Friday, August 25, 2017

The Importance of Right Now

This is a theme I have touched on before, but I find it is relevant again. As much as I might need a good thought on the evils of procrastination, this is not about that.  This is more about the importance of perspective.

There have been a number of changes and transitions in my life lately, some of which were anticipated, and some of which I did not see coming.  Where I have had some clients leave therapy because the time was right to do so, I have had others who have stopped for other reasons. I expected to need a dental cleaning but not to have a crown fall out.  Life, I guess, is like that sometimes.

In those moments when I start feeling overwhelmed and chasing multiple rabbits down multiple holes, it is difficult to maintain a sense of perspective.  It seems like, however life is at any point, it will always be that way. This is great when things are going well, and we can feel optimistic. When things are not going well, time seems to slow down and illuminate problems in technicolor. Depression, in particular, is excellent at making painful moments feel like forever.

Aaron Beck, founder of a school of therapy called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (or CBT), described a "cognitive triad" or "negative triad" of thoughts that occur in depression.  Casually phrased, the triad  of thoughts says, "I'm terrible, the world is terrible, and things will always be terrible."  While I'm not altogether sold on CBT, I think Beck nailed those thought processes.  When we are down in the pit of depression, it can seem impossible that there could be a way out or that we deserve one if we can find it.

I remember a few years ago being afraid that my life would be either staying at a job that was horrible for me or having to go back to retail for a living because things would only get worse.  Now, two years into starting my own private practice, I have a job I love that mostly pays the bills.  When the census drops or when financial stressors pop up, it can be hard to trust that things will rebound or that life will get better.  Experience, however, has shown that things generally do get better... perhaps not on my preferred timeline or in the manner that I would expect, but I have never yet lived in the pit forever.  This goes back to that old %100 success rate of surviving everything life has thrown at us so far.  We've all done it.

So, what do we do in times when we are overwhelmed, depressed, and scared? First, we can try to be grateful for what we do have.  I have a home I'm not going to lose, I have a loving husband and two amazing children, and I have a job that I truly enjoy. Being grateful doesn't mean we can't be sad, but it does help us remember that we are not without resources.  Second, we can try to show compassion toward others.  Recently, I've been listening to The Book Of Joy, written about a week-long meeting between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu in which they discussed what joy is and how joy can be attained. In that book, both of those wise men discuss the power of showing compassion to others.  When we feel compassion, we recognize our connectedness and feel less alone.  It's not about looking at others and being grateful that we are not in their place (this is not connection but separation) but rather recognizing that all suffer and that we are all human beings together. Third, we can practice whatever basic self-care we can: eating healthful meals, sleeping, exercising, spending time in the presence of safe others, etc.  One of my favorite self-care activities is snuggling -- with my husband, my children, my cat... Safe physical contact is a great healer.

All of us get in spaces where we feel trapped.  Sometimes, that trap is in our own minds. One of my favorite maxims is to "keep your perspective in perspective."  When I am aware that I am depressed, I am also aware that my perspective is off and that I am likely less able to see positive things, be creative, or think clearly.  In those times, I try to practice the above and reach out to my support system as I am able.  If you find yourself feeling trapped, I hope the above is useful to you. If it's not enough or if you just want another connection point, I hope you will come find me. Then, the two of us can walk your path together. We'll start where you are right now and move into whatever comes next.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Hope Grows is Changing Gardens!

Hi, All.

Due to lease changes, Hope Grows Counseling, LLC is moving to a new location effective March 1, 2017.  The new location will be:

5555 Glenridge Connector
Suite 200
Atlanta, GA 30342

Phone number and e-mail contact information will stay the same.  I am currently working with insurance companies to ensure a smooth transition. I look forward to continuing the work I love in my new space.  Feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns.


