Self-care

Grief Is Part Of Love

One of the greatest privileges about being a marriage and family therapist is getting to work with an array of people, backgrounds, genders, and various populations. While some issues may be similar, no two clients are the same. Pain is pain. When someone comes to therapy to work through their pain and grief, tears freely fall regardless of their socioeconomic status or zip code. We all hurt and we all need help.All grief is valid. My grief will look different from your grief, but “we all deserve to be heard in our grief, no matter what that grief may be.” Problems arise when we begin talking ourselves into believing that our pain is not as important as someone else’s. “Grief is as individual as love.” Sometimes, however, society can cause us to feel bad for feeling bad. Many people are uncomfortable with sadness and grief. They want happiness and smiles. So, instead of feeling held and comforted, we can feel shamed and guilt in our pain.Numerous times, clients want me to ‘fix’ them by removing their pain and grief. If only there was a magic wand to wave it all away! However, the only way to work through pain is to walk in it.  “Words of comfort that try to erase pain are not a comfort. When you try to take someone’s pain away from them, you don’t make it better…To feel truly comforted by someone, you need to feel heard in your pain. It seems counterintuitive, but true comfort in grief is in acknowledging the pain, not in trying to make it go away.” There is nothing wrong with feeling grief nor does sadness mean something is broken that needs mending. It is a healthy response to love and loss. “It means something important to you has been lost, and you have to identify what it is.”If you or someone you know is suffering and dealing with grief, let me encourage you to:

  1. Find a trusted friend who allows you to sit in your grief without feeling like you need to be fixed. Do you feel more love and kindness to yourself after seeing this friend, or stressed, unheard and worse in your pain after the visit?

  2. Find a therapist who will work with you on reducing the suffering. There is a difference between pain and suffering. The goal is to reduce the suffering.

  3. Check in with yourself. Note how you feel during different times of the day and under what circumstances. Note when you feel the tiniest bit more peace of being or calm.

  4. Remember your grief is not a test of love; it’s an experiment in love. It’s an experimental faith, experimental relationship with yourself, with this life, with grief, with pain, with love, with suffering—it’s all an experiment. It’s not a test. You can’t fail. You haven’t failed!

 Adapted from “It’s OK That You’re NOT OK; Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand.” by Megan Devine.

Depression and Connection, Part 2

In the last blog I wrote about depression, I promised more information on the relationship between connection and depression. Some of my clients have described depression as being like a black hole, or like a heavy and suffocating blanket. Others have described feeling as if the world is muffled or distant. Many go through their day with a smile on their face that they wear for the benefit of others; you may have seen that commercial for depression medication where the woman holds up a smiley face mask but behind the mask, she is clearly unhappy and disengaged. The imagery of these descriptions conveys a sort of darkness and loneliness. People who are depressed often feel alone. And they often do an amazing job of posing as a happy person. They struggle to believe that others could or would want to understand the depth of their pain, or that anyone would want to be around them if they knew the truth. Often, people with depression may feel they are “too much” and do not want to burden loved ones. As a result,  they turn inward and isolate, pushing away those that care the most. Putting on a smiling face and isolating oneself for the benefit of others is a huge problem in dealing with depression because it doesn’t work. Just to emphasize … isolation and pretending do not work!!! Those strategies don’t work because they serve only to deepen the depression. Isolation’s counterpart, connection, is what is needed. Often when one thinks of the word connection, the image of an in interpersonal relationship comes to mind. Connection to people is absolutely a main component of one’s well-being. Healthy, nurturing, and reciprocal relationships with others, such partners, friends, and family members have been shown to improve people’s quality of life and health. Good relationships make the ups and downs of life bearable because we have others with which to share both the joys and sorrows of life. Humans are not meant to walk alone. We thrive and accomplish more when we are in meaningful relationships.There are other kinds of connections that are important as well, such as doing meaningful work. Do you remember a time when you were so excited about a book you read, or inspired by someone’s story? Or that time when you knew what you wanted to do and couldn’t wait to get started? Or when you found yourself in a place that moved you so much, that you knew you needed more of that in you life? That is connection! It is connection to people, and it is also connection to that which helps you to know your place in the world and allows you to contribute something meaningful, something that gives you a sense of purpose and contributes to your broader understanding of life. Earlier, I said that pretending to be okay and distancing oneself from others only exacerbates depression. It reinforces ideas of being alone and unwanted. The reality is we need to be with others, especially when we feel at our lowest and most vulnerable. The support we receive from others, personally and professionally, is essential to recovering from depression. There are people who want to help. It may not be the first person you ask, or even the second and third, but there is someone in your life who will say, “yes, I want to be there for you”. So, no matter how murky the depression waters seem, or how deep the black hole seems to be, ask for help. Do the opposite of what you feel in those moments. Go to where the people are.  

