Thank full…

“Being excited doesn’t mean I don’t miss my mom. Being sad doesn’t mean I’m not excited about the holidays.”

As Thanksgiving and Christmas approach, my feelings are more and more split. Usually at this time of year, I’m so excited. The last two months of the year are filled with family time and festivities. The littles anticipating Santa coming, making lists and making treats. Decorating the house with lights and inside with a mix of old and new decorations. The traditions that I love so much. And I am excited this year, too. But also, as Thanksgiving approaches this week, I find myself feeling sad, too.

It started last week when a co-worker announced she was having lunch with her 80 something year old mom. She talked about her mom losing a hearing aid. All seemingly innocuous events. But I felt a little pain in my heart and noticed that. Then, in the cafeteria, she introduced her mom, and they both smiled and laughed easy and you could see the love between them. And another little pain poked at my heart and I noticed again.

This is the first Thanksgiving without my mom. The first Thanksgiving I have no parents.

I typed that just now and then sat in silence for several minutes letting it soak in. My parents loved holidays. My mom made a holiday out of a Tuesday, but my mom and dad loved holidays and family gatherings, and cooking and giving and showing hospitality. And they are not here to do that with me, and that hurts my heart. It hurts my whole body. It’s an underlying sadness that quietly sits in the background, not shouting to be noticed, but impossible to miss. I’ve felt it slowly taking up more space in me for the last few days.

The good thing about us humans is that we can hold more than one emotion at a time. I can, and I do, feel the sadness from the missing presence of my mom, but I also feel so full of thanks. 2020 has been a wonderful terrible year. I guess most years are like that though. There’s good and bad and adjustments to be made. My oldest daughter brought little number 11 into our family safely. My sister’s lump was not cancer. I took a new job that creates a space for me to show compassion in a greater capacity. My husband’s job has been secure. I’ve had the joy of my youngest son living with us since May, after missing out on a lot of his life the past four years he was in the Army. My older son and his wife bought their first home. My youngest daughter has a job that lets her adapt to her kids’ schedule. I’ve been having monthly dinners with my brothers and their wives, whom I love. God has answered so many prayers in 2020 in ways I am full of thanks for.

I can hold the sadness and the thankfulness and the excitement of the holidays all at the same time. Sometimes one is more prevalent in my heart, sometimes all three are equally present. Being excited doesn’t mean I don’t miss my parents. Being sad doesn’t mean I’m not excited about the holidays. My mom was the most wonderful person I’ve ever known. How could I not be full of thanks that I was her daughter? How could I not be full of thanks every time someone tells me they see her in the way I treat others?

So as we approach the holidays of 2020, it’s okay to feel the frustration of all the adjustments you are continuing to make. It’s okay to feel the hopelessness that this virus stuff will never end. It’s okay to feel sadness if you are missing someone that left this year. It’s also okay to feel joy when you see a child light up talking about Santa, and excitement about getting together (virtually or physically) with friends and family. It’s all okay guys. You’re okay. I’m full of thanks for all of you. What are you thankful for? Comment and let me know.

Be kind, be grateful, be courageous,

Jules

The Grief Project

“We just wanted to know that someone else had experienced what we were experiencing. A way of seeking community that had experienced the same pain as us.”

As most of you know, my mom died in April 2020. What you may not know, is that we were writing a book together. When my dad died in 2017, I looked for a book on grief to help me walk through that unfamiliar journey. I didn’t find one that I liked. My mom told me that she had the same experience. In 2018 we started tossing around ideas to write a grief book. My premise was that most people don’t want a clinical book on grief when they are grieving. So, we would come up with 20 or so questions to ask people, and then publish these stories. In this way, there would be stories covering many facets of grief. The loss of a parent, spouse, child, friend, grandparent, etc. When someone buys the book, they would only need to read the first chapter, the chapter that applies to the type of loss they have experienced and the last chapter.

Mom and I started forming questions that we thought would get to the heart of the matter. This was a very long process that started the summer of 2019. Then, when she moved in with me in November of 2020 we started working on it more intentionally. We thought of some and then tossed others out. We re-worded them over and over, trying to get it just right. We talked about what information would be helpful to the reader. We reflected on what would have been useful to us when we were grieving my dad (her husband).

