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Keeping a Pillow Book

pillow book illustration.jpg

Keeping a Pillow Book

or Things We Gain by Observation

Is there any form of writing more overlooked and disposable than the list? Perhaps cereal box copy or graffiti. Fleetingly relevant, the list is written to be scrapped. Yet, astonishingly, the lists of one Japanese noblewoman have endured for a thousand years. While serving as a lady-in-waiting, Sei Shōnagon famously compiled a loose collection of musings and narratives in list form known as The Pillow Book.

We associate lists with utility, though under Sei Shōnagon’s brush, the form is expansive and suggestible. She touches on aesthetic delights as well as moments of pathos or longing. But in this eclectic chronicle, Sei Shōnagon never inhabits an emotional frequency overlong. She also takes acerbic pleasure in tallying Things Without Merit and People Who Look Pleased with Themselves, while Things That Lose by Being Painted includes men or women who are praised in romances as being beautiful.

Though Sei Shōnagon was likely writing for an audience—she artfully reworked her observations—a pillow book is, in essence, confessional. These notes might literally be stashed beneath a pillow, but don’t miss their metaphorical import. The pillow comes into nightly contact with our sensing organs and breath, pressed closer than a sleeping partner, as we drift, as we dream. What else do you keep close? A pillow book urges us to intimately examine our surroundings, and, through this act of noticing, inclinations and biases.

Try writing a list under one of these headings from The Pillow Book:

  • Things That Make One’s Heart Beat Faster
  • Things That Are Distant Though Near
  • Things That Are Near Though Distant
  • Times When One Should Be on One’s Guard
  • Surprising and Distressing Things
  • Things That Give a Clean Feeling
  • Things That Arouse a Fond Memory of the Past
  • Things That Have Lost Their Power
  • Things That Cannot Be Compared

Soon your own headings will occur to you. You might list Things Left in the Employee Refrigerator, The Types of People I Forever Seem to Be Meeting, Things I Never Should Have Done Twice, or Things My Children Consider Possible and Impossible. A list does not have to be about you to be revealing. A list of Enviable People might prompt examination of why the people selected are enviable and what made you take this perspective. Significant omissions can be just as telling. Who would you leave off a list entitled People Who Will Always Tell Me the Truth?

The point is to slow down and engage in mindful observation. You may find your writing coalescing around sense impressions or images. Avoid being proscriptive. A list can be brisk and focused or unsystemic and rambling. Subjectivity is encouraged, but remain honest. As Sei Shōnagon wrote, “I never thought that these notes would be read by anyone else, and so I included everything that came into my head, however strange or unpleasant.”

The list is a form to be filled.

If you’d like to explore this and other mindful practices with the help of an experienced therapist, head to our Get Started page and request an appointment.

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Living With Loss: The Value of Grief

I wondered if this was a helpful time to write a blog about loss, being at the tail end of our sunny Texas summer and months away from the holidays. However, I quickly remembered the heart of the message I want to convey in this piece; that being human is an inherently vulnerable experience, and loss is an inevitable part of being alive, no matter the season.

The ability and willingness to open ourselves to grief, as ironic as it might seem, is essential to living a full, enriched, meaningful life. The deeper and fuller we are able to feel our grief, the deeper and fuller we open ourselves to the gratitude, love, joy, awe, and peace available to us in this life.

The sweet isn’t as sweet without the sour, as the saying goes. Decades of research have supported the ancient, intuitive truth behind those words. However, our western culture is obsessed with self-sufficiency, “staying positive,” “bouncing back,” and “moving on.” And depending on the kinds of messages we received about our feelings within our families, grief may seem, consciously or unconsciously, dangerous, shameful, or simply unbearable to feel. All of this in tandem with grief’s innate intensity, it’s no wonder we have such a tendency to run from grief.

None of us are free from having to live with loss, however, and the problem with running away from our feelings is that it doesn’t make them go away. The more we defend against them, the more we shut ourselves off from our authenticity, vitality, and fullness.

This is to say nothing of the sanctity of grief. To know grief is to know life on a profound level.

To bravely touch this sacred ground, it may be comforting to remember these truths about grief:

  • Grief is a healthy, adaptive emotion.
    We humans are social creatures at our core. We are wired to connect and share, see and be seen by one another. We attach, we love, we get close. When we lose someone who meant something or even had the potential to mean something to us, our physiology wisely responds to this painful loss through grief.
     
  • Grief is messy.
    We can’t fit it into tidy steps. There isn’t a timeline for it. There is no “completion” of it either. Our organized left-brains struggle with this and it can often make us believe we aren’t grieving “correctly.” This couldn’t be further from the truth. While it’s okay and understandable to feel the need for containment around it, it’s also important to remember that our grief knows the way before we do. With genuine support, we can move with it and through it. 
     
  • Our grief falls in proportion to how much we loved.
    That grief is probably the most intense, overwhelming emotion we ever face as humans points to what is most important to us as a species: the love and connection we share with one another. The magnitude of our grief reflects the magnitude of our love.
     
  • Loss comes in all forms.
    Grief is often tied to people still alive: parents or partners who were unable to meet us in the way we needed and deserved, for example. Or to a soul with whom an important and meaningful connection existed but who we never got the opportunity to know, such as within an adoption or a miscarriage. It’s tied to things unseen but sincerely felt: dreams, hopes, expectations. It’s easy to feel isolated around these kinds of losses because they aren’t as publicly recognized. If you are grieving one of these losses, know that it is as valid as any other and as deserving of support as any other. 
     
  • Loss is complex.
    No one lives in a vacuum. You aren’t abnormal or crazy for discovering more layers of feelings or losses within your grief or that emerge around it. In fact, I’d say that is the norm.
     
  • It’s healthy and strong to need support for your grief.
    Grief is about as intense of an emotion as it gets. Surrounding yourself with as many people as you can who can bear it with you will nurture your healing in important ways. 
     
  • Grief originates from what has mattered to us, and it returns us to that place as well.
    Nothing puts us in touch with the fragility of this life like loss. In daring to know this fragility, we open ourselves to a depth of gratitude, sincerity, mystery, and grace not otherwise possible. Grief opens the door and wisely leads our way.

If you are in the midst of grief, and feel like you would like some support, to explore it, or process through it, you are welcome to contact us. We are here for you.

-Eva Lorini

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Look For The Helpers

Image courtesy of Getty Images

Image courtesy of Getty Images

We know many of you have friends or family impacted by Hurricane Harvey. It can be frightening and overwhelming to see the news about the destruction happening across the Texas coast. In scary times like these, it can be helpful to do what Mr. Rogers suggested and look for the helpers. Wherever there are disasters, there are also good-hearted people who do their very best to provide aid. It can also be healing to become a helper, allowing us to shift from a helpless role to an active one. Here are some ways to help our neighbors.


Here are some actions we can take locally:

These food banks are accepting online donations:

These organizations support specific groups of people who are especially vulnerable:

Local and National shelter, relief and clean-up funding:

It’s totally normal to have a fearful, sad, angry or numb response following a natural disaster. Our brains aren’t made to respond to big, overwhelming bad news. And yet we can respond to a neighbor in need quite well. Connecting to others face-to-face and hand-to-hand during times of suffering can help ease the heartbreak, and can put us back in touch with our greatest strength-being there for each other.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you do not have to go through that feeling alone. Visit our Get Started page to get connected with a counselor who can walk alongside you through the scary parts of your journey.

