People all over the world think that the opposite of love is hate. Nope. It's indifference. If a kid is not getting enough attention from their parent then they will act up because attention of ANY kind is better than the dreaded NOTHING!! To have people look past you as if you don't matter is a fate worse than death. Connection matters. It is a basic need. Some need more connection than others but, extrovert or introvert, we all need it. And yet, when people are depressed, their instinct, often, is to withdraw. That is because the puss in the wound of depression is debilitating low self-esteem and they fear that others will think the same awful things that they are thinking. And sometimes the negative things are true. Sometimes people will avoid tasks or situations because they fear a negative outcome and then the avoidance creates the very thing they feared in the first place. : ( How does one pull themselves out of that negative spiral? Firstly....know that you are not alone. I've worked in the mental health field for 24 years and I've live twice that long as a person. What I've learned is that EVERYONE has 'stuff'. This 'I'm completely fine and have no issues' and 'if you were doing it 'right' neither would you' culture that we live in is perpetuating a shame that doesn't allow for brokenness and the wisdom that comes from it. We are all broken in some ways. If we were so healthy and everyone was so 'FINE' then we would hear and see people being kinder to each other. Really kind.....not two faced kind. We would all feel safer to show our bad days on facebook and instagram because there would be a combination of true compassion for each other and a containment of the negative story so that joy and positive experiences can win and fill our minds and our experience. It's hard to stay separate from all the critical messages in our society. I struggle with it and I teach this stuff!! It's like swimming up stream. So I think the increase in mental health issues is a result of a cultural breakdown and awareness of how important it is to continue to practice the skills that we teach to our young children. We all matter. Our spirits matter. Talk to yourself kindly. Talk to others kindly. If they have let you down then name that and tell them how it has impacted you but stay away from labelling them in hurtful ways about their spirit. It doesn't serve us or them when we call people names. This week is the Bell Let's Talk campaign for mental health. I heard the brilliant Clara Hughes talking about her struggles on CBC. The more we all admit that we are fabulous and we struggle at the same time, the healthier it is for everyone. Let's stop pretending and start be mindful of reaching out towards each other in love, kindness and compassion as the attitude we perpetuate towards ourselves and others.
Be gentle with your spirit and with other's spirits. We all matter and this ride is hard enough as it is.
So a lot of people have their minds south of the border today. Seems there's a new president going to be running the show. And even if we have feelings and thoughts about that, the fact is, it's outside of our control. This is when it is helpful to practice the discipline of noticing, naming and containing. Is it wrong to think about this? No. However, our mental health increases dramatically when we are focused on what is within our control and when our positive thoughts outweigh the negative. So, my recommendation is for you to notice if you are upset about something, name what your issue is about it and get heard by someone (or validate your own reality by journalling) and then switch to what IS within your control and is more positive. So today I decided to think about the positive influence that Ellen Degeneres is having on the world. She just won her 20th People's Choice Award. I believe that it's because she focuses on love and kindness as her way of going about being in the world and everyone needs more of that. So the inside of my head went kind of like this in picture form....
That's mindfulness....notice, decide...choose....repeat!!!
So every January the gym I go to gets so busy that often I find myself walking from the far end of the parking lot instead of nearer the front door. That is.....until about half way or towards the end of January and then the people who are trying to create a new habit stop showing up as much as they had hoped to. These are the days of the 'New Year's Resolutions'. People (including myself) head into them with deep convictions that they will lose weight, get fit, be on time more, stop smoking etc etc. And when they veer off track the self criticism can be so high that there is no incentive to try. It's like choosing to go back to public school and the teachers are still allowed to use the whip if you make a mistake! So....an alternative to a New Year's Resolution is to be 'mindful' of that area of your life that is difficult for you to control. The difference is in your attitude. If your intention is to eat less and you find yourself gorging on junk food and cake, then switch your thinking from "What an idiot I am", "I have no self-control" to "Hmmmm.....that's interesting" "I wonder what triggered me that caused me to do that?" "I wonder what would calm me so that I don't keep choosing that?". None of us changes as a result of fear or intimidation. This point is true internally as well as when we are relating to others. So if there are changes that you want to make in the New Year......choose instead to be mindful of your behaviours and learn what triggers you and what you might need to prevent you from gravitating towards the unhelpful behaviour. I believe that if you show up in life you should get an 'A'. We all make mistakes and in learning new skills and habits, you won't do it perfectly. Mindfulness in it's most simplistic form is to show up, notice, choose and repeat. If you didn't make the choice that you wanted to make then something probably triggered you to not show up and consciously choose. Forgive yourself. Learn from it, put in new strategies and try again. Don't quit because you are tired of disappointing yourself because that's the part that you have the ability to control and change! You deserve an attitude of kindness towards yourself and it seems that when we are at the beginning of developing a new skill, we are always hardest on ourselves. Remember: One day at a time.....and you always get an "A".
