choose mom

The Choose Mom Podcast

ICYMI: I was honored that Trish Reyes asked me to join her on The Choose Mom Podcast. She’s talking about important issues, breaking down barriers to make it easier for all of us mamas to talk about mothering’s highs and lows.

Momming is hard. Prioritizing yourself while momming? Even harder.

Trish Reyes

Below is the edited transcript of our conversation. Or you can listen to our chat HERE.

Trish:
Today’s episode is a bit longer than normal and that’s because the message is so important. And one that everyone needs to hear. Tracey Yokas is a wife, mother, creative, and soon to be published author. Today, she digs in deep to share how living through a nightmare helped teach her what self-care really is, how to recognize and honor our needs, and that none of us should be ashamed if we’re struggling with a mental health issue. This may be one that you need to listen to a few times because there’s just so much to take in. So let’s get started.

Hi. Welcome to The Choose Mom Podcast. I’m Trish, a military spouse, mom to three girls, and nutritional therapy practitioner. As moms, we make a million choices each day, but how many of those choices actually put us at the top of the list? If you’re anything like me, that answer is very few. But that’s about to change. So join me on my journey to choose myself again and to hear the stories of other mamas who are doing the same.

Tracey, thank you so, so much for your time today. I have a feeling this might be a longer than normal episode. Reading your pre-interview questionnaire, I was literally in tears from things that you mentioned. I cannot wait to dive in today, but before we get into your story, which is an incredibly vulnerable and powerful one, I would love for you to introduce yourself.

Tracey:
Thank you, Trish. I appreciate being here with you, and I appreciate everything you just said. My name is Tracey. We met while you were living in So Cal, which is where I still live. I’m just excited to be here and share with you some hard earned wisdom that I’ve come to over the last several years.

Trish:
I just want to dive right in to talk about your journey with motherhood. I don’t know if you want to start at the beginning or start at the crux of your story. I will leave that to you to share what information you want to share with us.

Tracey:
I’ll just get to the crux of the matter because really that’s what has led me to be where I am today. The beginning part was like any mom’s journey. I had my daughter and she was healthy and she was beautiful and she was growing up and she was going to school and she was getting good grades and she had friends. She was athletic and all the normal expectations that parents have. Normal in quotes because what does that even mean?

And then my mother passed away very unexpectedly the summer before my daughter was going to start 8th grade, when she was 13. About a week after that, she woke up one morning and she wasn’t very hungry for breakfast. Soon, she wasn’t hungry for lunch, and then soon she wasn’t hungry for food at all. And the behavior evolved into what became a diagnosable mental health condition that then consumed our lives.

Our journey–my family’s journey–going back almost nine years from today is what has led me to where I am right now. And to the things that I’m passionate about talking about and sharing.

Trish:
So from the time your daughter wasn’t eating breakfast and then to this diagnosable disorder, how long was that span?

Tracey:
Very short, actually. Probably only about a month because she devolved quickly and her personality changed. You hear this:  It was like a light switch flipped from off to on. The child that we had always known was no longer that same person. It was dramatic and fast.

We started by taking her to her pediatrician and then quickly the doctor acknowledged that this was beyond the scope of what she could do as a pediatrician. The doctor recommended therapy and, having a master’s degree in counseling psychology, I knew that she was right. This wasn’t something that we could fool around with and it wasn’t something that was just gonna go away.

Trish:
It sounds like that month was just incredibly intense and all of a sudden your quote, perfect, happy daughter is just a completely different person. What was that like for you to see her spiraling?

Tracey:
It was extremely painful. I didn’t fully understand this at the time, but there’s really so little that we parents can do. As your child is getting sicker, and with mental health conditions, part of the problem is that they’re invisible. You can’t see it, and we don’t understand it in our culture yet the way we understand physical things like cancer or a broken leg.

You’re like, “Just eat something. What is going on?” But it’s not that simple. The behavior is a manifestation of something deeper that’s going on. It was very painful, very frightening. We didn’t know what was going to happen, what to do, what to try next. As the journey progressed, we kept trying new things. We started with individual therapy for her, which also meant therapy for me because I knew I needed extra support.

There’s still so much work that needs to be done understanding mental health conditions. It adds a lot of fear on top of the pain and the grief and the unknown. You just don’t know what’s going to happen.

