I Met Myself on the Mat
If you have not picked up on this by now, the amount of down-time I let myself have is minimal. I consider myself to be a homebody and always say things like “I cant WAIT to relax tonight.” But let’s be real – I never relax. I don’t know how to relax. A few weekends ago I sat down to watch Hamilton (which by the way, if you haven’t seen it, drop everything you’re doing and go watch it right now because it’s amazing), and I had a really hard time focusing. I found myself on my laptop, working, while watching the movie, because it felt too unproductive for me to just sit there and enjoy the show.
Now, please don’t be fooled into thinking that it’s a good thing to be busy 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Chronic business is often an attempt to avoid difficult emotions. This is especially the case for me. I keep myself so busy that I constantly feel drained; but the second I have down time I start to panic because I don’t know how to sit with the feelings that come up when I am still.
For the reasons above, I really hated the practice of yoga when I first discovered it. I tried going to yoga classes on and off for years, but I couldn’t stand to sit with the feelings that would come up when I was on the mat. The last time I took a yoga class was when I first started uncovering repressed memories of trauma. I quit because I got sick of never being able to pace my breathing or move through the poses in a mindful way. And don’t even get me started about the savasana at the end of each practice. I’d rather endure torture than sit in savasana with nothing else to do but simply be.
It has not been until recently that I gave yoga a try again. Over the last 6 weeks or so I have been trying to regularly incorporate the practice back into my life because I am working on trying to “be with myself.” This might sound strange, but many of us trauma survivors spend a whole heck of a lot of time running from ourselves. The yoga mat itself is a scary place for me because I know I’m stepping into myself every time I step onto that mat. Yes, I sweat, I shake, I stretch, I breathe – but most importantly, I feel. There’s nowhere to run, there’s nowhere to hide, there is just me, as I am.
What I have been surprised to find is that over the last six weeks, any time I try yoga, I have been having these moments where big feelings spill over me in the middle of a pose. To be clear, the feelings don’t hit me like a ton of bricks. They don’t knock me out and send spiraling into a crisis. Rather, they spill over me in a way that I’ve never been able to experience before. It’s grief and anger and immense gratitude. It’s disappointment and sorrow mixed with joy and hope for life’s next adventures. It’s fear and guilt and shame but also laughter and chaos because life is so beautiful even in its darkest moments. When I’m on that yoga mat, I sink back into myself, owning every part of my history.
While I’m not yet at peace with so much of my past, I have made major strides in being able to sit with my memories without the urge to run. So for those of you who have tried yoga and didn’t enjoy it or couldn’t sit with yourself, don’t write it off just yet. Yoga will be there for you one day, when you’re ready to feel your emotions instead of running from them. Lately, yoga has been a life saver in helping me to heal outside of my therapy sessions. For the first time ever, when I meet myself on the mat, I like myself, depression and all. That woman on the mat is brave and strong and loving and smart and has a purpose in this world. She will not, can not ever be tamed. Thank you, yoga, for allowing me to tolerate, and even like myself. And thank you to me, for being brave enough to step back onto the mat after years of running.
Dropping My Defenses
Let’s call a spade a spade: Last week was an absolute train wreck. Anything that could go wrong DID go wrong. And to be honest, as someone who is in recovery from complex trauma, my nervous system is overactive even on my best day. But this past week has been a smorgasbord of one difficult situation on top of another, none of which I had control over, all of which triggered feelings of rejection and abandonment.
When I feel rejected or abandoned, my default defense mechanism is to shut the whole world out and pretend like everything is just fine. I’m stubborn and fiercely independent, so most times, I’ll be damned if I ever admit I’ve been hurt or feel rejected by others. This isn’t helpful. Humans need other humans – I know I certainly do. I’ve spent years in therapy trying to break down this defense, but it’s one of my stronger ones; and although I’m much better than I used to be, whenever my life feels really out of control, I fall back on this defense.
But here’s the thing I tell myself and my patients over and over again: If I’m hurting/upset and I don’t tell anyone, how can anyone be there for me? How can the problem ever get resolved if we don’t let people know there was a problem to begin with?
This past week, I was hurting way more than I care to admit. I was feeling so rejected and unloved. Running/hiding from everything that was going on felt so much safer to me. If I run and hide, then no one will know I am upset, and therefore, I won’t give anyone the opportunity to further hurt or reject me, right? Right! BUT (and this is a big BUT): When you close yourself off from the world, you also shut yourself off from opportunities to allow others to prove that they are there for you.
