I have a friend who has said more times than I can count over the past few years,
“I hate our timeline,” and every single day I feel that deep in my soul. The compounding events happenings in our world and our country are becoming terrifyingly common. We call for change at the local, national, and international levels and the lack of action that follows is embarrassing.
I was a freshman in high school when the Columbine shooting happened. I remember so clearly watching the news, seeing the outrage then – over 24 years ago. Everyone said, “This can’t happen again”, “There were warning signs with those individuals,” “we must be better,” and “we have to be better for our kids, we have to protect them”. Flash forward to the school shooting that was so very close to home for me – Sandy Hook. I remember the collective pain we all felt almost 11 years ago, over a decade after Columbine, and it feels like “this has to be it”. I couldn’t believe that this could be happening in my state, and I truly thought that would have been the moment for change because babies were gunned down in their elementary school classrooms. I thought that just maybe that would have been enough for people who have power to turn their hearts away from their self-interest and instead toward the lives that are being lost senselessly and repeatedly. But how naïve I was, if Columbine wasn’t enough, if Virginia Tech wasn’t enough, why would Sandy Hook have been enough?
This is not to discount all the shootings that have happened OUTSIDE of schools. My hometown of Manchester, CT was faced with its own mass shooting in 2010 when a man opened fire on his coworkers at Hartford Distributors. Where can we feel safe in this country? We are supposed to be the greatest country in the world, and we are failing one another. We have seen mass shootings in workplaces, schools, churches, grocery stores, Walmart stores, concerts, factories, and now restaurants and bowling alleys… the list goes on and on and will keep going on and on until we create real change. This is a true and complete failure and only shows what people find important behind closed doors even if they are saying something different out loud. The inaction of our country around these atrocities is the loudest thing that we all should be paying the most attention to in the coming day and weeks.
So what does this mean for me, and why am I, as a therapist writing something about this on my mental health blog? There are a few reasons why. Firstly, we are amidst another highly televised, most likely preventable mass shooting and I know for the next few days this is going to be a significant topic of conversation in my sessions. This shooting is also personally a more difficult event for me to process because it hits uncomfortable close as both my husband and I have family that call Lewiston home. Secondly, it’s the script that follows each of these events that makes it important for me to not be quiet. My ability to predict what will happen and will be said over the next few days should be alarming to you all too. And I am begging for this experience to prove me wrong.
We begin with outrage, fear, sadness, and for some reason disbelief (this keeps happening, how are people still pretending that they are surprised?). We hear, “This is horrible, how can this happen AGAIN”, or “How can this happen in my hometown, in my country.”
Then we get to the oh so important “thoughts and prayers,” that will last for a few days. We send this love to the victims, their family, their friends, and society and humanity. What people must realize though is these thoughts and prayers spoken out loud and posted on social media mean nothing. They are EMPTY without action. If you and your elected officials do nothing, those “thoughts and prayers” that you are posting online are a slap in the face to the victims.
After the meaningless and empty regurgitation of the same “thoughts and prayers,” the voices who speak up say “we have to do something about this, we can’t let this happen again.”
Every single time I think, this is going to be the time, this will be it, this will be the moment where we FINALLY say enough is enough.
Then, the person is identified or hopefully apprehended, sometimes he is killed by law enforcement or found dead by self-inflicted wounds. We collectively have some relief, we temporarily feel safer because that one individual is no longer out there, terrorizing us as we worry waiting to see what he does next. Finally, we can act. We can DO something. We do not need to focus on the manhunt. We can look to understand then create policies that can elicit change.
Unfortunately, I am always proven wrong. My hopes are shattered. We find out there were warning signs. There were ways this could have been prevented. The focus is directed away from common sense gun laws by those who don’t want them to something else that feels “easier” to blame so these politicians do not have to get their hands dirty or go against the groups that are padding their pockets. Often a history of mental health issues surfaces. And, of course, I love the idea of a focus on mental health treatment. We have some surface discussions about what can happen next to help the mental health crisis that our country is facing.
But then, as the news cycles change, the mental health piece gets lost. I can tell you as a mental health provider in this country, providing care only gets more difficult. Many insurance companies are fighting us tooth and nail about covering care. Some are even trying to reduce our reimbursement. If the conclusion of all these mass shootings is that mental health is at the root of the problem, why are we making it harder for providers to do their jobs? If we know there is a history of warning signs, why do we as mental health providers not have any power to do anything about these signs that we see? I am not allowed to force a client who is suicidal to go to the hospital, and I am not allowed to report a client that I think might be unsafe to society unless that person makes a direct threat to a specific person or group of people. Make it make sense!
There is also the hypocrisy of people stating they support police, but don’t support common sense guns laws. And the fact that people turn a blind eye to their own hypocrisy to focus on their own self-interests. Our country elects officials that refuse to do anything about this, while also claiming to care about their fellow man and fellow Americans. Their claim to be Christians truly makes me sick to my stomach and I feel an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. You cannot be pro-life while continuing to turn a blind eye to all this that is happening around you, that only makes you pro-birth.
I want you all to know though, that if you are feeling that same way I am feeling it means that you are human. If you are feeling sick, you are feeling hopeless, you are feeling overwhelming dread, its because you are human and YOU care about other people. It would be more alarming if you were not feeling these things while we are all sitting here together thinking about the lives that were lost and the families that will never be the same. If you are NOT feeling these things in some way, shape or form today, it is time for some reflection on what is important to you and why.
So, I challenge you all to really reflect on what you have power to do. Election day is less than 2 weeks away. Which side will you be on when it comes to life and death?
Today is World Arthritis Day, and it’s my first since being diagnosed with Psoriatic Arthritis this past year. As this day comes it has made me reflect a bit on my own journey and the journey of those with chronic pain and chronic illness and how these are connected to mental health as well.
Chronic pain has been described as a silent disability. Most people, if they look at me or at someone else with something like PsA or RA, would have no idea that something so painful is going on internally. When you look at me, you don’t necessarily see my pain because my joints aren’t all visibly swollen. When I walk, I try to mask the pain in my joints and adapt to a different gait because walking just around my house can feel like I’m walking on shards of glass. I make excuses for taking an escalator or elevator because sometimes my knees feel too stiff to think about stairs. Even my psoriasis (thank goodness) is in a place that is not visible to others. There are also so many symptoms involved in an illness like mine that people would never connect to a joint disorder. When I have told people that I am on this new journey, it has even been dismissed as “just arthritis” and I want to say to them yeah, I wish that was the case. Not only are my joints themselves painful, the tendons and ligaments around them are inflamed as well, which feels excruciating. I’m exhausted some days in a way that I cannot even begin to describe and beyond just a bad night’s sleep. I don’t sleep sometimes either, as either the pain keeps me awake or wakes me up, or insomnia just takes over. I get anxious when I travel wondering what sleeping in a bed other than my own might do to my functionality. I have brain fog, I get distracted, I get anxiety, and my mood can be affected too.