What we had really wanted, was to read about someone else’s journey and see if mine “was normal” and what was helpful and not helpful to them. We just wanted to know that someone else had experienced what we were experiencing. A way of seeking community that had experienced the same pain as us. We ask about coping skills, healthy and unhealthy, that people used. We ask what was helpful and not helpful that other people told them. Not every grief story is about someone wonderful that we loved. We want people experiencing that to find community too. We want people who are using unhealthy coping skills to find community and maybe find better coping skills in others’ stories.

Then, in April 2020, mom unexpectedly died. And I’m left to continue on with the grief project alone. Now, with a new grief experience of my mom dying. I know that she was so excited about the book and the stories of others. I’ve posted in some social media forums asking for volunteers, and responses have been overwhelming. So many people, mostly strangers to me, wanting to share their grief story. Some have told me thank you because it gave them a chance to talk about their loved one that no one asks about anymore, some have said answering the questions have been therapeutic, some took it to their therapist to talk about. Others I have been able to refer to a therapist for help they had never had the courage to ask for. A few have read the questions and returned them, saying it was too difficult for them “to go there”. That’s okay. I get it.

My hope is that I will have the book finished next summer and a publisher will find enough value in the book to publish it. I will find value in just completing the grief project that I started with my momma. She was so encouraging. She really was a remarkable woman and I’m so fortunate that I was loved so extravagantly by both my parents.

Today is my dad’s birthday. I asked my kids to tell stories of him to their kids today. That’s how we keep the people we love with us. Telling our stories. I’d love to have your grief story included in my book. Please comment below with your email or email me at juleskilson@gmail.com and ask for the questions to complete. The more stories I have, the more people will be able to find community for their grief.

Be kind, be grateful, be courageous,

Jules

My Grief is Not Your Grief…

“It’s like being covered in bruises and fearing the next time someone bumps into you.”

Grief is something we all experience at one time or another. Grief because someone we love died, grief from unmet expectations in life, grief because of losing a relationship, grief from realizing the dream we had of our life isn’t going to happen, and many other reasons. But, even though we all experience grief, my grief is not your grief. Even if we are experiencing grief for the same reason, my grief is not your grief. Even so, all grieving people need you to be gentle. It’s like being covered in bruises and fearing the next time someone bumps into you. It was customary in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s to wear a black arm band as a sign of mourning. A sign for the world to be easy with you because you had suffered a loss.

My mom died, very suddenly and unexpectedly on April 19. Just a little over a month ago. She had lived with me and my husband since November of 2019. She was in good health for 87, and was especially happy in the last month of her life. The day she died, she was happy and laughing and we had been outside enjoying the sunshine and the lovely day. We were riding in the golf cart around our property, looking at the flowers and watching the dogs and bunnies and two of our granddaughters playing. In the span of about 30-45 minutes she went from that, to being dead. I still can’t wrap my head around it. Or my heart.

Yesterday, I took my husband to the same ER that my mom died in a month ago. It was overwhelming to me to be in that same place so soon. Because of COVID restrictions when my mom was in the ER last month, I couldn’t go back to the room she was in and she died alone, then they let me see her. Now, I was in the same waiting room. I walked to my husband’s exam room and saw the room that I last saw my mom in after she died. No one knew all the anxiety and sadness I was feeling. I didn’t express it, but I felt it in every cell of my body. I was overcome with so many emotions, but no one could tell.

Today, one day later, I MISS my mom. Gut wrenching grief that feels like I’m being punched in the stomach. Maybe it’s because of all the triggers yesterday. Maybe it’s because I got mail for her today. Maybe it’s because my husband is in the hospital and I’m alone. I don’t know. I don’t care. I just want her to be here, sitting on the porch with me and laughing. It feels like the first day after she died. Like I’m starting all over again. I’m just letting myself feel it and crying it out. I’m not afraid of this terrible, painful emotion. I’m walking through it, but I hate it.

There are many books written that include the five stages of grief, as identified by Kubler and Ross. Denial, Anger, Depression, Bargaining and Acceptance. Any good therapist will tell you that these are not linear. You don’t experience them in any particular order, for any particular length of time. You don’t go from one to the next, finish that one never to return to it again, and move on to the next. My experience with grief has taught me that I can experience them all in the same day.

