Saying Goodbye to the Automatic No {how I learned to have fun again}

by Elizabeth

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This photo. It looks so simple and sweet, the picture of a woman enjoying herself on holiday. But it’s more than that. Much more. This photo also represents a victory in a long-standing tug-of-war with the AUTOMATIC NO.

Are you familiar with the Automatic No? It’s an old acquaintance of mine, a seemingly comfortable companion. It’s cunning. It’s clever. But it’s actually a traitor to happiness.

The Automatic No sneaks into relationships and slowly poisons them. Someone, usually a family member, will ask you to do something fun with them, and you decline. How many times have I done this?? How many times has a loved one asked me to play with them, and I said no without really thinking about it?

I’d been obeying the Automatic No for a long time without ever knowing it. Sometimes there’s an underlying fear — I’m afraid of this or that germ, afraid of this or that injury. Sometimes there’s an underlying laziness — I just don’t want to move or get up. And sometimes there’s an underlying assumption that “fun is for kids.”

I wouldn’t generally articulate my reasons. I would just say no and stay out of the activity. Over and over again, I chose to remove myself from the merriment without ever asking why.

But then last year happened. A colleague of my husband’s helped us pinpoint OCD as the cause of so much mental anguish in my life. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: it made so much sense. At last, I had a label for my oddities. Finally, we had an explanation for my eccentricities.

So I dove into the literature on OCD. Some of the most helpful work came from Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz, author of Brainlock. Brainlock describes what happens in the brain of a person with OCD, and it prescribes a plan for changing your brain by changing your behavior.

And let me tell you, this plan works. Of course, it only works if you implement the strategies, but the strategies are highly effective. (Watch this 30-minute video for an introduction to the four-step plan for treating OCD.)

Basically what happens in that the gear-shifting system in the brain (the cingulate system) is “sticky.” It doesn’t shift well. So when a thought, usually something bothersome, dangerous, or anxiety-provoking, comes into an OCD mind, it literally cannot leave. The thought is physically stuck on a loop. The brain can’t move from anxiety to safety because the gear shift is faulty.

It takes a lot of work to shift gears, especially at the beginning of treatment. And it is this lack of ability to flex that causes us to say no automatically. We don’t think through our answers; we just say no. We can’t shift our attention very easily, and NO is always an easy answer to give.

My husband, who works as a pastoral counselor, has a lot of books on mental and emotional health laying around the house. One of them is Dr. Daniel Amen’s Change Your Brain, Change Your Life. I picked it up and flipped to the sections on fear & anxiety and on worry & obsessiveness.

It was in the section on worry & obsessiveness that I discovered the name of my adversary: the Automatic No. It was in the pages of that chapter that I came face to face with my tendency to destroy fun in a relationship.

When invited into the fun, I don’t explore it. I don’t get curious. I don’t ask myself if I really want to do something. I just say no. I don’t even consider it. I just say no to getting in the water and swimming with my family, even though I always enjoyed it as a child. I don’t play ball games with my family. I stay on the sidelines and watch. I don’t do that fun thing my husband is asking me to do. I opt out.

Because why should I say yes, when I could just as easily say no instead?

But I recognized myself immediately in the description of the Automatic No, and it scared me. So I determined to alter my customary no’s. To at least try to fight back against my familiar, well-trodden brain paths. To give myself time before answering the invitation. Time to think about whether I really have to say no, or whether I could possibly say yes. I never knew I could say yes, that I could try it and see. Maybe I’ll like it, and maybe I won’t. But I’ll never know unless I try.

So I started saying yes more often. It was a tentative “yes?” at first. But soon my yeses became firmer. The first picture below was nearly an Automatic No. It was a recent holiday, and we were at the mall. I was watching the kids play Skeeball at the arcade. I was cheering them on when out of the blue, my husband asked me if I wanted to play. He had enough coins if I wanted.

Initially I told him, “Nah.” But then I stopped myself. I asked myself what I really wanted, and it turns out, I DID want to play. I hadn’t been thinking through the offer. I had just been offering that dread Automatic No again.

