I checked in with a friend of mine recently and she said she was "okay but still searching for the meaning of life." I responded, "that's a given, the search never ends, does it?" She responded in a way that suggested I knew what the meaning of life is and I needed to share my secrets. So why just tell her when I could tell a whole bunch of people at once?
I used to think the meaning of life was a search for love - true love. I was young then. So... very... young. But as I grew older and I had more and more life experience under my belt, that goal changed. The goal kept changing. Why? Because I met the goals. I was growing, learning, evolving, gathering, every day of my life. What good would it be to hold onto something that was years behind me as a goal? Like goals, meaning is what we make of our experiences, and what we crave above all else. And when we find it - will it be enough? Will it fill that empty space inside us that we can't define with any words?
That depends. You'll know when you get there, right? It's different for everyone, because we're not robots. Some want money and derive meaning by making money. Go ahead and roll your eyes, but that means it's not Your Meaning. Some want to see their kids be successful and happy, some find meaning in music or art, some find meaning in friendships and relationships. There is no Meaning Of Life, in other words, for everyone. There is no old man on the mountaintop who holds the secrets and riddles you to get the answer out of him. I also think that once you stop searching, and settle into a life where days melt together and you hardly feel the will to live, you need to get back to your search. Actively.
You may need help getting up and getting motivated to do this. I have been facilitating a book club this year for Self-Help books. I never read very many before but I find them, well, helpful. None of them promise a 3 step program to making all your dreams come true. They offer inspiration, advice, philosophies, research findings and stories of experience. Starting there on your new journey could be right for you. If you think you are too deep into your funk, finding a therapist might be the right first step. I know, you don't want to do that. It's embarrassing, and they make you talk about your past and your pain. It's hard work to look at all the things that have been holding you down. It's also very freeing. You might find that you can finally move forward. And when you can move who knows where you will go?
My friend and I are both going on 50 years old, in the next couple of years (she's older than me nah nah nah nah nah). So neither of us can expect to find meaning in the same things we might have found meaning in when we were going on 20. When we were 20 and in college together, we were just trying to get our papers written, meet boys, and not gain the Freshman Fifteen. I tell my kids that college sounds stressful, but it's the best time of your life; in the best of circumstances of course. No real bills to pay, away from home, but still tethered safely, time to learn and time to play. There will be no other time like that. So meanings change. We get jobs and have families to support and have to fix the car when it breaks down and take care of our older parents.
It's not about being famous or doing something "amazing" with our lives. Being ordinary or average isn't the worst outcome we can have. We watch our friends have kids, we watch our kids grow up, we go on vacation either to a resort or in a tent. We can make meaning out of all of that ordinariness if we want, little by little every day. With some bigger pushes in between. So what do you want? What do you value? Who are the people you need around you? Is there anything holding you down that you are avoiding dealing with? Be introspective, question your world, notice things, learn new things, talk to people you might not otherwise talk to, get out of your safe box. The meaning will be there.
It's spring here in Colorado and I have been very busy with so much - just not blogging. So... I had better write something, right? Well, I am seeing and getting a lot of questions about something that therapists used to refer to as "Axis II issues," when we had that sneaking suspicion that there was more going on than simple depression or anxiety. Axis II refers to a disability, such as a cognitive delay that compounds mental health issues. Axis I is the primary mental health issue, Axis III is the medical concerns or diagnoses, Axis for is the level of stress, and Axis V is the Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) score. Zero means your dead, 100 is frankly impossible. Most people who come in for therapy fall between a 45 (outpatient level) and 65.
Many years ago I took a training with Dr. Greg Lester who lives here in Colorado. I saw him teach in New York and I have since been to a keynote speech he did at a local conference. The title of this post is from the manual I still keep from that first training. Someone with a personality disorder can make us feel like we are crazy. The DSM IV and prior (the big psychiatric "bible") used to break down personality disorders by type and title - the immature types, the anxious types etc. The DSM V, the most current publication, just lumps them into Personality Disorder. Similar to how the authors renamed autism and put it all under one title - Pervasive Developmental Disorder.
The aforementioned training was probably the most useful one I had ever attended. It broke down all of the types and behaviors, gave clear examples -mostly using TV and film characterizations, and how to treat and manage these clients, and perhaps even "cure" them of these dysfunctional patterns of interacting with others.
