The name of my blog is , “A Psychotherapist’s Journey”. I know that it can be dangerous to share our inner dialogue, our experience, our truth. It may be judged, minimized, criticized. We in turn may be judged for even sharing it. Let alone on the content of the message. I also know that if we don’t risk and share our truth there will not be change. There will not be change within. There will not be change in our community, culture or country. I am a trauma therapist. I am a relational and systems therapist. I am white. I am Jewish. I am a woman. I am a mother. I am a human being. I speak because I cannot be silent. Thank you for listening and bearing witness. Thank you for listening to me tell my story. It heals.

Hearing the testimony of the witnesses during the trial of Derek Chauvin prompted my need to share my thoughts, feelings and reactions. Bearing witness to their trauma had an effect on me. Seeing their bodily reactions while retelling what they witnessed brought out an incredible amount of sadness and anger within me. I felt sadness and anger when I heard that he had had died while being knealed on by a police officer. I work with first responders, including police offiers. I personally know first responders and police officers. George Floyd should still be alive. It’s that simple. What happened should not have happened. It’s not allowable for any reason. It can’t be justified or explained.

I saw the video before they showed it at the trial. I cannot unsee it. I was very troubling to bear witness and hear the witnesses share their feelings of guilt, helplessness, realizing they were witnessing a murder and being kept up at night. Watching them emotionally and physically react as they literally relived their already difficult experience was an additional wound for them and for all of us bearing witness. I talk about bearing witness. What does that mean exactly? I bear witness daily as I sit with clients in theapy and participate in their healing. Telling your story is healing. Telling your story in the presence of an empathic witness can be transformative.

I bear witness as clients talk of some of their darkest days. I bear witness to words and stories that have never been uttered before. They have run around their heads. Tortured their psyche. Disattached them from their strength. Told them not to hold hope. I bear witness to profound strength, courage, resilience and passion. My clinical training and my wellness toolbox enable me to feel protected, move through it and work through trauma.

It is like a coat that manages, calms and balances countertransference. It informs my presence. My wise mind is able to weather the storm. It instructs me. Guides me to separate myself, manage my reactions to remain present and connected to health and healing. However, I cannot remain too separate, too removed. I would then become ineffectual. Disconnected from my body, my mind, my skills, my experience, my intuition, my creativity and my training. I have been practicing psychotherapy long enough that its more like an automatic pilot or a program that has been download and runs in the background. When I move out of it I am for the most part able to use my best tool, myself, to help myself move through it. I make adjustments, check in and re check in with myself to remain in this space.

But let’s be real. When my world was pierced with the knowledge of what happened to George Floyd I was not in therapy mode. I was not occupying that space with those skills and those therapeutic protective barriers. I was me. Just little old me. The me that spoke for people and animals that could not tell their story long before I became a therapist.

The female woman is deeply effected by what she just heard. What? What happened? What didn’t happen? How did this happen? Who let this happen? Who will stop this from happening again? These were some of the thoughts running through my head as tears poured down my face. This very thing happened to me again as I bore witness to his death all over again during the trial. How traumatic for them to be present as this tragedy unfolded. They are forever changed. I would imagine that most of the witnesses felt triggered before, during and after giving their testimony; bearing witness. Hearing that a male witness was described as “Breaking Down.” is ripe with stigma. It mislabels the experience. This adds to the collective trauma. The male witness was reliving a horrific and traumatizing event. His reaction was a normal and expected reaction to re-living, to living. It takes courage to own and tell your story.

We are all forever changed. Bearing witness does that. Witnessing someone being killed changes you. Living in a country where this can and does happen changes you. Working through that traumatic experience changes you.

We have to change. We cannot go back and fix what happened that night. We must move forward and create change. Change must be mandated. Required. Lives depend on it.

This is not a test. This is the real thing. I like many of you have been personally coping with major stress, threats to physical safety, economic circumstances and changes that effect my daily life.  A lot of information coming from many sources. Our roles at home, at work and in the community have changed. Feelings of overwhelm, stress, uncertainty, grief and sadness are normal reactions.

My role as a mother, daughter, sister, spouse, friend, psychotherapist and sole proprietor of a small business has changed. I am adapting. Learning new skills. Sharpening old ones. Being resourceful. Creative.  My work world. My home life. My inner world. Keeping perspective. Looking outward. Embracing change. Moving forward.

It has always been my choice to meet with a client in person. There is something so unique, alive and organic that occurs when people connect and create an environment that promotes healing and growth. I have participated in Telehealth with clients. This is not new for me. I have supported clients through cancer treatments, chronic illness which leaves them homebound or in a hospital or deployment. I have counseled clients following a traumatic event. I have helped families cope with crises. I am continually growing and learning new skills as I continue to meet the needs of my clients.

This is different.

This is not a test.

