Go for Your Gold!

Strength Stones

This month is full of various highs and lows. The highs of the Olympic medal winners and the lows of those not moving into the finals. The highs of whomever you support for president having an increase in ratings and lows of whomever you don’t support having a negative press experience. The highs of a child entering kindergarten, and the low of realizing you have no child to see off to their first day of school this year…even though you are proud of their journey to a new state and professional job last spring. And
August brings the high of a new beginning, a new school year that we all somehow respond to in setting goals; and the sharp contrast of a year quickly ending. How does it go so fast, we hear ourselves or others asking. Somewhere amidst all of these we need to find our center, our grounding.

The peaceful person is able to find a way to reach down deep, and stay connected with their inner core of knowing. This is, indeed, how we come to maintain our equilibrium despite changes that swirl all around — both favorable and challenging. I’ve spent a fair amount of time with a friend over the past two weeks. It began with the high of getting a knee replacement (she’d been in a lot of pain, so this was a gift). The surgery and early recovery went fairly well…so favorable change. Then came the fall, broken leg, second
surgery to repair the knee just operated on, and hospitalization that has followed. So the low, the challenge. But I saw a spark in her Friday—one I’d not seen in a long time. Despite the most recent challenge, she was thinking forward, considering changes she needed to make in her life to improve her overall situation. And she was smiling. Was she still in pain? Yes, physically she’s recovering. But there is a soul spark I saw. Hope
for her as she realized she is cared about, she began to care about herself more deeply. She smiled and said, “I guess I needed this wake up call.” So she not only went to her own Olympics, but she is now in the finals, and I’m sure will win the gold.

Olympics

So what did she do, what did Michael Phelps do after a second DUI over a year ago? First, each got honest with themselves, they faced whatever was hurting them at their core. Second, they each accepted hands reaching out to them, whether friends or doctors. Third, they accepted the truth of their situation and realized they needed to change. Fourth, they made a commitment to change. And fifth, they took the steps to follow through. So today, my friend is accepting and looking forward to rehab and 1-2 weeks of more intense assistance. Michael Phelps went into rehab and also read and studied and realized his higher power was still there. She is reaching for a future much brighter, Phelps is married, has a baby, won another gold with his team, and has plans for a future. (See http://www.relevantmagazine.com/slices/michael-phelps-says-rickwarrens-purpose-driven-life-helped-get-his-life-back-track)

Highs and lows. If we face them rather than run from them we can move forward. Fear no longer paralyzes. And within we find the compass to move us in a stronger direction. But we do so from a place of calm, not panic. With courage and hope, not fear. And with support of others and higher power, not alone and abandoned. Honesty, help, acceptance, commitment, action — the 5 things we must have and be willing to take to turn our lows, our challenges, into the truly venerable, respected, August times of our life. Go for your gold!

Change

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Freedom – Finding it Within!

When I was a child I grew up in Elmhurst, IL. Think small town at the time, not more than 10,000 when I grew up, so not a city but not as small as Mayberry! I was a Girl Scout and on the 4th of July I walked the town parade, and supper that night was a neighborhood get together with Rice Krispies chicken, potato salad, and fireworks at Glen Ellyn Park, a  park that was close by. I felt free at the time, and each year the feelings from those 4th celebrations fill my heart with peace and joy and my face is wreathed with smiles.

fireworks
Today, as I think about the 4th of July on Monday, I am thinking about it and considering – how do I hold myself back from freedom, peace, and joy in my daily life? Why is it that we so often experience joy at celebrations, but not so often throughout our day? And how can I release myself for more freedom?
First, as I think about it, I realize that we get bogged down in life by responsibilities. On a holiday we are better able to release ourselves from those and let ourselves be more present to the joys. We may get busy prepping, but then when we relax and sit back and watch the fireworks, sit by the pool with friends or family, or bite into the hotdog or watermelon. All of these activities touch our senses and create memories. Given this, is there a way to bring this into our day-to-day life? Well, what about taking the time to slow down and enjoy a piece of watermelon? Savor a moment of a beautiful moon on your walk in the evening? Or, flip through some photos of family from your youth rather than playing a game of Candy Crush? Perhaps those moments would bring a sensory memory of a time when it was less hectic, and we can use the sensory memory to slow down our heart beat, release the tension in our shoulders, or let a smile replace the furrowed brow tightening our faces. Taking time to relax, despite the responsibilities, is a potential first step.

