Out Of My Mind – My Blog About Everything Else

Out of My Mind

Welcome! You’ve found Out of My Mind, my blog about . . . well . . . pretty much everything. You never know what you’ll find here. (If you’re a frequent visitor, feel free to skip the intro and go straight to the latest post.)

Out of My Mind is written entirely by me, Anne Barker, owner and therapist at Barker Therapy Arts. My main speciality is working with couples on all kinds of relationship issues, but I also work with individuals to address other concerns – things like trauma recovery, life transitions, or the grief and loss journey. And I write about a lot of other things, as you’ll see for yourself if you spend a bit of time perusing my posts below.

Because, like you, I’m also trying to figure things out, I try to write both of my blogs (check out Hitch Fix – My Relationship Blog) from a place of real vulnerability and humility, even as I also offer solid advice and strategies. Enjoy the posts and please consider commenting as you read. Your observations are likely to offer other readers an insight or tool they’ve not considered.

Please note that the purpose of this blog is just to inform and encourage (and sometimes, hopefully, entertain!), not to diagnose or treat, or to replace human-to-human psychotherapy. If you feel you could benefit from mental health counseling of any kind, I encourage you to seek out an experienced therapist (like me!).

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Me Too

me tooI can be a bit of a complainer.

I complain about lots of things – my work, my relatives, the weather, my Senator – and I’m gonna stop right there so we don’t get into a nasty political argument. You get the idea.

You too?

      The truth is, I think most of us complain about a lot. All in all, we are a discontented lot, quick to judge, quick to point out flaws.

But there are some flaws we hesitate to mention to others, or maybe even acknowledge to ourselves . . . those that belong to us:

      • our confusion and indecision
      • our crippling self-doubt
      • our profound moments of despair and hopelessness

In short, our own brokenness.

Although we all, at some point, run into these obstacles (at least I hope I’m not the only one), the face we usually present to the world is one of contentment and self-confidence, as evidenced by this typical exchange between friends:

“Hey, how ya doin’?”

“I’m great! How are you?”

“Awesome!”

Okay then . . .

Why is this? Why don’t we talk openly about these less-than-perfect sides of ourselves?

Although this issue might be a little more complicated than this, I think there are two main things driving our silence: the fear that others might find out that we don’t have it all together, and our reticence to admit this same thing to ourselves.

Let’s face it. We’re a species that is largely looking for approval, and we’re often willing to sacrifice a lot – authenticity, true connection, intimacy, even the possibility of support – in order to get it.

We’re even willing to sacrifice our own connection with reality if we can maintain the illusion that we’re just fine, thank you very much. Because our culture, with its emphasis on “not enough” and “more, more, more,” isn’t too accepting or nurturing of brokenness and less than.

Here’s how this works in my life. Most of the time, I hesitate to reveal anything about myself that will make me look bad. And if, on a rare occasion, I do dare to suggest that I might be just the teensiest bit flawed or confused, I speak about my upset in a way that makes light of my experience, or in a jaunty, pithy way that makes people laugh.

Rarely do I hang out my dirty laundry with any kind of seriousness. Rarely do I offer a true, “no filter” picture of my life.

me tooI say “rarely” because there are a few special people who, because of their history of honesty, empathy and validation over time, have earned the right to hear the full truth about me. To these people I will risk being authentic.

And what happens next . . . well, it’s miraculous.

What happens next is that they usually say something to the effect of . . . “Me too.”

Me. Too. And then, relieved, we connect around our brokenness and vulnerability, and we both feel a lot better. And our confusion, our struggle, our self-doubt – none of that seems quite as bad as it did at first. It just seems . . . we just seem . . . normal.

What’s more (although we might not notice this part right then), we actually change the world a bit in that moment.

Because think about it. If we all keep towing the line, if we all keep adding our voices to the chorus of those that claim “all is well,” and “there’s nothing to see here,” we contribute to the collusion that encouraged our silence in the first place, and thereby also discourage others from being authentic.

But when we share our flaws and our struggles, when we allow ourselves to experience vulnerability in front of another person, we form a different chorus, one whose voices are unified in empathy and understanding for what it means to be human. And one that creates space for others to do the same.

me tooSo my appeal to you is this:

Take a deep breath. Be brave. Tell the truth about yourself to a trusted friend, a close family member or your partner. Sit up a little straighter in your chair and risk looking, and feeling, imperfect and vulnerable.

And see what happens next.


What about you? Have you had moments of true vulnerability that have made an impression on you? Have you had moments in which you know you’re not sharing your authentic self? Would you consider sharing your story in a comment below?

And, if this post got you thinking, you might also like to check out Brene Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability or this blog post about making friends with our monsters.

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Posted in Authenticity, Community, Out Of My Mind | 4 Comments

Feeling Bad About Feeling Bad

feeling badI was recently thumbing through my journal from last year and came across an entry that gave me pause. I wrote this entry while on vacation at our family cabin in Colorado, and the gave-me-pause part was that I was writing about a sucky day when I was feeling bad.

I remember this moment well. I had spent most of the day with my emotions rotating between some variant or combination of sad, lonely, unmotivated, grumpy or critical – basically I was Eeyore, Archie Bunker and Oscar the Grouch all rolled into one annoying conduit of negativity. Bleh.

