Therapy advice to put in your pocket and take with you.

I have always known life isn’t easy. From my own tough experiences but more importantly, from hearing every day the difficult things people experience when they share them with me in counseling, I have heard some doozies. And yet, through it all, I am repeatedly awed by the strength of the human spirit to persevere. I tell people all the time that they can handle so much more than they realize. They don’t think they can, but then when it happens, they do, they survive, they make it through.

I don’t think we worried we wouldn’t survive parenting a child with Down Syndrome. We knew we would be okay. But there was so much we didn’t know, it was scary. Parenting itself is already an adventure into the Great Unknown. It’s the most rewarding and the most powerless feeling anyone could have. Add to that parenting a child with special needs and many of us could easily shut down. Health concerns, learning disability, physical disability, mental illness… Down Syndrome, Autism, Sensory Processing Disorder… it feels like there are more questions than answers sometimes.full cover

Our experiences with Sensory Processing Disorder and then Down Syndrome turned out to make us stronger. And while we assumed that we’d have to work harder to guide our children who had “special needs”, what actually happened is that they teach us. They do better than we ever thought they would, and teach us new things every day. They exceed our expectations and those of the world around them. When I wrote my book (Living With a Rock Star and a Super Hero) my premise was that Ben thinks he is a rock star and he thinks Lucas is a super hero. But the real truth is that to me, Ben IS and rock star and I am his biggest fan, and Lucas is all of our hero, he saves us every day with his wisdom and his energy. If I had to do it all over again I wouldn’t change a thing. I am better because of it. Most days I try to remind others of their potential, and I can do this because I see it in action every day of my life.

Winter Whines

The holidays are over. It’s winter here in the states. And I’m whiney. It seems, so is everyone else. If I had a dollar for every time someone has complained about the cold this week, I could buy a warmer jacket! You’d think we live in a cold climate where it really gets into the scary negative wind chill, but we don’t, we live in the Midwest where it gets kind of cold, every single year at this time. But I also know this is relative. I remember being in Glen Ellen, California one summer and it got into the low 60’s and everyone was complaining how cold it was. Granted, it was summer, but this was a big deal! Where are the jackets?!! The more I think about it however, I’m not sure it’s about the cold. I think it’s about change. People don’t think they can handle change. It’s a new season, a new year, the end of something familiar. They dread it, they stress over it, and yet they deal with it successfully all the time, every year. Usually, the build up to it, the worry, is worse than the change itself. And what they tell themselves in anticipation will influence how they handle it. Here are some examples.Funny-winter-quote

“I hate this weather.” “I can’t deal with this.” “This sucks.” “I’m not a winter person.” “I don’t like this.” “I wish it was over.” Do any of these phrases sound familiar? These are comments just in relation to winter and cold, but are reflective of any change. If we tell ourselves we hate it, we can’t handle it, then our experience will be worse not better. Sometimes we act like a negative friend, constantly whispering how we can’t handle it or how bad it’s going to be, and we just feel worse and worse. But what if we did the opposite? What if we were the best friend ever to ourselves, whispering “you got this!” or “hey, you’ve been through this before, you can do it again.” Or we could even use humor or reality checks like, “Really Self? It’s not as big a deal as you’re making it. Chill out.”

My point is, if we really stop to think about what we are worried about, many times it is something that should be a 2 instead of an 8 on a scale of 1-10. I have kids draw mountains and mole hills and explain the old phrase “Don’t make a mountain out of a mole hill,” and their parents say, “Oh yeah….” Additionally, if we thought about exactly what we are complaining about, we’d realize we have handled this same scenario time and time again. If it something we really do hate, maybe we should make a change. If you complain every day about going to work, it might be time to find a new job. If you complain every year about winter, it might be time to move south. Things we feel we have no control over, we often have more choices than we think, and if it truly is an 8 on the 1-10 scale, making a change could help your overall happiness. If it is a 2 or 3, then you might need a perspective change. Tell yourself to find the good in things, don’t allow yourself to complain excessively, and develop a positive mantra that helps you take on the challenges with a better attitude. If there are things that you repeatedly dread, like winter, then plan for them. Know yourself, know you don’t like it, and plan something to look forward to during that time instead of just whining through the whole chilly season.