Living with something like this can create anxiety, social isolation, and even depression. I’m faced with decision fatigue as I work through deciding to participate in activities or not. I can injure myself or cause a flare easily by overdoing things which creates anxiety about making decisions – do I exercise because I know my body needs it and it will make me feel better, or do I listen to my body when it is telling me it needs a rest? All things I love – cooking, exercising, hiking, walking, crocheting, travelling – are affected in a way I could never have imagined. The tasks involved in taking care of myself, my home, my yard all feel so much bigger than they did before and I have to weigh out the pros and cons of every decision I make regarding every task I am faced with.
One of the most complicated parts of living with chronic pain is how it is dismissed in our world and how as a woman I am even more likely to be dismissed than a man presenting with the same symptoms to the same doctors. I was injured in a car accident when I was in high school and had to have two back surgeries which has led to significant chronic back issues. For years pain was attributed to this injury and doctors struggled to get beyond the saying of when you hear hoofbeats, think horses and not zebras. I would go to doctors explaining how I had pain in joints throughout my body for no reason and was told there was nothing that could be done. I even had a doctor who told me that my pain was just something I was going to have to deal with for the rest of my life and that I would just have to “deal”. I was told to exercise more, lose weight, change my diet, meditate. It felt as though these doctors were treating my pain as somatization, and not listening to me. As a mental health professional, sitting in that room, I was appalled and as a human being I was devastated. I know pain, I know broken back in four places pain, and I was being dismissed.
Because of this dismissal by the professionals, I would dismiss my own pain too. I would pretend that my pain wasn’t as bas as it was. If the doctors thought my symptoms were somatic, why wouldn’t I? I would blame myself, I would push through pain, doing the things they would tell me would make things better, only to make it worse. I would get caught in a cycle that just kept feeding into itself, creating more pain, making me feel worse and worse about myself and who and what I was in the world.
It took me continuing to advocate for myself, to say that I was not okay once I finally admitted it to myself. It took me drawing connections between the different pain I had, the overwhelming fatigue, and the brain fog. It took my hairdresser finally telling me the psoriasis on my head was not okay and that I should see a dermatologist and then that female dermatologist hearing me and validating my pain and telling me I need to see my rheumatologist. It took my rheumatologist doing more bloodwork and seeing how bad my inflammation markers were.
I tell you this story not to get your sympathy or even your empathy. I tell you this story so that if you are experiencing or have experienced something similar that you know you are not alone. I tell you this story to hopefully help you find strength to keep advocating for yourself and to not allow dismissal to be your only answer.
Hello, my name is Kristina and I’m a perfectionist. This can also read as control freak, overachiever, rule follower, problem solver, procrastinator, or even annoying wife. Also, what I have come to realize is that my perfectionism doesn’t just affect me, but it also affects my work, my relationships, and even my health at times.
The past year or so has been tough for me and while I am not going to get into all of that here, the levels of discomfort in not being enough has been overwhelming and even paralyzing for me. I have even struggled with getting myself to write a post because I wasn’t sure how “perfect” I could make it with everything else running through my brain and therefore in my own black-and-white-thinking way, I prevented myself from putting any words together. I thought about it often, but I allowed my own self-doubt to create a pattern of procrastination that kept putting it off until “things were better” and I could get as close to perfect as I thought I needed to be.
I have been someone who has put pressure on myself my whole life to do things exactly how they are meant to be. I am the product of a Catholic school education where we followed rules. When I was young, my parents had to console me and tell me that it was ok when I didn’t do things perfectly or if I didn’t get all the As, and that if I tried my best that was all that mattered. I struggled when my best was not perfect because in my mind that meant I was not good enough.
I get anxious when I see things that don’t look or feel right, and sometimes even struggle to distract my brain from them even when they have nothing to do with me. I feel discomfort when things do not feel as though they are in the right place, or done the right way. When anything is incomplete, to be decided, or up in the air I feel an overwhelming feeling of disquiet. When I get caught in these thoughts, I want to find a solution and my brain goes through all possible fixes until I come up with what I think is the right way to move forward. This gets even further complicated when I do not have control of these things because then the feelings of hopelessness and helplessness mix in with my discomfort and my brain feels like it might explode.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I do pride myself in the fact that I am a problem solver. This is something I like about myself. But this is a double-edged sword because I find validation in my ability to fix things but then my brain never stops trying to solve problems because I want that continued validation and I get frustrated by situations that cannot be fixed. I see something and immediately my brain starts creating 10 different options for how to make this thing that I can so obviously see isn’t working, better. Unfortunately for people like me, who have a brain like mine, when solutions cannot be found it feels very unsettling and completely exhausting.
So yes, innately being a problem solver, being a go-getter, or being a perfectionist is a really good thing. I think being able to see big pictures and opportunities for change and to make things better is a true strength of mine. I think I am the therapist I am because I can see the system (that is the relationships that they have with people and how those relationship impact them and vice versa) that my clients are in, and I begin to form hypotheses for how things could be different without even realizing it. I love being able to help and support my friends and family in my personal life as well. I like being someone who others can lean upon and know that I can help to find fixes for their struggles too.
This mindset can create struggles for those of us in this unlucky club because we also do not know how to say no. We THRIVE on others knowing we can and will do our best job at all tasks and will help them in all ways. We define the love language of “words of affirmation”. Because of this, in our jobs, relationships, everywhere, people know they can ask us to do things, that we will volunteer to do things, and we will put 100% (or more) into them. Because of this, we are always presented with opportunities to do more as well. This can lead to people like me being taken for granted or even worse taken advantage of. We create patterns in our relationships from work to friends to family in which people always lean on us and we don’t always feel like we can lean the other way.
My fellow perfectionists and I can also struggle, with how we project our perfectionism onto others because we feel as though if we can give our all, others can and should do the same. What we must realize is that our “all” is typically more than we actually have to give and in the same way we might see others setting boundaries, we have to follow suit. We keep pouring from our own cup until we are empty, but we don’t always have people there who are willing to refill it. We need to set boundaries with people who are unwilling to give anything at all. We must see our worth, recognize how others are taking advantage of our drive, and realize that the relationship and the patterns are no longer healthy for us or creating balance in our lives. We must focus on the people who give back to us and fill our lives with those people.
We also need to accept that there truly is no such thing as perfect. Nothing can be or will ever be perfect. Perfect is a snapshot in the everchanging world we live in. Perfect is the picture we put on social media for others to see that prevents us from seeing the beauty in movement of the things around us and accept that the beauty is in the imperfect. Perfect is the thing that prevents us from showing others our true, anxious, work in progress, inner selves. We must accept what is truly out of our control.