-Jill Hokanson

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Changed For Good: A Love Letter To My Clients

Dear Clients,

Don't worry, neither of us is the good witch or wicked witch. We contain both sides--just like Glinda and Elphaba. Image courtesy of www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk 

Don't worry, neither of us is the good witch or wicked witch. We contain both sides--just like Glinda and Elphaba.

Image courtesy of www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk 

I know, I know, I know. Just the title of this post sounds a little too mushy to keep reading. But this is the FEELINGS business, people! And so I’d like to discuss one of the feelings that comes up often in the therapist-client relationship – L.O.V.E.

One of the best pieces of advice I received in grad school came from Professor Allyson Jervey, LCSW, who said, “It’s okay to love your clients.”

You may be curious about if your therapist can really love you. If you’ve been in therapy before, you know that boundaries are a really important part of it. The amount of time spent together, the location, the fee, and the sharing of resources all create boundaries in therapy. And therapists cannot have dual relationships with their clients, such as being friends or having romantic encounters. I appreciate all of these boundaries because they actually make it safe for therapists to love our clients in a way that is healthy and healing. It's not the same love as that of a partner, parent, sibling or friend. It has a place of its own.

My love for my clients is kind of like this: I want to take the bravest part of me, the most accepting part of me, the most magnanimous and mindful part of me, and give it to you as a gift.

I feel so honored to get to be there to watch your lives unfolding. I want to provide a space for that unfolding, to hold open all the possibilities of who you are and who you are becoming. Without judgement, without telling you what you “should” do. Together we can create a space that has room for the whole story, the scary parts and the funny parts, the lonely parts and the together parts. It makes me smile to think about how enormous and long and unique your stories are, how full of grit, and courage, and connection. I expect there will be many more twists in your stories!

Because of the boundaries on the therapeutic relationship, I do not share with you all the things about me and my life. (After all, I wouldn’t want your session to become about me!) But I want you to know that your unfolding stories are woven into my experience of the world. I long for justice when you share with me the ways you have been harmed by the world and the people in it. I feel hopeful when I see you build up your resources to meet challenges. I feel gratitude when I hear about the webs of family and friendship that cocoon around you in times of sadness and fear, and stretch to let you explore in times of growth and change.

You are a part of my web. Your ideas and feelings and actions float through me, surprise me, inspire me. Hearing your stories unfold each week changes my own story. Thank you for letting me be your therapist. Thank you for letting me draw upon my best self to meet you and help you draw upon your best self. I believe that because of our time together, we will be changed for good.

Are you wanting to get connected with a therapist who will accept and explore your WHOLE story? Learn about Therapy Austin’s Counselors and then fill out our easy, confidential online request form to Get Started.

-Jill Hokanson

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Trust Your Process: In Praise of Slow Growth

One of my favorite movie scenes is from Good Will Hunting. After only a few months of therapy, Will, the main character, has a major breakthrough in his therapist’s office. Then, he weeps into his therapist’s arms, he walks out the door a changed man, and changes his life.

It’s such a moving scene. We’ve been rooting for his character, and it’s touching to see him transform and live the life he deserves.

We all wish for moments like that. For that dramatic change that we’ve been working so hard for to instantaneously emerge and forever alter the course of our life.  

Many people imagine that going to therapy is all for the lead up to that one, giant insight that changes your life. And it is true that some people, whether they are in therapy or not, certainly do have major breakthroughs that alter their inner world and life outside of it.

For most of us, however, change and growth take a different pace.

The truth is change is often slow. Unhurried. And occurs in tiny moments that can be easy to miss.

I know this is probably not what you wanted to hear.

When you’ve been living with a problem that you’re becoming more and more aware of, it makes sense to want the change to happen now. I get it. It’s frustrating.

We also live in a success-driven culture obsessed with fast results. So it can be very easy to feel like we’re not measuring up when change is taking its sweet time.

But after living with a problem for so many years, it also makes sense that it would take time for new patterns to develop.

In fact, this is how healing and growth actually occur. Our psyches are designed to fall apart so that we have the opportunity to go through the process of putting them back together, building upon novel experiences and perspectives one step at a time. A new form slowly takes shape, one that includes what has happened in the past that engendered our crumbling, along with the new, higher-order understanding of ourselves and our experience.

This is solid, lasting change, built from the bottom up. And we can’t make it happen any faster than it needs to.

The beautiful thing about this kind of change, though, is it allows us to grow into it. So often, we don’t even realize it’s happening because what is happening feels so hard. Feels like we’re never going to get there. Feels like we’re doing life wrong because we’re not there yet.

When, actually, deep change is occurring under the current of these stories in the mind. You are on the path. The willingness to struggle and tolerate uncertainty and darkness is the very manifestation of growth. The kind of growth that stays with you for life.

There is potential for profound transformation in falling apart and rebuilding, one slow step at a time. Trust that your growth is happening in every moment of struggle that you stay with yourself and honor the unique, precious rhythm of your life.

To assist in your process, take a look at our outstanding counselors to request an appointment.

- Eva Lorini

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The Sensation-Emotion Highway in Highly Sensitive Persons

Maybe you remember hearing it on the playground. “Stop being a baby.” Or after crying at work. “You need to learn how to not be so sensitive.” Undoubtedly, you’ve seen the debates in opinion columns. “Was everyone this sensitive before the internet?” 

Image courtesy of www.imgur.com

Image courtesy of www.imgur.com

There is no shortage of cultural messaging that equates sensitivity with weakness. But it turns out, all humans are sensitive in that we all experience the world around us through our senses: touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste. The information these senses provide about our environment and our bodies leads us to have feelings. Perhaps that’s where the word “feeling” comes from – we feel the sensations in our bodies that are connected to our emotional states. In the English language, we have many idioms that demonstrate the connection between sensations and emotions. At different points throughout life we may experience butterflies in our stomach, a knee-jerk reaction, a broken heart, or the need to get something off our chest. These phrases aren’t an accident. Our nervous system connects our body and brain through a network of nerve cells that reach all the way to our fingertips and toes, like a series of roads conveying information back and forth. Sensations, emotions, emotions, sensations.

For some of us, these roads are lightning quick, or rumble with reverberations as information travels up and down them. In fact, for about 20% of the population, the five senses are more highly tuned than average, and the feelings they connect to can be more intense. In her book The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You (1997), Dr. Elaine Aron explains that for the fifth of the population whose nervous systems are more sensitive, the experience of the environment can be overstimulating. Loud noises may startle them. Harsh smells may be intolerable. A slight change in the temperature may cause a strong reaction in their bodies.

And because sensations are so closely tied to feelings, “Highly Sensitive Persons,” or HSPs, may also have more intense internal experiences, such as vivid imaginations, heightened emotional reactions, being deeply affected by others’ emotions, and having difficulty “turning off” their brains. These traits can be both a gift and a challenge. According to Aron, HSPs “tend to be enormously aware of the suffering of others,” allowing them to have great empathy, and a capacity for deep and fulfilling relationships. However, the intensity of HSPs’ feelings can lead to exhaustion and burnout if their nervous systems are continuously overwhelmed without the chance to recharge.

The first step in coping with a highly sensitive nervous system is to recognize that it’s a real thing! When we feel bombarded by sensations (which may happen as often as every day for an HSP), our nervous systems tend to react by discharging some emotion. Emotional release can look like crying, shaking, blushing, or needing to move around a bit. This is the point at which it is easy to criticize ourselves, or we may find ourselves being judged by others. (Remember those taunts of “Grow a thicker skin!”?)

Once we recognize our nervous systems’ sensitivity, we can start to develop compassion for ourselves when we feel overstimulated or overwhelmed with emotions. Try this self-compassion mantra: “It’s okay to feel what I’m feeling. Everyone has intense feelings sometimes. I can be kind to myself in this moment.”