When my dad died three years ago, you can go back in my blog and read about my feelings of being tossed in a sea of waves, then tossed up to the beach, only to find myself on sand that kept washing away leaving me unsteady. I feel that now with my mom’s death, but it’s not the same. I still had a parent left then. I’m angry often that I’m an orphan now. My parents tethered me somehow to this world, and now I feel untethered. Like an astronaut that was hooked to his ship with a line and the line breaks and he’s free floating in space. I’m angry that I didn’t know she was going to die that day, and I didn’t get to tell her goodbye. I’m sad all the time, though you can’t always tell. I’ve tried bargaining with God to have one more day with my mom, just to say goodbye. Sometimes I’m in denial, like the many times over the past two days I’ve picked up my phone to call my mom and update her on how my husband is doing. Or when I tell myself she will be at home, playing with her little dog, when I get there.

I know that my siblings loved my mom fiercely. Just as much as I did. But, I also know that my grief is not their grief. I know that it looks different in all of our lives. It doesn’t matter that we are going through the stages differently. All grief is valid grief. You can’t always tell a person’s pain from talking to them. No one in the ER realized the trauma work I was doing in my head, and the fear and anxiety I was battling.

Please be kinder than necessary to people. You never know the battles they are inwardly fighting. Don’t equate their emotional expression, or lack thereof, with their healing process. So many of my patients are doing trauma work for something that no one else knows even happened to them. Sometimes I wish I could give them a black band to wear so others would be gentle with them. Sometimes I wish I could wear a grief band so others would know how fragile I feel right now. Some kind of outward sign that says, “Please be careful with me. I’m not okay.” Assume others are fighting battles you know nothing about, and move towards them with gentleness and compassion. Those of us that are believers have a commission from God, “As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Something for all of us to strive for.

Be kind, be grateful, be courageous,

Jules

Mama absolutely did not say there’d be days like this.

‘Your normal methods of coping may not be enough right now. You had found effective ways of coping with life as normal, but this is not normal.”

When I wrote my last blog entitled “Change is a comin'” I had no idea of all the changes we would soon be facing. So many changes. Most of them rather abruptly with an unknown duration. I’m now seeing all my clients through telehealth, meaning I no longer go into my office and sit with my clients face to face. We are doing video calls and some of them phone calls. It’s not the same as sitting in the room with my clients, but it’s been okay.

I miss hugging my children and grandchildren. We have been using Zoom to have virtual family time for all of us. The other night I read a book to the littles using Zoom and they got to talk to their cousins. We are planning a talent night soon and they can all share a talent with the rest of us. It should be very entertaining. My 87 year old mom lives with my husband and I. She has enjoyed video calls with our relatives.

I recently asked friends to post positive effects of staying at home.  Here’s some of the comments:

Cooking more.

Dinner and game night at the table every night.
I’ve taken time to get things done instead of “lounging and recouping “ when I’m not at work. I’m more driven

Those quiet moments when the dishwasher is humming because it’s full from another meal we enjoyed together, kids are reading or doing school work, and I’m drinking coffee and moving about the house kissing my husband on the cheek in passing.

I sat on my patio and enjoyed the beautiful day. I felt thankful.

It has forced me to slow down! And I have enjoyed EVERY second of it! No complaints here!!

