5 Myths about Depression

During summer 2018, reports of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain’s deaths crashed like waves of confusion and agony across the world; social media exploded and conversations about mental illness became front and center. In response, loving and well-intentioned friends and family members shared important posts about being a safe place and encouraging those in their lives who are oppressed by depression and mental illness to reach out. As the days have continued to drift by, however, fewer posts popped up on social media feeds, reporting on NPR returned to normal, and I thought, “We need to keep this conversation going.”

In February 2018, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released a report from the Nation Center for Health Statistics that stated between 2013 and 2016, 8.1% of our population, age 20 and older, experienced depression in length of, at minimum, two weeks (Brody, Pratt & Hughes, 2018). More recently, the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) reported that one in five Americans suffers from mental illness, including depression, with depression now acknowledged as the leading cause of disability world wide and the greatest contributor to the “global burden of disease” (2018).

One in five. 

This means that it is not only common, it is most likely impacting people near and dear to you. That is why better understanding is imperative to creating safe space for those who battle every day; how we think and talk about depression and mental illness has incredible power to positively impact the lives of those who live with it every day.

Here are five assumptions about mental health that impact the way we view those who suffer:

Someone who suffers from a mental illness or depression is “crazy”: About six years ago I modified my eating habits to eliminate sugar, dairy, and wheat products. I had to plan an extra 20 minutes into my grocery trips to account for the mind-numbing experience of picking an item up off the shelf, locating the “contains” section, and picking out anything that hinted of dairy, sugar, or wheat. I learned many valuable things through this 40 day experience but only one of them is applicable here: check your labels. “Crazy” is a label that culturally we ascribe certain behaviors, attitudes, and attributes toward. Often I’m asked: “Am I crazy?” from friends, clients, and family members when they talk about how they are feeling and how they see the world. Crazy is a heavy burden to carry.

There are two aspects of this myth: first, words hold incredible power to sculpt how we think and feel about something. Labeling those who suffer from mental illness as “crazy” impacts the way we feel about people who experience mental illness and depression, as well as how those who are suffering feel about themselves. The majority of people who experience mental illness continue to trudge through their daily lives with little erratic behavior. Secondly, when we talk about or think about someone as “crazy” due to their mental illness, we are making a statement about their identity: who they are. I think of depression as an oppressor in the life of those who suffer rather than a part of who they are. Addressing our own assumption about those who are oppressed by depression and mental illness will go great lengths in creating safe places for those who do suffer to reach out for support.

Depression sufferers can snap out of it by thinking positively: Depression impacts one’s ability to logically process their experiences. Think about it this way: when you wear sunglasses, it changes your experience of everything that you see; what was once bright and squinty is now tolerable with a subtle blue hue. Depression is like a pair of demon sunglasses: rather than shielding your eyes from harmful UV rays, they prevent you from seeing positive aspects of your life and self. Whether you feel sad, apathetic, or worried, depression colors everything that you experience. According to James Cartreine, PhD, “(Depression) can impair your attention and memory, as well as your information processing and decision-making skills. It can also lower your cognitive flexibility (the ability to adapt your goals and strategies to changing situations) and executive functioning (the ability to take all the steps to get something done)” (2016). Thinking your way out of depression is a somewhat impossible task as the oppressor, Depression, manipulates how adaptable and logical your thinking brain can be.

People who are depressed cry all the time: The Diagnostic and Statistic Manual for Mental Disorders, version 5, or DSM-5, is the measure by which depression is considered and diagnosed. The DSM-5 outlines numerous different factors to depression, including but not limited to, persistent sadness, emptiness, and hopelessness, fatigue, significant weight gain or loss, and diminished pleasure in daily life (2013). Depression is more than sadness. Broadening my understanding of the symptoms of depression allows me to better see and understand it in myself and others.

