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The Value of Connection

The Value of Connection

The other day in between clients I ran over to the bank. As I was walking back to the office I heard a lady yelling hey at me. I admit I was tempted to ignore her but I turned and acknowledged her. She gestured me over and then started complimenting me. She admired different aspects of my outfit (which honestly wasn’t all of that IMO). But she was so genuine and happy. I chatted with her a few minutes and then went on my way. As I was leaving she grabbed my hand and said, “Keep wearing paisley”. It was such a Bay Area moment for me. I went back to work with a big small on my face.

I was born and raised in NJ. That means you grow up with a certain attitude and you move fast. I recently complained to a friend about how rude New Yorkers were after a recent visit there. I said, “they never say hi and they always try to run you over”. She replied, “ When you first moved to CA you used to complain about people talking to you everywhere, you thought it strange.” She was right. I often complained about that when I moved out here all that talking was slowing me down. Now I try to get in the grocery lane of the checker who also likes the Oakland A’s so we can catch up on what the team is doing wrong this year.

It is good to recognize that for me right now I like the slower pace and the random conversations that happen where I live. These connections actually feed me and they make me feel seen. In the world right now we seem to often forget about the value of connection. It is what makes us have joy. That is the place to spend time, rather than think it is a waste of time.

 

One Foot in Front of the Other

One Foot in Front of the Other

I will confess I love Christmas. Why am I confessing that in June? It is because recently I have had one of those periods in life that have felt a bit overwhelming. And the other day the song “one foot in front of the other” kept running through my head. I didn’t recognize where it came from until I sat down to write this post and googled it. It is from one of the classic Christmas shows from the 60’s and 70’s that any person growing up in that time period would recognize. For those interested in the video I will embed it at the bottom of this post.

I watched it today as I contemplated writing this post about the need sometimes to do just that put one foot in front of the other in order to get past the challenging times. But as I watched the video the theme was about doing something kind for someone and having it change their perspective. And that is what I would rather focus on. Because even within a challenging time so many people have done kind things for me, some little, some big. Some of them were asked for and some of them were just given freely. Some were rather random like a strange woman stopping me and starting a conversation that ended with her saying “keep wearing paisley” that left me smiling. Some of the experiences I don’t even think the other person knew were helpful to me at the time. One woman was talking to me in a moment where I was very upset and she distracted me and made me feel better. My guess is that she doesn’t even remember meeting me.

It shows me how important it is to always be kind. You just never know what someone is going through in any given moment and how much it can mean to someone that you were kind to him or her. Right now it feels like the world is a complicated place and so many people are angry and feeling unheard. To me the solution is simple, be kind, always. That isn’t to say you can’t stand up for yourself when it is necessary but you never should be mean doing it. It is important to recognize that our actions and words affect others always and to be mindful of that. You never know when someone is just putting one foot in front of the other and needs a boost.

 

Why Vulnerability Matters

Why Vulnerability Matters

As any follower of my Facebook page knows I love Brené Brown. She writes about shame and vulnerability. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable can be excruciating. The last thing we want to expend energy on when we are struggling is relationships. We don’t want to risk rejection at a time when we already feel bad. However, the only way we can work through life’s challenges and move on is to be vulnerable and express our feelings.

We have a propensity to not want to ask for help. No one wants to be seen as weak or as being a burden. But if people ask to help, most of the time they actually want to help. They are happy to help because they feel powerless if they can’t do anything. I have had the honor to walk through some painful places with friends and while it was always challenging it was also an honor. When someone allows you into their lives in a deep and meaningful way it is profound. It deepens the relationship. Both parties end up better people.

It takes deep courage to reach out and be authentic in our darkest times but when we can do it allows us to be present to our pain while not being alone. Ultimately that is the way healing happens and we find our way forward again.

