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Take The Mighty's My Mighty Month 30-Day Journaling Challenge

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Are you making any resolutions this year? Maybe you want to take better care of yourself or dedicate more time to the things you love.

We here at The Mighty want to help you achieve your goals in 2017, and what better way to do that than to promote self-care? Personally, I’m a big fan of self-improvement. Living with a chronic illness, I’m always looking for ways to feel better – and there is no shortage of advice as to how I can do that on the internet. But the problem with most articles that tell you how to be healthier (and trust me, I know this from years of experience creating and editing lifestyle content) is that it’s geared towards people who are already pretty healthy.

Fitness challenges never consider if you’re having a flare, or are feeling depressed and can’t get out of bed. Articles that say “Do this for better health,” don’t consider those of us who, in the midst of managing a job, family and a condition, struggle with adherence. And, if you’re anything like me, if you can’t do a 30-day challenge perfectly, you tend to beat yourself up a bit.

So we are making 2017 the year of self-care. Join us every month as part of our “My Mighty Month” series for 30-day challenges designed to promote self-care. To start the year off, we’re challenging you to keep a journal for the next 30 days.

“Journaling is really one of the practices I recommend the most to all of my therapy clients, I think it’s a tremendous way to deepen personal work,” Annie Wright, MFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist practicing in the San Francisco Bay area, told The Mighty. “It’s inexpensive, it’s quick to access anywhere and it can deepen your own self-awareness and help you process and metabolism issues in your life like no other medium can.”

According to Wright, the benefits of journaling include being able to identify and address challenges, a deepened sense of self and a therapeutic way to promote self-care. Studies have also shown that journaling can help manage anxiety and depression and reduce stress as well as benefit your overall physical health.

And it’s not just therapists who believe in the power of journaling. Dr. Eugene Gamble, a periodontal surgeon and member of the U.K. Society for Behavioural Medicine, told The Mighty he often recommends behavioral modifications, including journaling, to his patients before recommending surgery. “The benefits [of journaling] are quite clear – goal achievement, improved emotional intelligence, mindfulness, improved relationships and communication skills, self control, etc.,” he said.

And there is no right or wrong way to journal. “I think the process of writing itself can be therapeutic no matter really what the content is that you are writing about… You don’t have to be writing about your day, you don’t have to be deeply reflecting on a specific issue in order for the process itself to be therapeutic,” Wright said.

If you don’t want to write about yourself, Wright recommends reflecting on current events or a character in a movie or a book.“Even when we are putting our attention on other focuses in our lives, we can still be doing our own personal work, not matter what the content is we’re exploring,” she added.

But what about time? Maybe you’re thinking, “This sounds nice, but I don’t have time to write every day.” We hear you! You don’t have to write every day to be successful when it comes to journaling, nor do you have to dedicate a significant amount of time. “One person might experience a ton of benefit from sitting down and [journaling] one time, if they’ve never done it before. Others, it might take them a little way before they truly feel a sense of deepening awareness or even a sense of peace after they do it,” Wright said. “It’s completely unique to the individual, but to anyone who says ‘I don’t have time,’ or ‘I’m worried about doing it imperfectly or inconsistently.’ I would say ‘That’s fine.’ We’re aiming for progress here, not perfection, and the process of journaling itself provides such great information for you.”

We hope you’ll join us and make 2017 the year of self-care. Let’s make a resolution to take care of ourselves, that includes going easy on ourselves when we miss a day or aren’t happy with the words we’ve written. You deserve this, and we’re here to help. Make January a Mighty Month, and take our 30-day challenge. We’ll help you along the way with writing prompts and reminders – all you need to do to do is write.

Want to make January a Mighty Month? Join us on Facebook at My Mighty Month, and don’t forget to tag any social media posts with #MyMightyMonth. You can also sign up for our weekly email, (select “Mighty Monthly Challenges” from the newsletter options), which includes weekly digital journals filled with writing prompts as well as tips and reminders designed to keep you motivated. Want to journal on your own without any prompts? That works too. Simply download our monthly habit tracker to keep track of your progress.

Image via Thinkstock.