Depression is a sign of weakness or fragility: When I think about those who battle depression, the last thing I think about is weakness. Depression is like a gremlin on your back, constantly telling you to give up, you can’t do it, you’ll never make it, you’re not good enough. Yet so many who have to suffer with the voice of Depression get up and keep putting one foot in front of the other every day. It takes strength and courage to fight off the gremlin of Depression. Self-disclosure: in my own battle with depression, I have had moments where I’ve been able to shut that voice out, moments where I struggled to keep it’s mouth shut, and other moments where I’m so tired from the wrestle that I can’t keep those words out anymore. No where in those three experiences do I see weakness. Exhaustion, sure. Weakness, no. When we take time to listen to the stories of those oppressed by Depression, we are able to hear their strength, their fight, and their courage while also understanding that there may come a time when exhaustion emerges and support is needed.

Depression is a normal response to life’s stressors: There is a big difference between feeling down, disappointed, or sad about the things we experience in life and being depressed. Depression works its way into a variety of different areas in someone’s life: sleep, weight, guilt, shame, etc. And it is not something we can work our way out of one our own.Depression has nothing to do with strength; it can be caused by a chemical imbalance, trauma, genetics, and environment, and more often than not some combination of the four. And it doesn’t care if you’re physically or mentally strong.

Interested in learning more about mental illness, depression, stigma, and combating these myths visit MakeItOK.org or CureStigma.org. NAMI also provides resources, classes, and groups across our nation to support those that experience mental illness and their friends and family.

Check out some of these resources and let’s keep the conversation going! I’d love to hear about resources in your own area as well as how this post was helpful to you. Feel free to leave a comment that supports our encouraging atmosphere. If you have any questions about what comments are not appropriate, please take a minute to read through the Terms and Conditions.

References:

  • American Psychiatric Association. (2013) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Fifth edition. Arlington, VA.
  • National Institute of Mental Health. (2017). Major depression. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/major-depression.shtml

Dr. Cartreine is a clinical psychologist, interactive media producer, and researcher. He is an Instructor in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and teaches CBT to psychiatry residents. Dr. Cartreine is affiliated with Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the Boston VA Medical Center, and is a co-founder of The EverMind Group, LLC.

Photo by Ian Espinosa on Unsplash

We are “that Parent”

The other day I was talking to a mother about her parenting journey and she said something that resonated with me: “In that moment I was saying to myself, ‘Yep, I’m that mom'”. Can you guess what moment we were talking about? I’ll give you some hints: Target, shopping cart, and grapes. The moment she was talking about was the one where you’re busily trying to finish your grocery shopping when your kiddo has a meltdown in aisle C18. The moment when you’re almost finished, cart full, and suddenly you’re having to parent a child who is full on banshee screaming over the tampon box he couldn’t open or the candy she couldn’t eat. The moment you notice the couple at the end of the aisle hastily choosing which flavor of Doritos to buy while giving you a look of pity with a hint of fear. That moment.

I have yet to meet a mother who hasn’t experienced that moment. Yet, when it’s happening, we feel like we are the only ones who have ever muscled through a meltdown in the middle of aisle G23: “Yep, I’m that parent”.

Well, I’m that mom, too.

I’m that mom that was sitting in the middle of the Christmas decorations with my toddler taking a “time-in” because she had just hit me. I’m that mom that has debated leaving a cart full of groceries just to escape the on-lookers while my daughter is screaming, “Help Daddy!” because I was trying to put her in the cart after she’d just run into a main aisle and was almost hit by another shopper. I’m the mom that cried discretely in IKEA after my daughter tried to get on the escalator without me then proceeded to scream-cry on the floor in front of the escalator preventing other shoppers from enjoying a leisurely stroll through the show floor.

I’m that mom, too, and I know I’m not alone.

Now, I know I haven’t talked about fathers yet in this post because I can only speak to my experience as a mother but I’m pretty sure that fathers have similar experiences, right? I know that my partner has. How he and I experience these moments and react in these moments, is different, but we both feel the anxiety and stares. We both want to run out of the store, from the playground, or out of the restaurant because it doesn’t feel great being “that parent”.

We all are “that parent” at some point.

We are all that parent because our littles’ brains are developing in ways that, honestly, don’t always make sense to me. Like, why does the emotion processing portion of your brain develop far before the logic processing portion? Give us parents a chance!! So of course we’re going to be “that parent”…our children’s brains don’t yet have the capacity to logically process their world; they process it through emotion, relationship, and boundaries.

