Bravery

Bravery

Bravery.

I don’t often think about this characteristic in myself or in others and yet it is one of those that seems to either drive one’s entire life or is left out altogether. What does it even mean to be brave? I am sure the dictionary has a clever definition of this substantive word, but I often like to ask myself what does the word mean to me — or to turn and ask what it means to you?

For me, bravery means you are “out on the edge of the branch” with yourself. You recognize what is safe and what is risky and, if it really means a lot to yourself, you take the chance and risk into something that is out of one’s comfort zone — that takes bravery. That takes leading life “out there” not know what will happen, but also knowing you have your own back to catch yourself if you fall rather than fly.

Is that how you would define bravery? I would be curious to hear your definition.

How do you know when you are being brave? Well, when you are scared to speak a truth or have a conversation at all — that is brave. If you are doing something for the first time that is uncomfortable and unfamiliar — that is brave. If you are risking a part of yourself to love, to create, to enjoy, and to do just about anything else — that is brave. Breaking a pattern or a way of being — that is brave.

Sometimes it is important to remind one’s self all the ways you’ve been brave in your life to date. My guess is you are already braver than you think. Make sure to take the long inventory of your life to think through how bravery has played into your life in so many of the decisions you have made. For me, I have a laundry list — heading to India on an intuitive notion and giving up my whole world to reconcile my bi-racial identity, meeting a man and moving countries to find out what we may be to one another and ending up marrying him 18 years ago, creating a start-up business out of pure passion and riding her to the end and letting go when it was long past time, facing myself both the good and bad parts and extending compassion to both.

I am thinking you have your own unique bravery list, but I also want to shine the spotlight on people who don’t care to be brave. For some, this is not how they want to lead life. Instead they value safety, familiarity, patterns and rhythms that are abiding through the ages personally and across time. This may take the shape of someone who accepts things at status quo, lives the life that was laid before them as a child and walked on through, and does not break out or away from the known throughout life. I don’t necessarily think these people are not brave, I just don’t think they prize this as a desirable characteristic.

Yet, even then, to live is brave. Even if we are to go forward with no abrupt changes or departures, we will grow up, grow old, lose loved ones, make decisions related to our careers, perhaps meet and marry and maybe raise a family. Even in the mundane, bravery is brimming over the cup. To be human, to live is to be brave. It does not have to be any extraordinary journey that we need embrace to claim it for ourselves.

To live is to be brave.If you were to define bravery, how would you frame it for yourself? From there, what has been your bravest moment in this life?

Cheers to you and your bravery.

Losing A Beloved Pet

Losing a Beloved Pet

Losing a beloved pet.

The idea has always felt so far away to me — until one week ago when I lost my beloved pet,

Pepper was a spunky, courageous, forward-looking pet who lived and moved with purpose. He was also a dog who allowed me to own him — which is often the case with a Scottish Terrier. The Scottie dog is about having an independent life even as he shares his life with you. I had them all my life as I grew up and I guess it was always my fate to have a wee lad as an adult.

Pepper hailed from Utah — one of five in a litter that summer of 2010 — he was the last of the litter to be taken from the breeder at 14 weeks old, which is kind of late to get a puppy. Yet, when I called I wanted a brindle Scottie dog that was 14 weeks old and I told the breeder his name would be Pepper. She said his Grandma and Mom were named Piper and Poppy — this dog is yours.

And was he ever. We were independent of one another and yet completely in sync. For the first five years of Pepper’s life, I walked him four times per day. We would walk and walk and walk. From there, we moved and he had a small urban oasis backyard where he ruled the corner of our neighborhood. Nothing got past him – and he always was chasing squirrels and looking for kitty cats. At night, he came inside and took his place on his window bench and would rule the other end of the corner keeping guard nightly.

When the time came, I lost Pepper quickly. Apparently he had cancerous tumor in his spleen that was causing him to bleed into his abdomen. This went on for quite awhile and we thought these were gastro episodes as he always had a weak constitution, most likely he was the runt of his litter. After treating him with some pain meds, he would be back to himself in a day.