And I’m so happy for them. I’ve found all these things to be true as well. We’ve done DIY projects that we probably wouldn’t have had time for. We are slowing down, being intentional about connecting with family, spending time outside. But, not every one has it so good.
I’ve talked to a number of my clients in the last couple of weeks about adjusting their coping skills. Your normal methods of coping may not be enough right now. You had found effective ways of coping with life as normal, but this is not normal. This is the opposite of normal. You need to adapt the skills you already have, or maybe you need some new ideas. Here’s some things I’m suggesting to clients:
1. Get outside every day. Even if it’s just for 10 minutes. Preferably several times a day. Breathe the fresh air deeply. Look around you and try to notice 5 things you haven’t noticed before.
2. Connect with someone either by phone or video, but preferably video. As humans we need to see facial expressions. Remember Tom Hanks painting the face on the volleyball in Cast Away?
3. Eat healthy.
4. Have some structure in your day. Get up and go to bed around the same time each day. Get up and get ready for the day. Don’t lounge around in pajamas all day. Wash your face, brush your teeth, brush your hair and put on deodorant at the very least.
5. Limit the time you spend watching the news and social media. Don’t drown yourself in COVID-19 information. Check it maybe twice a day and that’s it.
6. Reach out when you are feeling sad or lonely or overwhelmed. We all are feeling it. Reach out to someone and talk through that.
7. Remind yourself each day that this is a temporary situation. This will not last for the rest of your life. This will come to an end and life will go back to normal at some point.
8. Practice being present and grateful. Without the distraction of future thinking (ie. what time to pick the kids up or drop them off, appointments, ballet lessons, sports practices, church activities, etc.) that we usually have, allow yourself to be fully in the present. Intentionally use all five senses (taste, touch, smell, sight, hearing) to experience your world. Each morning and evening find 3 things to be grateful for.
9. Do something that makes you laugh every day. Watch a comedian, a funny video, family videos, play a silly game, have your kids tell you jokes, look up tongue twisters and try some of them, etc.
10. Reach out to someone else to make sure they are alright. Text, phone, video, email, snail mail…so many options. Checking on others gives us a sense of purpose and value.
I know that some of you are in terrible situations. For some, staying at home isn’t a welcome change. You may be home with an alcoholic, an addict,  or an abuser.  You may have lost your job or the provider in the home has, causing you to worry about if you will lose your home, your car, or be able to buy necessities. You may be home with a new baby and no support. You may be a caregiver of someone and have no support. You may be grieving the death of a loved one all alone.  You may be dealing with a difficult diagnosis alone. Please reach out. Please ask for help. Ask for support. Most mental health professionals are doing telehealth like I am. We want so badly to support anyone that we can. Ask friends. Ask people in your church. Ask anyone, please just ask.
Here’s a list of US numbers that may be helpful to someone:
Suicide Prevention Lifeline — 1-800-273-TALK
Trevor HelpLine / Suicide Prevention for LGBTQ+ Teens — 1-866-488-7386
Crisis Text Line — Text HOME to 741741
IMAlive — online crisis chat
National Runaway Safeline — 1-800-RUNAWAY (chat available on website)
Teenline — 310-855-4673 or text TEEN to 839863 (teens helping teens)

Child Abuse Hotline — 800-4-A-CHILD (800 422 4453)
National Domestic Violence Hotline — 800-799-7233
Missing & Exploited Children Hotline — 1-800-843-5678

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) — 1-800-662-435

Be kind, be grateful, be courageous,

Jules

Change is a comin’

Accepting does not mean approving. Just because we accept the reality of the change, doesn’t mean that we approve of it.

Change is hard. I hear this a lot. Clients come in, sit on my couch, and say, “Change is hard.” I can’t argue. Change is hard. There are changes that we anticipate and plan for and then there are changes that we didn’t see coming. Change that is forced upon us or change that has taken us by surprise. Change is inevitable, unavoidable, and happens whether we choose to fight or be a willing participant.

Some changes we perceive as positive (welcome) and some we perceive as negative (unwelcome). In changing our perception, we can change how we feel about the change. But, this doesn’t always make it any easier. In fact, some of the changes in my life have had to drag me, kicking, screaming and crying into the new. Other changes I have joined hands with and joyfully skipped into the new.

Lately, there have been a lot of changes in my life. Some I initiated, and some I fought against until my knees were blistered from praying and my eyes were swollen with tears. The changes still came. I could be angry and anxious and depressed. So many ways to respond to change. But in the acceptance of the reality of the situations, I find I’m stretching, growing, finding a new perspective.

You can choose your response to change. Even if it is initially an unwelcome change. Even if it is forever an unwelcome change. They way you think about the change is the key. Change doesn’t have to be the enemy or your friend. Change can be neutral. It already is, right? A change is simply something different than what we are used to. It’s inanimate, lifeless. Simply something different. The way we respond to and think about the change is what gives it meaning.

Even though I’m stretching and growing, I’m also groaning. When you work out muscles that have been doing nothing, it hurts. And it hurts for a long time. Finally though, you work out one day and nothing hurts, it actually feels good and you feel strong. Right now, some of the changes in my life hurt, some of them feel beautiful, some of them feel scary and some of them are causing me to stretch muscles that are unused. The change itself is not hurtful or beautiful or scary. The change is simply life moving, ebbing and flowing. The change is neutral. My feelings attached to the change give it the meaning.

Change is coming. Change is all around. Life is not static, it is dynamic. It is always moving, always changing. See the change as neutral. Choose your feelings about it. Fight and claw and refuse to accept the reality and you will never be happy. Adjust and adapt and accept it as a part of life and you can ride the waves. Accepting does not mean approving. Just because we accept the reality of the change, doesn’t mean that we approve of it. But that acceptance moves us into a place of finding a solution or adaptation so we can move forward. Sometimes it takes time. Be compassionate with yourself. Don’t expect to accept everything easily and readily. But know you have choices.

Be kind, be grateful, be courageous,

Jules

Best shower scene ever!