As one of those parents who has tried to manage a meltdown in the middle of public, I have two suggestions on how to solve this problem.

One: Take a deep breath: you are not alone. Know that, trust that. I imagine if it were possible to get ahold of video feed from stores we would see parent after parent have “that moment” and we would know we are not alone. So breathe. A deep breath can keep us from crossing into our own grown-up version of an emotional meltdown. And when we respond to our children’s heightened emotions with a calm presence we are modeling respectful, attentive and present behavior.

Two: I propose that stores install a “Parent Button”. It should be red, giant, and maybe glow…because when my toddler is screaming, the last thing I need to do is try and find the “Parent Button”. On the button there should be a symbol of a parent wearing a cape. These glorious beacons of hope should be sprinkled throughout the store for speedy access.

Let’s say you’re wee one is unable to manage themselves in a manner that makes you feel like a successful parent (because let’s be honest, that’s why it’s so hard…the “you’re a bad parent” tape starts playing in your head #impostersyndrome). You look around frantically, and there, at the end of your aisle is a giant, illuminated button. An angel sings, you are saved. You run as fast as your cart-pushing feet can carry you, give the button a very enthusiastic high-five, and “Isn’t She Lovely” starts playing over the store speakers because in that moment I might need Stevie to remind me that this small person who is causing my heart rate to increase is also absolutely incredible. Incredible.

A calm and gentle voice interrupts Stevie Wonder: “Assistance in aisle C18”. Before you know it, other parents rush to your aid with snacks, coloring books, and some chocolate (that’s for you). Wouldn’t that be AMAZING!?

As a parent I occasionally forget that I am one in a sea of parents who have their own we are “that parent” moments. I am not alone in this journey and I will most likely never be. This article was written because I believe their is power in being vulnerable and honest about our individual experiences, and as we are more open, we will find that we are not alone in this messy, challenging, beautiful, and exciting club called Parenthood.

Was this article helpful to you? Leave a comment; I’d love to hear you story! Please remember my conditions for posing comments; disrespectful comments will not be approved. Also, if you’re an executive of a department store, feel free to contact me about the “parent button” so we can come up with a plan!

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Supplemental Material: “Safe People”

Oftentimes therapy can be more effective when clients are intentional with reading supplemental material outside of the therapy session. In my clinical work, I often suggest books, movies, video clips, and music to my clients that support their personal work, challenges them to think differently, and help them feel known and not alone. The resources discussed here are used regularly in my work and are helpful for a variety of struggles. I do not receive any benefits for sharing this supplemental material on my blog.

Title of Material: Safe People: How to Find Relationships that are Good for you and Avoid those that Aren’t by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend

Type of Material: Self-help Book for teens to adults

How to Access it: Safe People: How to Find Relationships that are Good for you and Avoid those that Aren’t is available for purchase on Amazon and numerous book stores. I also suggest checking your local library for hard or audio copies of this material.

Publisher’s Book Synopsis: “Too many of us have invested ourselves into relationships where things have gone wrong. You may have experienced being judged, manipulated controlled, or worse. The impact of being with an unsafe person can be damaging to your confidence, your trust in others, and even your health. And what’s more, we either repeat the same mistakes of judgment over and over, or else simply give up on trying to have great, authentic relationships again. We get busy instead. Why do we choose the wrong people to get involved with? Is it possible to change? And if so, where does one begin? Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend offer solid guidance for making safe choices in relationships, from family to friendship, romance and work. They help identify the healthy and growing people we all need in our lives, as well as ones we need to learn to avoid. Safe People will help you to recognize twenty traits of relationally untrustworthy people and discover what makes some people relationally safe, as well as how to avoid unhealthy entanglements. You’ll learn about things within yourself that jeopardize your relational security, and you’ll find out how to develop a balanced approach to relationships.”

How I learned about this material: This book was mentioned numerous times throughout my Masters program as material frequently referred to with clients.

Why I suggest this material: Building strong, supportive relationships makes a huge impact on my clients during their journey through therapy but having that kind of relationship isn’t a given. I have personally been impacted by this material and believe it reveals a lot of truths about who is safe and who is not.