Inside The World Of Infertility (Part I)

April 21st begins Infertility Awareness Week. For some of us, 1 in 8 to be exact, this reminder is more than a week long. It’s a daily, monthly, yearly, and lifetime struggle of awareness that our bodies aren’t doing what we need it to do. Few things are more heartbreaking and devastating to a family’s dream than getting a call from the doctor telling you that you and your spouse are unable to have a baby without IVF (In Vitro Fertilization). It’s a deep pain that hits the core and while, over time we manage, the wound never goes away. There are constant reminders, insensitive comments, and endless personal questions that come with infertility. Not to mention the financial investment, the physical and emotional pain, and the stress of timing the injections, blood work, pills, and implantation to the minute. It literally is a direct science!I remember the phone call like it was yesterday. My husband and I were celebrating our one-year anniversary in Dakota Beach. We had been gifted with a condo and were thoroughly enjoying the nice breeze and view of the ocean from our room when my doctor called me.  He said, “Melissa, your tests came back along with your husband’s. I hate these phone calls. I’m sorry to say that you won’t be able to conceive without the help of IVF. And even with IVF, the numbers don’t look good.” Instantly I stopped thinking and breathing. My mind was going a million miles a minute and shut down all at the same time. I apologized and asked him to repeat what he just said. He simplified and said, “These test results are showing us why you’re not getting pregnant.” He then gave me a name of an IVF specialist and encouraged me to call right away.Infertility does not discriminate. It happens to anyone regardless of race, gender, sexuality, religion, and SES. It even happens to therapists! Infertility can’t be wished away. It’s a grief and a pain like no other. And although everyone who struggles with infertility has their own story, feelings, and emotions surrounding events that only happen to them, there’s a special bond between those who share an IVF and/or infertility story.So, what do you do if you or a loved one has just learned you have infertility or continue to struggle with your empty womb or the waiting?

  • Listen to your physician. If they are not supportive and empathetic, find one who is. You need a good compassionate doctor who will walk with you in this journey.
  • Be kind to yourself. Take time to grieve. You have suffered a traumatic loss. Surround yourself with nonjudgmental and non-fixer people. You need to be able to express your feelings and be validated—not judged or fixed. Infertility is not a problem that can be solved. Some people believe that if IVF works and you get pregnant and have a baby—poof, you’re fixed! All is well. This is not the case. Yes, it is a happy and amazing miracle. But there are so many emotions,feelings, and hidden pains that need addressing.
  • Remember you are NOT broken. Just because there’s a part that may be labelled ‘dysfunctional’ does not mean you or your personhood is.
  • Find a therapist who will help you with coping skills to alleviate your suffering. Not take away the pain, but help in lessening it, help you in your grief, work through unmet expectations, and help manage anxiety if you are going through the IVF process. Don’t suffer in silence. Reach out for help.

Connection and Depression, Part 1

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter and hormone that is involved in the functioning of multiple organ systems in the body. Commonly, it is known as the happy chemical. There is a strong correlation between low levels of serotonin and depression. This is a simple enough explanation and if that is in fact the case, then medication should do the trick. And indeed, medication can help ease the most severe symptoms of depression such as fatigue, decreased concentration and focus, sadness, feeling as if one is in a fog, and general apathy. Notice that I used the word “ease” when explaining how anti-depressant medication can address symptoms of depression. I use this word because anti-depressants are not a cure-all and because depression is a complicated condition. We know that serotonin is implicated in depression, but it is a chicken or the egg argument. Does depression happen because of an insufficient amount of serotonin, or is the production of serotonin impacted by depression?This is an important question because it tells us that managing depression requires a multi-modal approach. Think about it. If you are someone reading this blog right now that has suffered from depression, whether it is infrequent or chronic, what things made it bearable? Was it the great feeling you got from exercise? Or a lovely lunch with a dear friend? A successful presentation at work? Or being selected for a prized opportunity at school? And maybe it was as simple as a walk or eating your favorite ice cream. These events create pleasure,contentment, or a sense of accomplishment which in turn boosts our mood. And those momentary feelings are just that, momentary, when you have depression. Why is that? There are a couple of explanations. One being that people who are depressed are often extrinsically motivated. One who is extrinsically motivated seeks affirmation and approval from the outside world. Success and happiness are determined by the approval of others whether that is in the form of  praise, admiration, or the number of followers/likes/retweets on social media. On the other hand, a person who is intrinsically motivated experiences satisfaction with knowing they have done a good job or are a good person without lots of validation from the outside world.By itself, there is nothing wrong with being extrinsically motivated. Nor is it necessarily sufficient to only be intrinsically motivated. The reality is we need both. We need to know our worth without excessive amounts of validation, and yet it sure is nice when someone notices when we have done a good job. In my opinion, it all comes down to connection. Real, meaningful, life giving connection to others and to a life with purpose. People are healthiest when they know they matter and that what they do matters. People are healthiest when they enjoy relationships where they can be themselves in all of their multifaceted and complex wonderfulness. Do you have people in your life that help you to know you matter and are you engaged in activities or work that give you a sense of purpose? If the answer is no, and you are feeling depressed or anxious, perhaps it is time to re-evaluate and seek new experiences and relationships. Psychotherapy is a great place to begin that exploration and uncover what might be holding you back. More to come on the relationship between connection, depression, and anxiety.

