Beyond Fear

For many people, choosing to start therapy can be a very scary decision. Opening up to someone you do not know about the intimate details of your life can seem very frightening. Many people who feel that “everyone is judging” them in some way may also feel that their potential therapist will judge them in the very same ways. Still others are afraid of the changes that will come as a result of how they may change during the therapeutic process.

During my time as a therapist, I have had many potential clients come for the initial consultation, which is a time to see if we are a good fit and they seem willing and ready to start therapy. They will then come for one or two sessions and then I will never see them again or they text to say they are not ready to proceed. They can get beyond their initial fear of making a consultation appointment but when things become more in depth they are too afraid to continue.

I know that there are many others who cannot get over their fear even to make the initial consultation appointment. There are potentially thousands and thousands of people in the state where I live who contemplate therapy or who want to reach out for help and try to change their lives, but they cannot get beyond fear.

It is true that the therapist does not know the client and vice versa. However, this is a good thing allowing the therapist to be objective. It is also true that there are some therapists, unfortunately, who will make judgments about clients even though one would hope that they do not. Therapists are still human beings and as such are not always capable of separating their personal views from the counseling office. It is further true that if clients change during the process of therapy and the people around them do not change or do not accept their changes, relationships can be impacted and even ended.

I always try to get clients to do a risk/benefit analysis of continuing therapy in spite of their fears. What are the risks if they continue and change their beliefs about themselves and others, their boundaries, and what they are willing and not willing to tolerate in their lives. What are the benefits of these changes in their lives? Will they be able to live happier, stronger, less toxic lives? Is it worth the risks?

Only the client can decide these things. No matter how much the therapist might wish that they choose therapy, the client is the only one to decide to proceed and the only one to evaluate the risks they are willing to accept. The client is also the only one who can decide to do the work of therapy and implement the skills and tools the therapist provides. No matter how much the therapist provides, the client decides what they will do with it. The work resides with the client as does the decision to do the work.

If you are trying to decide if therapy might help you navigate your past, present and future please consider the risks and benefits and decide if the benefits can help you get beyond your fear. You might find that it leads you to a better life and a better you.

Until next time be well,

Deborah

Necessary Awareness

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Awareness is a necessary ingredient for change.

In order to change anything, we must first be aware that there is something that needs to change. Anyone with trauma will have great difficulty finding this awareness due to the ongoing conditioning and responses caused by internalized negative beliefs and subsequent responses to those beliefs.

In fact, most people find it difficult to be aware of things outside of their normalized thoughts and behaviors. Only through awareness can thoughts and responses be addressed. Only through awareness can we know what there is to be addressed.

In order to be aware, we must be able to recognize the thought processes we have. Recognize that they are there. Recognize where they began. Recognize how we internalized them. Over time, these thoughts, that we gained from other people, become internalized in our brains as truths about us. The become so ingrained in our beliefs that we start to think we started them. Most all my clients will say that they have always believed the negative things about themselves as if they were born with them. They were not and neither was anyone else.

To be aware of these thoughts, we must be able to pause the process when it starts. The process of thought, emotion, reaction or response. This cascade happens instantaneously with the normalization of the process. This is the thought we always have. This is the emotion we always have with this thought. This is the reaction or response we always have with this thought. So we just let it flow without awareness.

To pause the process, we must be able to name the catalyst. The thought or thoughts. They must have identifying names and we must understand how we came to believe them. Where they started, with whom, and in what circumstances. Almost all will be traced to our initial caregivers as they are the teachers of all things including the beliefs about ourselves. From birth to age seven, these beliefs are taught to us just as we are taught to talk, eat, dress, read. Name them, know them, recognize their beginning, and know they are not true nor are they yours.

It is then that we can have awareness when they come up to have the margin or pause to stop the cascade of events that follows. With awareness, we can say, I see you thought. I know you thought. I recognize where you came from thought. I do not have to respond or react to you thought. I can pause and replace you thought. I know it sounds like a lot but with practice it can be done. Over time, negative thoughts can be replaced with positive truths that do come from you.