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The Hidden Truth Behind My 'Picky' Restaurant Order

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The stress from losing my parents to cancer created a host of digestive issues for me. I was always so careful to make sure they had the foods that would nourish them as they navigated chemo and radiation treatments. Dad liked small portions: sandwiches cut on the diagonal, a bunch of grapes, crackers and cheese and mugs of steaming hot soup. Mom had that tinny taste in her mouth from the chemo. A bottle of Coke that had gone flat would serve as her aperitif, coating her tongue just long enough that she could take in a little sustenance. She, too, liked small portions… tapas if you will. Too much food on her plate quickly overwhelmed her, and she would push the plate away and grab for the chilled bottle of chocolate Boost that served as a quick delivery of nutrients. No matter the meal, they would always ask that I sit and eat with them. “What are you eating?” Mom would ask. Typically, my response was that I would grab mine in a minute or placate her that mine was in the kitchen. It wasn’t. I just didn’t eat.

I called myself a “stress non-eater.” And it became true for me. My weight declined to the point that my favorite ring slipped off my finger and my hair thinned and fell out. And still, I didn’t eat. I had it that if I gave everything to them and took nothing for myself, I could stop the progression of the diseases that ravaged their bodies – that I could, in fact save them. I lived like that story was true. It wasn’t until they died that I realized I had made it up. In my desire to take care of them, I had neglected caring for myself. The role of caretaker I had taken on so readily for them now needed to apply to my own self- care.

It wasn’t as easy as just eating again. My body wouldn’t accept the food I ate. No matter what I ate, it left me bloated and nauseous. I decided I had to start from scratch, eating only whole foods and cutting out all the common sensitivities and allergens. There would be no sugar, potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, corn, grain, beans, soy, eggs, peanuts or dairy in my diet.

This is what you don’t know when I order steamed veggies and unseasoned grilled chicken at your restaurant and then inquire as to the makeup of the seasoned coating on the chicken, only to be told it’s gluten free and the coating is egg and cornstarch. My order of unseasoned grilled was heard as “gluten-free.” Not the same thing. I send it back to the rolling eyes of the server. I used to feel like I was being difficult and sometimes I would just eat it anyway knowing full well the discomfort I would feel later when the heaviness in my gut would balloon into that bloat and the nausea would find me sleeping upright in a chair. I used to feel the need to explain myself to the waiters and waitresses as if I needed a reason for my order, as if there was something wrong with me.

A left-handed compliment of being high maintenance by a dinner companion is what got me off the self-pity train. Of course – high maintenance! That’s me! Who would want to be low maintenance and just settle anyway?

I like my water with no ice and no lemon, because… well… that’s the way I like it. After all, healing can look any number of ways.

Editor’s note: Please see a professional before starting or stopping a diet plan.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

The Mighty, in partnership with Fuck Cancer, is asking the following: What’s the best advice you’ve gotten or a mantra that spoke to you following your diagnosis?  Find out how to email us a story submission here.

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When a Hospital Displayed a Painting I Made as a Patient

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I fell into art accidentally. It was a way to get my thoughts sorted out before I could actually talk about them. After my 13th surgery (intended to reconnect my digestive system so I could finally eat), I went to California on vacation, and after my wound ruptured, I was immediately air-vacced to Yale New Haven Hospital.

I was told I couldn’t eat or drink so the wound could heal. My mother went home and gathered every scrap of fabric she could find, along with an old set of acrylics and a glue gun. I worked feverishly in my hospital bed, gluing, painting and letting my imagination set me free. Every day, I would create a new work of art — a new source of hope — and display it outside my hospital room. Soon, nurses and even mobile patients would stroll by my room to see what I had made.

“Dancing Girl” was the third painting I had ever created. It’s 32 by 32 inches of tears, desperation, hope, gratitude and the fervent desire to keep my spirit alive.

young woman posing with her painting

I painted how I wanted to feel. Free. Alive. Dancing. “Dancing Girl” was just one of the many paintings I churned out over that time, while staying in a gorgeous art mecca — the hospital itself. Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale New Haven has established an “evidence-based art program expressly for the emotional and physical well-being of patients and their families.” Their belief that emotional healing contributes significantly to physical healing was completely apparent in the beautiful art that lined every hallway, which I had come to know well as a patient by the end of my three months there.

After my stay, I heard Yale New Haven was looking for art for a new medical center. I submitted my work, but I didn’t expect to hear anything. So I was overjoyed when I received the call from the curator. They loved my piece, but they asked me if I could remove the tear.

I really wanted to keep the tear because, for me, life is about the joy and the pain. But it was more important that “Dancing Girl” be in the hospital for others, tear or not

A few weeks later, they called me again. They decided to keep the tear.