Throughout my life I have been thrown some curve balls that couldn’t be caught, couldn’t be handled, couldn’t be hit. When those curve balls have come my way, I have really had to reflect on what it means to accept that I might not be able to do things in the perfect way my mind wants and pictures.
I have had to accept that I cannot always know what is going to come next, what the outcome is going to be, and that not everything is something we can prepare for. Trauma has an effect on us that often leads to some of these patterns I have talked about. When we go through trauma, our brains decide that under no circumstances do we ever want to go through anything even remotely similar to that trauma ever again. This is often where the idea of trying to control all things comes from. We want to control all things to prevent anything like the trauma from happening because we can’t be sure where the next trauma might come from. We have all-or-nothing thoughts that permeate all our actions, decisions, thoughts, and relationships.
So let’s work on letting go of the idea of perfect.
Let’s recognize our limits.
Let’s see our strengths, but also our weaknesses.
Let’s embrace our imperfections as things that make us unique and special.
Let’s see our scars as part of our journey.
Let’s find the people who want to fill our cups back up.
Let’s give ourselves grace.
Let’s let ourselves rest.
Let’s be happy with who we are.
It feels like the overwhelming theme of sessions recently has been an underlying layer of existential dread. This dread is typically founded upon personal experiences that disrupt our sense of reality and overall purpose. But now in our current world circumstances, instead of the dread being rooted in personal experiences it is solidly rooted in the goings on of the country and world at large. We are spiraling in a state of hopelessness as we are faced with real threats in all areas of our world, and it feels like that spiral is leading directly into a rabbit hole of fear, helplessness, anger, and deep sadness. We are questioning our meaning, our purpose, and especially our future which is affecting our ability to work through our depression, our anxiety, and the heaviness of all that is being thrown at us. Things that felt so certain before no longer feel that way and we are beginning to recognize that some things we once took for granted are no longer even a reality.
The mental health struggles we had before, or ones that may have come up since the disruption of the security, safety, and stability that some of us once felt is being exacerbated by the chaotic world we are living in, and we are struggling with how to resolve work through our personal struggles and traumas in a world that feels so uncertain. Those of us who feel different levels of privilege are struggling with how to both make sense of how we may find ourselves in what feels like a “lucky” position, while feeling out of control and out of options for how to help or save others. Fear and anxiety are at an all-time high as polarization becomes more extreme in our country and we are struggling with how to find our way back toward necessary connections and to somehow find healing. We are trying to figure out how to work together against so many of the threats that are coming from all sides.
So, just like you, and so many of my clients. I am deep in my feelings about all of this. As I talk with my clients, I empathize, and I try to help them to find options for trying to survive in all of this. I wanted to share with you some of the things I have come up with. I know this list is not exhaustive, nor does it fix the larger issues that are creating the weight, but I hope something on this list can help you, even just a little bit, to feel like some of the weight has been lifted.
1. Stay informed, but make sure you don’t allow yourself to get flooded.
In 2022, we always have ALL the information at our literal fingertips. We are constantly being bombarded with news being thrown at us from all angles. We turn the TV on and there are channels upon channels with 24 hours of news. We go on social media, and we are faced with clips, posts, and opinions about what is going on in our world and these posts are posted and reposted ad nauseam. It is a lot. Staying informed is so important – sticking our heads in the sand will not make the atrocities of the world go away and like all avoidance tactics, once we are hit with the reality of things after attempts to ignore them, they will feel even heavier than if we allowed ourselves to absorb them as they come. The important thing here is to stay informed while preventing flooding. Flooding is when we are faced with the maximum level of triggers and information at the same time, and this often leads to shutting down and shutting out. The focus needs to be on identifying reputable sources and limiting the amount of time spent taking in the information. This is how to make sure we are knowledgeable, while also allowing ourselves space away from it as well.
2.Curate your social media and unfollow accounts that can be triggering for you.
As I said above, remaining informed is important. We should all be sure to stay informed about what is going on in our country and in our world and then how those things will affect us in our lives. There are real things happening and those real things can and will have a real impact on our lives now and in the future and therefore cannot and should not be ignored. We also know that many of us get our information from social media but that the accounts we follow can be inaccurate, flooding, and triggering. Check the accounts you follow – does it provide accurate informed information? If not, unfollow them. Do you feel flooded by the number of accounts you follow that are focused on political topics? If so, select the ones that are most important, most accurate, and most interesting to you, and unfollow the rest. Having thirty accounts sharing the same stories, same posts, and same memes is unnecessary and can lead to feeling flooded by repeated triggers. Are you feeling triggered by your social media when you want it to be a place to escape to and distract yourself from the topics that feel overwhelming? Limit yourself and set timers on your phone for how much time you can spend each day on social media. Snooze the accounts that are most triggering and let your social media be a place to see videos of dogs, how tos, friends, family, and anything else that you find relaxing. Curate your social media to your needs and create a space that is healthiest for you.
3.Take control of what you can and allow yourself to let go of what you can’t.
Wars, the insurrection and the threat of civil war, wildfires and the larger issues of global warming, global pandemics, social injustices, racism and racial inequality, mass shootings, threats to women’s rights and healthcare, threats to healthcare access in general, threats to LGBTQI rights and marriage equality, inflation, economic crisis and a threat of a recession or depression, and on and on and on. When you think of all these things happening at one time, it is amazing that any of us are surviving the way we are. This is overwhelming and it is truly impossible for any one person to take complete control and create change in all these areas, especially all at once. The weight of the helplessness to make change can feel heavy and hopeless when we think about how small we are individually in this big world we live in. What you CAN do is identify what you actually can do. Figure out ways to make change, figure out how to take action that feels manageable and doable and let go of any guilt you may feel for not doing more. One person cannot fix everything, but what one person can do can begin a ripple effect outward into the world. Recognize and honor that.
4.Focus on making small changes – the ripple effect can be real.
As I said above, focus on what you can change. Identifying ways to create change in your home, in your community, and in your workplace can have a ripple effect on others around you. Raise kind, loving, and accepting children. Challenge friends and colleagues that threaten the rights, liberties, and freedoms of others from an informed and supportive place. Making changes in choices in your home that can be impactful for the environment. Write letters, support non-profits, volunteer. No act is too small, but no action will contribute to feeling overwhelmed and most likely increase feelings of guilt.
5.Acknowledge your privilege but try not to feel guilty about it.
We must recognize our personal privileges for any change to happen, but we should do this without feeling guilt. The guilt can be toxic, and that toxicity may in fact prevent us from taking larger action as guilt begins a slippery slope to shame and shame often leads to inaction. Guilt can, at times, feel paralyzing and when you become paralyzed, you will not do anything to create change. Instead, recognize your privilege and use that privileged place to create change and your privileged voice to speak truth to those who do not want to, or have not yet heard it. Allow yourself to do the things you need to do to take care of yourself and your family without guilt. Feeling guilt regarding the importance or impact of your job in the larger world will not change the circumstances, utilizing the stability of your status in your own state of privilege will.