To make matters worse, I couldn’t figure out why I was feeling bad. My life was actually going pretty swimmingly. I had a loving family, enjoyed meaningful work, was healthy in mind and body, and was lucky enough to be hanging out in this beautiful place.

After spending way too much time analyzing my feelings (a hazard of the profession) and coming up empty-handed, I then tried to talk myself out of them. Finally, when that didn’t work (it usually doesn’t), I began to judge myself for feeling so bad in the midst of such a good life.

WHAT WAS MY PROBLEM? I shouldn’t feel this way, I said to myself. It’s pointless and stupid, I said. Snap out of it, I said.

And then I felt even worse.

Because I had started feeling bad about feeling bad.

John Bingham, a sports writer, once wrote, “We can do, be, feel no more than our best, and our best changes from day to day.”

I knew these words well, but had forgotten them on that day in Colorado. On that particular emotional day I was keeping score, comparing myself to some universal and arbitrary standard of feeling, and had found that I came up wanting. And then I had begun to make things interminably worse by piling judgment about my negative feelings on top of the feelings themselves.

My internal negative thought loop sounded something like this: “Wow, I feel bad. But wait. I shouldn’t feel bad, because I don’t have anything to feel bad about. Well, now I feel worse. Because now I feel bad about feeling bad. But I really shouldn’t feel so bad, because . . . ” Wash, rinse, repeat.

The truth was, no amount of wishing I didn’t feel bad, judging myself for feeling bad, and telling myself I shouldn’t feel bad was going to make me feel better. Once I remembered this, I was finally able to just sit with my feelings and be exactly who and where I was.

I still don’t know why I felt so negative that day. But I do know that if I had allowed myself to drown in that crazy-making negative loop, I would have felt those negative feelings for much longer than I did.

Here’s what I did instead – I decided I was doing the best I could on that day, and forgave myself for feeling bad. Then I took a shower, thought some, felt some, and cried a little.

And then, slowly, once I had truly allowed my experience of feeling shitty to just BE, I began to realize that just experiencing the feeling was actually enough. And, lo and behold, I began to feel better.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

How are you feeling today? If you’re feeling bad, can you find a way to just let yourself be who and where you are? And, if you feel comfortable doing so, can you tell us a bit about how you’ve risen to this challenge in a comment below? We’ll all learn from what you’ve experiencing.

Also, check out these other posts that might inspire you on your journey: Here Be Dragons (And Monsters) and Why You Should Do You.

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Marriage Myth-Busters Myth #6: The Kids Come First

kids come firstI don’t know how to type out the sound that the “You’re wrong!” buzzer makes on a game show (your creative suggestions are welcome in the comments below), but if I did, I would have started out this blog with that sound.

If I could go to every wedding in the country and whisper one piece of advice in the ear of everyone about to take their vows, I would say this thing: “take care of yourself first.”

I know, I know. This seems counterintuitive. Or selfish. Or just plain wrong. Aren’t we supposed to put our partners first? And when our children are born, aren’t we supposed to look after their needs before our own?

In a word . . . NO.

Hear me out.

Although the idea sounds really commendable at first glance, I’ve found that when someone routinely “puts the kids first” it usually results in one of two potentially disastrous consequences in their marriage.

1. Their Well Dries Up
Many of my clients enter therapy completely exhausted and depleted. This is often because they’ve given too much of themselves to the world without minding their own shop. They’ve given too much to their partner, their boss, their coworkers, their friends and, yes, too much to their children. They’ve given away so much time and energy that they don’t have enough of either to care for themselves, and they are spent.

And unfortunately, when someone has sacrificed for others for so long without filling their own well, they have usually built up a HUGE wall of resentment toward the people they have been serving. So these exhausted and depleted clients are also often REALLY ANGRY as well.

But isn’t it important for us to be willing to sacrifice for, and compromise with, others? Especially those closest to us? Sure, I’ll give you that, and I’ll also give you an extra point for paying attention to one my previous relationship posts.

I just have two important caveats:

  • If we don’t make a point of filling our own well first, we run the risk of not having enough inside to give to others. (Cue the familiar example of the airlines’ instruction to put on our own oxygen mask before helping our children with theirs.)
  • Sacrifice isn’t really all that great unless it’s given willingly, without regret or resentment. If we hold a grudge for all the ways in which we’ve given to another person, or expect a quid pro quo arrangement, then we’re not giving freely of ourselves. Our “gift” comes with a price.

To be able to truly give without resentment or expecting something in return, we have to fill our own well first (with good self care), and then give from the well with a true spirit of goodwill.

kids come first2. Their Partner Is A Stranger To Them
Many couples come to my office emotionally disengaged, virtual strangers to each other because haven’t kept up. They haven’t kept up because they’ve put all their focus, time and energy on their children.

As a mom of two now grown children, I actually COMPLETELY understand how this happens. We rightly feel a responsibility to and for our children, these creatures that are born completely helpless and dependent on us to survive. And are they demanding or what?

So it’s easy to see how, at the end of a day of chasing around a toddler, driving around a teenager and/or helping a school age child with new math (or some combination of the above), we often find we don’t have any time or energy left for ourselves, much less our partners.

