Joy Lessons from my 5-year-old Niece

Lessons from Linde

I recently took a road trip with my sister and her kids. While we drove and swam and hiked and visited, I got a good dose of anti-depressant wisdom from my five-year-old niece. Linde inspires me because she is full of joy and incredibly herself: no apologies, no pretense, no matter what’s in the evening news. (People in EMDR therapy spontaneously connect with more playfulness and joy, what five-year-olds have in abundance.) Here’s what I learned.

  1. If you’re mad at someone, make up a silly name for them and use it as much as possible. You polka-dotted poom poom! You noosey nooner! It disarms people in a way that also makes them want to laugh.
  2. Every day, present someone your arm or your neck and ask them to tickle you lightly with their fingertips.
  3. Revel in your own skin. Luxuriate in the feeling of your body as it touches fabric or fur or water. Enjoy the feeling of your hair grazing your shoulders. Take every opportunity to run or bounce or wiggle, especially with a glow stick or while wearing a bee costume.
  4. Keep dancing till everyone else drops. Be the first on the dance floor and the last to leave, whether you have a partner or not. Stopping to go to the bathroom is over-rated.
  5. When someone aims a camera at you, assume you’re beautiful and work it.
  6. Make up stories and recruit your friends to play characters. Give them costumes. Dance around them and sprinkle fairy dust.
  7. If you don’t have an answer to a question, just meow.
  8. Don’t give up on people. If you’ve been turned down for an arm tickle, go back in fifteen minutes and try again. Assume they want to snuggle, but carry a stuffed fox or turtle around just in case your important people are busy.
  9. If you don’t like what’s on the radio, sing your own song. It helps if you close your eyes and pretend you’re the only one there.
  10. And finally, when you’re really angry or scared or disappointed, have a good cry or maybe scream. Let it all out, as loudly as possible. Then take a nap and wake up ready to jump on the bed.

 

Contact Deborah

“I’m unattractive & I Don’t Deserve Love”: Change Negative Beliefs with EMDR

By Scot Campbell from Charlotte, NC, USA [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I have a few Negative Beliefs . . .

I did some dumb things in my teens. I backed the family car out of the driveway, into our neighbor’s car (which had exited his driveway a second ahead of mine). I waited tables at a church banquet and spilled iced tea down the back of a well-dressed Sunday school teacher. I sat at the piano in complete paralysis, unable to remember an entire section of my Chopin Polonaise as the audience waited . . .

When I think of this chain of horrors, I want to hide and disintegrate into the soil, never to be seen again. I feel like . . . I’m a failure; I’m a disappointment.

Those two beliefs, until pretty recently, dominated my life. I never fully relaxed for fear I might bomb another important event, thus reinforcing my status as a disappointer.

Negative Beliefs sound like . . .

I’m not (good) enough.

I’m unworthy.

It’s my fault.

I’m a bad person.

I’m unsafe.

I can’t trust.

I’m insignificant.

These beliefs come from adverse experiences, especially repeated ones that happened when we were very young. The traumatized brain grabs these explanations – unless someone helps us understand and talk about what happened. So maybe your logical, adult self knows that these are false . . . but the emotional or child part of you FEELS they are true anyway.

Maybe you have old Negative Beliefs that could be interfering with your life now.

So, when you think of your worst problem  . . . the thing that causes you the most grief and heartache and anxiety:

  1. What does it look like?
  2. How does it feel when you think of it?
  3. Where do you notice that emotion in your body?
  4. What does it mean about you? . . .

There it is.

EMDR targets those old ways of viewing and experiencing our selves. It causes us to reprocess, or metabolize, old information that once got stuck in traumatic form in our bodies and it lets new information replace it.

I do the best I can.

I did the best I could.

I’m okay now.

I’m good enough.

I’m enough as I am.

I’m a good person.

I’m beautiful and I deserve love.

 

Contact Deborah

 

Calm Receptive Mode: Get calm and find the good stuff inside you.

Idea Garden II, Deborah Cox, Flowers Reborn

Your higher self knows how to calm you.

We all want to find calm receptive mode. But not everybody wants to get a massage (although we should – there are people who can make us feel safer and less awkward). Some of us need action. We need to be out in a kayak or running a trail. Some of us meditate and we know it works. We may need some yoga or tai chi. Some of us tap. Or we turn on some Fauré and close our eyes. And I know at least a couple of people who get barefoot and put their feet in the grass and feel the earth beneath them and take big breaths of outside air.