Trish:
I love that you realized as you’re focusing on your daughter and she’s in this really unhealthy place, you also recognize that you needed support for yourself too. That you realize, Hey, I’m not going to be able to get through this alone. You prioritized yourself during that time or as much as you could during that time.

Tracey:
And as much as I understood what that meant back then. I knew I needed extra support, which was true, and I was looking at that as someone helping me. This absolutely happened, but I found someone who was knowledgeable in my daughter’s diagnoses, which ended up being more than one, and who was working in the schools. She knew pragmatic things that I needed help with.

But as the process continued, and more time went by, my understanding of what self-care was and what it meant ended up shifting. Therapy was part of understanding that, but, mostly coming to the conclusion, the realization of the depth of the suffering that I was going through. I think that happens for many people. Suffering is the catalyst for a lot of change. And that was certainly true in my circumstance.

Trish:
Did you feel like your suffering started when this happened with your daughter or did you realize like, wow, there was actually stuff going on beforehand that you just weren’t even aware of?

Tracey:
It was 100% both. There were patterns. We are raised how we’re raised. We’re raised in whatever that environment is, whatever those circumstances are. We learn things, whether we are conscious we’re learning them or not.

There was some conscious stuff going on that I understood, patterns that weren’t so great and feelings inside myself of discontent and resentment and things that I didn’t fully understand. That was part of it from before my daughter became ill.

Mental illness is not anyone’s fault, but I think there are dynamics in a lot of families that aren’t always healthy. And, of course that’s a spectrum. I’m not lumping everything into one small slice of pie, but I think that there were patterns of behavior in the family that were sub-optimal and it wasn’t until she became ill and the family suffering was exponential that cracked open my need to look at these things in a different way.

Trish:
You had said, and I wrote this quote down when I was going through your questionnaire, in the end the key to helping your daughter was actually helping yourself first. Can you talk about that?

Tracey:
Yes. It has a little bit to do with what we were saying just before we hopped on in terms of not giving more but giving differently. When we think about our momming–how we mom–I was shown from my mom or taught, whichever way you want to look at it, that a good mom gives everything. And so we just give, give, give. We take care of everybody’s needs first. We put everybody ahead of ourselves. Make sure everybody is fine. Everything is done. And then maybe, if we’re lucky, we get around to us, which generally doesn’t happen.

We don’t even make it to the list because by the time we’re done with everyone else we’re exhausted. All we want to do is go to bed. What I realized through this journey, because I don’t look at it as a journey with my daughter’s mental health because the whole family is involved.

There was one therapeutic exercise we had to do in particular, where we were looking at different parts of our lives, like our spiritual life and our emotional life. And I was slapped upside the head in terms of seeing how little I thought of myself.

Trish:
You mean your self-esteem?

Tracey:
Yes. Reduced down to a piece of paper. It’s not like I didn’t already know I had low self-esteem, but I had never done an exercise like this and really looked at it on a piece of paper. Then I looked at my daughter’s piece of paper that looked so much like mine. It was one of those moments where it was like, “Oh my God.” It’s not my fault that she’s sick, but I certainly never showed her how to take better care of herself because I wasn’t taking better care of myself.

Trish:
I know your mother had passed away, but do you think, if she was sitting next to you with her piece of paper, that it would look very similar to yours?

Tracey:
That’s a great question. I didn’t really stop to consider that. I think maybe if she had been filling out her paper when she was my age, it very well would have looked like mine, but, later in life, I hope not. I hope that by the time she would have been sitting next to me in that moment, it wouldn’t have looked the same as mine.

One of the sad frustrations of this process is that by the time I was ready and able and wanting to be able to talk to her about some of these patterns she was already gone. What that experience created for me was this desire to make sure I didn’t replicate that relationship with my daughter.

I didn’t want my daughter to end up feeling that way about me, like she can’t talk to me or she just doesn’t want to. Fundamentally, I wanted to have a healthier relationship with my daughter.

Trish:
I have three daughters and I think about that all the time. How can I foster this relationship that they always feel comfortable, that they can come to me for anything, because that’s what a mom is for.  

The reason I asked about your mom is you said your daughter’s paper was similar to yours. I think of this cycle as our parents are sometimes who we become or sometimes we become the opposite because we want to not be like our parents.