But this situation is deadly for our marriage and, ultimately, for our children. Because it takes time and attention, and intention, to keep a marriage vital, all things we can’t give if we’re constantly putting our marriage relationship on the back burner. And if we let our partnership deteriorate, how can it support the incredible amount of work necessary to raise our children well?

A strong, intimate partnership grows strong, emotionally healthy children.

So, what to do? I suggest THIS . . .

kids come firstFirst, take care of YOU
Personal self care must come first. If you don’t take care of yourself, who will? And whose responsibility is this anyway? Not your children’s, that’s for sure. And definitely not your partner’s. So tag, you’re it.

There’s a difference between selfish and self care. It’s not selfish to put yourself first. On the contrary, it’s the responsible thing to do. It’s actually more selfish to let your well dry up and not have enough for yourself or your family.

And it’s really selfish to sacrifice so often and completely that you build up resentment toward others.

So sign up for that yoga class, schedule a massage or just go for a walk in the park while the rest of the family does the dishes. It doesn’t so much matter what you do, as long as it fills your well in some way.

Then, once your well is full, you’ll have plenty to give to your loved ones.

Second, take care of YOUR PARTNER
Care for the relationship must come next, because only a healthy relationship can fully support all of its members, including the kiddos.

“The greatest gift you can give to somebody is your own personal development. I used to say, ‘If you will take care of me, I will take care of you.’ Now I say, ‘I will take care of me for you, if you will take care of you for me.’”
 Jim Rohn, Business Philosopher

(I have no idea what a “business philosopher” is, but Jim can call himself whatever he likes if he keeps this kind of wisdom coming.)

So make time for your partner. Touch base meaningfully at the beginning and end of your workday. Enforce a strict bedtime for the kids so that you have some couple time in the evening. Engage a sitter for a weekly date night so that the two of you can get out into the world and talk about it. Keep your love maps (the understanding you have of your partner’s inner world) updated.

If you’re relationship is strong, you will both be a great position to support your children’s growth and wellbeing. And it’s not just me saying this; so does the research on healthy marriages.

Finally, take care of YOUR CHILDREN
Once we have taken care of our own business, we are in a much better place to care for children. We will take more joy from our interactions with them; we will have much more patience when they are challenging, and we will have much more energy to keep up with their joys and needs.

kids come firstMoreover, when our relationship is in good shape, we are offering our children the gift of a household in which the adults work and play well together, a household of relative calm and moments of clear joy at being together. We are modeling what a strong, joyful relationship looks like.

And – a parenting bonus! – when we engage in good, responsible self care habits for ourselves, we are modeling these same habits for them as well. And so, hopefully, the healthy cycle continues . . .

Now, what are your challenges in taking care of yourself, taking care of each other? And what have you done in these areas that has worked for you and that you could share with the rest of us? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

 

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20 Ways To Take The Edge Off Your Election Overload

election overloadI had a few minutes to kill before an appointment this morning and, as is my way, I immediately pulled up Facebook and started scanning my home page for election news. I realized when I did this that I’ve been doing this same thing, or something similar, quite a lot lately. Like all the time. In fact, during this election cycle, I have been what one might call a Facebook/CNN junkie.

It’s not a bad thing to be informed, right? It’s my civic duty, in fact. And yours.

But here’s the problem. As I scrolled through the various posts on my home page this morning – almost all of them election related – I realized I was clinching my teeth.

Weird.

I stopped scrolling for a second to check in to myself, and realized that my shoulders and neck were also pretty tight. And that I had the beginning of a headache. Then, after investigating further, I discovered just the teensiest little quiver of a panicky feeling in the center of my chest.

You too? Holey Moley. This has got to stop.

– – – – – – – – – – – – –

The Clinton and Trump campaigns might disagree with me, but I very much doubt that anything any of us post over the course of the next six days will affect the outcome of the election.

And our obsession with the constant influx of election news and social media debates is clearly not good for either our physical or mental health.

So how about we take a break.

I’ll go first.

I hereby pledge that, whenever I have five minutes to kill and am tempted to head for an election fix on Facebook, Twitter, CNN, etc., I will instead do one (or several!) of the following life-affirming, anxiety-reducing activities.

  • Meditate
  • Call a friend
  • Wipe down the refrigerator (surprisingly satisfying)
  • Walk my dog
  • Water my plants
  • Go outside and take one two three deep breaths
  • Do a Sudoku puzzle
  • Walk around the block
  • Pull some weeds (VERY satisfying)
  • Do some yoga stretches
  • Research an upcoming vacation
  • Kiss my husband
  • Figure out how my new kale leaf stripping thingy works
  • Add to my Christmas list
  • Make and eat some avocado toast
  • Check to see if the tomatoes on my window ledge are ripe
  • Revisit the Husker’s win/loss record (GBR!)
  • Put on a Black Eyed Peas song and dance my $%* off (I did this one right after I wrote it!)
  • Finish a page in my scrapbook
  • Write a blog post (okay, it took longer than five minutes but it was super cathartic)

There you have it. I took the time to make this list because I (clearly) need it. I’m sharing it because I wonder if maybe you do too. Who knows? We might even need it after the election.

What about it? Can you take the pledge? If so, leave a comment below to share what’s on your list.