Intellectually, I know this, yet emotionally, I still have a hard time. So this week I fought with every ounce of strength I had to shut down the urges to isolate. I reached out to my mentor, to my treatment team, to one of my dearest friends, and to my colleagues. I cried to my husband, I held my dogs, I sought help from wherever I thought I could find it. I was not shy about it, nor did I apologize for needing help, nor did I try to mask how distraught I was.
I showed up as my vulnerable self and asked for help despite being deathly afraid of seeking support. And I got what I needed. I had been so convinced of this idea that no one cared, that no one would help me if I asked for it. And it’s not true! Every single person that I reached out to made space to be there for me in one way or another. Did I ask/expect people to drop everything they were doing to help me? No, that would be inappropriate and disrespectful of the boundaries of others.
But people made time for me. They listened to me, validated me, helped me to shift my ways of thinking, and ultimately helped me to feel supported. I even had a few people reach out to me who had no clue how badly I was hurting, but they reached out just to connect, or tell me something funny/nice that someone had said about my podcast. Even small moments like this made me feel like I was so loved. I went from feeling alone to feeling like people were wrapping their arms around me.
The pain didn’t disappear. The grief and frustration didn’t go away; and the problems that arose last week which I ultimately have no control over still have not been resolved. But it feels more manageable when I let others in and give people the opportunity to show me that not everyone in this world is bad. There are good people – people that stick to their word and can be there for you if you let them.
For those of us that have been so hurt, it seems easier to shut the world out, especially when life feels so chaotic. But it is in those moments that we need to lean on others the most. This week was a huge lesson for me in learning to have faith in others. Yes, there are people in this life that will always disappoint and hurt us, but don’t allow this to keep you from ever getting the help and support that you need. It’s dark and lonely when we live in a constant state of defensiveness to avoid further pain; but when we allow ourselves to be open to the light that others have to offer, it can be so very beautiful.
I am feeling overwhelmed (in the best way possible) at all the support and feedback I have received since the launch of the Light After Trauma podcast about a month ago.
To provide a little bit of background info, it took me about 8 months to put together this podcast. By no means did I wake up one day and decide I was just going to wing it. I have spent countless hours taking online courses, getting feedback from others, writing down ideas, trashing them, brainstorming new ideas, trashing them, panicking that I wouldn’t be able to do it, looking in the mirror and asking myself if I was worthy of having a podcast, losing my mind over the thought of putting myself out there, and then pushing forward and pursing my dreams anyway.
All of this is to say that I did not take this process lightly. My heart, soul, blood, sweat, tears, hopes, doubts, and fears are all poured into this podcast – a podcast that I created to allow myself and other trauma survivors a safe space for growing, learning, healing, and holding onto hope.
When anxiety about starting a podcast crept in, as it often did, I told myself repeatedly “Even if just 5 people listen, it will be worth it. Even if this show only helps one person to hold on to hope, it will all be worth it.” But low and behold, 4 weeks into the launch there are nearly 600 downloads and I. AM. SHOOK.
But let me be clear – I’m not ecstatic because of the numbers, per se. The numbers don’t mean much. Rather, it’s what the numbers represent! They represent PEOPLE – human beings whom I hope and pray are realizing that they aren’t alone in their emotions or their experiences. People are hearing me, they are hearing the voices of the wonderful folks who come on my show; and most importantly, they are learning that in spite of so much grief, anger, and sorrow, there is hope and healing and happiness.
I am so grateful for the love and kindness you all have shown this podcast. I am also grateful for the opportunity to hold space on the show to allow others to speak not only about their own trauma histories but also about the incredible things they are doing in their careers as a result of their traumatic experiences.
One of the outcomes that I could have never predicted when starting the Light After Trauma podcast is the beauty that comes with allowing others to share their stories on air. It was not until I finished my first several interviews that I realized how vulnerable my guests were becoming. I saw how creating space for them to speak was also helping them to take one more step in their own recovery process.
I believe that every time we speak, we heal a little bit more. And while I hold space for my patients to speak in my role as a therapist, it’s different with the podcast because I am not the therapist. I am simply the listener, the space-holder, if you will; and it has been profoundly beautiful to watch the healing take place right before my eyes.
So I thank you all from the bottom of my heart. Light After Trauma is still in the baby stages, but I have such high hopes for the future. In the words of the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, “Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.”
