Self-help Articles

True Greatness: The Pain of Hidden Illness

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

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I had a very good friend named Mary who suffered from a disease called Lupus.

Lupus can be a mild disease, or it can be horrific and fatal. It can go from mild to severe, back to mild again.

My friend was very sick, and we’d often talk about how she looked fine on the outside, but her body was waging war on itself.

She was yelled at for parking in a handicapped space although she could barely walk. Early on when her disease was beginning, her family struggled to understand why she was so tired and sore. They didn’t believe that this beautiful young woman who looked healthy on the outside was suffering greatly on the inside.

Katie was a young college woman I worked with years ago. She was bright, cheerful, intelligent, and funny. She also suffered depression so deep that she regularly cut her body with razors and constantly thought about how she could kill herself.

She managed to get through college with good grades and was accepted into graduate school, all while feeling as if she did not deserve to live. No one guessed at her pain.

AvaLou is a bright 2 year old who has kidney disease. Like Katie and Mary, to look at her you would not guess the battles she has already fought in her young life.

She has had countless surgeries and procedures on her small body. She is a fighter, but she also struggles and hurts, and her body is waging war to survive. People have a hard time accepting that she has limitations because she looks fine, until you see the scars on her back. 

In the months before Mary died, we would text because she lost her hearing. I wrote her this piece to let her know how strong she was.

My hope is you will be reminded of your own greatness and the greatness of those struggling with hidden illnesses.

 

True Greatness

Sometimes, I have to remind myself where true greatness lies.

It is not found in PhDs, or beauty, or wealth, or recognition.

True greatness is painful.

It is watching as others run up mountains

While you take …


Dear Daughter: 5 Life Lessons for My Child

Saturday, January 17th, 2015

 

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As my daughter enters the middle of her eighth year, she is changing and growing rapidly.

She vacillates between the feelings and needs of a child, and the desires of independence of a young teen.

Eight years old is an age of rapid maturation for many children. She picks up on the nuances of relationships. She hears the news and is afraid sometimes. She is learning her own boundaries and setting limits, but still returning to the safety of family.

Here are 5 life lessons for my eight year old.

Dear daughter,

1. You are your own person, separate from me.

It warms my heart when you imitate me and say you want to be just like me when you grow up. But as you’re learning, I am far from perfect. Your life is your very own. I want to watch as you bloom and grow into your own being. You ask me constantly what you should do and get frustrated when I guide you back to what your thoughts and feelings are. As much as it pains me to say it, I will not always be around. You will gain independence and confidence. Have faith in yourself.

2. I will be there for you when you succeed and when you fail.

Yes, I will share in the highs of your life as you do wonderful things. I will also be there when things don’t work out, when your heart is broken, when your soul feels crushed. You can yell at me, curse me, and tell me you hate me. I will still be here for you, because you are my child. I may not like what you are doing sometimes, but I will always like (and love) you. Nothing in the universe will change this.

3. Reaching out for help, support, or love is never wrong.

I’m a therapist, so you’ve grown up seeing me helping others through rough times. I hope you’ve also noticed the times when I’ve reached out for support from friends and family.We do not live life alone.  If someone is hurting …


3 Steps to Battle Self-Hatred

Friday, January 16th, 2015

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Dear Reader,

If I were to sneak inside your head, just for a moment, what would I hear?

At your darkest moment, when you’re all alone with your thoughts and your thoughts are the things of chaos, when you can’t sleep, and you are at your lowest, what words would slip into being?

Is your head full of hate to yourself? Do you chastise and berate your actions of the day? Do you hear anger? Chastisement? Disgust?

If I could magically give you one thing this year, I would give you the gift of self-kindness.

I’ll bet you’re pretty nice to others. I’m fairly certain you would never be as harsh to them as you are to yourself.

When someone makes a mistake or says something that’s wrong, you may smile to yourself, but you don’t jump out of your seat and call them a moron (or worse). You certainly don’t stay up at night thinking about them.

But somehow, you do this to yourself.

Learning to love and accept yourself isn’t something that comes easily for some of us.

When kids are bullied, when teens face pressures they can’t take, when children are taught that their worth is based on what they do or don’t do, say or don’t say, they end up taking on the voices of the people who are cruel to them.

The mean words that are said to them, they say to themselves.

Maybe this is you.

When I work with people who struggle with self-hatred, there are three steps that we work through, often more than once.

STEP ONE: Identify the source of the self-hating thoughts

Can you recognize where each of the self-hating voices comes from? Is it from the hypercritical parent? Or are the words from the bullies from school that made you so sad and scared as a second grader? Maybe it’s the voice of an ex that made you hate your body.

Sometimes the people who are supposed to build us up and help us grow, stomp us down and harm our soul.