This song by Karen Drucker says it all. If you were to have this song as an earworm in your head, I guarantee your day will go better! Enjoy!
So I said I would write blog posts about mindfulness for 2017. But what the heck does that even mean? I mean, seriously, sometimes I can be so busy being mindful that I miss the point of being IN MY LIFE!!! And I don't think I'm alone either. The other day I met with a friend. We're going to have a mindfulness day to raise a little bit of money for our church. I suggested that after our talk on mindfulness that we go for a walk and put some of it into practice. Her response was "but we can chat too right?". Of course!! I think that's part of the problem with social media. There are so many images of mindfulness and people meditating that people equate the two. To be mindful is to meditate is the misconception. Wrong. The actual Wikipedia definition of mindfulness is that Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one's attention to the internal and external experiences occurring in the present moment, which can be developed through the practice of meditation and other training. So mindfulness is just noticing. Noticing and choosing. Meditation is just one way of training the mind to notice. And it it is just another thing to squeeze into your day then that misses the point. The point is to learn to notice what you are thinking about and choose what you WANT to be thinking about. Notice how you are behaving and CHOOSE your responses. Notice your feelings and validate them and then choose how much attention you want to pay to them vs. being mindful of other things in your day. So on our mindfulness day we are going to just chat and visit for half the walk and notice nature and beauty and sounds and colours on the other half. There is no wrong.,,,,just being consciously choiceful.
So mindfulness can look like this.....
..or whatever you decide you want that day, that moment, in your life. And on that note....I'm mindful of my time and going to say goodbye until next week because I don't want to be late for my next appointment! Be Well.
So here we are in the midst of this culture's biggest holiday season and most people are talking about how much food they've consumed, how much socializing they've done and how many gifts they've given and received.....including me! And now it's time.....after having eaten lots of pumpkin pie....for me to eat 'humble pie'.
These blog posts are my commitment to you and an honouring of our relationship.....whether you are coming in to see me or not. I have committed to remember you and provide you with musings and information that help to create resilience and hope if you are struggling with things and you're experiencing 'bumps in the road'. And during the very week that is hardest for most people.....I forgot.
I'm sorry. That's all I've got. Seriously. I could make excuses about how busy it's been etc etc, but really, that's just 'stuff'. You matter and my commitment to these blog posts matters and it didn't scream loud enough to supercede my attention being drawn to all of the material things instead. And besides....."I'm sorry with excuses' just feels inauthentic and is lousy to experience on the receiving end .
Yes. I will forgive myself. As I have said often, that is the only way that we move forward. Notice. Forgive. Learn. Decide. Then choose to move forward having integrated the new lesson.
This has inspired me too re: my blog posts for 2017. Mindfulness. As we continue to live in a culture of 'hurry up', 'do more', 'be perfect', 'pretend everything is fine', 'buy more' and negate the importance of our relationship to ourselves and each other.....it continues to be difficult to 'swim upstream' against these constructs and make mindful choices.
So, my 2017 blog posts will be dedicated to mindfulness!
Stay tuned and here's to a more mindful, and hopefully more joyful, New Year as a result.
My favourite Christmas song is Amy Grant’s “My Grown Up Christmas Wish”. She sings about the magic of sitting on Santa’s knee and dreaming of the presents he will bring to her on Christmas Day as a child. Now as an adult she has a different Christmas List. I cried when I first heard this song. It’s about dreaming of a world where there are no more wars. A world where everyone would have a friend. Where ‘right’ would always win and love would never end.