This is very real. People are in crisis. Families are in crisis. Our communities are in crisis. Our world is in crisis.

I have clients who have retreated into themselves. Into very dark places. This is more than self quarantining.  This is more than an Executive Order to stay at home.

This is about worrying about basic needs. This is worrying about the safety and health of our loved ones both young and old. This is worrying about businesses that are “my child”, “my livelihood”, “my children’s college education”, “poured years of sweat, tears, money into this on a daily basis”, “I have missed major events, taken time away from family and this could all go away”. ” I am fighting the urge to drink or smoke more”. I haven’t struggled with cravings for years.”

I hear you. I see you. I’ve got you.

This is having to cancel or postpone a child’s birthday party. This is having to explain to a child that their birthday will look differently this year. This is a gut wrenching anxiety that most of us have even know that hits when you realize that people have horded supplies and there is no toilet paper, milk, eggs etc. This is hearing on the news that of thousands of people are dying from a virus that has no vaccine and no cure.

This is real. This is not a test. I hear you. I see you. I’ve got you.

I give everyone permission, myself included, to check in with yourself and do what you need to do to feel safe. Avoid comparing yourself to others. Please stay informed. Knowledge is power. It fights uncertainty with fact. Just be mindful. Hear an update. Check in about headlines. Then take a break. Practice self care. Talk to others. Get out of your comfort zone and use technology to connect. It will fight the darkness, the isolation, the sadness, anxiety, feelings of loneliness and overwhelm. Tell someone else what you are going through. Check in on a loved one. Check in on the extroverts; its rough right now. Check in on the introverts; its rough right now.

Give yourself permission to redefine your definition of productive. Redefine your daily goals. Make a new routine. Dig deep. Stay open to change. Be gentle to yourself. Talk back to your critic. Listen to your wise mind. Find reasons to laugh. Make them happen.

Most important of all. You are not alone. Help is out there. Tell your story it heals. It really does. We are inherently resilient. It still takes a village. Even a village that practices social distancing and is under an Executive Stay at Home Order.

This is real. This is not a test. I hear you. I see you. I’ve got you.

 

My work with first responders has taken many forms. Bearing witness as they sit on my couch and unpack their emotional reactions to the dangerous work that they do day after day. Responding to the suicide of a police officer, fire fighter or EMS personnel and helping the family and community heal. Working on the Lake County Suicide Prevention Task Force to end stigma, remove barriers to care and save lives. Watching the news and hearing the traumatic reactions in their voice, body language and their eyes. Counseling family members who are supporting a first responder struggling with drug or alcohol use as a result of the repeated trauma, stress and pressure they experience on a daily basis.

Making it home each night or morning after a shift is the goal. A work environment that can kill you. A job that requires you to use force and possibly kill another human being. A job where you could be shot at; killed. Showing up at a job day after day knowing that you see some of the darkest aspects of human life. Becoming a police officer to keep your community safe and make a difference. Having bottles thrown at you because you wear a badge. A human being. Not a machine or a robot. A person capable of making mistakes, holding biases and having feelings. THANK YOU for your service. It is an honor to show up and be there for our first responders.

First Responders are more likely to develop mental health conditions, such as, depression and PTSD than the general population. Thirty percent develop a mental health condition as a side effect of bearing witness, responding and making it home after shift. Their extensive training and tight knit community that is a second family, does not protect them from having normal reactions to what they witness and experience while on duty. We must stand up and show up for our first responders. We must do better as a society. We must have frank talks about mental health and trauma. Mental health parity is essential. We must end stigma.

In Chicago, where I live, more guns are confiscated than in New York and Los Angeles combined. Our first responders put their lives on the lines every time they put on their uniform and leave for work. What is it like to view a person as a potential threat to your safety. A routine traffic stop. Responding to a Domestic Violence incident where EMS is required. Fighting to save a business that is burning after looters set it on fire. Defending the capital. Escorting; literally walking children to school in a neighborhood where gang violence puts them at risk in the early morning hours. Responding in a matter of seconds because your life depends on it. This is what a first responder carries with them when they return home after a shift.

We must conceptualize emotional expression, stress reactions, suicidal ideation and struggles with substances as a consequence of living verses a stigmatizing character deficit. We must take responsibility for all actions even ones we thought at the moment were “I did what I had to do.” or “split second decisions” or “it was them or me”. We must hold people accountable. We must see reaching out for help as an act of courage. We must not be afraid to challenge biases. Collectively as a society we need to do better. We must think differently. We must create change both within ourselves and the world we live in. Our lives literally depend on it.

Repeat after me. My voice has power. I can attach to my power through my voice. We might have to say it again so you can really feel it. Repeat after me. My voice has power. I can attach to my power through my voice.