I Called It Love
The way in which the body stores trauma never ceases to amaze me. You may not be consciously aware of what is happening, but your body gives you subtle hints and clues to let you know that it’s storing some difficult feelings. This has been so true for me lately. The end of August leading into September has brought on lots of body aches, stiffness, and tightness in my back and hips. My sleep has been interrupted with nightmares and I have little desire for food (which is a huge red flag for a foodie like myself). I’ve been so busy lately that I have barely taken a moment to realize what month we are in….
……until this week. September. Sweet September. The month I fell in love with a man who promised me the world as long as I agreed to trade my soul.
He told me he’d love me since no one else would ever want me; and I called that love.
He told me he’d pick me up for our date. I waited by the window for hours only for him to tell me he found something better to do; and I called it love.
He told me he didn’t want anyone to know we were together. It would be our secret; and I called it love.
He told me my friends and family hated me and that I should leave everyone behind and start a new life all on my own with him; and I called it love.
He drove me to class because he said he didn’t trust that other people wouldn’t try to steal me away from him; and I called it love.
I was forbidden to speak when we were out with his friends. He said this was so he could protect me from getting mixed up with the wrong crowd; and I called it love.
He took my car keys, my cell phone, my shoes, and he hid them for fear I’d leave; and I called it love.
He slept on top of me so I couldn’t run away in the middle of the night without him knowing; and I called it love.
He locked me in a room when he wanted a break from how much I stressed him out; and I called it love.
He told me he had my best interest at heart and that I just needed to trust him; and I called it love.
It breaks my heart to see how lost I was. None of that was love. If someone is telling you that they love you, but the relationship leaves you feeling horrible about yourself, that is not love. Please do not confuse empty promises, degradation, and codependency for romance. If you do not feel emotionally and/or physically safe, you are not safe and it is not love.
Years later, as I look at the sweet man sitting on the couch next to me, I thank God that I was able to get away from this abuser and go on to marry the safest, kindest man I’ve ever known. And while the memories of my abusive relationship always resurface around this time of year in the form of aches, pains, and nightmares, I find so much comfort in knowing I am safe now.
My husband lets me fly free, pushing me to pursue my dreams and cheering me on in every way he can.
My husband greets me at my car door with an umbrella to protect me from the rain when I arrive home from work on a stormy night.
My husband sits with me in therapy to help learn ways he can support me through my recovery from PTSD.
My husband is so proud to walk through this life with me.
Now I call THAT love.
The Deep Diver In You
What a week! I’m telling ya, PTSD has a way of making you feel like you’re on a rollercoaster and sometimes, you just want to get the heck off! I’ve had some really sad moments this week, and some really happy ones, and then some moments where I have been so angry I can barely think straight.
I acknowledge that I have so many good things going on in my life right now. The support I have received from the podcast and the connections I have been making lately are more valuable to me than I can put into words. When I think about it all, I want to dance and sing and celebrate. And then other moments, like this past weekend, when I finally got to see my newly remodeled office, I started to cry….and then the awful thoughts crept in:
Do I deserve this?
What if I fail?
Will I be taken seriously?
It has been hard to shut these thoughts off lately. And I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the best at using “coping skills”. In fact, I hate the term “coping skills”. When my mind is racing a mile a minute and when I’m filled with anxiety and doubt, I don’t want to meditate. I don’t want to do deep breathing. I don’t want send thoughts of gratitude out into the universe. Yes, all of these things are wonderful and helpful, but when myself or anyone else is feeling off-the-charts types of emotions, it can be very difficult to get grounded by using the skills listed above. Sometimes, I need something fast and powerful to snap me out of my panic, anger, and shame. I’ve been utilizing a specific DBT-based technique lately that has been helping me tremendously, and I wanted to share it with you.
Yep, I said it. Cold showers. Or if you cannot shower, place ice packs or bags full of cold water on your face, or you can fill up a sink with cold water and dunk your head in!
So let me just back track a little bit. I first learned about taking cold showers as a way to deal with stress, panic, rage, self harm, etc. in 2014. And I immediately rejected it because I am notorious for taking showers so hot that it’s a wonder my flesh has not melted off yet. But a few months back, I rediscovered the effectiveness of temperature change in the body when helping to ground yourself and regulate your nervous system.