But when I took a moment to mull it over, I remembered that Skeeball was my favorite arcade game as a child. It was the only game I ever played at Chuck E. Cheese, in fact. I had just assumed that “arcade games are for kids.” I never considered playing as an adult (even though my husband plays these games all the time).

So a minute later I nudged him and said, “Actually, I think I DO want to play this game.” And I did. He took this photo after I had just made a 40-point score. That look is not posed; it’s pure joy.

After Skeeball, we all played at the basketball machines — that’s the bottom photo. But I would never have tried my hand at basketball had I not rethought my original Skeeball “no.”

It’s hard at first to say “no” to the Automatic No, but it gets easier with practice. And with time, rejecting the Automatic No leads to a lot more fun in life. Little yes by little yes, we change our brains, and we change our lives.

So if you, like me, say NO to the fun far more frequently than is good for you, I dare you to go out and say YES to something today. Who knows? One little yes may be all that it takes to change everything.

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Behold! The Lamb of God! [a podcast]

This message was recorded at the International Christian Assembly in Phnom Penh, September 15, 2019: “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

You can click the above link to listen, or find the message (in a day or two) on the trotters41 podcast on iTunes. Thanks so much, and may God bless!

See the “Arrivals” video below, along with the da Vinci painting referenced, along with the two songs referenced.

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btlog2 with edits

Songs:

 

 

We’ve Been Homsechooling! | a Mother’s Journey, part 14

From the journals of Kerry Trotter

January 13, 1992

I can’t believe I haven’t written in 2 and 1/2 years! We’ve been homeschooling!

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January 14, 1992

Jonathan was showing Corrie pictures of Laura. Corrie said, “I was sad when Laura died.” Jonathan said, “but you weren’t born when Laura died.” Corrie said, “but I was sad with God in heaven when Laura died.”

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February 14, 1992

I’ve been going to Nutri-System for 7 weeks. I have lost 13 pounds and am grappling with all the feelings that go with being fat.

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A Mother’s Journey – table of contents

Called to Homeschool | a Mother’s Journey, part 13

From the journals of Kerry Trotter.

September 10, 1989

We have been led by God’s Spirit to homeschool, I believe. But such criticism! Today a woman at church told me that she believed I was doing the wrong thing. I tried to say I was doing it because I knew it was what God wanted for us and not something I wanted.

She really didn’t understand. She said I was isolating my kids (ha! Gymnastics, baseball, ballet, soccer, jazz, neighborhood, church, and always extra kids at the house — yesterday, six!)

Anyways, she said Jesus always blended, and I thought, Jesus didn’t leave home and begin his ministry till he was 30!! She said our kids should learn to stand alone — I believe that!! That’s why I’m homeschooling.

I was a little surprised that someone would say I was doing the wrong thing.

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A Mother’s Journey – table of contents

Every Day is Precious | a Mother’s Journey, part 12

From the journals of Kerry Trotter.

July, 1989

Corrie is one year old today! This has been one of the happiest years of my life. Probably it has been so sweet because it followed the saddest, hardest year of my life. I have enjoyed watching her grow with more appreciation for the miracle of life and good health.

Jonathan and Kathryn have such a zest for life and are both such robust kids and I do not take it for granted like I might have had we not had Laura. I’ve enjoyed everything about having a baby. Even the nights.

When I thought I might never get to experience the joy of holding a  newborn or rocking a baby to sleep, I ached so for the time I had wasted (or not appreciated) with Jonathan and Kathryn.

With Corrie, every day has been so precious, made so I think by the knowledge of how fast they are passing. She will never be this age again — I will never have this day again and it has made me savor this time with her.

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A Mother’s Journey: table of contents

A Guidebook for Dealing with PMS {Part 4: Tracking Your Cycles}

Today we come to the end of this PMS series. We’ve talked about changing the way we eat, about adding supplements to our lives, and about exercise, breathing, and rest. Now we’re going to talk about tracking our cycles.