Tracey:
I think that somewhere in there is a middle ground. The subtitle of my book that’s coming out next year is about healing generational trauma. Trauma is a strong word when you look, perhaps, at your own personal trauma compared to the world of trauma. The problem is when we’re kids we can’t do that. When we’re kids, we’re learning and we’re in our environment. If there are parts of it that are unhealthy, which there certainly were in my origin story and no one is talking about that or working with that, those things become ingrained.

Trish:
I want to touch on when you were talking about therapy and these ingrained things that happened to us in our childhood. I’ve mentioned on the podcast before that I grew up with a lot of trauma with a really, really sick father and nobody ever put me in therapy for it. I guess it just didn’t seem like the forefront when you have a parent who is literally always about to die, we were always calling 911.

It’s hit me now as an adult, and I’m in really, really intense therapy called CRM. It’s this trauma therapy to kind of tap into all these parts and try to heal them. You acknowledge they’re there and then you heal them, Like, it’s okay. It’s incredible. And it’s really been helpful. I’ve been doing it for four months. The reason I want to touch on therapy is because I know it’s a huge part of your life. It’s a huge part of your daughter’s life. This morning I received a message from a mom and it broke my heart, but also made me happy and proud that I’m doing this podcast.

She said to me, I’ve listened to your episodes, especially episode four with Sarah Frauenzimmer, where she talks about therapy and parenting with anxiety. You finally inspired me to go get help because so many of us just suck it up.

I feel like as moms we have to suck it up and just get through it, but that’s not how we should live our life. We don’t want to get through life. We want to thrive and be happy. You found that therapy played a huge impact for you. I would love if you could maybe talk about that.

Tracey:
Sure. I love talking about therapy.

Trish:
Do you think therapy’s for everybody or do you think therapy is just if you’re suffering? I would love to talk about that because you mentioned it may be preventative care.

Tracey:
My view is that absolutely therapy can be for everyone. But, you have to be clear about what your intentions are, and what your expectations are, and what are you looking for from your therapist. If you don’t both get clear about what it is you’re trying to do first, which seems like something that would always happens, but doesn’t necessarily, you can get launched off on the wrong foot. Also, not every therapist is great, right? Like not every any professional person is great.

The first person you go to might not be the one for you. I think people forget that they have permission to not continue with someone that they don’t feel comfortable with because the relationship with the therapist is the biggest part of what makes therapy work. You need to have good rapport with the person.

I appreciate that you brought this up. One of the reasons I share as much and as openly as I do is because, I don’t know exactly how we got to this place in our society where we think that mental health conditions are a weakness. They’re not a weakness. We are not weak. No one who has one is weak, which when you look at the statistics is really a majority of people. Which is why it’s so important to talk about this.

I think a lot of people are living in fear and shame, especially now. The numbers now are exploding. We have to get comfortable talking about this stuff. But therapy 100% was so important to my journey and having a really good therapist who literally from the very first session was, in the appropriate therapeutic way, asking me to take care of myself. And it took me a year to finally get it, but that’s how therapy works. Any lasting change has to come from within. I can’t be for my daughter the person I want to be unless I start taking care of myself.

Do we want them feeling the same way about themselves that we feel about ourselves?

Trish:
Tracey, you’re giving me too much here. I’ve so much I need to ask you. I’m going to pause on the showing our daughters what taking care of ourselves looks like. We’re going to circle back to that. I’m going to put a little mark on my paper and we’re going to come back to that one because that’s huge.

You had mentioned before we hopped on, when we were talking, about giving differently instead of giving more. I had mentioned something like, “Oh my gosh. Do I have more to give?” And instantly, and everybody needs to hear this, Tracey said to me, “You don’t need to give more. You need to give differently.”

Can you share that wisdom with everybody who needs to hear it because it can apply to anybody in any circumstance? We always feel like we’re pouring more pouring more then all of a sudden your bucket’s empty, but you’re saying don’t give more, just give differently.

Tracey:
I’m really glad to have an opportunity to talk about it. Some of this stuff is hard to understand because if I were talking to you or if I was listening to your podcast before all this stuff happened with my daughter, I wouldn’t know what you were talking about. Sometimes, we can only understand things when we have certain life experiences that bring us to our knees, but that’s why to talk about it–even if someone isn’t necessarily in the place where someone else is, they’ve heard the idea and when something happens later, they might go, “Oh yeah. Now I finally see.”