It strikes me right at my core and I always feel better when I hear it. I know this time of year is difficult for many people because it can be so triggering re: losses in your life, cultural differences, hard memories and distance from family and friends. As you celebrate Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Christmas or time with family…….I hope it is a time of peace. I think that is what Amy Grant is really singing about. And when I say peace, I don’t mean the sappy, unrealistic peace that is unattainable in our busy, conflicted culture. I like the following quote:
It is in that vein that I wish you peace during this season.
The Christmas Carol “Do you hear what I hear” has the line in it …“said the little lamb to the shepherd boy ‘Do you hear what I hear?’”. It always makes me chuckle inside because after working as a Marriage and Family Therapist for 21 years I often think…..”well???.....probably not!!!” lol I think in our lives we are often ‘waiting to talk’ rather than listening. People are not ‘parking’ their own thoughts, ideas, and agendas at the back of their minds while they listen to and really try to understand their partner’s perspective. They are doing the equivalent of “…..yayayayayyaya….BUT…… I think…”. Now don’t get me wrong….. I don’t think you always have to agree with the other person’s perspective but everyone deserves to be listened to. (This, of course, is a completely different scenario if there is abuse of power or ‘crazymaking’ happening where one or both people are denying responsibility for their behaviour to protect their self-esteem.)
It’s just that in our reactive, hurry up, competitive world people are so busy trying to ‘win the argument’ and be ‘right’ that they lose sight of the person at the other end of the conversation. In order to have a healthy conversation or disagreement both people have to be able to think AND feel and talk, AND listen. If you are getting reactive then take a ‘time out’ to calm yourself. During your time-out do things that will help to calm you and affirm that you are capable of listening and talking and thinking and feeling at the same time. It may be taking a deep breath, journalling or going for a walk. If you are really angry it may be running or punching a punching bag. It is not about leaving and not coming back or avoiding the issue. (That is equivalent to a *%#@ and prevents the building of trust.) And it is not spending the time coming up with better arguments. (Which, again, is not about building trust.) The goal of a time out is to get yourself into a state of compassion and connection with the other person. The message that taking a ‘time-out’ signals to your partner that you are working on being in control of yourself for the benefit of them, and the relationship.
When you do reconnect to talk, try repeating back what you think you heard and ask them if you got it right. People get into relationships to be affirmed and validated, not to be made wrong. Affirm that they have a right to their perspective before stating yours. If things derail again and you need to….. take another time-out and try again….and again….and again….and again!!! With practise it gets easier to focus on what you have control of, which is yourself, and not the other person.
Do you hear what I hear.. sung by Home Free
THE HOLIDAYS ARE COMING...AREN'T YOU EXCITED?
For many, the holiday season looms ahead and is anticipated with dread instead of excitement. The myth of peace, love and joy to all "and to all a good night" works well for companies marketing their wares, however it puts salt in the wound for people that may be suffering from grief and loss or going through other difficult times. The reality is that the holiday season is really hard for lots of people.
For many, the goal is just to survive the holidays. Holidays underscore the losses life. We may be grieving the loss of loved one who has died and wondering how to cope without them. For people in that category, constant daily reminders will include more public events such as parties and gift exchanges. We already deal with frequent reminders of our loss every time we look at our loved ones favorite chair or watch their favorite show. However, holiday celebrations are a way of marking our emotional connection. Gifts from others can be an external mirror of how well people know and love us. To not be able to share these events or gifts reminds us of the permanence of our loss.
We may instead suffer from ambiguous losses, such as: loving someone who suffers from an addiction; dealing with divorce; being isolated from your family as a result of emotional, physical or sexual abuse; dealing with chronic illness or Alzheimers; or being bombarded with Christmas culture when you are part of a non-Christian religion, which may leave you with feelings of oppression or not belonging. For people dealing with ambiguous loss, the feelings and triggers may be the same as those that have lost a person through death, yet the topic is more private or complicated, so the stress of your loss may not be supported by family and friends to the same degree.
Regardless of whether you find yourself dealing with ambiguous loss or a more recognized loss, here are some suggestions:
1. Realize that the anticipation of pain is always worse than the actual eventual pain. Our thoughts affect our feelings, and vice versa. Controlling your thoughts and learning to be mindful and stay in the moment are important skills.