pool
Second, I realize that on a daily basis I am running from meeting to meeting, email to text, or phone call to answering a physical call from someone. The pace is slower generally on the 4th of July, thus allowing all of us to relax. Today we know that stress is a physiological and neurological response – as well as an emotional response. If we are consistently stressed, our body begins treating all stress as fight/flight/freeze and we change the way our adrenals function – sometimes burning them out. The amygdala begins to discharge fear reactions in our neurochemistry and we trigger an adrenal response we don’t actually need. So if we want to prevent that, and enjoy life more despite it being a work day, we have to put some things in place. Some ideas are to watch your scheduling – try to keep your workday within a reasonable number of hours (see the January-March newsletter at http://www.thewholenessinstitute.com/newsletters.html for more on this); reduce your perfectionism – it can be ok to live with places that are in the “good enough” category; notice and love what you have. All of these can actually slow our pace and brains down – in a good way – and allow us to experience less stress.
Third, plan fun time! That’s really a big one on the 4th of July. We plan to barbeque, or go to the lake, or hit the pool with friends. And we enjoy our time together. When is the last time you planned an enjoyable time with your spouse or a friend in the middle of the week? Maybe that would help to break your week up and put some enjoyment into it rather than “waiting for the weekend” to come, or a holiday to come. Answer the call from the pool during these summer evenings!
Fourth and last, take some time to really enjoy the people and animals around you. Breathing in love, touch, and companionship can do much to relax us and help us stay in touch with the joy and love around us. For women, we actually increase the hormone oxytocin, a hormone that helps us to relax and release love. We first experience it when being with our mothers, and throughout life when we are sharing our love and feelings with another. Virginia Satir once said, “We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” Wow – not many of us get that many, particularly when we live alone. So we need to improvise – pet or hug your dog; reach out to your friend with a hug; give a warm handshake to an acquaintance – right hand to hand, left hand on top; or get a massage. Skin to skin contact actually is healing so we can heal our stress by not being so afraid of appropriate touch.
So, what are you going to be doing this 4th of July? And perhaps even more important to your mental health and brain, what are you doing on the 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th ….? Let your freedom from stress ring!

Feeling the heat… already!

sun

Those of us living in the Phoenix area have truly hit summer … regardless of the fact it’s not “technically” summer yet. Most of this month’s temperatures have already exceeded 105 and this Father’s Day weekend we’re supposed to hit 120!  Most of us who have lived here awhile will tell you that until it exceeds 105 or 110, or fill in the blank, it’s really not bad.   But those who work outdoors – air conditioning and other contractors, delivery folks, mail carriers, etc. will all say that water is key to making it through summer, and plenty of it.

Last year I wrote about mental health and heat related to seasonal affective disorder. So if you would like more information on that take a look at article in the May/June 2015 newsletter at http://www.thewholenessinstitute.com/newsletters.html. This June, I want to briefly talk about getting through the long, hot days in creative ways. Talk to the native or long-term resident and you’ll learn all kinds of secrets – get out of town every month for one; take a mini-vacation at a spa with a slide for the kids for a weekend says another; get up north as much as you can; get some sunshine either by swimming or by hiking or walking every day – it prevents feeling cooped up for 3-4 months; look for indoor entertainment so you get out on weekends, but remain cool; drink lots of water. That last one comes up very frequently out here in the summer – and everywhere you turn. These are all great ideas – and I’ll list some below for you to consider this summer.

Also remember that summer leads to depression for many – so if you have a seasonal issue watch for it – ask your partner or close friend to help you monitor it, and ask for help early. Dehydration leads to multiple problems, and it actually includes a couple that can appear to be mental health issues: depression and difficulty thinking clearly. Remember the basics – once you begin to feel thirsty you’re already dehydrating. So keep that water bottle full and near you – and remember to sip regularly. If you’re on a mental health medication or any medication there can also be challenges. Being on lithium, for example, which is a salt, increases the likelihood of dehydration when the water and salt levels become out of sync. If you’re in the sun and taking St. John’s Wart, as another example, it’s easier to sunburn. And this can happen even when in the car and driving. So be sure to ask your pharmacist or doctor if any of your medications or supplements can increase sun sensitivity and be aware, being sure to use sunscreen regularly through the day to offset this. Neurotransmitters, which control our mood and functioning in many ways, also are impacted by heat. Further, hormones such as thyroid, prolactin, and others are also impacted and these lead to other mood and functioning difficulties. Thus our increased hospitalization rates for mental health issues as well as the increased rage we see in traffic throughout the summer. All of these are things to remain aware of – and ask someone for assistance if you think you’re struggling or experiencing a reaction to the sun beyond normal sunburn and dehydration.

And, what can you do to just endure the heat and yet enjoy life? There is a reason why the valley clears out so much throughout the summer months beyond that of school vacations – we all want cooler climates! I know for myself getting away for a long weekend, even if only to Payson, can help me make it through the next month in Phoenix. So I’m going to share some activities I found both in Phoenix metro this summer as well as throughout the state. Perhaps you can plan for one with your family or friends.

This is an opportunity to see the Garden from 7pm on and enjoy time outside while doing it in the cooler part of the day. You have to bring your own flashlight and it’s only available after 7 pm on Thursdays and Saturdays, 480-941-1225, http://www.dbg.org

  • Cool Art in the Pines – June 9-June 30 – Coconino Center for the Arts, Flagstaff

An art exhibit that is sponsored by Art 35° North and Coconino Centers for the Arts to present “A New Latitude”, a series of exhibitions, art tours, demonstrations and workshops June through August 2016, http://art35n.org.