That’s the underlying message, in society and systemically, that we’ve been taught. Not only in our families, but in life in general, give, give, give, give, and then, if something happens, give more, give more, give more. And that, as you said, all that does is deplete us. It doesn’t actually help anything and it doesn’t help us. It doesn’t help the other person because we’re just giving, giving, giving and depleting, depleting, depleting.

And so, in actuality, when I stepped back and I fundamentally discovered in the hospital in the middle of the night in the emergency room with her that I wasn’t going to be able to do this for her and with her unless I took care of myself in a different way. Learning how to have a better relationship is what self care was me at that moment.

Trish:
A better relationship with yourself?

Tracey:
If I didn’t have that relationship with myself, I wasn’t going to be able to be there. It’s so hard. And I get it because it’s just not what society tells us anywhere we look, any conversations we have, even in our own families. Certainly, the message I got young was that it’s selfish and that’s the last thing most moms want to feel, like that they’re being selfish.

I understand we’re getting pulled in 8,000 different directions and it feels like it’s impossible to do that. And it certainly is impossible unless we absolutely find whatever way works for us, which is why I say self-care is also as personal as a fingerprint because we can only do it in the way that makes the most sense to us.

Trish:
You said your self-care was realizing, Hey, giving more is not good for anybody. I have to give differently. And I also have to give to myself, or I’m going to be essentially useless as a mother.

What does self-care look like for you?

Tracey:
What it looked like at the beginning was more therapy, for sure. Moving forward, it was more therapy, reading, but I also had an incredible desire inside of myself to become creative. And so I started a creative outlet that was creative art journaling, which is just playing with paint and all kinds of stuff in journals. And I had no idea, none whatsoever, that when I started doing that, it would become something that would be a pivotal thing in my life still today.

I didn’t go to art school, none of that stuff, but I teach it. Now I have a community around it because creativity is a concrete thing that can be done that not only is super fun, but also gives you an opportunity time and time again to bump up against yourself. People have heard of art therapy and it’s like that, but it’s a different way to process through stuff that hasn’t been processed before and to practice quieting that inner critic.

Trish:
I graduated from college with an art degree, and I dabbled in becoming an art therapist. I took some art therapy classes and it is incredible how people are so resistant to being creative. And then all of a sudden you get in it and you’re like, “Oh, wait a minute. This art doesn’t have to be good, but I’m feeling things and getting things out by putting it on paper.”

I know there’s a mom listening right now that is thinking, I have no creative bones in my body. I don’t have time for this. Can you give her a little advice when it comes to art?

Tracey:
The advice I would say, first of all is, yes, you are. Once it’s embraced, there’s no turning back. It’s a very personal choice and it doesn’t have to be traditional creativity. It doesn’t have to be drawing or painting. Lots of things can be creative. Then listen. Try to get quiet and listen to your own heart. It’s probably giving you clues about what it needs creatively. Pick that one thing that you can do, that one place where you can start. What happened for me was once I started feeding my soul it just wanted more. It became less problematic to find ways to do that because I wanted it so badly.

Trish:
To get my own 2 cents on that, I practice my creativity. I consider this podcast being creative and decorating my house is my creativity. I have some other ideas that I was thinking when you said this is. I have one girlfriend who watches The Great British Baking Show, which everybody should watch, it’s cathartic, and she does the challenge. She gets the recipe and bakes that. Then, I have another one who’s a gardener. Then something I do at night and my husband actually does it too, is I bought a mandala coloring book.

If you don’t think you have time for art, you have time to color. While you’re watching the Real Housewives, there’s always time for it. I got mine at the dollar store. You don’t have to spend a lot of money. It cost a dollar. I used my kids’ colored pencils and, that’s being creative.

Tracey:
That’s exactly right. And I’m so glad that you said that. Only we can say at any given moment what’s going to feel creative and work for us. Money doesn’t have to be involved. Huge amounts of time do not have to be involved.

Part of it is thinking creatively, thinking out of the box, taking assessment of what’s your reality right now. And then finding that one thing, like you said, something very simple and not expensive can be a huge salve for your heart. And, for me, it ties into this, what I call the two way street of self care. That was an important lesson for me to learn. There’s the external stuff.

