Mindfulness · The Process of Therapy · Trauma Therapy · Uncategorized

Living Life: Even on the Tough Days

On the darkest of nights, when there seem to be no options – no solutions to the despair you feel, how will you find your way? When it seems like there is no hope left, will you hold out hope for your own fire?

I’d like to write about suicide, and the option that takes just the tiniest spark of hope: living.

Ask 10 people for their thoughts on suicide, and chances are you will receive 10 completely different responses. Suicide is a word packed with 100 times more emotion than syllables. And even in sitting down to write about it today, I had to wait for the whirl of emotions to slow before I could hear the one constant resounding  thought: I value life. 

I value life.

I didn’t always though. I was once an impulsive and shy kid with few friends, the target of ridicule by classmates – once or twice even by teachers. I knew rejection. I knew loneliness. I even knew the pain of grief when cancer claimed my mother . I knew feeling directionless. Feeling unsure of myself. Of having no one to turn to who would truly have my back.

One day, during my Masters degree training, I took a class on suicide risk and intervention. After learning crisis intervention and theory, we were required to demonstrate our suicide intervention abilities by role playing client and clinician. When it was my turn to play the role of the ‘client’, I  harnessed those many years past from my youth, when living another day felt unbearable. And while I could still acknowledge the pain of those days, I could barely get the words out in order to “act” suicidal in the moment. And that was when it dawned on me: I value life. I could not even pretend for one moment that I didn’t want to be alive.

I have bad days and sad days. I have lonely days and grumpy days. But I also have good days and joy-filled days. I have peacefully quiet days and blissfully calm days. I have days when I feel invisible but I have so many more days when I love and value myself. The thoughts and emotions that awaken thoughts of suicide are a signal that you are in pain. That you are hurting and feel powerless to create change yet that you desperately need to create that change in order to be ok. Sometimes it might feel as though that change is impossible. Sometimes it might feel as though the energy required to act on creating that change is just too much. So what can you do?

We need to get out of our own heads. The view one takes of the world when feeling depressed or anxiety-ridden can become a habit and can breed more thoughts that are characteristic of depression or anxiety. We need to really look at the people in our life and ask the tough questions. We need to turn towards the people who care and we need to let them care. We need to be kind – even to ourselves. We need to listen. We need to be present. And in doing so, we can ignite the tiniest spark of hope to keep going, to find your fire – because this life really can be good.

If you are feeling suicidal, please reach out for help. Call, text, email, talk. You have more worth than you know.

If there isn’t someone you can talk to, or a Crisis Line in your area, check out The LifeLine App in the App Store.

SG blog

 

The Process of Therapy · Uncategorized

Christmas isn’t a Glorious time of year for Everyone

Last week I was invited to speak on the topic of caring for those in your life who might be struggling over the Christmas holidays. A women’s group, who recognized how easy it can be to get swept up in the busy-ness of holiday cheer, wanted to ensure they were picking up on the signs of those who might be struggling in order to be present, attuned, and responsive to their needs.

Christmas background

The truth is, the holidays really aren’t glorious for everyone and may even create a worsening of symptoms connected to low mood, anxiety, and loss. While I can’t give you the webinar verbatim, here are a highlight of ideas to help you connect with the people you know who may find the winter holidays difficult.

1) Use your Intuition, and know the Signs

Not everyone is going to tell you how they are feeling, and the signs of depression and anxiety are not always obvious. Use your intuition and knowledge of the person. Here are some additional indicators to be aware of:

  • An increased negative outlook that is out of character
  • Increased challenges in getting in touch with someone when you know they are in town, not working, or generally available
  • They are frequently late when previously they were always on-time
  • They seem to no longer put effort into their appearance when previously did

Things Someone who is Struggling might say

When we are truly listening, we are not thinking about what to say next. Truly listening means we are attuned to the person speaking. When you listen, you may hear clues the person is using to tell you they are struggling.

It might sound a lot like:

  • “I’m having a hard time these days”
  • “I feel so stressed out”
  • “The holidays have never been a good time of year for me”
  • “I hope the holidays pass quickly”
  • “I’m not looking forward to it…”
  • “I feel depressed”
  • “The holidays are hard for me”

depression_sympt

2) General Guideline Ideas to Care for Someone who is Struggling

  • Don’t assume to know how another person is feeling
  • Don’t diagnose (Do know the symptoms and offer resources if you are worried, but try to stay away from Dr. Google!)
  • Do alter your expectations of what the holiday season means to people
  • Do spend less time talking about what you are giving or have received for Christmas
  • Don’t force large get-together’s on people who have declined your invitation (Do put effort into seeing them one-on-one)
  • Don’t take it personally if someone leaves a get-together early  (Do put effort into checking in on them the next day)
  • Don’t assume everyone is going to want help
  • Do know your community resources, helpful apps, and be ready to listen

3) The Tyranny of “Are you Okay?”

Ah yes – beware the “Are you okay?” question. Have you ever noticed that asking “Are you okay?” often assumes you are looking for the person to say they are not, and when their answer contradicts this expectation, you feel they are withholding information and therefore repeatedly ask “Are you okay?” until frustration ensues and yup – you guessed it, now they really aren’t okay!

Asking “Are you okay?” sets you up for an unfulfilled answer. Try not to ask it, and try these options instead. The answers they may elicit will yield far greater information and the recipient of the question may even feel more understood and validated.

Instead of asking “Are you Okay?”, try asking:

  • “It seems like you’re feeling down, how are you today?”
  • “How do you feel you are coping with the holidays this year?”
  • “How are the holidays going for you?”
  • “It seems like you are really struggling; how can I help?”
  • “I remember this time of year is hard for you; can I spend some time with you?”
  • “I know these get-togethers can be challenging; what do you need for it to work for you?”

4) Tune the Heart through Positive Shared Experience

Research has found that connecting with a practice of gratitude can actually impact one’s outlook. It must been deeper than the simple “I am grateful for the sunshine today” and must be expanded with: “I am grateful for the sunshine today because _____”

Now, if you enter into a conversation with someone who is emotionally struggling with an attitude of airy gratitude, you will risk rending yourself unrelatable and your helpful efforts may be brushed aside. However, there are some ways you can bring an attitude of gratitude into your connection with them. Here are some examples:

  • “It’s so good to see you, I really enjoy our coffee-talks”
  • “It’s so good to spend some time with you”
  • “I really appreciate that you can be honest with me, thank you for trusting me and letting me in to your world”
  • “Sometimes when people feel stressed they tend to isolate themselves, thank you for letting me be here for you. I really value you in my life and I am here for you.”

Thank you for reading: it means you are aware that someone in your life might be struggling and you are exploring ways to be more present and responsive to their needs.

 

Resources:

Christmas image from: <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photo/christmas-background_3142066.htm”>Designed by Kjpargeter</a>

Shawn Achor, The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology that Fuel Success & Performance at Work

Elisha Goldstein, Uncovering Happiness: Overcoming Depression with Mindfulness and Self-Compassion