You’ve got to love the part that’s free and indoors where it’s cool! There will be a variety of special hands-on, educational programming designed to appeal to visitors of all ages, noon – 5 pm, second Sundays of the month, http://www.PhxArt.org

There will be tram rides until sundown; a walking tour of indoor hangars; hands-on aviation-related activities for kids, 8 pm last admission, http://www.pimaair.org/news-events/event/416-night-wings

24th Annual Family Cornfest, Arts & Crafts Fair – 60 arts & crafts exhibitors, fresh sweet corn, free admission and parking, $9 for lunch, 602-231-0300 or http://www.el-zaribah.org

19th Annual Celtic Festival celebrating all things Celtic: music, piping, athletics, educational workshops, vendors, historical reenactment, clans and societies and a kid’s area, 928-556-3161 or http://www.nachs.info

Ok, you have some ideas for places to try – I plan on checking out a couple of them myself! Keep your energy, water level, mood, and sense of humor in tact by trying new things and watching your mood as it heats up. We’ll make it – one more year!

smilingfamily

the-wizard-of-oz-Pixabay516687_1280

Courage: The Cowardly Lion Finds Courage Within

There isn’t one of us who has not, at some point or in some area, needed courage. We’re very much like the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz. The big difference is that the cowardly lion may be more honest than most of us. He owned his fear, but he’d been stuck in it for a long time. It’s ironic that it takes the very courage we feel we lack to overcome the fear and panic we have.

This weekend I spent time with family celebrating two of my nieces and one niece’s husband as they graduated with bachelor degrees. All of them are in different fields and facing new challenges ahead. As I listened to them I heard a bit of courage, and also heard the fear underlying their future lives. As we all have to do in our early 20’s, they realized a shift in how they will be moving forward, with much more independence and conversely less funding and sense of security. We face changes throughout life, perhaps a career change; maybe a divorce; a move; a new child’s impending arrival; or, even the changes wrought by transitions in the lives of the people who surround us.

There are no surefire fixes, we learned that early in life. But, what do we do to face our fear when courage is needed? The Wizard of Oz offers insight into this as we watch the lion face his.

Name your fear: The lion did share with Dorothy and others that he felt very much afraid. He didn’t always want to go forward, he wanted to hold back, at one point they literally pulled him along the yellow brook road. But naming it, singing about it, drawing how it feels, sharing with safe others our self-doubts, the power behind the fear decreases which in turn allows for the shame to be reduced and support to be garnered.

Start moving: None of the group in the story knows that they will make it to Oz, do they? They are hoping, but they must start to move. Glenda doesn’t start them moving along the path, she merely offers a path – points them in the right direction. Then it is up to each of them to take one step, then another, then another, and keep moving. In fact, though the lion wanted and hoped to gain courage from the Wizard, he didn’t know for sure he could. Often we are also afraid and don’t feel the courage or “enough” courage to bring a new goal or dream to fruition. With each step we take, though, we do bring the possibility closer.

Go to a Higher Power: The cowardly lion and the others were attempting to get to their Higher Power, the Wizard. Glenda was, in a way, a Higher Power, as she knew where to go. One must ask for help – and then wait for the answer. I believe this can be the most difficult step – waiting for an answer and not directing what the answer must be. The lion certainly didn’t expect the answer he got. And often neither do I. But asking and accepting are important steps with our Higher Power.

Get support: Do not do this change alone – reach out to friends, family, support community, coworkers, and/or a spouse. Dorothy, Scarecrow, Lion, and Tin Man all needed something and joined forces to find help locating what they sought. Together they were stronger than any one of them could have been alone. So join hands with others, seek out therapy, spiritual direction, or coaching if you need more directed help. There is no shame in that; rather there is wisdom in knowing our limitations.

Courage is not an easy concept and can be a struggle to find within at times. But we generally do survive, grow, and thrive when we face our fears. All it takes is to name our fear, step out with support, and start moving.

thepath

May–A Time for Change

May begins tomorrow – and with it come graduations and celebrations of completion from kindergarten, 6th graders moving into middle school, 8th graders moving to high school, high school seniors moving to college or out into the world to work, and college graduates moving onto their own family, career, graduate school or a combination of all three. So many changes, both for the students and the loved ones around them – particularly the parents! I have 3 college graduations to attend and I firmly recall one of the upcoming graduates at 7 years old, competing in horses and another singing beautifully for a Papal visit here. I also had lunch with a step-son from a prior marriage last weekend and he is now in his 40’s – good grief, where did the time go? Certainly he can’t be more than in his 20’s! Life moves all of us forward – whether willingly on our parts or not.

And yet, we do have choices. Take a look at image of the path above – there is an intersection coming up. The walker has the choice – ahead, left, right, or to turn around and go back. So often when faced with these intersections we tie ourselves up in knots – what is THE right step to take? We’re sure this step will set the course of our future. And true, sometimes it does have a strong impact. When I chose not to go right to college from high school it did set a course, but far from a miserable one, it was one in which I gained a much stronger sense of myself, gained confidence, and eventually truly believed I could do what I’d always hoped and go into the field of mental health. As Ernest Hemmingway said, “It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end”. The experiences that I had during the next years are what inspired the sureness to go to college and complete the degrees needed and actually begin a practice. So while it seemed like a side road, it truly was a meaningful and important part of my development as a person. And becoming a person we can have faith and respect in is one of the most important lessons in life.

itsnotthejourney

So I would ask you – what is next on your life journey? What have you completed? What have you thought about doing next? If you know what it is – then the next step is finding the courage to take it. Whether moving to a new state, marrying, having a child (if you are younger), or whether it’s learning to live in a home without children returning for summer as they are off on internships and jobs, or perhaps you are looking at the next 20 years ahead and realizing you better develop a new plan as it’s likely the last 20-30 active years you will have, it’s time to sit down and consider what you want to do. Or, perhaps you’re just divorced and this wasn’t what you wanted, you still are in charge of your future. You may have lost a loved one to cancer, heart disease, another health condition or maybe a sudden accident. Regardless of the intersection you are at, you will need to determine what you need to support you in taking the next step, and then in taking it.

