Cleaning up loose ends by addressing depression

It’s that time of year, nearing the end of December,  when I feel the urge to clean up loose ends, finish projects started earlier in the year, to clean my house top to bottom and clear out what is no longer useful emotionally and materially. As much as I love books, I know I need to cull the collection every so often. Of course, my old text books from grad school were easy to part with. The hardcover novels are being repurposed into altered books and art journals.

I’m starting to go through the stack of books that I have read or scanned for useful information. Today I landed on Yoga for Depression by Amy Weintraub. This was my first introduction to Amy, and what followed was collecting her CD’s, DVD’s and taking a class with her at the Kripalu Center. I surprised myself by opening the book and beginning to read it, again. [Read more…]

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Vacations that heal

Summertime. Vacation time. Rest and relaxation? Sometimes.

I had the best vacation last August! It was short, budget and all, but it was so energizing and relaxing and healing, that I was just floating when I came back.  Little things didn’t bother me, I had energy, yet I slept well. I came back ready to face the things I had been avoiding and take action. I realized that I was more mindful. No multi-tasking, but one thing at a time, with my full energy and concentration. Amazing how much more I got done!

So what did I do? I went to the Newport Jazz Festival for the first time. OMG!  The music was amazing! I haven’t seen many superstars live, but on the stage were Dave Brubeck with Wynton Marsales; Herbie Hancock and Amal Jamar. I am totally enchanted with Jamie Cullum and Amina Figerova’s music spoke to me, I felt it in my body.

I was with a great friend, and got to meet two wonderful women I had only heard about for many years. I felt like I knew them, and meeting them face to face was so easy and natural, like we had been talking every day for years. I met some new folks too, and can’t wait to see them next year. Oh, wait, the magic of the internet will connect us, and we are in close enough proximity to keep the energy going with some visits in between.

I know I was stuck, I could feel it in my body before my vacation. After I got back, I made commitments and followed through on some nutritional changes, took care of the yearly medical appointments, cleared out some clutter, and noticed how differently my mind felt when my body felt better and vise-versa.

It reminded me and continues to remind me that balance is so important to creating a life worth living. Balance between work and play, making time for self-care, eating well, sleeping well, time with friends and time alone to create, renew and rejuvenate.

What kind of activities do you like?  What kind of vacations or get-aways are in your budget, and leave you refreshed when you get home.

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Are You Codependent?

I sure am! Ouch! Here I thought I had mastered my codependency years ago. What a rude surprise, it’s a lifelong process not an event.

So, in listening to this spiritual message, in my continuing quest for balance in my life, I am using the tool of Mindfulness to observe my behaviors. Without judgement, without expectation, without needing to change it in a knee jerk response. Yes, it’s a tall order, but I know what’s on the other side of that: healthy behaviors, no built up resentments for not being noticed or appreciated, no unrealistic expectations of myself and others, and gradual changes that are more likely to last. Did I mention boundaries, not walls? Did I mention a reminder that life is a process, not an event; that not all “nice” behaviors are codependent.

What makes a “nice” behavior into a codependent behavior? Holding on to an expectation that you will get something back for being nice. Love, appreciation, changes in someone else’s behavior, martyrdom…get the picture?

So does that mean I cut everyone off and become angry and closed and never do anything for anyone ever again. No, just that I observe my behaviors, not every moment, but trigger behaviors. When I start to do something for someone without first asking would they like me to do it. That’s one of my weaknesses, fixing, doing magic if I see someone in pain or imagine they are in pain.  That I take on some else’s issue, like not asking for money that is owed to me, or overpaying my 1/3 of the office bills, since I don’t have the same expenses as the other 2.

And number one, to remember that I don’t have to do this alone. Yes, I need to take the action, but I can talk about the process, I can ask for feedback, I can let some support me, cheer me on and celebrate my progress and successes with me.

