Changing Your Relationship Patterns

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When we examine anything in our lives, we must start at the beginning.

Our patterns of behavior, as well as our beliefs about ourselves, are formed at very early ages in our lives. Most are created from birth to age 7 by the actions and words (or inactions and lack of words) of our parents, guardians, caregivers, and teachers.

These are the years in which we learn our patterns of behavior in response to what others are teaching us about ourselves and when we form our beliefs about who we are in response to those teachings.

Our patterns in relationships are also formed during these times. Our attachments or lack thereof. Our value and seeking value in relationships. Our search to have our needs met that the people in our lives may not be meeting. Resulting in our relationships being healthy, beneficial, and supportive or unhealthy, toxic, and lacking any support.

Our beginnings direct our footsteps as we go forward. If we have been taught that the only way we can have relationships is in an unhealthy way, we will continually repeat that pattern throughout our lives. We will also constantly wonder why we keep becoming involved with the same kinds of people with the same kinds of results.

To begin to find our way to healthier relationships, we must examine what we were taught and how we responded at very early ages. We must accept that our responses now are an ongoing response for trauma (emotional, physical, sexual) that occurred when we were very young that we have never fully acknowledged and processed.

Until we do this, we cannot hope to have differences in our relationship patterns now. Our choices, our responses are directed by those encoded patterns that have now become “normal” and never questioned. We have come to believe “it is just who we are.”

In reality, it is just who we were taught to be by others.

Truly examining these patterns tracing our lives back to when the beliefs and responses started, we can then start to acknowledge, confront, and replace with a new way of being. We must learn to love ourselves. Believe that we have value and that we deserve healthy relationships, even with ourselves.

We must work to replace negative beliefs and thoughts that have been a part of our lives for years. This is not an easy task nor is it a quick one. It takes a long time to replace years of “conditioning” and begin to think and believe differently.

Most often, the first step is to learn to love ourselves. And this is also often the most difficult due to the years of being told and shown that we have no value, we are not lovable, we are the problem. We believe it and it is then presented as truth in our brains.

Where did your patterns begin? How did your beliefs start? What events or people shaped your thoughts about yourself? You were not born in these ways, they were created and taught.

Once we truly have those answers, we can begin to pursue change. And that progressive, step by step movement can fundamentally change our lives for the better.

Until you heal your past, your life patterns and relationships will continue to be the same it’s just the faces that change.

Until next time be well,

Deborah

It Is Not All In Your Head

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When struggling with mental illness such as depression, anxiety, trauma, eating disorders, and many other diagnoses, we can feel as if it is all in our head. In reality, it is, but there may also be other factors that contribute.

Many mental illness diagnoses can sometimes be a result of changes in brain chemistry. It can sometimes be the result of hereditary genetics. It can sometimes be the result of traumatic experiences leaving imprints on various portions of the brain.

All of these things can be true. Our struggle with mental illness can sometimes be in our brains. But other factors may also affect how our mental illness diagnoses are affected.

Vitamin, mineral, supplement deficiencies can also have an effect on how we process things emotionally. There have been many studies relating to the connection between vitamin D deficiency and depression. Vitamin B12 and other B vitamin deficiencies have a role in producing brain chemicals that affect mood and other brain functions.

Several other deficiencies can also affect brain function, and mood responses including Omega-3 fatty acids, DHA, folate, and iron are among those. These deficiencies can be caused by unbalanced nutrition, genetics, age, and other physical illnesses.

Those who suffer from disordered eating diagnoses may be at greater risk of these body/brain/mood deficiencies. As well as those with poor nutrition as a result of their environmental factors.

Other factors that can complicate mental illness diagnoses especially for women are hormonal imbalances that can also contribute to fluctuations and possibly contribute to mental health issues. Hormones that are unbalanced have been shown to contribute specifically to depression and anxiety in women.

Many times those who are diagnosed with mental illnesses tend to be treated only with medications to manage those illnesses with chemical brain changes. However, it may be just as important to get a complete workup of vitamin, mineral, amino acid, and hormone levels. The addition of vitamins and supplements and possible hormone adjustments may help manage many of the symptoms and fluctuations in several mental illness diagnoses.