If you’re interested in further exploring ways to cope with being highly sensitive, you can request an appointment on our Get Started page!

-Jill Hokanson

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"There’s No I or You in Team"

"Human beings are inherently relational and relationally dependent”
-Harville Hendrix, Foreword in Wired for Love

 

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and although many brush off the holiday as a Hallmark holiday, there are also those with high expectations for this special day. The expectation might be that your partner remembers something you subtly or not so subtly hinted at six months ago or it might be that you are finally going to be treated like the royalty you really are. Whatever the expectation might be—if your focus is on your individual needs or what your partner needs to do—you are likely to be disappointed.

Image courtesy of www.catanacomics.com


Image courtesy of www.catanacomics.com

Murray Bowen —founder of Bowen family systems theory— notes that every relationship faces the constant push-pull of two opposing forces: individuality and togetherness. As gender equality increases, there are fewer relationships formed out of necessity. More often relationships are formed out of romance with partners hoping to support each other’s hopes and dreams. It is no longer uncommon for both partners to have their own careers and individual sets of goals. There are many benefits of the modern romantic relationship, but the one shortcoming appears to be an overemphasis of the “I” or “you” at the cost of “we.”

As adults today race from one place to the next struggling to meet the demands of work, themselves and others, it can be very difficult to balance a partner’s needs with their own. The good news is these two realms do not have to be mutually exclusive. When we shift our thinking from what is good for ourselves, or our partner, to what is good for the relationship, there is less room for criticism and feelings of inadequacy.

In long term relationships it is not uncommon to find the very personality traits and habits that used to complement each other so well now seem to compete and polarize the relationship. For example, one partner is the designated “planner.” In the beginning this is a win-win situation because Sally loves initiating plans and being in charge and Joe is always along for the ride. Years later Sally might request Joe take the reins on Valentine’s Day; a seemingly simple request for anyone but Joe. The result: an hour long wait at a restaurant Sally “would’ve never picked” and the couple eating in silence on Valentine’s Day.

In this scenario, or one similar, it is easy enough to see the flaws in our partner or feel sorry for ourselves because we feel we deserve more. However, what if instead of focusing on two individuals you focused on a team that needs a little reorganizing or re-storying? Shifting roles in a relationship is no easy task because the way we interact with our partners consists of many reinforcing behaviors creating an (at times) deeply entrenched cyclical pattern. Many of these interactions operate outside our awareness. Additionally, when our partner does not respond to our needs the way we would like we often assume it’s because he or she doesn’t care. It’s important to keep an open mind to the possibility your partner does not know how.

In the meantime, however, it might relieve some tension to recognize what you are experiencing is not an “I” or “you” problem, it is a “we” problem, and if one partner has a problem—you both do. It might also help to recognize that in times of high expectations or crisis, relationship patterns typically become more entrenched. Despite increased efforts, each partner does more of what he or she knows. In these situations, it becomes very important for both partners to recognize they are doing the best they can.

Lastly, perhaps this Valentine’s Day you and your partner collaborate to decide what the relationship needs (hint: gifts and activities do not override the need for connection). If the relationship needs more quality time, it is worth discussing how you and your partner can be most present with each other. Skip the debates on who always chooses where you eat or which movie looks better. Instead, discuss which restaurant provides a better atmosphere and which movie will lead to a more engaging discussion afterwards. As Harville Hendrix states “When you make your relationship primary and your needs secondary, you produce the paradoxical effect of getting your needs met in ways they can never be met if you make them primary.”

If you and your partner feel stuck in a negative cycle or narrative, or would like some relational tending, please consider our couples counselors for assistance.

-Alex Behne

 

 

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A Light in the Dark: Finding Gratitude in Difficult Times

Don’t worry.

This isn’t a post on positive thinking, or how to find the silver lining in your heartbreak or crisis or tragedy.

I’m not saying that silver linings are nonexistent, but it’s certainly the last thing we want or need to hear when we are suffering.

This is a post on remembering the goodness life offers us, because you are inherently good and deserving of life’s goodness, no matter how much it feels like you are getting the opposite message.

Gratitude is the act of remembering this goodness. It’s acknowledging that we are worth taking in the good. It’s savoring, to whatever degree possible, the smallest pinhole-of-a-moment of relief, delight, or basic okayness in the middle of despair.

This doesn’t mean we must feel grateful for our recent breakup, or job termination, or death of a loved one, or whatever loss or difficulty we are enduring. Nor does it mean we should deny our pain and only try to feel grateful and happy all the time. It means holding these two truths: that we are suffering right now, and goodness is available.

This can be a challenge. Thanks to primitive brain circuitry that evolved to keep us watchful for threat, our brains have a tendency to be more vigilant for negative experiences than positive ones, and to react more intensely to negative experiences than positive.

In other words, it’s oh-so-easy to fall down the rabbit hole of despair and hopelessness when we’re going through something trying. It’s our brain’s ancient protective mechanism trying to shield us from more pain by making us hyper-aware of every conceivable negative possibility.

Ouch. Helpful 200,000 years ago. Not so much in 2016.

But the good news is we’ve evolved newer brain circuitry that we can call on in these trying times to help us endure pain, find comfort in grief, and ultimately grow as a human being. Decades of research has supported that remembering gratitude during difficult times has a powerful effect on our overall well-being. It takes practice and intention, but it is possible.   

Here are some ways of incorporating this practice into your everyday life when you are struggling.

  • Start with noticing your okay-ness in the midst of struggle.

This doesn’t mean you feel okay necessarily. It means recognizing you are alive, breathing, and have a functioning mind and heart. You may be smack-dab in the middle of some intense unknown right now and can’t see your way out yet, and you are okay and alive and breathing.

  • Take it a step further and realize you are not only okay, but also courageous because you are struggling. Feel thankful for your courageous and tenacious heart.

It takes strength to feel pain and walk through darkness. Not everyone is willing or able. Recognize that you have the courage to go through this, trusting that enduring the messiness and hardships of life is how human beings grow and thrive. You will be a better person for it. You already are.

  • Look for what you’re grateful for when you’re not in the eye-of-the-storm part of your pain. Then, the next time you are in that intense place again, remember what you were grateful for earlier.

This can be a helpful way of building a foundation. Our difficult feelings will ebb and flow. Harness what you can when you’re feeling more capable, and it will be easier to call on when the difficult feelings intensify.

  • Pay close attention, because you can be grateful for literally anything.

During one of my own dark times, when I was having difficulty feeling grateful for anything, I was looking out the window and happened to notice this shade of orange in what was an otherwise gray winter scene. I sat with it for a minute or two, just noticing and appreciating the color. This simple act of noticing and appreciating the orange amidst the gray shifted into feeling fortunate to be able to see color at all. That was something I never considered before. And I sat with that feeling for another minute.

Nothing is too small. In fact, it’s those small things that can mean the most when the going gets tough.

  • Take in the goodness with intentionality.

A warm bath is lovely. It’s even lovelier when we remember to feel grateful for it. We take it another step further if we really soak in the feeling that we are taking in the loveliness of this bath because we deserve to feel nourished and supported in the middle of our struggles.

This may be challenging for those of us struggling with beliefs about our self-worth. But see if you can find some part of you somewhere that believes you deserve the goodness you find and experience. Give that part some breathing room.

  • Write it down.

Try journaling at the start and/or end of your day. Or start a daily gratitude jar. Or write what you're grateful for on your bathroom mirror. Explore and find the way that works for you.