6.Try to distract yourself where you can and utilize healthy grounding and coping skills.
Please, if you do anything, please find ways to distract yourself. We cannot survive in heightened states of anxiety, and stress hormones are not good for our physical or emotional health. You must find ways to focus your mind on other things and get out the anxious and stressed energy that the world around us creates. As we know from the book Burnout by, Emily and Amelia Nagoski, to heal our current inevitable burnout, we must close out our stress cycles. This is going to look different for everyone and each person needs to identify the ways to get this energy our and create space for more relaxed energy as well. Get outside in nature and listen to birds sing. Go for a walk and listen to your favorite songs, podcast, or a great audio book that you can get lost in. Implement an exercise routine that you enjoy and will be able to motivate yourself to do on your own or find a good workout buddy or personal trainer that will help hold you accountable. Find books that you enjoy reading or even join a book club and chat with your friends about the book instead of the chaos of our world. Eat healthy to fuel your body to help it cope with the physical effects of the stress. Ground yourself in the present moment and find things in your life that you appreciate and can find joy in. Honor your stress and the normal response you have to the world around you, but also try to balance that out with the love you have for the people and things around you.
7.Make sure you have good sleep hygiene.
Sleep. Having good sleep hygiene is one of the most important ways to set ourselves up to effectively cope with the stress of our current world. Create a bedtime routine that you follow every night, this will help your mind and body know that it is time to go to sleep and begin winding down. If falling asleep is an issue, try to avoid looking at your phone or watching the news in your bedroom which will aid your brain in identifying your bedroom as a safe space for you. If alcohol disrupts your sleep, try avoiding it until you create a healthy circadian rhythm again, or limiting your intake. Talk to your doctor about possibly using sleep aids if you are unable to quiet your mind and get yourself to sleep. Avoid triggers in the hour leading up to sleep and identify ways to relax your brain and body. Make your bedroom a comfortable and cozy refuge from the chaos by filling is with things that touch all 5 senses in a relaxing way.
8.Remember that you are feeling what you are feeling because you are an empathetic human that cares about other people.
This is the most important. The overwhelming feelings of stress, fear, and hopelessness we are experiencing are not just about us, these feelings are also rooted in the empathy we have for others. If you are feeling angry about all these atrocities, good, you are human and you are having a normal human response to some pretty horrible things that are affecting people outside of just you or your inner circle. If you are feeling hopeless, know you are not alone, any of us who care about other people should be feeling some sense of hopelessness right now. If you are afraid of the things going on in this world, know that some of those fears are real and rational and are an expected response to the overwhelming burden of the breadth of the chaos around us. Please know, fellow empaths, that you are not alone and that we can carry this weight together.
Being a therapist is one of the most humbling experiences I have ever had in my life. When I think about the fact that people entrust me with their deepest most vulnerable thoughts, feelings, and experiences, I am sometimes taken aback.
When I first began my graduate program, I was young, naïve, and had my own ideas of what I thought therapy, and my clients, would look like based on my own worldview. I never could have imagined what being in the therapy room would feel like once I began working with clients who were trusting me to be their safe space. Throughout the 15 years that I have been sitting with and holding space for clients, I have learned so much from them about life and how different people can have different human experiences of living in our country. I have also been shown how important my role is in being someone’s therapist and the significant impact the symbiotic relationship can have on both client and therapist. In allowing myself to be open and to learn from my clients, I have also learned where my worldview needed to shift, and in turn my eyes have been more open to the struggles that so many people have been forced to suffer through due to their own life circumstances both in and out of their control. This is where empathy comes from, it comes from allowing ourselves to see and hear people for who they are, not for what we want to see or believe about them.
Throughout the past few years, discussions in the therapy room have become more complicated as mental health struggles have become so interwoven with the politics of our country. Whether people want to believe it or not, our politics have significantly affected clients lives and therefore their mental health and stability. Because of the complexity of these topics, as therapists we have been pushed into the political arena in a way we never could have anticipated. I never could have fully understood the breadth and depth of the pull I have now to be an advocate or voice for my clients. I see the ways in which our political climate and how our country makes decisions affecting people’s well-being in real time. When people begin a statement with, “those people” I get so angry because in saying say “these people” they are not allowing themselves to see the humanity in the people they are speaking about. As a therapist, and as a person who has taken the time to see through generalities and generalizations that many politicians want you to believe, I cannot help but become frustrated with our politicians’ lack of seeing the people who will be directly affected by the laws. Instead, I see the human beings with faces, names, family, and trauma that the politics are leaving behind and burying alive.
Some of the most intimate and vulnerable discussions my clients have had with me that are directly related to our current world have been about their reproductive health, sexual trauma, and abortions. I can tell you that the Supreme Court revocation of Roe v. Wade has evoked emotions and resurfaced trauma like I have not experienced before and has rocked a sense of safety, security, and stability that used to come with being an American in a way different from the many other hot political topics recently. Whatever their reasons, women deserve to have full bodily autonomy and make decisions regarding their bodies, and this includes whether their body, and life, is ready to grow, birth, and support a human.
My clients have been faced with decisions regarding pregnancies for varying reasons including their age, socio-economic status, relationship status, their physical health, the babies’ health and viability, and any trauma that may have led to the pregnancy. Some of these pregnancies were never wanted or expected and some of these pregnancies were all that these women have wanted and prayed for, for years. Some were babies that had already died or would die once they were born, and the medical abortion was necessary to prevent infection so that these clients would have the possibility of having more children in the future. Some were decisions made to prevent babies from suffering and dying slow and painful deaths if they were carried to term. Some were pregnancies that were never viable for whatever reason, would never have led to a true pregnancy, and if my client and her doctor did not make the decision to have necessary procedures, she may have died, leaving behind families and friends that love them.
Some of my clients’ stories are complicated by trauma and since the very beginning of my career, clients have processed through their traumas of rape, incest, and intimate partner violence. Most people would never believe the frequency at which women are faced with sexual trauma, and the fact that two of our current Supreme Court Justices have been accused of rape is not lost on me, or any woman who sees through the misogyny of this recent decision. And, unfortunately, because these attacks on women and girls of all ages happen as often as they do, I have sat with and supported my clients through inevitable decisions about abortions. These women and girls are forced to decide if they will keep or terminate pregnancies that have been forced on them by men who have hurt every fiber of their beings and violated any sense of bodily autonomy that they thought they could have. I can tell you that there is nothing like sitting with a mother of a 12-year-old who finds out this 12-year-old is pregnant by her father/uncle/grandfather/cousin, and therefore must decide what to do with the pregnancy. There is also nothing more painful than a woman who finds herself pregnant after being forced by her partner to have sex, only for that partner to threaten her with physical violence, or with leaving her and the children they already have together because he does not want to “deal” with another child if she decides to keep a subsequent pregnancy that was the result of his IPV rape. Or the woman who was raped and fears how she could ever spend 9 months carrying and then love a child that might look like the man who raped her and took away any sense safety she thought she had.
