School is just around the corner. It doesn't have to be a hard transition. Here are 6 GREAT tips to help with the transition.Read More
You often set you feeling aside or compartmentalize your feelings and you do not where your heart on your sleeve. You are an in-charge type person and often you friends call your “stoic.” Inside however, that is simply not true, your feelings do get hurt but you push them away because you say to yourself “oh I’m just being a drama queen.”Read More
Happiness; I have struggled with understanding this topic in my personal and professional life. It is something that we all desire in our lives, but rarely seem to attain for long. In my experience, happiness is felt more as tiny glimpses rather than long, drawn out experiences. It can be upsetting for most people to accept that most of life is filled with more mediocre days than happy ones,Read More
Think of a diagnosis as a snapshot of who you are not a life sentence.
During the course of our lives, it is safe to say that any of us can be identified as having a mental health diagnosis at one point in our lives. The death of a loved one, job loss, relationship issues are all potential catalysts for concern and they technically may lead to a diagnosis. This doesn’t mean that we are meant to carry a diagnosis forever or that we cannot recover or live fully functional lives. A mental health diagnosis is identifiable and agreed upon a cluster of symptoms meant to describe a person’s experience at that moment in their life.Read More
I am sure we all know someone who has suffered or who have been exposed to acts of such barbaric magnitude, sexual assault. One thing is for sure it happens, has happened, and will likely happen again to some unsuspecting male or female in our cities, states, and country.Read More
Relationships are like fine wines; the taste and consistency will not happen overnight. However, the steadiness, texture, and palatable is borne out of care, understanding, patience, and desire. In my couples, therapy work…I find the “crystal ball” effect being quite prevalent, in fact, it’s so prevalent that when mentioned individuals appear bewildered.Read More
As we all may know, March is known for St. Patrick’s Day, wearing green, the coming of Spring, and college basketball otherwise known as March Madness.
Although filling out your impeccable bracket is madness enough, there is even more madness that arises after March.
April is Alcohol awareness month
but what else does it lead to?Read More
Choosing to move to Southern California 15 years ago still, stirs up a variety of emotions during the Holidays for me. Even though it was very exciting to move from a cold, wet, dark country to sunny California, it was so strange and foreign (pun intended) to hear Christmas songs and seeing decorated trees in 80-degree weather. My first Christmas in Southern California was celebrated with friends at an outside barbecue gathering, which was total opposite from an inside dinner with close relatives around a fire in the fireplace.Read More
And then. Shots fired. News channels exploded. Social media filled with scary images that seemed like they must be from some other place. Not from here. Not in San Bernardino. Not the Inland Regional Center, where kids with special needs go for services with their families.Read More
The holidays are a great way to reconnect with family, to have a Friendsgiving with those who aren’t family but probably should have been, to share old traditions, welcome new folks, watch a game (and argue about the game),Read More
It is part of mindfulness practice to realize that suffering comes from believing that things should be other than they are in the given moment. If you are suffering in the present moment—oppression, discrimination, hunger, joblessness, etc— this may seem like a cruel statement, but it's actually not. It's solid advice, allowing you to take action and stay safe.Read More
For many people, the idea of meditation summons up images of robed nuns and monks sitting silently in exotic temples, far from the hectic activity of the daily world. But in reality, it is a practice accessible to anyone, anywhere. You don’t need to go to an expensive retreat or find a guru. Any quiet place will do, perhaps in your own living room or a favorite place in nature. Research being done at major universities, including UCLA, shows that meditation can help “rewire” the brain, help a person be more focused, and strengthen resistance to stress
Famous Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh (pronounced: tik nat han) wrote: “Sitting meditation is like returning home to give full attention to and care for our self . . . Sitting meditation is very healing. We realize we can just be with whatever is within us—our pain, anger, and irritation, or our joy, love, and peace. We are with whatever is there without being carried away by it. Let it come, let it stay, then let it go. No need to push, to oppress, or to pretend our thoughts are not there. Observe the thoughts and images of our mind with an accepting and loving eye. We are free to be still and calm despite the storms that might arise in us.”
The simplest form of meditation is to follow your breath. It is recommended to sit cross-legged on a firm cushion on the floor, or sit upright in a straight-back chair, not leaning against the back. Imagine there is a string attached to the top of your head, gently pulling upward to align your neck and spine as straight as possible without being uncomfortable. Let your chin drop a little so your neck is straight. You can close your eyes, or lower your eyelids a bit to help ignore distractions. You can focus on a candle flame or a calming object if you wish, but it isn’t required.