Brene Brown said that we need to “Be willing to let go of who you think you are in order to be who you are”. Is that your next step in some way? Then let’s take it together and learn that there is no wrong path, no wrong way, merely a willingness to take the next road, see where we have gone, adjust as needed, and then move again. But what steps to take? Here are a few ideas:

  1. What do you want to do? Come up with even a small start in the plan for what’s next. What will be on that path? Children? A graduate degree? A new place you can decorate as you want and make a reflection of you versus you and him or her? A new job in a new land? (“Oh Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore!”…but how wonderful and how much Dorothy learned in Oz!) Make one part of your plan specific.
  2. Who can and will support you? Sometimes we need to re-evaluate our support. Perhaps the friend who saw you through the divorce remains bitter and you need to move forward without bitterness. Perhaps your best friend is getting married and you are beginning a new career. Rather than becoming angry and resentful that they “don’t understand” see who else in your network, or those who are now around you, who can and wants to support you.
  3. Explore your new path. Are there new things to learn? New adventures or hobbies or interests to explore? Make a list – or a jar with pretty papers folded with different adventures, hobbies, places to explore on each and then go do one!
  4. Journal – notice what is going on each day. Henri Nouwen said: “One of the most satisfying aspects of writing is that it can open in us deep wells of hidden treasures that are beautiful for us as well as for others to see.” What is changing in you? What do you like, not like, want to change? Keep current with yourself.

Are you ready? Here we go…take that first step on whichever path you are taking. One step IS a beginning. Blessings on your road…

 

 

 

 

4/10/16 A Sunday Afternoon’s Thoughts about Life

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It’s been an interesting Sunday thus far – especially for Phoenix in mid-April. We’ve had a wonderful day of cloudy skies, rain, a little thunder, mixed with a slight breeze all resulting in the perfect setting for a lazy day of relaxation. I don’t find I do that often enough – so often I’m on to the next thing, and like all of us, there is always something. But I’ve enjoyed today and want to share some of the musings I’ve had as I’ve rambled through my day.

First, I took the time to actually look around – see what was happening in the window next to me, take a walk outside and see what the yard was like, look after a potting project I’m in the middle of, and generally enjoy what was around me and how the rain was changing the hues, tone, and feeling of the environment. It was peacefully quiet, yet with the patter of some rain drops, and the freshness of the cleansed air and space.

 

After puttering I found my mind then called to travel through possible travel plans, what might I want to see? What rivers to cruise? How to see Ireland through a new lens on the next trip? What is available? And what is my soul searching for in the trip. It was a few hours of looking at many different ways to new parts of the world, life, and my inside longings for what this could be. Where would you go? Would you peruse Ireland? Or might it be Yosemite? Or climbing over rocks and ice as a friend did to reach a new summit on her birthday last weekend? She literally scaled new heights for her and the pictures are astonishingly beautiful. Then I considered a trip I hope to make to Colorado this summer. A small weekend venture – but what could that trip be in addition to a wonderful time with a family member? So while my world was first around what was happening around me, the day moved into the world at large – what more do I want to see, learn, do, and experience? We don’t often think about these things and then take time to get more specific and even specific enough to look at the actual ventures available. The wanderings the Internet allows make this so easy – and enjoyable for quiet days.

That brought me to considering my own inner life and where my thoughts were going so often lately, that of what brings purpose and meaning to life as we age? That’s a question popping up around me so often lately, and as I ponder it with others, I also ponder it within. I tend to turn to a few of my favorites for thoughts to provoke me when I want to go deeper and so I spent an hour or two looking at Brene` Brown’s thoughts and watching some TED talks. I also was brought to the thoughts of John O’Donohue not by my own process but through a friend who had posted something to me via message at Facebook and which I just opened today. So I wanted to share some for you if you are wondering about aging, what holds us back, and why in the world we think we must be all such perfect creatures. I would encourage you to view one or more of these sites:

Maria Shriver’s website on which she posts a chapter from a book I’m ordering next today on the prime of our lives. This is a chapter written by Brene`, and the photos by the editor and photographer of the book are incredible: http://mariashriver.com/blog/2016/04/prime-book-brene-brown-courage-vulnerability-peter-freed/?utm_source=Current+Users&utm_campaign=6c8a4c7de2-April_8_Send_Out_4_8_2016&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_53bf79976c-6c8a4c7de2-36077549&mc_cid=6c8a4c7de2&mc_eid=255d798934

Two fascinating TED talks by individuals who are no more special or gifted than the rest of us – but who truly have a depth of spirit and character many of us neglect to develop. First, Karen Gaffney on why all lives matter at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HwxjoBQdn0s&app=desktop and then Jess Thom’s courageous and challenging talk about what it’s like to have Tourette’s Disorder and what she is trying to change in the world: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_jmTlQld2Z8&nohtml5=False What these 3 women have sparked in me today is a commitment to actually push my own limits. I tend to think big and move slowly.