It’s January, yep. It’s winter, yep. It’s cold, definitely yep. But we got this. We did it last year and the year before, and we survived just fine. Soon it will be summer and hot, and then we’ll have something new to complain about. Or look forward to…

“Nothing Bad Will Happen…”.

What is wrong with this title? If we think like this, we might feel rotten! So let’s break it down:

“Everyone” is an overgeneralization. “Must” is self criticizing and inspires guilt feelings. “Always” is another overgeneralization. “Bad” is an all-or-nothing term. “Or Else” is fortune-telling. And the whole sentence is considered “catastrophizing” or blowing things out of proportion. Most people don’t think all of these terms in one phrase, but many people think some of them often…

If you are working on being more positive, optimistic or in less of a funk, there are some simple tools you can use to accomplish this. The first step is to pay attention to the thoughts in your head and the things you say,  try to recognize negative statements and turn them into positives. One common list of negative thought patterns in the world of psychology is called cognitive distortions. These were made famous by psychologists Aaron Beck and David Burns who taught that catching them and turning them into positives is called cognitive restructuring. More simply put, we are going to catch those negative thoughts and turn em around, catch em and turn em around, changing the bad habit of negative thinking. Here are the most common patterns to watch for. negative thoughts Read the rest of this entry »

A Parents’ Guide to Their Child’s Social Media

I recently had a conversation with an 11 year old fifth grade girl about how she got her smart phone and tablet taken away. I started to discuss ways she might earn trust from her parents so she could get her privileges back when she said, “Well, then I guess I should confess to you that I also got in trouble because I had an app called Omegle and I pretended to be 16 so I could talk to adults and one asked for naked pictures so I sent them.” The counselor in me kept a straight face (wanted to make sure she kept talking), but the mother in me, in my head, said, “You did WHAT??! There’s no WAY you’re getting your electronics back, ever!” I consider myself a tech savvy person, and I also try to stay very involved in my kids’ usage of electronics, internet and social media, but new apps are coming out all the time. I had never heard of Omegle. She told me it is an app that will connect you with complete strangers all over the world. Incidentally, I asked my 13 year old if he had ever heard of it, and of course he had. Little did I know.
During this same recent time period, friends and I have been educating our kids’ friends’ parents about social media so they are more aware of what our kids might be exposed to. We even had our own “technology day” to help each other learn what our kids have known for years, how to play on the computer. As a result of these two recent events, I started researching the options for parental controls on smart phones and tablets and was pleasantly surprised to find some great options out there that many parents don’t utilize. Here is the information that I think most parents need to know if they have a child using a tablet or a phone that allows apps.smartphones Read the rest of this entry »

Not So Happy Holidays

Throughout November many people have been posting daily what they are thankful for and I think it is an excellent habit to remind ourselves what we need not take for granted. To tell those around us how much we care, to express appreciation for the little things. These are so important when the world around us can feel quite negative much of the time. One thing I would add for this time of year, and all year, is a sense of empathy. Please try to recognize what others are going through because while some of us are celebrating with loves ones, others are alone and hurting.

The holidays can be a season of caring and giving. But it can also be a constant reminder of the voids. If someone has lost a loved one to death, the holidays can be especially difficult because the traditions have to change. Who’s going to cook the turkey if Mom’s gone? How am I going to deal with all of these toy commercials and Santa if my child has died?

Divorce can also make the holidays different and difficult. If your ex has the kids for the holiday it can be a very lonely day without them. It can bring up resentments and hurt feelings and trigger depression and drinking, sleeping or other unhealthy behaviors to cope.

Being single when someone wishes they weren’t can also be saddening this time of year. Not having that special someone to share a moment with makes some people feel gloom.

I bring these things up as a reminder. For those of us not dealing with these issues, a reminder to be conscientious of those who do. Don’t assume they have someone to spend the holidays with. Don’t gloat about what you are doing. And invite people into your circle during this season who might not have a place to go. For those who are struggling, try to plan ahead for the difficult days. Don’t be afraid to ask a friend for support and make plans for tough days instead of dreading them. Know yourself. If you know the holiday will be hard, make plans to do something different or special, honoring the one you lost or helping others who are also in need.