I get what you’re probably thinking: “If I’m going to be told that freezing my ass off will help with distress tolerance, I want to know who, what, when, were, why, and how it works. “
So here’s what we know: Humans have something called the “mamalian diving response.” This is an automatic physiological response that occurs in our bodies when we come into contact with cold water. What we know about the mamalian diving response comes from an experiment in 1962 that was done on free divers, which showed that as people dive into colder waters, their heartrates slow down, no matter how vigorous their activity. Some divers were swimming as fast as they could and their heart rate still remained lower in the colder, deeper water. In addition to this, it has been learned that when in colder, deeper water, blood circulation tends to flow away from the limbs and moves instead toward vital organs in the body to protect them and keep them functioning at full capacity.
But here’s the thing, simply dipping your toes in cold water won’t be enough. You need to be all in, well, at least your face. You have trigeminal nerves in your face, which, when in contact with cold water, will send signals to the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve allows for communication between the body and the brain and will cause your heart rate to slow down.
As someone who hates cold showers, I have to say, this technique works!
So when you feel like you can’t turn the intensity level down on your emotions or if you feel like your thoughts won’t stop racing, go try out a cold shower and discover the deep diver in you!
To read more about the mammalian diving response, please click below:
Sometimes We Get It Wrong (and we’re still worthy!)
One of the many reasons I love working with kids so much is how blunt they can be. Don’t get me wrong, I also love working with adults, but adults have learned over time to sugar-coat some of what they say, or say things in ways that are not as direct. Kids, on the other hand, just let it out. And I love it. They make me a better therapist, a better human being, and I know they are going to make me a better mom to my own children one day when I start a family…
Yet, as much as I love it, there are some days when my teenagers say something that hits a nerve, as teens are often prone to do!
One of my kiddos really struck a nerve this week (not his fault at all and this is NOT a bad thing). Let’s call him Frankie. Frankie has struggled for years to put words to his feelings. For the first year of therapy, Frankie sat in my office and said very little. He did not appear to have any words to label his feelings, nor did he seem to believe in therapy. Despite giving me only shrugs and nods in response to my questions, he continued to show up week after week, voluntarily. It was a test in my patience to say the least, and let it be known that when it comes to patience, I have very little of it (I’m working on this one)!
But now, two years into therapy, Frankie talks the entire session. He is very aware and observant of the therapist sitting across the room from him, a concept which might easily be taken for granted, but when it comes to developmental trauma, some people have a hard time truly acknowledging another caring, supportive person in the room with them. He has made incredible strides in counseling, and he and I have an awesome therapeutic alliance, which I really cherish.
This week, while talking to Frankie during his session, I attempted to provide some feedback on what he was saying, to which he flatly replied “Umm, nope. No. You’re wrong.” He wasn’t trying to be offensive. He wasn’t trying to do anything except communicate exactly what he verbalized –that I had misinterpreted what he was trying to tell me and I had gotten it all wrong.
This happens in therapy – sometimes we do get it wrong. Most adult patients might have phrased it differently and said something a little less direct, such as “Well, no I don’t think that’s exactly right…” But not Frankie. Frankie was to-the-point, something I know I can always expect from him, and something I truly appreciate about him and most other kids who I see for therapy. But for whatever reason, on this particular day, his response about me being wrong sent me into feelings of shame. I started saying to myself:
“How did I get that wrong? How could I have misinterpreted what he said?”
“What is wrong with me? I’m such a moron.”
“Get your sh** together, Alyssa.”
Figuratively speaking, I beat the crap out of myself. Even as I drove home that night, I felt horrible for being “wrong”, as if being wrong is the equivalent to being “bad”.
This is the shame talking. Shame exacerbates even the most harmless situations until suddenly we feel like crawling in a hole and dying for making a simple, common mistake. Shame makes us feel like we have to be perfectionists, and that anything less than perfection is unacceptable. In believing this, we set ourselves up for failure because we are all human beings, each and every one of us fallible.
Thankfully, I have wrestled with shame and perfectionism long enough in this life to be able to (mostly) push it away when it comes up. I’m much better at talking back to the part of me that feels like making a mistake is the equivalent to being a horrible human being. When I was in the moment with Frankie, I was able to kick the shame and other defenses (i.e. the urge to defend what I was saying) out of my office so I could hold space for him to further explain his point to me. And guess what?
He was correct, and I was indeed wrong!
