All posts by Melanie

Self-care can be fun!

That “self-care” thing..

Self-care. It’s quite the buzz word. Who else sees “self-care” and internally rolls their eyes with a, “Yeah yeah, I know..” response? It’s easy to know it’s good for us, but somehow really difficult for a lot of us to act on.

So first, let’s pull it out of the jacket of shame of “shoulds”. Let’s dress it up with a little pizzazz that might make it a bit more appealing.

Word Choice

Maybe “self-care” works for you, you don’t have the response I describe. Cool! Keep using self-care if that’s the case. But let’s be clear on what we’re talking about here. Self-care can often conjure up images of massages, meditation music, essential oils and baths. Those images aren’t wrong, but they are not ALL of what it’s about!

Sometimes we need the very basics of self-care. Remembering to shower, eat something. On some days, maybe it’s the mere commitment to get out of bed. Other days, maybe getting to bed on time and getting enough sleep.

What ELSE can it mean? Self-care, Care for self. How do you like to be cared for? Maybe massages are totally your jam! Maybe you find meditation BORING. Care for self means paying attention to what you like, want, and need. It’s not just a common therapy homework assignment. Self-care goes along with respect, listening, and love. So take a moment and ask your self what you want, what would help you feel loved and respected. Maybe you want excitement and adventure! Maybe you want to challenge yourself. With others, we might show we care by writing a nice note, or planning a fun date. So do this for yourself, too!

Self-care is tinged for me, and I prefer other terms. Brainstorm or pull out the thesaurus, and see what resonates with you. Some terms I use include Nourishment Recipe, Personal Enrichment Activities, Fun, and Recreation. Does it change anything for you to consider FUN as your therapy ‘assignment’? Does it give you more permission to dance in the kitchen or sing in the bathroom if that’s part of your nourishment recipe? Are you more likely to finally sign up for those art classes, seeing it validated as a healthy thing to do? What choice of words for defining self-care make it look sparkly and enticing for you?

Time

Word choice is one reason we might dismiss self-care. Lack of time is probably the most common excuse. In reality, the underlying issue here is usually dedication. We dismiss the value of showing care for ourselves, put it off until ‘later’ that may never come. If you wait until you have time, you might be too exhausted and burned out to actually enjoy it. Self-care doesn’t have to take extreme amounts of time. It means checking in, maybe using the time we spend scrolling social media to instead engage in something with a much more rewarding payoff. How often do we spend a lot more time than we ever planned? Maybe that language lesson is 10 minutes long, you could have gotten through 3 instead of glazing over a hundred posts! Which feels more fulfilling?

Decisions

Sometimes we skip personal enrichment because of decision paralysis. Working more can be an easy go-to because we often know what needs to be done. This is where I highly encourage writing out your Health Recipe. Maybe even take this as a step in itself, to make a collage of the things you enjoy, or decorate the list you make to pin on the wall as an easy reminder for yourself! Having reminders can help bridge the barrier to entry when we struggle with initiating something new. And if you’re stalled here, take more time. Maybe you build a list over a series of weeks, just paying attention to what you enjoy, what rejuvenates you and makes you happy. Maybe you’ve felt so pressured that the idea of dreaming up fun activities is something you’ve prevented yourself from doing to avoid the pain of Missing Out. So start the kindness now, and start to listen to the inner child who wants to play.

Love

Maybe you already know exactly what belongs on your list, maybe language isn’t much of a problem. Oftentimes, if self-care is an issue for us, it’s because of a deeper, more painful truth: We don’t believe we deserve it. We haven’t “worked hard enough” or “earned it”, we’re still too busy proving our value (to a boss, a parent, a child, ourselves?). Maybe you have high values of “being responsible” and “hard working”. Learning that down-time may help make you more productive still doesn’t help.