March Awareness Month

If you google March Awareness Month/Week, you will discover a plethora of things to be aware of! It’s Red Cross Month, Ovarian and Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, and Brain Injury Awareness Month to name a few. But then if you scroll down, you will find a division of Awareness Weeks of March. Did you know that there was an actual National Sleep Awareness Week in March?! Anyone with babies and children are quite aware of our sleep, or lack thereof, awareness. There’s MS week, Down Syndrome Awareness Week. Here’s the one that caught my attention. In the U.K., they have a Tick Bite Prevention Week.Sunday, March 24th, starts the TBP week, and I guarantee you that I will be remembering that a country has claimed an entire national week to prevent tick bites. As silly as a Tick Bite Prevention Awareness Week sounds, if it allows families and pets to play outside with more awareness and precautions against tick bites preventing Lyme’s Disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, or other horrible and debilitating disease caused by a tick, then bring on the awareness!There’s a difference in being aware and being anxious. If I have forgotten to buckle my seat belt, my car dings at me. There’s no need to panic. I just put on my seat belt. If I notice myself feeling more frustrated than usual, I do a self-check to see what’s going on internally. Sometimes it’s due to being tired, needing to work out, needing to have a conversation I’ve been putting off with my spouse.According to the Google Dictionary, “Awareness is the knowledge or perception of a situation or fact.” What personal and relational awareness do you have? What keeps you in check with your mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being? What signs do you have that keep you aware? When you start having more negative thoughts about yourself or your relationship, does that cause you to pause and question where those thoughts are coming from? When was the last time you checked in with your family, had a family meeting time, and/or had a meal together without any electronics? When was the last time you self-cared, self-reflected, or had a date night?My hope would be that you are doing a weekly or bimonthly awareness of your relationship and yourself to avoid any chance of a relationship or self break down. If you find yourself needing help to work through the awareness you discover, know there is someone to walk with you and help you in your discovery journey. Being more intentional and aware in your living will create more peaceful and joyful spaces.

Is Work Affecting My Mental Health?

Aside from home, work is typically a place that us working adults spend a lot of our time.  Because we spend so much time at work, the quality of our environment can play a major role in our well-being and mental health.Working in a toxic or unhealthy work environment can cause dissatisfaction day to day, which can carry over into your personal life.  Possible signs of a toxic work environment to look out for: a toxic boss, toxic colleagues, a noticeable increase in your personal stress, inconsistencies in staff expectations, and employees constantly quitting and being fired.Having to deal with any of these stressors (and those not listed) over time can induce symptoms of depression, anxiety, fatigue, and burnout.  Additionally, if these mental health symptoms persist long enough, it could cause someone to second guess their work performance and affect their self-esteem.If you feel like you may work in a toxic work environment, consider the following questions:

  • Do you wake up and dread going to work?
  • Are you constantly being overworked without any acknowledgement?
  • Are you worried about the politics of upper management?
  • Do you leave the office and ruminate about everything that needs to be done, could be done, should have been done?
  • Due to work stress, has there been any recent changes to your diet, sleep, or mood?

If you are experiencing any of these concerns and mental health changes due to an unhealthy work environment, please give me a call and I would love to help you get back to where you want to be in terms of your work and personal life satisfaction.

Out with the Old and in with the New [Year]

Is it just me, or does it feel as if the years continue getting shorter and shorter?January was derived from Janus who is the Roman god of gates and doorways. Janus was said to have 2 faces—one looking forward and the other backward. It is very appropriate for the New Year. Hopefully we have looked back into 2018 and have seen our growth as well as our short-comings. What are you most proud of in 2018? What did you accomplish? What made your heart smile? How did you meet goals and exceed expectations? How would you rate your relationships with your partner, child(ren), or other family members? What about yourself? How was your self-care? In looking forward into 2019, what do you need to do to live, enjoy life, and meet your goals?Is there someone you need to forgive? Remember forgiveness is about you, not the other person and it has nothing to do with forgetting. Are there regrets you need to acknowledge and then release? It’s hard to take a long journey with unneeded baggage. How are you able to receive all the possibilities and blessings of this new year with arms already full?Let this be the year of rekindled friendships, stronger relationships, improved parenting, and prioritized self-care. You are worth having all of these things! Where do you start?