I like a mani-pedi as much as the next guy. And I love to go get a massage once in a while. I love to do that stuff. And, I had to also learn that the self care I needed most was the inside out–self-care as a means to be able to enjoy those other things. It’s nice to have those things, but if you’re putting yourself on a diet because you’re fat and disgusting, or if you’re going for a walk because you’re a lazy F-U-C-K this is the kind of internal thinking that I’m talking about.

When I talk about how we think about ourselves and what motivates us–what our intentions are–that’s what I needed to change. What were my intentions and my self-talk around the things that I was doing because I was being so cruel to myself. And I think if people haven’t had the opportunity, moms in particular, if we haven’t had the opportunity to really listen to our self talk, a lot of people don’t even realize how mean they are to themselves.

Trish:
We think of self-care externally and I’m trying to change my narrative on that because that mani-pedi is going to last for 30 minutes and then your self-care is over. Then, you’re back to feeling like garbage or that massage feels great and then you’re done. You’re like, “Crap. Now what?”

The way you describe those things is like you’re being cruel to yourself and you’re talking about working out because you’re fat. That’s not actually self-care, that’s self-defamation.

The self-care that is stereotypical in society is, let me take my bubble bath and let me paint my nails and everything’s gonna be fine. But it’s cool for about 30 minutes. I think that’s important to think about because the way you said it is, Why am I doing this self-care? Am I doing this self-care because I love myself or am I doing this “self-care” because I actually don’t love myself?

Tracey:
It can still be the same activity, like hanging out with friends. Certainly, community is a huge part of my self-care and I had to build from the ground up my community which changed because I was changing as a person. I was starting to understand how the negativity that I harbored against myself was leaking out of me all over the place.

I think if we aren’t clear about how negatively we feel about ourselves, we can be very confused about why friendships don’t work out, like I was. Or why I was making certain choices. Or why things weren’t working in my life and why, when I had a house and a beautiful daughter and a loving husband and enough food to eat, I could still be pretty unhappy. The activity itself can still be the same. It can still be getting together for coffee hour or whatever. But again, what’s driving that and what’s the intention behind it.

Trish:
I love that because I think having that awareness really will help make everything that you do be more fulfilling because when you’re doing something with a purpose, understanding your needs and your wants, then you’re able to live your life to fulfill those needs. I know we’re in different seasons of motherhood, but I’m in a real thick part where I’ve got these little kids that are like little monkeys all over me most of the day when they’re not at school and, I don’t have as much physical time and space to myself because of these monkeys all over me.

So if I can know myself better, what my actual needs are, then I can prioritize my time to make sure that I’m filling it with things that I know will give me value.

Tracey:
It’s interesting that you use that word value because actually values, you can’t overstate how important they are. Values were never discussed in my home as a kid. I didn’t know what our family values were, but, then as a grown woman with a family of my own I couldn’t have told you what our family values were either. It was a whole learning component about what values are and what purpose they serve and why do I even need to know what they are?

What you just said is why. Because if you don’t know what your value is you don’t know how to prioritize anything and where to make the space for it. Creativity remains today as one of my core values, whether for my personal life or my family life. You have to start somewhere, with what is my need. You may not even know what your need is. You don’t even have to know yet. You’re not going to know, and that’s so fine, but you still have to start somewhere.

What I’m suggesting is to cut down for you what took me years to figure out, that how you start to define what your needs are is by also understanding what your values are. Those two things go hand in hand.

Trish:
Tracey, you’ve given us so much to think about and a lot of reframing today. I’m going to ask. I need one simple, actionable step that a mom who is struggling or tired or whatever, what could she do today? Just something simple.

Tracey:
That’s a great question. Not to berate or demean yourself. That’s our go-to. We’re somehow not enough because we can’t do everything and be everything and no one can.

Trish:
Thank you for saying that out loud.

Tracey:
That would be my number one. I’ll stick with that.

Trish:
I don’t think you need anything else. I love that. I always ask the question:  Is there a book that you would recommend? I’m going to take a guess that may be a Brené Brown. I have Braving the Wilderness sitting on my nightstand. I haven’t read it yet, but do you have a favorite of hers?

