Acceptance and the search for one’s personal truth

We all have plans for our lives. They start to form as dreams when we are very young. We dream of what we are going to be when we grow up. We imagine our jobs, our husbands or wives, what we will look like, where we will live, what we will wear. It’s all in Technicolor, like a fairy tail, beautiful and magical. Perfect.

Then we grow up.  And for most of us our lives don’t quite turn out as we have imagined. Or if we do follow the plans we laid as children, or teenagers, or young adults to go to college, get married, have the perfect children, the perfect job, we might not be feeling as perfectly happy and fulfilled as we imagined we would feel. So what is missing?

First let me say to those of you who have fulfilled those childhood dreams and feel perfectly fulfilled and happy – congratulations! It’s certainly not impossible and it’s wonderful that you have gotten to this point in your life and are enjoying what you have worked hard to achieve! Now for those that aren’t there and those that don’t want to be. What’s the reason you haven’t quite gotten there and why not?

I believe as we mature our perceptions of what will make us happy will change, continuously. Day to day, moment to moment perhaps. Each of us will discover our personal truth as we travel the path of our life’s journey, the truth about what we want in life and what will be the key to our personal happiness and fulfillment. For some it’s going to be simple – the house, white picket fence, dog, kids. For others, far-away places and never staying anywhere enough to call anything your own, anything in between.. So how do we discover that truth? Of course it’s not a simple answer. There’s no prescription, no simple plan for it. Just do this, like that, every day, and you are there! It’s a personal journey for each of us. Sometimes it’s the simplest thing that can put us on the path, show us the way to our personal truth. Waking up in the morning and seeing the sun shining into the window just so can give you an understanding of the world, or your needs and desires, what you are looking for.

I think in the human quest for happiness we miss it sometimes. I think the problem is that our society teaches us that everything in our lives has to be just right, just so, and once we set it up that way, then we will be happy. So we work towards it, go to school, look for the “perfect” mate, have the “perfect” children. And think that once all the pieces of the puzzle just fall into place, then we will feel that magical, elusive happiness. But that’s too shaky of an ideal. Once there are too many pieces to the puzzle, it’s too easy for one of them to get lost and then things to fall apart. But because we were told that the whole picture will make us happy, we don’t know how to see the parts for what they are and then there is no happiness any longer.

Then there’s mindfulness. Looking at every moment with new eyes. Seeing what is beautiful and wonderful and lovely and amazing right now. And now. That cloud. The tree. The moment you share with your friend today. And your child. Amazing. There is happiness in each of these moments and accepting that you might not have build a white picket fence like you dreamed of as a kid but that’s ok. And you aren’t making six figures like you planned in college. Can you change it right at this moment? Probably not. But did you have moments today that you enjoyed? Most likely. Did they bring you happiness? Absolutely. And are you closer to your personal truth having accepted you are who you are and willing to look are your life moment by moment through a positive lens? Yes…

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Anxious parenting

I am a worrier, by nurture. I grew up in a world where danger lurked around every corner, I was told. Even though most times these dangers never materialized, I was always on the lookout, always expecting the worst. Parents often engage in a debate about how much reality children should be exposed to. Do you tell your kids the truth when the family dog passes away, or does the dog suddenly go to live on a farm in the countryside? Do we explain what goes on when they catch a glimpse of the news and ask questions? Some parents prefer to have their children live in a world of fairy tales for as long as possible to keep them “safe” from the harsh realities of the world but is this really the best way? (Never mind that the wolf actually swallows Little Red Ridding Hood’s grandmother alive and has his stomach cut open to free her in a rather graphic twist of events, or that Sleeping Beatify lies helpless for a hundred years until her prince penetrates the pesky overgrowth with his large sword and saves her with a kiss.. A bit disturbing all of it…)

Children who grow up without learning what the world is really like, grow up into pretty anxious adults usually. Without realistic expectations of what is out there, the world seems a pretty scary place, especially when your adults either paint only a rosy picture or present it as a place replete with danger. Sure, there are “bad” people and things out there, but this is why children need to be educated about what to expect, not shielded from it. A child’s perspective is dichotomous – they see things as “good” and “bad”, “safe” or “dangerous” but few things in real life are really that clear-cut.  If an adult doesn’t allow, doesn’t guide  other perspectives to develop, a child will grow into adulthood with this dichotomous, limited worldview. Such a perspective doesn’t take one very far. In this worldview we like good and fear bad and since at least half of what we understand is bad, there is lots to fear.