  1. Reach out to a therapist who can help you work on goals, work through past pain and grief, and dust off the tools in your toolbox to strengthen your relationships.
  2. Take time daily to breathe, mediate, walk/run, and play.
  3. Keep those date nights!
  4. Prioritize family time without any electronics.
  5. Phone a friend and write that note.

Waiting Well

What do you do in the waiting period? The in between time? Some have defined the hyphen on a gravestone between the birth year and the death year as the person’s living years. What would you want people to say about the hyphen on your tombstone? Waiting comes in all forms. From waiting to file taxes, to waiting in the drive-thru line, to waiting for the doctor to return your call. We’re in a season when some of us are waiting for Christmas to get here while others are counting down to the minute when it is over.Waiting for Christmas is kind of easy because we know December 25th is coming. As well as waiting for the holidays and festivities to be over.  We know that, too, is ending. Some other waiting times can bring excitement. The joy of an engagement which (hopefully) leads to marriage. The anticipation of pregnancy which (hopefully) leads to a healthy baby.Nevertheless, what happens to your wait when you hear the bad news from the doctor? When you learn there has been unfaithfulness by your partner? When you begin feeling uneasy in your job? When life in and of itself is more ambiguous than certain? The hardest thing about waiting in these times is the not knowing what is going to happen in the in between and not knowing when or if it’s going to end. Or, at least end in the way you are wanting. You can work on yourself in the waiting. Instead of busying yourself, or losing yourself in social media, discover and explore inner peace.If you find your heart heavier than you’d like this holiday season, let me encourage you to take a first step BEFORE New Year’s. Before tomorrow. Start living and stop putting your life on hold until the resolutions begin. Anne Lamott writes, “You can’t buy, achieve, or date serenity. Peace of mind is an inside job, unrelated to fame, fortune, or whether your partner loves you.” GULP!

  1. If your relationship needs a tune-up or you feel like your communication could be improved, reach out to a therapist to help you in strengthening your communication skills and helping you find balance in prioritizing your relationship.
  2. If you want to work on your self-care, choose today to go for a walk or limit your cookie intake to 2.
  3. Make this week a new tradition or have a family game night or have a date night. Reconnect with your family. Designate an electronics free zone or time where everyone looks at one another’s faces and not the tops of their heads.
  4. If you’ve been ‘meaning to’ get back into attending church/synagogue/mosque, find a place to worship and feed your soul.

End this year better than it started in intentionally living, loving hard (including yourself), and being present. Why not begin focusing on changing the inside? “The courage to change the things we can means the stuff inside the snow globe, not where it sits on the mantel.”“Almost Everything: Notes On Hope” by Anne Lamott

Can I survive the holidays? (and please everyone)

Getting through the holidays can be notorious for being stressful for a variety of reasons.  Pressures to host, to get gifts, and see friends and family.  As a host, there are so many details and things to consider including: what you need to prepare for a holiday event (i.e. food and catering, house preparation, etc.), compiling the list of the people you need to invite, and then ultimately trying to set a time and date that works best for everyone.On the other hand, there are times you have multiple holiday engagements to which you are invited and you’re wondering how you’re supposed to juggle it all.  If you are invited to multiple engagements, you’re probably thinking “I don’t want to hurt their feelings if I can’t stay the whole time because I have another event I was invited to.  I just want to make everyone happy.”  Trying to take into consideration everyone’s feelings is hard and compounds the stress of the holidays, as most of us want to make sure everyone gets included and no one’s feelings get hurt in the process.I’ve had people tell me in the past that they had three events to attend in one day – like one at 2, one at 5, and one at 8 – or multiple events for an entire weekend.  I try to imagine their days hopping from event to event thinking how are you hanging in there?  People tell me they hate having to rush out from the event trying not to hurt the host’s feelings, but know they are hurting the next host’s feelings if they do not make it to their event.For couples, the same issue is compounded right?  I’ve heard couples complain about the difficulty in trying to please both sides of the family.  I totally get it!  Well the good news that I tell all my clients is that any holiday is ONLY twenty-four hours.  You WILL survive the day!  Just remember:

  • You cannot please everyone and that is okay.
  • It’s just one day and there is always time to celebrate with your loved ones.
  • Remind yourself what IS important.
  • Communicate and plan ahead of time!

If you are having difficulty or struggling navigating through the holidays, please give me a call!