It isn’t right; it isn’t fair. But remember that although it may feel true, it isn’t, even if the words come from …


Sadness or Depression? Recognizing Mental Illness in Tweens and Teens

Saturday, October 11th, 2014

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Kids carry around a ton of emotion.

As infants, they communicate with cries, screams, and eventually smiles and laughter.

Toddlers grow and begin to use spoken language in addition to laughter, hugs, biting, hitting, and crying.

The childhood years are generally calm. A second grader has not yet entered the emotional turmoil of the teen or preteen years, and has increased social skills that they didn’t have as a toddler or even as a preschool child.

Once a boy or girl hits the preteen years, the hormonal changes that will eventually take them into adulthood begin.

If you’ve ever talked with a group of parents about their own adolescent years, you’ll hear words like “chaotic” and “angry,” “depressed,” “anxious”.

Teens and tweens are full of incredibly strong and complex emotions. Their moods change and shift. They can be explosive and angry one minute, and the next minute write you a sweet note about how much they love you.

As a parent, grandparent, teacher or friend, how can you differentiate between the mood swings of an emotionally healthy adolescent and a teen who may be struggling with a more serious mental illness such as depression?

Even with adults it can be difficult to tell the difference between feeling blue and having depression. With teens it’s harder.

As a parent, you know your child best. If something feels off with your child, talk with them further or seek professional help. If you’re a caring adult in a teen’s life and notice something that is concerning, don’t hesitate to reach out to the teen or their parents.

One thing I hear time and time again from adults who were depressed as teens is that they wish their parents had understood and gotten them help. Don’t be afraid to reach out and seek help if you see some of these signs.

  • Engaging in self-injury. Any type of self-harm is cause for concern. Some teens cut or burn, others will pierce or scratch themselves. While it may or …

Do You Have a Challenging Toddler? 8 Simple, Proven Solutions

Sunday, August 10th, 2014

shutterstock_151353104Ah, toddler-hood: the years when a child’s mind is growing faster than their speech, where they have big feelings but little control. Parenting a toddler is challenging to say the least.

My daughter is seven now, but I clearly remember those days of leaving the grocery cart full and walking out of the store with a flailing, screaming 2 year old. Nearly anything can set a toddler off: a cat in her special seat, running out of Cheerios, or even the one-cent pony ride being out of service.

This is not to say that parenting a toddler is all pain and no joy. There were lots of wonderful moments as I watched my daughter learn language, when I saw the world through her new eyes and experienced her wonder.

But the crazy times? Yes. There were plenty of those.

Part of parenting is finding simple ways of making it through tantrums and screaming matches.

As a therapist, a mom, and a blogger, here are some tried and true suggestions for when your little one is out of control, and you feel like you’re going crazy.

  1. Give your kiddo a time-in, instead of a timeout. A time-in is where you invite your child to sit down next to you or near you or on your lap. You invite her to talk about her feelings and connect until the behavior storm passes. There’s a great article that explains the difference between time in and time out here. 
  2. Be silly together. Toddlers can get so into their cranky moods that they cannot pull themselves out of it. As a mom or dad, being silly or goofy can break that mood. I used to perform very poorly done magic tricks. Toddlers aren’t picky.
  3. Give yourself some space, if possible. With a toddler, it can be hard to find a moment of peace, but sometimes when you notice yourself getting angry or about to yell or hit, …

Animal Assisted Therapy

Saturday, August 9th, 2014

Eini, therapy bird at New Wings Counseling

Animal assisted therapy (AAT) has become the new buzzword in the field of mental health.

While animal assisted therapy was previously seen as an alternative treatment, it has become more main stream, and it’s now common to find animals in the therapy office, retirement community, and hospital.

All animals can provide love and friendship to those around them, but therapy animals are specially trained to be comfortable around people with disabilities, to not bite when startled, and to accept petting from people of all ages and conditions.

What is animal assisted therapy?

According to the Mayo Clinic,  “pet therapy is a broad term that includes animal-assisted therapy and other animal-assisted activities. Animal-assisted therapy is a growing field that uses dogs or other animals to help people recover from or better cope with health problems, such as heart disease, cancer, and mental health disorders.”

Animal assisted therapy has been studied and proven to work with children who have experienced abuse or neglect and for people recovering from cancer and other diseases. It’s been shown to be effective with veterans and their families. Nursing homes, libraries, schools, and even prisons have had success with bringing trained animals in to help ease tension, provide support, and comfort. Animals are able to reach people in ways that nothing else can. 

What makes animal assisted therapy work?

  1. Animals offer unconditional love. When someone struggles with depression, anxiety, grief, or loneliness, the world can seem a barren and hostile place. Animals can show a kindness and acceptance that bring healing. The simple act of petting a cat or dog lowers blood pressure and reduces tension.
  2. Animals can connect with people who have a difficult time connecting with people. This is particularly true for people with autism.  A wonderful resource is ASDA, Autism Service Dogs of America. It is not only individuals with autism who benefit from animal assisted therapy. As a therapist, I use …

The Fat Shaming Epidemic

Saturday, July 26th, 2014

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I’ve been thinking a lot about body shaming and fat shaming.