Start with one thought that causes you the most negative emotions about yourself and the most issues with relationships with others. Name it. Name the emotion. Name the reaction and responses. Name the starting point. Accept that you did not start the thought. And start to replace it with an opposite, absolute positive that comes from you.

Do that repeatedly. Form a new habit. Create a new normal. Foster awareness as a necessary component of change.

“Awareness is like the sun. When it shines on things, they are transformed.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Trauma Healing Quotes

Most all of the work I do with clients is in relation to their trauma history. The processing of trauma and moving through to acceptance and letting go can be a very difficult journey. To live a full and free life after experiencing trauma it must be completely processed and let go. If you are thinking of starting this journey or are in the midst of it, maybe these quotes can help you begin or to press on.

“Traumatized people chronically feel unsafe inside their bodies: The past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort. Their bodies are constantly bombarded by visceral warning signs, and, in an attempt to control these processes, they often become expert at ignoring their gut feelings and in numbing awareness of what is played out inside. They learn to hide from their selves.” ~ Bessel A. van der Kolk

Dr. van der Kolk is the author of the book “The Body Keeps The Score” which is effectively the “bible” of my therapy practice and the best book on how trauma affects us body and mind when unprocessed.

“We cannot have a world where everyone is a victim. “I’m this way because my father made me this way. I’m this way because my husband made me this way.” Yes, we are indeed formed by traumas that happen to us. But then you must take charge, you must take over, you are responsible.” ~ Camille Paglia

We are conditioned and taught by our traumas to internalize negative beliefs about ourselves. However, moving through and past our traumas is our choice and our responsibility.

“Trauma is personal. It does not disappear if it is not validated. When it is ignored or invalidated the silent screams continue internally heard only by the one held captive. When someone enters the pain and hears the screams healing can begin.” ~ Danielle Bernock

Finding a therapist that fits you, someone to hear you, objectively, can make all the difference in being able to walk through your personal pain.

“Every day begins with an act of courage and hope: getting out of bed.” ~ Mason Cooley

Not every day will be filled with huge strides and big wins over the past, sometimes the best we can do on any given day is just to get out of bed.

“Trauma is perhaps the most avoided, ignored, belittled, denied, misunderstood, and untreated cause of human suffering.” ~ Peter Levine

It is my experience that almost everyone has some kind of trauma and almost everyone carries on as if they do not by avoiding, ignoring, denying, controlling how they truly feel.

Instead of saying ‘I’m damaged, I’m broken, I have trust issues.” I say “I’m healing, I’m rediscovering myself, I’m starting over.” ~ Horacio Jones

The journey to trauma recovery is almost entirely based on what we say to ourselves every minute of the day. Are your words hurting or helping you?

Healing from trauma can also mean strength and joy. The goal of healing is not a papering-over of changes in an effort to preserve or present things as normal. It is to acknowledge and wear your new life – warts, wisdom, and all – with courage.” ~ Catherine Woodiwiss

We can never change what has happened to us, but we can learn to live better with it and in spite of it.

Until next time be well,

Deborah

Learning Resilience

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Resilience is defined as the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties or toughness. Some people feel that others they see who are able to get through hard times seemingly easily are just born that way. I think resilience is a learned or a conditioned behavior response and I think that everyone can learn resilience if they invest in the process. People can seem to be resilient who are still living with the effects of their past trauma, but most are addicted to control and reacting in their long held trauma patterns.

The first thing on the path to resilience is processing past trauma. Until the past is addressed and the reactions to that trauma are processed and understood, it is very difficult to break the response patterns that are a result of unprocessed trauma. These patterns lead to negative thinking patterns, fear of failure, being in a constant state of fight or flight, and any of the hundreds of conditioned beliefs that have formed in our brains as a result of this trauma. Therapy is the road to being free of those things.