2. Be kind to yourself. Don't expect yourself to function to your full capacity at this time - processing feelings can be exhausting. For example: break tasks into smaller chunks; give yourself permission to not have to stay for the entire party; buy something to take to a potluck instead of making it yourself. Be realistic about what is possible rather than what you would like to be able to accomplish or do.
3. Accept your feelings. Don't judge them. Sadness and tears are normal, and you don't have to take care of others by pretending that you are not sad. At the same time, it is okay to let yourself be happy, to enjoy happy memories and to make new ones. Feelings of sadness and happiness are all valid. You are not betraying your loved one if you let yourself be in the moment and not in the past with them. Be in the moment and let it be what it is.
4. Plan for the holidays with those that are closest to you. Decide which traditions are important to keep under these circumstances and which you want to change or let go. Make yourself the priority and decide what you think you are capable of to make the season meaningful and bearable.
5. Don't be afraid of change. Altering old traditions slightly can take the pressure off the absence of your loved one. In one family that had suffered divorce, the Mom put a note in the bottom of the stockings...."You don't have to pretend that it is the same this year....let's have a picnic dinner on the family room floor". This meant that they wouldn't have to spend Christmas dinner without Dad at the head of the table. The same can be done for other routines: which foods get cooked; when the gifts are opened or which family member hosts the celebrations.
6. Make a list of all the tasks, and break them down. Ask friends for help. You will have some good days and some hard days. Planning in advance helps you to feel in control. It gives you choices about when you want to try things, and how much you want to try to handle.
This is Alison Krauss's beautiful "Get me through December".
I had a client say to me one time “I’ve climbed into my family photo album and I can’t get out”. I think it’s a terrific way of describing having been triggered about events in your life and not having control over the result. This could be that you have PTSD or cumulative stress from things that have occurred in your life. Or it could be that you are in difficult circumstances re: work or home life. The point is that either your mind or your emotions have taken over and you are looping over the same material over and over again with no solutions, progress or positive outcome. Here are some ideas just in case that has happened.
Find things that are grounding for you to do. What I mean by grounding is that it shifts you into a different state of being that is more present and choiceful. Grounding techniques can be mind, body, or spirit based.
Here are some ideas: 1) Name 5 things you see; 5 things that you can hear (you can repeat them if necessary); 5 things that you can feel in your body (ie. your pulse, your breath, muscle sensations etc). Now do it again counting to 4 for each item. 2) Call a friend and have a conversation. (Anything that makes you listen and remember and be present in the moment.) 3) Do yoga or meditation. 4) Journal or draw your feelings and affirm yourself at the end of your writing/drawing. 5) Do an activity that you find calming /nurturing. 6) Do reality checks and break the problem into smaller chunks so they feel more ‘doable’. 6) Focus on your skills and abilities in the present, and how you have more power and choices compared to when you were a child. 6) Focus on what you have control of in the situation and take action that will make you feel better. 7) Exercise. 8) Find someone who is in a worse situation. Compare down and then focus on things you can be grateful for in your life.
None of us knows what life will bring our way. This spring the out of control forest fires of Fort McMurray devasted that community. Any one of the people who experienced all the chaos and fear that occurred in that city last May will ; a) will not be affected by it; b) will grow and find renewed meaning from life or commitment to their closest relationships or; c) will collapse and suffer from some form of debilitating anxiety, depression or PTSD as a result of those events.
All we can do is create the kind of resilient attitudes and habits that will help to protect us in the face of enormous loss, trauma, disease or disability. We are powerless…. and powerful…. as human beings throughout our entire lives and that NEVER goes away. We must learn to walk with both of those things throughout our whole life. All we can do is our best when tragedy or hard times occur. It is then that those resilient attitudes and habits become lifelines for our spirits. Surround yourself with people who love you and treat you well. Take care of your body and your mind by getting enough sleep, exercising and continuing to learn new things. Be aware of the ‘good, the bad and the ugly’ of life so you can solve problems and enjoy your life. However, it's important to dwell on the positive. Take notice of what brings you joy because when hard times hit….which they do with everyone at some point…..you know how to get yourself feeling better.
I like Beth Neilson Chapman’s song “Shake My Soul” when things get hard! My thoughts and prayers go out to the families, friends and First Responders involved in devastating events of the Fort McMurray fires.