Who may benefit: Anyone who is relationship with another person. Seriously, anyone.

 

 

Supplemental Material: “Braving the Wilderness”

Oftentimes therapy can be more effective when clients are intentional with reading supplemental material outside of the therapy session. In my clinical work, I often suggest books, movies, video clips, and music to my clients that support their personal work, challenges them to think differently, and help them feel known and not alone. The resources discussed here are used regularly in my work and are helpful for a variety of struggles. I do not receive any benefits for sharing this supplemental material on my blog.

Title of Material: Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown

Type of Material: Self-Help Book

How to Access it: Braving the Wilderness is available for purchase on Amazon and numerous book stores. I also suggest checking your local library for any of my resources.

From Brene’s Website: “True belonging requires us to believe in and belong to ourselves so fully that we can find sacredness in both being a part of something, and standing alone when necessary. But in a culture that’s rife with perfectionism and pleasing, and with the erosion of civility, it’s easy to stay quiet, hide in our ideological bunkers, or fit in rather than show up as our true selves and brave the wilderness of uncertainty and criticism. The wilderness is an untamed, unpredictable place of solitude and searching. It is a place as dangerous as it is breathtaking, a place as sought after as it is feared. But it turns out to be the place of true belonging, and it’s the bravest and most sacred place you will ever stand.”

How I learned about this material: Brene Brown’s work has been incredibly impactful in my personal life. Her work is authentic, direct, and real in a beautiful way. I strongly suggest all of her written material to clients, family, and friends.

Why I suggest this material: I believe very confidently that we are social creatures, created to live life in meaningful connection. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to do. Braving the Wilderness outlines four personal practices of belonging that push the boundaries of what we’ve been taught through our families, social structures, and culture. True belonging asks us to be vulnerable, take risk, and be brave. I suggest this material because she communicates the how and the struggle in a way that encourages readers to step into the unknown with hope.

Who may benefit: Those who feel that their relationships lack a sense of safety and authenticity; those who would like to be apart without sacrificing who they are and pretending to be someone they are not.

 

 

#metoo Resources

Here is a list of resources for support persons or those impacted by sexual assault. If you have personally been impacted by sexual assault, please consider contacting a support from the following resources. Your story matters.

  • RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) has a National Sexual Abuse Hotline where you are able to chat online or call 1.800.656.HOPE. You are also able to locate local resources through the website as well.
  • For men who have experienced sexual abuse, please visit 1in6.org for more information as well as a opportunity to chat with a trained advocate 24/7 or with a support group.
  • If you think you might be struggling with depression as a result of your experience, the National Institute of Mental Help can help you better understand what you may be feeling. It is important, if you feel like you may be depressed, to contact your medical doctor to report your symptoms and create a treatment plan. Often times, medication and some form of therapy can be helpful to address depression symptoms.
  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is also a safe place for you to shat online or call 1.800.273.8255 and speak with someone about what you’re experiencing and how you’re feeling. The website is also full of resources about suicide and suicide prevention.
  • A Netflix Original show 13 Reasons Why has created a website with links to resources for those experiencing sexual assault, depression, anxiety, drug/alcohol addition, suicide, and bullying. Please consider looking through their resources for additional information regarding the above topics.
  • For those who live in and around Kansas City our local resource is the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault (MOCSA). Through their website you are able to call their crisis line or chat with someone 24 hours a day. MOCSA also has resources and information for those who have experienced sexual assault or know someone who has. Education is important to combating sexual assault and helping those impacted by it heal.

While this post does offer a few organizations that can provide resources for those who have been assaulted, are considering self-harm, or are otherwise in need, it is by no means comprehensive and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment. If you think that you are a danger to yourself or others or are in immediate need of help/support, immediately reach out to your medical professional, therapist, or emergency services (eg. dial 911) or go to the nearest emergency facility.

You matter. Your experience matters. Thank you for taking the time to read this post.