I cannot wrap my brain around how people discount the decision to have an abortion as a throwaway. That people do not understand that when women must decide between having an abortion or not, that the decision is most likely the most difficult decision she will ever face and that she will think about that decision for the rest of her life. I know this is not the case, because I have clients that process their decisions to have abortions years and even decades after having them with varying emotions and responses. Never though, have their said that they would do it differently. While they continue to mourn the loss of what may have been, they recognize why they needed to make the hard decision that they did. People want to judge these women while discounting the importance of their life as the mother. It is terrifying how people hide behind their ignorance and their pulpit claiming that lives are what are important to them when they do not care if the mother’s life would be lost, and what would happen to the life of the baby once it is born.
Hypocrisy is one of my deepest struggles and the hypocrisy of all of this is startling. How can a person claim to be pro-life when they state that a mother’s life has no value? How can a person claim to care about the life of an unborn baby, when they stop caring about that child once it is born? These same supposed pro-lifers who scream and yell and claim there is a shortage of children who need to be adopted are not signing up to take these children into their homes, and they are the same people who say that we should not offer support to the mother of a child who is struggling financially. These are the same people who are against affordable childcare, free preschool, and universal healthcare. If you are not paying attention, start. Those who claim to be pro-life have voted against legislation to improve the baby formula shortage and are the same politicians that are willing to let mothers die on operating tables when there are medical complications that put the mother’s life (and therefore the baby’s life) at risk, but are not willing to say that something needs to be done about babies being gunned down in schools.
Do not let them fool you. This is not about being pro-life. This is about patriarchal power, control, money, and politics. Just look at the fact that none of this legislation will punish the man that is responsible for the pregnancy. None of this legislation leads to men with felony charges or forces them to pay child support at conception if the law is technically saying that the fetus is already a person. This is hypocrisy at its worst because it is fueled by misogynist discrimination against women.
These stories of my clients, and so many more – these are the real stories, the human stories, that are at the core of the outrage I feel, and the outrage felt throughout our country right now. The uneasiness of the lack of balance, lack of power to change and control, and lack of voice is completely disarming. I can tell you that I have been moving through the stages of grief, back and forth, feeling the emotions, struggling with a path to move forward. I feel a pull to be a voice for the women who are afraid to use their own. I feel powerless, not knowing what I can do, but continue to feel driven to do something and hope that my platform will somehow help to raise the volume for these voices that have been silenced.
This may not be my most eloquent post. It is so interesting to me because when I started my blog, I had a whole list of mental health topics I planned to write about that I haven’t even been able to address because the world keeps lighting itself on fire and I feel called to write more about my response to that than about the topics I planned. As I sit here today, my brain is moving faster than my ability to put words to my thoughts, but I felt a strong call to put these words out there. So, here goes.
Here I am. I am faced with another day of talking to my clients about another mass shooting tragedy in our country and even more specifically one in which the lives of young children were cut far too short. Living in CT and being a therapist during the Sandy Hook shooting was an experience that I could never have imagined when I sat in my grad school classes. And here I am again, almost 10 years and countless mass shootings later, trying to help my clients make sense out of something so senseless, trying to help them to work through their fear, sadness, grief, anger, and unavoidable vicarious trauma.
Fear. Days like this are filled with me holding fear for my clients. I hold the fear of my young clients, as they wonder if it will be their turn to have their lives threatened or taken away when they find out about kids like them being murdered in classrooms just like theirs. They process through emotional shifts that occur when the energy in their schools and classrooms change and as their fear intertwines with the fear of their classmates and teachers. I hold the terror of parents wondering how they can possibly send their babies to school when all they want to do is lock them in their homes and hug them tight. I also hold the fear for my clients who are teachers. Those wonderful people who had no idea that their job that was once about educating and growing the minds of children, making them feel safe and loved, would now be one in which they have to put their lives on the line as they fulfill their lifelong calling. I hold fear for my clients with no connections to schools but fears about what our society is becoming, about how no place feels safe anymore. Each shooting adds another place to the endless list of places we now have to watch our backs and our brains and bodies are not equipped for the weight and intensity of the stress that this is having on us all.
Sadness. Sadness is inevitable for anyone who has the capacity to feel empathy. If we stopped feeling sadness on days like today, we lose our humanity. I know for me personally, I push myself to watch the news on days like today because I do not want to lose mine. I do not want to accept that this is our new normal and I don’t want to allow myself to believe that this is what is to be expected and just move on with my day.
Grief. The grief we feel in situations like today is complicated in a way like no other. We grieve for the lives that were lost and the futures that will never happen. We also grieve for the death of others’ humanity as they lack the expected emotional and actionable response to this kind of domestic terrorism. We grieve for the normalcy that once was. I am part of the generation before the columbine generation. I was finishing my first year of high school when columbine happened and I remember how emotional it was, but it never created fear in me that it could happen in my school. But now, children of 2022 live in this fear every day. I grieve for the loss of what childhood was and the loss of the innocence that this generation of children could never comprehend.
Anger. I am angry. My clients are angry. How have we become a country in which we send children to schools where they can no longer feel safe? How have we possibly become a country in which being a teacher is a job in which you have to fear for your life? We feel this anger because the sadness and the fear are so overwhelming, we need to distract ourselves from it. The anger is less vulnerable, its more demonstrative. We hope that the anger will somehow drive change, even though it never does. The anger drives us to ask the people who have the power to do something to do just that and we then get angrier when nothing changes, when the next shooting happens. We feel the anger about the hypocrisy of politicians fighting to take rights away from women to protect the lives of unborn children while all they do in response to the babies who are already here being shot in their classrooms is send their “thoughts and prayers”. We feel angry because individuals care more about their financial bottom lines than the lives of children they claim to see as the important thing. We get angry because we see the hypocrisy of being pro-life as only being about pro some life, only pro birth. We feel angry because we feel powerless. We feel angry because nothing happens, nothing changes, and then we fear that nothing ever will.