Self-worth issues are quite prevalent. Going to self-care when we don’t feel we deserve it just makes us put it off, and maybe add feeling bad about putting it off on top of everything! Don’t “should” it. Take it as information to be curious about. Ask yourself, “Why do I procrastinate enjoyment?” Yes, the answer may be painful. But listen to it, and care for it. Feel the sadness of the part of you that’s been ignored all this time you’ve been striving to earn the right to enjoy.

Pressure to succeed

Avoidance of self-care because we dismiss it as unlikely to help is a common rationalization. If this resonates with you, please know this: you don’t have to feel immediate gratification from self-care. Self-care is not just an action we take. It’s a relationship with ourself. When we deny ourselves recreation, it reinforces the message that we don’t deserve it. It’s a form of self-abandonment. It’s ok to pick something off of your recipe with 100% cynicism that you’ll feel any different and that it wasn’t a waste of time. If you do that, you’re still giving your inner child the message that you care enough to try. And that matters. It’s one step to building a rich, satisfying relationship with yourself, and joy will come out of it if you keep up the dedication.

Making the Most of “Shelter in place”

There’s a lot of anxious energy in our area as we move into the unfamiliar territory of county shutdowns in light of COVID-19. It will be some trial and error as we navigate this time, but panic will not serve us. Most important is that we do not abandon ourselves while we isolate from each other!

She’s speaking that weird therapist language again. Don’t abandon yourself? What does that mean?? It means that while this time is uncertain and perhaps scary, it is also an opportunity. Some of us are still working, maybe we’ve gained back a bit of time we’d normally commute and that’s it. Maybe we’ve lost time to ourselves while taking care of the kids or partners also working from home, crowding our spaces.

This means we need to pay more attention to how we’re feeling and our needs. It’s easy to blur the lines between work and home and work more, or less. It’s easy to be excited about being able to work in pajamas and accidentally not shower for several days. It’s easy to be more sedentary and not get exercise we might normally get in our normal errands. But how do we feel when we do that? If we lose track of our routines, hygiene, health measures, more can slip away than we think.

Recommendations:

-Get outside at some point during the day. Fresh air is healthy! The reminder that the world is still there can be reassuring. The open space can reduce the sense of claustrophobia of being indoors for so long. Taking a walk or a run gives us a physical sense of ‘moving forward’ and not feeling stuck. Increased oxygen and a little exercise are good for our health and burning some of the anxiety.

-Keep up with hygiene. Showering regularly does more than keep us from getting smelly, more than washing away germs. It reminds us of the boundary between our skin and our house. Sure that sounds funny, but most of us have had the experience of ‘melting into the couch’ from being too sedentary at some point. Reminders of our physical boundaries help our sense of identity.

-Discuss boundaries with people you live with. Talk about how much ‘alone time’ each of you needs and figure out ways to meet those needs.

-Address your environment. Many people have suggested this is an opportunity to get a household project done- and it may well be. If you are working from home for the first time, or sharing a home workspace for the first time, your space may not be ideal. Consider ergonomics, lighting, and general space. Is there clutter that could be moved to make the space feel better? Lighting a candle can change the ambiance, as well as help with an intentionality around when you’re in a particular room.

-Consider sound. Perhaps some background music will help you focus better, or create some calm, or joy, or some sound buffer against distracting sounds from housemates.

-Stay connected. We aren’t supposed to be physically close with others, but it doesn’t mean to not connect with friends. Reach out to each other. Check in on each other and vent as needed. Phone calls, video chats (perhaps not during the workday as bandwidth may be limited) are still ways of connecting. We can still play charades and word games from a distance. We can help create grounding for one another.

-If anxious thoughts start taking over, try some reframes. While this is scary for many, it is also an opportunity. The world is learning to slow down. We’re forced to be more creative. Let’s be curious about our own responses to this new experience and learn from it what we can. This time indoors is healing the planet of the pollution we subject it to.

-Create structure in your day. Where lines are blurred, we can create new ones for ourselves. Without change of environment, it may be even more important to be intentional with scheduling. A time for movement or stretching. A time to tidy the house. A time for play, a time for connecting. We can still work toward balance.