People who have personality disorders create drama. Drama is used a lot when we find ourselves talking about disagreements we might have with people, or sometimes even just referring to someone who has strong feelings. Clinically, drama is the creation of issues that are not initially present. The person might take on a role of victim and seek help. However when the help is not given or not viewed at helpful, they switch roles. They then take on the role of persecutor or rescuer. This switch of drama creation is the hallmark of every type of personality disorder. People who come into treatment who say they do not respond to any treatments or "always" have felt a certain way most likely also have a personality disorder. The clinician often needs to draw upon their own feelings for information - does this client make you anxious? Or angry? Do they attempt to bait you into discussions, redirect you, confuse you? These are big indicators that it is NOT you. If you are a family member, your feelings will also guide you. It's helpful to recognize these behaviors and most importantly, NOT engage with them.
This last part is extremely difficult to do. We as social creatures are hard wired to engage in debates, justify ourselves, become defensive, and want to make things work out for the best. When you are being led around through another's drama, you will feel crazy.
When someone is smart, it is harder to manage this, as a therapist. Often the treatment looks one sided. The client simply talks and talks while the therapist does not engage. This will be a very different experience for the client as most friends, relatives, and anyone else who comes into contact with them will naturally engage, defend, justify, argue. They will suddenly find themselves in a new territory that forces them to use other skills. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a good modality for this - the clients learn about mindfulness, what boundaries are, general social skills. Once the client becomes genuine, an engagement can happen. This is the real person after all, undefended and wanting to make a real connection despite how frightening that can be. When clients are lower functioning and very disabled by trauma and a resulting personality disorder, setting limits, learning skills of daily living and problem solving are essential.
There isn't a complete explanation of how these behaviors and traits come to be. Sometimes there is abuse, and the personality developed as a way to survive childhood. Sometimes it is a general lack of being held accountable for many years, the narcissist believes he or she is special, perhaps because they were always told this and that they could do no wrong.
Some examples of TV and film characters with Personality Disorders (just for fun) and might help you, if you are a clinician, learning to be one or just curious:
Sheldon - The Big Bang Theory (schizoid)
Hugh Grant - About a Boy (schizoid)
Nicole Kidman - To Die For (narcissistic)
Pheobe - Friends (schizzotypal)
The entire cast of Amelie (paranoid, avoidant, histrionic, borderline etc)
Mary Tyler Moore - Ordinary People (obsessive compulsive)
Michael B. Jordan - Black Panther (anti-social)
Mel Gibson - Conspiracy Theory (paranoid)
I've been asking a lot of clients and friends about their new year's resolutions. I'm not looking for the usual "I want to lose 20lbs" answers. I don't want typical. I want real and doable goals to accomplish.
Let's face it, 2017 was hard, harder than anyone expected after the Hell that was 2016. I know a lot of you are not expecting 2018 to be a banner year for a happy, stress free string of successes. Most of us are just hoping to still draw oxygen a year from now with a roof over our heads. I know, a bleak outlook, but I am realistic if anything.
There are a lot of realms in life that could use a little push. Including coming up with ideas for "resolutions". So I am going to offer a list of potential areas in your life and mine where some improvement could take place:
a. Buy only necessary items. Food, shampoo, cat litter and the like. Use only the money you have in your account to reduce credit card spending. If you have significant debt, pay back as much as you can afford each month. Review any automatic charges - memberships you don't use, etc.
b. If you must buy something that is usually more expensive, check your local neighborhood sale pages. Someone may be selling what you need. The money goes right into the pocket of someone who will put that money to better use.
c. Keep a daily expense tracker - either on paper or in your phone/tablet. This will help you stick with your budget and know where your money is actually going.
a. Meet at least one friend per month for coffee, lunch, jog, or just a walk at lunchtime. Connect in real time, face to face. No phones allowed.
b. If you find that your social life is taking over every other responsibility, take one day each weekend to get all of your chores done. Laundry, cleaning, grocery shopping. Then you can go out and be the little butterfly you are stress free.
a. Exercise three times a week for at least 30 minutes. This really shouldn't be an optional item. It is one of the most important things you can do for your health, along with NOT SMOKING.
