Everyday Grace

thoughts and inspiration on emotional health by colleen p. arnold

The Drama Queen’s Guide to Opening Up Without Bringing Everyone Down

As a therapist, I’m always trying to get people to open up to their friends, or make new friends with whom they can be honest. We’re social beings, we need each other, and countless studies have shown that people with a strong network of friends tend to be happier.

We have a couple of things working against us in learning how to create this network and use it, though. Maybe you heard from your parents that you should keep your problems to yourself, and you’re not supposed to talk to “outsiders” about what’s happening in your family.

Or maybe your friends seem to only want to have fun and laugh, and their eyes glaze over if you start talking about your problems.

Maybe you’ve opened up before only to have well-meaning friends jump in with their obvious solutions to your problems, – as if you haven’t already thought of them.

Closing yourself off from people who genuinely want to be supportive can make you feel lonely and isolated. But sometimes we forget that opening up to others is actually a skill that we need to learn. Here are some tips:

1. Know Your Audience

Trust the right people. If you find yourself consistently disappointed in your friends’ reactions, ask yourself why you keep opening up to them. Could it be you’re hoping to draw them in, make yourself feel closer to them by letting them in on your deepest, darkest secrets? Are you testing the friendship? Maybe you’re subconsciously convincing yourself that opening up is a bad idea by trusting people who are going to disappoint you, thereby proving your hypothesis that opening up isn’t safe.

Whatever the reason, open up to people whom you really feel to be trustworthy.  Don’t lay everything that’s going wrong in your life on a new group of people whom you’ve just met (unless it’s a group therapy session).

2. Timing is Everything

I probably don’t have to tell you that having a deep discussion or telling a friend what’s going on with you at a rave or a loud house party is a bad idea. Other bad times include: as your friend is walking out the door on the way to work; on the phone while you or your friend is at work; or when your friend is really tired and/or upset about something else.

3. Do It in Person, Not Over Text

Please, please, if you listen to nothing else, please believe me that you should not have any kind of emotional discussion over text. Texting is for “I’m going to be 5 minutes late,” or “I’m at the fountain in the quad.” It is NOT for “OMG I’m really falling apart….” kinds of talks.

For one thing, your friend is not going to be able to convey the support you’re looking for over texting, no matter how empathically they type. For another, really explaining confused and complex emotions is very difficult to do over text. It’s difficult to do in any kind of writing. Heck, it’s difficult when talking, so don’t make it harder on yourself by trying to communicate such things with a tiny keyboard and your thumbs.

4. Insert Some Positives

If you’re with a friend who accepts you unconditionally and loves you just as you are, great. They’ll probably be OK with a late night rant about how every single thing in your life sucks. When with everyone else, you can still be connected and receive support – but it’s a good idea to make sure you aren’t 100% negative in your sharing. Hardly any situation doesn’t have some light side, and hardly any stage of life is all dark. What blessings can you count? What are you grateful for? Be sure to balance your sharing with a few of these, and it will help you maintain your perspective, as well.

And even BFFs like to hear what’s going well, sometimes.  A friend of mine quotes something she learned from another friend, “”You can unload anything you want, but if you don’t share both good and bad, then you have to start paying me by the hour.”

5. Be Clear About What You Want From Them

If your friends jump in with problem solving, and all you want is some sympathy, you have to tell them that. You can’t get huffy, stalk away and sulk (Well, you can, but it’s not productive and it annoys your friends). It’s perfectly OK to say, “I know I’m whining, but I just need to vent for a minute.” Most friends will be relieved that you’re not making the problem theirs, and will be happy to sympathize.

If you feel like your friends are getting tired of hearing all your problems, maybe it’s time to ask them. You could be projecting your own discomfort with opening up onto them, and assuming that they’re more uncomfortable than they actually are.

On the other hand, maybe they feel like you’re complaining a lot without attempting to change anything. Either way, it’s a good idea to check in with them. But, be prepared for the answer and try not to feel too hurt. It’s actually the sign of a strong friendship that they can give you feedback without you reacting defensively. A friendship like that can make both of you feel safer and more supported.

Image courtesy of: Andy Bernay-Roman

How Do You Know it’s Love?

In my office, seeing as many 20-somethings as I do, I see a LOT of infatuation disguised as love. Most of the time, clients think they’re in love with someone with whom they’re actually infatuated.