Trauma and the Media

Often times when we think of trauma, we think of horrific events that happen to a person or to a group of people. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administrations (SAMHSA) define trauma as "an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual's functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being." Things like a natural disaster, war, rape, or a horrific accident. These types of incidents are what I like to call “Big Trauma”. Their impact is shocking and life changing in many cases. And then there are “Little Traumas” that are no less significant than larger scale events and these can include loss of a relationship or job, a medical illness, loss or change in identity, acts of prejudice, and other types of events that require adjustment or transition.“Little traumas” can also compound pre-existing trauma resulting in secondary trauma. Media is a major contributor to secondary trauma because of the prolific generation of information and images of tragic events happening across the world. For example, sexual assault survivors exposed to hundreds of stories and images of sexual assault become stressed as it may activate their own memories of previous assaults, sending them on a roller coaster of emotion and pain. Others exposed to these stories may have an epiphany of sorts - that something happened to them in the past they now have a name for or are just discovering how deeply a previous assault has affected them and their relationships.Interpersonal violence and tragic events of any kind lead to deep and lasting wounds. It changes a person and it changes the way a person processes the world.  For many, the world is no longer a safe place. It is very likely that you know someone who is a survivor of sexual violence. In fact, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men will experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime and it is highly likely they will be assaulted or harassed by someone they know (NSVRC). Sixty-one percent of men and 51% of women have experienced at least one traumatic event in their life time (SAMHSA). The odds that you know someone who has gone through something traumatic in their lives is even greater.We can improve healing by helping survivors feel heard, understood, and believed. If you have been personally affected by trauma, healing is possible, whether the event happened recently or many years ago. Reach out for help. If you think you are experiencing secondary trauma due to media coverage, it is okay to pull away and engage less with social media and TV.  If you have a loved one or a friend who is struggling with trauma, support them. Be sure to listen attentively - listen to the feelings your friend or relative is trying to convey. Offer encouragement for the person to seek counseling and to get well. Extend your emotional support, patience and understanding.Whether you have experienced a “Big Trauma” or “Little Trauma,” all trauma has lasting effects and we are here for you.

Surviving Family Conflict During the Holidays

Fall and winter bring with them not only cooler weather and sweaters, but also a season of celebration. Across the nation, families are celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, Boxing Day, St. Lucia Day, Three Kings Day, Fiesta of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and many more. These holidays and days of remembrance bring families together - for better or worse.As Dr. Hunter pointed out in her recent blog, the holidays do not always bring joy and happiness for those experiencing grief due to loss of a relationship or the death of a loved one. In addition to grief, people may dread the holidays because of conflict between family members, differing political views, or struggling to meet the expectations and demands of multiple family members.If family conflict is on the horizon for you this holiday season, there are things that you can do to make things less stressful and more enjoyable:First and foremost, Be Prepared for Some Conflict. If you usually have conflict when you get together with your family, it's a good idea to be prepared for it. I am not suggesting that you put on some armor and practice stinging comebacks in anticipation of a battle, but I am suggesting be realistic about your expectations. If your mother always criticizes your appearance or your aunt makes inappropriate comments, don't expect them to change their habits; just have a sense of humor about it and remind yourself of what you love about them. If that doesn’t work and you must respond, try the following things:

  • Respond with empathy. Try to remember that critical people often are trying to communicate something else, albeit ineffectively. Listen for what they are really saying.
  • Use “I” statements. Conflict makes people defend themselves and to go on the attack. Instead, use “I” statements (“I feel frustrated when…” instead of “You keep ruining everything,” as an example) so that the other person can understand your point of view instead of feeling attacked.
  • Look for compromise. If your family expects you to be at every holiday celebration and your partner’s family also wants you to be a part of their festivities, take turns. Or host one holiday celebration at your home so everyone can come.
  • Take a time out. If tempers flare and conversations get heated, take a break. Or if things just feel overwhelming, it’s okay to find a quiet spot to get away. If you are a parent of young children, you probably already know the “I am going to the bathroom, be back in a minute” trick to get a few moments of peace. Going for a walk is also a great way to escape for a few moments.
  • Don’t give up. Unless it is time to give up on the relationship, don’t give up on communicating.
  • Own what is yours. If there is anything in your own behavior that contributes to the conflict, own it and make an effort to monitor or control it.

Another option is to just say no to it all. If seeing family causes you great amounts of stress each year, it’s okay to say no sometimes. Celebrating with just your partner or kids can be a wonderful alternative to seeing people who make you feel consistently stressed. You may also choose to surround yourself with people who do make you feel good, such as friends. Either way, it’s also a wonderful opportunity to create your own traditions.This time of year is filled with holiday spirit and hope for a peaceful time. If you are struggling in any way, ask for help. You might even benefit from a few sessions with a therapist. Couples and family therapy may also be helpful for managing altercations and teach skills to resolve future conflict. 

