I Didn’t Write for a Month…And Lived!

By Jennifer Hallmark

I am a writer. My job in life is to pen words and share them with my world: family, friends, social media, and the Internet. My mission statement is “to write with God and bring hope and encouragement through my words, both written and spoken, to everyone I meet, both online and in-person.”

And on top of that,  I just found out that my debut novel, Jessie’s Hope, finaled in the Selah Awards. Did I actually have the audacity to take time off?

Yes.

In taking a month’s sabbatical, my mission statement would be somewhat placed on hold. I found not writing extremely hard. After all, my life had been wrapped up in this chosen profession since 2006 when I attended my first local writing class. Fourteen long years of studying, writing, being critiqued, more writing, more studying, and attending meetings, conferences, and retreats. I’ve read over twenty-five books on the craft, listened to numerous podcasts, and taken tons of classes: in-person and online.

Factor in writing a few hundred blog posts, interviews, guest posts, three full novels and a couple of half novels and you can see I haven’t been idle when it comes to this writer’s life.

And that was part of the problem.

At first, I loved all of it. My hobby proved to be fun and for five years, I enjoyed penning words as a pastime. Then, I wanted more. Maybe a published author and, gasp, being paid money for something I’d written. Was that too much to ask?

My writing went to the next level starting with me attending the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writer’s Conference with lots of other writers. And work. My hobby became a job, second to being a mom and housewife and chicken farmer. 48,000 baby chickens raised every six weeks to be exact. Life was full but enjoyable.

My children grew up and moved out and before you could say empty nest, I had six grandchildren. Then my stepdad passed away and Mom moved nearby. As I think back, I really didn’t enjoy the grown children stage the way I would if I had it to do over. Parents, my word of advice: Enjoy the empty nest while you can.

In 2011, we sold our chicken houses and I started writing full-time.  And babysitting. And helping Mom as the only sibling in the state. Then a good friend became a widow and another good friend died. Life suddenly started to drain the life from me. Add in a few health issues of my own and I was totally being set up to fall apart. The plates I’d kept spinning for so long began to fall, one at a time, until I stood amidst broken glass, mourning so much change and so many losses.

So, I wrote faster. With longer hours to try and purge my soul of the pain that was piling up on me. I thought I could put these sorrowful thoughts on paper and they’d magically disappear. But they didn’t. I reluctantly contacted a therapist because I knew I was on the verge of a breakdown but didn’t know how to stop it. My first assignment? Read the book, Boundaries, by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.

Life-changing. The book and my therapist began to show me what I’d done wrong. No boundaries. No self-care. An aging body and more people who needed me. So I made changes. I started going to the gym, then changed my diet. See my article on my new way to eat.

From January of 2019 until today, I’d lost twenty-seven pounds and kept it off, then added strength training. I felt so much better physically. But setting boundaries was still hard for me. I’m one of those people who found it hard to say no but I’m learning. Self-care became more of a way of life and everyone around me is benefiting from it.

My only problem? I was still totally and completely mentally burnt out. You can’t keep it all going, seven days a week like I had for too long of a time. I had spent less and less time with real people and more time in my office and I became emotionally burnt out too. We were created for relationship and hiding doesn’t heal anything.

I made a major decision. Eight months after I’d released my first novel and with my agent shopping my second novel, I would take a month off.

February would be a time of renewal which also happens to be my word for the year. No writing fiction, articles, and no social media. More family time. Did you miss me on Facebook or Twitter? Probably not but somehow I’d gotten in my head that I was indispensable to the online world. And guess what I learned?

Social media went on without me. My book sales did drop a little without me marketing but not as much as I feared. And the rest and peace I received were well worth it.

I went back to work on March 2nd with more wisdom I hope, planning a four-day workweek for now. I have a planner to help me stay on track and am penciling in “me” time, a lot more than I ever have before. And it’s okay.

Everyone has to work with who they are and what their situations are in life. I tried to pretend it all didn’t bother me and failed miserably. But God, my family, friends, and writing buddies didn’t turn their backs on me. My blogging friends at Inspired Prompt kept the blog running. My family gave me some space and though the needs were still there with the grandchildren and Mom, I learned to say no or wait or soon. Not always yes, this minute.