Tracey:
I would say The Gifts of Imperfection. It’s not a long book, and it’s cut into guideposts so you can read each of the guideposts fairly quickly, and then think about how you might want to incorporate some changes into your life. But I learned so much about how to be a healthier human being from reading that book.

And I would also say then book two would be Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now. Parts of it are kind of hard to understand, but if you can drill down into the fact that right now is the actual only moment you can live in because we just spend so much of our time ruminating about mistakes we made in the past and worrying about what hasn’t happened in the future that we’re actually not living. We’re not in this moment where we are right now. That was also really powerful lesson for me to learn.

Trish:
My last question for you in our lightning round is, is there a phrase that you live by in life or in motherhood?

Tracey:
It’s taken me a long time to get this point. I would say that I’m worth it. And so are you, my daughter. And so are you, Trish. And so are you, mom who’s listening. And so is everyone who’s  feeling scared and tired and overwhelmed and whatever, because I think that’s much more the fundamental truth then the lies that people are trying to sell us on social media about how happy everyone is.

Trish:
I’m teary just hearing that. Thank you for sharing that. Now I know you have a book coming out next year, next spring. Can you tell us the title of it?

Tracey:
My book is called Bloodlines: A Memoir of Self-Harm and Healing Generational Trauma. It’s not a how-to, it’s a memoir. I start by talking about things from my childhood that I didn’t understand were patterns until later. And then I really do a deep dive into my daughter’s illness and our experience. It’s a family healing journey. It wasn’t easy and no mental health diagnoses are, which is why I think it’s so important for us to talk about it.

I want people know that they’re not alone with whatever is going on, but it’s also really filled with hope and compassion. And that’s what I’m hoping to open people’s eyes to, how much bravery and heart it takes for every family member and every family going through anything like this, not just specifically what we went through.

Trish:
Is there a link that it could be pre-ordered now?

Tracey:
It can be pre or you can go right to Amazon to pre-order it or bookshop.org, but you can go to my website.

Trish:
Is that the best place to find you on social media then? Your website?

Tracey:
Yes. And Instagram. I love Instagram. I’m on Instagram pretty much every day @traceyyokas. What I’m trying to do online is to share the same sorts of conversations, like the one we had today. We have this fantasy that motherhood is perfect all the time. And of course anyone who’s a mother knows that that’s ridiculous. Why would we not be more willing to talk about it and share about what’s hard?

We have this need to spend 20 minutes talking about how much we love our kids. Oh, I’m so grateful for my kids. Of course we are! We love our children. We’re grateful for them. And being a mom is really hard, but I certainly think as moms having each other’s backs to have the hard conversations is one of my purposes and one of my big why’s for being here where I am now and doing the work that I’m doing.

Trish:
That’s essentially the same reason I started this podcast. Let’s actually talk about it. We all love our kids. They’re the most important things in our lives, but it’s also really hard. Exactly. And it’s okay to say that. And it’s okay to say, “I’m really not liking my kid right now. Like I don’t even want to be a mom right now. This sucks.” It’s okay to say that.

When it gets real, like it did for you and does for so many of us, then, well, crap. Now I have to deal with this. How am I supposed to do this? Social media really does paint this perfect picture and if you’re not in that perfect picture, then you’re doing it wrong. And that’s why I’m here because we’re doing our best and it’s not always going to be perfect. But if you’re trying your hardest and doing everything you can to help your kids also don’t forget yourself.

Tracey:
The first step is getting yourself on the back side of your to-do list. That’s something. That’s the key, right? I don’t believe in balance. I think that’s a fantasy. I don’t think there’s a time, especially when you’re a mom with little kids, where there’s going to be some dangly object of perfect balance out there. When my daughter got sick, there were huge chunks of time where we didn’t leave the house except for therapy. The thing is to be realistic, but non-negotiable about tiny things.

The more of us that are talking about this in every way we can and the more people that hear it, it’s such a relief that so many people want to have the same kind of conversation.

Trish:
Tracey, I could talk to you all day. I can’t thank you enough for today and your wisdom and just really giving me a lot to think about and reframing my thoughts. And I think a lot of other moms are going to feel the same way and for sharing your story because it’s a hard one to share and truly, I appreciate it. And you sharing all the work that you’ve done is inspiring. Thank you.

Tracey:
Thank you so much.

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