b. Eat clean - no junk food, fast food, soda, sugary drinks. Eat more fruit, vegetables, lean proteins and fish, beans, whole grains. Drink a lot of water. You'll feel better almost instantly. Get support from friends and peers who are also trying to do this. Pack lunch to work each morning so you aren't tempted to go to The Golden Arches. This doesn't have to be about pounds lost, if you want to quantify improved health, get your blood work done now, and again in a year.
c. Cut back on alcohol. If you think you need to do this, then you probably do. Alcohol might be tasty and fun but it goes straight to the gut with empty calories, and probably some other unhealthy choices along the way.
a. Depending on your profession, you may have to do some learning to maintain your job, or certifications. Learning doesn't have to be a chore, if you have some flexibility, then find a class or training that makes you excited to go.
b. Read a book, article, blog post, watch a video, a month on the topic of your profession. Keep a list of what you have read and what you learned.
c. If you have thought about a career change, now is a good time to look into your choices. What will it cost? Is it right for you? How long will it take to make the switch?
5. Mental Health
a. I wouldn't be a good therapist if I didn't bring this up. Be honest with yourself. Has your anxiety, depression, drinking, anger, gotten in the way of enjoying the things you usually enjoy? Your relationships? Your environment? Your job? It's a good time to find a friendly neighborhood therapist and work through some of the barriers that are keeping you from living life to the fullest. You deserve to.
b. Like many people this year, there was a lot of anger. Make a resolution to get politically involved, join a campaign for a candidate you support, write to your current elected officials. Run for office if you have what it takes. Confront the things that are making you angry but have open dialogues with people to find solutions.
6. Dreams... My favorite.
a. Keep a list of things you have always wanted to do. Ride a motorcycle, skydive, scuba dive, travel to Japan, adopt a pet. What would it take for you to accomplish one of these this year? With money saved (above) could you afford one of these things? Could you start planning to do one or more of these things in the next 5 years? Just because it's a dream doesn't mean it can't be done ever. Just maybe not right this instant. That's what a goal is - something to reach for, over time, and many steps to take. Make a vision board to keep you focused on it - cut out magazine photos of Ireland and put $5 in a jar every pay day. You can get there.
Along with looking forward, take stock of what is behind you in the last 12 months. You probably accomplished more than you realize, even if your old list isn't all checked off. I personally had a few ideas fall flat, but there were other good surprises that made up for it. It's important not to overlook those, after all. What is the saying about the best laid plans are paved with good intentions? That's all you really need: the will to move ahead.
Jul 8, 2017
The theme lately with several of my clients seems to be communication. I find myself saying similar things over and over to many of them, including with my online clients. Naturally that means a blog post is warranted!
Communication is the ability to send and receive messages clearly. The message’s intent is known to both/all parties involved. Messages can be verbal, non-verbal/physical and/or written. We communicate with dots and dashes, sign language, hundreds of spoken and written languages, flags, smoke, electronic or in person. Somehow, we still misunderstand one another! How is that possible?
Wife: Do you think you could take out the trash for me?
Trash does not go out. Why?
Wife asks if Husband CAN take out the trash. Yes, he can. Will he? When? It’s not clear.
Mother: (to loud child) the baby is sleeping.
Child continues to be loud.
Mother: What did I tell you? Sssh.
Child: You said, “the baby is sleeping.”
Mother did not tell the child to be quiet, only that the baby was sleeping. Child did not receive the correct message.
These are very basic examples of how a communication can be misunderstood. What we need are better skills at getting our needs and wants recognized and met. When we are born, the only way to communicate is by crying and other cues. Parents must learn to read these cues to meet the baby’s needs. Adults who are in the child’s life are usually the ones who set the example of what communication looks like in a family, and that child will go out into the world using that style: good, bad or downright ugly.
This is the message receiver’s role. It’s the parent who figures out a certain cry means hunger in the infant. It’s the spouse who is hearing his/her partner tell them about their day. You don’t talk during this part, other than some “uh-huhs” and “oh yeah, then whats”. Your mind may be racing through what happened in your day, or thinking about what to cook for dinner. You’ll miss a lot if you do that. Stephen Covey said that we don’t “listen to understand, we listen to respond,” and that causes a lot of breakdowns. If someone comes to you and says they need to talk, you stop what you are doing, and you look at them and you wait. And you listen quietly.