I find it very difficult to tell someone, client or friend, that what they’re feeling is infatuation rather than love. First of all, they don’t believe me. Second, they tend to feel offended, as if being infatuated with someone is something to be ashamed of. But mostly, I think they’re disappointed. Infatuation sounds so shallow and temporary. They really WANT to be in love, and what they’re feeling is so strong, they figure it must be love.

How do you tell the difference? It’s not easy, especially since true love often starts out with infatuation. That’s the fun part – you think about this person all the time, you might fantasize about a future with them, you get all wiggly inside when you’re near them. You’d like to spend all your time with them. Your desire is strong, and your hands (among other body parts) want to be touching them all the time. You’re feeling giddy and happy – life is great.

Infatuation is quick and easy. It doesn’t take much work. Hopefully, the other person is infatuated with you, too. (If they’re not, what you have is a crush). You enjoy how much you have in common and are fascinated by the differences. Infatuation is awesome, fun and short-lived. You can prolong it by not having much contact with the other person (i.e. some long distance romances can never get beyond the infatuation stage).

True love is reciprocal. You can’t really “love” someone from afar, it has to be a dynamic interplay between two people to count as love.* (Again, if you do love someone from afar, what you probably have is a crush).

True love means you know the other person well and intimately. You know their faults, their lives and their histories. You know what makes your partner difficult to live with as well as what makes it worthwhile to be with them. You know what sets them off, and you know what makes them feel loved.

True love lasts through struggles. You’ve been through tough times with this person and know you can make it out the other side together. You know how to talk about your inner life, and you care about your partner’s inner life.  You trust this person, and you do your best to be trustworthy for them.

True love takes time. It’s a deeper connection than infatuation. You both care deeply about how the other feels. You are entwined in all aspects of each other’s lives, and you’ve met his/her family and friends. You face the world together, as partners. Everything else orbits around the two of you in the center.

Infatuation is fun. True love isn’t always fun, but it’s always worthwhile. And once you’ve had it, it will be easier to tell the difference. I’m interested in your opinion – what are other ways you can tell the difference between infatuation and love?

 

*or the three of you…etc. Yes, I think you can be in love with more than one person at once. As long as it’s consensual on everyone’s part and there’s no secrecy, who am I to judge? But that’s probably a whole different post…. 

Image credit: nyoin on Flickr

5 Ways to Tell if Someone’s NOT Your Friend

We’re still on the theme of making friends and creating lasting connections. Many people in their 20’s (and older) come to realize that the people they’ve hung out with for years, whom they called “friends,” aren’t really friends.

Of course, there are different levels of friendships. You can be acquaintances, or even friendly, with lots of people. I believe that for the most part, people are good, honest and caring. But the ones you let into your inner circle really need to be trustworthy. Here’s a short list of how to tell who isn’t:

1. You always get drunk (or stoned, or otherwise anesthetized) together. If you’re friends with someone, you can do more than one thing with them, and you enjoy being around them when you’re both sober, too. The tricky thing about these people is that when you’re both high, you might easily mistake them for friends and even think you love them.

2. They talk crap about people behind their backs but are friendly to their faces. If they do this to others, it’s a fairly safe bet they’ll do it to you, too.

3. Somehow, you always end up listening to their problems. This is a tricky one, because friends do listen to and support each other. But it has to be reciprocal. If you find yourself always listening to their drama, but they don’t seem to have time for yours, they’re not really your friend.

4. They try to change you. I don’t mean your stylish friend who has a really good eye and is great to go shopping with. I’m talking about the people who try to get you to listen to their music and are crushed when you don’t like it. Or, those who keep trying to get you to get involved with their hobbies, their sports and their travels even after you’ve explained you’re not interested. It’s one thing to want to share something they love with you, but if they can’t handle that you have different interests, they’re not looking for a friend, they’re looking for a mirror.

5. They flake often, with many excuses. The excuses are often good ones – ones you can’t argue with (or verify). You may even catch them in lies but they can come up with some convoluted explanation about why it’s not a lie. They somehow fall short of really making it up to you or taking full responsibility for their actions. If you find yourself saying, “That’s OK, I understand,” a lot, you need to rethink how much you can count on this person. Of course, sometimes people really do have lots of complications in their lives, and you can still be their friend. But if it seems to be never-ending, with one thing after another for a long period of time, or if you start noticing that they avoid taking opportunities to improve their situation, you might need to distance yourself a bit from their drama.

