering wheel of her Jeep with the engine running, rolled down her window and said, “I’ll just wait here until you’re on your way. Be careful. Be safe.”

And I began to cry.

I knew exactly what was on her mind, because it’s been on my mind all week, and especially today. (In fact, I’d been teary-eyed driving to Target to meet her). Pulling my car out of the parking lot and toward home, I called my youngest to make sure she was safe (my oldest, I already know, is safe with her hubby in California), then prayed and cried some more.

Jessica RidgewayAnd as I drove, I thought of the lengths we go to as parents to make sure our children’s noses are wiped and their bodies don’t catch cold from wearing one too few layers to school on windy days. I thought about how we obsess over making sure skinned knees are treated with Neoporin and love. I thought about how we don’t let them go barefoot on splintery decks, or ride in the back of pickup trucks, or run with Popsicle sticks in their mouths. I mulled over the moments and hours and weeks and years of loving care in which we strive to protect them from even small scratches and minimal wounds, either physical or emotional.

And to think that someone–an absolute monster, really–would make the very intentional choice to wreak brutal anguish and utter destruction on one of these we have so loved and cherished and tried with everything within us to protect…well, it’s nearly too much to bear.

Driving home in the company of reflections like these, I didn’t know what or how to pray. I just let myself cry and be heartsick in His presence, knowing He was there with me, knowing words were unnecessary.

Before I pulled into my driveway, however, I was blindsided by a totally unexpected thought. It was unexpected considering the hatred I feel for the man who abducted and murdered Jessica Ridgeway. I was hit with a fleeting thought of him as a child, and I found myself wondering what atrocities may have been visited upon him when he was innocent, to twist him into what he is today. The thought wasn’t meant, nor did it serve, to justify or excuse what he did. It doesn’t absolve him of the heinousness of his choices, nor reduce the need to see him brought to justice. And it certainly doesn’t lessen the horror of how Jessica died.

But it does remind me that there really aren’t any monsters. There are, however, broken hurting people who hurt people who become broken hurting people who hurt more people. And the chain of pain goes on and on.

Tonight our whole community grieves. As diverse as we may be, as distracted as we are by our personal worlds and problems and agendas, tonight we are linked by bridges of grief.

And bridges of concern and kindness, too. What last week would have been a simple exchange of boots and cash between strangers, had a different ending tonight. “I’ll just wait here until you’re on your way. Be careful. Be safe.”

I guess in chains of pain or blessing, we’re all links. Whatever our histories, whatever our hurts, what we choose to pass along to the people—and to the children—around us is a choice each of us gets to make every day.

Making Peace with Your Cravings

My doctor said something weird the other day. He told me to eat more real food. I thought it was strange because, you know, it’s not like I’m five years old and eating imaginary cookies. I told him I do eat real food and I can prove it. I grabbed the tire around my waist and said, “You don’t get this from make believe tea parties!”

But he might be on to something.

Have you ever thought about the things you and I crave? If you’re like me, it’s more along the lines of cookies, not carrots. The stuff that calls your name usually falls into the faux food category, things that don’t exist in nature, such as chicken fingers and curly fries. I’m thinking if 90 of what I eat comes from a factory and not from a field or farm, it’s probably not a good thing.

Enter Diana Walker, cravings coach. She says that whether we’re stressed or relaxed while we’re eating may make the difference when it comes to food cravings and even weight loss. In fact, one of the major reasons you experience cravings, according to Walker, is because your body isn’t properly using the nutrients that it is receiving.

She suggests having real “sit-down” meals. Slow down and don’t rush your eating. Paying attention to your emotions is also crucial; we need to relax before a meal with meditation, for instance, or other ways.

Even for an experienced binge master like myself, Diana’s words are revealing. Instead of trying to solve the problem that’s making me eat—which is a lot to pack into the two minutes it takes to grab a plate, checkered bib, and utensils and plant myself at the table for a serious chow-down—maybe all I need to do is relax.

What else can stop a craving dead in its tracks? Different things work for different people. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Brush your teeth. It’ll keep you from putting food in there.
  • Drink a big glass of water. You’ll stay hydrated, and spend less time in front of the open fridge door hunting for something to satisfy that unidentifiable urge.
  • Eat carbs that are high in fiber. Avoid most non-white, processed carbs and reach instead for brown rice, whole-grain breads, and fiber-rich fruits and veggies to feel full longer and enjoy a steadier energy level.
  • Get out of the house. Go for a walk or talk a drive.
  • Take your vitamins. Cravings are a sign that you may be missing nutrients.
  • Have healthy snacks prepared and ready to go.
  • Find something to do with your hands. Knit, garden, scrapbook, or write. It’s hard to shovel stuff in your mouth when your hands are busy.

Okay, I suppose you can still binge even when your hands are busy, but your odds are definitely lower. Or you’re eating something other than real food. Those imaginary cookies don’t require much handling, and they don’t drop crumbs on your computer keyboard.

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