Until the day came last week when the pain was not taken away no matter how much pain meds we gave to him. I always knew I did not want Pepper to suffer and would let him go before that truly took hold of his entire being. And so the hospice vet came in and we euthanized him in our home in his favorite spot. There was no real ceremony — I know many people make a loving plan. For us, it was just apparent that morning and we needed to help him out of his pain as quickly as possible.

And so I ended up holding him close to me as I said all the favorite phrases he loved and then laid him down and I saw his beautiful brown eyes sweep his corner one last time — and then he was gone. Just like that.

I am a childless woman and I suppose that makes me – like many others – turn to my pets to take on the role of children in my life. With our pets, they are only with us for a short amount of years and Pepper was no exception taking his leave at the age of 10. However, for me he was 2 forever. In this way Pepper’s loss feels like the loss of my second child. He was mine and I was his — all the years.

When I first met Pepper at the Salt Lake City airport, I looked at him in my arms and said to him, “You are going to break my heart.” And he did. But that day one week ago, I know my broken heart was so worth it. We had such a fun ride together. I really wouldn’t trade it for the world. I wouldn’t trade it for not feeling the pain I feel today.

Now is the time for grief, for remembering, for hurting, for being with myself and extending compassion to myself. I know he had an amazing life and I still have regrets. I have a new puppy, who came in before Pepper departed, and I wonder is my love for him taking away from my fidelity to Pepper? This is the complexity of grief. In time, I will sort it out and come out the other side.

For now, I remember and love on my Pepper.

A Writing Break

A Writing Break
I Took A Writing Break

I am a therapist. And I am also a writer. Are there two different professional paths that you embody? For me, my work is about seeing my patients as well as writing on a fairly continual basis. It may be a screenplay, a non-fiction book, or this blog — but I write and always have. Somebody once said to me, “If you write, you’re a writer. Own it.”

Why is it so different to own something like writing?

In any case, this Autumn I found myself without the impetus to write. My motivation sort of up and left in what seemed like a mere instant. Perhaps it was my own election stress, perhaps being caught up in home projects, or perhaps even the change of seasons. Not sure what happened, but I did not want to write — not even this blog.

I don’t know about you, but when I have something like a blog to write that I have committed to write on a daily basis, I tend to “feel bad” if I don’t meet my own expectations. However, when my motivation to write vanished, I let go. I decided that it was “OK” to not write and to be curious when my desire to write would alight upon me.

How refreshing to not put myself through the ringer for not doing something that I felt I should be doing. I allowed for there to be a pause in my writing on this blog and other projects as well. I just let it be. The longer I let it be, the happier I became with my decision to not write, to not do, and to simply be with this.

And then my writing impetus began to return. Not sure if it is a daily thing, a weekly thing or a monthly thing or if I will switch it up between all three. I am not sure at all. What I am sure of is how awesome it feels to let go of an item on the old “to do” list when it is really not something you want to do. Freedom!

Are you feeling this way as the holiday season kicks in? Is there something you think you should be doing — professionally or personally — that you have no interest in doing? Perhaps the greatest gift you could give to yourself this season is the gift of not doing without guilt or care. Trusting it will return — or not. But whatever the outcome, there is something to become curious about yourself and learn from.

For now, I hope to be back to at least semi-regular posting. After all, I am a writer, even if one who takes breaks.

A Plan for Autumn

A Plan for Autumn

Are you an endless summer person or one who is ready for Autumn? Recently, I was reading an article in the NYT about exactly this point in the year. It’s an important moment in the year.

During the regular years of the past, children are actually heading back to school, parents are returning to the hum of their lives with their children preoccupied for the better part of weekdays, we are turning over the closets to our sweaters and boots, apple cider and comfort foods are back in vogue, and all of us can feel the holidays coming — Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas — that is if you live in America and celebrate these holidays.

This year, this moment feels fraught. COVID is still alive and kicking around our communities. Although there is a degree of freedom that most of us did not have in the spring, it’s still advised to maintain distance, stay quarantined in your pod, and restrict what you are doing in the world. If you aren’t restricting it, somewhere guidelines are. So, now, it feels even more poignant to leave the carefree good weather days of summer where outdoor patio dining makes you feel somewhat safe to go out to eat, social distance picnics and camping kept us in real contact with others (goodbye Zoom for awhile!), and it just felt good to exercise outdoors!