-Most strongly, I highly recommend staying off the news or social media a good 4 hours before bed. A lot of the information out there stimulates our brains and may leave us anxious before bed, unable to sleep. Protect your rest and be mindful about what stimulation you take in during the evening. Most of the news won’t be urgent and will wait for you to check it out tomorrow.

Take care. And if you need some support and want to check in, many mental health care professionals, including myself, are still available via telehealth. Call me at 408-418-6638 if you’d like to discuss making an appointment.

Choosing Love in Conflict

I heard this song, “Choose You,” the other day and kind of fell in love with it. In a landscape of romance songs codependently decrying “I can’t live without you”, Stan Walker gets it right: Love is a choice.

 

While there is a sense of security in being “needed” in a relationship, it’s a much more special, beautiful thing to NOT be needed, and yet still CHOSEN.

 

In the realm of skeptical dating, people tend to be on the lookout for the other person to answer the question if they might be a good fit of romantic partner. However there’s also an element where it’s up to us to decide that we want them as a romantic partner.

 

Even better, Walker poses the power of choice in the context of conflict: “Even though I wanna stay mad, even though I wanna get angry..

 

I’ve heard many songs about love and many about breakups, but seemingly few that portray this view of love through disagreement so beautifully. It’s absolutely a choice to be angry at someone. (Although at times it certainly doesn’t feel like it, which is where a reminder like this may be valuable!). Holding a space to be angry at someone and simultaneously choose to love them and work through the dispute is healthy, and can make resolution easier. It’s empowering to remember you have choice- to stay, to go, either temporarily or permanently. You are not simply victim to the other person’s decisions and actions. Be angry as long as you want, don’t feel like you have to hold something against them in order to prove a point.

 

When you make the decision to choose to love, Walker is mindful that “I’m so mad at you right now that I can’t think straight…I should shut my mouth so I don’t let out the cruel things I say..” He’s aware the anger is right now but not forever. Because he’s keeping in mind his sense of power to choose, he doesn’t need to exert his power or prove anything by hurting his partner. He’s holding the greater perspective of the value of the relationship as a whole, which helps him address the situation respectfully.

 

Ultimately, it’s about keeping in mind priorities; the value the relationship holds being important enough to take time or space away in disagreements, even when it’s uncomfortable to do so. Because, while often conflict feels urgent to restore a sense of security in the relationship, the better choice may be to remember that it’s important enough to be treated with patience. Taking that time apart to let feelings out in a safer space not only protects the relationship from volatile words, it creates a chance to re-center and rediscover this power to choose, and not need the other person to feel okay in the world. In that way, it is very self-loving as well to respect and give space for your feelings, practicing self-trust to be ok when things feel uncomfortable, and make decisions about your actions and the relationship from a choiceful, non-reactive mindset.