And this leads me to the last part of my day – the poem by O’Donohue that a friend shared entitled “For Longing”. In it he certainly addresses what is true for me, and for so many of us I believe. He speaks of how much our soul is called to – and how challenging it can be to follow the road necessary to reach it. So when I think about my day thus far – and this is frankly true of any day we face – I have to ask myself, what do I need to do today to take a step toward the actions, goals, dreams, and hopes of my own soul?. Did the processes, experiences, and time I took on the activities today move me forward? Or did I stay stuck, and if I’ve felt that, did I enjoy what was in front of me, did I reach out when I needed to, and did I even notice and take time with those around me?

Today? Today I can say yes, from the above to enjoying time with Murphy throughout many of these excursions, I was present in my life, I enjoyed what I did, and I explored areas of thought and the future that will help me move forward. Tomorrow, well that’s a new day! I’ll do my best to do the same in new ways.

Now, how about you? What can you do today toward your future?

 

 

 

spring

Spring – Time to be Revived

Spring!!!  My two favorite seasons are fall and spring – so I was thrilled to realize spring was so close and we would be soon enjoying the final celebration of Easter (for those who are Christian).  There are always a lot of articles written about spring and Easter and how both bring new life and hope after a time of darkness.  For those of us in the valley we did have shorter days, but very little cooler weather and lots of warm days once we hit the 70’s on February 6 and it’s never cooled down again according to AccuWeather.com.  So, we are moving into spring with hope for longer days and closer to average temperatures here!  If I consider this in my approach to my life it would be for days full of more of what I hope and want to do with people I love; and average work/life balance.
Recently I was struck again when I was reading about people interviewing for jobs.  The fact that many in Gen X will ask about how employees are able to manage work/life balance is notable.  According to Workplacetrends.com employers are trying to respond to this newer demand with more flexible hours and settings.  Still, 20% of employees are still reporting that they are working an average of 20 hours a week at home in addition to their regular hours at work.  Technology appears to be driving this as employees are no longer working “regular hours” but are expected to be available by phone and/or email even on weekends and evenings.  I hear this often when I see people.  While it varies, I’ve seen it limit severely a client’s ability to do anything due to excessive demands placed on her to the point she became ill from working 7am to 10pm most days with weekends requiring 4-6 hours of her time answering her boss’s emails.  I’ve also heard of individuals who are not required to work at all on off hours, although very few when in a professional position.  Most of us may cry for work/life balance, but are now working longer hours and finding our serenity and balance compromised.  Gen X and Gen Y both tend to use the flexibility offered through many companies, i.e.:  days to work at home, 4 day work weeks, vacation time, etc. better than others.  So if you’re not doing that, begin there.  Then after using these employment flexibility tools, what to do?
Plan Activities for Yourself:  Seems like an old idea, right?  Well it’s amazing how many times I hear that people are not planning an activity that they enjoy very often, if at all.  If you have a family, be sure as a family that both a fun activity is planned that you all enjoy (movie night) as well as couple time (walk and coffee, dinner, go out dancing).  Also create planned time for yourself (take a bath and pamper yourself, take a yoga class alone or with a friend, paint some pottery, take a walk with the dog).  Having those activities on your calendar (yes, enter them on your calendar – don’t just keep them in your head) will help you begin to see there are other parts of your life and you’ll maintain awareness.
Make Time for Spirituality:  Whether it’s a church service or daily journaling or prayer or walking the labyrinth once a week, find what fits for you.  I’m always amazed when I talk with one young woman who is finishing college and taking 15 units including her final project, doing 2 internships which each require a full day’s work, volunteering for a group, maintaining an active social life, completing her job search, and yet she also finds the time to journal and pray each night.  At her age (22) she has developed habits that would do all of us quite well regardless of our age.  Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do”.  So to be balanced, and include a dimension other than work and household chores, we must begin including those activities on a regular basis.
Limit Electronics:  This is the toughest for so many people – myself included.  It is the electronics that have brought the end of the 8 or even 10 hour work day.  And also brought much in the way of ease of reading, access to information, and kept us in closer contact with loved ones.  But much is in how we manage them – or they will not manage our lives, but take them over.  I found it interesting that when I did a quick search for limiting electronics all that popped up were sources related to children.  So, we know we need to or we are looking for ways to limit children at times – a good practice, for sure.  I found an excellent article in which the author wrote her goals for limiting her own time, and I loved it because all of the guidelines were also expanding her life!  Melissa Monahan wrote on Global Business Hub at Boston.com ideas like planning half-hour periods during which she will not even look at electronics, taking time during her travel weekly to read a book and not look at her email and phone, and phone a friend rather than text three times a week, etc. (see http://www.boston.com/business/blogs/global-business-hub/2013/09/screen_time_rul.html – it’s worth the read!)  While you may have work related concerns, it’s important to also take time away – even those of us on 24-hour call for crises take breaks and it’s incredibly important to your health and that of your relationships to do so.
If you do some of the above, you’ll actually find you’re bringing some life balance back.  Winter is a time of hibernating and slowing down.  Spring is a time for new adventures and growth.  As Harriet Ann Jacobs said:  “The beautiful spring came; and when Nature resumes her loveliness, the human soul is apt to revive also.”    So go outside and soak in the sensory experiences of walks, bike rides, working in the garden, or having a picnic at a park.   And go within and with family and broaden your experiences each week.  It’s time to bloom!

skull

What Brain Injury Looks like in Every Day Life

Allow me to introduce you to some people I’ve met in the past. First, please meet my 76-year old friend, Mimi. At 74, she was active in her church, minister of communion to those at home, running to meetings and luncheons, heading out to her exercise class followed by coffee and talk with the ladies. Now, she sits in her chair most days, can’t concentrate long enough to read, so she pages through magazines occasionally and frequently tells the same story over and over—or forgets things completely.