While in therapy, you will hopefully learn how to recognize negative beliefs and thought patterns. One of the greatest barriers to resilience is any belief that prevents you from knowing you can go through hard times and come out stronger on the other side.

In order to be resilient in the face of hard times, we must be able to form a positive thought process about the current situation to confront it without fear and/or having it polluted with our past trauma responses. We must also be able to have positive thought processes to disable catastrophic thinking patterns. We have to believe that we can overcome the hard times without fear and trauma responses and that we will be okay in the future.

Learning resilience after we have processed our trauma allows us to be able to choose our responses and maintain perspective. When we are living in our trauma response brains, we can find it almost impossible to choose our responses to any situation. We can know logically absolutely what we should do or say or how we should act, but the trauma response brain is powered by emotions. These emotions overpower our logic and cause us to respond out of fear. Fear, being the strongest emotion in the world, causes us to lose all perspective in situations where we need to make a different response.

To keep building resilience we have to be able to learn from our mistakes and failures. In everything there are lessons to be learned if we can maintain our perspective and keep our thoughts out of the trauma negative zones. All life is a lesson. When we are living in our trauma response brains, the lessons of our experiences tend to be overlooked while we are in states of fear, fight or flight, or freeze. The lessons are also overlooked in negative thinking patterns of how the mistakes are our fault or that we are always failures, which is again a product of the trauma responses. Learning the lessons of failure and mistakes can make us much stronger going forward and can also teach us what we no longer want to repeat.

Be aware of your thoughts. Practice thought awareness. Meditation is a great way to practice thought awareness. It is also a great way to practice having those thoughts come and go instead of taking up root. Meditation can also be used as thought replacement practice. Our thoughts become our beliefs become our behaviors.

Resilience can be learned. We can all choose our responses, choose what we think and believe, and choose to maintain perspective. Each choice makes us stronger and more able to withstand hard times. Cultivate resilience.

Until next time be well,

Deborah

Winter Blues

After almost a month of vacation and two weeks of family illness, returning to work has been difficult. Not only because vacation is a nice place to be, but also because winter in the northern rocky mountains is very cold, windy, and grey for the better part of January and February.

After the excitement of the holidays and fun of having time off, one can find that they have a lot less motivation for their required activities. Things like going to work, cleaning house, spending time with others, and even things we enjoy doing do not seem as appealing when enduring the winter blues.

So what can we do to cope with this time of year and the lack of motivation and even depression for some that comes with it?

Anytime the weather is even remotely nice, we need to get outside. Even if it is for a short amount of time, it can make a big difference. Getting out into the sunshine can be extremely beneficial during the “grey months”. A short walk or even a drive, a trip to the grocery store or to visit a favorite specialty store where we live, a cup of coffee with a friend at a local coffeehouse or restaurant can all provide a much needed escape from the housebound doldrums.

Being intentional about getting up out of bed, taking a shower, brushing your teeth, and changing your clothes. Often times, the urge to just stay in bed and do nothing can be powerful during the “grey months”. We can convince ourselves that because we can’t venture outside due to weather or don’t want to due to how we feel, that we shouldn’t bother with activities of daily living. No one is going to see us right? This only increases our feelings of loss of motivation and depression.

Making sure that you are eating regularly and healthy. Another thing we overlook during the “grey months” is eating properly. If we are doing a lot of nothing, we tend to not eat or graze eat anything that is handy. Usually those things are not that good for us, chips, cookies, candy, etc. Once again, we need to be intentional about getting proper nutrition during these times. Having food on hand to make small meals throughout our day that are warm and nutritious. Also making sure we stay hydrated with water is very important.

Keeping up our physical health by getting some form of exercise most every day and by taking healthy vitamins and supplements to keep up our immunity. The “grey months” also bring a variety of illnesses that we need to be strong to have minimal symptoms should we get sick. Exercise offers two benefits, keeping us active and healthy and releasing endorphins to keep our brain active and happy.