  • When you can’t think of a single thing: keep it simple and savor the good.

Does that slow sip of hot tea or wine at the end of your day taste heavenly? Don’t worry if you aren’t feeling grateful for it. Just enjoy it. It’s pretty close to the same thing as feeling grateful, and will activate the same parts of your brain.

  • Remember this is a practice.

It may feel forced at first. That’s okay! It will take time to start spontaneously noticing those little things that so often go unnoticed, and to develop that backbone of gratitude that allows you to breathe with your pain and feel a sense of stability amidst chaos. But with practice and intention, it will happen. And we can feel grateful for that.

If you'd like to learn more strategies to take in the goodness of what can be a hectic season, fill out a request form to speak with one of our counselors today. 

By Eva Lorini

 

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Family Boundaries at the Holidays

How’s everybody feeling about Thanksgiving? Are you ready for some family bonding, planning to spend it with friends who make up your “chosen family,” or anticipating some time for solitude? Even without an election, the holiday season can bring up feelings of anxiousness, anger, fear and grief. This year as our country faces some major upheaval, I personally have been worried about the conflicts that might arise at Turkey Time. I’ve been digging through my psychotherapy “toolkit” to find ideas for creating healthy boundaries, diffusing conflict, and taking care of yourself this holiday season.

Set some ground rules. Are there topics that your family cannot engage in without it turning into a shouting match? Consider what it would be like to agree ahead of time on a set of rules for how family members will treat each other. There is a concept called active listening that can help lower the tension when disagreements arise. In active listening, we agree ahead of time to:

• Give each person in the discussion equal time to express themselves

• Use “I” statements to express our own feelings rather than speak for the other person

• Listen fully, without planning our response while the other person is talking

It can be transformational to listen and validate the feelings of someone we disagree with.

Recognize that all feelings are valid. Whatever you are feeling right now and in the weeks ahead, it is okay to feel that way. When we notice our feelings and just let them exist without judging them or acting on them, it gives us the opportunity to put some mental space between the moment the feeling occurs and the moment we decide to act. Try an activity that allows you to breathe into your feelings before reacting to them. Many of my clients find yoga, mindful breathing, or vigorous exercise helps them to do this.

Emotional safety is just as important as physical safety. If there’s anyone in your family who makes you feel emotionally unsafe, you may want to create an emotional safety plan for times when you’re expecting to be around them. Include in the plan:

• An exit strategy (“If Grandma starts criticizing me, I can go outside and play with the dog.”)

• A list of allies who will be present (“I can always go talk to my sister.”)

• Grounding reminders that you can bring with you (“My beaded bracelet makes me feel fierce,” and “The smell of lavender lip balm helps calm me.”)

• Someone in your support network who you can enlist for debriefing conversation after the stressful event (“Can you be available for a call when I’m driving home on Saturday?”)

We are creatures of story. One of the gifts of being human is the ability to create meaning. We get to choose whether the stories we tell are full of discontent and disillusionment, or full of connection and empathy. Is there a story you can tell yourself right now that centers you? A story that reminds you that peace and hope are attainable? A story that you know to be true? Here is the story I am repeating to myself right now:

When I was in kindergarten my best friend’s grandmother went to Germany and brought home a piece of the Berlin Wall. I held it in my hands.

This small story immediate conjures up the sensation of touching an oblong chunk of crumbling, graffitied concrete that is touchpoint for many meanings: Walls can be torn down. Countries can right themselves. Families on different sides can be reunited.

Can you think of a story like this? Maybe it is something you could share with family and friends to highlight values that we all share.

I hope that the upcoming holidays give you many opportunities to build healthy boundaries and strengthen your relationships with others. If you find it would be helpful to talk through these ideas and get extra support, our doors are open at Therapy Austin. Schedule an appointment today-we are here to help!

by Jill Hokanson

 

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Anger, and the monsters under our bed

Anger gets a bad rap, and I don’t quite understand why. We’ve all heard that anger really only hurts us in the end, and that the first person to get angry loses the argument, and that we have two wolves inside us and we can’t feed the angry one.

Yeah, yeah. Sure. Those things are all probably true on some level. 

Image courtesy of Pixar Animation Studios TM 

Image courtesy of Pixar Animation Studios TM 

But, humans have had anger as an emotion for thousands of years. We haven’t evolved out of it, and chances are, we’re not going to. Is something so completely natural really...toxic?

 I don’t think so. Just like all of our emotions, it’s here to tell us something. It has information for us, and we need to know whatever it is that our anger is trying to tell us.

When did you last get angry? Like reeeeally white hot, blaze-of-glory angry? Who were you talking to? What were you doing? Were you feeling threatened? Devalued? Or maybe you were fighting for something or someone you really love. Maybe, underneath that anger, you were very hurt, and you didn’t feel comfortable expressing your pain.

Maybe, because you live in Austin, Texas, you were in traffic on 35, and let me just take a minute to normalize that anger, friend!

Anger is like our emotional body guard. Times when we aren’t emotionally safe to be vulnerable, or when we think we won’t be heard, are times when anger comes out to protect us. Remember that cute Pixar movie, Inside Out? When Joy and Sadness went AWOL, Anger stepped up to the plate, because Anger can take control. Anger is strong, anger is passionate. Anger protects us. We need it when, for whatever reason, we can’t give room to our joy and our sadness.

Now, please don’t misunderstand me; stewing in your anger or letting it jump in the driver's seat whenever it wants to, is not going to get you where you want to go. Unless where you want to go is a very isolated, lonely place full of health problems. But, funnily enough, ignoring it, denying it exists, will take you to that same place. Recently, a client shared with me that she views her anger like a monster that lives under her bed, and she’s trying to starve it so it dies. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a pet that you’ve forgotten to feed for a few hours, but I have definitely done that, and let me tell you how loudly angry my cat can get. And rightly so; she was pissed with me! It’s a great example of how her anger helped her get her needs met.

If you starve your anger, all that will happen is that it will start screaming at you.

Like my cat.

Just like our other emotions, anger can be explored, understood, and expressed effectively and safely. Scream in your car, punch some pillows, write a nasty letter and burn it (safely!). Expressing anger, as long as you aren't hurting anyone (including yourself!) is incredibly healthy. 

But listen to your anger, learn from it. Maybe you're angry with someone for crossing a boundary, and maybe your anger can help you know where that boundary actually lies. Maybe anger can give you clues to discover your values, and maybe it can help you assert your feelings when someone has treated you poorly. Maybe it shows you what you’re truly passionate about. If there’s no anger, there’s no passion. The funny thing about anger is, the more we give it our mindful, intentional attention, the less intensely we experience it.

So, my dears, would you like to have a better relationship with your anger? We’ve all got monsters under our bed, but if we invite them to come out and play in safe ways from time to time, maybe they don’t have to be monsters that haunt us.

We love your angry side. We love that healthy voice inside you that says “I do not deserve mistreatment.” We even love the anger that's gotten away from you a little, and we love helping you meet it on different terms. We welcome your anger with open arms. Bring your little monster in, and we’ll teach you how to talk to it, and how to love it. We've got you. 

Head on over to our Get Started page, and let’s get angry friends.

 

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On Fighting Sensitive Stigmas

When I was in grad school, we had to attend 10 therapy sessions of our own, because the best way to learn is to experience it for yourself. I remember very adamantly telling my counselor that I was in therapy because it was required for school, not because “anything is wrong.” And, because she was a great counselor, she gently called me out.

“It seems like it’s important to you that I know nothing is wrong with you.”