So, what is your plan for Autumn? How are you going to approach this moment in the calendar year? Perhaps you are hanging on to dear life to these last days of summer? Perhaps you are already enjoying the pumpkin drinks at the coffee shop? Perhaps you are betwixt and between? It’s a moment to mark and to make a plan.

It’s going to be a different Autumn — many of the traditional activities are nil or on-line, flu season is almost here and so taking care is going to be extra important, we are moving into news media central with an election on in America this November – how will you take care, rejuvenate, stay connected, but also have space and time for you.

It’s time to make your plan for Autumn. May there be many magical moments even as we lose light and the air chills.

Sound Limiting

Sound Limiting
Find your inner quiet this fall at home

I was reading an interesting article in the NYT, Can You Hear Yourself Think? It focuses on the idea of sound limiting, a way to limit the sounds around you so you can actually find peace and quiet in your mind during the days.

Although strict quarantine has lifted, most people are working and schooling at home this fall. There are still many limits on our time away from home and most of our time where we need to be focusing we are in noisy environments at home. The dog barks, the cat purrs, the neighbor is having construction done on their home, the kids are fighting as they school, your spouse is on a Zoom work meeting, the doorbell rings — and those are just the noises off the top of my head.

This article rightfully points out that Sound Proofing is super expensive and full of renovation costs. However, there is another idea where you can seek to limit the sounds around you. Perhaps there is a room in the house where it is designated as quiet. No noise no matter what. Noise cancelling headphones can take a lot of the noise away. Scheduling quiet hours for you and your family, designating a specific time to be quiet. Using inside voices together.

A good idea before all the madness at home begins this fall is to come up with a plan. Reflect on what made the home noisy this past spring and tackle these one at a time making a plan to reduce as much noise as possible for all members of your family. There will be noises that cannot be avoided, like the doorbell ringing, but some of this can be solved with a little planning.

Peace and quiet is often essential when it’s time to focus. Plan!

Creativity Burst: Painting

Painting

Not sure if it is the pandemic or something else or both, but I look around and see a lot of people painting.

They are painting houses, walls, furniture, rooms, paintings, and more. People have found a color and a brush and are putting both to task freshening up their décor with a fresh coat of paint. It seems like one of the easiest and least expensive things you can do to change the mood of a room a home or a piece of furniture.

Paint it.

Also, the process calls for a creative heart. You get to choose your color. Let’s say your room was dark – now you paint it white. Hello! The whole mood of the room has changed – and vice versa too. 

Painting also often has you taking down your pictures and covering your furniture and that also often gets a creative refresh when you have to choose what goes back up on the walls. Also, you may add other decorative elements to match your new painted walls – pillows, accent rugs, and more.

And don’t think you have to get fancy. White walls are also amazing. Did you know there are warm and cool tones of white that can really change the look of your room. White is anything but boring and will also need some attention to choose how you would like your white to look.

And, if you dare, how about a deep, bold color like red or purple? How about pairing the two together? Sometimes taking a bold step with colors we choose to paint with can be a prelude to other bold steps in our lives.

If it is painting a picture, how expressive. I hear that Paint By Numbers has become fashionable once again. The idea of painting almost feels meditative. One can safely be in one’s space alone or with one’s family and undertake a creative task that is full of color and transformation. Once you are in your new rooms of color, who knows what may alight upon you.

Stay Open and Paint!

Money and Spreadsheets

Money and Spreadsheets

Times are tough – as they always are when it’s the topic of money.  As such, financial experts and advisors tell people to create a budget and stick to it. Indeed, I hear a lot of people are tracking their money these days.  One of the best ways people do this is by creating a spreadsheet. If you set it up right, the spreadsheet will show you all the money you have going in, going out, seeking to save, and more. 

All there, in one neat place, your whole financial life can be seen and tracked. Sounds like a great idea on one hand, and, like most everything, it can also have a downside too.