If where you live there is little sunshine during these months, a seasonal affective light could be extremely helpful. Getting light is so very important to how we feel.

Writing and/or journaling about how you are feeling, making goals and plans that you can follow through on, adding in some creative touches and artwork to your writings can all help you release emotions held in the body.

If you feel that you are getting very depressed and cannot seem to do any of the things above most days, seeking out help through therapy and/or adding medications to your mental health management can be very helpful. Reach out for help.

The “grey months” can be tough for a lot of people but there are things you can do to endure them in a more healthy and happy way. Start with one thing and keep doing it and then add another and another. If you need more help, please seek it out. And remember, this is a moment in time and brighter, warmer days are coming soon.

You Are My Sunshine

Living in the northern latitudes, such as Montana, means that we are exposed to far less sunshine than other parts of the United States. The lack of sunshine exposure especially in the winter months, with much shorter daylight hours and lots of cloudy, snowy days, we get a lot less Vitamin D than many of our southern neighbors.

The time change ushers in days that get darker and darker earlier and earlier as we venture deeper into the winter.  There can be overcast days where the sun is never seen and darkness can descend by 4:30 in the afternoon making for very long nights and very little light.

Many studies have been done on this lack of Vitamin D and the connection to depression and depressive symptoms. Montana has a very high rate of depression and suicide and this can be one of the reasons why. It is not the only reason, but many of the people I have worked with over the last few years have been very deficient in Vitamin D. Some when having their blood work done, have found that they had almost NO Vitamin D in their bodies and all of them had depression and depressive symptoms.

One study Depression and Vitamin D Deficiency: Causality, Assessment, and Clinical Practice Implications talks about the various causes for this deficiency and ways of possible treatment. It lists many foods from which we can get Vitamin D and unfortunately many of them are not foods that a lot of the people I see eat, such as liver, sardines, tuna, salmon, swordfish. Other causes are insufficient sunlight and malabsorption diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, and others.

Anyone can be Vitamin D deficient. The only way to know for sure is to have blood work tested. Correction can be made in several ways adding Vitamin D2 or D3 supplements daily, increasing certain foods in your diet, and getting sunlight either outside or by using a seasonal affective disorder light.

I am NOT saying that a Vitamin D deficiency is the ONLY cause of depression nor am I saying that taking Vitamin D will cure all depression or that anyone should take Vitamin D instead of prescription medications. I am saying it can be an additional cause of depression and depressive symptoms and in some people a significant cause depending on the level of deficiency. If it can help then it is a very easy and natural way to boost how we feel.

If you or someone you know living in northern areas of the country has depression and/or depressive symptoms, it may very well be worth the time to have some blood work done to see about Vitamin D deficiency. It could be of a great deal of help to know and then to work to reduce it.

Here are some other articles for the link between Vitamin D deficiency and depression:

Vitamin D and Depression: Where is all the Sunshine?

Vitamin D Deficiency and Depression  

There are other ways to battle “seasonal depression” or “seasonal affective disorder” to either go along with Vitamin D or be separate from taking supplements.

VeriLux Happy Light

There are many options of SAD lights on the Internet.  You have to look to see which would fit what you need most and make sure to read the reviews as well.  The above listed lamp is fairly affordable and has some very good reviews.  Make sure that you get out into the sun anytime it is out in winter even if it is cold.  Go outside, bundle up, and stand in the sun for a few minutes at a time.  When the sun is out during winter, open the curtains and let it in your entire house and sit in it inside the house.  Schedule social activities and follow through with them to connect with other people.  Increase your exercise doing it inside if it is too cold to be outside.  Seek out therapy to get you through the winter.  Therapy can serve to offer not only someone to talk to but tools for managing season depression.