I watched Star Wars the other day, for the first time ever. In my mind it’s a children’s movie, with the cheesy adventures and unfathomable, soap-opery plot twits. And my mind reverted to that childish “good vs. evil” way of seeing the world that was unfolding in the film, as well as the characters. The ones that were “bad” or mean to that main characters, immediately became unlikable. But the fact is, we all have emotion attached to these archetypes to some degree and the more we can get away from that way of thinking by understanding the complexities and intricacies of what’s out there, the more we all benefit as a species. And the earlier we start teaching this to our children, the better.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Mindfulness

Mindfulness seems to be the new “in” word as new age becomes mainstream. We hear it all the time as people talk about the importance of living in the moment. But what is it and why do we want it? What are we being mindful of?

A few years ago I remember a conversation I had with a friend about the difference between men and women. The big debate was about who is better at multitasking. She was claiming that women were better at it, of course and I, a staunch feminist, thought about how true this is, because aren’t women, through necessity (because men are slackers and we have to pick up the slack) are better at everything? So I thought about when and why I multitask. And I’m great at it. I can do five things at a time, seven if need be. In the morning I run around throwing breakfast at my son as I apply make up, do my hair, grab clothes out of the closet, fry up my own eggs, feed the dog… I get it all done. But how does it make me feel? It makes me feel insane! Like I want to jump out of my skin because all I am thinking about as I engage in this mad dash is “will I have time to..?, what else?, am I forgetting something?”. And as I have spent an hour in the morning accomplishing a million things I have come out of it feeling absolutely stressed and not have enjoyed a moment of it.

Ten years ago, I lost one of the most important people in my life, my grandmother. She did not pass unexpectedly but this did not make it any easier to grief her death. I tried to pretend normal as much as possible, to go about my business. One day, I was driving to work. My commute was about 35 minutes. I remember getting in my car by the house. Then I remember driving my car, about five minutes away from the office. The thirty minute drive in between doesn’t exist in my memory, as if my brain, not being able to deal with all the emotions, the grief, just shut down and woke back up thirty minutes later. Looking back I believe this was perhaps necessary for me to get through that day, to get through what I was feeling at the time. It was a protective mechanism the brain employs when it’s overwhelmed. So what do all these things have to do with mindfulness?

First, multi-tasking.. We are busy. We have busy lives, full of chores, responsibilities.. Everything has to get done, done on time, right now, because if it doesn’t then.. Then what? What happens if we don’t do the million things we consider necessary every single day and drive ourselves insane over? When I do a million things in the hour before work in the morning, I’m stressed all day. When I take the time to do three, mindfully, slowly, paying attention to all the details, getting to enjoy what I’m doing, I leave the house feeling serene and set the tone for the day ahead. I can make breakfast for myself and my son and sit down to eat it together and if I don’t get to start the dishwasher, no catastrophe will occur, but I will enjoy the time eating quietly with him, even if it’s only a couple of minutes.  Doing tasks mindfully, ie. taking the time to really engage the activity, allows us to be fully present in the present moment and engage in the experience. And being able to do this increases the sense of fulfillment and satisfaction we are able to get out of engaging in any activity, even if it’s frying eggs or combing our hair in the morning.