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1. Count Those Days, Ladies

For nearly a decade, I charted for both birth control and pregnancy achievement. I tracked my symptoms, including my morning waking temperature and cervical fluid. But after we moved overseas and decided for safety reasons not to have any more children (I tend to hemorrhage really badly at birth), I didn’t think I needed to chart anymore.

It felt like freedom not to have to keep track of symptoms, not to have to remember to take my temperature. So when my PMS got really bad and my husband suggested returning to some form of charting, I resisted. I didn’t want an extra complication in my life. I felt that life was heavy enough without charting. I thought that keeping better track of my cycles sounded like too much of a burden.

Honestly, charting felt like a cross I had to carry. This wasn’t fair, I thought. Why couldn’t my body work the way it used to work, so simply, so easily, without my doing anything to make it run nicely? Why did things have to change and force me to do extra work?

But as Simcha Fisher reminds us in her book, The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning, “A cross is a cross.” (Note: my copy of this book is underlined up and down. Regardless of whether you practice NFP, the wisdom Simcha offers on married sexuality is some of the best I’ve read anywhere.) This might seem like a small thing, but it felt huge to me at the time.

I started keeping better track of my cycles anyway. At first, yes, it seemed so obnoxious. But over time I’ve become accustomed to it again (though I’m not tracking temperature). And somewhere along the lines I realigned my thinking with Fisher’s: “I can see my fertility as a gift that I need help caring for, not as a burden.”

Because I’m keeping track of the days, I now know when to be more prepared for anxiety and OCD symptoms, when to work out harder or more consistently, when to do my breathing exercises, and when to try harder not to yell at my kids for something silly (because I’ll just feel terrible and have to apologize later).

I am not perfect at this, but I am more aware than before. I purposely try to stop myself from overreacting to little things in the second half of my cycle. I also have to be careful just before ovulation, because there’s a hormonal shift that occurs then too. I can become irrational just at ovulation instead of after. It varies from month to month, so I keep watch.

Some days I wake up and am angry at the whole world. Lots of people in specific and lots of people in general. That’s often a wake-up call that PMS is beginning. I try to be aware of when it happens and take my anger and angst less seriously. Thankfully I have a husband who, while taking PMS seriously, doesn’t take my extreme statements too seriously.

Do you remember Steve Martin’s Father of the Bride? I loved that movie as a teenager, and this clip in particular describes irrational, overreacting me at certain times of the month (in addition to making me laugh!).

Here’s some more cycle-related humor. A friend shared this photo, and “stupid fruit time” has become part of our family vernacular.

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But to return to more serious matter, my OB-GYN says this about PMS in the late 30s: “Your hormones will be getting more wacky as your girls hit puberty, so getting the PMS stuff under control NOW will significantly help you when they are going the reverse hormone process in a very few short years.”

This statement was another wake-up call for me. It forced me to consider the way my hormonal issues will impact my daughters, the way their hormonal issues will impact me, and the way all of our combined hormones will impact our family relationships. And if there’s one thing I don’t want to sacrifice on the altar of PMS, it’s family relationships.

So I am committed to feeding myself quality food, supplementing where I need to, exercising and resting regularly, and counting the days of my menstrual cycle.

If you have never kept track of your cycles, you might want to read up on fertility awareness with Toni Weschler’s book Taking Charge of Your Fertility. In it, she explains that not every woman ovulates on Day 14. Some ovulate earlier, some later, and it can change from month to month too. Likewise, the second half of your cycle, the luteal phase, can vary in length.

Although women’s cycle lengths can vary, here is a graphic my OB friend sent me that shows all the differing hormones and changes throughout the month. Weschler’s book has many graphics like this.

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2. Beware Those Blood Sugar Dips

Also called being “hangry,” low blood sugar problems can be exacerbated in the pre-menstrual time. Some mornings I wake up feeling fine, but then I walk into the kitchen to find that someone has used my favorite mug. (But watch out family, because my favorite mug tends to change from month to month.)

Or I walk into the living room to find that someone has left a pile of books right where I want to sit and read and sip decaf out of that favorite mug. Or someone is already awake and making noise or asking me to do something for them, even though they know they’re not supposed to ask yet.