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Breaking out and opening up

Yes, it’s been a while, a time of transition (therapist use of self as model for healing).  Lots has been happening to my mindset as I learn about good business practices, marketing (gasp), and creating a business plan and direction for my therapy and coaching practice. And haven’t I just been thrilled with all the warts I’ve noticed about myself during the process (NOT!).  It has been necessary, and in the end, empowering.

Often ,we get signs and signals from Great Spirit, or Higher Power or the Cosmos, whomever you conceptualize. Today I got a message that really sums up the past 6 months: Breaking out and opening up.

The message itself was a little amusing and a little frustrating. It’s Sunday, and I had to go to the grocery store. Of course, there are long lines, and some flaring tempers.  The cashier picked up my plastic container of organic eggs, and the container popped open and launched an egg. She looked up at the line queuing at her register, and asked if I wanted her to get me another container of eggs.  I offered to run for the eggs while she bagged the rest of my order. 

I came back and put my prize in a bag and checked out. By the time I got to the car, this container had popped open, but the bag caught the eggs, and none were lost. Instead of grumbling, since I already had a bad enough day with an earlier migraine, I stopped, saw the eggs weren’t broken, but them back into the container and took a breath.

Now I could wonder why they were in plastic rather than a paper carton, since there were, after all organic eggs; I could notice that it looks like the container might have been previously opened and not closed correctly, although you can see all that all the eggs are intact without opening plastic container, as opposed to a paper carton (hmmmmmm!).  I chose, instead to stop, take a breath, and wonder what the message might be in two egg containers opening:  Breaking out and opening up. Which is exactly what I have been preparing to do for the past 6 months, personally and professionally. And here I thought I was just stuck.

Do you ever feel stuck? Like you are paralyzed, or spinning your wheels?  Here are a few helpful tips to deal with it:

1. Stop, take a breath

2. Be gentle with yourself; beating yourself up will only paralyze you further

3. Ask for help! Find a therapist or a coach who can help you identify what is keeping you stuck. Then help you develop a plan. Sometimes, therapy will help you get to the bottom of the obstacle and no amount of coaching will. Sometimes, a good coach and a good plan will get you in the flow.

Here’s to moving forward and creating a life worth living!

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Time to calm down

And enjoy! It was a lovely day today, started a little chilly, but warmed beautifully as the day progressed. I live in NJ, and things have been more than a little damp here. Of course I forgot about that when I flew off to the office today, and had to detour around my usual route, which floods readily and easily. On a hot summer day, the water, well, swamp I guess, is on both sides of that road, and the water is always nearly at the road anyhow, so it doesn’t take too much rain to allow it to flow over the road.  More rain leaves it impassable to cars. 

Then there’s the cresting rivers a few days after the rain, which leaves some roads that had been passable suddenly closed.  My office is surprisingly close to a river, I believe a part of the Passaic (note to self to check on that one).  Today, the road was open, but I wonder if it will still be by Saturday. Two rains ago, the flooding was worse after the rain stopped; hence my quick education on cresting rivers. You’d think I’d have known that by now; oh well.

Although my home was not in an area that was under water, it is built into a hill. The ground became so saturated over the past few weeks, that some water did seep into the basement. I felt very grateful that I could manage it with towels, lots of towels, a mop and 2 dehumidifiers.  It was more like a huge puddle, and didn’t flow onto anything that wasn’t safely living in plastic tubs already.

This is, of course, to the hypnotherapist, a wonderful bounty of metaphor opportunities.  Emotions, especially anger, can just keep building up, hiding underground so that you don’t see them, don’t realize they are there until they leak in, eventually even flooding in.  Self-care is so important at these times.  Addiction treatment talks about HALT, being hungry, angry, lonely and tired as a trigger to relapse. That is so true, and being mindful helps one take the actions when they recognize any or all of these symptoms. The actions of talking to others; meditation; nutrition and watching caffeine and sugar intake; taking your medication if indicated; exercise or yoga are only a few of the options.