Into the Light: Reflections after a Depressive Episode

One of the biggest challenges of depression is frequently around the inability to see hope for things to change.  As a therapist, one thing I offer is holding hope for clients when they aren’t able to see it for themselves. However, sometimes the words of experience are much easier to hold. A friend of mine recently shared her observations on recovering from depression on social media, and graciously offered permission for me to share. Depression may feel endless, but it doesn’t have to be; perhaps these words can offer some hope.
“I just returned from my three month check-up with my psychiatrist.
Guess what?
I’m doing great. 🙂
It’s been slowly hitting me the last few weeks, I’m happy again. Like, legit content. Can I tell you how incredible this feels?
It’s like sunshine in your chest, warming you softly.
It’s like that moment you catch yourself smiling for no reason.
It’s like that belly full of laughter at a friend’s joke that made you want to hug them forever.
I’ve been going to therapy religiously, bullet journaling like a mad-woman and also keeping a journal of my moods, when I work out, what I eat, how much I smoke, a habit-tracker, wishes and things I am grateful for. These tools have been invaluable for providing structure and stability which I’ve found are key in coming out of a major depressive episode.
After everything I have been through the past three years, extreme highs and extreme lows, there are a few things I have learned that I want to share with you.
1. Your mind and body are connected. The health of your brain meats are influenced by the health of your body meats. Care for all the meats.
2. Know who your friends are…. and trust your instincts. I’m not talking about that little voice in your head that tells you no one likes you. I’ talking about that place right below your belly that whispers things to you. I have a core group of girlfriends in my life (and good guy friends) for the first time in ages and they absolutely SAVED. MY. ASS. these past six months. It’s the friends who put up with you un-showered, in your pajamas, crying for the third day in a row on their couch that are the true ones. Keep them close and give back to them however you are able. It’s amazing how many people kind of fall away on the periphery when you are not glowingly happy and “on”.
3. “I’ll feel better after”: This is a mantra for all depressed people. Force yourself to do little things, even if they seem insurmountable. Floss. Make coffee. Take a walk. Call a friend. Reminding yourself, convincing yourself, that you will feel better after you do something is the only way to get out of the rut that turns into a vortex, that leads to a black hole.
4. No matter what anyone else says about you… you know yourself.  I had to find my way back to the things in music and in life that made me happy. I may never be as successful as I once dreamed of being because I won’t compromise parts of myself anymore for that success. That was part of the issue. I would compromise a little bit, like a chip off my soul, then another, then another until I didn’t remember who I was before the success started happening. I may never accomplish those visions I have been carrying around in my head since childhood, but that’s ok. They are just visions. Life is here. Life is now. It’s the little pleasures and your experiences with friends and loved ones that makes it all worth it. For the first time I can see that clearly and appreciate that who I am as a performer is not who I am as a person, and both deserve equal respect. Taking care of my career is not taking care of ME. That’s what I mean about knowing yourself. I know who I am, and what I love and what makes life good… and no one can take that away from me.
5. Don’t assume the worst all the time. Seeing the whole picture is just as much about seeing the good as you do the bad. Life is gray, and if you concentrate on the black parts only, constantly, you are not getting to the truth. You are only sabotaging yourself. Sometimes your emotions are so powerful — especially if they are related to trauma — that you don’t see what is actually happening. You see what you fear is happening. Take a step back, breath, meditate (oh yeah I do that every day now like a damn hippie) and don’t react until you are calm if you can help it. This has been a hard journey and I am still learning, but what progress I have made has made my life incalculably better.
Not to be too cheesy, but I saw the latest Star Wars and one quote resonated a lot with me, “Hope is like the sun. If you only believe in it when you can see it, you will never make it through the night.”
This is what it feels like recovering from a major depressive episode. There is always hope, there is always sun, even if you can’t see it. ☀️”

Looking up at the trees in Yosemite
Looking up

Give yourself the love you deserve!

To the recipients of emotional abuse…

Have you known the you deserve better than the treatment you receive in your relationship?

Do you beat yourself up, feel bad or embarrassed for not getting out of it soon enough?

There’s a secret I want you to know.

Your dedication is a strength.

You love fiercely.

This is a wonderful thing! I just want to offer you one tweak. That love? Turn it inward. To you. You deserve it. It doesn’t even mean you have to stop giving it to anyone else. Just..add yourself into the recipient pool.

We can expend so much energy giving love to another in hopes they will reciprocate. And it’s ok to make this a more direct path to receiving love. It’s ok to value your dedication to relationships and love. It doesn’t mean you have to keep offering it in a direction it’s not appreciated, or drain yourself in an uphill battle. It can be something you appreciate directly about yourself.You may be used to the world demanding a lot of your caring nature. You may have forgotten what it feels like to be truly loved. You don’t need anyone else to remind you. Just make the decision to love yourself.

Give yourself the love you deserve!
Love yourself fiercely!

What can you do, right now,

to commit to loving yourself?