In these moments I try to remember that I need to put something in my mouth before letting rude or thoughtless words slip out of my mouth. There have even been times my husband has said something innocuous to me at the breakfast table, and I’ve wanted to snap back. In those times I try to remember not to respond in the moment but rather to say, “I need to eat something.” He understands this statement implicitly (or impliedly as it were – inside joke between the two of us).

Nearly always, I feel more in control of my emotions after I’ve eaten something. I’m usually not even upset about the offending person or event. And if I still am, I can discuss it more reasonably. So if you get hangry, especially in the mornings, try to be aware of it. Remember: eat before talking. Food before fighting.

The pre-menstrual time may also be the time that you are craving junk food. It’s really better if you don’t give in to that craving. As we talked about before, high-sugar and processed foods do nothing to lift our mood. Unhealthy food actually worsens our blood sugar highs and lows and consequently, worsens our mood swings (except for very dark chocolate – indulge in that one!).

 

3. Watch Your Self-Talk

Now a word about your inner world. Do not believe everything your brain says to you in the week or so before your period! Do not believe that everyone is judging you. Do not believe that everyone is angry with you or rejecting you. Even if they don’t respond to your text right away.

Do not believe that your husband, or your co-worker, or your children, or that your God, are out to get you. That’s the hormones talking, and we do not have to believe them!

Since I’ve implemented the steps I offered in parts 1, 2, and 3, my mood is more stable, but I still have days and even hours when it’s not. I still have to be mindful of what’s going on inside me.

So I’ll echo the encouragement from my OB: “You are NOT ALONE!!” Truly, we are in this together. We are sisters in this messy, fallen, chemically-complicated, tech-driven modern world. That is unfortunately the world we live in. But instead of cursing it, let us choose life rather than death.

I love the words of Moses in Deuteronomy 30: “Today I am giving you a choice. You can choose life and success or death and disaster (verse 15, Contemporary English Version).

He continues in verses 19 and 20: “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life (NIV).

A year ago when I realized I needed to make a lot of changes in my life, life was truly a disaster. I felt overwhelmed. I was in such a dark place that when I read about various changes I could make, I interpreted the advice as PRESSURE. I could not see it as possibility. I thought it was “pull myself up by my bootstraps” and “cure myself.” Changing, choosing life, felt like one more thing I could not handle.

But now after a year of making small changes, of making slow but steady progress, I feel the promise rather than the pressure. I know that I am not the Healer, but I see the ways in which God invites me to participate in my own healing. I now know that what felt like rock-bottom was actually an invitation from God to be a priest taking better care of my temple.

My mindset has morphed from Jacob’s begrudging “everything is against me” (in Genesis 42:36) into gratitude that I’ve been given this chance to make healthy changes. I am getting better at choosing life.

Together, we can choose life. We can choose what to put in our bodies, how to move our bodies, and what to think and believe, especially during certain days of the month. So resist the temptation to believe you have no control over your PMS. We have so many ways to manage it more effectively.

And remember, on the days when we don’t make good choices, there is grace. We don’t have to “choose life” perfectly. The God of peace is with us and within us. So make the best decisions that you can, and then, dear soul, be at rest.

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Here are some of the main sources of information that I relied on over this past year.

Karen Hurd is a nutritionist with a Masters in biochemistry. She explains how to eat for better mental health and offers several free resources. I also rented her PMS seminar.

Dr. Aviva Romm is a midwife and M.D. I purchased her book The Adrenal Thyroid Revolution and also depended heavily on her website. Here’s a post specifically on PMS.

Christa Orrechio is also a nutritionist whose advice I followed. Here’s her post on PMS.

So Much NOISE! (and a Book Giveaway)

Here’s my latest over at A Life Overseas

I grew up in rural America. We had neighbors, but you couldn’t see them. In fact, get this, you couldn’t even hear them. And I know this stretches the bounds of believability, but you couldn’t even smell the neighbors’ food. They were acres away.

We were closer to cows than people.