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Motherhood in the Wilderness

When I was in the 6th grade, my class went to a nature retreat for the weekend. The intention of this retreat was to teach us wilderness survival skills: how to start a campfire, read a map, find the north star, identify dangerous plants, etc. Heading up north, I felt pretty confident about my abilities as I am a lifetime tent camper whose mom was her girl scout leader. Even with all my experience, however, when dropped off in the middle of the woods with a friend and a compass, I got seriously lost. So lost that when we finally found our way out of the forest, we were over 30 minutes late to the “meet up” and they’d already sent out throngs of adults to look for us. We had whistles to alert camp staff to our location, but we’d gone so far away, they couldn’t hear. And honestly, that was not the last time I would get lost in the woods while holding a compass and blowing a whistle.

I’m not sure how many of you have ever been lost in a forest but it is a strange experience. One minute you’re enjoying a peaceful stroll down the unbeaten path, the next minute you’re feeling a cold tingle down your spine and the thought pops into your head: “I have no idea where I am right now.”

My personal experiences as a mother and a lost hiker are alarmingly similar. Most days I feel confident about my ability to successfully lead my children through the day unscathed and dressed in pants and shirts that actually match, then there are other days where I feel out of my depth, even with a few solid parenting tools. Where is that damn whistle?!

Then you add the additional pressure of a job to get to, a house to clean, meals to make, and a partner to snuggle; motherhood becomes more like running through the forest being chased by a bear, you dropped the compass a mile ago, somehow you managed to step in a puddle of mud so your feet are wet and dirty, and you’re developing a side cramp.

And there’s bees.

But no whistle.

Let’s be real: motherhood is amazing and it can be tough. One moment you’re being smothered by kiddo kisses, the next you’re scraping poop off of numerous surfaces. They love you. They hate you. The scream, “go away” and “come back” in the same breath. And this doesn’t even begin to tap into the guilt we feel when we’re trying to get some extra work done as they ask us: “Hey Mom, can you help me with my homework?”. Or the guilt we feel for cleaning our house instead of sending that email or writing that report. You stay up way past your bedtime just to finish the last of the day’s tasks…tasks which never end, they are simply completed for a moment then return to the top of the list the next day. Sure, we have tools to help guide us through but sometimes when we’re tired, stressed, and our teenager just got sent home from school for behavioral issues, tools don’t seem to cut it. Exhaustion, annoyance, and frustration can creep in and make an already challenging day feel isolating and hopeless.

Whatever the age and number of your children, whatever work you do, in home and out, whether you do it alone or with a partner, whether you buy all organic and cook your meals from scratch or hit up the Chik-Fil-A drive thru more than you’d like to admit: YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Many of us are stumbling through motherhood like a lost hiker in the wilderness, hoping that we find someone else who can help us trudge through the remainder of our journey.

As a clinician, one of the most impactful things I’ve observed in a client’s journey of change is their support system: the larger and more connected it is, the more movement they experience in a shorter amount of time. If this post struck a chord in you, I’d encourage you to take some time to self-reflect: why do you feel this was impactful to you? How do you feel you’re doing as a person, as a partner, as a parent, or as a friend? Have you felt a little lost and alone lately? Do you have a support system that you can tap in to for companionship in your own journey? For me, when I’ve felt my most alone, I reach for those who will sit with me in my hopelessness and just be present. If you read this paragraph and thought, “Well, I don’t have a support system to lean in to”, I would encourage you to look for a local mom’s group. Often times they can be found by searching on social media, calling local churches and community organizations, or even contacting a local mommy and baby store.

If you are local to Kansas City,  a fellow therapist, Teressa Thurwanger, and I are hosting a workshop for mothers titled Motherhood in the Wilderness. If you’d like to join us, you can sign up here! Want more information about this workshop? Check out the information page on my group website for additional info or contact me through the contact page.

Was this piece impactful for you? Feel free to leave a comment! I welcome comments on my posts and encourage open, respectful and purposeful dialogue. I reserve the right to delete comments that insult, degrade, or shame other commenters.

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Supplemental Material: “Trauma is Really Strange”

Oftentimes therapy can be more effective when clients are intentional with reading supplemental material outside of the therapy session. In my clinical work, I often suggest books, movies, video clips, and music to my clients that support their personal work, challenges them to think differently, and help them feel known and not alone. The resources discussed here are used regularly in my work and are helpful for a variety of struggles. I do not receive any benefits for sharing this supplemental material on my blog.