When people are hurting, we need to ask nothing from them. They have nothing to give.

Yep! That’s the title. That’s the content of what’s on my mind today. The best shower scene ever made. Also, people are more likely to read if there is a provocative title, so whether you are here because you’re a perv, or because you are a fan, let’s talk about this.

James Bond movies. I’ve loved them since I was a little girl. I think it started because my dad loved them, and we bonded (see the pun there?) watching them together. Bond had the coolest gadgets and cars and got to go to the most exotic places. (When people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always said, “A spy.” Which breaks the number one spy rule of not letting anyone know you are a spy.) James often found himself in compromising positions with beautiful women. He’s never been a poster child for monogamy or for love. He’s been more of a “love the one your with” kind of fellow. But, things have changed.

In a recent 007 movie, Casino Royale, there is a two minute moment that is so beautiful. I show it to couples that I counsel. I use it to teach people how to love each other in a more meaningful way. (I probably should have titled this post “The Best Love Scene Ever” but some of you wouldn’t have clicked, and it’s probably you pervs that need to hear this the most.) So in Casino Royale, Bond (Daniel Craig) and Vesper (his love) have just been attacked by a gaggle of bad guys. Bond kills all of them. This is nothing new to James, but for Vesper, she is clearly traumatized, not being used to watching blood splattering and people being killed. James sends her off to tell his henchman where he has hidden the bodies and to get rid of them. He then goes back to a poker game with the ultimate bad guy.

Okay here’s the part that melts my heart. When James comes to the room, he finds Vesper sitting in the shower. He goes to her and…okay wait. You should watch this clip before we go any farther (skip to 2:15 to just see the shower part):

 

Did you see that incredibly unselfish display of love? She is sitting in the shower, fully clothed. He goes to her, without her asking, and sits with her, in the shower, fully clothed. Here’s the part I explain to my couples; he sees her, clearly upset, and without requiring her to do anything to receive his love, he joins her right where she is. In fact, he asks if she is cold and makes the water warmer. He makes her more comfortable in her space, without asking her to do anything. I’m tearing up writing about it. Do you understand the significance of this action? How good would it feel, when you are hurting or scared or broken hearted, to have someone come to you, right where you are, requiring nothing from you to accommodate them, and just sit with you?

He could have said so many things. “Let’s dry you off.”, “Let me take your dress off.”, “Come in the other room.”, “Stand up.”, “Come here so I can hold you.” He could have asked her to accommodate him so he would be less uncomfortable, but he didn’t. When people are hurting, we need to ask nothing from them. They have nothing to give. We need to go to them, accept where they are and stay beside them. Who “sits in the shower” with you? Who would you do this for?

The people you love need you to do this. Your children, your spouse, your friends. They need you to go to them and sit with them, accepting their feelings, not minimizing, not trying to cheer them up, not silver lining them, just being with them while they experience sadness, anger, loss, hurt, and letting them feel what they feel. We all just want to be accepted and understood in our dark moments. There is a time to help people move on, but there is a time to just “sit in the shower”. Who knew that cad Bond would teach us such a beautiful lesson about love?

Be kind, be grateful, be courageous,

Jules

 

I hit the wall…

Get ready guys. This one is brutally honest. Sometimes, therapists are the worst at self-care. We tend to worry more about our patients’ emotional state then we do our own. We sometimes over estimate our own resilience, thinking we can work our stuff out in our own minds. Notice how I’m saying “we” and “our”? That’s so I can convince myself that it’s not, just me. But actually, I’m just talking about myself. I thought I had safe guards in place. I was practicing good self-care, and yet in August I noticed that I wasn’t feeling like myself. I was feeling stressed, pretty consistently, and knew I needed a break from my job. But, I didn’t take a break. I kept going, and going and going. Then it was September and I knew I REALLY needed a break from my job. I was having mini anxiety attacks walking into my office each day, I was dreading going to work each day. But I didn’t take a break. I didn’t reach out for support. I didn’t go to a therapist. I didn’t do anything I should have done. I kept going.

Normal me

fb_img_15701090295603682904878037695513.jpg

present me
ash

Last week, on Tuesday night, I cried all the way home from work because of stress. I felt empty. I felt like I didn’t have anymore to give. I felt like a lesser version of myself. I kept saying to myself, “I can’t go back there.” Wednesday morning I woke up and cried getting ready for work because I didn’t want to go. I had a full blown anxiety attack driving to work. I got to my office and realized I had hit the metaphorical wall.