Now for the stress response. This is when something is too difficult to deal with and our brain “checks out”. Mindfulness is even more important here. Why you might ask? Of course the brain “checking out” is a protective mechanism, to some degree. It’s a signal that what ever it is that we are having difficulty with is a problem, but it’s also a signal that it’s something that needs to be addressed.  Because checking out for a thirty minute drive is probably a pretty bad idea. Being able to be mindful of these difficult, stressful situations and feelings is probably a lot harder for most people than just slowing down and a lot of the time you aren’t able to resolve it on your own and may need to talk to someone about it (a therapist perhaps). But recognizing that there’s an issue, being mindful of it is probably the most important thing in being able to resolve it. So mindfulness is important on many different levels and while you figure out how this can apply to your life, remember the old adage about stopping to smell the roses.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Defining yourself and happiness

This post might be a bit off topic. The mission of this blog overall is supposed to be to address mental health and mainstream and alternative treatment approaches. But for women reading this, what affects mental health more than how we feel about our selves? Let’s look at this for a moment. How do we feel about ourselves? What are we talking about? Are we talking about the mental or physical aspects? I think this is a bit of a gender-biased question. When we ask men how they feel about themselves, they are more likely to think about their personalities, their character qualities and the attributes their colleagues would value most. But what would women say? Women would likely judge themselves based on their physical characteristics because after all that is how the world judges us most harshly.

From the time girls are very young, we are taught to think about what other people will think of us. “Mind your manners!” “If you wear that, what would people think!” Historically the family has wanted their girls to appear modest, proper, marriage material. Then there’s society. Pop culture is replete with the image of the bad girl. One in skimpy outfits, dancing on the tables, going wild if you will. But you don’t bring girls like that home to meet your mother. These are women men saw their wild oats with and then settle down with the good girls (although no one is judging them). Then there’s the good old body image issue. The nearly impossible standard that women have to live up to of perfection, the good old Barbie doll handed to little girls at birth practically, along with it’s live counterparts, the pop culture idols  we watch on TV that spring back into those perfect size negative zero outfits five minutes after popping out babies. So after being handed all this information, what’s a girl to do?

We start by figuring out who we are under all this baggage… I’m still digging out. And again, the mind-body connection is crucial because as a woman it’s imperative to love your body and the first step to that is accepting it, despite all the messages we get that it’s not good enough, and learning to believe when we are told that it’s perfect just the way it is.  Because that’s part of the problem. When someone tells us that we are beautiful, perfect the way we are, we don’t believe it, we point out instead how flawed and imperfect we are. We take the opportunity to love ourselves and share this with another person and turn it into another bitchfest about how horrible we look and only we lost another five pounds and this little pouch right here was gone then all will be right with the world.. But would it really, or would we just find something else to bitch about because until we learn to accept and love ourselves, we will not be happy, not truly, fully, freely happy.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Motivation and lasting change

I am a relatively healthy person. I try to exercise regularly, eat relatively healthy. I look at the world with the eyes of an able bodied individual and the problems that I face on a daily basis and negotiated from this perspective. My son is relatively healthy child, except for a three months stretch this past summer when he was very, very sick. My son, this past summer, went from being a regular, healthy, rambunctious 8 year old, to a very sick, disabled child. And both our world and perspective on life changed.

This summer, on June 11th, my son, very suddenly and unexpectedly became practically paralyzed. Out of nowhere. Healthy on June 10th. Nothing wrong. Skateboarding and playing ball outside. Cannot walk on June 11th. We rushed to the ER at the advice of our pediatrician and spend an agonizing 24 hours in the hospital before doctors were able to begin formulating a diagnosis. Guillain Barre Syndrome. They performed dangerous tests to confirm this – spinal tap, MRI of the brain and spine. All while I and my child contemplated what it means that he is suddenly not able, to walk or move his arms. After 7 long days in the hospital and doctors recommending long terms rehab to help with recovery that was likely but not guaranteed, we brought my son home to face the reality of being a disabled person in a world designed for the able bodied.

And the real challenges began. Now an 8 year old had to do physical therapy to get his muscles to move again, reteach himself to walk and move like he used to. Except he was so traumatized by the experience that he reverted to infancy. Helplessness. The only thing he wanted was be taken care of and have everything done for him. The mind really plays trick on us in these situations. So how does the mind overcome, how do we start to gain control over the body?