If you don’t understand something, ask. “Hang on, didn’t you say…?” or “I’m not sure what you mean by…?” Let them clarify what they’re trying to tell you. Active listening is another skill that can sound goofy if not done sincerely. “Let me tell you what I heard, so I know I’m understanding this…” And you repeat back what they said. This gives the other person a chance to clear up any part of the message that is confusing or incorrect.
LISTENING TO TEENS and KIDS
This is a trickier thing to do. Your teen may need your help and the last thing you want to do is say you’ll listen and then interrupt or have a massive (angry, upset, sad, worried) response to what they told you. Use the skills above, if you can’t keep it together, take a break! Go to the bathroom, splash water on your face. How you react to them is going to make or break your relationship. They want their parents love, attention, acceptance more than anything in the world. I don’t care if you don’t believe me, they do.
You have something heavy on your mind. You really want to talk to someone about it. Maybe you want advice but you also think you know how to work out the problem. You need someone to bounce it off of. So you ask your (insert your person here). First, ask, “Hey I was wondering if I could talk to you about something important. Is now a good time?” If it is not a good time, set a time or let them finish up a task they were working on. This is now the setting and you have the floor.
Now a good listener will help you clarify what you’re trying to say, but usually it’s helpful to begin with an “I message.” This puts the speaker in the forefront, especially if this is a confrontation. The structure is: I feel (EMOTION) when you (BEHAVIOR) because (RESULT). “Honey, I feel frustrated when you don’t take out the trash because we keep missing the trash pick up.” Chances are, the receiver of this message has noticed trash piling up and starting to smell bad. There is a consequence that has already happened and they know they have some responsibility in this. Then the speaker has an opportunity: “help me figure out a solution for this.” They’ve just invited the listener to engage in problem solving. There is no blame being placed on the listener, there is no disrespect or hurt feelings.
There are good texts out there with a lot more advice on how to have difficult conversations, like Crucial Conversations. They are geared toward kids, teens and adults of typical and specialized needs and cultures. I want to stress how important it is to work on being clear, calm and respectful when communicating with others. Imagine how much kinder a world we could be living in if everyone made the effort to listen better and speak with clarity and respect? Pass this along and maybe – just maybe – this could be the start of something beautiful.
I’ve been avoiding writing recently, I admit, because
when I sit down to write something about mental health (that will speak to my
ideal client and bring them in for therapy), something happens in the world that
rocks me. It angers me. Muslim bans, Neo-Nazi’s and “free speech,” kneeling as
protest, useless and greedy government officials, election tampering, the growing
disparity between the rich and the poor, the attempt at healthcare repeal every
three months, hunger, disaster responding, violence, mass murder, assault
weapons. I could go on and on, and that is just in the United States. These things
are not subjects for typical mental health blogs. Writing on those topics,
anxiety, depression, parenting, feels pretty superficial these days because the
problems are so much bigger than the individual’s reaction to the above current
events. How can I help someone be less anxious or depressed aka feel safe and
happy in such a world?
So I am going to begin with what I hear a lot in
sessions. I hear a lot of what we are calling Privilege.
a special right, advantage, or immunity
granted or available only to a particular person or group of people: education
is a right, not a privilege
synonyms: advantage, benefit, prerogative,
entitlement, right, concession, freedom, liberty
grant a privilege or privileges to: English
inheritance law privileged the eldest son
I am speaking to the
concept of having an advantage. Being
white gives you an advantage, as does being a male. It does not mean you have
grown up with money. Obviously there are fewer and fewer people in that
category so let’s not try to argue that point right now. Money is of course a
concrete privilege, it doesn’t make you happy but it can solve a lot of
problems. When I was a girl at PS 75, I was in a mixed community of white,
Hispanic, African American, Jewish people. I was not wealthy, so when one of my
African American friends asked if my barrettes was “real” as in “real gold,” I
was confused. Why would I have real gold barrettes when I basically wore the
same two pairs of jeans every other day? When I think about that now, I realize
that they saw me as having an advantage, as having access to something that
they did not. Why? You guessed it, I am white. And yes, I am privileged. My
parents have advanced degrees, we had complicated books on the shelves, art on
the walls, I traveled to visit my grandparents over the summers. The list goes
Now it is clear that
while men have been feeling quite attacked on this subject as so many don’t
feel like they’ve been privileged at all. Many are poor, undereducated, unable
to make ends meet to support their families. Where they don’t realize they have
been privileged: They can go for a 6AM run without being stopped by police
because they’re “acting suspicious.” They aren’t racially profiled when they go
for a drive. They aren’t sexually assaulted and told they shouldn’t have been
jogging – in shorts – at 6AM. This list also goes on.