And want to know what I say to my clients when they share all of this on a day like today? I say, “I know”. I say, “I can’t imagine how you felt dropping your child off today, that must have been terrifying.” I tell them I understand their feelings, their emotions, their visceral response to this atrocity that keeps happening. I normalize their feelings because let’s be honest, it would be more shocking if they weren’t filled with all these deep feelings after something like this happens. I can’t tell them not to be afraid. I can’t help them to find more rational thoughts and feelings to reduce their anxiety, stress, or sadness because what they are feeling is rational, what they are going through is expected. I feel so helpless in my ability to help people which is the very basic foundation of what I am trained to do. I want to tell them that maybe now, maybe this shooting, this time, things will change. I want to believe that somehow, some way, we will find a path out of this. But I can’t do any of that. We can’t do that. We must sit in these feelings. We must force ourselves to feel uncomfortable because without that discomfort, things truly will never change.
I also know what is going to happen next if this shooting follows the scripts of the shootings in the past. Somehow it will be pinned on mental illness. This lights an angry fire in me that is indescribable. Not only does this villainize mental health issues and those who are struggling, but it minimizes the actual issue at hand. Having mental health struggles does not equate to an excuse for something like this. Additionally, as a mental health professional, unless a client tells me specifically that they want to kill a specific person or themselves, I can do nothing if I think someone is exhibiting worrisome thoughts or behaviors so therefore, we cannot be that worried about how mental health and these shootings are woven together. We are doing so much work to destigmatize mental health struggles in our country and then something like this happens and we undo all that hard work by allowing it to be an excuse or an explanation for these atrocities. Instead, I want to focus on how this is affecting the mental health of our society, what this is going to do to the mental health of these children, of all children, of parents, teachers, of those with empathy, of the people who put life before all else.
So, I am going to challenge you all to not allow yourself to fall into the trap of just accepting that this individual was mentally ill. Being mentally ill does not give anyone an allowance to inflict terror on our country. These acts come from hate and are born in hate. Many people want to create a society, a country that normalizes and thrives off hate and then allows hate to be considered a mental health issue when it fits into the narrative that places blame outside of themselves. You can tell me all about your fight for the right to bear arms, but I will also tell you about my fight to save lives and I will keep fighting each day, I will keep speaking truth for myself and for those whose voices have been silenced.
The shoulds. They are one of the worst mental traps that we fall into in. They often perpetuate our negative self-talk, guilt, shame, and so much more. I think that we would all be amazed if we were to count the number of times in a day that we say, “I should…” and then struggle with doing the thing we are telling ourselves we should do. This cycle of “the shoulds” is one of the most vicious internal cycles we all experience. We remind ourselves of all the things we think we should be doing, these things are often completely overwhelming, and then, because we are completely overwhelmed, we shut down. When we don’t do the things, we think we should be doing, we shame ourselves for being so unproductive or being a failure, which then leads to more internal reminders of all the things we should be doing.
If we paid close attention, I wonder how many times we all would catch ourselves saying something like the following:
“I should exercise more”
“I shouldn’t eat this; I should eat more of that”
“I should make that phone call”
“I should read more”
“I should get more sleep”
“I should really redo my resume”
“I should make an appointment with that doctor”
“I should find a new job”
“I should have that uncomfortable conversation I have been putting off”
“I should visit my family”
“I should clean the house”
“I should garden more”
“I should get my work done”
“I should write that book”
“I should get outside”
“I should talk about this difficult thing in therapy”
“I should start therapy”
I am honestly feeling my own anxiety rise just starting to create this list. My heart is racing, my brain is reeling, my guilt is building. I can’t tell you how often I get caught up in “the shoulds”. For the past year, I have thought each day about how I should write a post again. Somehow it has been a whole year since I have written a blog. Telling myself each day that “I should” and then feeling like I was failing myself never helped how I was feeling about myself, nor did it get me to sit down with my computer and fill an empty page.
When I reflect, I can rationally understand why I did not write a post or do many of the other things that fell through the cracks over the past 12 months. But it takes that deeper reflection, and being able to challenge my self-talk to get there. Telling myself that I have failed never helped but allowing myself permission to not do things and instead focus on what I needed to get done did.
One of the first things I reflect upon in addressing my own “shoulds” is thinking about how all that we have experienced over the past 2 years since the pandemic began has affected our energy levels, our emotional capacity, and our relationships in general. I have reminded myself that with the added stress of the pandemic, my threshold for where I could go, who I could see, and what I could accomplish was different than pre-pandemic times. I had to give myself grace that my to do list might not get fully done, and that lowering expectations of myself did not mean that I was settling. It instead meant that I have allowed myself to be realistic with myself and my own abilities.
Don’t get me wrong, I still might create long to do lists for myself at times, but I prioritize them by importance and due dates, and I celebrate all I am able to do and get done – big or small. I make sure I recognize the tasks I accomplish and try to focus more of my mental energy on those, as opposed to the rest of the list that still must get done. I always try to include things that I know I can do so that I give myself the ability to have even the smallest wins. Sometimes, getting out of bed on time, or reading for 10 minutes is enough and it helps with starting momentum or checking things off my list. I also allow for some things that are bigger challenges because sometimes accomplishing those tasks gives me more energy and pushes me to do bigger things. I also continue to be sure to not beat myself up when they are not done because I know they are bigger and might take more time.
When it comes to prioritizing, I try to ask myself a few questions. First – I ask myself “why is this a ‘should’ and is it a need or a want?” By asked myself, “is this something that needs to get done?” I can decide where on the list it goes. If it is a phone call I need to make for work that I have been putting off, I talk myself through how I will feel when it is done to try to change my energy around it. I assess how much time each task will take as well, and knowing it will be a quick task can help too. If it is a want, and not a need, then the task might have lower priority on my to do list. I am also honest with myself about what will make me feel better. If my “should” is “I should exercise” I try to talk myself through it being about my health – both physical and mental – and then set realistic expectations around that as well.
I also reflect on the root of “the shoulds” that I place on myself. Am I telling myself that I should do something because it is something I want to do, I need to do, or I think would be good for me? Or, instead, am I placing this pressure on myself because of outside influences? As many of my clients know, I have a love/hate relationship with social media, and this is a primary reason as to why. While social media has helped us to stay connected with people that we may never have been able to remain connected to, we also get caught up in the comparison game and often those comparisons are unhealthy. When we get lost in an endless scroll on social media, we are seeing the curated world that people are creating of their social media personas. These perfect posts lead to the comparison trap which then, in turn, leads us down the path of “the shoulds”. The problem is, these shoulds are not typically based upon our own wants and needs but instead on what we think we should be thinking, doing, feeling. Taking time to question the why behind our list of shoulds, can help us to let go of the unhealthy, unnecessary, and unrealistic shoulds we place on ourselves that are rooted in the comparison game and instead focus on things that will serve us.
And lastly and probably most importantly, I remind myself that I am not perfect, nothing is perfect, and no one is perfect. Because of this, nothing will ever be able to be perfectly done. Perfection is a trap and can be paralyzing at times. If I let go of my own pressures of perfection, I feel the grip of it releasing me to just be me. And that, is absolutely good enough for me.
How do you measure, measure a year?