April 1st, 2016|Thoughts From A Psychotherapist|0 Comments

Recalibrating after a loss

Recalibrating after a loss

I posted an article about the grief of losing your mother on my Facebook page recently. One my friends wrote about the need to recalibrate after losing their mother. That word just resonated with me because it seems so fitting to what the process of grief can be like. When we lose someone who is a significant force in our life such as a parent or spouse we don’t just lose the person we lose our sense of life, as we know it. Our future looks different. We feel different.

When we have a strong connection with someone we create a future in our minds with them. If the relationship is positive then we know that they will be there for us and we will have their support and companionship to get us through the challenges of life. When that future plan gets taken away from us due to a death it can create a devastating anxiety and fear. Everything we thought to be true no longer is. If we are to move forward somehow we have to find a way to live our lives in a different way than we had planned. It is a frightening time.

I often talk with people about the different versions of ourselves we have in our lifetime. If we are lucky we learn and change and grow as we move through our lives. To me that is recalibration.  As life changes we are often forced to adapt. Sometimes we welcome these changes and more often we are forced into them kicking and screaming.

So what does it mean to recalibrate? It means finding our way in the world again. It means finding out who is truly our support system. It means learning new ways to cope. It means learning what we now like and dislike. It means learning to feel grief and stumble through it. It means somehow plugging our way forward in our new reality. Which is all any of us can do after a loss.

 

 

March 8th, 2016|grief, Thoughts From A Psychotherapist|0 Comments

How To Find Gratitude When Everything Sucks

How To Find Gratitude When Everything Sucks

I write a lot about gratitude. I believe, and research shows it is an important piece of finding happiness. I talk to every person I work with about mindfulness and encourage them to develop a practice that works for them. I try to practice my own recommendations. I meditate for 20 minutes most days. I firmly feel like it has improved my overall well-being. It took me a long time to get to a regular practice. Like many people I found it hard to make that time commitment to myself.

The ongoing challenge is how to keep up the practice when things get hard. I have seen many people that had such a challenging 2015. Losses and pain and grief. How do you find gratitude and presence in the midst of those things? Sadly I can’t write the 5 ways to find gratitude when everything sucks. What I can share are a few suggestions that may be helpful.

  1. Work hard to practice some type of mindfulness. The 20 minute meditation may be out of the question but sit for 5 minutes and breathe. When we are in crisis mode we move and we forget to stop. It is important to take breaks and just sit and be even if it is just for a few minutes.
  2. Ask for help and accept it. I have seen people struggling so hard yet not allowing others to help them. The people that ask to help genuinely want to help let them. One problem is often people know they need help but aren’t exactly sure what it is that they need. Most of us have that friend, the organizer, and the one that loves a spread sheet. Ask them to help organize the help. Sometimes you may just need to be told what you need.
  3. There is a famous quote from Mr. Rogers “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” I think the same can be true in hard times. Look for the good moment. Even in our worst moments there is often a moment of lightness and laughter. Look for it. And let yourself have it once you find it.
  4. Be around positive people and not the negative ones. That is not to say you want people that are telling you things will be okay when they aren’t but some people have a way of wallowing in negativity while others can find the positive in anything.

When our life is hard making a commitment to take care of ourselves can feel overwhelming, but whatever you can do to allow yourself to be supported is important.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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January 21st, 2016|gratitude, Thoughts From A Psychotherapist|0 Comments

5 Ways to Cope While Living in a Culture of Fear

5 Ways to Cope While Living in a Culture of Fear

It seems to me that right now we are living in a culture of fear. Much of the news we see is about how someone is going to take away something from somebody, freedom, money, safety, etc. Recent world events have only seemed to worsen this propensity.

I believe that this culture of fear is leaking into our daily lives more and more. I see people finding themselves constantly competing with others, ending up in a no-win cycle of trying to have or be enough.  It perpetuates our already scary propensity for doing more rather than being. The culture of busy to me is an effect of the culture of fear. Fear drives us to constantly try to do more and be more. No wonder our country has such a high rate of anxiety and depression. It is hard to live a life where you never feel safe or good enough.