 

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Marriage Myth-Busters Myth #3: The First Years Are The Best

first yearsMy husband and I recently visited my alma mater for my 30th reunion. (Yes, that says 30th, and I assure you that I am as shocked by that high number as I hope you are.)

Now, it just so happens that he and I actually met each other at this institution. So while on campus, in addition to connecting with alums and attending various reunion parades and dinners, we also made a point of visiting the places dear to us because of their connection to early relationship memories:

The lake that was the site of our first long talk and luscious first kiss,

The paths we walked arm in arm as we moved from library to dining hall to dorm,

My senior dorm room where we spent countless hours talking, studying and . . . doing other things.

And as we visited these places . . . we remembered.

We remembered those earliest years of our relationship, years awash in the giddiness of our “in love” feelings and our tentative anticipation of an exciting future together.

If you’ve been in a similar situation, you know how easy it is to wax nostalgic about the early years of a relationship, and to long to experience that fresh sense of excitement all over again.

And you know, also, how easy it can be to decide that the more mature version of this relationship in which you now find yourself is woefully lacking when compared to its younger self, and to believe because of this that those first years were the best years.

I’m going to give you three reasons to believe otherwise:

first years1) There is no early rush of excitement and possibility that can compare to what really becomes possible in a relationship when a deep trust has been established over time.

In a relationship that is heading in the right direction, trust is built over time through a million small decisions and events. We offer a positive response to our partner’s bid for connection, we work hard to engage in respectful communication, we care that there is a fair resolution to the inevitable problems that arise between two different people who’ve chosen to spend their lives together. All of this.

And then something magical happens. This building of trust over time leads to an increased openness to both expressing and nurturing vulnerability, which in turn offers our partnership opportunities for deeper emotional connection, a more challenging intellectual discourse and – big bonus! – more robust and creative sexual exploration.

All of these things are less likely to flourish in a new relationship in which both are holding a bit back, waiting for that sense of trust to develop.

2) We grow best in relationship, not alone.

So, I’m not gonna lie. There are real benefits to living alone. A few of my favorites:

  • I can binge watch stored So You Think You Can Dance episodes.
  • I can sleep without the interruptions of a snoring or restless bed partner.
  • I can indulge in my workaholism to my heart’s content.
  • I can play air guitar in my tighty-whities like Tom Cruise in Risky Business.

Okay, so I don’t actually do that last one. But I could if I wanted to!

But here’s the thing: I like the opportunity to express my “meness” to its fullness every now and then, but the truth is that I am a better person in my relationship with my husband than I would be if I were single.

This is because relationships – with their inevitable push and pull of likes, dislikes, needs, wants and alternative viewpoints – encourage you to grow, challenge you to change, to see the other side and accept influence from something besides your own echo chamber.

A viewpoint or need expressed by your partner is hard to ignore or dismiss because it comes from someone you love very much and with whom you share things like secrets, sinks, values, the TV remote, and the bed.

3) A mature relationship can tolerate powerful independence and individuality.

When we are falling in love with someone we are in the business of BONDING. In this space, there is a hormonal pull to find all the ways in which we are alike, find all the interests we share, “become one” with the other.

This is the right goal of a young relationship, but if we hold on to it for too long, we run the risk of losing ourselves in this miasma of oneness.

As a relationship matures, as time together is logged and trust is built, it can offer both partners space in which to explore their own self once again.

first yearsWe can ask for and receive enriching spaces in our togetherness (to borrow a concept from Rabindranath Tagore) in which we can hang out with the old gang, ask for “me time,” explore a new career or take solo vacations.

We can even find the space and time to play air guitar in our underwear.

So take heart. With time and trust, the best is truly yet to come.

– – – – – – – – – – –

If you’re in a long-term relationship, what do you remember about those early years? And how has your relationship changed since then? Or if you’re in the early stages of a committed partnership, or have yet to find a long-term partner, how do you hope your relationship will evolve over time? Please consider sharing your stories below.

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Marriage Myth Busters Myth #1: Falling In Love Is Enough

falling in loveThis “falling in love” myth is the Disney promise, right? The one we cut our romantic teeth on when we were young.

It goes something like this:

There is a One True Love out there for everyone, so I will find mine and, after falling in love with each other (obviously) and outsmarting the modern-day equivalent of a wicked witch or two, we will live happily every after in wedded bliss.

 

I have good news and bad news here.

First the bad news . . .

I hate to break it to all of you romantics out there (because I’m a member of the tribe), but the truth is there are several special someones, multiple True Loves, out there for each of us. In fact, you will likely feel that same “falling in love” feeling with more than one person in your lifetime. (This will be a little startling if you’re married to a different person when it happens.)

Because it’s all about the biology, baby. Hormones and neurotransmitters.

Dr. Julie Holland, a psychiatrist in private practice in New York City, puts it this way in her book Moody Bitches: “Falling in love is the neural mechanism of mate selection.”

Super romantic, right?

But she’s spot on. Attraction is as much a physical process as an emotional one. As Holland goes on to explain, multiple neurotransmitters and hormones (like dopamine, norepinephrine, oxytocin and testosterone) all collude in the beginning of a relationship to create both the sensation of initial attraction and that euphoric “falling in love” feeling.