It took a lot of motivation, convincing if you will, to get my son to a point where he was ready to get better. And he did not start to improve until he was at that point, he did not start to get better until he was ready. Then he gave up the neediness, acknowledged that he was ready to stand on his own, both literally and figuratively. And it was a process. No matter how much pushing I might’ve done, until he got to a point of feeling ready to stand on his own (figuratively in this case), he wasn’t going to do it. But once he felt strong enough emotionally, his body was ready to stand with him and he got better, fast. To see him now, he is a normal, regular, rambunctious child again.

When you try to make any changes in life, in general, especially changes to your body, your health, emotional readiness and full commitment is absolutely necessary and changes will be impossible without that. Have you ever tried to start an exercise regiment, for example, without a full commitment? It’s a good thing, you think, but I don’t really feel like doing it today… But when you know that in order to have the life you want, you want to make certain changes in your life, then nothing is going to stop you.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The breath

So now that we have laid some groundwork in describing some of the conditions that commonly require treatment, I would like to begin talking about how to address these conditions. The traditional approaches in treating mental health issues have been either talk therapy alone, or in conjunction with medication. While this is effective to some degree and with some people, I am going to postulate that there is a better way.

Let’s start with the simplest, and possibly the most effective way to treat stress and anxiety – the breath. The breath, you might ask… Let’s explore what the breath does for our bodies and our minds. Life begins with the breath – when an infant takes their first inhalation with their first cry, and end with the breath – when the last breath leaves our bodies our organs begin to shut down and even though the heart may still be beating, you know that the blood circulating through the body has no chance to nourish and sustain it without oxygen. The yogic philosophy talks about prana, or life force, that circulates through the body with every inhale. The universal principle of energy or force, responsible for the body’s life, heat and maintenance, prana is the sum total of all energy that is manifest in the universe. “This life energy, prana (प्राण), has been vividly invoked and described in Vedas. In Ayurveda, tantra and Tibetan medicine “praṇā vāyu” is the basic vāyu (wind, air) from which all the other vāyus arise.” (Wikipedia on Prana). This is similar to the concept of Qi in Chinese philosophy. So what does this all mean?

If we are under stress (whether physical or emotional) the body responds by going into stress mode – the fight or flight response if you will. The heart rate increases, blood rushes to the major organs and away from the extremities, muscles tense up. If someone is in this state for most of their day, that’s a lot of stress on the body and it takes a toll. But what happens if we take a deep, slow breath? Not only does the flow of oxygen through the body decrease the heart rate, we can actually decrease muscle tension with deep slow, breathing, as well as warm up the extremities by telling the body that it’s ok to relax and allowing an increase in the blood flow to the hands and feet.

So how do we breathe? Silly question you might think but many people do not breathe correctly as the instinct is to pull the stomach in on an inhalation. In fact, one should expand the lungs and stomach to allow maximum space for the air to enter. The easiest way to do this if you are a breathing beginner as it were, is to lie down on your back on a hard surface (floor is best) and feel your kidneys pressing into the floor as your lungs and belly expand outward when you inhale. Then feel your lower belly meet your lower back as you exhale, with the breath coming up from your belly through the lungs, and our your nose. Your goal is to make the breaths as slow and even and comfortably possible, making sure that you are not holding the breath in, allowing it to flow in an out in even, rolling waves. The wonderful benefit of this for the mind is if something was on your mind when you started, the focus on the breathing will calm your mind at the same time as your are bringing your body back into balance.

 

Simply put, the body, without the breath, is just another inanimate object and it is the breath that brings it life, energy, and vitality. So from this we can surmise that if the flow of energy, or breath, through the body is impeded, then we are not going to be feeling very well. Imagine when you have a cold and can’t get a deep, full breath through your nose. What does that feel like? Your head hurts, you feel tired, listless, you aren’t motivated to do anything or be around anyone, it’s difficult to focus on anything but getting a good, deep breath. Wow, we are getting dangerously close to meditation here, but more on that later.. Thank you for reading!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Depression and anxiety

So I have postulated that this blog was going to address alternative, as well as mainstream (but mostly alternative) therapies. But what are we treating? Well it appears that two of the most prevalent mental health issues plaguing our society today are depression and anxiety. But what are these maladies? We throw these terms around rather freely. We worry about the slightest thing and say we are anxious, feel a bit sad and say we are depressed.. So let me start by defining these terms a bit.