Title of Material: Trauma is Really Strange by Steve Haines, illustrated by Sophie Standing

Type of Material: Graphic book for children through adults.

How to Access it: Trauma is Really Strange is available for purchase on Amazon and numerous book stores. I also suggest checking your local library for any of my resources.

Publisher’s Book Synopsis: “What is trauma? How does it change the way our brains work? And how can we overcome it? When something traumatic happens to us, we dissociate and our bodies shut down their normal processes. This unique comic explains the strange nature of trauma and how it confuses the brain and affects the body. With wonderful artwork, cat and mouse metaphors, essential scientific facts, and a healthy dose of wit, the narrator reveals how trauma resolution involves changing the body’s physiology and describes techniques that can achieve this, including Trauma Releasing Exercises that allow the body to shake away tension, safely releasing deep muscular patterns of stress and trauma.”

How I learned about this material: This resource came to my attention during a session on trauma during the American Counseling Association of Missouri’s annual conference. The author and illustrator have completed two other books together: Pain is Really Strange and Anxiety is Really Strange. There is another similar resource illustrated by Sophie Standing: Forgiveness is Really Strange, written by Masi Noor and Mariana Cantacuzino.

Why I suggest this material: In my personal life and with clients, I’ve found that understanding the chemical and physical impact that trauma has on our emotions and thinking is vital to creating change in our own lives. I suggest this material to anyone who continues to hit a wall in their therapy. Having the information often times allows clients to take back control over their therapeutic journey.

Who may benefit: Anyone who has experienced trauma or knows someone who has experienced trauma can benefit from this resource. This book is also written in comic style, so the material is interesting to children as there are visual representations of the written material.

 

 

Supplemental Material: “In My Heart”

Oftentimes therapy can be more effective when clients are intentional with reading supplemental material outside of the therapy session. In my clinical work, I often suggest books, movies, video clips, and music to my clients that support their personal work, challenges them to think differently, and help them feel known and not alone. The resources discussed here are used regularly in my work and are helpful for a variety of struggles. I do not receive any benefits for sharing this supplemental material on my blog.

Title of Material: In My Heart by Jo Witkek, illustrated by Christine Roussey

Type of Material: Children’s Book

How to Access it: In My Heart is available to purchase on Amazon and numerous book stores. I also suggest checking your local library for any of my resources.

Publisher’s Book Synopsis: “Happiness, sadness, bravery, anger, shyness . . . our hearts can feel so many feelings! Some make us feel as light as a balloon, others as heavy as an elephant. In My Heart explores a full range of emotions, describing how they feel physically, inside. With language that is lyrical but also direct, toddlers will be empowered by this new vocabulary and able to practice articulating and identifying their own emotions. With whimsical illustrations and an irresistible die-cut heart that extends through each spread, this unique feelings book is gorgeously packaged.”

How I learned about this material: I was preparing for the birth of my child by nearly daily meandering the aisles of Target making sure I had everything I ‘needed’ when I stumbled upon this book. As a consumer who often judges a book by the cover, I thought it was adorable, creative, and useful. My toddler and I read this almost daily.

Why I suggest this material: Research conducted on brain development helps us understand the importance of children learning how to express their emotions. As a parent, I fully acknowledge that this is a hard task. The part of our brain that is most successful in regulating our emotions does not fully develop until we are in our 20’s, so it’s a journey. Through this book we can give our children language, pictures, and experiences that help them communicate their inner landscape.

Who may benefit: Families with young children can use this resource to help teach their children about their emotions. I also have found in both my personal and clinical experience that this book can be helpful for grandparents and other caregivers of children. This book offers children and caregivers shared language to discuss feelings which can be helpful if children

Do you read this book with your kiddos? We totally do. A lot. What originally drew you to it? How do you see it impacting your littles? I would love to hear about your experience with this material. Please make sure to read over the Terms and Conditions when posting comments!