Next, breathe slowly and naturally through your nose. Focus on the sound, and on the feeling of air moving in and out of your nostrils. Now imagine that your windpipe goes all the way down to your belly, and there’s a balloon at the end of it you are trying to inflate with your gentle breathing. This is called belly breathing and is quite simple and beneficial once you get the hang of it. You can place a hand over your navel and feel if your belly is going in and out with your breath. Most people breathe into their chest, and that can hold tension. Once you master belly breathing, you may breathe like that all the time.
So, there you are, on your cushion, aware of your breath in your nostrils and the rise and fall ofyour belly. Next be aware of any tension in your body; for example, your shoulders. Imagine that you are directing your healing breath to those muscles, letting them grow relaxed and soft. You will probably feel them drop a little. Congratulations, you are meditating! From here you just sit quietly with your breathing—in, out, in out . . . Distracting thoughts will come, I promise you, and it’s very natural. At this early stage of learning, you can just think, “Hello, thought. Good bye,” let it go, and return your focus to your breathing. There are a number of things you can do to help you focus. The first is to visualize still water or a cloudless sky. Relax your mind and stay with the image. You can also use a brief two-word verbal cue—some people might call it a mantra. For example, you could think “peace” on the in-breath and “love” on the out-breath. I like “Here. Now.”
Emotions may arise, or perhaps you are meditating to deal with a strong emotion or painful situation. I’ll use anger as an example. As you maintain your posture and breathing, you can greet the emotion: “Hello, Anger. I know you’re there,” let it go, and keep breathing. You can also devote a whole session to being with an emotion if you need to. Rather than pushing it away, you allow it to flow through you. Thich Nhat Hanh teaches a method in which you imagine the strong emotion as a baby wrapped in a blanket. You cradle it in your arms and think, “I see you, my Anger. What do you need from me?” Very often this will start a train of insight that helps you process that emotion or come up with a plan to resolve things with the person or situation that made you angry. You can do this with positive emotions, as well.
Learning to meditate is like beginning to exercise; go slow and build up. Be gentle with yourself and don’t judge your progress. Try setting a timer for 10 minutes and see how you do. If it’s too long, shorten the time next time; if it’s not long enough, sit as long as you like! But try to set aside time each day to meditate and build up the habit. There are a number of meditation timers that have soft chimes, rather than a harsh ding or buzz. (I use an inexpensive app on my iPhone called Peace Alarm Clock which I like very much.)
Wishing you peace and insight,
It’s almost February 14th. How can you tell? Well, since December 10th every store you’ve entered has had an aisle of red hearts, weird looking cupids, and frogs holding hearts in their hands. I’m not entirely sure when frogs and SpongeBob entered the world of romance, but now they have. V Day is unavoidable in our culture. FB is beginning to explode. Pinterest is out of control. You suddenly can’t buy bakery goods without red sparkles. The message is “Be happy! Love is yours!”
Except the love of your life died recently. Or your mom, or dad, or child. Maybe your child’s kitty. You try to avoid the red heart craziness, and the rip it adds to your heart every time you see it. You’re not going to go out to eat this Sunday, and you may skip church because there will inevitably be mention of the day. Your Valentine’s Day may be a trip to the cemetery, or to a place where you can remember previous days with happiness attached.
You may need a card for someone else in your village, and that requires that you brave the Hallmark aisle. You know that means seeing all those people who still have their Valentine or loved one picking out a card you will never get to buy again. I still have the anniversary card and Valentine’s cards I bought ahead for my parents and my dad. I can’t throw them away- but they will never be used by me.
How do we all get past a “holiday” that’s not a holiday, where the focus is on loving couples, smiling children, even Grumpy Cat not wishing you a happy day? How many times can your heart hurt this week because of the greeting card industry?
As a twice widowed person, I’ve found it’s helpful to plan ahead for “big” days. We never spent much on this particular day, but it was fun to buy a card and remember those we loved simply because we loved them. Now I am mindful of those who will be facing a different reality than the movies portray. I prepare those who are facing this the first time, because it seems so minor until it’s not, and catches you off guard. As a therapist and grief expert I want clients to know they will get through this if they plan, and find their village and their place for the day. So what do we do?
- Journal ahead of time- where do you want to be to feel as okay as possible? Is there a place you can feel at peace even in sadness?
- Envision that day. You wake up- what do you want to do? Mark the day? Avoid it entirely? Avoid the people you know simply can’t not be the Pinterest poster people?
- Inventory your village. Is there someone or are there people you know will not have plans and might enjoy a different kind of day?