Friday, January 20, 2017

The Power of Intention

So, I've been quiet on here for awhile, and somehow we are almost done with the first month of the New Year.  A new president was inaugurated sometime in the last hour, and we are all waiting to see what will come next.  Many of us have also been thinking about resolutions for the year and setting goals for what we would like to achieve.  It's funny how easily, I think, we tend to dismiss the worth of the plans we make at these times or the effort of making the plan.  How often do you hear someone remark that politicians never keep their promises? How often do we laugh and joke about violating our New Year's Resolutions the next day or the next week? "My New Year's Resolution is not to make any more New Year's Resolutions. Ha, ha!"  While I think it is true that we often do not follow through on those goals, and despite what has often been said about the "road to hell," I think intention has great value.

When people ask me about the value of therapy, I think many of them expect me to elaborate on the relief of depression or anxiety, the improvement of relationships, or the increased capacity to manage stress.  While I believe all of these are definitive and worthy benefits of therapy, I find that I tend to focus on a different aspect -- living life with intention.  Many of us live life essentially on auto-pilot.  We do the same things we've always done and expect that life will generally stay the same. People may come and go, we may change jobs, and the weather may become interesting from time to time, but life in general will be predictable.  The sun will rise in the east, my five-year-old will plunder the refrigerator for fruit any and every time he is hungry, and traffic will be generally miserable in Atlanta at 5:00 on Wednesday.  After awhile, we stop paying attention to our lives, ourselves, each other, and the world around us.

One of the core benefits of therapy is that it shakes us out of our complacence.  We start to look at what we are doing, what and who is around us, and how we respond to all of that.  We start to explore who we really are, what we really need, and what we really want.  So much of our reality is taught to us: what to attend to,  how to respond to pain in others and ourselves, what to value, what to ignore, what to expect of ourselves and others, what our worth is.... Much of this is not verbally expressed but is learned through interaction and implication. One of the beauties of therapy is that it helps us to stop and evaluate for ourselves the lessons we have learned and whether or not those lessons hold true. We learn to explore and trust ourselves.

From that exploration and trust, we can then develop true intention.  When I know who I am and what I value, I can make decisions about what is best for me and how and what I want to share with the world. I am no longer a passive recipient of what others tell me or what I expect to see, but I am open and curious and attentive. My world, both internal and external, becomes alive for me and I engage with it in new ways that create strong and impactful meaning.   I am aware of the choices I am making and why and how I anticipate those will affect others around me.

Therapy is not about changing who you are but connecting with and becoming more fully who you are.  Depression, anxiety, relationship problems and life stressors can all complicate or obscure our self-awareness and sense of empowerment, and as we resolve those issues, we likewise become more intentional. Intention gives us a sense of direction and a motivation to stay open and aware.  I wonder how much longer our resolutions would last if we had more self-awareness?  We all slip back into old patterns and Auto-Pilot from time to time, but trying to live with intention helps us to do so less often and for shorter periods of time.

Self-awareness can start with practices of mindfulness - focusing on awareness without judgment. Paying attention to physical sensations is often a good point of departure. What do I notice in my body and where? Where do I feel pain or tension? Where do I feel relaxed? Is there a pattern to when I feel tension or relaxation? What can I do that changes that?  What message does this pain/tension/stress have for me?

We can also practice mindfulness of our environment.  What does the space you are in look like? What do you see around you?  What do you hear immediately around you? What do you hear that is further away? If you are quiet, do you hear something you hadn't noticed before?  What do you smell? Does that smell have undertones you recognize? Do you have a taste in your mouth? What are your hands touching? What does that feel like? What does the floor/ground feel like if you stomp on it? How does your body feel where you are sitting/standing/lying down? What is it like to focus on the here and now? How is your body responding to that?

There are many other practices that can help develop awareness. In therapy we also look at emotional awareness and engagement. We look at family history and relationships and the messages that were passed down in the family.  We look at life experiences and how we interpret and respond to those.  As we look at those things, we develop a sense of self that can lead to a sense of intention.

Who are you? What do you value in yourself? Others? The world?  What gives you confidence? What creates fear? What and whom do you trust? How do you decide?  All of these are difficult questions, but, I think, worthy of exploration.  If you would like some help in finding your answers to your questions, I hope you will find me. It is my intent to help my clients connect with themselves in such a way as to be able to live in intention.  I may not always succeed, but it gives me a framework and a path to act on what I value.  I wish for you to be able to find the same for yourself.