Maybe you’ve tried to get away or go out in nature or just sit still and you got scared. I’ve been there. You started to feel lonely and edgy, even though you knew you needed solitude and quiet.

What am I doing, anyway? Shouldn’t I be doing laundry? I’m wasting time. I can’t do this. I’m full of crap.

So you gave up, started cleaning, turned on the TV . . .

But your higher self knows what YOU need in order to get into Calm Receptive Mode . . . and it may be different from what your spouse or best friend needs.

Calm Receptive Mode = calming our minds enough to know what’s inside us, struggling to get out.

. . . The good stuff we’re waiting for. The part of us plugged in to divine energy understands us completely and wants us to get access to this good stuff: our creativity, our ideas, our epiphanies about how to live more joyously.

Try this tapping exercise:

  1. Tap the sides of your knees, lightly, left-right-left-right, etc., on the spots that feel most sensitive.
  2. Repeat these phrases:

It’s okay for me to be calm.

My higher self knows what I need to quiet my mind.

There is good inside me.

  1. Take some deep breaths. Repeat as often as you can tolerate it.

. . . Let me know how it goes for you.

Contact Deborah

 

 

Transform Holiday Stress into Mindful Rest & Giving

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mindful holiday rest

Until recently, I resented the holidays. As in, Already???? We just did this, right? Except the years when my son believed in Santa and we put together tricycles and trains, after his bedtime, under the synthetic Douglas Fir, I got a sinking anxious dread just before Thanksgiving that let up after January first. Holiday stress separated me from myself, and everyone else.

I think it came from the following factors.

  1. Pressure, everywhere, to be gleeful: to clink champagne glasses, sing carols, bake things, throw parties, and wrap the house in colored lights.
  2. Reminders of loved ones from whom I’m disconnected, including my dad who got himself banished from family holidays for bad behavior.
  3. A sense that I should be experiencing something mystical and life-altering.
  4. Consumption and constant images of consumption that begin as soon as jack-o-lanterns are thrown away and continue until time for hearts and dark chocolate.
  5. The glaring contrast between the Lexus commercials and the young woman standing on a street corner begging for food money in 30-degree weather.

Last year, I decided to accept this about myself, rather than force a false cheer. I pared down. I hung one sparkly star on our front door, forgoing the wreaths and my ceramic tree collection. I said yes to only the most sacred holiday gatherings. I wrote about how weird and separate I felt. I also asked friends and family to donate to charitable organizations instead of our lavishing each other with things none of us needed.

And something unexpected happened . . .

In the midst of the gloom, which I allowed myself to feel without any self-judgment, little sparks of joy appeared. A simple candle and some homemade bread, cozy at home with family. With lowered expectations for gaiety, I felt satisfied, warm, and thankful for my inner circle. And with some of my attention turned outward, to the needs of the wider world, I felt more connected to the universe.

Turn dread into mindfulness.

If you’re someone who hates the holidays, try on this list of suggestions to see if your mood lifts and your perspective changes, just a bit.

  1. Look for ways to give that really count. Find charities that you can endorse and ask family members to give to them, in lieu of your new bathrobe. Here’s a collection to get you started.

http://www.thekitcheninc.org/our-programs/rare-breed-youth-outreach-center

https://www.plannedparenthood.org/

https://www.nrdc.org/

http://refugeerights.org/donate/

http://www.naacpldf.org/

  1. Write about your holiday distress. Putting emotion and story on paper will both help you clarify the roots of your blah mood and improve your immune functioning through the winter months.
  2. Do less. Only go to the events you find most satisfying. Spend more time resting. Limit your decorating, socializing, and gift-giving to a few simple things. Tell loved ones you’re putting bounds around your busyness and consumption.
  3. Spend time in quietude. Turn off the holiday music, the news, the movies, and listen to your own thoughts for a while. Just notice them and let them go. Pay attention to emotions and let them move through you.
  4. Consider EMDR therapy to target bad feelings associated with the season. If your childhood holidays meant disappointment, separation from a parent, or heightened family stress, you may need to reprocess those memories and reclaim some present-day joy.

If these suggestions don’t help you feel better, just be where you are. Feel what you feel. Observe yourself without judgment. You’re enough, just as you are.

Contact Deborah

 

What Does Freedom Look Like to You?