Now I live in a place where you can most definitely see your neighbors (because the kitchen and bedroom windows are less than 10 feet from their kitchen and bedroom windows.) Now I can hear the neighbors coughing (or fighting or playing marbles with bowling balls).

I can feel the neighbor’s music, and I can certainly smell the neighbors’ food.

Is this stressful for anyone else?

In the whole scheme of cross-cultural work, in the whole Story we’re excited to live out, noise and hyper-proximity is not a very big deal. You could even spiritualize it and call it incarnational. But you know, I’m a human, and the constant LOUDNESS is actually a thing. It’s actually a pretty stressful thing. So I thought I’d use the first part of this article to see if it’s stressful for anyone else?

You too? Really?

How do you deal with it?

I believe in a multi-disciplinary approach, ergo, I’ve tried pharmaceuticals (Benadryl), technology (apps), multiple physical barriers (mattresses and headphones), and of course, prayer (“please make hearing ears deaf”).

Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with our living arrangements in Cambodia (or our neighbors, for that matter), and I’m in no way claiming any sort of moral superiority because I like quiet. It’s just that this is part of the cross-cultural thing that’s hard: it’s a lot louder here than where I came from, and eight years hasn’t changed that.

So here’s how I manage…

Diphenhydramine sort of helps with getting to sleep and staying that way. Consult with your doctor first, and word to the wise: don’t try parenting while on this stuff, ’cause that’s not good for no one.

Noise cancelling headphones = magic. My over usage, combined with the tropical climate, destroyed multiple sets of the earpieces on these things. But still, one of the best purchases of my cross-cultural life.

Nope. It’s not gum. You’re looking at my earplugs container. I’ve got one of these in my office, one in my backpack, and one on the nightstand. You NEVER want to be without earplugs. Just remember it’s not gum.

The Sleep Pillow app. (see below)

I heart white noise. So if you take the white noise that’s possible from Sleep Pillow, add in earplugs, then cover the whole thing with noise cancelling headphones, _______________________ is all you can hear.

Extreme circumstances call for extreme measures. When our neighbors decided that karaoke was the best way to spend evenings, we called in the Queens — two queen-size foam mattresses propped up outside of our bedroom windows. This might be confusing if you’re not sure how Cambodian row houses work, but if you get it, you totally get it. Basically, our bedroom windows open up into this room, which is the first level. I was standing in our front door when I took this photo.

 

If none of these measures are effective, then you should probably just go ahead and buy our book.

A Book Giveaway!
Elizabeth and I would love to gift a couple of folks with a free Kindle version of our new book, Serving Well: Help for the Wannabe, Newbie, or Weary Cross-cultural Christian Worker.* If you live in the US, the UK, or Australia, we could send you a hard copy instead, if you’d like.

Ruth Van Reken (co-author of Third Culture Kids) had this to say about Serving Well:

“Recently I read a lovely book called Serving Well by Jonathan Trotter and Elizabeth Trotter. While it contains many great practical tips and strategies for success in cross-cultural living and working, it is not simply one more ‘how-to’ manual. Particularly for those in the faith-based communities, the authors continually emphasize the why of service, not simply the how. This is a soul-encouraging book. I highly recommend it.

Serving Well has over 100 chapters that cover everything from how to prepare for the field all the way to how to return well. It includes reflections and discussions on transitioning overseas, taking care of your heart, marriage, and children once you’re there, communicating with senders, common pitfalls, grief and loss, and what to do when things don’t go as planned.

To be entered into the drawing, think of someone who might like a copy of Serving Well and then tag them in the comments section of A Life Overseas’ Facebook share of this post. If you tag someone, we’ll enter your name and their name into a drawing that will happen on September 10th. You can tag up to three people and they will all be entered into the drawing.

If you are reading this via e-mail and you have limited access to Facebook, just reply to the message and put “book giveaway” in the subject line. That’ll get you entered.

Thanks so much for understanding that this cross-cultural gig is amazing, and LOUD, and rewarding, and hard, and wonderful, and so much more.

And may the Father’s grace and peace be with you and yours today.

All for ONE,
Jonathan

 

*affiliate link