I’d also like you to meet Jackie. A professional woman who used to run her own business, hire and fire, as well as take care of a family and participate in many recreational activities. Today she struggles to organize her day, has mood swings and sleeping problems that tire her out, and rather than the 20 hour day with 4 hours of sleep it is 4 hours activity and 20 hours of rest.

Finally, let me introduce you to James, who 3 years ago, was top salesman in his region. Running, going, stretching to meet those demands as well as be dad and hubby. Then, suddenly, the phone was terrifying and the thought of leaving the house too much.

What happened? And, what’s the big deal, right? I’ve just described plain old, ordinary garden-variety Alzheimer’s and Depression right? It’s not as easy as that.

We are learning so much more about the brain. When I began in this field over 20 years ago we would have treated these from the paradigm of mental illness and taken it no further. Today, research has shown us that the brain, that gelatin-like mass under our skull, does so much more, and much more precisely than we’d ever imagined. Thus the condition of the brain itself, the way it sends messages, how blood and oxygen flow through it, and the way in which it may have been jolted in the past and impacted the present, all are considerations in the condition of someone, all extremely important.

Have you ever worked on a computer that is DOS based, not Microsoft Windows, or Apple iOS based? If you have and attempted to run a program that is Windows based on it you’ll know that you must have the right software for the program running your computer. If it’s on a Windows platform you must have Windows software, etc. Or have you tried to load a program for which your computer doesn’t have enough space? Or even better, attempted to retrieve information from a corrupted disc? Brought back your worst nightmare at the computer, huh? Well, this is like our brain.

The hardware is the structure of the brain and the protective skull that covers it. The software consists of all the electrical impulses, the neurotransmitters, the thousands of ways in which the brain communicates to allow us to move our right hand when we want to, or know which is left, or figure out a puzzle, or allows us to be appropriately angry or sad without feeling out of control. There is nothing that we do, literally nothing, that doesn’t come in some way from the functioning of our brain.

So that’s new? Haven’t we always known this? Well, not so much. We used to think it took a massive head injury that resulted in surgery and/or coma to cause difficulties later. Thus after an accident when taken to the emergency room if you could walk, your eyes reacted to light, and you sounded like you knew who you were then you were sent home deemed “shaken up but fine”. No one paid attention or related the fact that another woman I know couldn’t organize her work space, was teary for months and months, became very depressed, couldn’t remember things, and had become extremely irritable after an auto accident. Well guess what? When she was rear-ended by a semi-truck going 55 miles an hour and walked away from a totaled vehicle–she wasn’t fine. Her brain had been jolted and, think of a Jell-O mold here, had sloshed back and forth against her skull, causing trauma to the structure of the brain that can’t be seen on X-rays, CT, or sometimes even MRI. But can be seen in neuropsychological testing that allowed her to finally realize she isn’t crazy, she’s lost function in her frontal lobe that controls her organization as well as to her temporal region that controls memory. And what is more important is that all the psychotherapy in the world will not correct this. She needs specific tools to overcome the deficits and make life easier. She also needs time for her brain to heal. And the understanding that it isn’t her fault, it isn’t a moral defect, it is an injury. Thankfully, in her case, after 2 years she regained most of her abilities but still deals with difficulty in organizing and planning and has to work much harder at it than she ever did.

So, let’s go back to the individuals you met earlier. First, back to Mimi, our 76-year old with “Alzheimer’s”. The doctors for a year and a half said it was just “aging” when she complained of not remembering everything. Possibly true. And then there was a surgery with aftercare mismanaged by the surgeon and a cardiologist, a physician, and mental health provider who all deemed her depressed. Eventually, 6 months later she was diagnosed and treated for the pulmonary embolisms that were impacting her ability to breathe and eventually her heart so that very little oxygen was getting through her body. Now, we have a woman who has had mood problems in the past, but her memory, moodiness, ability to initiate and concentration are all poor. Why? The brain needs oxygen which it didn’t get it and these damaged pieces can never be regained. So, Alzheimer’s? Likely not from the brain scans and MRI’s already done. Oxygen deprivation to her brain, highly likely. Reversible? No. In her case she’s not gotten worse, fortunately with oxygen flow restored, her symptoms stabilized and with help from her family she is able to live with her husband well.

Remember Jackie? The previously successful “superwoman”? She had hit her head numerous times throughout life in sports injuries and domestic violence. She did okay, had some problems, but managed. But then came a sports injury that left her significantly impaired for a few days and gradually her overall functioning reduced and she needed more and more support from staff. Eventually the coping became too much, her mood took a huge dive, and her ability to work became compromised. Just depression? No. Just a personality disorder? No. Significant damage to temporal and frontal lobes, some parietal dysfunction, and both her hardware and software have been impaired.

Finally, James, no major head injury. But he has a genetic background of bipolar and major depression. The software is corrupted, and the stress of managing on a corrupted software program became too much. Much as your computer starts freezing when a patch or some other fix is needed, he also froze. And it’s been a long way back to speed with medication and life management changes and dealing with pain in his emotional past. Not just depression, but bipolar disorder.