I texted a friend and they replied, “Heal the healer. You’re not taking good care of yourself.” I wanted to argue, but I knew it was true. In desperation, I contacted all my patients scheduled for this week, and cancelled them all. I thought relief would follow, but it didn’t. Guilt was all I felt. Guilt for letting my patients down. Shame for not being “strong” enough to keep going. Fearful at the financial consequences this decision might have. But, as I told one of my afternoon patients that I wouldn’t see her the next week, she asked why I was taking time off. I was honest with her. Do you know what she said to me? She said, “Thank you for modeling good self-care for me. If you can give yourself permission to rest, I feel like I can do the same.” That spoke to my heart. Maybe allowing myself to rest didn’t have to cause me to feel guilt and shame. Allowing myself to rest could be good for me, but for my patients as well.

Compassion fatigue is what it’s called. Here’s the official description, “Compassion Fatigue is a state experienced by those helping people or animals in distress; it is an extreme state of tension and preoccupation with the suffering of those being helped to the degree that it can create a secondary traumatic stress for the helper.” Dr. Charles Figley. As a therapist, my job is to extend empathy to my patients hour after hour. When I practice good self-care, I can give this day after day. But in August, when I didn’t act, knowing I was feeling this fatigue, the downhill slide got really slippery. My anxiety started to increase, my depression symptoms started appearing, but I didn’t let anyone know. I didn’t act in response to my fatigue. I tried to ignore it. I didn’t go to a therapist. I did all the things I teach my patients not to do.

So this week off, I’ve said “no” to everyone. I’ve rested. I’ve read and I’ve written. I’ve connected with nature. I’ve prayed. I know that I need to rest. and that’s not only necessary, but acceptable. My boss, Steve, was so encouraging of my time off. My co-workers were so encouraging of my time off. My friends were so encouraging of my time off. I realized if I would have reached out, I would have gotten support. No one expected me to keep going, except, well…me.

I know some of you have stressful jobs. I know some of you are caregivers. I know some of you are healers and first responders. I know some of you are parents giving at maximum levels 24/7. When you are feeling empty, please reach out. When you are feeling like you have no more, please acknowledge where you are and rest. When you are feeling like a lesser version of yourself, it’s okay to recharge with self-care. Don’t wait until you hit the wall. Don’t be like me.

Be kind (to yourself), be grateful, be courageous!

Jules

Just breathe.

…most of us have become so accustomed to breathing shallow, because we live very stressful lives, that the only time we are breathing diaphragmatically, is when we are sleeping.

Put your hand on your chest. Feel it rise and fall as you inhale and exhale? That’s not

diaphragm

good. Most of us don’t breathe well. Most of us, most of the time, breathe shallow from our chest. Our lungs are located lower, and under our lungs is a muscle called the diaphragm.

I teach my clients something called Diaphragmatic Breathing. When we do this, the diaphragm contracts, the chest does not rise, but your belly rises and you can feel your lungs expand. This type of breathing is a natural, relaxed form of breathing in all mammals. This is how we should be breathing when we are relaxed and there is no present danger or threat. When we perceive danger or threat, we breathe shallow and fast…like an anxiety attack for instance. But, most of us have become so accustomed to breathing shallow, because we live very stressful lives, that the only time we are breathing diaphragmatically, is when we are sleeping.

Belly breathing maximizes the amount of oxygen that goes into our blood. This in turn circulates more oxygen to our muscles, organs and brain. The benefits can include improved lung function, improved heart function, relaxation, slowing of your heart rate, anxiety and stress management and reduction, lowering blood pressure, centering yourself, emotional regulation, self-soothing and calming the chaos in your brain, just to name a few. By practicing regularly, you can calm yourself with only one or two breaths. I’ve been practicing belly breathing for about 7 years now and can usually take one or two breaths and my body responds.

I teach this to nearly every patient I have. So, I thought it might be helpful for you. I’m going to teach you the basic tenets and you can practice it and let me know in the comments what you think of it. You want to breathe deep from your diaphragm (or belly). Put one hand on your chest and one on your belly. You will feel your belly rise and your lungs expand. Then exhale it all out through your mouth. Inhale through your nose, exhale through your mouth and make these the same amount of time. So if you count as you inhale, “1…2…3…4…5” you would count as you exhale “1…2…3…4…5”. Make sense? Great!

distracted

When I was first learning this skill, my mind would wander. And no matter how much I focused on the breathing or on the counting, my mind wandered. What did I need to get at Target later? Whose birthday is next? Why did Game of Thrones end? How did Game of Thrones end? How much of a telephone pole is in the ground? You see? It was a problem. But, I found out that if I had a visual image I could focus on that. My visual was the numbers as I counted. My numbers look like black house numbers you buy at the hardware store. Your numbers could look like clouds or be colors or whatever works for you.