Laws have not been
enacted to keep white people out of home ownership, or moving into certain
neighborhoods or joining private clubs. Or drinking from a public water
fountain, or using a public bathroom. It is not so long ago that these things
were a reality in this country. We know where some of the most outspoken civil
rights leaders are today – if they are not already dead/murdered. But where are
the people who so passionately protested integration? They didn’t just
disappear into obscurity. They became police officers, lawyers, members of
government, the Attorney General. They used their privilege to undermine every
layer of society. Slavery has not ended, it only looks different now (an
entirely different subject but Google Industrial
Prison Complex if you want more information).
The concept of being “woke”
is about being educated about how all of these factors have led to the current
situation and working to stop it. Working
toward a real model of equality. However, it is hard to be Woke when every part
of this culture is trying to convince you that it’s all okay exactly the way it
is. They want white people to say, “it’s all too much, I can’t anymore…” and it
is your Privilege to say that, because for the most part, you can. You don’t
have to worry about being shot by police for reaching for your license and
registration. No one asks you where you are from or tells you to back to where you are from. You don’t have to worry about being the victim of a hate crime. You
feel safe. Putting yourself on the line is scary and has absolutely had
consequences for some, but you, white person, are what is going to make the difference
in the long run.
As a therapist, I am
going to challenge you on these issues. I will correct you when you repeat
myths of how immigrants are coming to the US and signing up for welfare.
Therapeutically, it’s not my place to do this, but I feel I have some
obligation to challenge you. If you’re not ready for this challenge, we aren’t
going to be a good match to work together. I’m okay with that.
I am occasionally sought out by friends, relatives and colleagues because of my experience in working with children in therapy, what normal development looks like vs a concern, child welfare issues, reporting child abuse. I am happy to help and enjoy following the stories that are brought to me to see how they resolved over time.
Someone I know well called to ask my opinion recently. She was concerned that her early teenaged son had been be-friended by an adult male. She knows this person but discovered that the two of them had been having an ongoing daily back and forth conversation via email. Only when the youth had been invited out to an event with him did he have to ask his mother for permission.
What she found out is that this person works at the youth's school, has held events for students outside of the school's purvue and had requested all of the student's personal email addresses. Her son also admitted to the daily messages and defended them, saying he was glad to have found a friend who is supportive and wanted to be trusted. My friend was surprised at this pushback but realized that the adult male was likely responsible. I gently said, "It sounds like he's being groomed," and I could hear the relief in her voice. No, you're not crazy.
When your child is being groomed, the parents are as well. The person wants to gain your trust, and often they are in a position of trust. When they begin to test that trust, you begin to question yourself - which explains the relief my friend felt. They will make you think you are crazy and a terrible person for ever thinking such things about them. In a nutshell there are stages of grooming, the following are the most agreed upon:
1. Targeting the victim. My friend's son was among many until it appeared he was responsive to the adult. He wants and enjoys attention and struggles with friendships.
2. Gaining the victim's trust. This adult most likely has written, you are growing up now, you can make decisions for yourself. You don't always have to ask or tell your parents everything.
3. Filling a need. I can take you places you can't go on your own, that your parents won't let you.
4. Isolating the victim. I'm your friend, they are not your friends. Only I can do xyz for you.
5. Sexualizing the relationship. It is not believed that this took place for my friend's son but that would be the next goal for the adult.
6. Maintaining control. Keeping the victim from disclosing, using threats and other coercion.
My friend was right to pay attention to her raised hackles. She is angry that a seed has been planted that had already worn away at her relationship with her son. She asked me for some "magic words" to say to her son since she was not feeling clear-headed enough to verbalize something to him that would be understood fully. So here is what I sent:
been trying to find the right words to explain to you why I am so worried about
you right now. It isn't anything that you've done but it may be because you
believe that the adults in your life are safe. I want that to
be true -but recently when it came to my attention that you had an ongoing
relationship with an adult it raised a red flag for me. There are
some adults who don't believe that they are crossing a boundary when they
befriend someone much younger than themselves. This
person is probably telling you that you were getting older now and that your
mom and dad are probably over protective and they don't trust you yet; but you have good instincts and good StreetSmarts and you don't need to tell
them everything. When someone tells you things like that there's a word for it-
it's not the same as manipulation. When an adult is making an effort to
prepare you for more to come in that relationship -it's called grooming. They
put themselves in your life as a person who is the only one who understands you
and at the same time they drive a wedge between you and the adults who really
care for you and will protect you. That way they will be the only person you
have to go to for help/ advice and that is when you will be most
are some adults who do not believe that a physical relationship with the child
is wrong. I pray to God that nothing of that nature has happened at this point.