Not everyone is trustworthy, and trusting the wrong people is a really common mistake – we’ve all done it.  But if you start noticing these signs, let them inform your inner compass and just watch. You don’t necessarily have to call these people out and create a fight, but it might be wise not to share your innermost thoughts and feelings with them.

Image Credit: h. koppdelaney on Flickr

Why You Care What Other People Think (and Why That May Not Be All Bad)

ImageI hear a lot of people worrying “I care too much what other people think.”

First off, do you know what we call people who really, truly don’t care what others think? Anti-social psychopaths. So stop judging yourself. We’re social creatures, and the way we learn appropriate social behavior is that we see others reacting to us when we’re inappropriate. If we’re normal, we take that feedback and adjust accordingly. It’s a good feedback loop.

However….part of growing up is developing an identity and deciding what kind of person we want to be and what kind of life we want to create. And we don’t want other people making those decisions for us – especially as we get older.

What we have to realize is that almost everyone has their own agenda, which is usually to make themselves feel OK about their decisions. When others are judging you and your actions, it may be because they’re not OK with their own actions and are therefore using their judgments of you to make themselves feel better.

George Carlin had a great line about this: “Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?” It happens in parenting, too. Have you ever noticed that parents with stricter rules than you are control freaks, and parents with less strict rules “don’t know how to say no?”

The end result is that you’re going to get judged. That’s what people do. Deal with it. People who are more rigid than you are will think you’re a slacker. People who are less rigid than you will think you’re uptight. The only people who will think you’re perfect are the people who are doing it exactly the same way you are. And there’s no one who is going to do everything exactly the same way as you, so the bottom line is, no one is going to think you’re perfect all the time.

So….how do you stop letting the judgments of others dictate your behavior? Here are some questions to ask yourself:

1. What would I do if no one had to know? Let’s say you live in a bubble where you didn’t have to deal with anyone’s reaction to your decision. Would you drop out of law school and go weave textiles? Would you wear leggings and flip flops because they’re comfortable? Answering this question will give you an idea of where you authentically stand on an issue.

2. Do I agree with the people who might judge me? Let’s take two women with small children. One really doesn’t care how she looks as long as she’s comfortable. The other is the put-together, attractively styled mom who I have to admit I’ve been guilty of judging before, because I’m more like the former. But, both ways of being are perfectly legitimate.

The first might ask herself this question and conclude: “No, in fact, I don’t want to spend much energy deciding what to wear and doing my hair. It’s just not that important to me right now.” The other might think, “I know my friends think I’m vain. But it makes me feel happier and more productive when I know I look put together, so that’s what I’m choosing to do for myself. It’s how I take care of myself as a mom.” Both of these mothers should feel comfortable with their decision. Their decisions are authentic and honest.

But if these two women were considering office attire, it might be different. For example, someone who’s been accused of dressing too casually at the office might conclude: “These people have been in business a lot longer than I have. They think that wearing a suit reflects a certain amount of professionalism that’s important for clients to see. They may have a point. “

In another example, how about: “I’m sorry Mom and Dad are furious with me for not coming home for Christmas, but we have to be fair and spend at least one holiday with my in-laws. We’ll be with Mom and Dad for 2 weeks this summer and I think that’s fair.”

Or, “Mom and Dad are furious with me for not coming home for Christmas. They’re putting me through college and I haven’t been home in a year. They may have a point.”

3. Believe you can tolerate disapproval. No, really, it’s not going to kill you. If your relationship with whoever you’re worried about is strong enough, it will survive differences in opinion. If it isn’t strong enough, do you really want to live the rest of your life doing whatever this particular person thinks you should do? If you have thought through your decision, stand strong. You’re making your best guess about the right road to take, and that’s the best any of us can really do.

How Grownups Make Friends, Part II (5 Tips for Introverts)

1. Get out there. We all need our alone time, but you’re not going to meet new people in your living room. Be places. Get out of the carpool line, park a few blocks away and walk to pick up your kids. Notice the other parents. Make eye contact and smile. Take your kids to birthday parties and instead of dropping them off and leaving, stick around. Go to events. Accept invitations. Eat in the cafeteria instead of at your desk.