Proper nutrition and sleep are also directly related to fluctuations in many mental illness symptoms and diagnoses. Managing what you eat and how well you sleep can directly correlate to how you feel. Much of our vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and supplements come directly from what we eat. If we eat poorly or are restricting what we eat, we may not be receiving much-needed nutrition vital to brain balance and health.

Sleeping well is a much-needed item for brain health as well as physical health. Disrupted or poor sleep hygiene can have a direct impact on many mental health diagnoses including bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, and ADHD. If not managed in a healthier way, disordered sleep can directly impact how our mental illness diagnoses affect us and can increase those symptoms and responses.

Mental illness diagnoses do very often reside in our brains and our brain function. However, there are several other factors that can directly impact the effects and even possibly the development of or increase in symptoms.

Mental illness is not just a disorder of our minds but a brain/body connection that involves many parts and pieces.

If we want to truly improve our mental health we must embrace all the parts and pieces that contribute to it and work to have all of them at the best functioning possible.

We are not a single diagnosis, we are a complex construction requiring attention to the whole being, not just what’s in our heads.

Until next time be well,

Deborah

Trauma Cannot Be Fixed

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As a clinical counselor, I would estimate that 95% of the clients I see have experienced some kind of trauma in their lives. And that 100% of those clients would like their trauma to be “fixed”.

Trauma cannot be fixed. It can only be lived with, better.

As soon as I tell clients that there is no way to “fix” or get rid of or not be affected ever again by their trauma, they generally make one of two decisions.

They get upset and decide that I am a terrible therapist and that surely there must be one out there who can “fix” them or that therapy is bogus and they are never trying it again and they do not come back to see me again OR they decide they are willing to try to live better with their trauma.

You can remove trauma or at least obliterate it from memory. One way to do that is to have a lobotomy. Another way to do it is to undergo ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) or shock therapy. Hypnosis can make you “think” you have removed trauma, but it only replaces it with another thought or reaction.

Otherwise, trauma remains part of who we are, forever. It can control our thoughts. It can control our actions and reactions. It can control our lives.

If we allow it to do so.

Or we can gain control over our trauma and learn to live BETTER with it.

Step one, acknowledging and confronting all of our traumas. Knowing them. Being able to name them, talk about them, and recognize how they started. We must truly understand what our traumas are in order to learn to better live with them.

Step two, we must learn and accept how these traumas now control our lives. What emotions do they make us feel, what beliefs have they created in our minds, how do they affect our relationships with others, how do they affect our relationship with ourselves? Recognizing that how we live with trauma is how we live our entire lives. Every aspect of our lives.

Step three, we must work to change negative beliefs, emotions, choices, actions, and reactions. We must work to replace these with positive. We must work to confront these with the truth instead of the trauma-informed lies. We must consistently, constantly with every single one apply repetition and reinforcement to live better with our trauma.

It is exhausting work.

And this is the point where those who have chosen to stay at work to live better with their trauma start to reconsider. In the world of quick fixes, instant gratification, change at blinding speed, the work required to change our trauma-informed life can seem overwhelming. And many will give up at this point feeling that it is too hard and that living the way they have always lived is easier.

But it is not easier, it is just comfortable, familiar.

Those that stay after this point come to understand that by doing this work they can live better with their trauma — despite their trauma. As survivors.

Living better means having positive beliefs about yourself. Living better means having more positive emotions than negative in relation to your trauma and your life.

Living better means making more positive choices because you want to make them not because your trauma-informed lies direct you to make them. Living better means having positive actions and reactions based on what you truly want for yourself not what your trauma-informed lies tell you that you deserve.

Trauma cannot be fixed. As a therapist, I do not have a magic wand. What has happened to all of us happened, it cannot be erased.

It can be lived with — BETTER — with work, with understanding, with love for yourself.

Trauma creates change you don’t choose. Healing creates change you do choose. ~ Michele Rosenthal

Until next time be well,

Deborah

A Mind Full Of Calm

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These are uncertain times and our minds can be full of worry and fear. Uncertainty breeds fear. The unknown can be a very scary thing.

Even in times like these, we can find ways to have a mind full of calm. With all of our social-distancing and quarantine, many of us find ourselves with time we need to fill. We can fill it with worry and fear or we can fill it with calm.