And that is OKAY! Sometimes we just get it wrong (yes, even therapists!). What’s important is to be able to hold space (whether you’re a therapist or not) to listen to others and acknowledge when you’re wrong without being defensive or letting shame get in the way. We’re all human, and no amount of chastising yourself is going to make you infallible in the future. We do not have the power to be perfect, but we have the power to acknowledge our imperfections, accept them, have compassion for ourselves, and move forward.
Besides, how mundane would life be if we were all perfect?
Thankfully, we’ll never know.
It’s A New Dawn
Change – the thing many of us crave but run far, far away from when faced with it.
“I want a new job.”
“I always wanted to try yoga.”
“I wish I could afford to travel.”
And then one day it happens:
-You get a new job offer.
-Your friend invites you to a yoga class that she goes to every week.
-You finally have enough money saved in your bank account to fly to the country of your dreams!
Opportunity knocks, and you would think it would make you happy, but instead you are terrified.
“Well what if I hate this new job?”
“What if I look like a fool in yoga?”
“I can’t go on vacation, God forbid I need this money for an emergency down the road. It’s too scary to travel right now anyway.”
We long for change! We pray for it! We beg for it! We curse the skies and ask God why things aren’t changing. Then one day, we see an opportunity on the horizon, and instead of embracing it, most of us are like “Nope, no thanks. Not today.” Personally, I have struggled with change my whole life, especially lately.
Last week, I resigned from my position with the police department. If you didn’t already know this, I have spent the last two and a half years as a counselor for a local police department. The fact that I will no longer be an employee there after this Friday is something I still cannot wrap my brain around.
When I first started this job in 2018, I was ecstatic. I thought I had the rest of my life figured out. I told myself I’d have a secure job, a pension, vacation and sick time, holidays off, etc. Prior to this position falling into my lap, I had always wanted to go into private practice. But when I started this job, I put those dreams on the back burner for the promise of a guaranteed salary, benefits, a pension, and the opportunity to help others in a very unique way – most police departments do not have a full-time counselor on board.
But one day last summer, I left work realizing something was missing in my career. I wanted the opportunity to work long-term with kids and adults who have endured trauma, something I was unable to do given the short-term counseling I was limited to providing through the police department. The majority of my job included helping others only with surface-level problems, teaching them healthy coping skills, and then referring them to someone else to dive deeper into their trauma.
I longed to walk with people on their journey to recovery instead of referring them to someone else. I knew that I could help people so much more outside of the confines of short-term stabilization counseling. So last summer, I opened my own private practice as a trauma therapist. The intention was for me to do this part-time while maintaining my job at the police department. My practice opened in August of 2019. I started out renting a small office from a very kind woman until my practice became big enough to be able to afford my own office, which took about two months.
In October, I moved into my own office. From there, it took about 6 more months for my practice to grow into a full-time job. I was so torn because I loved both of my jobs. Working with the police allowed me to form relationships with law enforcement officers, school district employees, multiple victim service organizations, among many others who dedicate their lives to helping and serving others. I’ve had the opportunity to deliver food to the homeless, to console people in their grief after a traumatic loss, to offer a safe space for kids who are living in neglectful and abusive environments, and so much more.
I could write a book alone on what it is like to be the only therapist working with law enforcement officers on a regular basis. I met some amazing men and women who work tirelessly, putting their lives on the line for others, sacrificing time with their own families so that others may be protected. My friends in law enforcement have challenged me and opened my eyes to what their lives are really like and why they think the way that they do. I’d like to think that I helped do the same for some of them when it comes to mental health. After all, being the only therapist in a room full of police officers helped me to find my voice and develop confidence in who I am and what I do.
But as time went on and I continued to work in the police department, major changes started happening – a combination of changes in myself and changes in the department. Out of the respect that I have (and will always have) for most of those that I worked with, I won’t go into those changes. I’ll simply say that in my gut, I knew it was time for me to move on.
Yet, I struggled. “What if I quit and they hate me? What if I quit and my private practice doesn’t continue to flourish? What if I can’t make it as a trauma therapist? How can I give up guaranteed income for a job where, if I don’t work, I don’t get paid? And most importantly, what will happen to the people who might need my help through the police department in the future?”