But I am genuinely concerned that the objective of your friend is to do you
saying that- I know you're upset. I know you feel that you can protect
yourself. I'm here to tell you that you cannot possibly protect yourself. These
adults are extremely skilled at what they do. You need a safe adult to help
you. I am
going to need every written communication that you have had with him and I need
you to now block his email address so that he can no longer contact you. I need
your word that you will not disobey me on this. It
is for your safety and your protection and it is because I love you very much
and I would do anything to keep you from harm.
Most parents' first instinct is probably more raw - we want to lay down the law right off the bat. "You better not ever ever see that guy or write to that guy again," with a lot of cursing perhaps thrown in.
The thing is, it will harm the parental relationship. The teen will likely push back even harder. "He said you were going to do/say that!" and then you have more secrecy to be concerned about. It is best to approach it within the context of your close and loving relationship. Spend some time building on that with some quality time and attention. Follow up on the information, make a report to the police if there is more to the story, and then keep your eyes peeled and your ears to the ground.
I came home from vacation late last night and got a message
from a client today. She said, “everything goes wrong for me. Always, no matter
what I do.” And unfortunately, a lot of lousy things have happened to her and
It’s frustrating to see her continually experience set backs and
On any other day, my response would have been different. But
I just came home from quite possibly the worst vacation experience I have ever
Every couple of years, my two kids go to stay the summer
with their grandparents who reside in St. Croix. I take them down, they stay,
their dad goes and gets them (and visits his family). Travel there from
Colorado is not direct and there are long layovers, usually in Miami, due to
limited service to the island. This year, we went and I took my mom, and we
planned a very relaxing, beach and sea focused trip with shopping, snorkeling,
sunset watching and sight seeing.
To sum it up: 3 cancelled flights, one of which had been
rebooked to St. Thomas, then cancelled. My over night hotel fee is in dispute
right now since we could never have made it. No rebooking opportunities for 3
days. Stranded in Miami 2 nights, one night in Charlotte, NC. Miami was
apparently in some kind of rainy season. Luggage was all sent ahead to St.
Croix the next morning while we remained in Miami. An excursion I planned to take
my mother to St. Thomas on the seaplane was accidentally mis-booked and we had
to pay change fees to get on the sea plane. I really had my heart set on flying
that way – The plane takes off and lands on water and it’s 20 minutes between
islands. Four days in St. Croix and we had to go home, saying our tearful
goodbyes to my kids. That is never pleasant but I was worried about their
return travels already! Flight home was St Croix to Miami, Miami to Chicago, Chicago
to Denver. Flight from Chicago to Denver was cancelled. No rebooking. No seats
on any flights for 3 days. I booked two one way tickets on another airline. I
was not going to stay 3 days. Another hotel, a full day waiting in Chicago,
before getting home at 1:30AM.
With that many turn of events, it was very hard to keep my
chin up and not feel the way my client expressed. I was furious at the airline
for cancelling so many flights, for so many people and not adding any to
accommodate them. How many travelers had to go home because the extra expense
would be devastating? I had been to St Croix two other times and I had
expectations and plans. I wanted to swim laps every morning on Rainbow Beach…
and I never even got to dip my toes in the water. I went to the beach three
times the whole trip. And only once on St. Croix.
Now, despite being very put out… I forced myself to make a
list. Several good things resulted from these mis-adventures!
I went to South Beach (Miami) for the first time,
saw a cousin of my kids who works for a large Hotel company who got us the
family rate. He lives on Miami beach and we went out to dinner on Ocean Ave and
had a beach morning the next day. When it began raining, we walked over to his
My best friend lives in Charlotte, NC and her fiancé
gave us his very beautiful home for the night, then they brought us breakfast
in the morning before we had to go.