Does anyone out there relate to this at all? Maybe you could share a comment below and tell me how you handle it all. I’m always thankful for suggestions as I journey on this new part of life…

Click to tweet: I Didn’t Write for a Month…And Lived! #amwriting The emotional highs and lows of writing. #WritingCommunity

Resources for the Healthy Writer

By Jennifer Hallmark

Resources. They’re gold to any writer. They rate right up there with research and time. But I’m not talking about a new computer, online classes, or a critique group. This month, we’ve shared articles on lessons the Crew has learned when it comes to physical health. Did you miss any?

I hope you enjoyed the articles as much as I did and learned a lot about fitness. Would you like a few more resources?

Books

Apps

Self-care is important to writers. I haven’t always listened to my body and I’ve paid dearly for ignoring the warnings. But I’ve started changing the way I look at myself and my writing and you can too.

Click to tweet: Writing and good health can go together. And we share some resources that you might find interesting. #WritingCommunity #health

If you know any great resources, please leave a comment below. We’d love to hear your ideas! 

Start The Year Out Right

By Tammy Trail

January is the month of new beginnings. We celebrate a new year and make resolutions that most of us will follow for a few weeks, and then our resolve disappears like melting snow. For some of us, those promises made to ourselves don’t come with consequences. But for others who need to make major health choices, the consequences may be detrimental.

About four years ago I found out that I am a diabetic. At first, this didn’t mean much to me because I had no symptoms. My overall health was not affected. There were no outward appearances that made a person think, “Hey there goes that diabetic.”

I didn’t fully understand diabetes until I took a class a few months ago. This class taught me the causes of diabetes and why my lifestyle choices can make my diabetes manageable or suffer some pretty awful health issues if I don’t pay attention and make good choices.

I have Type 2 diabetes. That means my pancreas produces too much insulin and dumps it into my bloodstream. When I have too much insulin (sugar) in my system my body can’t use it all for energy. I need to help my body out by not eating foods that cause even MORE insulin because my pancreas is working too hard. That insulin will be delivered to other organs that can’t use it and may cause damage.  Your nervous system, kidneys, eyes, and eventually your heart can be damaged from not managing your diabetes correctly.

I’m not up for more doctor visits, medication, or medical tests because I can’t control what I’m putting in my mouth. Now for some folks, no matter what they do, diabetes controls them instead of the other way around. It’s hard. But I’m willing to try and make a difference for myself.

Another fact that this class taught me is the kinds of foods I can eat, and the ones to stay away from. That is so hard.  Who doesn’t like mashed potatoes and gravy, or bread? Those are two of my favorite carbs. But carbohydrates are just as bad as sugar for a diabetic. There are carbs and sugar in almost everything we eat. The trick is to find foods that are very low in sugar and carbs.

What I am trying to do is to stay away from processed foods. Eat more vegetables that are lower in carbohydrates, like cauliflower, squash, broccoli and green beans. More lean meats, like turkey, chicken, and fish. I do eat brown rice, and sprouted grain bread, but I try and eat those only occasionally. I cut soda pop from an everyday beverage to once in a great while, maybe twice a month.

It’s hard to say no. But I keep telling myself that one day I may be able to stop taking my diabetic medicine altogether if I work hard. And if I don’t stay the course? Well, I don’t like to think of the consequences. I would like to be around to see my grandsons graduate from school and have families of their own someday. I won’t be able to do that if I don’t take care of myself.

So, I’m here to encourage you too.  If you have health issues, stop and think about the consequences. We have more power over our health than we may think.  It’s all in how we look at it.

Better health this year #2020 @trail_j https://ctt.ac/MehL0

Are You Sensitive to Your Food?

By Cammi Woodall

Most patterns in life are good, right? Knowing the UPS carrier will bring your package around 4:00, the toaster takes exactly 1 minute 14 seconds to achieve perfect toastiness, or you can go 27 more miles once your car dings “I’m empty!” The food you eat can trigger patterns as well. Some good, some bad.

Chocolate can give you a sugar rush and satisfy that creamy, sweet-tooth craving. But for some people, indulging in this delectable treat will guarantee pain, nausea, fatigue, and intestinal problems. Oh, sweet chocolate! How can you deceive us so?