There are no easy answers here. We each have to find our own ways to happiness. Here are a few suggestions that have worked for me.
1. Don’t compete with others. You will never win and quite frankly you don’t even know what you are competing with. Few people show the depth of their pain when they are suffering. Lots of people look really good and together on the outside but the inside is very different.
2. Be kind to others. Whenever you can. Smile at people, compliment them, open the door, offer to carry groceries, there are so many ways to do this. It helps you and it helps them.
3. Limit your daily news intake. This amount may differ for each of us and change on any given day but don’t allow yourself to be sucked into more than you can tolerate.
4. You can make a difference so do it. Give to a veteran’s organization this holiday season, take a neighbor’s garbage out or plow their driveway. Small acts make a difference too. We can’t all win Nobel Prizes but we can all do what we can to make the world a better kinder place.
5. Don’t let yourself get mired in anger. I have struggled with this as I have seen some responses to world events recently. But on my best days I find my compassion and move on and on my worst days I try to keep it to myself and not perpetuate it.

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November 20th, 2015|Thoughts From A Psychotherapist|0 Comments

Duct Tape and The Water Bowl

Duct Tape and The Water Bowl

So I found myself sitting on my kitchen floor duct taping my cat’s water bowl to the pad underneath it at 10:30pm the other night. I could do nothing but laugh at myself. I have spent the last few weeks trying to outsmart an overactive kitten that I have diagnosed with OCD. Yup therapists diagnose our pets too. Little Morrie has decided that his newest game is to move the water bowl across the kitchen floor leaving a nice trail of water along the way. If I go in and clean it up and then leave the room Morrie goes right back at it again and again and again (you can see where I got the OCD diagnosis).

I have tried about six different bowls and then yesterday I read about simply taping the bowl to the mat. So I did that. And I have had some success with that. See I think along with the OCD Morrie may have a touch of ADHD and if something becomes boring then he doesn’t want to do it anymore. So once the bowl was affixed then it became boring and problem was solved. Until it wasn’t. Tonight as I was working on the computer I heard that familiar bowl moving noise. I didn’t get up because any Morrie attention is considered good attention and it only reinforces the behavior more.

Of course when I went into the kitchen the floor was sopping wet and that is how I found myself duct taping the bowl down again. I thought I have got to make a blog post out of this because it would be good to write about something a little more light-hearted then grief and care-giving. But here I am at the end of the post wondering what the point of it all is? That I can’t outsmart a kitten? That in every relationship you have to deal with some spilled water along with the love? That life can bring challenges in unexpected ways? Maybe all of the above maybe it is just that sometimes you just have to laugh and clean up the water, again.

 

October 22nd, 2015|Thoughts From A Psychotherapist|2 Comments

Coping with Aging Parents

Coping with Aging Parents

One of the issues I see people facing both in my personal life and my professional life is coping with aging parents. There are inevitable issues such as health and losing them that we all have to face. I recently met an EAP counselor that specialized in these issues and we talked about how challenging these situations are and how easy it is to become overwhelmed and lose focus on your own life. We also talked about how ill prepared people are for death in general.

When faced with coping with these situations I encourage people to be proactive. It is so much easier to get supports in place ahead of time rather than when the crisis hits. That being said it usually doesn’t happen for a variety of reasoning including denial of the situation, resistance on behalf of the parent, or inability to access services. If you are facing a crisis I would encourage you to use all available resources. If you work for a company with EAP benefits most offer a counselor who can help you navigate the system and get support. It is a great resource that is generally under utilized because people do not know about it. Also depending on where your parents live there are usually local Offices of Aging that can offer support and referrals. Many times they will even do a home visit to assess what your parent needs and what they are eligible for. There are also paid case managers that do this work if there are resources available to pay for it. As a social worker I always encourage people to get a social worker involved in these situations whenever you can. Social workers know how to navigate systems quickly and understand benefits. Anyone who has tried to help his or her parents with Medicare can understand the value of that.