Whenever I hear someone saying they are setting this up, it always sounds like a New Year’s Resolution – something to help break a bad pattern or to gain more control or to start a new leaf with money. It always seems to begin from the premise of improving one’s money circumstances. Something has gotten the person to feel that a spreadsheet will provide the solution needed to money ails.

On the surface, a spreadsheet tracking money can absolutely be something that is good and helpful in a person’s life. However, it is rarely the answer to stopping negative ways of interacting with money that reflects how we feel about ourselves. Instead, a spreadsheet can often act like a highlighter as to all that we do wrong, which can then lead into feeling bad about ourselves.

I would suggest asking yourself what is motivating you to track your money in such a concrete way? Is it to actually track your money or is it to highlight a part of yourself that you feel bad about already and this spreadsheet will serve as a tangible reminder of this “bad” part of you?

By asking yourself this question you can get a sense if tracking your money via spreadsheet is a healthy thing for you to undertake or is it just another tool to keep you tied to bad thoughts about yourself and others.

Be honest – as this may be the costliest decision of them all.

Low Grade Depression

Photo Credit: NPR

Recently, Michelle Obama launched her own podcast, which is already successful with many people tuning in each week. The most recent episode has her discussing her “low grade depression.”

Actually, the statistics suggest that 1 in 3 Americans are suffering from a similar low mood, given all the stress we are under in our personal lives and the collective society. If you are having a consistent low mood these days, know that you are not alone.

For Obama, she noticed that she is slower in what she is doing, going to bed late, waking up in the middle of the night, not always working out — and trying to go easy on herself and accept how she is feeling in the moment without feeling guilt or shame about not getting to everything as she used to.

She notes she combats her low grade depression with exercise, routine, rituals such as eating dinner together, and finding ways to connect with her family on a regular basis. These are all sound steps to finding a rhythm that honors the current mood, but also allows one to be in the low mood without pressure to have to get out.

Americans are taught on some fundamental level that mental illness, like depression, is not real. Rather, we control our capacity to not feel depressed. If we are feeling this, there is something wrong with us. We are not positive enough, we are suffering from a condition that is not real, and more. So many of us have to pretend that we are not depressed in order to meet society’s expectations otherwise we are judged and dismissed.

I am grateful to Obama for naming her low grade depression to help name something that many, many people experience, especially during a pandemic where our lives have been significantly curtailed. I appreciate her normalizing that a low mood is something common and to be present to it rather than push it away. Naming it, being present to it, and taking action to help one’s self ease the depression are all keys to feeling better.

So, if you too are experiencing a low mood, make space for it. Create rituals and routines that will care for yourself. No need to push it away, but recognizing it and being honest that your are in a low grade depression is essential. Yes, engage with people. Yes, take a news diet. Yes, engage in activities that promote your mental health well-being. The list goes on and on, but do not deny or run from it.

If your low mood continues to persist or it worsens, seek out therapy to treat your depression. Sometimes working with a counselor can help alleviate your symptoms as well.

Be well!

Doomscrolling

Doomscrolling. What a clever word for something many people are doing today.

Most of us were attached to our phones before the pandemic and political craziness of 2020 had taken hold. Yet, now something different is happening when we reach for our phones. It’s like the Temple of Doom.

We turn it on, head to our favorite social media sites, and go down the doom tunnel. A horrific article about the politics of the day to the ever-widening death toll from the pandemic to the economic havoc and mayhem — and that’s just the start. Another critical part of the doom scroll is reading all of the comments. I often think the comments grab us into doom more than the news itself.

All of a sudden, we are reading, scrolling, getting amped up, becoming anxious and depressed all at once — and it just keeps going. Compulsively we continue the doomscroll barely able to take a breath away from all we are reading. Someone told me he finally stops when there is no new doom to read. Seven hours in he takes leave of his phone!

This article in the Washington Post lays out what doomscrolling is and how to reign it in so you aren’t relying on the doom all day long. Some ideas in the article include changing your screen color to gray, spending limited amounts of time on-line in these ways, finding places on the Internet that offer the exact opposite of doom – like cute pictures of animals.