“Uh, well, yeah. I’m fine, I’m just here because school said I had to be.”

“Do you only want to work with clients when there is ‘something wrong?’”

“Uhhhh, no. I mean I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being in therapy. I think it's really good for you, just like going to gym is really good for your body. And I wouldn't stop going to the gym after I got fit, so I would still go even if there wasn't something wrong. And I like doing personal growth work with my clients as well as the intense stuff, so I see it as the same thing.”

“Isn’t it funny how we can understand something in our minds, but the reaction still lives in our hearts? It sounds like you’ve been affected by that pesky stigma that exists around therapy.”

“Hm.”

If you’re following us on Facebook, you’ve heard by now that May is Mental Health month, and that we’re spending the month pledging to be stigma free here at Therapy Austin. It’s worth acknowledging that the stigma has affected us all, often in ways that are so subtle, we might not recognize the effects until much later.

This idea that it’s weak to seek therapy, or that if you’re in therapy something must be “wrong with you,” is so pervasive, and also so dangerous. Let’s pretend the same stigma existed with seeking help for physical illness, because I continue to be amazed at how differently we treat our physical health and our mental health. If I had pneumonia, and a stigma existed around seeking medication and the care of a doctor, I might be discouraged from getting the help I needed. And I might get worse. I might even die! The idea that we might shame someone for getting medical treatment is pretty ridiculous, but we do this with mental health regularly.

But, mental illness isn’t necessarily all that different from physical illness. It’s common, it’s disruptive to our lives, sometimes it can be easily treated and sometimes treatment can be more involved. Mental illness can be as serious and life threatening as physical illness, and when we’re discouraged from getting treatment because of what the world might think of us, our safety can be at risk. So how do we fight something that is so deeply ingrained in our world, and so incredibly unhelpful to so many of our friends, family members and coworkers?  

Check your language

This is often the way that we can accidentally perpetuate a stigma. We tend to use psychological terms to express eccentricities in ourselves or others, which can be really hurtful to someone who is really suffering from from mental illness. For example, have you ever heard someone say that their friend is “so schizophrenic” because they had a mood swing and seemed like they had one attitude one minute and a different attitude the next? First off, mood swings can be totally normal and appropriate and we all have them. Far be it for us to condemn someone for experiencing a change of heart. Also, schizophrenia is actually not even the disorder of someone whose personality “switches;” that’s a dissociative disorder that’s often the result of severe trauma. We don’t want to feed into these myths that exist around mental illness. Here’s a fun game: imagine telling a friend that they were “such a cancer patient” if they were lethargic or unwell. I’m willing to bet that feels pretty… gross.

Know your facts

One in five Americans suffer from mental illness. That’s 20%! When you’re hanging out in Ethos or Thunderbird Cafe, or wherever your cool locally-owned Austin coffee place is, count the people within earshot and ask yourself how many of them, statistically speaking, suffer from mental illness. Now imagine saying one of those sentences that invalidates and shames mental illness.

“Wait, I have to make sure I put all my change back in the right change pocket of my wallet. I know, I’m so OCD! Haha.”

The people who heard that sentence heard a message that OCD is eccentric, keeps you organized, and is essentially no big deal. They might even think you’re saying that it’s cute and quirky. 1 out of 5 people who can hear you are silently living with their illness, and may be worried what people might think of it. There might be a person within earshot who really suffers from OCD (it’s common, approximately 3.3 MILLION Americans have been diagnosed!), and they’ve been late to work enough times that their job is in jeopardy, because they had to check the locks 67 times before they felt safe enough to leave their house. It’s almost as if they told you that, and you told them it was funny. I can almost hear you telling me “I would never do that!”

Get Involved

We can help bring a sense of normalcy to mental illness by learning more about it, talking to those who suffer from mental illness, and understanding the ways that we can be compassionate and caring toward them. The National Alliance on Mental Illness is a wonderful resource. Therapy Austin clinicians will be wearing green and enjoying the sunshine on the NAMI front lawn this Saturday the 21st, listening to live music and joining the conversation of how we can keep fighting to end the stigma from 1130-130.

There is such strength in seeking the help you need and deserve. No man is a mental island, and we’re here to help you when you need, with knowledge of mental illness, compassionate understanding of what you’re going through, and a safe non-judgmental space where you can feel more free of the stigma. Check out our Get Started page to request an appointment!  

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The elusive pack of 100 colored pencils: why do we love adult coloring?

Coloring books are just about everywhere right now. If you didn't get one as a gift over the holidays, you've definitely seen them in Target or Barnes and Noble. Adult coloring books are so popular that they were partly responsible for a spike in printed media in 2015 in the US.

So what's the deal? Why are our grown-up friends and family members (not to mention our therapists!) curling up on couches across the country to ... color?

Humans have been using art as therapy for hundreds of years. In Tibet, it's a common practice of many monks to create mandalas, beautiful and repetitive works of art created from colored sand. The monks pray over the mandalas, and then wash the mandalas away, to carry their blessings to distant shores. In many American Indian cultures and Mayan cultures, circles and repetition are used to convey and promote healing; we even see this in our own culture, like when we say we're "bringing things full circle."

Coloring methodically in a repetitive circle is used in a lot of art therapy modalities, and these coloring books are bringing the healing to our own couches! Now, in our fast-paced, bustling lives, it's easy to think of something like coloring a mandala to be pointless or unproductive, but I really think that that's part of their beauty, too. Isn't it worth doing something soothing just for soothing's sake? What a gracious relief it must be to our brains to spend some intentional time on something as light and easy as coloring a mandala. You might even take a stab at a free-hand mandala, because we could all use a reminder that nothing is perfect.

In fact, a lot of neurobiologists and neuropsychologists are curious about the affects that coloring is having on our brains. Coloring engages our pre-frontal cortex in what we call "low level brain activity:" enough to keep your focus, but not enough to overwork you. Our pre-frontal cortex is where a lot of our fancy-pants higher functioning and reasoning skills live. It works all day, helping us make choices that keep us safe and happy. A lot of neuroscientists are arguing that engaging your pre-frontal cortex in low level activity like coloring is incredibly relaxing to your brain: 'which color to choose for this swirl' is likely a much easier decision for your brain than 'how to ask for a raise at work."

In fact, just reminding us of the simplicity of life might be one of the reasons that coloring has become so popular. There's a huge link between our relationship with our inner child and our overall self-esteem. Think about times when you've felt your self-worth was taking a hit, or you were grappling with your own insecurities. It's likely that the negative beliefs you were having about yourself were things you picked up along the way from difficult situations in your life. Re-visiting those younger times and soothing that part of yourself can help to heal some of those wounds.

So color on, friends! There are lots of good self-care opportunities involving coloring, and lots of good reasons to do it. Might I also suggest your favorite soothing music while you color, or maybe a lavender scented candle for relaxation? Check out our self-soothe kit post for some ideas. One of my favorite things about the adult coloring fad has been indulging my inner child with that 100-color pack of colored pencils that I wasn't allowed to have when I was younger! Treat yo' self! 

Many of our Therapy Austin clinicians are trained in art therapy, which can been a deep and symbolic experience for clients. Request an appointment if you've got the itch to color and heal!

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Extroverts Are Awesome

Born on the east-coast, transplanted to west-coast and now a “native” (hey, over 15 years, it counts!) Austinite, I had an interesting experience outside a subway station in Washington DC, several years ago. Loving the public transit option, I was caught off guard as I saw a mass of people heading towards me as they exited the Metro. My first thought was, “Now, how am I going to say ‘Hello’ to all those people?” My second thought, was, “You’re not in Texas, Em.” And the need to engage strangers passed me, as quickly as the oblivious crowd of busy individuals.