Throughout the past few weeks leading up to March 1, I can’t help but repeat those lyrics over and over in my mind. For me in my own life and throughout sessions with clients, there has been a sense of increasing reflection as we contemplate what the past year has meant for us. Some clients have reflected on the immensity of it all and how far they have come in what has felt like a short time, while others feel like so much of the past year has been wasted, as though they have had to put plans in their life on hold due to the heaviness and uncertainty that the past 12 months has thrown at them. Many clients feel trapped between these conflicting perspectives, creating anxiety and an overwhelming mixture of all emotions in trying to make sense of it all. How could a year have felt so long, and so short at the same time? How could a year feel so overwhelming and so empty simultaneously?
All of these conversations have led me to ask this question to myself. How do we measure these past 12 months? Do we measure the past year in the number of zoom calls we have had? Do we measure it in the number of banana breads and sourdoughs we have made, or the number of times we took part in some other collective social media activity? Do we measure it in the number of times we have said, COVID, corona, social-distancing, or ever the number of times we have simply said “because, 2020”? Do we measure it in the number of masks we have or have worn, or the number of times we have said under our breaths “It goes over your nose”? Do we measure it in the number of protests we saw happening across our country demanding equality and a light to be shone on the serious problems of social and racial injustice in our country? Do we measure it in the number of people who showed up to vote for our country’s new leader? Do we measure it in the number of people who have died of COVID, or even in the number of people who have actually survived?
I cannot picture a different set of 12 months of my life that have been more consequential for our world than the past 12 have been. At the same time, I also remember the moments that felt like the complete opposite in how they dragged. The metaphor of living through the movie Groundhog Day over and over again throughout the past 12 months has felt so real. We feel as though every morning when our eyes open, we will be living the exact same day as the day before and, in these same moments and on these same days, we are constantly saying to ourselves how shocking each new thing is that we hear each day, and how overwhelming the collective year has felt. We are bored and flooded. We are exhausted and restless. We feel both ready for change, and an urgent desire to return to the normal we once knew.
I recently saw a post where someone said that we should stop trying to return to how things were in the “before” and stop romanticizing it as being ideal. There were struggles before COVID-19 turned our world and lives upside down and I think a beautiful thing that we have been given in these past 12 months is an opportunity to reset in some ways. Another therapist that I know does not like the term “silver linings” and instead introduced me to the phrase “unexpected positive outcomes” and I think that pushing ourselves to find these outcomes is a perfect way for us to reflect on entering March 2021. Has anyone taken the time to measure the past year in the good moments? Can we measure it in the extra time we have spent with the ones we live with and love as we have been spending more time in our homes? Do we measure the ways in which our communities have helped others who have been in need? Do we measure it in any personal growth we have had in changing habits and behaviors such as exercise, healthy eating, reading, meditating and so much more? Do we measure it in the work we have done on ourselves through therapy or by ourselves to grow and work through our own inner pain? Do we measure it in just the fact that we have gotten through it all and are sitting here today to tell our stories?
As I am writing this, part of me feels like there was no way for me to even do a reflection on the past 12 months and give the immensity of it all justice. My brain is feeling the jumble of conflicting emotions even as I sit here trying to put into words all that I have felt and absorbed. Truly, there was and is no way for me to be able to fully articulate what this past year has meant for me, or for anyone else for that matter. The feelings and heaviness of it all are indescribable, and I also know that all of you who are reading this have lived through the same 12 months as me and have had your own experience of it that is individual to you. I just hope that you are able to take a moment to reflect on all of it, the good and the bad, the setbacks and the growth. I know for me, I am going to be sure to measure the last 12 months in what I have done, instead of only that which I have not. I am going to reflect and focus on the wonderful things I have seen communities do for one another. I am going to reflect on that which I have gained, instead of just all that has been lost. While this has been a year filled with loss, hate, and anxiety, I am going to honor all of those emotions, and still try to choose to measure this year in love.
Happy New Year! Although there may have been moments that felt like we would never make it through 2020, we did it. We made it. This has been a year of intense lows, and for others, some wonderful highs. In spite of the pain that 2020 inflicted upon us, we have found ways to persist and find our own strength in resiliency as individuals, in our communities, and in our world. There have been some lessons in finding joy in simplicity. Some of us have been forced to slow down in ways that many of us could not have ever imagined while at the same time some others have been thrown into a level of chaos that was equally as unthinkable a year ago. We have had to adjust, bend, reassess and reconfigure almost every aspect of our lives. We have had to fulfill roles that would have felt completely unimaginable 365 days ago (or should I say 366 – because of course 2020 was a leap year). We have borne the weight of loss and pain for ourselves, friends, family, and neighbors in such a way that feels so heavy that it is almost hard to believe that we have been able to survive the weight of it all. We have been faced with decisions that would have seemed so unrealistic had we not actually lived through them and here we are in January of 2021, as a changed human race.
I have spent the past year watching my community, my friends, family, and even my clients go through illness and loss that felt far too burdensome and overwhelming to bear. I have processed through the weight of 2020 with my colleagues, and the effect of that weight on our clients and ourselves simultaneously. I have explored the struggle with helping clients to work through that which felt impossible for them, while I too struggled with so much myself, and as we both tried to find peace and strength to overcome struggles that felt so insurmountable. Then, at the same time, I have watched others in my personal and professional life begin new relationships, get engaged, have to plan and replan COVID weddings that ended up absolutely beautiful, and others bring perfect new little babies into this world or new fur babies into their families. I have seen clients that have been in therapy for years and months make breakthroughs, find peace, begin to learn about themselves and their relationships, and blossom into their new selves while living, surviving, and thriving within the chaos. As I begin my New Year’s reflections, this juxtaposition of pain and progress, being torn down and rebuilt, living through loss and celebrating birth, has been one of the most beautiful parts of 2020 for me. When it all feels like too much for me to bear, I work to ground myself in this fact – that beauty can in fact reside in the beast of illness, loss, death, and hate.