A few more ideas – actually purchase a real newspaper and read it. So old fashioned I know. Here though you can enjoy all of the news of the day without reading the comments of doom. Further, it provides space for your own good thinking about the article. Also, you are deciding what you will read in depth, skim, and skip altogether. Online reading is much more difficult to discern which is which for you on any given article as you may not be so interested, but you do want to hear what others think about it. Taking a more solo path can keep the doom at bay.

Also, choose your time of day for a good doomscroll. One where you are awake, active, and alert and not seeking rest and relaxation. Align yourself with the most energy you have to take it in and then leave plenty of time afterwards to let it all go. At night, keep your phone outside of your bedroom. Do not mindlessly reach for it, but keep in mind and value your sleep and rest over the doomscroll. Don’t worry all of the doom will be there waiting for you tomorrow.

We are wired to latch on to the bad and then worry to the nth degree about it all. We also our communal beings — we are drawn to know what someone else is thinking and then perhaps try that stance on and see if we feel the same way or not. However, this muddies the waters of knowing our own minds and trusting how we are thinking for ourselves. Reading without adopting how others are thinking about something is creating space for your own independent thinking. More important than ever these days.

Finally, doomscrolling is a time suck. It sucks you right down into the temple of doom and doesn’t let you go to actually live your life. There is less time for you. Sometimes I read the comments on news and its just on and on fighting and fighting and I think to myself do people really have so much time to fill arguing with strangers? Everyone is always saying how busy they are — is this what people are busy with? Or is doomscrolling a way to escape life that feels miserable? Sometimes I feel like attracts like. We feel our personal lives are doomed and so we seek out external doomscrolling to match this internal feeling.

Take a break and take stock. Life is lived in reality. Put the phone down, pick up a real paper, after a little bit of time, put the paper down, and go out and embrace your life. May it be full of Joy Living — hopefully steps — even miles — away form the doom.

Needing Help and Feeling Helpless

Needing Help and Feeling Helpless

We all need help. Yet, it’s a curious thing that needing help can often leave us feeling helpless.

Help is important as we navigate life. There is a lot to wade through, challenges to meet, deadlines to honor, things we need to know — sometimes we don’t know, sometimes we are overwhelmed by everything we have to do, sometimes the challenges seem insurmountable. In those times, it is natural to reach out for help. We are a community of people who need one another.

Why then is asking for help so often a challenge — one that can evoke shame and a deep felt sense of helplessness? I think about little babies who rely on someone else to “help” them get all of their needs met — the most basic ones of life actually. Food, sleep, change of diaper, active engagement with another. Baby looks to Mom and other caregivers for help with everything because baby is helpless to do any of these things for himself.

Now, here is an interesting question. Do you know how your caregiver treated you when you had all of those needs and had to have them by met by him or her? Often it is this early knowing of how our helpless selves’ needs were met that can clue us into how, as adults, we ask for and receive help from others. If, as babies, our parents did not do a good job at meeting our needs when we were helpless to meet them ourselves, it can often leave us with a felt sense in our implicit memory (the memories we hold before we consciously are aware of remembering) that to have our needs is to be too much to other people – needing help makes us feel helpless. Often out of this felt sense. we seek to help ourselves as we have had to all of our lives without relying on others.

Needing help leads to an uncomfortable feeling of helplessness that we seek to avoid. So, how can we need help and not feel the despair of being helpless? One, recognize that all of us need help at times. It may not be for every basic need we had as infants, but help is necessary and needed throughout our lives.

Second, equating needing help to being helpless is a misnomer. Often needing help is you recognizing your needs and getting them met — which is the exact opposite of being helpless. Taking action to get help is antithetical to being helpless.

Third, if this idea resonates within you or causes you anxiety, i.e. your need for help leads you to feeling helpless, it may be a good topic to bring in to your therapist to explore as this patterned thinking may have been set from your early days with how your earliest needs were or were not met. This type of therapeutic processing may help you let go of feeling that your needs, particularly for help, is something to feel ashamed of rather than applauded.

I am reminded of Dumbledore’s own advice to Harry Potter regarding help and how it is given at Hogwarts. Please remember, you deserve help.

I remember the famous Harry Potter movies and Dumbledore telling Harry about hel