But you can’t pour from an empty cup, right? What good would any of those things be if I wasn’t truly happy with my job? And the truth is, the more that time went on the more I felt I belonged in private practice. So as scared as I was, I honored my instincts, and I resigned. I cried after I sent in my letter of resignation; and after my last day this Friday, I will surely cry some more. Change is horrifying, but as scared as I may be, I know I did the right thing. I mourn the loss of what could have been if I stayed, because I know I had so much potential to thrive in that position. I truly valued the work I did at the police department and the wonderful people I met. But I know those relationships will live on whether I work at the police department or not.
Change is happening at a pace so rapidly and so unexpectedly that I can barely keep up. My husband starts his dream job on Monday; and on Friday, I will say goodbye to a job I thought I would stay at forever – and that’s just scratching the surface of the changes that have been occurring in 2020!
I’m terrified, but I’m moving forward. I’m shocked at myself, but I’m proud. I’m nervous, but I am SO EXCITED for what’s to come.
In the words of the famous singer/songwriter Nina Simone:
“It’s a new dawn,
It’s a new day,
It’s a new life for me,
And I’m feeling good.“
You CAN Teach an Old Dog New Tricks
Those three precious doggies in the photo above are all mine. Macie, the small, white dog, is 7 years old. Noel, the brown and white pup, is almost 2. Bentley, the wolf-like wild man with his tongue always hanging out is 10 months old. I do not have children of my own yet, but these are my babies.
This quarantine has been tough on humans and pets alike, as as their routines have been just as scrambled as ours have been. In my home, I have noticed things have been the hardest on Macie. She has been extremely anxious, panting, shaking, hiding under the bed, and pawing at me to pick her up. While her breed (part chihuahua, part poodle) makes her an anxious dog by nature, she has been much worse than usual, especially over the last month or two.
This past week, my husband and I were itching to get out of the house, so one late afternoon we took the dogs to the dog beach. I was hesitant to take Macie because her anxiety has been so severe and I did not want to further stress her out by having her be around a million unfamiliar dogs. Normally in unfamiliar situations, Macie panics and clings to me. I thought the beach would be a nightmare for her, especially because she hates water. But then again, she has been cooped up for so many months just like the rest of us. Normally, during this time of the year she is used to car rides, day trips, family gatherings, etc., so I figured “Ah, what the heck – the beach might be good for her.”
Within 30 seconds of being at the beach, she turned into a totally different dog! She was hyper, playful, social, and completely fearless! She splashed in the water, chased after dogs that were ten times her size, and rolled around in the sand without a care in the world. It was a drastic change from the anxious dog I had been so worried about over the last few months. She was so care-free!! It was such a joy to watch her step back into the playful pup she has always been.
But I’m not here to talk about Macie all day (although I could). I’m here to tell you that one of the most important lessons I have learned from Macie, from my patients, and for myself is that it is never too late to discover something new about yourself, to change, to heal, to recover, to accomplish your goals. Lately I have found myself talking with a lot of people who simply feel like it’s too late for them:
-“I’m already married with kids – I missed out on my time to learn who I am outside of my “mom” and “wife” identity.
-“I’m retired – I spent so much time working that I never found “the one” and it’s far too late for me to learn how to be in an intimate relationship.”
-“I’m a recovered addict, there is no way I am going to be able to make a career and a life for myself.”
-“I’m divorced, a survivor of domestic violence, it’s too late for me to be able to trust anyone again.”
My response to all of the above? No, no, no, and NO.
Our brains were once thought of as being a relatively static organ – unchangeable. But man oh man is that SO WRONG. Our brains are ever-changing, adaptive organs. The brain can rewire itself at any point in life, not just in the developmental/childhood stages. So it truly is never “too late” to do that thing you always wanted to do, or to be that person you wanted to be, or to find that significant other you have been searching for your whole life.
Personally, there are many times when I have felt like it is too late for me. I know, I’m only 28 years old, but still – I have battled crippling anxiety my entire life. At times, my anxiety takes over my whole body and I feel like I have no control. As a perfect example, I had a dentist appointment this week. What should have taken all of 30 minutes ended up taking 3 and a half hours. I, of course, had to wear a mask in the waiting room, which I sat in for 90 minutes before finally being called back. Having the mask on for that long threw me into a panic attack that left me crying in the waiting room (not my proudest moment).
I felt so embarrassed and defeated when I got home. I remember thinking to myself “I’m going to be crippled with fear and anxiety for the rest of my life.”