Why is our voice important? We use our voice to communicate with others. We also use our voice to communicate with ourselves. How we speak to others; matters. How we speak to ourselves; matters. Is the voice in your head a source of inspiration? Does that voice put you down? Hold you back? How does this effect the way that we use our voice to express, advocate and create change? What words do we use? What is the tone of our voice? Our message?

We all have a story to tell. Through the telling of our story we can find healing. A rewrite may be necessary. Adding new chapters is an ongoing project. Gaining back power. Re-connecting with our voice. Where does our voice change? What is the context? The landscape? The voices of our Parts may sound different from one another. They have different voices that all live within us.

I invite you to step into your power. I can’t wait to hear it!

Greetings from my home office. May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Our mental health needs have changed because our circumstances have changed. Our center has shifted. We are not going to work. Our children are not going to school. Our world has shifted and we are at home due to our Governor’s Stay at Home Order. Each of us are unique and have our own mental health needs given our specific circumstances. All of this came with us when we had to transition to this new way of living and being. Our anxiety, depression, frustration, relationship concerns and physical issues all came with us. The isolation, fear of contracting Covid-19, the changes to the way we obtain food, spend our leisure time have had a profound impact on our daily lives and our relationship to self, other and the world. It is important to make sure that you are having real and sometimes difficult conversations  loved ones, and even yourself, if there is a difficulty with managing mood, substances, food and/or having difficulty sleeping. Please reach out for support; you do not have to go through this alone. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255    You are worth the time spent on your healing.

I would like to share a few tips or things to keep in mind if you are currently in a relationship during Quarantine. Try to designate “safe place” areas for everyone in your house so that you know where to go for alone time, work time, exercise time, etc. Try to keep perspective. You do not need to have an Instagram worthy day or an Instagram worthy Quarantine. Your main purpose is to be at home to keep yourself, your loved ones and everyone else safe. You do not have to get it all done. Relaxing is not doing nothing. This shift of perspective can incorporate new rules and new ways of being. Goals are good and keep us focused. Have one a day. Something attainable that makes you feel good about yourself and your day. It does not need to be big, bold or Instagram worthy. Some days taking a shower and getting dressed is a fabulous goal. Give people in your life the benefit of the doubt. Try to come from a place of grace where everyone is doing the best they can in the current situation. You could also extend this grace to yourself as an added bonus. Explore ways to practice kindness be generous in your daily life. It should increase your ability to feel happy and receive love. It will also positively impact someone’s else’s well being. Lastly, but definately not least. You will have to get even more creative with date night. I mean it. I empower you to take time to check in with each other. How are you really doing? It feels so good to be heard and cared for. Schedule a movie date, a make out session, play a game, look at old photos, plan a dream vacation, lie in bed and read to each other. I courage you to connect with yourself and that person who you love. It does wonders for both your personal well being and the health of your relationship. I look forward to hearing your comments, stories and date night suggestions.

Remember: We will get through this. One world together. At home.

Happy-Couple-Jumping

We have the opportunity to be a lifelong learner. Choosing to be in relationship affords us the opportunity to continually grow and change. We have the incentive to work on ourselves as we are just one piece of the relational puzzle. When we choose a partner and make the conscious choice to be in relationship we must be aware that we bring with us our family of origin, our ancestors, our experiences.  We are constantly taking in new information. Making adjustments. By joining two systems a third is created. That relational system created between partners affords us the opportunity to continue to grow, change and adapt. Sometimes growth requires being uncomfortable.  Needs change. We must stay ready and open for growth and change. Our needs are fluid. They vary given the contextual landscape. Our needs are very complex. The years don’t just pass us by. We must be engage in our daily lives. Staying connected to each other and ourselves. We hope to improve, get better with age, work out the kinks, change patterns and create new ones. We hope the same for our partner. Each person is responsible for themselves. Each person is responsible for their own growth and development. Utilize the connection with each other to have honest, open and raw conversations. Don’t wait until you are sitting on my couch. Be willing to ask the other to change. Be willing to change. Be open. Be fallible. Be gentle. Be real. I believe in you. You can do it. Hang in there. The rewards are limitless. 

 

 

Happy-Couple-Jumping

We have the opportunity to be a lifelong learner. Choosing to be in relationship affords us the opportunity to continually grow and change. We have the incentive to work on ourselves as we are just one piece of the relational puzzle. When we choose a partner and make the conscious choice to be in relationship we must be aware that we bring with us our family of origin, our ancestors, our experiences.  We are constantly taking in new information. Making adjustments. By joining two systems a third is created. That relational system created between partners affords us the opportunity to continue to grow, change and adapt. Sometimes growth requires being uncomfortable.  Needs change. We must stay ready and open for growth and change. Our needs are fluid. They vary given the contextual landscape. Our needs are very complex. The years don’t just pass us by. We must be engage in our daily lives. Staying connected to each other and ourselves. We hope to improve, get better with age, work out the kinks, change patterns and create new ones. We hope the same for our partner. Each person is responsible for themselves. Each person is responsible for their own growth and development. Utilize the connection with each other to have honest, open and raw conversations. Don’t wait until you are sitting on my couch. Be willing to ask the other to change. Be willing to change. Be open. Be fallible. Be gentle. Be real. I believe in you. You can do it. Hang in there. The rewards are limitless. 