We can’t be too careful when it comes to evaluating ourselves, our loved ones, and our clients in terms of hardware and software deficiencies. The 76-year old woman had family members who kept asking questions, and asking for new doctors, and pushing hospital staff to reconsider what they found to be obvious. Eventually the answer was found, but not before the damage was relatively severe. We must be proactive in evaluating people and not just settle for the easiest, the quickest, and the least difficult explanation when the “fixes” for these diagnoses are not helpful. We must demand our health providers keep looking and search for the answers. And you deserve to understand your brain and your loved one’s brains. It may never happen to you or a loved one, but we don’t know what we’ll be given to deal with, do we? As Mrs. Gump said, “Life is like a box of chocolates…You never know what you’re gonna get”. If you are interested in learning more, any of the following books are great references and fairly easy reads on the basics of the brain. Then you too, can advocate for someone — or perhaps for yourself.

The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge

The Whole Brain Child by Daniel Siegel and Tina Bryson

Change Your Brain, Change Your Life (Revised) by Dr. Daniel Amen

CDC Website for Sports and Children – Heads Up Program at http://www.cdc.gov/headsup/youthsports/index.html

 

stackedstones

Highlight on Health; The Whole You

As the flu virus spreads throughout our nation and wellness is a goal for many of us, I thought today I’d consider health in a broader sense, and the benefits of some alternative therapies. How is your back feeling? Have those migraines started up again? Did you just have your first hot flash? Or perhaps it’s a pulled ligament from a workout? Seems we all face physical aches and pains at times and often we can’t figure out from whence they came.

One of the guiding principles from which The Wholeness Institute was born was the need to care for a person as a whole–physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. Many of us have gotten a handle on one area of life to find the other areas amiss. It seems a constant struggle to balance all areas.

Philosophers, psychologists, medical doctors, and healers have for centuries argued and theorized about whether the body and mind can and/or should be separated. It seems current research is proving what many have theorized–the body does affect the mind and the mind affects the body. Many, if not most, sexual abuse survivors will tell you of migraines, stomach problems, chronic fatigue and the pain of fibromyalgia. MRI’s are now showing us that early neglect or lack of nurturing prevents neural connections from being made. Chiropractic physicians are able to clear emotions through kinesiological interventions in some cases. Body and mind are intimately connected.

In addition to considering psychological care there are many avenues of care now able to adjunct and even quicken therapeutic results. From optometric to chiropractic to neurological to psychopharmacological to herbs to massage–the possibilities are endless. Here is a brief review of some of the therapies available today.

Chiropractic and Kinesiology can both offer help for not only sore backs but sore minds. Boris Pasternak in Doctor Zhivago so eloquently discussed the body/mind connection years ago:

“The great majority of us are required to live a life of constant, systematic duplicity. Your health is bound to be affected if, day after day, you say the opposite of what you feel, if you grovel before what you dislike and rejoice at what brings you nothing but misfortune. Our nervous system isn’t just a fiction, it’s a part of our physical body, and our soul exists in space and is inside us, like the teeth in our mouth. It can’t be forever violated with impunity.”

Although many of us aren’t able to understand exactly how these sciences work, it is clear that kinesiology is able to bridge between the physical body and the emotions.

Nutrition is an area absolutely essential to our overall state of well-being but is one many find difficult to manage. High fat, low carbohydrate, no sugar, low sugar, no fat, low calorie, gluten free, and vegan are all types of diets most of us have watched cycle through in terms of popularity and nutritional value. It’s important that the person you are working with evaluate your body type, ancestry, and emotional habits to best prescribe an eating plan.

Massage is often thought to be for “special occasions” or pampering. In actuality, it is a wonderful method to treat not only muscular aches but remove toxins, increase energy, and encourage body systems to work more effectively. In addition, the impact on anxiety and stress are profound.

Aromatherapy also offers scents for health! Try some vanilla or lavender candles or oils next time you’re depressed. Lemon and peppermint can increase energy. And rose can increase passion. There is a reason for the recent trend in use of essential oils – consider it next time you’re stressed or not feeling well.

Optometry has therapies such as vision and academic to assist in strengthening not only eye muscles but also address early developmental deficits. Many children, as well as traumatic brain injury survivors, are being found to also have eye coordination problems which can now be identified and treated.

Medicine: We have to remember that many cases of depression are actually due to medical problems such as hormonal imbalances, thyroid disorders, sleep disorders, and neurological impairments. In most cases we consider this in every intake and ask if depression or anxiety have worsened. But it’s important to also recall this when your physician asks questions or wants to evaluate your mood. Working together we can provide better, more integrated, care.

Integrated health providers are abounding. In fact, in a recent search for concierge doctors I discovered a vast majority of those who came up in the Google search were actually integrated health providers. These individuals, regardless of naturopathic, osteopathic, homeopathic, or traditional medical backgrounds also focused on the methods above as well as herbal treatments, eye color and characteristics, homeopathic treatments, and in some cases even spiritual care. Further evidence that as our health issues increase in the US, as well as the more we understand the head/heart and body/mind connections, the more we are considering balanced care from various methods and sources. These are but a few of the treatments available to you which we’ve found to be powerful adjunctive therapies to psychotherapy. With more awareness and a bit of perseverance we can heal both our body and our mind. Wynona Judd said a few years ago: “I learned again the mind-body-spirit connection has to be in balance”. So, too, must we consider our care providers and methods of treatment.