But this is just so not true. As we were at the dog beach later that evening and I was watching my 7 pound chihuahua splashing around in the waves and digging in the sand with 70-pound dogs, I realized that it is never too late to overcome your fears, or to do the thing that you never thought you could do. After all, Macie, who has spent her whole life cowering in fear when in new environments, acted like a fearless, care-free puppy this week.
And now when I reflect on what happened at the dentist, I realize that I, too, am changing. I normally would have walked out and not gotten my teeth taken care of because the anxiety felt like too much. But this time, I stayed. I sat through it, I reached out to my supports, and I ultimately did what I needed to do in order to take care of myself and my pearly whites! This is huge progress for me – my brain is slowly but surely rewiring itself to be able to endure unpleasant feelings, and I know that one day, these unpleasant feelings will be even easier for me to manage.
The bottom line is this:
It isn’t too late, regardless of what the thoughts in your head are telling you. Healing and happiness and recovery exist whether you’re 7 years old or 70. So let me ask you this: What is it that you’ve been wanting out of your life but feel like it’s far too late for?
Go get it! If my 7 year old chihuahua can do it, I know you can too!
5 Tips for Finding the Right Therapist
It’s happening – we are starting to deal with a mental health pandemic as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. I am seeing it in my own patients, I am talking about it with my colleagues, I am seeing it in my friends and family. This pandemic has been going on for half the year, with no ending or solutions in sight. This is causing extreme upticks in anxiety, depression, PTSD, and relationship issues, among many other problems. The more I talk to friends and colleagues in the field, the more often I hear them saying “I’m so booked up with new patients that I have to start turning people away who are looking for therapy.”
On one hand, the thought of how badly people are struggling from this global pandemic makes my stomach turn. On the other hand, I am glad people are taking care of themselves by getting themselves in to see a therapist! If you are one of those people who are thinking that it might be a good idea to talk to someone, I thought I would share a few tips for finding the right therapist. I know it can be a daunting task – I did not see my very first therapist until around 21 years old and it took me about 4 years of switching from therapist to therapist just trying to find one that I felt like understood me. But don’t let that deter you – most people don’t spend years trying to find the right therapist, although it certainly can take some time. Below are a few tips to keep in mind when trying to find the right professional to help you:
- Know the difference between in-network therapists and out-of-network therapists. Out-of-network (OON) therapists do not accept your insurance directly, but that doesn’t mean your insurance will not pay for some or all of it. Know what your insurance will cover before starting the search – check with them about whether or not you have OON benefits and if you do, ask about any deductibles, percentage reimbursed, and out of pocket maximums. Many insurance companies will reimburse you between 70-80% of an OON therapist’s fee. Knowing this information will help you to better refine your search for a therapist who is a good financial fit for you.
- Do not limit yourself to a quick search on Psychology Today or just the list that your insurance company provides you. Don’t get me wrong, Psychology Today is awesome, but especially now that most therapy is virtual, searching on Google will allow you to widen your search to therapists that are just about anywhere in the state.
- Do your research if you think you have found a therapist who you might be interested in. Read their websites, send them an email, ask them a few questions, request a brief phone consultation. Try to get a feel for the therapist before deciding if you want to schedule an appointment.
- Look for therapists who specialize in specific disorders, treatments, or life stressors/events. Be wary of those who say they specialize in just about everything – it’s very important to find someone who knows his/her limitations. Not all of us can be experts in everything. For example, if you are looking for a therapist to treat you for difficulty coping from a miscarriage, you would not want to see a therapist who has no experience or specialty in this area. This could ultimately do you more harm than good.
- Most importantly, remember that this is about you. When you do meet a therapist for the first time, they will be asking you many questions, but it’s also important for you to ask questions of your own. You are the one who gets to decide if you want to establish a relationship with this person – and having a good relationship with your therapist is one of the most important predictors in treatment success. To put it plainly, if you’re not feeling the connection, it’s probably not going to work out.
Hopefully these tips will help those of you who are thinking about searching for a therapist but have no clue where to begin. And if you’re still on the fence about whether or not you want to follow through – hop off that fence and give yourself the gift of therapy. It took me a while to find the right therapist (it probably would not have taken me nearly as long if I had known the information listed above), but even on my worst days, I can say that my therapist is the best gift I have ever given to myself.
Do The Opposite
I really hate being told what to do.