So here we are, starting a new year. One of the most anticipated new years of our lifetimes. The newness of what January 1 brings us offers us a time to reflect, reassess, and look to what we want from what feels like a fresh start. While many can say it’s an arbitrary thing to only set goals on January 1, the idea of a blank calendar with so many possibilities can be refreshing. It offers us a way to brush off, wash off, and shut a door on things that have happened, and try to focus instead on what can be. That being said, as I reflect on the past 12 months, I can’t help but continue to think about where and who I was 12 months ago. 2020 felt like a special kind of blank slate – entering into the new “roaring 20s”. There was a lot of anticipation of what the 2020s would offer and how they would begin. As I reflect back, I cannot help but be somewhat in awe of the lessons I learned over the past 12 months, and in some ways how far from where I thought I would be that I have actually landed. I imagine that many of you are in the same boat as well and in so many ways, that is okay. Being able to set a goal, not meet it, but find some other area of growth in your life and see that as progress is truly a beautiful and refreshing thing. This shows our ability to bend and being able to bend, adjust our sails, and move forward in spite of everything, is one of the greatest strengths we can have. Usually, in a new year, I would try to offer the suggestion to look at past goals and see what has been accomplished, what has not, and why. As we enter 2021, let’s just accept that all bets were off this past year. Let’s celebrate whatever we accomplished whether we set that goal last year or not. Let’s look toward 2021 with the new lens of what we know now, and not try to fit the goals of any other year into the box of what we are still currently living through. While the idea of the new year and finally being able to say goodbye to 2020 feels so hopeful, we are still living in some chaos and let’s give ourselves the grace of accepting that. However, let’s also look at how our ability to adjust and bend has given us more than we could have imagined. Had we not been so flexible and had so much chaos not been thrown at us, we may not have picked up that new hobby, read that new book, started that program in school, or learned how to be more present in the place in which we are currently grounded. This is an important thing to focus on as we grow into 2021.
I have done a lot of reflecting this past year on how okay it is to not be okay. Additionally, I have reflected on the idea that it is also okay to find your joys where you can and embrace and celebrate them when it feels like others are hurting or are in pain and that this act is not selfish. I think that this is one of the greatest lessons that I have taken away from 2020 and I hope that you are able to do that too. I also want to thank everyone who has read or shared any of my posts from this first year of my blogging journey. I hope you found some laughs and some support. I hope that they helped to make you feel heard and maybe normalize or put words to the things that you may have been struggling with but could not explain and that they may have helped you get through some of the tough moments and strangeness of these past 12 months. It has been a challenge for me to face some of my vulnerabilities, has offered me a chance to process through and understand my own feelings, and has given me joy and purpose when I hear how helpful they have been for some people as well.
So, here’s to 2021. Let’s hope for change, let’s hope for growth, and let’s hope for a world filled with kindness, love and good health.
Christmas has always been one of my favorite times of the year. I love the aspects of Christmas that go beyond the commercialism that makes people frustrated and stressed out about what Christmastime has become. I love the magic of it all. I love the gift buying, wrapping, and giving because I love to see the faces of my family and friends when they open the thing that I picked out or made for them that I thought would be perfect. I love the tradition and the togetherness because my family and friends are the most important people to me, and I love sharing my favorite time with my favorite people. I love honoring my loved ones that have passed away in the decorations I adorn my home and tree with and the food that I cook and serve to the people that I still have in my life. I love watching and re-watching the same movies, year after year, remembering times snuggled on the couch as a child watching those same movies with my parents and sister growing up. I love listening to Christmas music because its something that roots me in the magic, and each song captures the excitement of the season so perfectly.
In saying all of that, I am going to start this by stating that during this Christmas week in this year, I am not okay. Even as I write this, I can feel the emotions building up in my throat, and some tears beginning to well in my eyes. I am sharing this because I want everyone to know that they are not alone if they too, like me, are not okay right now in this Christmas season. I am still so thankful that in 2020 and all that this year has taken away, I have been able to continue to do the work I do and find joy and peace in holding for others that which they cannot fully hold for themselves. As therapists and caretakers, this year has been like no other for us in that we have had the experience of providing support through a collective traumatic experience that is affecting us in the same way and at the same time as our clients are facing it too. While we may work through experiences and struggles with clients that mirror some of our own histories, never before have we been living through it all at the same time in the same way we are this year. I know that throughout the past 9 months, I have talked a lot about it being okay to not be okay, and right now, this is no different. It is also important for anyone that is a caretaker, a helper, a shoulder to lean on, or therapist too that it is important to recognize your limits, you needs, and find your person to lean on too.
For the past few weeks, I have sat in sessions with my clients processing through their very complicated emotions about the holidays this year. The emotions are what they are because this year is so complicated. I, along with my clients, am struggling with the decision making of who it is safe to see. So many of my clients, friends, and family are facing tough decisions and even tougher conversations about what the holidays are going to look like this year including if they will travel to see their family, who they will see, what they will do, and how to make sure everyone remains safe and healthy. There is the worry about seeing people and putting them at risk, but also the worry about not seeing people, worried that this may be the last Christmas with their loved ones as well. Everything and every decision have become so polarizing throughout this whole year and it feels like making decisions about what to do for Christmas is the culmination of all of the pain, all of the disagreements, and all of the turmoil that 2020 has thrown at us. Some families are so split about how they view the right way to approach COVID, and many people are worried about how these divisions may leave lasting scars on their relationships even once the pandemic is over.
Others are struggling with how to carry holiday traditions into 2020 when it feels like it is impossible to do so. So many of us are struggling with how to feel like our hearts are in the season, when it feels like they are so broken by all that has been lost, taken away, and rocked by the suffering and reality that this year has brought us. For so many of us, traditions – many of which have been passed on from generation to generation – are ways that we honor our loved ones and bring us joy season after season. This year, it feels like those traditions are one more thing added to the list of losses that 2020 has given us and is affecting our ability to focus on that which we still have.
While many of us are struggling with what the holidays will look like without the big celebrations that we are used to, I have also sat with clients who have lost loved ones to COVID over the past 9 months and who are still grieving the immense loss and lack of closure that they cannot even fathom facing what a Christmas celebration would mean, especially with their loved ones missing on that day. With my clients that are in the medical field I have processed through what being on the front lines of COVID treatment means for their holiday season. They have explored their emotions about how they cannot see any of their family or friends because of their exposure to the virus putting anyone they come in contact with at risk and the deep layers of loneliness that they are feeling because of this.
Unfortunately, there is really no “right” therapy response to this all. There is no magic therapeutic wand to reduce the pain or anxiety, because so much of what we are feeling is rational, understandable, reasonable, and based on the real human experience of 2020. So many of my clients always say they want to feel “normal” and for once, I can say that there is such a thing as being normal and having so many mixed and complicated emotions is what is normal. While I cannot speak for all of the therapists out there, I can guess that many of us feel the same way – we are here for you, we are feeling it with you, and we promise to keep supporting you in the best way we can. Allow yourself to feel all of the heavy feelings that you are feeling, but also feel hopeful that as we continue to lean on the medical world that has brought us a promising vaccine, that soon we can find our way out of this all and back to one another in the New Year.
I have been practicing therapy for 15 years and have worked with countless individuals, families and couples. While I do not want to claim to be an "expert" on all things therapy or life (because I always believe that there is room to grow and learn) I have noticed throughout my time connecting with my clients that similar struggles and repetitive patterns present themselves that affect how clients experience and see life. I wanted to take this experience with my clients and the knowledge I have gained and share it here, so that maybe it can touch others lives the way it has helped my clients.