Many people still view meditation as some foreign concept that they believe they cannot do. They see it as getting rid of all thoughts, which they feel is an impossible task. It is something very much different than that, however.

Meditation is about the recognition of thought, the acknowledgement of thought, and the releasing of thought. In much the same way as imagining thoughts on clouds and those clouds being allowed to go on their way.

Meditation is about knowing the thoughts we have, confronting them, but not allowing them to take root and take over our minds.

Meditation offers a place of calm in a sea of turmoil.

Many of my younger clients, who are accustomed to constant input and digital interaction, think meditation is boring. It can be difficult to get started, but like any other habit, it can be done just a little at a time and increased slowly becoming a habit over time.

There are several apps that we can use for meditation and these seem to really work well for our digitally oriented minds. Perhaps if you give one of these a genuine try, you might find a mind full of calm for yourself.

I am not in any way affiliated with any of these apps. All of these apps are free to download and use and offer other in app purchases to expand their use.

1 — Headspace. Possibly one of the most well known of the meditation apps offering guided meditations of varying time to get you started on your journey. Meditations of as little as 1 minute can get you started on your way to a mind full of calm.

2 — Calm. Another well-known meditation app. It also offers guided meditations as well as seven and 21-day programs for beginners.

3 — Insight Timer. This app offers both guided and unguided meditations. You can set a timer and sit without guidance or choose guided meditations with mindfulness teachers.

4 — Aura. This app features daily meditations, mood tracking, and nature sounds. You can also set timers to take breaks and do breathing throughout the day.

5 — Smiling Mind. This app offers simple, 10-minute meditations that are broken down by age group. It covers age seven to adults with these meditations. So this app is a great starter for younger kids and teens.

Starting with just a single minute a day, you can find ways to manage your fears and worries and calm your mind.

Navigating the uncertainty and managing social-distancing and quarantine can be made easier if you have a mind full of calm.

It’s all about finding the calm in the chaos. ~ Donna Karan

Until next time be well,

Deborah

The Cost Of Trauma

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Trauma comes in many forms. It affects every person differently. Trauma can be any experience that causes us to have a negative reaction mentally, emotionally, and/or physically.

The misconception that trauma has to be something really big and awful leads to some people’s trauma being minimized. Sometimes people compare traumas. Physical abuse can be perceived to be much bigger than say divorce of parents in childhood or the death of someone close to us.

Trauma is personal. The effects of that trauma are personal.

Each person’s trauma affects them personally and only they know how great that effect is and how it impacts their life.

Many books have been written about trauma and how it presents in the body. One of the most well known and one that I use consistently in my therapy practice is The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel Van der Kolk, MD. This book describes the intricate connection between trauma, the brain, and the body that results in mental, behavioral, and physical costs.

Several studies have also been done on the trauma costs to the body including Negative body experience in women with early childhood trauma: associations with trauma severity and dissociation in the European Journal of Psychotraumatology and The long-term costs of traumatic stress: intertwined physical and psychological consequences in the World Psychiatry journal. These studies detail the connection between trauma, the brain, and body with the mental, behavioral, and physical costs.

The mental cost of trauma can result in the diagnosis of several developing psychiatric illnesses such as PTSD, anxiety, depression, and others. Some of these diagnoses can be life-altering in their severity. Another mental cost is the development of negative beliefs about oneself and our perceived responsibility for the things that have happened to us.

The brain is a powerful instrument.

The beliefs or thoughts we have about ourselves can manifest in our behaviors and as physical symptoms in our bodies that can include physical illnesses.

The physical cost of trauma can result in somatic body issues along with the development of physical illnesses. Chronic pain, migraines, digestive issues, reproductive issues, and more can develop out of the connection of trauma, the brain, and the body as described in the above studies.

In my practice, I see mainly girls and women, and their physical symptoms can be almost identical in some cases for those with trauma. Chronic neck and shoulder pain, migraines, digestive and reproductive issues are all common among them. It is too commonly replicated to be coincidental.

The behavioral cost of trauma can be just as costly as the physical and sometimes even be the cause of the physical. Trauma numbing can include substance abuse, self-harm, issues with food, relationship issues, and more. These behaviors can lead to physical illnesses and more trauma reinforcing the trauma narrative.