Six years ago, I noticed I had a pattern in my life but it wasn’t a good one. Every month I had to take sick days due to headaches and an upset stomach. It was not uncommon for me to have headaches. No big deal – take a Motrin and go on about my day. But a migraine episode was different. Migraine pain is unique and personal to each person. When I get a migraine headache, I basically fall apart. The top of my head clenches so hard I feel like it is cramping. I can’t open my eyes all the way because the light hurts so badly, plus the muscles in my eyelids hurt. Sounds are magnified. Simple typing on a keyboard sounds like a machine gun, and people talking in normal voices feel like they are shouting through a bullhorn at me. My bones and joints hurt. Any move I make sets off a reaction in my stomach and… it is bad. I won’t go into details about that. Just nausea and sickness. So much sickness. And during all these symptoms, the top of my head is still cramping, my face feels like it is going to implode, and I am dizzy. After the initial pain, my headaches for days and the top of my head feels bruised for a week.

My medical tests were okay – gall bladder and thyroid checked out fine, blood pressure good. Medical professionals had the same basic diagnosis – exercise and lose weight. Who hasn’t heard this before? My sister and my mother urged me to start a diary, keeping track of what I ate, where I ate, stress levels, and how I felt afterward. That is when my pattern emerged.

So what was common about my sick times? Certain foods appeared each time – processed meats like bacon and sausage, highly processed food, and ranch dressing. (I will also admit I had a slight addiction to Doritos. I would keep a bag open on my kitchen cabinet and go by several times a day, grabbing or two to munch on.)

I realized I have a food intolerance or food sensitivity. I am sensitive to two things –

1.      Nitrates/nitrites – a chemical in processed meats that are used to keep meat fresh and gives it that nice pink color. If sensitive, they trigger migraine pain by expanding the blood vessels in your brain.

2.      Monosodium glutamate or MSG – this is the chemical that makes food taste good. Almost all boxed foods on the grocery store shelf have some form of MSG. The chemical makes you crave more of what you just ate. If you suspect MSG sensitivity, check the ingredients lists for monosodium glutamate, the word hydrolyzed, the word autolyzed, yeast extract, or carrageenan. There are others, so do some research into the ways MSG can be hidden in your food.

Both sensitivities come with controversy. With nitrates, many companies are following a new food trend of ‘uncured’ or ‘no nitrates added.’ Some companies have completely stopped using synthetic sodium nitrate and used powders derived from celery root or cherries. Doubters say that these vegetable compounds have the same amounts of nitrates as the manufactured chemicals. They probably do. But I know how my body reacts when I eat a turkey sandwich made from the different ingredients. I do not get headaches if I eat the turkey or chicken or roast beef cured with vegetable powders. I do if eat luncheon meat cured with synthetic nitrates.

MSG is even more hot topic! Glutamates occur naturally in food, so naysayers to MSG sensitivity say any pain is nonexistent. Again, I can only go by what my body has experienced. I can eat a portion of food with MSG and I get migraines. So I study labels. I now avoid Doritos (weeping in the distance), most canned soups, flavored rice, seasoning blends, and most salad dressings. I look at labels whenever I go shopping.

There are no definitive studies that show scientific proof linking MSG and migraine pain. That does not stop my pain.

I would like to say now that I am not a doctor and there is a difference between a food allergy and food intolerance. The two share many of the same symptoms of headaches, such as nausea, lightheadedness, and head pain. But food allergies can be deadly. They are your immune system’s response to a foreign material your body considers harmful. Symptoms occur immediately upon eating the food and include hives and face/tongue swelling. You can go into anaphylactic shock. So please consult a doctor for any possible food allergy.

By contrast, food intolerance occurs anywhere from one hour to 48 hours after you eat your suspected food. It may not even occur every time you eat that particular item, or only if you eat a large amount. Food intolerance may be painful, but it is not life-threatening. 

Like I said earlier, each circumstance is personal to each person. I hope I helped you to know that certain foods can drastically affect how you feel. If you think you might be sensitive to a food, try eliminating it for several days and see how you feel.

And if you find a tasty replacement for MSG-laden Doritos, please let me know!

Prompt: I knew I shouldn’t have eaten the whole thing!

A Fit Writer in 2020: Eat, Live, Thrive Healthy Lifestyle

By Jennifer Hallmark

I stared down at the scale in disgust. Once again, I’d slowly edged up in my weight until I’d almost reached that number. In my mind, a certain number was more than I could allow myself to weigh. This was the second time in ten years that I’d almost reached it. Something had to change.