 

http://lucabarberini.com/en/works/view/56/revolution-16

Revolution 16, Luca Barberini, http://lucabarberini.com/en/works/view/56/revolution-16

We hear a lot about freedom from politicians and life coaches. But freedom seems a bit vapory to me. Freedom to, what, exactly? Last week, I started asking people, What does freedom look like to you?

Here are some of the answers people gave me.

  1. Having the ability and right to make decisions for myself.
  2. The ability to help myself and help others.
  3. Being without addictions.
  4. Being able to set boundaries with others.
  5. Listening to good music.
  6. Artistic expression.
  7. Being able to explore and change my views of the universe.

No one I asked mentioned weapons or money. They all described internal states and liberties. Freedom feels internal to me too. Truth. Beauty. Love. Things I have with me no matter where I am or who is in power. Things that cut across religious and cultural divides. I’m able to think fluidly, use my reason and intuition, my senses and hunches and emotions, to guide my behavior and beliefs. I can create loveliness with words or gum-wrappers. I can love others and feel their love coming back to me, even if we’re hundreds of miles apart. I have access to what’s inside. I’m not a slave to substances.

Writing to Get Freedom

For me, writing leads to freedom . . . especially writing about relationships, religious and spiritual oppression, bullying, domination, or abuse. As I dare to write my emotional truth, I explore the dark side of my human experience. I go through the slimy tunnel and out the other side. That’s where I find truth, beauty, and love as I experience them. One leads to the other. Writing the horror and the struggle clarifies the real questions to be answered, Who Am I? Why has this been my path? What have I learned from it? What’s my life’s curriculum?

Going through this process, I get more mentally free.

In the spirit of these questions, here’s an exercise. This might get you started on your own life-writing or social commentary. Get out your journal and pen and start writing. Give yourself five minutes on each question. Set a timer and be sure to stop when it dings.

  1. What do you absolutely have to have in your life, in order to be okay?
  2. Why do you think those are what’s necessary for you?
  3. What is your number one core belief about the universe?
  4. How did you develop that core belief?
  5. When do you feel most free?

Drop me a line. I’d love to hear from you.

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Notice Body-Mind Connections and Heal from Trauma

Bone Flowers Deck, Luca Barberini, 2010, http://lucabarberini.com/en/home

Bone Flowers Deck, Luca Barberini, 2010, http://lucabarberini.com/en/home

I used to fall a lot. On the sidewalk. In my yard. Up a flight of marble stairs. About seven years ago, after a string of bizarre falls where I ended up with scars on my shins and a pulled muscle in my back, I followed the trail of breadcrumbs and made a body-mind connection. It went like this.

  1. I have contact with a mean or narcissistic person.
  2. I feel “off balance.”
  3. I trip on my own feet or a tree root or a rock in the driveway and land on my hip or my hands.
  4. I hurt myself and also feel humiliated.
  5. I immediately recall the bullying individual from #1.

At first, when I told my doctor about this, I felt sheepish. I didn’t want to blame my clumsiness on someone else (and I didn’t want her to think I’d had a stroke). But as I told my story, I caught sight of my patient me, as if through my doctor’s eyes, apologizing for the link I’d made between mean people and my having accidents. I thought of other patients in her office, recalling what they’d eaten or where they’d been just before a medical event, and I started to feel some compassion for myself. She’s not a shrink, but my doctor understands how our emotional and medical lives intertwine. I am a shrink, and I’ll tell you, they are one and the same.

Luca Barberini, 2015

Portrait from Photo, Luca Barberini, 2015

 

Maybe it’s okay to notice the weird connections between things. Not just the physical things, but the emotional things too.

“But I don’t want to be unfair.”

I get it. But there’s a difference between blame and etiology. Just because you track the origins of your anxiety or your over-drinking doesn’t mean you need restitution from the person(s) involved.

Or maybe you do. But that’s another conversation…

Maybe you’re afraid to see how your panic attacks started in a relationship. But it’s just human and normal and natural to want to UNDERSTAND. How did I get here? What is my body telling me?

As distinguished traumatologist, Bessel van der Kolk, writes in his book, “The Body Keeps the Score,” trauma disrupts our ability to notice what we feel in our bodies – yet this interoceptive awareness is the first step in becoming more able to stay safe and meet our physical and emotional needs.