Take a moment

It is so easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle of life. We evaluate ourselves on what we DO. Have we done enough? Accomplished enough? Earned respect, love, attention? It’s exhausting and we’re frequently left feeling ‘behind’ and trying to catch up. And sometimes, a few moments to step back and change perspective can make all the difference.

Allow yourself to be in the moment…here..now..focusing on what you choose to attend to. It can leave you feeling a lot more empowered, grounded, and choiceful. If you feel your heart racing, feeling the need to urgently stand up and defend yourself in a conflict, reacting emotionally to something… I’ll leave you with the suggestion that there’s another option!

I encourage you to check this out.

Claim this moment for you.

Go ahead- just one moment. Just for you. The link is a short series of prompts to remind you where you are. Walk your way through them. Go through it as many times as you want, as often as you want. Standing in line at the coffee shop, as a pause amidst a challenging conversation with a loved one- my hope is that this little prompter can help you gain perspective to re-ground yourself. HAVE your emotions, rather than being driven by them. Things can be important, it doesn’t mean they have to be urgent. You CAN feel more in control.

Prompts were inspired by DBT principles and exercises which are shown to be very effective for helping with emotional distress. Please give it a try, I’d love to hear about your experiences with it!

Tip: The link can also be saved to your home screen for easy access if you find it useful!

 

You might be abusing the Most Important Relationship you’ll ever have

It’s no secret that therapists help you improve your relationships. It’s what we do! However, there are times when I’ve told people I’m a Marriage and Family Therapist, and they at first think that couples and family work is ALL I do, when in fact at least half of my practice is seeing Individuals!

The key is this: The most important relationship you will ever have, is with yourself. Lives change, people move, people die, divorce and heartbreak happen…other people will come and go from your life. But you?…You’re kinda stuck with you!

If you’re going to be stuck with yourself for the rest of your life, it’s quite beneficial to find peace in that relationship. Don’t just beat yourself up for all the things you “could have done differently”.  Don’t just look to others to give you love, validate that you’re worthy of companionship and kindness! Do you possess any of the qualities you look for in others? Probably…so enjoy it!

DO respect the person you are! You have interests, and hobbies, you care about people and have unique thoughts and experiences that are completely yours. How cool is that? Doesn’t it deserve some celebrating?

Sometimes when we keep ourselves surrounded with others, it’s easy to lose ourselves a bit. To engage in hobbies that our loved ones engage in because of community, even if it’s not what WE totally love. We let certain things slip away because especially in the early stages of New Relationship Energy, we get caught up and willingly lose track of some things to make more room for time with the subject of our affection. That can be fun and exciting, but think about it. If you and your partner only spent time together while in part of a larger group, would you be satisfied, or do you sometimes want Quality Time just the two of you? You and yourself deserve that too!

Spending some time alone gives a chance to assess all of that. To reflect. If we don’t like our own company…why not? If you’re unbearably negative, do you want to try finding more gratitude? If you’re bored, do you want to try a different activity? If you DO like yourself, take the time to honor that relationship! You don’t ALWAYS have to share with others. It encourages authenticity, growth, and joy to occasionally spend time alone. And…it will have a ripple effect and improve all the rest of your relationships as well!

Take the time for you. Show yourself the love you deserve instead of trying to convince others to do it for you. If the idea of spending time alone makes you anxious, if you fear loneliness or disappointing someone by not including them, give me a call. I’d love to help you embark on a new and fulfilling relationship with yourself!

Therapy can help you blossom.

Hesitant About Therapy?

On my way home from therapy yesterday (yes, even therapists can use support) I noticed how good I felt, compared to the ‘iffiness’ or ‘off-balanced’ feeling I had going in. We had unpacked and tied a thread across a variety of experiences. There are times, yes, when this can leave a ‘weighty’ feeling. This experience, however, was that we had tapped in and found my energy and joy that is sometimes tainted or burdened by certain events.