What if, however, you haven’t recognized the anger yet? Your ground is saturated, but you don’t see/feel it yet.  Do you need to wait until it leaks in? Floods over your road? Do you need to wait until you become angry, rageful, hopeless, self-destructive?  Absolutely not!  As you learn to live mindfully, some other thoughts may begin to occur to you; you notice what is going on around you. You notice your emotional rain, from the very first drop. You remember that the ground, your ground, can only hold so much before it becomes saturated. You remember that the rivers get full, flood even, then a few days later, when it seems they should be receding, they crest and may flood again.  Unlike the weather, we can intervene when we feel the first emotional drops of rain. We can prevent the ground from getting oversaturated, the river from cresting.  Or, we can wait with an armload of towels and a head full of every alternate route to get where we want to go.  How will you choose to live your life?

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It’s a family dis-ease

I have seen some examples recently that remind me how much families are affected by mental illness and addiction.  The family intentionally or unintentionally does a dance around the mental illness sufferer or addict.  This is often labeled as enabling, but I have found it to be exacerbated by the lack of education, intervention, support and resources for the family members.

In some cases, the “identified patient” (IP) , the addict or severely mentally ill person has declined treatment, or will not comply with treatment recommendation such as AA, abstinence, therapy and/or medications.  Many families do not know what to do that this point, where to turn, who to ask. Families of addicts are told to attend Al-anon or Nar-anon and “work on themselves.” This is a very good recommendation, but they often need more: education, options, resources, coaching. Sometimes, they just want to ask questions like what can the addicted person expect in treatment? In AA or NA? What will change for them and us if our “IP”  takes medication, or gets sober or whatever.  A professional if better prepared to answer these questions more objectively and help the family develop a game plan, goals and initiate self-care whether or not the IP is getting treatment.

Even when the “IP” is getting treatment, family members feel left out or that they are walking on eggshells. They do not know if they can ask questions, let alone what questions to ask and how to ask them. They are reluctant to express their own concern and feelings, even optimism.  This is especially true of families with young adults who still live at home. They may understandably want to limit the family’s ability to “butt” in by not signing releases of information. At the very time the family can help, the young adult, addict or mentally ill, will decide to exert their independence.  I’m not talking about crashing boundaries here, but understanding how to communicate and realizing how all family members are affected. In fact, it is often a time to establish or reestablish boundaries, and redefine private vs. secret. It’s a time to visualize mental illness into mental wellness.

Yes, family members do need to do things to take care of themselves, but they often desperately want to know how to help the IP, and don’t want to be told to” butt out, it’s their problem. ” If they can learn healthy ways to help and support the IP while taking care of themselves, the process is less painful.

In response to this need, I will be launching my Recovery Coaching products and services over the next few months. In short, the goal is to teach families how to recover from the impact of addiction or mental illness in their family. How to return to or create equilibrium. How to set goals as a family and as individuals that promote health and a peaceful spirit.

Additionally,  many recovering addicts/alcoholics get to a point in their recovery when they no longer need therapy, but need help to envision the next step in their life journey. They may need to work on certain areas within their recovery that do not get addressed in 12-step meetings, such as mindfulness, nutrition, “secondary” addictive behaviors such as food or love.

So what can you do today? Well, you just did something by reading this post.

What else? Talk to the “IP” in your family, and simply remind them “I love you and I care about you.”

How about telling yourself: “I love you and I care about you.”

Start to learn about mindfulness: Take a few moments to sit quietly and focus on where you are in the moment. Notice where you are sitting, what is around you. Observe or witness your thoughts: who are you thinking about and how does that change when you sit quietly and simply breathe. Close your eyes, count 5-4-3-2-1 slowly, then open your eyes.  You may be surprised and delighted how centering and refreshing a mini-mind-vacation can be.

To your mental wellness!

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Whew, what a great day!  I got a lot accomplished, some of which I wasn’t expecting to have time to do. It helped balance out the unexpected changes in the day’s schedule.