Holiday Grief

The holidays are fast approaching. Turkey, family, trees and tinsel. “Children laughing, people clapping, meeting smile after smile...” That is, everyone who isn’t grieving, of course. The holidays are the hardest for those mourning the loss of a loved one, a shattered marriage, or a miscarriage. While everyone’s singing their “FA LA LAs”, people who are hurting just want lots of silent nights so they're not reminded of how unhappy they truly are. Or even worse, having to pretend they have moved on or ‘gotten over’ their baby dreams and Hallmark movie carriage ride romance.How will you nurture your grieving soul this holiday season? First and foremost, be gentle and kind to yourself. Give yourself permission to not celebrate. Yes, you read that right. If putting the tree up only feels like daggers to your heart, leave it down this year. If seeing Baby Jesus with his new mom displayed in a nativity set pierces your empty womb, keep them tucked away this year. Caring for your soul is more important than keeping up with traditions. Whatever does not promote healing and nurturing, leave it in its box this year. It could also mean that you need to leave a chair open and/or a place set for mom or dad to remind you of their love amid their physical absence. Light a candle or start a new tradition. Put the tree up in a new space or room and change up the lights and/or ornaments. Have a jammie day and stay in to watch movies or bake.Grief manifests itself in so many ways. While there is no right or wrong way to handle grief during the holidays, give yourself permission to decide what’s right for you as well as to change your mind. If you said ‘yes’ to a party or a dinner, and then you feel a wave of pain or sorrow hit, call and cancel if that is what you need to do. Reach out if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes volunteering can help your spirits. However, make sure staying busy isn’t a way to leave your grief unattended. I would encourage you to find a therapist to help you process your grief if this is your first holiday season alone without a spouse or partner, divorced, or childless. Surround yourself with people who love you and care about you and your well-being MORE than family traditions. After all, we are in the Season of Love, and that includes loving yourself.

Walking A New Path

I lived in Illinois my entire life before moving Texas, and know it from top to bottom. It is a familiar and comfortable place for me and it was hard to leave. The move brought with it all sorts of interesting transitions for me and my family. Some have been easier to navigate than others, but all are necessary.One of my favorite things is artwork depicting paths or roads that seemingly appear to be endless or going nowhere in particular.  When I learned that I would be moving, my eyes immediately went to a photograph of a moving river hanging in my office done by a local photographer. It embodies both turbulence and serenity.The image of a path, with no clear end point, elicits different reactions with people. Some experience a sense of dread, others fear the unknown, and for some excitement. The photograph offered me a reminder that change happens to everyone; and it is how we manage the transition that often comes with change that matters most.Transition is the psychological process that people go through to come to terms with a new situation. It is not a linear process but does have stages that define the process. At the beginning, letting go of how things were is key to establishing new routines and relationships. For a period of time, people can exist in a “grey zone” of the new and the old. The old is gone but the new is not yet fully established. After a period of time, the compass is reset with new understandings, values, attitudes, and identities.As I reset my own compass, I have moments where I miss my old life but I do not linger long in the feelings of loss because Texas has welcomed me and my family with such warmth and hospitality. I can’t promise I will trade my Cubbies for the Rangers, or the Bears for the Cowboys, but I am open to all that Texas has to offer.If you are struggling to find your path or navigate a new path, I can help.

Is It Your Gut or Your Guilt?

Should I follow my heart or my gut?  My heart is telling me to do one thing and my gut is telling me another.Have you ever found yourself in a position like this… trying to make a decision and having a hard time figuring out what to listen to?  Go with my heart or go with my gut?Our heart guides us to the future that we want and sometimes what we very much hope for.  However, sometimes chasing after what we very much want or holding onto something we really hope for can blur the reality of what is really happening right in front of us.  Our heart, or better said hope, can drown out what our gut is really trying to tell us.  If we just don’t talk about that issue, he won’t leave me.  Even though I don’t have enough money, I can get this apartment and things will be okay.  Moreover, what I’ve noticed even more when it comes to making tough decisions… there is a third factor that comes into play.  That factor being GUILT.  I notice myself asking many clients is it your gut that’s driving you to make that decision or is it guilt?When we feel guilty, we make decisions out of obligation and we may even feel the need to make something right.  But when feel obligated, we have to be honest and ask ourselves:

  • Am I making this decision because it is something I really want?
  • Am I making this decision because I should?
  • Am I making this decision because she/he made me feel bad?
  • Am I making this decision solely out of fear of what someone else may think?

Making decisions can be hard enough and if you are feeling confusion about any or all of the above… is this my heart? My gut? Or my guilt?  Please give me a call and I can help navigate you through this time in your life.  We can get to the root of your behaviors and help you to make the best and healthiest decision for you.      