I mean, who does? Am I right? But believe me when I tell you, I really hate being told what to do. I’m talking like, if you told me not to touch a hot stove, I would probably touch it anyway and endure the burn simply because you just had to go and tell me not to. I have been this way my entire life and truthfully, my disdain for direction has come back to bite me in the ass at times, i.e., the hot stove situation. But when I look back at the last nearly three decades of my life, I have noticed that my hatred of being told what to do and how to act has ultimately done me much more good than harm. Doing the opposite of what I am told is what I’ve always been best at. It has gotten me through really difficult times in my life and it is one of the main reasons I am now married to the love of my life, have my own practice, my own blog, and a podcast about to launch. I have always gone after what I want with ferocity, letting the doubts and judgements of others serve as fuel to propel me further toward my dreams.
Recently though, I have found myself losing sight of this part of me. Times are so tough – not just for me, but for all of us. COVID-19 has flat-out devastated everyone in one way or another. Most of us went from hugging people on daily basis to fearing for our lives if we get too close to someone. I mean, six months ago – it was considered normal to eat birthday cake after someone else breathed all over it in an attempt to blow out candles. Can you even imagine doing that now? Will we ever be able to do anything like that again?
This quarantine feels unending. As much as I consider myself to be a homebody, I am so tired of being stuck in the house. In fact, I am so sick of all of it – the conspiracy theories, the death tolls, the unanswered questions about the long-term effects of this virus….just everything. These last few weeks in particular, I have found myself feeling powerless, overwhelmed, and exhausted. I am questioning every professional and personal move I make, on top of feeling nervous every time I cough. I’m constantly looking over my shoulder, waiting for the monster that is COVID-19 to finally catch up with me. Sometimes it feels like it is just a matter of time before it finds me (Hello, anxiety). I feel distraught for those who have died. I feel sick with worry over the continued increase in rates of abuse and suicide among kids and adults. But what can I do about it?
The voices in my head have been so loud – “You can’t do this. You don’t have what it takes. You’re so dumb. Who are you to think you can change the world?” And then one day it hit me: I would never in a million years let someone else talk to me like that. I can guarantee that if someone told me I do not have what it takes to succeed, I’d simply use it as fuel!
Don’t tell me I can’t, because I can.
Don’t tell me I won’t, because I will.
Don’t tell me it’s impossible, because I’ll get it done.
This has been my mantra for as long as I can remember, so why on earth am I now giving into my own thoughts of criticism, hopelessness, and doubt? Why am I giving that voice in my head more credit than it deserves? I cannot let these terrible feelings shatter me now, and neither should you.
- When you feel powerless, do something that makes you feel empowered. Buy yourself some resistance bands and a pair of dumbbells and create your own workout. Go for a bike ride. Create a garden in your backyard. Do something that raises your heartrate and makes you feel strong and alive.
- When you feel devastated as you look at your summer wardrobe, realizing you barely got dressed up all summer because everything has been cancelled, make it a point to go out. Even if you think outdoor dining is terrible. Even if you feel annoyed at having to sit outside and sweat while you eat. Do it anyway. Pick out an outfit. Dress up. Go out to eat, sweat your ass off, sweat your makeup off. Who cares? Do it just to remind yourself that you can.
- When you feel isolated, surround yourself with people in the ways that you can. Don’t cut people off because we cannot see each other in person. Get creative! Plan virtual game nights with friends (via Tabletopia, the House Party app, etc.), plan FaceTime dates, Zoom dates, Zoom happy hours. If you enjoy going to wine/beer tastings with friends, plan a Zoom wine tasting. It’s not the same but it helps immensely with the isolation.
- When you feel like your whole life is out of control and the decisions you once used to make for yourself are no longer yours to make due to the pandemic, remind yourself of the things you do have control over. Remind yourself of the things you can still do. You can speak to people, you can still see people, you can get outside and catch some Vitamin D, you can hold your pets, your kids, and some of your loved ones tight, you can move your body, you can get in your car and go for a drive to the beach to 7pm to watch the sun set. Yes, so much has been taken away, but we have to remember that we still have so much power.
I know I am not the only one who has been feeling really upset and disoriented lately, especially in the wake of COVID. But instead of giving into those feelings, I am working hard to do the opposite. Don’t get me wrong, there are times that I still find myself needing to make space for the devastation that I feel, but these days I am making every effort to not stay stuck in those feelings. I’m channeling the part of me that uses the obstacles as fuel to create a brighter, and more hopeful future. I am doing a little more each and every day to bring back the part of me that has always done the opposite….
…and I invite you to do the same.