It’s all over the media lately. And although kids being teased for their weight is nothing new, the power of the internet takes it to an entirely new level.

Carleigh O’Connell, a 14 year old girl from New Jersey, became a viral sensation and anti-fat shaming advocate when she posted a photograph of herself in a swimsuit in response to a graffiti message spray painted in her home town. Carleigh was recently a guest blogger on the site called Mighty Girl. She states:

What I now know…

I have realized that so many people, kids and adults, have faced and can relate to this type of negativity.

I have realicarleighzed that sometimes you have to stare cruelty in the face and not drop your head.

I have realized that owning who you are and how you are made is much better than feeling ashamed or bad about yourself.

I have realized that is okay to not have everyone agree with you and your actions, because sometimes negativity can bring bigger and better things.

What happened to Carleigh is awful. No one should have to feel objectified like that. But Carleigh took the bullying and turned it around. She refused to be shamed. Because of her courage she has become a role model and hero to many.

There are many websites that exist for the sole purpose of fat shaming; websites that post pictures of overweight people and make degrading and cruel remarks about them. Sadly, some bloggers and writers believe that fat shaming helps people lose weight.

Fat shaming does absolutely no good and causes significant harm. If you’re a person who has experienced fat shaming, you know that being made fun of or mocked for your weight does not help you loose any pounds.

Despite what proponents of fat shaming want to believe, when people are humiliated due to their size,  they gain even more weight.

Being overweight means that according to the medical establishment, you are carrying more weight …


8 Easy Ways to Reconnect with Your Teen

Sunday, July 13th, 2014

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The teen years are a developmental time when children begin to distance themselves from their parents and families.

This is necessary and healthy.

But sometimes the emotional distance can become too extreme and you will feel the need to reconnect.

Your job as a parent parent is not an easy one: to allow your child to grow an independent sense of self, yet remain close enough to provide support and guidance when needed.

As your teen grows in maturity and independence, keep 8 these ideas in mind to help you reconnect when the distance grows too great.

  1. Encourage appropriate independence. Teens are searching to find their own identity. This may mean making choices that you find strange or shocking, or it can mean changing rules to fit their growing autonomy. It’s importance to balance independence with behavioral expectations to keep your teen safe. A teenager’s frontal cortex, the part of the brain that helps them make decisions and allows for impulse control, is not fully formed until the age of 25, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, so try and help them when they are making dangerous choices, but allow them freedom when it’s appropriate.
  2. Recognize when your teen needs you to be closer. The teenage years can feel like an emotional roller coaster. Some days your child wants nothing to do with you, other days they talk your ear off and you feel like you can’t get a moment’s peace. When they are seeking connection, do your best to provide it, and if they withdraw again, realize that this is all part of the process of growing up.
  3. Lay off the lectures. Sometimes the fewer words that are spoken, the better. At this age, consequences speak volumes. If your teen knows she broke curfew and knows the consequences that are in place, she doesn’t need a lecture. If the problem is serious and needs to be addressed with a conversation, it helps if everyone involved is calm. Allow your teen to be part of the discussion. Even if you as the parent have the final word, teens need to feel like they are heard.
  4. Be positive,

Can an App Save Your Marriage?

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

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There are apps for everything these days.

There is an app that makes fake working noises so you can secretly nap.

There’s an app to translate your baby’s cries.

One app wants you to pay $.99 to have a staring contest with a poorly drawn cartoon monkey.

Apps can help you run a marathon, stick to a diet, learn tai chi.

But can an app help or even save your marriage?


When a Pet Dies: Helping Your Young Child Grieve

Monday, June 30th, 2014

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When your child’s pet dies, it can be a stressful and confusing time. He or she may not behave in a way that seems normal or natural, or their sadness may seem to linger for an extended period of time.

For many kids, the death of a beloved pet can bring nights of sobbing and tearful questions.

Even if the pet seems insignificant to adults, like a goldfish won at a fair, a child may feel as if their world is falling apart and mourn deeply.

On the other hand, some children appear nonchalant and unfazed about the death of a pet cat or dog. They may talk about the death in a matter of fact way and become focused on getting a new animal.

Parents may be struck by their child’s lack of intense feelings and worry that he or she isn’t crying or appearing to mourn. This can be especially true if the parents feel the animal’s loss deeply and are grieving.

Just like adults, no one child grieves in the same way as another. So whether your child reacts with nights of sobbing, pictures drawn, and an  elaborate funeral complete with a decorated box and flowers, or if he or she shows very little outward sorrow, your role as a parent is to help your child through their loss at their pace and in their unique way.

Here are some suggestions to help your child when they are grieving the loss  of a pet.


 

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