But eventually, as Holland notes, the chemistry of attraction changes over time, becoming calmer and less intense, because “the reward circuitry isn’t firing, and the frontal lobes are fully online, so rational thought wins out over emotional upheaval, due to normalized serotonin levels.”

Which is science-speak for “I’ve lost that lovin’ feeling.”

So, wait. There are actually tons of people out there that you could be happily married to, and your initial passion will most likely eventually wane, regardless of which handsome prince or beautiful princess you choose. So what’s the good news?

Falling in loveIt’s this. Once we have chosen a One True Love, we are given the delightful opportunity to choose this same person again and again and again. And it’s this rechoosing – this reclaiming of our love day after day, spat after spat, through sleepless baby nights and meno/manopausal changes – that is, in and of itself, True Love at work.

And this True Love is the type of love that doesn’t depend on, and so is not at the mercy of, high dopamine and norepinephrine levels.

So the falling in love part is easy. It’s the staying in love part that takes work.

In the end, long-term committed love is, as Stephen Covey coined and John Mayer croons, a verb. Not an emotional state. A verb that will, in fact, conquer all.

(By the way, another marriage myth is that the first years are the best. I’ll bust that myth in a future post!)

All of you happily married (or committed) people out there – let us know in your comments below all the ways you’ve rechosen your partner over time. And check out a few more of my Hitch Fix blog posts if you’re interested in reading about both the challenges and awesome gifts of long-term committed partnerships.

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I’m Ba . . . ack! (In The Writing Saddle)

writingYes (sigh), I took a little break. Okay, I took a long break.

It all started during Lent when I went on a time-consuming cleanse diet and found I needed to 86 just about every other responsibility in my life in order to have time to chop copious amounts of veggies for the required daily soups, shop for obscure smoothie ingredients, and make entire meals from scratch (watch the judgments here, people; I know you’ve heated up your share of frozen meals).

Then, when the cleanse was over, I found I actually enjoyed having more space in my life (as some of you know from a past blog post, I can be just the teensiest bit tied to what my husband not-so-fondly refers to as the “tyranny of my todo list”) and so I sort-of-decided to, sort-of-defaulted to, not write for just a bit longer.

That’s how what started out as a brief pause in my writing routine quickly became an out-of-sight-out-of-mind, Grand Canyon-sized rift, so much so that when I finally decided it was time to get back in the writing saddle, it was no longer clear to me how to get from here (no writing discipline) to there (butt in chair assuming the writing position) without a team of donkeys, a hunky cowboy guide and a good pair of hiking boots.

You see, it seemed like there was always something I simply HAD to do first. Like reorganize my shoes. Or find out the exact chronological order of the Jack Reacher novels. Or clean the crumbs out of that little tray that sits under the toaster oven. Or read about this cute little pet tortoise that went missing for 30 years.

I have actually had all of these items on my todo list. I know. I’m hopeless.

Enter my friend, Polly, and her generous invitation to participate in something called a blog hop. THANK YOU, POLLY! Your invite was just the kick in the butt I needed. I owe you big.

Polly is a writer and teacher and all around stellar person who lives with her family in New Hampshire. Her husband is a priest (now a bishop) in the Episcopal Church, and Polly writes from the perspective of a priest’s (now a bishop’s) wife who came late to organized religion. She writes about the intersection of matters both sacred and secular, which means she writes about A LOT OF THINGS. And she does so beautifully and thoughtfully.

I have actually only met in-the-flesh Polly one time, but I feel I know her well because of her posts. That’s the way her posts are. Check them out here. And then come back to my post, because I’m not done yet.

Note/Warning/Disclaimer: The blog hop invite came with some specific questions for me to answer. It’s also a pretty long post for me. Those of you who are used to my usual content and format may notice a difference; the rest of you will be blissfully unaware that something new is going on, so never mind.

And so, without further ado, I present my official, tired-of-being-a-lazy-bum, back in the saddle, let’s get on with it people . . . blog hop post.

Blog Hop Post
So what exactly is a blog hop? I know. I didn’t know either. Frankly, I’m pretty sure this was the first time Polly had heard of one as well. So you are in good company.

Hopefully that will change, because it turns out this blog post thing is kind of fun. The way it works is that one person writes a post on a particular topic of their choosing, in the body of which they give a shout-out to three other bloggers. Those three bloggers then write on the same topic on their own blog, tag three more bloggers, and so on, and so on. Wash, rinse, repeat.

It’s kind of like a pyramid scheme but without the scheming.

This particular blog hop’s questions are about writing, a topic that has (as you now know) been on my mind a lot lately. So here I go . . .

Question #1: What am I writing/working on?

  • I write this blog. Or at least I used to. I took a big break, but now I’m writing again.
  • I am also writing a book of personal essays about vulnerability, which I hope will some day be published.
  • I sometimes write poetry. I don’t think it’s very good poetry, but I REALLY enjoy writing it and so I do.

Question #2: How does my work differ from others in its genre?
Up until now, I hadn’t given much thought to my blog’s genre, so I had to do some research in order to answer this question. Turns out my blog is what’s called a professional blog, in that it is one aligned with my profession (I’m a psychotherapist). Yes, I suppose I could’ve figured this out without the research.

Actually, now that I’m an expert in these things, I would say my writing straddles two different genres, the professional and the personal, which might make my blog stand out from some others that are similar.