- Remember past days and what they meant and involved. Do you want to do some of that to honor those memories, or are they too painful still to touch?
- Make a plan for the day after the day- the day you know you got through it and are still coping. That’s a day you can celebrate.
- Journal the day after. How did you feel your loved one’s memory and how did it help get through it all?
- Remember you have total permission to not engage in anything you aren’t comfortable with then you are grieving. This is your time, your path, your process. My day at the beach may be your day to bake heart cupcakes with kids and to invest your energy there. Grief is personal. Nobody gets a vote but you.
So go be Grumpy Cat, or head to the archery range with a heart target. Make it a day to start a heart healthy routine, or a day to plan how to buy all the leftover chocolate on Monday. Maybe that will be your Pinterest revenge- repurposed chocolate hearts and red gummy worms. And remember that if you need to talk we are here.
This is Fuzzy. She’s our office pet therapist, and my dog by default. She belonged to both of my spouses before their deaths, and she could not get past the losses she could not understand. So now she’s with me pretty much every waking moment, mostly because she poodle stalks me and will not allow me to go anywhere without her. She has a front carrier I wear when we need to run errands, and a therapy dog tag that opens doors for us. She can’t tolerate being left alone, and if I have to be gone she needs a sitter or she will run away. She’s also fourteen years old, is losing her vision, and falls over if she moves too fast or leans too much. Despite that she’s a bossy little critter who makes cranky kids smile in store lines, comforts my clients on bad days, distracts kids in my office and teaches them how to redirect their behavior, and greets every client who comes in the door with her tail wagging. (Then she gets lost trying to find her way back to me).
Fuzzy has had a long and good life, despite the losses she’s experienced. She’s had four kids who loved her from the age of six weeks, rides on our Spyder in her leather bomber jacket, been camping, learned to bark for whip cream, and now gets to go everywhere we go. She’s also a handful when I have clients one after another and no potty break times, when she decides she wants one of our lunches more than her own, and now she has to be reminded to drink hourly (and she has learned to drink from a water bottle!). Will I miss her when she’s gone?
You bet. Look at that face, and those eyes. She’s seen me through children joining us, spouses dying, holidays, celebrations, good days, the worst days. She grieved with us when we had to put our Princess to sleep last spring after fourteen years and a battle with cancer, and she has helped to train new kitties who joined the family. She’s been a part of almost every event in my life from my thirties to my fifties. Think about that- some of the most significant years as we move from early adulthood to thinking about retirement in the distant future. Young kids to grandmotherhood.
We therapists sometimes refer to pet loss as “disenfranchised grief.” Losses that somehow don’t count. Or don’t count as much or enough. Losses that can be minimized easily as something you should be able to get over quickly. Pets dying are frequently seen as a loss you get over by replacing the pet or being glad you no longer have the responsibility for the pet’s needs.
Interesting, huh? A grief so profound we have to make up a name for its impact and the fact that others ignore or minimize it. A grief that’s just as hard as any other. Any loss is experienced at 100%. Your furry family member is a huge loss, and you have a need to work through it. I guarantee when I lose Fuzzy there will be tears, an empty spot in her bed in my car, and a hole in the fabric of our office for me and our clients – and I suspect some of our staff. There won’t be a small critter chasing cats off our bed at night like a mad silent bull, or a wagging tail hopeful for a new dress in the morning to leave for work. It won’t be the same to go to the store without a dog pack, even if it is a pain now. There will be a hole in the early morning as we drink coffee without her barking at us to sit next to us.
Can I make her loss any less by bringing a rescue home? No. Not a bit. After being widowed- twice- I remarried. Did my new spouse become my old one, and replicate what was missing? Are you kidding? They were irreplaceable to me, and still are. I still miss them, even though I am very happy and loved in my new marriage. I love the companionship, but I am married to someone new. A new dog won’t replace Fuzzy. I’ll still miss her and grieve for her. I’ll still talk about her, and her face will pop up on Facebook memories because I take a lot of pictures of her. That ache you feel when you think about a lost person? The same ache applies to other losses, including your furry companions. The same kinds of reminders occur. The same waves of grief.
So how do we un-disenfranchise this grief for our critters? …
The same way we deal with grief for our other loved ones. We talk about them. We say their names. We don’t dwell on the losses, but we acknowledge the hurt, and we remember the happy moments and the way they enriched our lives. We acknowledge the losses other experience with the loss of a furry friend. I send a card, and sometimes flowers. Why? Because that critter was a member of that family, and someone is crying for those furry ears to pet and paw to hold. And they need to know it matters.
All grief counts. At 100%. Fuzzy will too.