These behaviors can start at a very early age if the trauma occurred in early childhood and can go on for years before it is recognized and processed. This can lead to a very long road of change and recovery.

How can we stop paying the cost of our trauma? The first step is to acknowledge honestly where our trauma started and begin to process these experiences. A trained trauma-informed therapist can help us understand and be able to talk openly about what has happened to us.

It can be a long process and difficult. We did not get to this place overnight and we will not find a path out overnight. Confronting trauma can also be very emotionally charged. The fact that it is uncomfortable and scary prevents many from seeking help.

The fear of change also keeps many from confronting their traumas. Who will we become if we are not what we have been for years? What will we lose as a result? It can be very scary.

But the cost of not confronting our trauma can be astronomical. It can cost us our mental health, our physical health, and sometimes much more. We can begin to stop paying the price one step at a time.

If you or someone you know is struggling with unprocessed trauma, I urge you to seek out a trauma-informed therapist to begin the journey of recovery. The high cost of trauma doesn’t have to be a lifelong debt.

Trauma may have changed your life, but you do not have to continue to pay the cost every day of your life afterward.

Until next time be well,

Deborah

Two Words To Change Anything You Think

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Anyone can change how they think.

It only requires two words. That’s right, only two words applied to every thought and anyone can change how they think.

Those two words are — repetition and reinforcement.

Every single thing we learn as humans is done through repetition and reinforcement. When we learn that crying out brings someone to our crib, we repeat and reinforce this behavior to get our needs met.

When we learn to crawl, we repeat the necessary movements and reinforce in our brains that this is how we move. The same is done when we walk, talk, learn to feed or dress ourselves. Learn to read or write. It is all repetition and reinforcement.

Everything we think about ourselves is given to us by others. We are not born thinking anything particularly about ourselves outside of we need to eat, be cleaned, and have interaction with others. Everything else someone else teaches us.

If we have positive teachers, they teach us that we are beautiful, valued, strong, kind, loving, etc. If we have negative teachers, they teach us that we are ugly, not worthy, weak, mean, unloving, etc. These teachers start with our first caregivers, parents or whomever assumes our initial care and move on to extended family/caregivers, school teachers, friends, romantic relationships, and on it goes.

Each of these interactions teaches us what to think about ourselves and the world around us. From birth to age 7 we form the beliefs about ourselves that will rule the rest of our lives and our thoughts.

The things they teach us are through repetition and reinforcement. We hear them, see them, feel them over and over. We take them personally knowing no better at the time, and then we tell ourselves we are these things.

Repeatedly and reinforced.

The brain will only believe what you tell it to believe. It is not an artificial intelligence thinking things up on its own. It believes what you tell it is true and only that. If we tell it these negative things are true, it will make them true and we will live them as true.

These reinforced and repeated thoughts can go on for years and years of our lives without challenge or questions. It can then take a very long time to rid ourselves of these thoughts, but it can be done.

One thought at a time.

To change anything you think, you must replace it. Repeatedly and reinforced. Every single time. Each time you think it, it must be replaced with a positive thought or affirmation — repetition and reinforcement.

By doing this, the brain then builds a new neural pathway that will eventually replace the negative one. It is how the brain builds every single neural pathway that lets us function in our lives. Repeat and reinforce and it will believe whatever you tell it.

We must be relentless in this. Just as relentless as we were to learn to walk or write. If we had given up on those things because a thought we believed told us we could not do it, what would have happened? We would not be walking or writing.

Many of us have a very large catalog of negative thoughts that others have taught us to believe about ourselves. It can be overwhelming to think of replacing all of them at once. That is why we use the one step at a time method.

One thought at a time.

I am a worst first kind of person. Tackle the worst thing and everything else seems smaller. What is the worst negative thought you have been trained to think about yourself? Start there. Find a positive replacement immediately.

Then reinforce and repeat, reinforce and repeat, again and again and again every time the negative thought presents itself. Build your new neural pathway of what you believe, what you think, what you feel.

Anyone can change how they think with just these two words — repetition and reinforcement.

Change your mind, change your life — starting right now.

Until next time be well,

Deborah

The Road Not Traveled

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Have you ever believed you wanted something so much that you could not see your way past it? You believed that it was the only way you would be happy or successful. I have.