So I want to remind you  . . . it’s okay to notice meanness or boneheadedness or emotional invasion. It’s okay to notice how hearing a particular teacher or minister or political figure gives you a nauseated chill. It doesn’t make you petty or shallow to see how contact with your mother leads to a migraine or makes you sluggish or gives you erectile dysfunction. It doesn’t make you a whiner to notice you feel lonely and you crave sugar after a conversation with a certain friend. Noticing means you’re awake. It means you can detect traces of a trauma (past or present). Not-noticing means you’re in some way asleep to your experience.

So as long as you’re awake . . . I invite you to notice. Take inventory of your strange symptoms. Notice any pain or discomfort or numbness in your body. See if you can trace it back in time. Notice the picture in your mind. Write about it. Then, read about how EMDR can help you clarify the connections between things, and get resolution on bad experiences you’ve had.

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No Judgment Here: 10 Things I Love about Group Fitness

 

No Judgment Here

No Judgment Here

No Judgment…but lots of Very Cool Surprises.

Group fitness bears a huge resemblance to group therapy. Who knew? I did not. But doing group fitness at The Bodysmith has changed my life and now I can’t stop talking about it. It helps me recover more quickly from setbacks. It places my fitness in a social context. It allows me to hear from lots of other people about their normal struggles – things we worry about in common and things we’re celebrating or learning to let go or accept: aging, illness, our kids…We come from different backgrounds and generations and occupations, but we share so much, including our desire to be fitter and more conscious human beings.

I LOVE…

  1. That everybody has a different shape.
  2. Burpees: Now I can do twelve of them without stopping.
  3. Mutual soreness.
  4. That I see how we all fluctuate through our lives: leaner, fatter, more and less swollen, depending upon how stressed we’ve been lately. No need to worry about it. I can allow myself to be human and inconsistent. In this way, I’m just like everybody else.
  5. Getting stronger and being able to lift things I couldn’t before.
  6. My friends holding me accountable to come to class.
  7. Learning not to judge myself or compare myself to others. Learning this doesn’t help or matter to the forward movement of my life.
  8. That everybody knows my name there (think neighborhood pub, only without the beer).
  9. That I feel connected to my community: I learn what’s going on around me from people who go to different concerts and read different books.
  10. I bounce back more easily from those weeks of bad food or bad self esteem. It’s never the end of the world.

I’m starting to think group fitness IS group therapy. I’m starting to think you might get more bang from your buck by joining a Pilates class than by doing a traditional talk-support group (not that those aren’t great). I’m starting to see there’s no real separation between body and mind. I’m starting to get that recovery from trauma has to be part muscle, part blood vessel, part neuron, part emotion, and part imagination.

Call me if you’re curious about how fitness and trauma recovery go hand-in-hand. Or talk to anyone at The Bodysmith to learn how you can start this part of your healing.

Contact Deborah

Managing the Mirrors: How to Stay Calm When the World is in Chaos

 

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People ask me, “How do you do what you do and stay calm? How do you not go crazy with all the stories you absorb from people who are hurting?”

I say, “Sometimes I do go crazy.” I’m not immune to people’s stress and it can make me crazy tired…..Which is why I have to limit my intake and do a bunch of other self-preserving things to calm myself and make sure I’m rested and ready to listen again each Monday.

We all have mirror neurons that allow us to empathize with each other and even mimic each other’s behavior. With mirror neurons, we literally pull people’s pain (and joy and dance moves and fashion sense) into our own nervous systems. Children do this automatically with their parents: we feel the stress and impact of our parents’ emotional lives, as if it were our own.

To deal with all the flashing internal empathy mirrors, I have to be mindful of my intake, deliberate about my self-care, and awake to what I need at all times.

If I’m not mindful, deliberate, and awake…..I get sick from too much mirroring.

Here’s a partial list of ways I (sometimes) accomplish mindfulness, deliberateness, wakefulness. Consider it a work-in-progress. I learn more about calming and self-care every day.