Although I don’t consider myself a teacher, in many ways it seems to come naturally to me. I am used to the role of therapist/teacher/counselor/coach on a small scale, usually 1 to 1. I haven’t been working with groups often since I stopped working in intensive outpatient programs, which I miss very much.  (grist for later posts on the groups and seminars coming in January 2010 at my office and via teleseminar). Anyhow, I taught a technique to the members of one of my weaving guilds, and we all had a grand time. After I got over my dry mouth and forgetting my great ice-breaker jokes and fabulous self-introduction, I found my rhythm and totally forgot that I was nervous.  Should have done my self-hypnosis before rather than after the anxiety bit, but it worked itself out.

I have to do that again sometimes, the teaching. Yes, and the self-hypnosis. It is nice to have the hypnotherapist guild you through a healing trance, but it is also very empowering to elicit change in yourself.  The self-hypnosis in between the sessions with the hypnotherapist really support the continued change and growth, especially with issues like anxiety, weight management and smoking cessation.

So riding on the high from the workshop (yes, for you addicts reading this, there are things you can do to have a good time without drinking and drugging!), I came home and set a few goals to make the best use of that cheerful, positive energy. My poor old Yorkie isn’t so happy with that; the old guy is almost 16, suffering from chronic kidney disease and is mostly blind. He may be going deaf also, but it is hard to know if it selective or real….he’s always been pretty independent and commands like “come” and “stop” have never meant much to him. I’ve been promising him a bath for a few weeks, and finally got him in the tub today. I feel wonderful that I accomplished that; he’s still wrapped in a towel and blanket, shivering and looking at me with a glare somewhere between pity and loathing. But he smells good and he’s nice and clean, and he’s really going to be in an uproar when I get the nail clippers out in a few minutes. Good, check another thing off the list!

Some cooking is on the agenda for tonight also. One of the biggest helps in creating a healthy body and weight is avoiding processed foods with additives, lots of salt and sugar in their many disguised forms, and “bad” fats. Just by cooking my whole grains and veggies myself, I can avoid those additives. I can add in good fats, like avocados and olive oil. I can also cook ahead for a few days, and prepare a few meals myself to keep in the fridge. We all like convenience, and the time I spend cooking and making more than one meal at a time gives me the convenience of reaching into the fridge without the consequence of processed foods.

I must also mention that I cook for the Yorkie. I read the label on the prescription dog food that is recommended, and shivered. Yuk! So I did some research, and came up with natural diet recommendations for canine kidney disease. So I cook for all of us at once. I can cook 2 batches of yummy beef /rice and sweet potato/egg/veggies for him and it lasts a week.  And except for the beef  or chicken and raw eggs, we pretty much eat the same thing. I won’t digress today on why our pets seem to be developing illnesses like obesity, kidney disease and cancer. Yes, environment and genetics are  factors for animals as well as people, but we can certainly impact our health and the health of our pets by what we feed all of us.

To end the day, a little zen knitting. Ahhhhhhhh!

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Why our health matters

I heard part on an interview with Dr. Andrew Weil today.   He has a new book, “Why Our Health Matters” and I am very much looking forward to reading it.  It’s been a while since I read any of his books, but I often see his articles and read them with interest.

Dr. Weil talked with Diane Rehm about his opinions about health care reform,  insurance, and most importantly, about learning to prevent disease.  I really liked that approach.  Making lifestyle changes does not insure we will never get sick, but can reduce the risks of many illnesses and diseases.

Just changing how we eat can make a big difference in our health. I am not a nutritionist, but I do know that if I eat certain foods,  I just don’t feel right. The better I eat, the better I feel.  I’ll bet you have had similar experiences. Dramatic and drastic changes in how we eat are not always easy, but there are simple and gradual changes that can have a signficant impact over time.  One suggestion is to avoid as much processed and fast food as possible. This is sometimes a challenge in our busy lifestyles, but can provide big rewards.

Think about taking a cooking class if you aren’t sure how to cook from “scratch”; it is often easier than you think, and you can learn shortcuts like preparing ahead so you always have better, healthy choices for meals and snacks.