My third thought was how I have come to associate being friendly, outgoing and social as “southern hospitality”, almost synonymous with extroversion, which many proclaim as their personality style. While it certainly is an “extroverted world” of social media, popularity, and billions of people with whom to connect and compare yourself, extroverts are often misunderstood and sometimes get a bad rap. Extroverts are generally recognized at a party or business function, but the attention in research and counseling have been much more skewed towards introversion lately. Ironically, the number of likes on Extroverts are Awesome Facebook page is 867, while Introverts are Awesome has 139,004 likes as of 10/15/15. Sometimes being an extrovert can be an isolating experience!

Many introverts and ambiverts (those who are score close to equal on Extroversion/Introversion personality scales) would say that extroverts are attention-seeking bullies…or maybe they would just think it! J However, I think, “Extroverts are awesome!” in their own right. Friendships, job interviews, conflict resolution, parties and relationships can be richer when there is an extrovert in the mix. Someone outgoing usually needs to get the interpersonal ball rolling in order for communication and connection to occur. When inevitable miscommunications happen, a “chatty Cathy” can be the one most experienced to use a little small talk before we wade into deeper topics or join the troops when morale boosting is in order. Having a voice and resonating with others are two extroverted qualities that are kick-ass and positive.

Extroverts gain their energy by being around others, which is beneficial for community causes and rallying, leadership, as well as connecting to others who are more resourced by time on their own. The self-assured, confident air of an extrovert in social situations (not all the time, mind you!) can help express the natural curiosity we all have to understand ourselves and our worlds better through social interaction. This is in their brains and neurochemistry (dopamine, baby!).

We are social creatures because of the mirror neurons in our brain, which create an identical map of what we see happening in the faces of others, especially emotions, in our own minds. From almost birth, we learn the “Marco!” “Polo!” game of how to reach out and resonate with others, creating  a sense of congruence when we see that our caretakers or loved one is just as happy or sad as we are. Extroverts cannot read minds, of course, but they are practiced in the art of conversation, which involves verbal and non-verbal pattern recognition of what might be interesting or similar to our own experiences in others (i.e. empathy).

Not every extrovert is empathic, however they are wired to feel pleasure through interpersonal connections and expression. It feels good and can be contagious when an extrovert is in his/her own element of entertaining or engaging others in riveting humor or dialogue. Extroverts also like matching their friends to other friends and can be great matchmakers!

My extroverted friend loves to be interrupted during her workday. She is energized by people’s stories and being able to help. She embraces her extroverted tendency to take risks in her job and social situations and uses her humor and wit to express emotions and decompress. Sometimes she wonders if her extroversion has her overextended in her closer relationships but I think she does an amazing job with quantity and quality!

I asked her what her introverted husband of twenty-three years would say are the advantages of being married to an extrovert. She answered for him : “He likes the yin/yang” of their strengths and “watching her” do her extroverted thing. “It is practical because it saves him energy of seeing out travel or events that he enjoys but may not initiate on his own.” Awesome!

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The Beauty of Introversion

I’m standing in line at Strange Brew in South Austin last week, reading the board and trying to choose a sandwich to go with my latte. I’m looking forward to settling down for a few hours of research and catching up on paperwork. Before I’m ready, the barista calls me, never standing still as he flits between the register and the myriad other jobs he’s doing behind the counter. Immediately caught up in the speed of his energy, I panic a little bit, totally forget the sandwich, order my latte and sit down. I’ll get my stuff set up, sit for a bit while I re-group, and then go back to stand in line for a second time to order my sandwich with a little more time to think.

Not too long ago, this interaction would have stirred up so much embarrassment and discomfort, I probably would have taken my latte and left.

Introverts often get some hard knocks in our world. The concept is widely misunderstood (shy is the last thing that I am), and it’s often said that our world is set up for extroverts. Introverts have a harder time making snap decisions and like to process what they say before they say it. With all of our technology, it seems like the world is just spinning faster and faster, and that can be a difficult way for an introvert to exist. In fact, when we feel a little out of step with the visible world, it can sometimes make us think they’re something wrong with us.  But what are some of the wonderful things about being a person who likes to slow things down a bit?

Introverted people have the ability to foster deeply intimate and meaningful connections with other people. Generally not interested in small talk, your introverted friends or partners will probably want to know more about your dreams and deepest beliefs than they will want to hear about your lunch that day. Introverted people are also really great listeners, partly because they like to take time to formulate their responses intentionally, so you’ll have plenty of room to speak.

Introverted people are pretty happy to be left alone with their own thoughts, and as a result, they usually have a good knowledge of their boundaries and the things they like. If you put in the time to get to know your introvert, chances are you’ll get rich authenticity in return.

The introvert is also often a beautifully creative soul. When someone likes to spend a lot of time with their thoughts, their thoughts have the space and time to grow abstract, hypothetical, and fantastical. If you give an introverted person space and help them to feel safe when sharing with you, they’ll reward you with detailed and interesting musings about the world that can make you see things in a whole new light.

Like all other things, introversion looks different in each individual, and each of us might appreciate different aspects of being introverted, or see introversion differently. I’m happy to get to share with you some of my favorite responses from people when I asked them about their favorite parts of introversion.

“Well, they certainly don’t smother me!”

“My favorite thing about being an introvert is enjoying and embracing time spent alone…solo wine and dance parties forever!”

“I’m an introvert… and so I’m rarely bored.”

“When you get to know someone who is introverted, it’s wonderful. It’s like they shared a special secret with you, that not everyone knows.”

How do you walk through the world? If you’re feeling a little out of step, well… you know what to do!

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On Bean Clams and Existentialism

The beach is one of those go-to relaxing images for many of us. I don't know if I've ever seen a white-noise machine that didn't come with the sound of waves, or a laptop that was sold without a stock image of the beach as a screen-saver option.

I sat on the shore of Atlantic Beach, Florida last week and thought to myself that it's no wonder we use this place to calm our nerves. Staring into the vastness of the ocean, hearing the rhythmic pounding of the waves, it's easy to gain new perspectives on our troubles.

One of my favorite things to watch when I'm at the shore are the bean clams. These are tiny little guys and gals that live just below the sand. When I was a little kid, I mistakenly called them donut variables (their scientific name is Donax Variabilis) and gathered them in a bucket so I could watch them dig into the sand.

Usually no bigger than your thumbnail, these little things are so cool to watch in large numbers. As a wave washes over them, the clams are sifted out of their sand-haven, and swished about in the surf, where they might be eaten by all manner of things.  As the wave recedes, they quickly burrow back into the safety of the sand. And then a new wave comes, and they're momentarily dredged up again, only to burrow once more. And the cycle repeats endlessly.

Now, I'm not so bold as to pretend that I understand what happens in the mind of a bean clam, but I sure like to speculate that they have a valuable piece of knowledge: The waves will always come. When they burrow back into the safety of the sand, they know that they will be brought to the dangerous surface once again. They don't say that burrowing is futile just because they will have to fight for this safety again. This is not a fight that can ever be finished, yet they choose to work for safety and happiness in the here and now, because that's all that occupies their mind. They don't think about the waves that will come tomorrow.

They understand that nothing has permanence. Not the safety of the sand, not the peril of the waves. But that burrowing keeps them safe now. It keeps them safe here. It makes them strong for the next set of waves. They choose what option they have available to them, in the face of an ever-approaching ocean.