I rented a car in St Croix and having my own
wheels there for the first time (vs being chauffeured around by in-laws) was
liberating. Driving on the left isn’t that hard.
I got to ride on the sea plane and went to St
Thomas, running an errand I had planned at a local shop. Also got to lie under
a mangrove tree on a nearby beach.
I met my new niece and got to see/hug/kiss my
nephew, who lives there
My kids are getting to spend time with
grandparents, uncle, aunt, cousins, learn to cook Dominican food and speak
My brother lives outside of Chicago and came to
the rescue. I got to see/hug/kiss him and his family.
I got to see the Art Institute of Chicago.
It’s important to make these kinds of lists when it seems
like everything, well, sucks. It’s what I ask my clients to do every day – re-frame
the experience. Trying to find the silver linings. Doing this tells your brain
that you will NOT allow it to go down the dark path. Every time we only see the
negative, our brain becomes more and more accustomed to going there as the
default. It doesn’t make the experience any better, but it is certainly helping
me not hate life right now! Things don't just go badly for you, but the cruelty of depression will tell you that it is you and that everyone else is living a wonderful life. I still had a vacation, just not exactly the one I
You hear the word all the time: Mindfulness. "Be mindful" to reduce stress, improve relationships, treat that Borderline Personality disorder, etc. What does it really mean?
mind·ful·nessˈmīn(d)f(ə)lnəs/ noun1.the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something."their mindfulness of the wider cinematic tradition"2.a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.
Aahh, now you get it... blog entry done. No, not really.
Some of you may recognize the Star Wars reference in the title. If you will recall Yoda, (Empire Strikes Back) telling Luke, that he was impatient, that he never had his mind on the tasks at hand, instead his mind always wandered into his fantasy of becoming a pilot "like his father." Now, I have issues with the Jedi philosophy, because they teach that emotions are a hindrance and should be repressed. I think that if Anikin had been allowed to grieve the loss of his mother when he left her to train, he might have turned out better. But getting back to the point. When we meet Rae, whose parentage has yet to be revealed, she is a scavenger. She spends all of her days picking off parts of grounded Imperial Star Cruisers on her desert planet, washes them in, trades them for food. At night, she waits to be rescued. When her powers are awakened, it takes her very little time to connect to them, her mind is clear, she can focus, and she wins.
She can do this through mindfulness. Yes she has a fantasy life, but it doesn't interfere in her daily life. She can put it all aside until the right time.
I have been listening to meditation recordings on the Calm app. The voice of the guide is pleasant, which is important to me. The message is that constant thought about everything all the time is exhausting and can make us sick, physically or mentally. It helps you learn to clear your mind and not judge yourself when thoughts peek their heads into your brain. But to just go back to the clear, open blue sky. Thoughts are little, white, puffy clouds that float away. There are YouTube channels as well that offer guided meditation, body scans etc as well, just so I don't plug the one thing I like particularly.
If you do this a little every day on a scheduled basis, you can do this during times of stress. You can do this during times you need to focus. You can be present in your life instead of being distracted by the noise either around you or in your head. You might even get some good sleep!
What would it be like to have a conversation with someone you care about where you were completely attuned to them? Or you were sitting on the grass under the tree and felt the breeze, heard the leaves rustle, smelled the flowers on the air? Just present? Not thinking tomorrow is Monday and there are 100 things waiting for me to do... Thoughts and anxiety are ever present, but they don't have to control you. So even if you think what you are doing is mundane, being focused on that mundane thing can translate into other parts of your life when you just might need to save the world!
One of the most common sources for anxiety in people who want to achieve anything is how to set a goal. We tend to see the final result and we have no idea how to get there. To get to the magic coast, we have to hike through the desert, climb the mountain, battle the troll under the bridge, avoid the enchanted forest... these are the steps involved. There are always more than we realize.
I often hear, "I want to start my own business," or "I want to move out into my own place and be independent," and are overwhelmed by the task. The reason is: it's just too big. So how does a goal oriented person begin?
There are several options:
SMART goals. The accepted way to write a goal is the SMART format. And yes, if I am your therapist, I will have you write it down someplace. A journal, a white board, the bathroom mirror - if that is where you will see it.
S: Specific. What are you trying to achieve. The result of your efforts.
M: Measurable. How are you going to quantify your success and progress? In terms of money? Lowering or increasing scores on a test?