See, as far as content goes, I don’t believe my blog differs much from other blogs written by therapists. I write about relationships, grief, communication, balance, mindfulness, self esteem, change . . . you get the picture.

But when I think about my perspective, the lens through which I explore and write about these issues . . . here I think I’m a bit different.

Because in my writing, as in my therapy work, I always try to be mindful that I am, by virtue of being a freakishly imperfect human being, just as vulnerable to the same kinds of worries, distress, confusions and mistakes as those my clients experience.

And, so, knowing this – on some days with what feels like 110% certainty – I always TRY to write (posts, essays and poetry) from a vulnerable, we’re-all-in-this-together kind of place, and in doing so attempt to be as transparent about my own foibles as I have the courage to be.

That courage fluxuates from day to day, of course, a dynamic you will notice as you peruse my posts. But I am really always trying for authenticity. I really am.

Question #3: Why do I write what I write?
A year or so ago I was invited to contribute a writing prompt to a book about how writing can help you get through difficult times in your life.

For my contribution, I wrote what was, and always has been, the truth for me, that “writing helps me sort through the hoarder’s mess of thoughts and feelings that are me, and find the words that will help me both know myself and share myself with others. I sometimes don’t even know what I think until I read what I write.”

So my writing, whether it be a blog post about letting go, a book of essays about vulnerability, or a poem about an old hinge (I told you my poetry isn’t very good) is, at its core, about getting to know a part of me a little better, and then – hopefully – connecting that part of me with a part of you.

Question #4: How does my writing process work?
Very haltingly, and with great gnashing of teeth.

No, really. Like many writers, I often find it difficult to actually write. So during my morning computer time, I am super good at finding multiple and varied (would it be bragging to say creative?) ways of distracting myself from what I came to do.

I check email and Facebook. I straighten my desk. I get a drink of water, stare out my window, worry and write something on my to-do list. I bold and italicize my titles, check the clock and stare out my window again. Then, just maybe, I write a sentence or two.

There you have it. There is no wizard behind the curtain. Transparency at its finest.

Question #5: My future blog plans:

To have my blog discovered by the public and go viral. Duh.

Okay, but really . . .

One of the happy consequences of taking this recent luxurious break from the keyboard is that I have some ideas about how I’d like to change things around a bit.

First things first, I want to actually write on a regular basis again. Otherwise, as Anne Lamott is fond of saying, God will give all the good ideas to her.

Then, as I begin to write again, I know I want to do so in a less tutorial, less organized (REALLY hard for me) and more creative way. I don’t know exactly what this will look or feel like. I’ll be stabbing in the dark for a while, I think.

I also know I want to be even more authentically my sometimes sad and bewildered, and always imperfect, self. Many of my days are hard. I do not have all the answers and don’t want to pretend that I do. But I can tell my story in the hope that it intersects with yours and that we can both find our way together.

Finally, the above viral goal notwithstanding, I also want to try to write mostly about what really matters to me, not just about topics I think and hope will be noticed by my social media audience.

I’m hoping all five of my followers will be down with that.

Three Cool Blogs – Tag, You’re It!
Now for my shout-outs to some other bloggers, so that you can hop over to them and enjoy their takes on things:

Jason Emerson is the rector of a small but mighty Episcopal church in Omaha, NE. He has made it his practice to edit his sermons every Thursday at his favorite watering hole, and has issued an open invitation for any and everyone to join him there as he writes and sips. His weekly blog, Fermenting the Word, has become a wonderful merging of all things sacred, social and sudsy (and, yes, he reviews the beer he drinks each week). You can find Father Jason’s writing here.

Fletcher and Adrian decided to take a semester away from the known environment of their liberal arts college and travel for the sake of traveling. At We Float On, they blog about their experiences with new cultures and peoples, travel worries and triumphs, unexpected gifts and the comfort of companionship. Visit them here and, just for a moment, see the world through the open, thoughtful eyes of a young person receptive to all of what life has to offer.

Reka Kluver is a marriage and family therapist in private practice in Omaha, NE. Her posts, about such issues as family stress, domestic violence, grief and loss, depression and anxiety (and the list goes on), are written with wisdom and compassion, and will give you hope and a sense of perspective regardless of your situation. You can find Reka’s advice here on her professional website.

Okay, that’s all for now. Be sure to check out my blogger friends above, and then check back here for more from me. Or, better yet, sign up to follow me (see that little Follow prompt down there?) and avoid the hassle of looking me up; I’ll send my posts straight to your inbox.

More to come! Oh, the pressure.

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Finding Summer During A Winter of Depression

depression“In the midst of winter I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.”
– Alber Camus

A few weeks ago, after several weeks of punishing wind and sub-zero temperatures, during which everyone in my community had all holed up in our warm homes like hibernating bears, we were finally blessed with one glorious day of sunny, 60-degree weather.

Everyone came out to take it in. Some walked their dogs, some raked the leftover leaves from last fall, some picked up the fallen sticks and bits of trash deposited by the pesky winds. Some opened all of their windows and tried to bring the outside in.

Some, like my daughter, put on a pair of sunglasses and a tank top, pulled a chair out to the middle of the lawn and simply sat there, absorbing light and warmth and stockpiling Vitamin D.