 

Secondary Trauma and #metoo

This article was written for those who are in caring positions: friends, family, mental health providers, pastors, etc., of those who have experienced sexual harassment and assault. If you have experienced sexual assault and are looking for support, I have written an article with resources for you. I hope that you find it helpful.

In February I was driving to work listening to NPR. They were playing a piece of investigative journalism by Ronan Farrow on Harvey Weinstien, the film mongol who’s misogyny and sexual harassment of women was being exposed after decades of inappropriate and predatory behavior. A reality women, myself included, face across the globe was finally being brought into the light. Part of me wanted to leap for joy while another part of me, my heart, was broken in a way I did not fully understand.

In the months since this news broke, brave men and women have shown up on social media, unearthing a sickness in our world that has existed for far too long: #metoo rolled across the world like waves across the sea.

As I listened to the radio, read the newspaper, opened Facebook, and sat with friends, I felt my continued heart break. How was it possible that so many people experienced sexual harassment and assault every single day? I began struggling to keep cynicism at bay and felt the temptation to look at people differently, to be more weary and cautious. I felt the need to protect my family and change the way I parent to make sure they were safe. Anxiety and frustration became a regular part of my days as I joined with others in their stories of painful, terrorizing, and life altering events. I would process what I was hearing on the radio with my husband and through our conversations I realized I was experiencing secondary trauma.

Secondary traumatic stress is emotional distress that is a result of hearing or reading the firsthand traumatic experiences of others. People who are experiencing secondary traumatic stress have similar symptoms to PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder): anger, cynicism, sleeplessness, fear, hyper-vigilance, just to name a few. Other’s experiences become apart of our own hearts and stories, color the way we see the world, and increase our personal levels of anxiety and depression. A great resource for learning about the impact of trauma/secondary trauma on the brain and why we respond with increase vigilance and emotion is the book Trauma is Really Strange.

If you are close to those who have been harassed, abused, and oppressed, secondary trauma may be part of your life. As you read above, did you notice any of the same symptoms in yourself? If so and you’re hoping to build resiliency toward secondary trauma, here are a couple things to implement in your own life that can help guard you from the impact of secondary trauma and be more present for those whom you journey with.

An empty lantern provides no light. Self-care is the fuel that allows your light to shine brightly. – Unknown

Taking Care of You: The foundation of self-care is self-awareness. How do we take care of ourselves and meet our own needs without knowing we are in need in the first place? Developing self-awareness starts with slowing down and taking time to do some of the following: meditate, yoga, and journal: activities that ask you to reflect, breathe, and pay attention to the physical and emotional landscape of your body. Another aspect of self-care is knowing what you need and making it important. This is hard. Making yourself a priority can be difficult especially when those you love are hurting. I’ve also written an article titled Just Do the Dishes: Self-Awareness  with more specific practices and questions to ask yourself when beginning your self-awareness journey.

You do better at the gym with a trainer; you don’t figure out how to cook without a recipe. Therapy is not something to be embarrassed about. – Kristen Bell

Seeing a Therapist: As a caregiver and helper, there have been times when it’s been hard for me to acknowledge I need help. Being honest, however, about my own ability to manage my life as well as the pain of others is very important. As much as I’d like to think that I can shoulder the weight of the world, I am only one person with a limited capacity. Therapy is a place for you, where you are known, cared for, and have specific time and space to work on your heartache, anger, and pain. Ultimately, therapy can help you process your feelings and experiences and minimize the impact of secondary trauma. Therapy is also a place to identify the resiliency we have established in our daily lives already as well as identify activities and practices to implement that will help increase your capacity.

I believe that people need each other and that the wounds inflicted on us throughout life are best healed in the beauty and peace of safe relationship. In order for us to be the most helpful to those in our lives, taking care of ourselves and finding helpful support, like therapy, meditation, and yoga, will increase our ability to support and help heal those that we dearly love.

My final thought is this: thank you for loving those in your life who have been impacted by sexual abuse and assault. You are giving people space to share their “real” and honoring the things in their lives that have impacted how they see the world. What you do matters.

Was this post impactful for you? Do you find that self-care and therapy have been beneficial to you in your journey with those impacted by sexual abuse and assault? I would love to hear your story; feel free to comment if you are comfortable. Please note that I reserve the right to delete comments that are disrespectful, uncaring, and detrimental to other commentors. This policy is outlined in the Terms and Conditions of using this site.