And I was utterly wrong.

I went back to college after going to work at a local high school to become a counselor. My course of study would allow me to be a school counselor or a clinical counselor or both. I was utterly convinced I wanted to be a school counselor.

There were so many kids who needed help and I wanted to be there to help them. Or so I believed with my whole heart and mind.

I loved working at the school. I sponsored a poetry club and started a literary arts magazine that was published yearly through fundraising and donations. I volunteered to work dances and sporting events. I worked in whatever capacity I was needed while going to school full time, doing counseling internships, and working part-time at a residential treatment facility.

I made friends there and formed bonds that are still there with many of the students and some of the staff. I believed that being a school counselor was the only job I wanted. It was the only road I wished to travel.

And I was completely wrong.

I finished my degrees, two of them, and my internships and waited for a school counseling opening at the school. The joyous day arrived when there was not only one opening there were two. I believed that this was going to be the culmination of all my hard work and desire.

After all, I had given so much of myself in the last seven years to this school and the people in it. How could this not be my dream come true?

I completed the application process and the interview panel. I felt good about my future. I was encouraged by other staff that all would be well and I would finally get the job I so desperately believed I wanted.

And I was unbelievably wrong.

I did not get either job that was open. I was absolutely crushed. I fell apart completely. I went to my car and sat in the parking lot for two hours crying and then I went home and cried for several more days. My dream was gone.

I felt like a complete failure. How could this happen and why? What was I going to do now? I felt that nothing I had done for the school, for my education, for myself had any value.

And I was absolutely wrong.

I picked myself up after I stopped crying and decided not to be defeated. I left the school two weeks later having given my notice and went to work full time at the residential facility for girls with severe trauma and addiction where I had been working part-time for my clinical counselor licensing hours.

I loved working with those girls. Their lives were the kinds of stories you see sometimes and cannot believe that such evil can be perpetrated on a child. They hated me and they loved me. But in so many of their lives, I made a difference. A difference that for some of them completely changed everything for them.

A little over a year later, I went into private practice full time seeing some of those same girls and many others from local middle and high schools along with adult women all with complex trauma. I was happy, fulfilled, and successful. I recently expanded my practice adding another therapist to serve even more people in our city.

I still make use of my school counseling license and education, so in a way, I am still a school counselor just not in a school.

It took me almost a year after that devastating day to realize that if I had gotten the job in the school, I would have been miserable and unfulfilled. School counselors in high school don’t have a lot of time to counsel kids in crisis. They spend a lot of time in meetings, doing scheduling, proctoring testing, and being involved in interpersonal drama at the school where I worked to have much time to see kids who really need it.

I would have been heartbroken to see a kid I knew needed help and have to tell them that I had to go to a meeting. Being a school counselor would not have worked for me.

So often we can convince ourselves that something we believe will make us happy is the only road to travel. Many times we learn that it is the road we never thought to travel that is the way to being truly happy and successful.

And I am ecstatic that I was wrong.

Sometimes it is completely okay to be wrong.

Until next time be well,

Deborah

Excuse Me, Your Tranquility Is Slipping

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Counselors are human too.

It started off badly, my work day. My car wouldn’t start, again. It has some sort of electrical drain issue. No one was home except me and so I had to use my youngest son’s car, which I loathe.

Driving to my office I encountered, in the 5 minutes it takes me to get there, multiple drivers who were less than stellar. I get to the office and realize that I had forgotten to schedule a client that day. And multiple other no good, very bad events followed.

My first client comes in and I am quite stressed by this point. Not the ideal situation for doing therapy, but counselors are human too. The client notices my “aura” and asks how I am doing. So, I shared just a few of the day’s events and then I look at the wall beside the client’s head.

I have some different wall clings on the walls of my office with lovely sayings, cherry blossom limbs, and words. The word beside the client’s head is….tranquility. And it was hanging halfway off the wall. And to the end of the sentence about my day’s events, I added…

“and now my effing tranquility is slipping.”

The client looked at the barely clinging tranquility and started laughing, really laughing. I started laughing, really laughing. We laughed so loud and so hard and I was crying laughing and the client was too. It was amazing.