  1. I have to move, every day: A walk or a cardio class or a yoga session. Movement lets me metabolize information and it prevents depression.
  2. Some of my favorite people tell me they can go on three hours of sleep and a few cups of coffee, but I still need a good eight hours every night. Sleep probably helps us process information. When I’m taking in lots of new stories and ideas, I need more mattress time.
  3. Art (visual) and Music. Colors and shapes and notes create a kind of medicine for me. I need them like I need to eat greens. I need to see, hear, and make them myself. I need to surround myself with people who work in textures and tones. I need Bach and the comingling of magenta and lime.
  4. Although it feels like a chore at first, I need to write something in my journal every morning. If I skip this, I pay.
  5. My Own Therapy. I get my own EMDR therapy, to help me sort and utilize all the incoming data that can seem so cruel and disconnected. Like many of you who work with people, I’m exposed to a steady stream of Type II Trauma (little t trauma) in the experiences of others. Just watching the news leaves me with enough material to fill an entire therapy session. This stuff has to go somewhere. EMDR helps clear the sidewalks of my brain, so I can move about again.

I hope this list gets you started on your own self-preservation journey. I’ll be back with more…..Because we need you in this world. We need your clear heart and mind. We need your calm spirit. We need your ideas and generosity. We need you to care for your body and soul, so there’s more of your goodness available to the world.

 

Contact me if you’d like to learn more about caring for and protecting yourself in this complicated world.

How Friendships Improve your Love Life

“I don’t really hang out with people anymore.”

Most people I meet who are in distressed relationships say they have few friends outside their marriage or partnership. Especially the men. Continue reading

Write Your Way Out of Depression

I was 41 and it seemed like the gate had closed forever on my life goals. I couldn’t sleep. I coughed constantly and had mysterious pain in my butt that resisted all chiropractics. I kept falling – even up the stairs. I felt trapped in an academic job I’d outgrown. My husband shattered his leg in an accident while rebuilding houses in hurricane-devastated Mississippi. Medical bills piled up around us and it seemed we had no true friends in the town we’d chosen, nine years before, for its lush old neighborhoods. Instead of friends, I had a circle of sharks in my university department who’d made my last few years a nightmare by undermining everything I did or said.

Thank God for a sabbatical that rescued me from the sharks and the pain-in-the-ass. My son and I boarded a plane for the UK and I took along a copy of Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way. While my little boy snoozed, I cracked it open and started changing my life’s course. Not that I saw myself as an artist – but I had a gut feeling I needed more imagination in my workday, more laughter, less worry, less posturing and competition, more play.

I had this fantasy I’d quit my teaching job and go work for Sesame Street. I pictured myself sitting in a circle of funny people, writing scenes for Muppet characters, falling back into gales of hilarity.

Julia advises Morning Pages, a kind of unstructured journaling exercise you do every morning, first thing, before the day’s demands and conversations take you away from the imagination that blooms during sleep. She says Morning Pages can lift us out of crippling depression, clear the mental space we need to design our cherished plans, explore crazy ideas without squashing them, and plant seeds that eventually grow into a more creative – even artistic – life.

And she’s right. But it takes some time and persistence. As I look back at 41, I can see I was in a tunnel leading me from old life to new. I had to write my way out.

I started getting up a half-hour earlier to write in my journal. I vented frustration, listed wacky ideas, drew cartoons of mean people, wrote scenes from my life story, and conversed with my enemies. I described a change of color scheme for the living room. I journaled my dreams. I made to-do lists. I bemoaned my stresses and arguments with my husband. And then one day, I prayed.

It went something like this:

Dear Creative Force (Julia recommends this salutation for those of us who struggle with agnosticism),

I am writing to you because I need help. I have no idea if you’re there or if you can hear me or if you care, but I could use an intervention.

Sincerely, Deborah

Then came some subtle changes. After about a month, I looked forward to the Morning Pages – they started my day with focus. Days I skipped tended to drag. After three months, I got some inspiration for the book I was writing. After six months, I had more energy to exercise (Julia says people who do the Morning Pages tend to become more fit). It was weird. I got this burst of knowing beyond all doubt – I had to quit my grown-up job and work for myself.

Seven years later, I do my daily journaling religiously. I write about everything. When I get stuck, I write: I’m stuck – I have nothing to say – my mind is blank – I feel completely uninteresting and uninspired – blah blah blah. I get unstuck. I have epiphanies. I converse with God. I doodle ideas for the office. I give thanks for everything from my sweet husband and son to the canopy of green outside my window to the warm kitty purring in my lap.

A circle of love surrounds me – but it took writing to uncover it, to lead me through the dark passage and into the light . . . and it probably will again.

Is there a dark place you need to escape? Or a cage door you need to push open? Put your pen on your paper and keep it moving. When you’re tempted to stop, keep it going a while longer. See if you can do three pages. Get up tomorrow and do the same. And then just notice what happens.