The “mere exposure effect” says that the more we see something, the more we like it. So the more your neighbors, co-workers, etc., see you out and about, the more positive feelings they’ll have toward you. Let people become used to seeing you and recognizing you.

2. Start conversations. This is the hardest thing for us introverts. But if you’re in close proximity with someone, there’s ALWAYS something around you that you can comment on. “Thank goodness it’s not raining on us as we stand out here.” “The clouds are beautiful today.” “Wow, look at that headline on the magazine in the grocery store.” “Where do you get your son’s hair cut? It looks great.” “Did you hear what he said about _________? I didn’t quite catch it.” Don’t sweat it if it turns into a short interaction and not a full conversation. If you have several short interactions with the same people, they will turn into conversations.
Try to stay positive. Unconsciously, people attribute traits to us based on what we say about other people or things. If the only thing you can think of to say is a complaint or something negative, try to insert humor into it. Making people laugh is always a good way to connect. Smile! Remember, other people are nervous, too, about starting conversations. Make it easier for them by asking questions they can easily answer (most people love to talk about themselves), and they’ll remember you as a friendly, kind person.

3. Join Groups. Most bookstores (the ones that are still around….sigh) have book groups for different interests. Meetup.com is a great place to find groups based around an interest. Volunteer for a cause you’re passionate about. Make sure that the groups are based on something you’ll enjoy even if you don’t find someone to click with. Sometimes activities are worthwhile to do just for the sake of doing them. Plan activities and invite people you think might be interested. One thing that’s worked for me is planning to do something I already planned to do, like visit an outlet or take a short hike, and inviting one person who might be interested to come with me. If they decline, nothing’s lost because I was going to do it anyway.

4. Be Selective. Talk to as many people as you can, but be selective about those with whom you pursue friendships. Make sure you’ve enjoyed those conversations, and that you have a feeling the person might be trustworthy. Pursue those who say nice things about other people and don’t talk behind people’s backs (remember – the way people treat others is the way they’ll eventually treat you). Choose those with similar interests. Friends of friends have great potential because you already have something (or someone) in common.
5. Courage! Fight your urge to run and hide. You don’t have to turn into a complete extrovert to make friends, but if you make a goal to do one thing each day that connects with someone new, you’ll be well on your way to making new friends without too much stress. Take a break and congratulate yourself for each new step you take. It does get easier with practice, I promise.

How Grownups Make Friends

I’ve been really lucky with friends. Although I consider myself shy and rather introverted, I’ve collected friends from each job I’ve had and each school I went to. I’ve also made at least a few friends with each school my children have attended. I wish I had more time to connect in person with my friends, and too much of the connecting is done via social networking like Facebook, but it’s comforting to know that the mutual friendship is still there.

But one of the problems my clients bring up most often is, how do you make friendships as adults? As children, we’re thrown into a class with anywhere from 20-40 other kids our age, and sometimes we find like-minded kids to hang out with, and sometimes we find ourselves hanging out with whoever will hang out with us. There’s not a lot of choice in the matter, but this is the ground where we learn how to make and keep friendships.

As adults, we often have workplaces where we might meet some people we could see ourselves spending time with outside of work, but often, the people you spend the entire day with are not the people you want to see on the weekend, too. When we have kids, we end up waiting during dance class or soccer, with the same people each week, so it’s easy to strike up a conversation. It’s even easier if your kids get along and want playdates. But, sometimes we don’t click with the other parents or they don’t have the time or space for new friends.

So how do you make friends? A popular blogger and writer (her “Woman’s Comfort Book” is required reading for any woman who’s not sure how to take care of themselves), Jennifer Loudon, recently posed this question to her circle, and came up with some great ideas: Find Your Tribe.

I also posed this question to some of my friends, and they also came up with similar ideas:

  • I moved to a small town in NH alone, and I just went to the small shops and diners, read their newsletter to find activities, went to the nature preservation society and volunteered to help clear the trails. The library. Stuff like that.
  • Church. Moms group. Kid’s activities. Take a class at the community college.
  • Through message boards/common interests
  • Volunteering, joining team sports leagues/gym (and then talking to people and inviting them to activities), joining a church. Taking classes at the local college or through parks and recreation (photography, karate, salsa dancing, cooking classes, art classes etc)
  • Also, meetup.com is an excellent resource in any area.
  • Talk to your neighbors, and it might not happen on the first try, so don’t give up.