This past week, the "donuts" reminded me of a really nifty guy I know of, Viktor Frankl. Frankl was an Austrian psychoanalyst who was held in both Auschwitz and Kaufering. There, he mentally wrote his best-seller, Man's Search for Meaning. In it, Frankl discusses the differences in peoples' perceptions of the hell they were in during the Nazi occupation. He noticed that many people recognized the horror they were asked to endure, saw it as insurmountable, and behaved accordingly. Others, like Frankl, chose to play the hand they were dealt, and try their best to make lemonade out of some seriously rotten lemons. Frankl personally found meaning in his suffering and trauma by using his knowledge as a physician to aid other prisoners. Frankl didn't have a lot of great options to chose from while he was in the concentration camps. Yet, he chose to make effort, chose to fight for the life he could make for himself.

Burrowing into yourself, whether it be for safety or exploration, is hard work, too. So many of us have been so hurt by our pasts, our families, our relationships, that the damage feels irreparable. And it can be so frustrating to work hard for healing and happiness, when there isn't any guarantee that the safety or happiness won't be threatened again. In fact, we would probably be more accurate to guess that safety and happiness WILL be threatened again in the future.

Burrow anyway, my friends. There is one quote in Frankl's book that puts forward his whole idea: "Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."

The waves will always come. Whether it's a person you don't care for, pain from trauma in your life, a task you have to accomplish, or the regular stress of your day, it will always ebb and flow back to you. You can choose to stay dislodged and be thrown around in the surf, or you can choose to dig in, and burrow because it offers you something right here, right now.

As always, we're here to help guide you on your journey, and invite you to reach out.

Frankl's book was originally published under another name, and I wish they would have kept it...

Nevertheless, Say Yes To Life.

 

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There is No White Horse: On Loving Someone with Mental Illness

Do you know 20 people?

If you do, the National Alliance for Mental Illness says you know someone who is suffering from a serious mental illness. And their use of the word “serious” excludes more common, but no less difficult, anxiety and depression struggles, so the actual amount of people you know suffering from mental illness is probably much higher.  

So, it stands to reason that there are a lot more than one in twenty of us who are trying to figure out how to love and care for them.

How do we do that? I bet I can take a guess at your answer: do things for them they can’t do for themselves, talk with and listen to them, give them lots of hugs, make extra allowances for them and their behavior, and check in on them A LOT.

Makes sense, right? They have a harder time with things, so we should do more for them. It’s what we’ve been taught. We’re good, caring, kind people, so that’s what we do. Right?

It’s important for us to take a moment to acknowledge the way that fiction and movies teach us to love someone who is hurting. We see things like Perks of Being A Wallflower, Silver Linings Playbook, or A Beautiful Mind and we come to believe that if we can just be totally there for someone who is suffering, we can be that knight in shining armor that carries them back to health. We learn that love conquers all.

I am here to tell you, in no uncertain terms, that love cannot conquer a mental illness.

There has never been a person who has been loved out of Bi-polar Disorder, or been saved by someone else from their anxiety. No matter how selflessly we can care for someone and support them through the process, their struggles are their own, and we cannot slay our loved ones’ demons for them.  

I want to take another guess at what’s going through your head. This person is a therapist?! And she wants me to stop caring for my father/mother/sister/brother/friend/partner/aunt/neighbor!? Well, whatever, therapist lady, I cannot abandon my person. They need me.

Sure, this might be setting off some alarm bells for you. If you’ve been caring for and loving someone with mental illness for a while, the habit of “saving” them is probably pretty strong.

But I have a tough secret to share with you. That loving care can turn sour very quickly when we forgo our own boundaries and continuously prioritize someone else’s needs over our own. There is a big difference between caring about and caring for. We suffer from something called compassion fatigue when we reach the end of our emotional resources. And now we’re suffering right along with our person, with no clue how to help them anymore.

But there’s hope! With intention and therapy, of course!

Recognize That Your Scope of Care Has Limits

Sometimes, what your person needs may be beyond what you can offer, and that is in no way a reflection of how much you care for them. We clinicians spent a lot of time and money learning how to do what we do effectively, and it isn’t easy. Be gentle with yourself and remember that no matter how much you love your person, there is no way for you to offer them the professional support they may need.

This is something I hear from a lot of people who have had a friend in a traumatic situation, like having been sexually assaulted. “How do I help?” They ask. “Listen, validate whatever they are experiencing, and then contact a professional immediately,” I answer. For both of you.

Boundaries, Boundaries, Boundaries

There is no white horse. You are not a knight in shining armor. Your person may have many crises in their life, or come to intense moments of despair and hopelessness. It’s important for us to support and love those we care about, and riding to their rescue in each crisis can prevent them from learning how to manage their own life. And can affect your life negatively.

I know it feels kind of backward. Think about it this way. Often times, I think about my clients between sessions, and sometimes I want to call and check in. Sounds pretty nice and caring, right? A very wise peer once pointed out to me that if I did that when it was unsolicited, I was sending a pretty clear message that my clients can’t handle their lives without me. I have more respect for my clients than that. And I bet you have more respect for your person than to teach them that they cannot live without you.

Swapping But For And

This helps with the boundaries thing. The word “but” links two different pieces of a sentence together to form a whole thought that has two contradicting parts. I love cookies, but I’m allergic to them. Part B of that sentence tells us that Part A cannot exist. So when we say to someone “I love you, but I can’t keep dropping everything in my life like this,” there’s a subtle message that we will discontinue loving our person if we have to keep rescuing them.

Try out the “and” trick. “I love you AND I can’t keep rescuing you,” feels a lot better, doesn’t it? Knowing that we cannot save our people does not in any way negate the fact that we love them.

Get Your Own Support

Just as your person is worthy of care, compassion and support, so are you. In fact, getting your own needs met will help you continue to support someone you love. Find a therapist to work with (Hey, I know some!) and come to the realization that your needs are just as valid and important.

I’ll say it again, and I will never stop saying it: There is no white horse, and you are not a knight in shining armor. You don’t have to go it alone. If your resources are tapped, you’re barely treading water, and you don’t know how to save your loved one, give us a call, and let us help you.

If you are carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders, bring it to us and let us prop you up so you can rest. The closest that any of us can come to saving someone we love, is to model how to do it by saving ourselves.

I send you love and hugs now and always, for you and your loved ones with mental illness.  No one of us has to go it alone. We’re here for you.

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Your Therapist's Therapist

Clients usually hope that their therapists know a lot of stuff. Stuff about how your brain works, stuff about how to change things that hurt you, stuff about how to communicate. And your therapist does know these things.  But it might not be what makes them a good therapist.

The things that make me a good therapist are the things I learned when I wasn’t being a therapist. I know what it feels like to have someone truly See you and Hear you, maybe for the first time. I also know that being invited to share the secrets of your heart can feel like being invited to jump into a bottomless chasm that may or may not be haunted. I know that it is both validating and daunting to know that when your therapist asks you how you are, they’re really listening. And THAT I learned from being a client.

Through all the training and education I’ve had over the years, the things I use most often with my clients are the things I discovered when I’ve been in their chair.

So often in my work, I meet people who sit on my couch for the first time, and blanch at the prospect of opening up to someone. I get that. I get that you might not be able to dive in to your biggest struggles right away; I’m a stranger and you’ve been guarding these secrets closely. I welcome this part of your process, and I invite you to tell me if you don’t feel comfortable with me yet.  In therapy, we love to walk just outside your comfort zone to challenge you to new ways of thinking, but we know that you’re the only one who really knows where that comfort zone begins and ends.