Until next time be well,
Deborah

Falling Away

Fall always reminds me of the work I do with clients in therapy. They come to me as trees full of leaves. Heavy and weighed down. They are all searching for a way to release some of this long carried weight. Letting those leaves they have carried for so long fall away.

For a good portion of their lives they have carried these leaves representing the baggage of their past everywhere they go. Into every decision, response, relationship the leaves go with them. The weight is heavy and at times overwhelming but they cannot seem to rid themselves of these ever clinging traumas.

When clients come to therapy, they talk about how these leaves cling to them and nourish the fears, anger, sadness, and negative thoughts that grow and blossom each day. The leaves continue to feed their ever growing tree of trauma. They have become used to the weight. They are accustomed to how they look when the leaves are full and on display for all to see. They are comfortable with how it envelopes them mind and body.

But it is so heavy. It is so hard to carry on with daily life when weighed down by depression, anxiety, anger, judgment, and fear. Every action, every decision becomes just that much harder. There seems to be no escape no matter how much they may want to let their leaves go. The negative thoughts keep the leaves bound to them.

As they work through these traumas and begin to acknowledge them for what they are and where they started, the leaves start to drop off. At first, maybe it is just one small leaf. The process moves slowly. The leaves start to lose energy, change, and have less power to hold on to them. The leaves become less nourished and start to wither.

As more work is done and more understanding is gained, the leaves lose their vibrancy and turn darker and become less noticeable. They have far less power over responses and actions. The thoughts become quieter and less invasive. They start to realize they no longer need this heavy covering of weight. And they start to fall off slowly, slowly.

The traumas fall away becoming only remnants of their former selves. Yes, they were there and happened, but their power over them is lost. They can be let go. They are no longer needed. They no longer need to fear them.

The leaves drop off becoming dead, crunchy and returning to the soil in which they were made to be reborn in spring as new life. Traumas falling away being absorbed back into the universe and becoming the catalyst of change for them. The leaves they regrow as they change are lighter, beautiful, and nourishing to new life. To their new life.

This is hard work. Shedding old life to birth new. It requires great energy and constant attention. It requires releasing that which is no longer needed in favor of that which renews.

This is how I see therapy, good therapy in which the client is invested in change and willing to do the work required. The falling away of all that has weighed them down body, mind and spirit and the investment in growing that which is uplifting, empowering, and transforming.

Until next time be well,

Deborah

The Last Straw

Earlier this week, I read an article that broke my heart. In one of the high schools in the state where I live, they reported that seven students have lost their lives to suicide since May of 2020. Seven lives that are no longer with us. And this is just one high school that has reported numbers. I feel that there are probably quite a few more.

This is not an article to blame Covid for yet another thing. It is very likely that most of those who have taken their lives since Covid began were struggling well before that with depression, anxiety, trauma or some other mental health issues. It is unlikely that Covid was the only reason for their feeling they had reached the end of their ability to go on. Although, there may be some for which that is true. It is impossible to know.

What I do know from data I have seen reported all over the country is that the impact of Covid has pushed many with mental health issues over the edge. For some, it is quite possibly the last straw. And I am not talking about the illness of Covid as much as the surrounding fear, isolation, increased depression, lack of normalcy and chaotic changes.

Covid especially for school age individuals has caused periods of isolation, sometimes long periods of isolation from friends and a normal routine. It has caused a huge increase of fear and possible loss of loved ones. It has increased depression through these things. The constant changes of what is going on with Covid, with schools, with jobs, with family and friends results in a large amount of increased anxiety. And the feeling that this may never end adding to the already present thoughts of nothing ever changing for the better.

When taken together, the many things that surround Covid may be considered as the last straw. The situation that has pushed people over the edge. The thing that has increased suicidal thoughts and ideation. Again, it is not the only thing and these thoughts and ideation did not start in 2020 for most, but they were likely increased.

The other thing I have noticed is that while much attention is being paid to Covid and illness and health care and vaccines, much less attention is being paid to mental health issues. While schools are focused on masking, vaccines, quarantining, and mitigation of illness, they are far less focused on addressing the mental health of their student population nor have they been throughout this crisis.