This is one of the things I love about counseling, both for myself and for clients. It’s no about pretending bad things don’t or didn’t happen. It’s not about making them go away. It’s about making more room for the pure essence of self, find the joy of wanting things, allowing inspiration rather than fear to be a driving force in choosing how we live. Therapy can be painful, but it is also empowering.

If you’ve thought about therapy but have been nervous about it, listen to what a variety of people have to say:


What People Who Go To Therapy Want You To Know by buzzfeedvideo

Therapy does involve some vulnerability, and that can be scary. It can also be incredibly valuable. You’re always welcome to make the first phone call to explore your options, without any commitment.

 

Who do you listen to?

On my drive to the gym the other day, I spent the whole way considering whether to go to a class or use the equipment in the weight room. By the time I was changed, I had decided I wanted cardio… the “bodyflow” class is very routine, and I would get my preferred yoga class tomorrow. So I laced up my shoes instead of putting on the flip flops, and headed out of the locker room.

And yet, next thing I knew, I found myself stepping into the class room! All that thoughtful consideration and logic, and yet here I was following my body’s lead.
So I did the Bodyflow yoga class, and enjoyed it more than I expected. And I still wanted cardio, so went in and topped it off with the treadmill. And once again, thankfully, I listened to my body instead of my brain. My brain was telling me, “Oh, maybe 5 minutes is enough. The time is going so slowly. What was I thinking, setting it for 20 minutes?”
But I didn’t listen to my brain that was making excuses to cut the run short. Stopping was always an option, I don’t have to give in immediately. 10 minutes in, I’d found my pacing and ease. And then I didn’t want to be stopping yet. I wanted to see the end of the Niagara Falls trail I was virtually running!

Yoga instructor Roz Adams of www.rozfitness.com
Yoga instructor Roz Adams of www.rozfitness.com

The moral of the story is, our bodies have their own wisdom. As much as athletics can be about pushing limits, we can also learn to listen to and trust our bodies more. This is true whether it’s about working out, whether to cry, etc. It can help to silence the thoughts and just be present to the moment. And, to quote my favorite yoga instructor.. “Be still, and your will will move with the tide of the spirit.”

Simple Pleasures

Last night was “Ladies Night” in the downtown area of my office, enticing women to come out and patronize retail stores, collecting whatever discounts or freebies may be offered. So for three hours, I sat outside my office with a little music, blowing bubbles, offering vials of bubbles to anyone who wanted them.

At some point, someone walked by and made a comment about how I must be lonely, at the table by myself. In reality, that couldn’t have been further from the truth!

Bubbles
Bubbles

The three hours (which was supposed to be only 2.5) flew by; some people laughed at the offer, while others’ faces lit up and they scurried over to accept. Some adults took some vials home for their kids. For me, it was a joyful experience to watch the delight, the reminder of simple pleasures. Kids blew bubbles “for the plants” or exclaimed, “Bubbles!” every time they passed. One group of women spent maybe a good 10 minutes taking photos of each other blowing bubbles!

I love carrying a vial of bubbles in my purse. In a society that defaults to checking our phones every time there’s a ‘down minute’, I can reach in and pull out the bubbles instead. It keeps me looking ‘up’ and available to connect to the others around me, see the environment I’m in. It makes me breathe deeper, take in more oxygen as I inhale and blow. It reminds me that it’s okay to slow down. I can watch the iridescent colors swirl, or the slow floating away of the bubbles on a gentle wind current. It’s a reminder that we can “go with the flow,” too; not everything needs to be done forcefully.

In those three hours, I did have my phone with me, for the option of texting friends or making some notes if I got bored, but I ended up not having time for it. I felt the warmth in my heart swell, watching the delight of the people who accepted. I looked at the clouds, pondered the bubbles’ flight paths. I was present in the moment, and present with my surroundings.

For anyone who struggles with “trying to meditate”, come get your vial of bubbles and blow your cares away. Sometimes the simple pleasures are surprisingly powerful.

And thank you to everyone who stopped by last night!