The holidays are not happy for everyone. But maybe we can help make them less miserable for those who are dreading them.

The Serenity Prayer asks a higher power to help the person accept what they cannot change and let go, change what they can, and to be able to see the difference between the two. In grief therapy, patients are told their feelings are “normal” and eventually the final stage is acceptance and they start living again. In 12-Step programs they say Let Go and Let God. On a bumper sticker you might see Teach Tolerance. At church we are encouraged to forgive others and forgive ourselves. The messages are all around us. So why is it so hard?20131113-083505.jpg Read the rest of this entry »

Blind Faith

Blind Faith

She hid alone in the dark, in her closet and she cried. She prayed to God, Why Me? Haven’t I been through enough? I can’t handle it. I just can’t. It’s too much. But God was quiet.

She was angry. She was confused. Everything felt out of control. All that she had worked so hard for in her life seemed to be slipping through her fingers. She was always a survivor. She was tough. But she didn’t feel any of that today. Today she just felt tired. Physically and emotionally tired.

She had so many questions, there were so many unknowns. Truth be told, she was scared. And where God had been her guide in the past, she felt His absence now. Or did she? Was He here? Did this have a purpose? Was He trying to tell her something? She was reluctant because this would be her hardest journey yet. But she realized something.

If God asked her to bear this burden so her children didn’t have to, would she? Yes, of course, in a heartbeat. If God asked if He could use her as an instrument to teach others, to change the world one person at a time, would she help, even if it was hard? Yes, she would let God make her an instrument of His work. If God asked, do you trust Me, would she balk? She’d gulp. She’d take a long deep breath. She’d cry a little. But she’d say yes.

Because trusting God is the hardest when you don’t know what His plan is for you. Blind Faith is the deepest faith because it truly means letting go and letting Him be in charge. Letting Him lead you and trusting He is there, He’s got this. It is the truest test of faith, and the deepest love you can give Him.

She knows now that she can do this. Yep it’s going to be scary. And maybe painful. And there are going to be a lot of unknowns. But He knows. And she trusts Him.

You’ve Got This

This has been a rough week. Not for myself, but for many people I have come in contact with. Sadness, worry, stress, loss, change. And not just small issues either but major life-changing events. The transition from the known to the unknown can be scary because we don’t know what to expect and it gives a feeling of powerlessness. Feeling powerless and out of control can trigger anxiety and depression and make a person feel even worse. Then what do we do? Read the rest of this entry »

Why Bad Things Happen

I don’t know why bad things happen. I can tell you that one thing I have learned in counseling people for 22 years is that there is no justice, no logical reason why some people have to bear so much while others so little.

The most common question I am asked is how do I hear so many sad stories and not take it home. Usually I shrug and say I don’t know. Other times I try to explain how I keep my boundaries. But really the truth is I think this is just my calling. I don’t make a lot of money, but I get a lot of reward. I hear so often how I have helped someone. When other people are making big dough but getting no recognition, I know I am making a difference every day in what I do and I know I am supposed to be doing this.
In counseling school they say we are supposed to remain impartial and detached. But as I told my two interns today, first and foremost I have to be real. People don’t want a cold robot as a therapist. If I hear a sad story, I cry. Is therapy my place to air my issues and share my pain, no absolutely not. I am here for you not me. But if I am hearing a painful story and it moves me to tears, I’m not afraid to show that.
Today was one of those days. My first client was terminally ill and dealing with a shortened life expectancy. My second client buried two spouses. My third has a best friend who is dying of cancer, a colleague whose son died last week in a car accident and a daughter with a disability. My next client had a baby die years ago but is a nurse giving back, but now caring for a terminally ill 12 year old.
Today I heard a story of a woman whose daughter died in a car accident and then had the moment to hold someone else’s child as he died from a car accident. And discussed a story of a mother whose 9 year old son died of a brain tumor and her Christian gift to him was to wash his body before he was buried.
How do humans bear the pain and grief they are subjected to? You would think after all these years I’d have an answer for that. And yet I don’t. I continue to be in awe of the strength of the human spirit’s ability to cope.

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