February: A Time for Love & Introspection

February is always an interesting month for me. Valentine’s Day usually comes first, with the focus on love and relationships. And for many Christians, Lent follows. This year there is a reverse to that as Lent began on February 10. Lent is a season of thoughtful awareness of self, sometimes including penance and preparation before the celebration of the memory of Christ’s rising at Easter. So there is a vast discrepancy between the two. Red is known as the color for the passion and love for and from others; and purple a somber reminder for preparation.

I think about our daily lives, our lives over a span of time, our development, and both passion and preparation are so often the woven threads that make up our being. Love, it even begins pre-birth, I think. A family member of mine and her husband have learned in recent months that they are going to have a baby. Talk about love and passion! They are so excited, as is the rest of the family. And that little one is already loved by his/her parents as well as by family. A marriage, when it occurs, brings love and celebration of love for a partnership. A friend of mine got married after many years last year, and the look on both of their faces was pure joy and excitement and love that afternoon! They’ve loved each other for years, but a marriage really solidified it and made a public record of it. I went to help a niece whose apartment had flooded a few weeks ago – again, such love we shared, although a very different kind, as we worked together to sort and make some order in all the movers had left after packing and moving her to a new apartment. Love extends us, it allows us to reach out and help, and it warms our heart. And, when lost, it brings a grief and pain like no other. Consider a woman who loses her husband, a daughter whose mother has died, a man whose fiancé has changed her mind. All of these are so painful and hard to face. And yet, one day a year we also surge with flowers, gifts, ribbons, candy, and red valentines trying to celebrate and mark our love for our closest others.

In Lent we have a different mix of love and pain. The love many have for their God, for the Christ who came to walk among us. And while that celebration comes in 40 days, the Lenten season is meant to help us remember just how blessed we are through the memory of Easter. And yet how painful the road was to that morning of joy. Have you ever dearly wanted to show another how much you love them; and yet they were unable to see that love, experience it, and take it in? Instead they turned away, they denied your relationship, or they chose to minimize the impact you have had on them? (Parents, surely you can identify with that!). Lent is that same experience of recalling denial, minimization, ways in which we fail or need to grow in life. One doesn’t have to be Christian to understand these experiences. Consider the Jewish period of introspection and atonement at Yom Kippur. Or the Islamic fasting that is an experience meant to show one’s vulnerability and neediness. All three also result in spiritual cleansing and joy of community (Korn, 2006). Perhaps by coming together we affirm perfection is not necessary, but growth and insight and love for each other are.

I would like to challenge each of you during this month of love and introspection to both love and grow. Perhaps the person you have the hardest time loving is yourself. If that is the case why not mark your desire to learn to love self by giving yourself a valentine on Sunday? Daily begin noting just how others are showing you they love you and respect you. Nobody shows you that? What about the friend who calls because they trust you to keep their confidence? Or the dog who comes to you and leans in when allowing you to pet them? Or the child who asks you for a hug? Or the elderly parent whose voice softens when they hear your voice on the phone? Or even the cashier who greets you in a friendly manner, recognizing you, and asks how you are doing? Each interaction shows a tiny bit of love coming through. One of my favorite poets is David Whyte. He speaks of love in the following way:

The true signature and perhaps even the miracle of human love is helplessness, and all the more miraculous because it is a helplessness which we wittingly or unwittingly choose; in our love of a child, a partner, a work, or a road we have to take against the odds.”
David Whyte, Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words

In this David speaks of the fact we are choosing vulnerability in love – as we choose to love someone or something by committing to it, we also allow ourselves to be hurt, to be blessed. Either way, we grow.

In a time of introspection such as a time of fasting or growth or Lenten time, we agree to enter into a time of growth as well. How are you holding yourself back from growing? Is it in being vulnerable and loving? I believe much of where I falter is essentially tied back to love. If I don’t trust, if I withhold, if I don’t take the time to learn, even if I don’t take the time to play, and instead live in fear or shame, I am not loving myself. I am withholding love and thus growing. I am refusing to develop my talents or understandings and thus shutting out potential love and growth. So as I face this Lenten period, my challenge to myself is to allow myself to grow and see through writing and reading the books I can put off as they might bring up growth. And in that pain, but eventually love. You might want to consider this as well, Christian, Jew, or Muslim, and regardless of your choice of spiritual walk. These are the books I plan to use:

The Four Elements by John O’Donohue (http://www.amazon.com/Four-Elements-Reflections-John-ODonohue/dp/0307717607/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1455211647&sr=1-1&keywords=the+four+elements+john+o%27donohue )

Lent and Easter Wisdom from Henri J.M.Nouwen by Judy Bauer (http://www.amazon.com/Lent-Easter-Wisdom-Henri-Nouwen/dp/0764812866/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1455211540&sr=1-1&keywords=lent+and+easter+wisdom )

The Lotus and the Lily: Access the Wisdom of Buddha and Jesus to Nourish Your Beautiful, Abundant Life by Janet Conner. (http://www.amazon.com/The-Lotus-Lily-Beautiful-Abundant/dp/1573245860)

May you find a sense of love for self, experience love from others and allow yourself to take it in, and have moments of introspection that are meaningful to you in the next 30 days.

Happy Valentine’s Day!!

lovedove