Photo by Gianandrea Villa on Unsplash

Just Do the Dishes: Self-Awareness

Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including YOU. – Anne Lamott

When I sit with my friends and someone brings up self-care, an audible sigh is heard throughout our group. When? Between working and cleaning, making meals, and parenting? Between the gym, coffee, and the friends we rarely see anymore? Between the emails, lesson plans, and all the details that come with the business world? So when I sit with clients and preach the importance of self-care, I’m with them in the wondering: “Where am I going to fit that in!?”

Yet, when we take care of ourselves we are far more capable of loving ourselves, we have a greater capacity to manage daily stressors, and we are able to be more intentional in our relationships. Self-care is important…but how do we start to incorporate it into our lives?

My first introduction to self-care was in graduate school. We were given an acronym for SELF-CARE (sleep, eat, relationships, fitness, etc.) and asked to identify a few activities or changes within each area to implement in our lives. A large portion of this assignment was identifying things that we personally enjoyed and then creating a schedule. While I was in graduate school I was working, pregnant/parenting, and doing an internship. I quickly realized that my structured self-care plan was becoming a to-do list to get a good grade, rather than to help me.

When self-care is a box to check off on your to-do list, it can often fall to the very bottom, behind all of the other things that are causing you more present anxiety. For example, that mountain of laundry that’s been staring you in the face allllll daaaayyyyy long. Or the work presentation you have to give tomorrow at 9am. Or the overwhelming number of other things most of us have happening in our lives at one single moment. Because of this, I begin at a different place with self-care: rather than creating a list of things to do, I believe real, beneficial self-care starts with self-awareness.

Start by paying closer attention to your inner landscape: when you’re doing the dishes, just do the dishes. Turn off whatever screen might be watching, turn down your music and just listen to yourself. Feel the water rolling across your hands. Smell the dish soap. Adjust the water temperature to whatever feels comfortable and comforting rather than muscling through scalding water. And breathe. Take a few deep breaths, filling your lungs all the way down into your abdomen.

When we start to slow down, we start to listen. Western culture is fast paced, loud, and full of distraction: it’s not wonder so many struggle to fully enjoy the lives that they are living. Start by paying attention to yourself as you do every-day menial activities. Take the time to better understand yourself and gain self-awareness. When our awareness grows, we better understand what we need when we need it. We know whether or not we need to go to the gym at 5am or to sleep a few more hours. We know when we need to have that hard conversation. We know when we need to watch some Netflix and when we need to turn it off to finish a project.

If we know what we need, we can meet those needs for ourselves, whether through relationship, activity, community, nature, food and sleep. Increasing your self awareness begins with slowing down and paying attention.

Second, start asking yourself good questions. Are you consuming a caffeine, dairy and sugar based diet when you know sugar makes you angry, caffeine keeps you awake, and dairy makes you boogery? Have you been spending time with people who you love and share life with? Have you recently been through something difficult or challenging and taken a moment to slow down and breathe again? Or did you hustle off into the next thing on your list of to-do’s? Are you consciously choosing things that, while not always easy, can have a positive impact on your anxiety, depression, and frustration?

When you have taken the time to pay attention, increase your self-awareness, and asked yourself good questions about what you need and when you need it, choosing self-care can become less like another “to-do” and more like an active and loving choice for yourself. So if you have been noticing lately that you’re extra tired, more easily frustrated, or just “over it”, take some time to pay attention, ask yourself good questions, and just do the dishes.

Any adaptations to your activity level and diet should be discussed with a medical professional prior to making changes. As a Marriage and Family Therapist, it is outside my scope of practice to consult clients and readers on specific physical activities, dietary needs, etc., therefore, consult with their doctor before beginning a new exercise schedule or making changes to their diet.

Participate in the conversation – if this blog post was impactful for you, I’d love to hear about it by commenting below. I encourage open conversation that is honoring, respectful, and encouraging of all readers, therefore, I reserve the right to remove comments that are hurtful, aggressive, and damaging to others.