So, basically, you go where you like to go, and you look around for other people who like to go to those places, too.

But once you get there, how do you start the conversation? How do you actually form a friendship? Stay tuned….that’s next week’s topic.

The New 20’s – Young Adulthood or Extended Adolescence?

My boys and I have been watching “Downton Abbey,” a Masterpiece Theater series on PBS. The lord’s valet, Mr. Bates, and the daughter’s maid, Anna, had what we might think of as a crush on each other until Anna blurted out “I love you!” on an outdoor walk. I remember thinking, “How on earth does she know she loves him?” He proposed to her in the same breath that he asked her to call him by his first name. In another storyline, one of the lord’s daughters has been visiting with another aristocrat, and although they don’t know each other that well, hopes he’ll ask her to marry him at their outdoor party.

Since I’ve been researching the time of life between 18-30 years recently, I’m struck by how differently the individuals think of their futures. Of course, back in the early 20th century, even until fairly recently, women had few options available to them except to get married and raise a family. Young men often knew exactly what profession they’d be going into before graduating high school. Going to college was more unusual than it is today, and was seen as a means to pursue a particular career path where higher education was necessary, such as law or medicine.

It’s such a different landscape now. Now about 2/3 of all high school graduates attend college, and most entering freshman don’t know what career path they want to pursue. Even when I attended college back in the 1980’s, most students had decided by their junior year what career they wanted. Now, it’s not uncommon for college students to graduate and still be undecided. Many switch between jobs in various fields and don’t settle on a career until their late 20’s. They are marrying later, having children later, and using the decade of the 20’s to explore more relationship and career options than most of us even imagined.

What is adulthood? Sociological research, in general, defines adulthood as a time of financial independence and responsibility, marriage and parenthood. What we used to think of as the transition to adulthood, the late teens, is really now more of an extended adolescence.

Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, at Clark University in Massachusetts, has proposed that we start thinking of the time of the 20’s as a distinctive developmental period which he terms, “emerging adulthood.” He says this is a time that bridges adolescence and young adulthood, usually between 19-25, although it can reach until 29. He doesn’t like the term “young adults,” because emerging adults have usually not completed the tasks of adulthood.  Also, the term “young adults” has been used so much to refer to teenagers (such as in the “young adult” section of bookstores) that it isn’t descriptive anymore. He also rejects “transitioning into adulthood,” because that term focuses on the stage afterward, and not on the developmental tasks right in the moment.

While this time of life can be exhilarating and full of possibilities, it is also charged with instability and uncertainty. Emerging adults are more concerned with fulfillment and satisfaction than the generations before them, and tend to be more self-focused than any other age of post-childhood development. On the other hand, so many possibilities can be overwhelming, and relationship upheaval can be discouraging. Choices can be much harder to make when you’ve got too many options. Many people aren’t sure anymore when to call themselves an adult, and find the difficulty of breaking into financial independence very frustrating.

Also, the mental health challenges that this new phase brings us can’t be ignored. According to NIMH, the suicide rate among 20-24 year olds is higher than the national average. This time of life can be wonderful, but it can also be a time of debilitating anxiety, self-doubt and alcohol and drug abuse.

As therapists, we need to acknowledge the difference in this stage of life, help our clients embrace it for all of its possibilities, but also help them not get weighed down by indecision and lack of direction.

Note: If you’re between the ages of 20-30, and live in San Mateo or Foster City, CA, there’s a resource to help you pay for private counseling. See The Ben Fund for details. I’m happy to have signed on to be a therapist for them.

5 Things a Cold Can Teach You About Life

So I was feeling quite cocky about my superior immune system last week when both boys

This isn't me. But it's how I feel.

came down with a cold and I seemed to escape it. Boy, I must be in excellent health! That neti pot really works – how clever am I to use it faithfully! Then, yesterday, it all came tumbling down and I got the fever, chills, and horrible cough with chest pain. When Nyquil failed me and I lay awake and feverish last night, I realized there are several life lessons we get hammered with when felled by a virus. You can credit this post to my fever.

1. We are not in control. Oh sure, there are many things we can control, and we do have a lot of power over how our life turns out. But the BIG stuff, like which lifetime smokers get cancer and which don’t, which of your kids will have a passionate temperament and which will be mellow,  and when a virus will hit your lungs with the power of a thousand razor blades – we don’t have any control over that. The only thing we can do is remember the Serenity Prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference,” and do our best to roll with the waves.