The bittersweet truth of life prevails. I can never leave any painting — no matter how happy — without a tear. It’s like an itch I can’t scratch if I leave it out. And perhaps because no matter how joyous things seem, I will always carry that tear with me. It’s my scar, it’s my sadness.

And I think the most beautiful thing of all is that I can feel my emotions about those years now. A deep, watery blue is so much prettier than a haze of gray numbness. Feeling my sadness is the greatest discovery within me. With every tear comes a newfound revelation that, yes, I am alive.

I went with my mother and father to the grand opening reception at the new hospital. It was strange it was to walk down hallways that were similar to the ones I saw as a patient. But I was an artist now.

With my parents at my side, we were led down all of the beautiful sparkling new hallways to see a breathtaking display of art. I trembled with nervous excitement, wondering what corner my “Dancing Girl” would be jumping mid-air, with her single tear.

And she was where I’d hope she’d be — on the wall of a unit where staff, patients and family members could see.

After the tour was over, my parents and I strolled around the healing garden. We walked in the pitch dark with plates of food in my hands from the reception instead of IVs. There were no ties anywhere, and nothing weighed us down. And my parents were so proud. We had all come so far. I had never loved my parents as much as I did in that moment.

We had all survived together. And now we were here to celebrate it. 

  A version of this post originally appeared on Amy Oestreicher.

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How a Stranger in Aisle 5 Brightened Our Holiday as a Special Needs Family

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There I was, crying in aisle 5. Tears streaming down my face in the grocery store as the teenaged clerk, confused, kept doing his job as fast as he could, avoiding eye contact. The store was packed. It was a Saturday, a few weeks before Christmas and I was the lady losing it in front of all these people.

Let me explain.

My 15-year-old daughter Emma does not walk independently. She is nonverbal, but that does not mean she cannot talk, and when she vocalizes, it can be loud. I am aware that people notice our family. I try not to let it get to me, but I am a mom and most times, the looks and the stares hurt.

Still, it is all about Emma. She likes to get out. So we take her to stores. It is really a two-fer for us. We get groceries. She practices walking and picking out items to put in the cart. It is a lot of work, but so worth it.

Emma, my husband and I were going through the store. We took turns. One pushing the carts, one walking Emma. We had two full carts, a wheelchair and our child with special needs walking with us. People were noticing. I did not care. We were having fun.

An hour later, we were finally done. Emma was smiling from ear to ear, I suspect because the nice guy at the meat counter gave her slices of cheese to make her experience much better. Checking out with two overflowing carts takes a while; there was a person in front of me and a few behind me. The process was not going as fast as I think everyone, including me, wanted it to.

And then it happened.

The young man checking us out held up $40. He said some lady in pink gave it to him to help pay for our groceries. How did I miss this? When did she do this? Was she a ninja of some sort? I had a million questions, which held the line up even more. Who was this woman? What did she look like? Why did she choose our family? And where did she go? This one act of kindness threw me for a loop. My lip started to quiver; my eyes were tearing up. As I kept putting my groceries on the conveyor belt, I wondered why this mystery lady chose us.

As I was paying the bill that was $40 cheaper because of this anonymous angel, the clerk looked up and said hey, that’s her. She was two aisles over, a lady in pink. How could I get to her? I was paying the bill. I was stuck between two carts and I still had Emma. I did not care. I pushed past, made sure my hubby had Emma and ran to her. I grabbed her. I hugged her. I was crying. I was not thinking, just acting. I kissed this stranger on the cheek, saying over and over, thank you.

She hugged back. I could tell she wanted to remain anonymous, but many people in the store had witnessed her good deed. She told me she was watching me and could tell I was a great person and an even better mom. She told me life can be hard. She hoped this helped a bit.

It did help, financially and emotionally. I had a breakdown in a packed, public place but I felt no shame. Maybe this breakdown was a breakthrough for our family. I don’t know if it was the time of the year, just weeks before Christmas, and I don’t care. This split-second decision by a total stranger made me stronger, made me hopeful and gave me the strength to keep on going.

I know the lady in pink did not pity me or my child. I believe she saw us, actually saw us as just another family trying to make it. Her random act of kindness will be seared into my memory for life. She has no idea what a big deal it was for me. People are good. People want to help. Everyone was staring at us — and they were smiling.

This random act of kindness mattered. It touched me at my very core. This should be talked about and celebrated. I will make sure I do this for someone else. The feeling is amazing. Breakdown or breakthrough? I had both, and it felt wonderful.

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