If you try to ignore a distracting thought, it just knocks louder on the door. It’s best to acknowledge the thought and then go back to focusing on the breathing, or the counting or the numbers. Something like this, “Oops, I can think about my Target list later, now I’m going to focus on my breathing.” then let the distracting thought pass through your mind and refocus. It’s more difficult at first, but it gets easier the more you practice.

Some patients imagine inhaling a warm light, or peace, calm, love, (positive things) and then exhaling chaos, darkness, sadness, anxiety. Try this. Use it if it works for you and don’t if it doesn’t. Practice at least 3 times a day for 5 minutes each time. Set a timer so you aren’t distracted by the clock. Sit in a quiet place, close your eyes and give it a try. When you need to use it, you will be surprised how fast your body responds after practicing for awhile. Let me know in the comments how it goes for you! Happy breathing!

Be kind, be grateful, be courageous!

Jules

Deadhead

I’m loving summer. Every single day. I’m savoring it. Here in the Midwest we know that these long, hot days are an extravagance that is short lived. For me, summer means a lot, A LOT, of outdoor flowers. I love to plant them in beds, in pots, in all kinds of curious vessels. Each year I invest in more and more perennials that will come back time and time again. I love being outside tending to them, figuring out which ones need more shade, less water, more sun, etc. and then watching them flourish and grow once I’ve got it right.

All of my plants have different needs. I can’t treat them all the same or they won’t survive. I sometimes have to move them from place to place, finding the “right spot” for each one. I have to try watering daily or every other day or once a week, and let the plant show me when I’m doing it right. One of the essential tasks, with many of the varieties I have, is deadheading. After a flower blooms and then dies, I pinch the dead one off so a new one can bloom. This way the plant doesn’t expend valuable energy and nutrients where it doesn’t need to. Today I was outside, tending to a plant that is not doing well and it sparked some thoughts.

As I was pulling out the dead stems and pinching off the dead blooms, I started thinking that if someone were to look at this plant presently, you might not think much of it. You might think it was a lost cause. But you don’t realize that it looks BETTER now than it did 30 minutes ago before I pruned it. Don’t we so often judge people in the moment, when actually we don’t know their story? We don’t know what their life looked like 30 min ago, or 30 days ago or 3 years ago. They might seem like a lost cause, but maybe they are so much better than they were. A work in progress, as I remind all of my clients that we are. Maybe they were flourishing and suddenly, or gradually, what they needed to thrive was removed or diminished or changed. And now we see them at work, at Target, at church, diminished, undernourished, and we judge them, not knowing if it’s their best day or worst day or somewhere in between.

Also, with my plant, I have the advantage over the observer by knowing how beautiful this plant was when I bought it. It was gorgeous. Overflowing with beautiful blooms. I’ve seen the plant at it’s best. I know what it can look like when it gets what it needs. Unfortunately, it’s present state is my fault. I didn’t give it what it needed. I feel like it was needing more sun, and I have moved it to a place it will get that. Time will tell if I’m right. The signs were all there, dying leaves, fewer blooms, drooping stems, but even though I noticed, I didn’t change how I nurtured the plant until today. I know the potential this plant holds, and I wasn’t do my part to help it thrive.

Have you ever watched a relationship or a person slowly display all the signs that it wasn’t getting what it needed, and didn’t take time to nurture it? You know the potential it holds, you used to be happy with your partner, you used to be great friends with someone. You have to invest the time to find out what is missing, and then adjust your care so that it thrives again. If the right care is given, the relationship or person can often bloom again. It can come back to life before your eyes. But you have to be curious, and work, and be willing to admit you are doing something that isn’t working

Sometimes I buy plants on clearance. I call these my Charlie Brown plants. They usually look pretty bad. I enjoy the challenge of seeing if I can revive them. The reward is pretty sweet if I can figure out it’s needs and bring it back to life.  But much of that work is guessing. As humans, we can tell others what we need. We can reach out and say, “Hey! I’m not getting what I need.” We can ask for help. But it’s hard sometimes. For so many reasons. I want to encourage you to reach out if you are not getting what you need. I want to encourage you to invest if someone around you is showing signs of neglect or not getting what they need to bloom. We can’t bloom where we are planted without care.