Fully Equipped

Recently my tire light popped up on my dashboard. I had air placed in the tire. I think my anxiety level dropped just as quickly as the warning light went off when air was placed in the tire. I feel like there is not an inch of road or highway without some sort of construction on it so, I assumed it was a nail. The tenant said it was a slow leak, which, in my non-car professional opinion, meant I could go about my day-to-day without worry. Well, two weeks went by until the air light came on again. Ugh. This time, I knew I shouldn’t wait. I took my car in and, sure enough, there was a huge nail in it. I had 3 choices: One, put air in my tire and go about my day again…until. Two, just keep driving until…Three, replace or patch the tire for good. By choosing the third option, the source of what was causing the tire to lose air was found.This little ordeal reminds me a lot of how we as human beings work. Although we do not have an active warning light telling us something is wrong or when to ‘seek help immediately’, if we listen to our inner selves closely enough, we’ll discover the issues that need to be addressed. Those issues could manifest through physical, emotional, or mental pain, headaches, shallow breathing, over/under eating, lack of sleep, digestion issues, etc. Emotionally we could feel worn out, depressed, extremely sad, rageful, or distant. In our relationships, the unaddressed needs could cause withdrawing from our partner, disinterest in sex, lashing outbursts or disengagement. Our bodies are notorious for giving us signals to slow down, take a breath, or to talk with someone. Through the exploration of this self-awareness, creating the change we want is possible if we address the source of what is causing our pain.Anne Lamott, in Traveling Mercies, wrote, “It’s funny: I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox, full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of patience. But then when I grew up I found that life handed you these rusty bent old tools—friendships, prayer, conscience, honesty—and said, 'Do the best you can with these, they will have to do.' And mostly, against all odds, they’re enough.”I believe that this is the core of therapy. To help a person see the tools he or she has already obtained simply through living their life. Maybe the tools haven’t been used in a while (or ever) - a therapist can show you how to use them. Maybe you’re interested in using a new approach to solving an issue or finding the source of where the issue lies - a therapist can help you discover the many ways your tools can be used to help stabilize balance or provide more strength as you wrestle with the issue. You are enough. Let a therapist help you gain perspective in your life. Therapy is a way of providing you with lenses to see your full self. Don’t ignore the inner warning lights your body is showing you. Address them head on. Your perspective might just change, and in the process, your relationship and self as well!

Life's Curveballs

No matter how much we plan, life can throw us curveballs.  Whether planned or unplanned, life’s curveballs catapult us into a different life transition and dealing with them can be challenging.  Transitions can include but are not limited to: graduating college and entering the workforce, getting laid off, moving, and dealing with a relationship break up.  Transitions can last between a few short days to long periods of time and can make anyone feel unsettled and anxious.  Many times before I've heard, “I’m scared of the unknown.  How am I supposed to know what should happen next?  How do I know I am making the right decision?”Understandably, navigating through life transitions can be anxiety provoking and emotionally challenging.  Here are a few tips to help guide you through uncertain times:

  • Known that it is OKAY to feel anxious.
  • Having a POSITIVE attitude goes a long way.
  • Think about what you’re meant to embrace in the next phase of your life.
  • Set realistic goals and expectations for yourself. Work diligently towards your goals. And don’t forget to acknowledge your progress along the way.
  • Lean on your support system.
  • Remember transitions are temporary… things will settle.

As cliché as the saying goes, when one chapter closes another one always opens.  If you can muster the strength and focus to navigate through your life transition, something positive and meaningful will come of it and it will give you a chance to learn something about yourself.If navigating your life transition has become too difficult to deal on your own, please contact me for help!

Expect Greatness

Several years ago, a little boy around 7 or 8 came to my door by himself. It was Halloween. He had no costume on and, more importantly, no bucket or bag! I opened the door and he timidly asked, “Trick or Treat?” I asked, “Friend, where is your bag??? You can’t trick or treat without a bag?! Hold on!” I quickly ran and brought back the biggest bag I could find and handed it to him. I then said, “When you go trick or treating, you have to expect greatness. Now, I want you to open your honkin’ bag and “Trick or Treat” as if all the candy in the world depended upon those three words.” He stood up tall and grinned from ear to ear and boldly said, “Trick or Treat!” while holding his bag open. My 2-piece candy rule went quickly out the window and I gave him 2-handfuls instead.When’s the last time you expected greatness? How long has it been since you were happy with yourself? In your job? In your relationship? How you parent? When is the last time you got excited to bake a pie or go for a swim? Life is hard, and situations can slam into us like a speeding car without brakes. Nevertheless, we need to find pockets where we expect greatness. Notice perfection is not mentioned. Expecting greatness is different than expecting to be perfect. Brené Brown says we should live life daring greatly. Sometimes all that can mean is just showing up. Being brave enough to get off the sidelines, step out and be vulnerable. Occasionally it means making the first move in a strained relationship. Saying “I’m sorry”, “I messed up”, or “Let’s try again.”Therapy is a great and safe place to learn new techniques in practicing bravery and vulnerability in your journey. You can express pain, fear, and hurt, while being heard, validated, and affirmed. Therapy can be the tool you use as you expect greatness in every area of your life. Brené Brown wrote, “The power of owning our stories, even the difficult ones, is that we get to write the ending.” I challenge you to own your story and expect greatness as you write and live your life.