2. Always carry a handkerchief. This is a two-part lesson: be prepared and be conscious. I used to always carry paper tissues, but after I had a son who, like me, is allergic to air, we probably filled our own landfill with used Kleenex. I switched to soft cotton handkerchiefs and have never looked back. Softer on the delicate nose, easy to wash and much less messy, I am taking care of my nose and the earth at the same time. This is the sort of tightrope we always have to walk – how to reconcile our needs with the earth’s diminishing resources. Also, you never know when your nose will run or you’ll need to mop up a spill. It’s best to be prepared.

3. Never forget that your perception is only that. This one came to me last night as I lay freezing under the down comforter, despite my sweatshirts and the hot-pack I had wrapped around my feet. I could not believe how cold I was. I begged my husband not to turn down the heat as we usually do at night. I was bone-cold, but no one else was. The house wasn’t cold at all, but something was happening inside of me to make it seem that way. Check your perceptions. Stack the down comforters on yourself if you need to, but remember that not everyone else is experiencing the same thing. Alcoholics Anonymous, those creators of pithy sayings, use the acronym FEAR: False Evidence Appearing Real.

4. The world will go on. I use this often with my clients who absolutely can’t take time for themselves because they have so much to do and so many people relying on them. Being responsible is great. But I ask them, “What if you were hospitalized with pneumonia? What would happen?” Usually they recognize that others would step in to do their job, step in to feed the children (maybe not the healthiest meals that you would cook for them, but still. The kids aren’t going to starve) and maybe even a few events would get postponed. I feel terribly guilty cancelling a whole days’ worth of client sessions, but I’ve never actually had anything horrible happen because I did. I have, however, had clients look at me very concerned, and help themselves liberally to the hand sanitizer, because I was clearly sick and still working.

5.  This too shall pass. How long will my chest feel like it’s on fire? Not that long. How long will babies wake up and feed every 3 hours? Not that long. I know it seems like forever when you’re in the moment. I remember someone saying of a child’s early years, “The years fly by, but some of the days last an eternity.”  I do not do sick well. I am a 9 on the Enneagram, and we like to be comfortable. Being sick is definitely not comfortable. Patience is key. Faith is key. Things always change – change is really the only constant in life. Things get better, then they get worse, then they get better again. See Number 1 and do your best to roll with the waves.

Zen, Sad Movies and Depression Relapse

Acceptance and non-resistance is a basic tenet of many spiritual traditions, and it appears it may have a biological component as well.

One of the more unhappy statistics about depression is that it has a very high rate of relapse. If you’ve had one Major Depressive Episode, you’re about 5 times more likely to have another one than someone who hasn’t. Add to this the “kindling effect,” or the probability that you will need a higher dose of medication to relieve relapses than you did initially, and it can be, well, depressing.

But not everyone has a relapse, so is there anything we can point to that separates those who relapse from those who don’t? Like almost everything in psychology, there’s no definitive answer, but there is interesting research that suggests that how you respond to sad situations can prevent a relapse. Cognitive psychologists have long known that how you respond to situations is key and Buddhists have long suggested that acceptance of pain is the path to enlightenment and the resistance of pain only leads to suffering….and these MRIs of brain activity certainly seem to support that.

Researchers took patients that had been diagnosed with Major Depression, but were in remission, and scanned their brain activity while they watched a sad movie. Then they tracked those patients and recorded who had a relapse down the road and who did not.

The patients that were more likely to have a relapse had a lot of activity in their frontal cortex while watching the sad movie. The frontal cortex is associated with high level thinking, but also rumination, or obsessive thinking about bad events and feelings. The patients who did not have a relapse had more activity in the back of the brain, associated with visual processing. These patients were thought to have more acceptance of their feelings and less judgment towards them.

One of the best supervisors I ever had told me, “It’s your job to teach clients to have fewer judgments towards their feelings and more curiosity.” That was incredibly powerful for me to hear, for myself as well as for my clients. Although in therapy we often spend a great deal of time trying to figure out why we feel a certain way, sometimes you just have to accept it, flow with it and have faith that, like everything else, it will change into something else. Ironically, it seems that being able to do that is a conduit to actually helping it change.