 

 

WT girls bathroom inspirational art on stalls

What a gift! As I quickly stepped in the restroom during the break at Curriculum Night, I was met with a fabulous surprise. As a mom of two boys, I don’t often say “What a fabulous surprise!” as I walk into many restrooms. Well, I was surprised tonight. Wow! Just Wow! I was instantly smiling as I read the positive and protective messages on each stall. Just Wow! Imagine being exposed to these powerful messages on a daily basis. Talk about protective factors.

What effect will they have on one person? Our community? Our society? What will it be like to grow up with these positive messages? Will they be protective? Will our children feel less distress while growing up? Will this change how we think about ourselves? Each other?

As September moves forward our focus on suicide prevention keeps us talking about protective factors, access to resources, the negative effect of bullying on our children, reducing stigma, improving the access and utilization of services and therapeutic opportunities. I have marched in walks for suicide prevention for over fifteen years. I have been a psychotherapist for almost nineteen years. I am in my forties and I still remember very vividly experiencing and witnessing bullying behaviors. This occurred within a culture that allowed bullying. It was almost expected. We talk about bullying on the courts, the fields, class rooms and locker rooms . We talk about “the mean girl culture” as early as 4th and 5th grade. We talk about bullying at school and in our community. We talk about bullying occurring on social media.

For me, it doesn’t matter how many years I have been aware of the problem or how many news stories I hear or read. It all gets very real when I hear about a person taking their life, committing suicide, as a result of being bullied, alienated, abused and not protected. When I talk with friends and family members who are trying to make sense of loosing someone to suicide it is very real.

*If you are reading this and you are thinking about suicide or have lost someone to suicide and you want to talk. Please call 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or TEXT 741741 *

Believe in Yourself. Have courage. Be kind. They are words. You are so ugly. No one would miss you if you were gone. What a loser. What a drama king. These are also words. The old rhyme about how sticks and stones may break your bones but words will never hurt you; Is a lie. It’s just not true. Bruises and bones heal. Words take up residence in our heads. These words scream at us throughout the day and as we try to get some rest and fall asleep. These words look back at us when we check social media. They come with us as we navigate the adventure we call our life.

What if there is no one to tell us not to listen to the bullies. What if no one notices we are depressed and have become isolated? What if I have learned that I will go to hell for being who I am? What if my home life is as hurtful as the bullies on the bus? What if my stalls in my bathroom are blank or filled with hate speech? What if I feel that there is no bathroom for me and I have to wait until school is dismissed? What if there is no safe place to go? No trusted person to talk to?

We keep walking. We keep talking. We say it is not OK to be a bully. We say it is not OK to be a bystander and say or do nothing. We continue to talk about protective factors. We continue to wage a battle against stigma. We improve access to services. We tell our stories. We listen to each other with open hearts and open minds. We watch our words. We post responsibly. We be the one. The one to notice. The one to care. The one to reach out. We keep fighting. We keep going. Take it minute by minute if you need to. Reach out. Get help. You are not alone. You matter.

We think. Feel. Be. DO

 

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So, how do you feel? Right now. How do you know? What tools did you use to check in with yourself? Did you just know? Would I know just by looking at you? Does it have a color(s)? What words would you use to describe how you feel right now? Do thoughts accompany particular feelings? Do some come before? After? Are their particular feelings that you experience more often? Are there some feelings that you are less familiar with?

Why am I wondering all of this? Why should you? Wellness includes daily management of stressors, being present with what is happening within you and around you. It also includes making hourly, daily adjustments to give yourself what you need. Knowing when to reach out, to increase your skill set, make connections, ask for help and believe you deserve it. You are worth the time spent on your healing.

Checking in with how we feel and think is a useful tool in your wellness toolbox. You have the ability to check in with yourself like you check the weather.

Getting to know yourself is a lifelong process. Our needs, perspective and context changes. We are fluid beings. We can feel a variety of emotions in a given movement or through out a day. Our beliefs about feelings in general dictate our relationship with both others and ourselves. Be as interested in your own emotional experience as the TV characters you long to return to each week. I promise you that the rewards will be great. You will feel the difference in both yourself and others. Our degree of connectedness to each other is dependent on the connection we have to our thoughts, feelings, desires, fears, hopes and dreams.

I encourage you. I invite you in. Date yourself. Ask yourself what do I feel right now? What do I need? How will you get it? Sustain it? Make love to yourself. Find out what turns you on and do more of it. I can’t wait to hear all about it!

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