Spirituality: A Holistic Approach to Therapy

What does it mean when a therapist says that they utilize a client’s spirituality as a tool to promote change and healing? When a client comes to see me and they ask if I am a ‘Christian Counselor’, I tell them that while my religion is Christian, I work with one’s spirituality. I see all kinds of clients of all religions and views of God. To me spirituality includes “wanting to belong, be loved, valued, affirmed and nurtured as human beings, and to be respected with dignity”.1 “How we see ourselves in the scheme of things, how we relate to other human beings and the wider world, and how we find meaning, purpose, and connection in life—all of this is the very stuff of spirituality”.2 Spirituality is about relating with oneself, with others, and with a greater power than oneself or with God and “serves as a unifying and healing force that centers on relationships, development, wholeness, integration, and individual empowerment”.3 I use a holistic approach to therapy because I believe that a person is a physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual being who cannot be compartmentalized. When one aspect is hurt or sick, it affects all aspects of the individual. Therefore, in my sessions, I listen for how a client views God, a higher power, or where they seek their source of strength to help them find ways of getting them through their distress. Spirituality is about being in relationship with oneself and with others. As I affirm the uniqueness of each of my clients and their relationship(s), this enables them to meet their own spiritual needs and bring about inner healing as well as working through the individual, couple, and family dynamic issues they came to therapy for.Did you know that “in the United States, 92% of Americans report a belief in God or a higher power and more than 50% indicate that religion/spirituality is ‘very important’ in their lives”?4 Research showed that when a patient’s spiritual needs are addressed, the patient’s mental health tends to improve as well.There is a misconception, in my opinion, in the definition of healing. Sometimes healing can come from being cured. Other times, however, like in the case of a terminal illness, as described in The American Journal of Bioethics, healing can include discovering meaning, bringing hope and newness, reconciliation to one’s illness, to one’s past or present relationships, and peace with God.5 This is the beauty of spirituality. It comes through many shapes and sizes. Spirituality can appear in the subdued silence, the mystical and dancing sunrise, or through the laughter of a child. It can wrap a person in endless arms of love and delight and sing sweet melodies through spoken or unspoken words. It would only make sense that the one place a (hurting) person, already feeling incomplete, can walk into, is a (therapist’s) office, and be treated as a whole person. “We delude ourselves if we think we can keep our inner life separate from the outer”. 2References:(1) Edwards, A., Pang, N., Shiu, V., & Chan, C. (2010). The understanding of spirituality and the potential role of spiritual care in end-of-life and palliative care: A meta-study of qualitative research. Palliative Medicine, 24(8), 753-770. DOI: 10. 1777/0269216310375860.(2) Wright, S., & Neuberger, J. (2013). Spiritual expression. Nursing Standard, 27(41), 16-18.(3) Pelleg, G., & Leichtentritt, R. D. (2009). Spiritual beliefs among Israeli nurses and social workers: A comparison based on their involvement with the dying. Omega, 59(3), 239-252. DOI: 10.2190/OM.59.3.d.(4) Rosmarin, D. H., Wachholtz, A, & Ai, A. (2011). Beyond descriptive research: Advancing the study of spirituality. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 34, 409-413. DOI: 10. 1007/s10865-011-9370-4.(5) Long, T. L. (2010). Review of the rebirth of the clinic: An introduction to spirituality and a balm for gilead. The American Journal of Bioethics, 10(4), 87-89. DOI: 10. 1080/15265161003697339   

Bottle Up The Ocean

Recently my family and I vacationed at the beach. I love the beach!! Granted, I’m underneath an umbrella, but regardless, I love the sound of the ocean roar, children squealing and laughing, and sea birds gawking. It’s a breath of fresh air from the echoes of honking horns and tires monotonously speeding along the interstate concrete. While everyone else slept in, I would get up and join the fellow runners and walkers on the beach. Running on the beach takes me to another place. A place of peace and serenity. A place of reassurance and total focus. A place where it is just me, myself, and I. The ocean is a dwelling where status and gender, relationship status, kids or no, and level of education do not matter. The radiant sun shines on everyone the same. To enjoy this natural bliss, the only thing that matters is that we show up. Isn’t that like life? Being present? Being open and available? Brené Brown, in Daring Greatly, writes that, “What we know matters, but who we are matters more. Being rather than knowing requires showing up and letting ourselves be seen…vulnerability.”While I can’t start every morning at the beach, I can bottle a little of it with me. I can start each day by showing up and being vulnerable with myself and with those whom I love. Where is your sweet space to just be you? Where can you go and be loved, affirmed, and supported not for what you know or what you do, but for who you are? Here are 3 challenges in making this happen:

  • Find that space and place, and when you do, bottle it up and drink it every single day.
  • Ask yourself if you can be vulnerable with the people in your life. Do you trust them and yourself to be vulnerable? If the answer is, “Yes”, then ask them to be your person.
  • Find a therapist whom you can confide in and practice vulnerability along with learning ways in being more open and honest with yourself and with others.