A: Achievable. If your goal is to grow wings and fly away then you're just setting yourself up.
R: Realistic. You aren't going to play professional basketball if you are only 5' tall. But you may have other options for your talents.
T: Time limited. What time frame are we looking at? What date are you aiming for?
So here is an example based on the above breakdown: (GOAL) Start a business
Write a business plan and submit to a loan officer for a business loan.
Criteria will include type of business, current earnings, market research, etc
Use skills obtained in business school and enlist experts on subjects of xyz to consult/be on board of directors, etc
Due date for plan: (set dates for 1st, 2nd and final draft) Submit to Bank: (set date).
There are probably many other tasks in starting a business but the idea is that you break down your lofty hopes and dreams into workable parts.
If you have many hopes and dreams, then listing those in a grid format can also help break them down and prioritize. What do you want to / or have to get done in the next 30 days? 6 months? 1 year and 3 years? You're making 4 boxes and sometimes the tasks and goals will be moved up or moved farther out depending on what is going on in your life.
I have one client who is using an app called "Epic Win" to record goals. What makes this app different is that it is based on role playing games (RPG). You are a character, and the more you meet your goal deadlines the more your character gains points that are applied to looks, charisma, etc. For younger people who play RPGs regularly this can be especially appealing. The app isn't free but it's not expensive. It's certainly a creative way to achieve!
Another creative option is the vision board. There are many many tutorials online about these. If you are unclear of what direction you want to go it, doing one of these may assist you in determining a course of action. It's also a wonderful way to procrastinate!
Are you ready to get started? I am including a handout on SMART goals and a goal grid here.
Set those goals and smash them!
The vast majority of people love animals – a cat, a dog,
bird, lizard, rabbit, horse or even a mouse. They show us love as much as we
show them, and it’s completely unconditional. Almost any domesticated animal
can be a comfort animal or have therapeutic benefits – there is no
certification for this but it helps to have a therapist write an official
letter indicated a child or adult needs their companion to address mental
health symptoms. Often therapists are asked to do this so a family can move
into a new apartment with strict rules about pets. There is an enormous amount
of research already on the books about how animal contact can improve post
surgery outcomes, improve social contact in older adults, increase walking
times and distances for dog owners, experience a generally higher sense of
well-being through their pets.
So why would someone need a therapy animal? All you have to
do is adopt a pet and all your troubles are gone, right? I am writing this
because I have an amazing dog, a 6 year old black Labrador retriever named
Rocky. He’s calm, intuitive, quiet, completely harmless to kids and older
adults. I do not have any certifications at this time in doing any “real”
therapy work with him but often kids or adults ask me to bring him in. I let
everyone know that while he’s healthy, has all his shots, but I am not covered
to use him officially. They don’t care; and I am not worried that he’ll hurt
anyone. I’ve seen toddlers manhandle him and all he does is lie down and get
comfortable. When you stop patting him, he’ll nudge you or put his paw on your
knee to remind you that he’s still there. I have a security system because
frankly he would just lick a robber to death.
To use an animal for therapy, you need a therapist. The
animal can’t go to school for that. The animal should pass a screening for the right
behavioral attributes and have basic training for obedience. Many therapists
have their own pets – horses at a ranch, dogs, cats, goats. People who are
anxious benefit from talking while petting the soft fur – that tactile
stimulation can help ground people in the present moment, and help them connect
back to their body (see my NARM post) as so often people will disassociate when
stressed. Children who have impulsive behaviors learn more empathy so see that
their rough treatment might not be the right way to get the animal to “make
friends” with them.
The animal therapy has specific goals for treatment. It is
the primary intervention for the client. The other type is animal-assisted
therapy (AAT) where the animal’s presence is secondary to the therapy going on.
An animal can get a reticent child into the office, or motivate a teen to
engage, or be a surrogate face to talk to when in distress.
My favorite example of Animal therapy is from the first book
written by abduction survivor, Jaycee Dugard. She wrote that for her first
session she was handed a saddle and assigned to saddle a horse (something she
had never done before). Her two daughters did fine. She could not do it, after
many failed attempts. Her therapist then asked her why she did not ask for
help? This then spurred a discussion and realization that for years she could
have asked for help while living with her captors. Everyone brings something
different to therapy, and animals can offer something different and unique to
each situation either as the therapy or as a jumping off point.