My school age clients report that during the many months of remote learning, no one called or checked in from the school on their mental health. They were only concerned with academics. No one asked if they were depressed or anxious. No one asked them about suicidal thoughts or plans except for me. Imagine how many more school aged children were out there not going to counseling with no one to ask them these questions.

Of course, it is not only school age children who had an increase in suicide through this crisis. Many people did of all ages. Mental health was never high on the priority list of any organization or government entity and it still is not sadly.

When you talk to people about how they are handling Covid, why not ask them how they are feeling. Ask them how this has all affected them emotionally. Ask them how they are coping with the things they have to go through with this crisis. Ask them if they need help.

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts or intent, please seek help or help them to find help. Reach out for counseling services. Call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text the Crisis Text Line at 741741 both available 24/7. Find out resources in your community and have them handy for referral to those in need. Check in on the mental health of those around you, it could be just what someone needs to keep going.

Until next time be well,

Deborah

Believe In Yourself

Lately, I have felt that a lot of my clients were struggling with self confidence and believing in themselves. Not only in processing their traumas and issues, but in their daily lives and work. I thought it might be a good time for a little bit of confidence boosting quotes post.

Speak confidence to yourself. Speak love to yourself. Speak belief in yourself.

Talk back to negative thoughts. Talk back to negative beliefs.

Replace all negative words with positive words, every single time.

Place boundaries against those who disrupt your self confidence and belief in yourself.

Let go of the past – all of the past. Live in the present moment.

Let go of fear.

Manifest your confident self through your words, thoughts, and actions every moment of every day.

Looks Can Be Deceiving

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Do you ever look at other people and think they look like their life is perfect? When people are smiling do you assume they are happy in general? If someone has a job where they make a decent living do you assume they have no real worries? If someone has a nice newer car do you assume their life must also be nice?

Assumptions are a dangerous thing and almost always incorrect. Most people have something in their lives that they are going through, dealing with, struggling with. Most people have had trauma of some kind in their lives. Remember, trauma does not mean everyone has been abused. Trauma is personal and its impact is personal.

Death and divorce can be very traumatic experiences. A much broader acceptance of trauma is needed to understand that most people have had trauma of some kind and that their trauma may be impacting them in negative ways every day whether you know it or not.

When we see people who we believe are living a great life or an easy life and we dismiss what might lie beneath, we can assume that they are fine emotionally. They may look fine on the outside. Good job, nice clothes, newer car and smiles, but what you do not see can be weighing them down.

Battles are fought every day by most people. Battles with the past, present and future. Battles with others and with themselves. Almost everyone faces daily struggles of some kind.

For some the struggles are related to physical health, which is also not always visible to the outside observer. For others the struggles are related to providing for daily needs such as housing, food, clothing and safety. Many struggle with mental health issues, which are almost always hidden from others and especially from strangers. It is the what you cannot see that are sometimes the heaviest burdens.

When we assume others have no problems or that others problems are so much smaller than what we are dealing with, we can be judgmental and unkind. We can have no grace or patience with others. We can dismiss others with our looks and words. We assume and move on to our problems.

There are those who would say that someone’s issues are not a reason for them to be frustrated, rude, angry or a multitude of other emotions towards others. What a perfect world that would be if it were possible, but it is not, we are all human and in moments of stress most find it very hard to be aware, present, and appropriately responsive.

There are plenty of old sayings about judging something on how it appears and all of them are true. What we see is very definitely not all there is to see or know.

We cannot control how other people respond to their own struggles, but we can control how we respond back to them. We can pause, reflect, and have grace and understanding. A kind gesture or word can offer someone the space to process their own struggle a little more easily.

Remember, we are struggling with something. Do not assume from first glances. Be kind. It could change everything for someone including yourself.

Until next time be well,

Deborah