“In the garden of love, flowers don’t die.”
― Nitya Prakash

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cracked and Broken

“…the very things that helped us heal, if relied on for protection too long, can cause reduced function and eventually permanent dysfunction. “

Broken. The dictionary defines it as 1. reduced to fragments; fragmented. 2. ruptured; torn; fractured. 3. not functioning properly; out of working order. Have you ever seen a sign that says “Temporarily Out of Order”? It gives you the hope the object will be working again at some point. If something is fragmented, sometimes the fragments can be put back together and it’s fixed. Sometimes not.

Cracked. The dictionary defines it as 1. broken without separation of parts; fissured 2. damaged; injured. Not as severe as broken. The parts aren’t separated, and it can be fixed easier. Damaged in some way, but not fragmented. If we apply this idea to a bone in your body, both can be fixed, but a broken bone sometimes requires additional material to help it fuse, something to isolate it while it heals and/or a longer time before it’s back to normal functioning. A cracked bone usually heals quicker, and may require a splint or cast for a short time to protect it as it heals.

There have been things in our lives that cause cracks. We are injured, but not fragmented. We can mostly function, but there’s a crack somewhere that keeps us from fully functioning in some way. We need time to heal, and we figure out how to protect that part of ourselves until it does heal. Sometimes we are worried that the same injury will occur, so even after it’s healed, we continue to protect or isolate that part of us. That’s when it becomes unhealthy. Can you imagine wearing a finger splint or a cast for the rest of your life? When used properly it aides in healing, when overused, it actually reduces function and could cause permanent dysfunction to the formerly injured part.

For some of us, there have been things in our lives that broke us. Reduced us to fragments, tore us apart, rendered us out of working order. We cannot functio

broken

n. We need lots of time to heal, we need to protect ourselves to heal, and we may need additional help to fuse our fragments back together. After a break, we have the instinct to over protect that part of us. We remember the pain, the confusion, the sadness, all the feels we experienced, and never want to feel that again. Again, the very things that helped us heal, if relied on for protection too long, can cause reduced function and eventually permanent dysfunction.

Let me tell you a story. When I was four years old, I was riding a motorcycle on Thanksgiving, with my brother driving, me sitting behind him, and my cousin riding on the seat behind me. We were in a field across from my house. The motorcycle fell over on it’s side. It fell on my tiny leg and broke my femur. My brother carried me home. My parents took off my little snowsuit and my leg was SWOLLEN. The doctor came to the house, and sent us off to the hospital an hour away. The bone was broken so high it couldn’t be in a cast. I was put in traction for nearly a month. My ankle was in a sling that was hoisted up, and attached to a bar above my bed, 24 hours a day. Not easy for a four year old. Then came a wheelchair at the hospital and physical therapy. I had to re-learn how to walk. My foot turned in for awhile, and my leg was weak, but eventually I went home on crutches. In time, my bone healed and I ran and played like any other little kid. It never bothered me again.

healing

When we have been emotionally broken or cracked, we are very aware of the injured part of us, it’s “swollen”. Sometimes we let others know that we are out of working order by pushing them away with anger, sarcasm, withdrawing, or other overt means. Sometimes we isolate ourselves, turning inward and protecting ourselves. Maybe we have “crutches” and figure out how to outwardly function, but inside we are scared or in pain and no one knows.

It’s so hard to gather all the fragments of you and put them back together by yourself. It’s so hard to know when you can stop using your splint, your cast, your crutches, because you are the one in pain. Sometimes, we have used the thing that was to protect us so long, it’s become a part of us, and we don’t even realize we are using it when we don’t need it.

I want to encourage you to ask for help. Often, a crack properly treated, can prevent a break. If you are feeling cracked, could you ask someone to help you so you don’t break? If you are broken, could you ask someone to help support you while you heal? It doesn’t

crutches

mean you are weak or lacking or less than. It takes courage to ask for help. It’s takes strength. I want you to feel whole again. I want you to be rid of all your protective devices so you can live your life in freedom. I know it’s hard. I have an appointment this week with a new therapist. I’ve been feeling a little cracked lately. I don’t want to break. But, just making the appointment was hard. I kept putting it off. My anxiety about going is high, and I’m a therapist! If I can do it, you can do it.

Be kind, be grateful, be courageous!

Jules