After we had stopped laughing, I was able to continue the session, feeling much less stressed. I later wondered, was my tranquility slipping a result of the stress I was putting into the universe and seeing it was a message from that same universe that even if your tranquility is slipping, it’s not as bad as you think.

You can let it overwhelm you or you can laugh until you cry about it. You can also just stick that crap back on the wall and carry on.

Counselors can be viewed as above the fray of things, objective, even distant at times. However, just like everyone else, even counselors have bad days, get stressed out, and watch their tranquility slipping.

Counselors are human too.

Intentional Grace

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In Merriam Webster there are eight definitions of grace as a noun and two as a verb. For the purposes of this writing, grace is an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or mercy and/or the quality or state of being considerate or thoughtful.

Most of us have been taught that we should give grace to others in all myriad of circumstances. We should be kind and courteous to others. We should show mercy, forgiveness, and tolerance to others. We should be considerate and thoughtful of other people’s feelings, sorrows, and tragedies.

How often do we extend grace to ourselves?

Many times, we beat ourselves up emotionally and mentally, and even out loud verbally. We place blame on ourselves and feel as if we are failures. We tell ourselves any number of lies that we have been conditioned to believe by others and our brain now considers them to be truths. But grace? Not so much.

We do not offer ourselves kindness and mercy. We are not tolerant of our mistakes and errors in judgment. We have no forgiveness of our shortcomings. Grace is not something we think of giving to ourselves, only to others.

What if we practiced intentional grace with ourselves?

When we feel as if we are not doing as well as we think we should, how about a little grace for those times. When we feel as if we are failing ourselves or our families, how about some forgiveness for ourselves. When we are short on margin and quick to anger, how about some tolerance for ourselves. When we are run down and burned out, how about some self compassion.

Grace is not meant for us to only give to others. It is also meant for us to give to ourselves. We can extend all the kindness, courtesy, mercy, and forgiveness we extend to others to ourselves. We must be able to offer that cup of kindness to our own bodies, minds, and spirits.

Think of how often you have shown grace to others. All of the circumstances in which you were able to show kindness, mercy, forgiveness, and courtesy to other people. Now try to think of all the times you have shown those same things to yourself. I wager that it is not an equal scale.

We cannot pour from an empty cup. Our own cups must be filled. And we must do the filling. Be intentional with grace for yourself this week and fill your cup.

Until next time be well,

Deborah

Taking Breaks

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Sometimes we can be so tired in our mind and body that only a complete break from our everyday life will reset us. This past weekend, I was able to have one of those resets.

My family and I went for four days to what is called the Missouri Breaks in Montana. It is several hours north of where we live where there are almost no people and definitely no Internet, cell, or television service of any kind. The land is high prairie with pine trees, juniper bushes, and sagebrush.

The sky is magnificently big and seems to go on forever.

The only noises are the animals and birds in the morning and evening. In the in between, there is no noise. Zero noise. It is completely quiet. The peace is immeasurable.

In the morning, you can hear everything from Western Meadowlarks to Canadian Geese along with coyotes and elk and many more starting off daybreak. In the evenings, it is much the same and the music is amazing.

In the in between time, there are walks or hikes to view wildlife, find amazing rocks and fossils, and breathe in the world around us. There is also time for coloring and naps and the occasional classic movie such as Chisum or Lonesome Dove.

In the evenings, there is peace and the campfire. The hypnotic mesmerizing flames are like a colorful dancing meditation and we sit transfixed as if we are stones. We roast the occasional marshmallow and having brought my telescope we view the heavens above in all its unpolluted by light glory.

Mars is there, along with Orion, the Big and Little Dippers, Hercules, Gemini, and many more along with super bright binary stars and red giants. It is a light show unlike any other and as far as you can see there are stars. Also satellites that go streaking by very fast and shooting stars.

There are no phone calls, no text messages, no appointment reminders and no email. There is no social media distraction and no news of the day in the rest of the world. There are no work day duties. Only peace.

I sit in the sun and watch the burning embers of the fire from the night before and I feel my body, mind, and spirit being fed. It seeps into me resetting me once again.

Taking breaks is necessary for those in the mental health profession just as it is for everyone else. It is okay to take time for yourself so that you can give care to others. It is more than okay. It is a requirement for a healthy life.

Until next time be well,

Deborah