On one especially cold day when he was three, my son, Sam, remarked: “I’m cold up to the top of myself.” On this day we were “warm up to the top of ourselves” and we were reveling in it.

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In the middle of summer, when one warm, sunny day comes right after another, I’m embarrassed to say that I rarely appreciate any of them. It’s only when such a day appears suddenly and surprisingly in the middle of the cold and grey of winter that I sit up and take good notice, and am truly grateful.

This is because I really need these odd warm days to remind me of the ever-recurring, invincible summer season to come.

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depressionSo it is, I think, with the emotional winters of our lives. When we’ve experienced a significant loss or are in the middle of a down time, it’s natural and healthy to feel all sorts of what we usually think of as “bad” feelings.

Sadness, confusion, anger, loneliness, even depression – these and other down feelings, are uncomfortable to experience, sometimes even excruciatingly so (hence, the negative label). But they are actually an integral part of the process of life, and must have their expression if we’re to move through this down time and into what’s next.

But we can’t engage in this hard feeling work all the time, every minute of every day. We need breaks from this process in order to be able to sustain the effort over time and, eventually, heal from our pain.

We need an occasional moment of summer to break up the monotony of dark, cold days. Because if we stay too deep in this emotional winter, if we sink so deeply into depression, it seems as though it will be all we will ever know, and we can easily despair.

Luckily, our lives always provide us with these moments of relief, in the same way that Mother Nature provides the occasional sunny, warm respite from an otherwise grueling, soul-sucking winter.

The quiet beauty of a mountain vista

The soft touch of a child

Unexpected laughter at a small thing

These are all sunny, warm interruptions that can offer us a real hiatus from our sadness. They can even sustain us through the crappy times, if we let them. The hard thing, but the thing we must do, is to notice and take advantage of these reprieves, however brief or inconsequential they seem, and allow them to impact our lives, to make us “warm up to the top of ourselves,” even if only for a moment.

depression

So that we are able – even in the midst of a time of real distress, heartache or depression – to feel tangible warmth and light, and be reminded of the deeper summer to come, a time when we will reenter our life with gratitude (and, yes, joy), clean up the trash, and fully reconnect with the world.

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What about you? In the midst of an emotional winter, have you been able to notice any moments of warmth and light? If you have, take a moment to honor them in a comment below.

And, if this post got you thinking, you might also like these on How My Dog Taught Me to Live in the Moment and Travelling at the Speed of Life.

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Here Be Dragons (And Monsters)

monsters
Halloween approaches, and we wait with anticipation to see what monsters will lurk in our streets and doorways. We’ve decorated our houses for these creatures, bought them bags and bags of candy, and we will be inquisitive, kind and very appropriately afraid when they ring our doorbells yelling “Trick or treat!”

 

What might the world be like if we could be so welcoming to our own monsters, the scary dragons of our own internal landscape?

“I’m friends with the monster that’s under my bed
Get along with the voices inside of my head.”
             – Rihanna, from Eminem’s The Monster

From the 10th through the 17th centuries, it was common practice for cartographers to draw all manner of dragons, sea serpents and other mythological or fantastical creatures on the uncharted areas of their maps. [Contrary to popular opinion, only one map, the Hunt-Lenox Globe, also contained the phrase “Here be dragons,” but this phrase has come, through the faulty “general knowledge” telephone game, to be associated with these same images.]

These drawings – not only of dragons and serpents, but also of elephants, walruses and lions (all fantastical creatures in that time) – marked the mysterious, unexplored regions of the globe, places where dangerous or evil elements lurked; places to fear and, if at all possible, avoid. And most people did.

But then, wouldn’t you know it, the explorers of that time did the other thing. They got in their ships, sailed around the world, and went directly to these dark places. They faced these dragons, serpents, and other mysterious unknowns head on.

“Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.” – Stephen King

 

monstersBut let’s face it. We are all, in the complexity of our humanity, sometimes mortifyingly capable of doing bad and stupid things.

I know, I know – most of us do these things from a place of fear or weakness, or out of a sense of self-preservation. But the fact remains that we are fallible creatures who are constantly making pretty spectacular mistakes.

We lie. We cheat. We judge. We hurt those we love. We hurt ourselves, too. And, sometimes, we do these things to the point of destroying the very self we’re trying to preserve.

In short, we all have a dark side, a place of dragons and monsters, where all manner of dangers and evil elements lurk. A place we usually try, if at all possible, to avoid.

And while we’re always learning more about ourselves, and should always, always strive to do and be better, I think we’re kidding ourselves if we believe we will some day achieve a state of grace in which we are perfectly good. This is just not possible. I know because I’ve tried. Holy Hannah, how I’ve tried.

monstersSo here, inside of all of us, be dragons. Maybe permanently. What can we do about them?

I don’t pretend to have many answers here. But I do have some thoughts about a first step.
I think we can start by being brave, like those explorers so many years ago. Instead of avoiding our dark places, we can commit to doing the other thing. We can climb in our ships and sail to the edges of our selves and, with courage and conviction, confront our dragons, serpents and other mysterious and scary unknowns head on.

Then we can embrace them, tell them we love them, and take them out for ice cream. Yes, ice cream.