Depression

Depression in it’s clinical definition, taken straight form the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition is:

  • Depressed mood for most of the day
  • poor appetite or overeating
  • insomnia or hypersomnia
  • low energy or fatigue
  • low self-esteem
  • poor concentration or difficulty making decisions
  • feelings of hopelessness

Of course there are many different types of Depressive disorders, with different durations and severities, but, in a nutshell, the bullet points  above sum up the criteria for a clinical diagnosis.

How do we understand depression in layman’s terms then? Simply put, depression is living in the past, not being able to let go of past hurts, past goals that were not attained, dashed hopes. If you are not able to stop constantly looking behind you, life is going to be a difficult road to travel as you are not going to get very far…

Now to address the physical aspects of depression. What is described in the DSM criteria is a constant feeling of lethargy and fatigue. Someone who is experiencing this in their body all the time isn’t going to be very motivated to do much. They may be able to get through their day in terms of the necessities, but once work is done and dinner is out of the way, that’s it, time to crash. That’s not a very fulfilling way to go about searching for happiness and isn’t that what we are all supposed to be doing? Well, if someone who feels depressed isn’t going to get very far and of course it’s vicious cycle, because if they aren’t feeling fulfilled like they are supposed to feel, and aren’t finding happiness, then they aren’t feeling very good about themselves, and this adds to the low self-esteem and the cycle continues… So we have lots of tired, unhappy people trying to right the wrongs of their past and depression is born.

Not that simple, of course! I don’t want to make it sound like all you have to do to deal with depression is to let go of the past. On the level of body chemistry, depression is caused by dips in dopamine and serotonin levels – the “happy” hormones – and an imbalance is a very real thing and can affect a person in very profound ways. BUT, there are also very real, profound ways one can increase these hormones with alternative therapies. More on treatments later, however. For now, on to anxiety..

Anxiety

So while depression is essentially living in the past, anxiety is having a future-oriented view on life. It’s constantly anticipating what is going to happen. And unless one is a psychic that is impossible. And since you don’t what’s going to happen and can’t prepare for it, you are going to be pretty anxious trying to figure out how to deal with something that may or may not, or five million other options..

So the definition of anxiety per the DSM:

  • constant and severe anxiety

All the time. Of course there are different types of anxiety, about different things, but that’s just the bottom line.. In clinical terms, an anxiety disorder is diagnosed when a person is very anxious to the point that the anxiety interferes with their functioning.. I can think of multiple people in my life that are affected.

The most prominent (and undertreated feature) of anxiety are the physical symptoms. I am not talking about panic attacks here. I think most people know that when someone is experiencing a panic attack, they have tightness in the chest, rapid heart beat, nausea, an overall sense of being unwell. So in these cases you can’t ignore the physical symptoms as they are primary and in most cases people experiencing them feeling like they are having a heart attack rather than an anxiety attack and treatment focuses on differentiating between the two. But just plain, garden variety, everyday anxiety where you aren’t thinking you might be dying.. We spend our day worrying about the bills, the kids, our jobs.. And we carry all that tension in our necks, backs, shoulders. We get headaches and feel exhausted on a daily basis but don’t connect it with all the worrying we are doing.

As I have treated patients with both of these conditions over the years and as I delved deeper into my exploration of alternative therapies, I have seen some astounding results. The holistic therapy approach, one that accounts for all aspects of the person will always be more effective in addressing the issue. Patients who gain awareness of their bodies and become mindful of this connection can then begin to gain mastery over their minds. But I will have to leave the discussion on treatment for next time. Or times as there are so many options to choose from! Thanks for reading!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Reintroduction