 We who have faced Major Depression often feel like we’re constantly looking over our shoulders for the dark cloud to return. I have nightmares where I’m falling back into the hole, only to wake up and be relieved to find that the nightmare isn’t real. It’s natural to be afraid that when we’re in a blue mood, it’s a sign of a relapse. So what can you do to accept
sadness and not resist it?

  • Use a mantra. When I find myself over-thinking my moods, I like Hildegard Von Bingen’s quote, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” It’s not a profession of false optimism, it’s a repetitive mantra based on my faith that this too, shall pass. Maybe you need a single word, like “Peace,” or “Faith,” or even “Om.” Anything that will counteract the over-analyzing we tend to do can work.
  • Remember that everyone has sad times. It’s a necessary part of the human condition, and can function to make you appreciate the good times more. The good times will come back…they always do. Just because you’re feeling sad is no reason to panic.
  • Wallow. One trick I suggest to my clients who are terrified of their sadness is to wallow in it for no more than half an hour. Set a timer, and just feel as sad as you possible can for that half hour. Letting yourself tolerate the feelings for a set amount of time can teach you that you can do it, and they won’t drag you down into the black hole again. If you start feeling less sad before the half hour is over, fine. Tell yourself “OK, I guess that’s the end of that,” and be done with it. I also recommend this to people who feel guilty or afraid of self-pity. Go ahead and wallow in it for half an hour. Most people can’t keep it up for the whole time, and  move on.

 

 

 

Original source: Norman A.S. Farb, Adam K. Anderson, Richard T. Bloch, Zindel V. Segal. Mood-Linked Responses in Medial Prefrontal Cortex Predict Relapse in Patients with Recurrent Unipolar DepressionBiological Psychiatry, 2011; DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2011.03.009

Fantasies of Being Thin

From way back when I was a little girl to my early 30’s, I had a very definite idea of what I wanted to look like at my wedding. I imagined walking regally down the aisle in my tall, elegant sheath. When I actually got engaged and tried on wedding dresses, they didn’t look anything like what I’d imagined. I looked in the mirror and realized that I had failed to take into account the fact that I was only five feet tall and rather busty. Either I had been imagining that the act of putting on a wedding gown would cause me to grow 7 inches and lose several cup sizes, or I was imagining someone else in that wedding dress instead of myself.

I had to reassess myself and my body, and go find some different, less sheath-like gowns, and realize that even on my wedding day, I was still going to be the shortest adult there.

What do you imagine life will be like after you reach your goal weight? I am a huge believer in visualization, and in the past I have visualized myself at whatever weight or size I deemed at that time to be “thin.” But sometimes visualization can work against you, as evidenced by the things I seemed to think would happen when I could wear those size 6 shorts:

  1. I would spend a lot more time outdoors.
  2. I would be far more graceful.
  3. I would kayak and go camping regularly.
  4. I would be tanner.
  5. I would be happier.
  6. I would be calmer.
  7. I would be smiling most of the time.
  8. I would stand at the edge of cliffs and not worry that the wind might be pressing the dress against my protruding stomach.  (???… I think I must have gotten that one from a magazine spread.)
  9. I would be good at sports.
  10. I would look more tousled and sexy in the morning instead of caffeine-deprived and drooly.

I eventually realized that if I really wanted to kayak regularly, I should go do it now instead of waiting for some magic number to appear on the scale. Turns out I enjoy the random kayak trip, but it’s not something I even want to do regularly.

I’m never going to tan. I’m an Irish redhead. Deal with it. Losing weight is also probably not going to make me less of a klutz or make me smile all the time. And even when my mother weighed 95 lbs., she had a potbelly that I inherited, and really, how often do I stand on the edge of cliffs in filmy dresses?

Take a good look at what you imagine life will be like when you reach your goal: What parts of your fantasies are realistic (finishing a ½ marathon, having more stamina) and what parts aren’t (being so much more satisfied with your life’s routines than you are now). What’s your version of suddenly turning 5’7”?

Imagine what it’s really going to look like when you reach your goal. What’s your routine going to be like? If you’re focusing on increasing healthy habits and decreasing unhealthy ones, it should look pretty much the same as it does now. Live as if you’re already there, and stop waiting for the magic day when the scale says what you hope for. Research has shown repeatedly that focusing on weight loss doesn’t create lasting results – but changing lifestyle habits, being healthy and loving your life right now does.

Also posted at: Sisterhood of the Shrinking Jeans

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