Because I really believe, like Rihanna and Eminem (and Maurice Sendak, Stephen King and Carl Jung before them), that it’s only by making friends with these monsters – our fears, our weaknesses, our meanness, our weird ideas – and then forgiving them and accepting them as integral elements of our complex human selves, that we are ultimately able to tame them.

And, moreover, it’s only through knowing, embracing and forgiving the wholeness of our selves – dark and light, good and bad – that we are able to understand and forgive this same dichotomy in others.

In our partners, our children, our neighbors, our coworkers . . . even in our presidential candidates.

As Carl Jung observed, “Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.”

monstersSo, as Halloween approaches, I challenge you to join me in taking a page from Eminem and Rihanna.

In the same way that you will be kind and welcoming to the many monsters that will come to your door for Halloween tricks and treats, be friends with your own monsters. Get along with your voices. Explore and embrace your dragons – your flaws, your demons, your frailties, your craziness – and then let your intimate knowledge of your own dark corners lead you to connect with others in all of their wonderful complexity.

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What about you? What monsters, dragons or other fantastical creatures are on the dark edges of your map? Have you made your peace with any of them? And what about those candidates? Can we see their complexity if we’re not in touch with our own? Let’s start the dialogue now.

And, if this post got you thinking, you might also like these on keeping up appearances or revealing our true selves.

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To Do Or Not To Do – A Downsizing Question

downsizingThe act of downsizing, whether tackled out of a sense of opportunity (you want to lighten your load a bit, make room for some new things) or necessity (you can’t find your bathroom), can be surprisingly difficult.

This is because the downsizing process, with its emphasis on getting rid of stuff, always involves an experience of loss – the loss of our possessions, certainly, but also (we fear) the loss of the memories and meaning associated with them.

Sure, there are lots of potentially happy endings to a downsizing story. You finally get to stop paying for that storage container; you can fit all of your clothes in your closet; you can find your bathroom. But before you realize the benefit, the very first thing that happens when you start a downsizing project is that you lose something, and feel a bit more empty than you did before.

Downsizing is scary for precisely this reason – because we know when we start the process of letting go of things that we are facing the possibility of emptiness.

Which is, of course, why some people will spend a lot of time and energy trying to avoid a downsizing task. I may or may not be one of those people.

Hey, we get busy. We get distracted. We get involved with something else. And eventually, in a funny kind of turn-around, our stuff actually begins to serve as a buffer zone between us and the possibility of emptiness (I am tempted to bring the hidden bathroom joke back here), and so we are even more motivated to keep it around.

downsizing

As my family and friends will no doubt attest (go ahead, guys, comment away), I live by my todo list. It’s pretty much the first thing I look at in the morning (walk the dog – check) and the last thing I see before I go to bed (complete PT exercises – check).

In my defense, there are several very good reasons I engage in this obsession habit:

First, sticking to a todo list helps me stay productive, and I heard somewhere that’s really important. Putting something on my list means it will get done. I won’t forget it. It won’t get overlooked. It will get handled.

Second, keeping a todo list helps me manage my anxiety (and those of you who know me well know I need just a wee bit of help with that). When I put something on my todo list, I can take it off the list in my head, a list that can at times be downright paralyzing.

Third, checking things off of my todo list after I’ve done them gives me an insane amount of pleasure. This effect is so powerful, in fact, that I will frequently put an already completed task on my list just so I can have the satisfaction of checking it off. Can I have an “Amen, Sister!”?

Finally, using a todo list encourages my creativity, because putting something on the list frees up the part of my brain that was previously busy worrying about this thing so that it can do something else, perhaps something more spontaneous or interesting. Or at least that’s the idea.

The reality is that sometimes my todo list has just the opposite effect.

Sometimes I am so wedded to what’s on that list, so in the habit of referring to the list to find out what’s next, so committed to checking everything off by the end of the day, that I fail to engage in a more spontaneous decision-making process about how to spend my time, a process that might require that I actually notice and react to a new thing that’s right in front of me in that moment.

My husband calls this phenomenon “the tyranny of your todo list” and he is, as usual, annoyingly spot-on in his assessment.

Because in allowing my actions to be directed by a list about the future that I made in the past, I miss the opportunity to live in the present. And when this happens, my todo list, instead of being under my control, starts to control me.

But, truth be told, I love the list. I love the solid predictability of the thing, the way it keeps track of all the things I have to do, the way it assures me that I actually have something to do. Without the list, how would I know what to do next? How would I know I’m productive and that my life has meaning?

Ah. Wouldn’t you know it? Turns out my todo list is sometimes, like all of my stuff, a buffer zone between me and the possibility of emptiness.

And, yes, it so very clearly needs to be downsized.

I need to be willing to let go of all the things I think I have to do, so that I am ready to sign on to that truly important thing that appears to me in the moment.

I need to let go of my need to be insanely productive, so that I can perhaps produce something delightfully unexpected and unplanned.

And, so that I don’t get too spooked, I need to remember that when I downsize, whether I do it with my possessions or my todos, I do not make my life smaller or less meaningful. To the contrary, downsizing allows me to create space in my life for what’s really important.

So it’s a good thing to do.

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What about you? What’s on your todo list? Is it really what you want to be doing with your time? Share your thoughts in a comment below.

And, if this post got you thinking, you might also like these on Embracing Emptiness or Taking A Snow Day.

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