Although I missed part of the show, I didn’t hear any mention of mental health, and it’s impact on our overall health.  From my chair, I see significant changes in overall health as clients learn to reduce stress, become mindful and develop a positive outlook . I’m not talking about faking happiness, but really learning to be happy, and accept to good and the bad with grace.

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Remaining teachable

Therapist uses herself as example of remaining teachable.   I have avoided buying a salad spinner until recently.  I couldn’t decide what size, or if I REALLY needed one, or if I had room in the kitchen. “Oh forget it!” I would think. Until the next time I passed the salad spinners in the kitchen store.   Being an avid fiber person, or should I say rabid, I also wondered if it would be better to get a salad spinner for my veggies and lettuce, or a larger one for spinning the water out of wool that I had dyed or yarn I had spun and then washed.

So here’s the lesson: Keep it simple.  I am sure you have heard that one. Stay focused. Remember your goal.

It’s summer now, and the shares from the community supported garden (CSG) I belong to includes lots of wonderful greens. Which got me thinking of the salad spinner again. And of all the paper towels I waste blotting my lettuce, and dripping tea towels when I use them instead. So I used my handy-dandy 20% off coupon, and after reading all the boxes and looking at and test spinning all the samples, purchased a the smallest model. Go figure, it turned out to be the perfect purchase!

I thought I blotted my lettuce very well, but the salad spinner really makes a difference. It is quick, easy to clean and saves paper towels and wet messes. Ahhhhhhh!  And I’m actually eating more salads and greens now, since I don’t dread the mess. Prep is a breeze.

Many of the things we do in life are metaphors for how we live our life. When we have successes, we often forget to apply the learning to other areas. Sometimes a seeminly small thing has larger implications. I don’t think that means we have to look for the lesson or learning in every single thing we do; rather, to just be open for the lesson when it comes from unexpected sources.

And eat more salad!

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Mindfulness and Multi-tasking

I wonder if you can use mindfulness and multi-tasking in the same sentance, or at the same time.

I thought I was a brilliant multi-tasker when I was listening to audiobooks while surfing on the web; maybe at first, but then I realized I had to keep backing up the audiobook to get the parts I missed.  I found myself daydreaming or planning my next blog post or shopping list while doing other mundane tasks, like taking care of the rabbits.

Then, the other day, with an armload of empty rabbit water bottles, I missed a step down from the bunny porch, and hit the floor hard, twisting and spraining my foot in the process. What was I thinking about? Couldn’t tell you now, but it must have been important at the time.   What I wasn’t doing was paying attention to what I was doing in the moment, not noticing where my feet were.  I certainly wasn’t being spiritual, taking joy in the everyday tasks, or even being present for what I was doing.  Lesson learned, I commit to being present where I am in the moment, and to be grateful for even the most mundane of tasks.

When I was in graduate school, one of the men in my class was, still is, a Tibetian monk. Just listening to him speak, or sitting near him was a calming experiencel. I remember him sharing that even for a monk, remembering to be mindful, slow and careful is challenging in New York City. So easy to get caught up in the moment and movement, and to forget what is important. Isn’t that espeically so with the so called mundane or daily tasks? Hurry up and get it done so that I can….can whatever else I really want to do.

I heard a story on NPR about teens who are multitasking with computer, email, texting and maybe phone at the same time. All those opportunities are there, but can you really do them all at the same time? Exactly at the same time?

So today’s suggestion is to be present in the moment, to focus on what you are doing and clear the other things from your mind.  Finishing what you are doing is the goal before you start something else. And maybe redefine finishing. When I am sitting down to write and article, or weave at my loom, finishing may mean focusing on what I am doing for whatever the allotted time is. I may not finish that 15 foot rag rug runner before I get up from the loom, but I will have enjoyed the hour or so that I have sat at the loom, coming away feeling inspired and refreshed.

To your mental wellness!

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