I get that this work is exhausting, and that some days, you just don’t want to do it. It’s hard work to have to drag your mind away from persistent thoughts of doom and gloom, or to break free from an eating disorder.  It takes a lot of effort and work to change your patterns and behaviors so that you can ultimately feel healthier and happier. Some days, it just feels easier to give in and give up, and I completely understand that. Your frustration that you have to work a little harder for happiness is welcome in this room, and I’ve felt that.

I get that you might be annoyed with me sometimes. The nature of our work is fraught with emotions and tension, and sometimes I might slip up, or ask you to go somewhere that you just don't want to go. I invite you to confront me in these moments, and I think these conversations can be really healthy experiences that challenges us to grow.

I understand that sometimes you want to know things about me, and that it’s a little weird to crack your soul open to someone you don’t know much about. It’s fine to be curious, and often times I wish I could share more with you! I know that the more our time stays entirely focused on you, the more impactful your work will be. I get that you might be worried about what I think about you. You’re always welcome to ask because I am always ready to remind my clients of how much I respect them and appreciate their trust in me.

No matter how many textbooks I read, how many seminars I attend, the most enlightening knowledge I’ve acquired about being a therapist has been the knowledge that I received while I was being a client. Therapy is about people; therapist people and client people and all the people in between. We’re in it with you.

And we get it.

Mindfulness Monday: Put Down Your Phone!

Our smart phones are such a blessing because they're just so darn...smart. You can hail a cab, order a pizza, convert Fahrenheit to Celsius and learn a new language, probably all at the same time. You can connect with anyone, anywhere, at any moment.

What you can't do with your cell phone is feel the cool air on your face, see the natural details in the trees outside your window, or really be fully present. Our phones connect us to so much... but not the here and now. What our phones connect us to is pretty much the opposite of here and now: somewhere else, maybe a couple seconds ago.

Forest is a nifty new app that encourages us to get off of our phones and back into the real world. Sure, at first it may seem counter-intuitive that something designed to keep you off your phone is...well, on your phone. But forest encourages less distraction by challenging you to leave your phone untouched for anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours while the app grows us a little digital tree. The more you stay away from your phone - the more trees you grow. If you touch your phone, your sapling dies! At the end of the day, the hope is that your phone screen is home to a tiny, lush forest.

A lot of the time, when we notice ourselves avoiding being fully present, it's because we're worried that some troubling thoughts or feelings might bubble up if we slow down and check in with ourselves. If you notice you've been a little too "go go go" recently, give us a call and let us help you practice being comfortable in your head and heart, and comfortable with the "now".

In the mean time, I've already grown four trees in my forest today... Think you can beat me??

Flowing Through Life: The Fluid Wisdom of Shanna Willner

Busy Therapy Austin counselor Shanna Wilner took a moment out of her day to share a piece of herself with me, and I'm so thrilled to share her voice of peace with the therapy-verse. Take a minute and check in with one of TA's masters of mindfulness!

What's  one of your FAVORITE moments in the therapeutic process?

Therapy feels to me like the beautiful book, The Universe in a Single Atom.  Every experience, thought, or feeling that’s been had is a contender to show-up in a session.  For me, this concept appears when a client is expressing a deep pain, a bad memory, a daunting fear, and then one of us will say something unintentionally funny and out of nowhere, we start laughing.   It’s the fast unfettered laughter that comes with emotional freedom. 

Shanna before class at a favorite local yoga studio, prepping to get her zen on!

 I love it.  You never know when it will happen, and it happens more often than one might guess.  That shared moment of pain followed by genuine humor makes me feel connected to something vital.   

What's your go to self-care routine?

The big things:  I actively work to get good sleep and I meditate before bed to wind down from the day.  Next, I am deeply committed to positive self-talk; I am respectful to myself, I encourage myself to take it easy and rest, I make jokes but I don’t make fun.  Finally, I am recently focused on a frequent grocery shop so I have good food in my house and I feel more intentional with my finances.  Without any of these pieces, things get ugly, fast. 

 The little things:  I keep almonds and water in my purse.  When I get tense, I look at funny animal pictures on Reddit for 5 minutes (the Aww section on www.reddit.com).  When I don’t have time for a lot of exercise, I get a little bit here and there by taking a walk around the block, doing a wall-sit, or stretching between clients.   If I’m mopey, I put on Pandora and have a 5 or 10 minute dance party.  Literally.  I close the door and have a solo dance party, and I feel great afterwards.   I think healing and self-care are incremental, so I weave together a lot of small behaviors.  For me, it works.  Doing small things also prevents me from getting overwhelmed. 

If you could be one animal for a day, what would you be?

If I could be one animal for a day, it would be a blue whale.  I picture this enormous creature flowing through a cool, colorful universe with total ease, as if there was no other way to live but in peace.  I don’t know if its true, but that’s how I picture it. 

I also just think they’re cool.  The blue whale is the largest animal ever known to live on the planet, bigger than the biggest dinosaur.   The heartbeat of the blue whale can be detected from two miles away and a human can fit in its arteries.  Blue whales produce very low frequency sounds at 20Hz, meaning that slow and low, that is their tempo.  They freely take up huge areas of space within the vast depth below, while all the air above the surface is also at their access.  They're like oceanic road-trippers, cruising around the deep blue.   They come up to the surface, then take a deep dive.   

This is how I feel on my best days; flowing through my life with my body, big heart, and mind all aligned in peace, so at ease with my existence that I don’t need to question, just be. 

 

To read more about Shanna, and request an appointment with her, head over to our Bio section, and check out her wonderful knowledge of breathing practices, meditation and compassion within the therapy process.

Book Review: Yes Means Yes; Visions of Female Power in a World Without Rape

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Last month was Sexual Assault Awareness Month, folks! As statistics and stories flood social media this month, I found myself having an odd reaction. Yeah, we know it's a problem. We've known how big of a problem it is for a while now. So why the heck is this still happening?

So I turned to Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti's book to see if they could offer me some insight.

"Yes Means Yes" is a collection of essays written to address sticky topics involved in sex and sexual assault. Categories such as "Is Consent Complicated?" "Fight the Power" and "Healing to Yes," make it easy to navigate through the essays to find something that you connect with.

My favorite thing about this book is that it's written and constructed by real, everyday people who care about the culture of sex in our world. Far from a dry text book, "Yes Means Yes" uses colorful language and rich tones to get to the meat and potatoes of what the authors are trying to say. It's real.

Another thing I really enjoyed was the positive perspective employed to look at the all-too-sensitive subject of sex. In Beyond Yes or No: Consent as a Sexual Process, Rachel Kramer Bussel shows us that the common phrase "no means no" only perpetuates the negative thoughts and ideas surrounding sex in our country. Why should I focus on being responsible for saying no, when I can be empowered to say yes? Same situation, very different takes. Consent is sexy!

Often, commentary on rape and sexual exploitation can fall into being very gender-normative; the language they use can perpetuate the myth that only women are sexually assaulted. While the statistics reflect that it's far more common for women to experience sexual assault, the book uses the non-gender-conforming pronoun "hir" to reflect the fact assault is a problem across the board, not just for women. 

One criticism that I would offer to the authors concerns the category "The Right is Wrong." While it's true that many politically and social conservative groups have contributed to rape culture, they're certainly not the only culprits. Sexual assault and the way we view it is an issue across the board, regardless of political leanings.

Check out this book that challenges us to consider the underlying issues of rape culture in addition to sexual assaults themselves. And if you'd like to reach out and talk about sexuality or sexual concerns, give us a call. Yes means yes!