If you become a caregiver I would also encourage you to use the resources to establish counseling for yourself. Whether it is individual therapy or a caregivers support group it is important to also take care of you. Remember what they always tell you on an airplane, you have to put your oxygen mask on first.

If you lose your parent I would encourage you to also establish a support network of people that understand that loss. Grief is a crazy ride and it is better to share it with someone else who understands that.

If your parents are healthy and doing well be sure to take the time to ask any questions you have of them. Get the stories out of them. Consider taping them or video taping them. Often after a loss there is a wish to know things and taking the time to hear the stories while they are doing well can be a gift to both you and your parent.

Finally if you are estranged from your parents then try and find some support to cope with any issues that may come up around that. You may still feel like you have to step in and help if they are ill or perhaps you can’t. I encourage everyone to make the best decision for themselves and to get support for it.

I would also encourage people to talk about these experiences with others. We can only receive support if we share our experiences. You will often be surprised by who will step up and be supportive to you.

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October 21st, 2015|caregiving, Thoughts From A Psychotherapist|2 Comments

Power and Pain of Vulnerability

Power and Pain of Vulnerability

A few months ago I read this article. This woman talks about a day when she confided in another woman about the problems in her marriage. She and the woman ended up becoming fast friends. She took a risk and showed her vulnerability and it paid off. It is a great story.

I am a big fan of Brene Brown. She talks a lot about vulnerability. I often think that if we were more open with our struggles then people would feel less isolated in their struggles. I hear from clients often that they feel they are the only one struggling with depression or anxiety. I know they are not. There is such pressure for all of us to present our best selves all the time. However, we have our struggles and rarely do we share those. We feel like people don’t want to hear it or we don’t want to be a burden. So we carry our struggles alone or share only with a small group of friends and it makes it harder to cope with our pain.

I recently have tried to be more open with the challenges in my life. Maybe it is a matter of aging and no longer feelings like I care so much about other people’s judgments. My results in showing my vulnerability have been mixed. I have experienced three different results. Some people are amazing and stay amazing. They check back in with me to see how things are. They listen and they share things going on in their own lives. The next group of people is amazing for a moment in time and then seemingly disappears. The last group doesn’t respond at all.

I will say that the positive responses far outweigh the negative ones. I would also say that the positive responses are worth getting even with the risk of receiving a negative response. I always try and remember everyone has a story and part of those stories include unhappiness. We often cannot see what weight each person carries. I try to keep that in mind in every interaction and I try to be the person who checks in and follows up. I don’t always succeed, but that is the person I want to be. Our lives are busy but it doesn’t take a lot to reach out and listen and be kind and there are rewards for us when we do it.

 

 

Word Cloud made at Word Out
September 26th, 2015|Thoughts From A Psychotherapist|4 Comments

Gratitude as a Reframe

Gratitude as a Reframe

I was having one of those days. Filled with disappointment in people. No one it seemed was living up to my expectations and I felt cruddy. I was ruminating over being done wrong When I woke the next morning I wanted a different day. I am all about having negative feelings (well in theory anyway) but I didn’t want to stay in a pity party. So I started my day in bed thinking about the people that had hurt my feelings and all the things they had done for me over time. All the things I was grateful for. Everything I would miss if they were no longer in my life. It totally changed my attitude. I got out of bed and I was in a better mood. I had a good day.

What I have learned is that it is okay to be disappointed. It is good to be able to express those feelings and get your needs met. At the same time dwelling in them doesn’t help. It can create a spiral of negativity that can be hard to shake. Life is tough enough without creating my own obstacles. If there is one thing I have learned this year it is that there is never enough time. It is hard but important to stay focused on the present and what is good. Not ignoring what is bad but not staying there either.

Today I started wearing a new necklace. It says “Beauty is found in the small moments”. That is how I am trying to live.

 

September 5th, 2015|Thoughts From A Psychotherapist|0 Comments