Diet short term. Exercise off and on again. I’ve studied diet and exercise. I’ve struggled to do both at the same time because, well, it was too hard to be disciplined in both areas. I did pretty well when I went to Curves, an exercise place that provided a specific way to eat healthier. But then our local Curves closed and once again, I wasn’t sure what to do.

I’d always been active when the children were younger and we had a farm working with cattle and chickens. But I’d semi-retired in 2011 and become a full-time writer. My brain and fingers were the only part of me that seemed to be healthy. At 56 years old, I was dealing with asthma, digestive issues, back pain, fatigue, and low energy. A part could be blamed on menopause but I knew my poor exercise and diet were also to blame.

One day, I heard about the Eat, Live, Thrive diet for women, a lifestyle plan to rev up your midlife metabolism. That struck a chord in me. Finally, a plan formulated for where I was, that understood the hot flashes, mood swings, and weight gain.

Here’s the blurb:  Eat, Live, Thrive Diet shows women how they can not only lose excess body fat permanently but also improve their overall health in critical areas such as brain function, resistance to disease, slowing down external aging, and increasing energy. This highly effective eating plan is presented in a compassionate voice by two experienced health coaches who share personal experiences of battling weight and emotional eating issues.

Whereas most diets are short-lived or require substantial upkeep to maintain, Eat, Live, Thrive Diet is a viable eating plan that women can adhere to indefinitely. In addition to minimizing sugar intake, the plan emphasizes the importance of short-term intermittent fasting–a simple lifestyle change that makes it easier and more effective for many mature women to reach their health and weight loss goals. The book also highlights the health risks and drawbacks of many popular fad diets that can be harmful on a long-term basis.

Click to tweet: “I couldn’t just diet. I needed a total change in the way I ate and exercised. But how?” Eat Live Thrive Healthy Lifestyle Diet #HealthyEating #EatClean

I ordered the book and prayed. Could I finally get serious? I’d reached a point where I couldn’t just diet. I needed a total change in the way I ate and thought about food, one I could stay on until I died. 😊 I also joined a gym and saved money to hire a personal trainer for a short time to set me up a cardio and weight-training plan I can stick to.

On September 23rd, I started the first phase, which is food testing, to see how my body reacted to different foods. One note: I also ordered the healthy self-talk download and listened to it. A lot. I knew my mind needed to be retrained with positive talk that agreed with the Word of God and this was really helpful.

I went by the book as much as possible (it encourages you not to be obsessive) and finished that phase. One important part of the plan is short-term intermittent fasting. I would eat during a 12-hour period, then fast for 12-hours. I occasionally fasted longer. Next, I formulated how I would eat according to my body and started the lifestyle phase. By Thanksgiving, I’d lost 15 pounds.

Woo hoo! I’d like to say I lost more after Thanksgiving, but the temptation was strong throughout the holiday season. I had good days and bad ones, eating wise. But on January 1st, I weighed and I’d only gained back 2 lbs. So, I felt pretty good about it.

I start my new gym plan today and am back on the lifestyle phase with the fasting. And I’d like to lose 15 more pounds.

Positive results? I weigh less. I’ve lost a little over one clothing size. Food tastes so much better, mainly because I avoid processed food and sugar. I’m more mentally alert. My asthma has bothered me less than it ever has.

Not-so-positive results? Especially at the beginning, I was hungry. A lot. And I wanted to turn to sweets and carbs for comfort when I was having a tough day. It was hard not to do so. I had to really shop to find what I needed and plan meals instead of just throwing something together at the last minute.

I blew it some days. But one part of the healthy self-talk audio says. “But when I mess up, I get over it and get back on my plan quickly without frustration or guilt.” And “I desire so much more than just good taste. My body deserves the best fuel I can give it.” I remind myself that I want to be healthy, as much as I can.

I’ve found enjoyment in taking care of myself because that truly is the bottom line. Am I worth taking care of? If I don’t do it, no one will do it for me. Only I determine how much I move each day and what I choose to eat.

Writing for years to come is my goal. If I’m going to be able to do that, my lifestyle had to change. For now, it’s working for me. Will it work for you? It might. Make up your mind that writing is important and to do your best work, you need to be healthy.

Start today. You’ll be glad you did. Share something you plan to do this year for your health in the comment section below. I’d love to hear from you!