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.

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

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.

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!

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.

Dealing with Depression

“I just don’t feel like myself.”“I can’t seem to concentrate on anything.”“I cry for no reason all the time.”If you have recently experienced any of the thoughts above and have noticed these thoughts lingering for some time, you could be experiencing symptoms of depression.  But before we make any assumptions, it is important to clarify the difference between being sad and actually struggling with depression.  Sadness, like any other emotion, is healthy in moderation and usually is triggered by an event or situation.  Sadness eventually passes.  However, depression is more than just a passing emotion.  It is a lingering state that affects every aspect of your life… you don’t enjoy the things you used to, things seem less worthwhile, and you just don’t feel like yourself.Truthfully, many people do not seek help for depression because they are unaware of what symptoms of depression look like are or do not recognize they are depressed.  And, there is still strong stigma around seeking help for mental health issues, which can be discouraging for people to reach out for professional and personal support.Thankfully, help is available!  I want to assure you that if you are struggling with depression, you are not alone in your struggle.  In 2017, over 15 million Americans were struggling with some form of depression.  Depression is a very real thing and it is very treatable.  Reaching out for help to deal with depression is not a sign of weakness.  Getting help for yourself and improving your overall quality of life is a sign of strength and courage.If you feel like you are struggling with any form of depression, consider the following options:

  • Reach out to professional help (i.e. your primary care doctor and/or therapist)
  • Get educated on the signs and symptoms of depression
  • Stop beating yourself up for not feeling like your ‘normal’ self

Remember…. there is always hope and it is okay to ask for help.

Off the Back Burner

Our job as parents is to love and nurture our child(ren). This love can manifest itself in so many ways. One of the most important ways to love your child is by taking care of you! Are you making sure your child is eating healthy while you're surviving on whatever is available or convenient, neglecting the proper nutrition? What about taking time out to exercise or to meditate? How are you physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually taking care of yourself while caring for your child(ren)?It is a juggling act to attend to child, work, partner, house responsibilities, and then yourself! While the balance is challenging, it is vital that your child sees you caring for yourself and nurturing your relationship with your partner. Here are some ways to take yourself off of the back burner and create an equal space for yourself beside your family rather than behind it:(1) Choose to eat healthy today. Take as much care in your food prep as you do with your child's.(2) Go for that walk in the sunshine, take a yoga or dance class, bike ride or hike.(3) Schedule a date lunch or dinner with your partner to reconnect.(4) If you need more support than you're currently getting, seek a therapist who can help you prioritize and/or find a balance to creating that space for you in the midst of all of your responsibilities. You are valuable and worth the time and energy to become a better and healthier you!