This blog has been in the works in my mind for a while and an actual blog in existence for the very short time. Now it’s back and I would like to present it’s mission and purpose, as well as to re-introduce myself as it were.. I started this blog several years ago. At that time I have been a therapist with many years experience in the field of mental health and had started to realize that the field had something lacking. Traditional therapy approaches were addressing the issues that people were struggling with, but were leaving many gaps in treatment as there is a huge disconnect between the mind and the body in a society where people are preoccupied with the pursuit of happiness but many neglect their health engaging in this pursuit and do not realize just how much this impacts their lives both physically and emotionally. In a fast-paced, non-stop world we do not stop to take care of ourselves and look for a fast easy fix.
So when I started the blog several years ago I was just starting to explore other ways to approach mental health and what alternative therapies can be helpful. But what I knew then didn’t even begin to scratch the surface..  Then I took a break from the blog and through some self-exploration and other life-changing experiences came across several discoveries. First, the mind-body connection is profound and is essential to health, both mental and physical. And, there are countless ways to obtain this connection and exploring these and bringing them to you will be the goal of this blog. The most important thing that I have learned so far is that I have so much to discover about what can help one to be healthy in mind and body and how the two are intertwined..  So stay tuned and let’s explore this together. I would love to hear from you – your thoughts, experiences, anything you would like to learn more about.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Biofeedback

Biofeedback has been talked about quiet a bit lately. It’s talked about as a form of pain management, a way to address stress, ADHD in children, anxiety and trauma, a cure-all really. But what is biofeedback? And does it work?

Biofeedback uses instruments to measure the body’s responses to stress so that these responses can be modified to improve functioning. The stress in question can be physical pain, which the body can express by muscle tension, for example. Stress can also be psychological and be manifested by a rapid heartbeat or sweaty palms when someone is anxious. Biofeeback can measure all of these bodily responses immediately and demonstrate changes as a client learns to control or modify these.

What makes biofeedback so wonderful is that the results are not only fast, they are also demonstrated right there on the screen for the client. If a client is experiencing pain the their lower back, for example, their muscles in that region will be tense and this tension can be measured with the instruments that the treatment utilizes. As the client is able to see how much muscle tension he/she has in the region where they are experiencing pain and are able to relax their muscles, they will immediately feel relief from the pain. This type of treatment usually takes 10-20 session as a client learns the treatment and practices to generalize what they learned at home, between sessions.

Treatment for psychological maladies works similarly, with the client learning to train their body using the feedback they get from baseline readings since we know that psychological stress causes muscle tension in certain areas such as the head and neck, decreases in temperature in the extremities, rapid breathing and hearbeat, and and increase in bloodpressure. This type of treatment can also take a anywhere from 10-20 sessions, with booster sessions as needed.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What makes a good therapist or how to deal with burnout

When someone is considering entering therapy, what is the hardest part of the process? I would venture to say that it’s choosing a therapist. After all, how does one decide who they can entrust their inermost secrets, struggles, and life’s tribulations to? What if you get the wrong advice? In a lot of ways, it’s like starting a relationship. How do you know that the person you decide to open your heart to will not hurt you? How do you know this person is a good therapist?

So what makes a good therapist? Of course you want to know that the therapist you choose is well-educated and state licensed to practice. Those are the basics. But beyond that you want to have a therapist who will hear you and your needs and goals, rather than push their own agenda. A big red flag should be when a therapist begins to prescribe interventions before really understanding and exploring your presenting problem. Another reg flag should be when a therapist who gives advice rather than helping the client to explore their issues and come up with a solution on their own, a solution that would work for them.

What about therapist burnout? How does this affect treatment for a client? Therapist burnout has to do with a therapist who is having difficulty addressing client issues effectively because they are under too much stress, either for personal reasons or because of not having an effective outlet to destress from the stress of taking on the issues of the clients they work with. When a client is working with a therapist who is suffering from burnout, treatment is affected because the client’s issues may no longer be the primary focus in treatment and transference/contertransference issues may come into play for both the client and the therapist. If a client feels that they are not the main focus during sessions in treatment, they need to immediately address this with their therapist as burnout may be the issue.

In summary, finding a good therapist is a difficult process and once treatment starts the client has to be on the lookout to make sure that therapist burnout doesn’t occur. Of course this is always the therapist’s responsibility to ensure that ethical treatment practices are always used, but the client is always their own best advocate as well and should know what to look for to avoid unnecessary issues and ensure a positive treatment experience.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment