We’re Still Here…

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It can feel a bit like the world is spiraling these days. People are struggling with the loss of work, being cooped up at home, or having their regular self-care activities come to a screeching halt. This could feel like the end of the world. This could also feel like an opportunity.

As a therapist working in the world right now (currently, through telehealth), I have to share: I’ve been amazed. I’ve been amazed by how many people have been seeing this as an opportunity. Amidst the loss and uncertainty, I’m hearing stories of gratitude for being required to slow down, spend more time with family, get more creative with self-care.

I’ve seen a lot of tears in the last two weeks, and I undoubtedly will see more. Heck, I’ve had my own. And that’s okay. Let it out, feel your way through it. Uncertainty can feel heavy on your chest, and tears can release some of the tension.

I’ve seen a lot of hope in the last two weeks, and I hope to see more. Maybe the world will get a wake-up call. Maybe we’ll realize what is really important and care more about our people than we do about how pretty our homes look for Instagram pictures. Maybe we’ll put our phones down and look up to the sky or into the eyes of those we love more often. Maybe we’ll Facetime Grandma more than once a never.

Maybe, just maybe, we’ll realize that we don’t have to face a pandemic to appreciate those we love, take good care of ourselves, and slow down.

If you’re struggling, please reach out to a therapist or other trusted person. You don’t have to go it alone.

We’re still here.

All services have been moved to Telehealth through programs like Google, Doxy, Theranest, SimplePractice, and Zoom. But we’re here. Here are a few tips to get the best experience out of your telehealth sessions:

  • Find a quiet, comfortable, private place to engage in therapy (though we never mind meeting your dogs and cats!). If you can’t find a quiet place, plan to stop a few times throughout the session to take a few deep breaths and refocus your energy.
  • Have a few things you’re hoping to touch on in the session. When you feel prepared, sessions feel smoother and you walk away feeling like you got more from them. It also helps you feel like you have power in an otherwise uncertain time.
  • When you’re talking, look at the camera instead of your therapist. While you’re talking, we’ll look at you. Then, when we talk, we’ll look at the camera and you can look at the video of us. This back and forth helps it feel more connected.
  • Be patient. Everyone and their mother is using telehealth services, so sometimes there are blips. Though it can be tough, we’re still here and we can see it as an opportunity to pause and breathe.
  • Relax. The hour is yours. Laugh, cry, be uncertain. Just be you.

Keep an eye out for some at-home self-care things, and check out our Facebook or Instagram for ideas. Get creative!

You can do this. We’re still “here” with you.

D

When You’re Not Quite Enough

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We can push so hard sometimes. We push away experiences that we find unpleasant, like anxiety, anger, and sadness. We create these beliefs about what it means to be human and then we measure our worth based on how well we meet those expectations. Unsurprisingly, it’s never quite enough, so we hate ourselves a little harder and then hope that by hating ourselves, we’ll learn to do better. But hate is exhausting, so when sticky thoughts come back up we believe them without question. Then, we hold ourselves to those beliefs, and it continues.

Welcome to misery. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Clients often come in wanting me to help them make the sadness, anxiety, or anger go away. I’m here to tell you that I can’t do that. I cannot make your emotions go away, because you’re a human. Humans have emotions. Sure, I can help you learn how to navigate, manage, and experience those emotions without falling into despair, but that’ll take a lot of effort on your part day in and day out.

Geez, don’t sugar coat it, Danielle.

I know. I’m a bit of a pragmatist – I also believe that’s where peace comes from. It’s time we acknowledge (aka accept) where we are. Who we are. Then we can adjust our expectations within attainable limits and feel the joy of small victories.

Meet Sophia. Sophia feels like she should be doing better. She should be further along in her career, more successful in love, and adulting in a way that looks right. She’s been coming to therapy for a while, so she feels like she shouldn’t be still feeling sad or anxious. She snaps at her loved ones when she doesn’t mean to, she questions her worth so frequently she doesn’t even notice half the time, and she clings onto others like air. She sees herself doing these things, and she knows better, so she gets angry that she’s still doing them. The anger doesn’t take long to drift into sadness and despair that she will always live with this struggle. That somehow, she’s broken.

I’ve created Sophia out of thin air. She’s not real. But my guess is that if you’re reading this, she doesn’t need to be. You already know her. I know dozens of Sophias: Men/Women/Non-Binary, later in life and just starting out. I could maybe go so far as to say we all have a little bit of Sophia in us. Some (not so) distant fear that there may, in fact, be something wrong with us when we’re anxious or sad.

There is nothing wrong with you. You are supposed to have all the feels.

It can be really confusing when you’re in recovery from something like Generalized Anxiety Disorder or Major Depressive Disorder. It can also be frustrating when you’re trying to get into recovery from something like this. The push to feel better sometimes makes us forget we’re still supposed to have sadness and anxiety.

Without sadness, we wouldn’t be able to recognize what is important to us. Without anxiety, we would make rash, potentially dangerous decisions. Feelings serve a purpose. Ever seen the movie Inside Out? That’s what it’s all about. Understanding the why behind our emotions.

Here’s a favorite poem, which I’ll describe more in-depth in another post:

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

-Rumi

When we try to push away all feelings we label as negative, we end up numbing ourselves to all emotions, including the ones we typically think of as “good,” like happiness, love, excitement, peace, etc.

Maybe, just maybe, if you could learn to experience your feelings, regardless of whether they are “good” or “bad,” you could see that you are beautifully human. That no amount of sadness, anxiety, or anger makes you broken. You always have room to grow and heal. And yes, you can experience sadness without being depressed.

Our goal, then, should not be to remove the existence of difficult feelings, but rather to flow with them, acknowledging both their presence and their temporary nature. We get curious about them, looking for what they’re trying to teach us, and then allow them to pass when they’re ready. In Buddhism, this is called inviting it in for tea.

How to do this? I recommend you start with getting good at a body scan meditation, which helps you learn how to shift your mind, feel your body without holding/resisting/judging, and bring awareness into your breath.

If you need help, reach out.

Good luck out there,

D

When You Love Your Opposite

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Most couples who come to see me don’t come in already having figured out how to relate to one another. Most people come to see me because they trigger each other and are unsure of how to navigate to a healthier place.

Working with couples has taught me that there are often two kinds of people in stressed relationships: outwardly emotional people and inwardly emotional people. Those who are outwardly emotional can be seen as intimidating or sensitive. The inward emotional folks are the shutdown, aloof bunch. Outward folks may have fears of abandonment and self-worth issues. Inward people may fear being smothered and struggle with vulnerability. Both people typically struggle with emotion regulation, trust, and healthy boundaries. Both people struggle with insecure attachment styles.

We call those outward folks’ attachment style Ambivalent or Preoccupied, aka “the jungle.” For inward folks, we call their attachment style Dismissive or Avoidant, aka “the desert.” In Wired for Love, Stan Tatkin explains these types as waves (outward/preoccupied) and islands (inward/avoidant). His book is great for a deeper dive into the topic.

When a preoccupied and an avoidant person come together, it can be a bit tricky. The preoccupied person may be too needy, reach out too often, and feel easily rejected or abandoned. Fearing being smothered, the avoidant person may pull back at the first sign of these behaviors to protect themselves, be dismissive of the other person’s feelings, or accuse them of being too sensitive. In turn, the preoccupied person reaches out harder. Then the avoidant retreats further. It’s a bit of a cycle. Too often people try to be heard/seen by getting louder or to show overwhelm with closing down. This cycle leaves both people feeling frustrated and confused.

Fun fact: when a preoccupied person gets overwhelmed their heart rate skyrockets. Inversely, an avoidant person’s heart rate plummets. Makes sense, right?

Lightbulb! Don’t have those attachment styles get together! … if only it were that easy. Preoccupied people are interested in avoidant people because it perpetuates their anxious beliefs about relationships and vice versa. Even when we try not to, we inevitably end up with someone who fills our unconscious expectations. Here’s a great video to illustrate:

“We may describe someone as not sexy or boring when in truth we mean, unlikely to make me suffer in the way I need to suffer in order to feel that love is real.”

Our attachment styles come from how we were parented. To add some fun to the mix, attachment styles can also vary from relationship to relationship and change over time. The good news in this is that attachment styles can be healed.

Once we know our attachment style and the style of our partner, we can work together to heal. The avoidant person works to notice when they get overwhelmed and chooses to lean into the relationship instead of pull away. The preoccupied person works to notice when they get overwhelmed and chooses to lean on themselves first instead of believing their needs can only be met by the other person.

As the video shows, we try to listen to our knee-jerk reaction to learn what is being triggered within us, and then work to respond as our adult self instead of reacting as our younger self. This takes time, patience, and commitment.

Ready to find your attachment style?

Reach out for help if you need it.

Take care out there,

D

Fears and Frustrations in Couples Counseling

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When I tell people that I really love doing couples, premarital, and marriage counseling, I typically receive one of two responses:

“Wow, good for you! I can’t imagine doing that.”

or

“That’s tough. I went through/knew of someone who got divorced after marriage counseling.”

 

I get it. There is something about working within the most important relationships in our lives that gets people a little on edge. Sure, there are other important relationships, like with our children and our friends. But none with stakes quite as high as our partners. Our partners are in our everyday lives. As important as children are to us, they eventually grow up and live on their own. Our partners, on the other hand, we’re with day in and day out until one of us dies. There’s a reason we call them our significant other. If they weren’t so significant, we’d just call them our other. Or, that person over there. Let’s face it, how we relate to them matters.

It can be scary to not only recognize that such a significant portion of your life is struggling, but that it also needs more help than you can do alone. Reaching out for individual therapy can be vulnerable, so reaching out for two people, doubly so. There are a lot of fears and frustrations people have, and I’d like to share a few things to help you both know my approach, but also to relieve some of the pressure in case you need a little boost to reach out to someone for help.

I’ve gathered these fears and frustrations from people I’ve spoken to over the years.

Three common fears about the outcome of couples therapy:

  1. We’ll get divorced/split up. This must be the number one fear, from my experience. There is truth to it, too, which I think really lights people up. There is a risk of separation or divorce when you come to marriage counseling. Just like there is if you don’t. I think what made couples counseling get such a tough reputation is that people often wait until they are ready to divorce to reach out for help. At this point, the odds of a breakup are high. It’s not impossible, as I’ve seen couples come back from the brink. That happens, though, because they choose for it to. When a relationship is truly over in the heart of one or both partners, there is little a therapist can do to change that. We aren’t in the business of changing hearts. We’re here to help you align your life and mind with your heart and values.
  2. Nothing will change. Also high up there, the fear that once therapy completes, they’ll return to the status quo. This is also possible and is a fear for a reason. Humans are creatures of habit, and they’ll eventually revert to what feels natural if they aren’t putting in constant effort toward new behavior for at least two years. You read that right, folks. It takes at least two years of constant effort to create a new, more connected, more positive status quo. So no, a few months of therapy will not undo fifteen years of discord in a relationship. But a few months of therapy combined with constant effort, openness, and willingness… that can change things.
  3. Everything will change. Isn’t that the trick, though? We want change so badly, but then we often end up deeply fearing the actual process or experience. What if everything changes and I no longer recognize my partner? What if they no longer love me, or I no longer love them? What if our new normal isn’t the normal I thought I signed up for? Can’t they just go back to who they were when we met? Well, can you? You are an imperfect human trying to create a life with another imperfect human. Change can be scary, unknown, and sometimes a little painful. But if you’re really committed- if you really want to spend your days with your partner, then you’ll love whoever they are today and you’ll make efforts to adjust your sails together as you each grow. They’ll need to do the same. I can’t promise you can go back to how it was when you fell in love – in fact, I can near-promise it won’t. If you’re really in this for life, together, I do believe you can create a new relationship, despite the fear.

Three common frustrations, sometimes born out of fear and unfortunately others, out of an experience, about the couples counselor or process:

  1. The counselor will take sides. They’ll believe everything my partner is saying, I’ll be the bad guy, and “couples counseling” will really be just about trying to fix me. Sometimes people actually want a therapist to take sides, but in that case, they want the side taken to be theirs, not that of their partner. Nobody wants to be the “wrong one.” And frankly, I don’t believe relationships can ever be just one person’s problem. Even if one person has done the primary betrayal, the other person has participated in the relationship getting to the place it was. It may not always be 50-50, but it is typically pretty close. The approach I take is to not be on either party’s side but on the side of the relationship. Sometimes that means I’m a little harsher on Person A for a session or two, but then it typically switches and the heat is on for Person B. It’s not about who is right. The moment that is the focus, the relationship suffers. It’s more important to be on the lookout for what is best for the relationship as a whole. Find a therapist who will fight for your relationship, you can search for them on the website Marriage Friendly Therapists.
  2. It will be one way in the office, and another way at home. I often hear this, that one person will misrepresent themselves or their partner in therapy. Maybe at therapy, they’re understanding, open, and honest, but at home, they’re closed emotionally and dig in their heels. This happens sometimes- that’s okay. Try and remember that therapy is a practice ground, with the hope that eventually what is practiced will come home with you. Unfortunately, yes, that means both people have to be conscientious about bringing the good home. If you find yourself stuck, find words that are both kind and honest to share in counseling that you’re seeing a pattern. Not only is that good practice for you, but also that way your counselor can help you break down barriers and come up with solutions.
  3. It’ll just be a waste of time. Some couples express this as their frustration. They go to therapy, argue it out, then go home angrier than they came. Nothing gets accomplished, nothing changes. This certainly can happen, and sometimes hashing out an argument can help clarify the pattern you’re stuck in and encourage you to listen differently. Let’s talk about a few things that will keep your therapy focused:
    1. Spend some time in advance thinking about what you think the problem is. Hint: it’s not your partner. If you think it is, okay. Also, come up with what is your responsibility. Do so before each session, with the goal of looking for patterns between you that need mending. This way once you’re in the room, you can express a few hopes you have for that day.
    2. Seek out skills to use at home. Marriage counseling is a combination of processing hurts and increasing skills to change patterns, like improving communication, friendship, and fair fighting. Most of the skills I recommend come from Mindfulness and The Gottman Institute. It may be worth looking around at the different modalities therapists use, and finding someone who aligns closely with what you think would work best for you. There are so many books out there- ask for some recommendations that will support your work and read through them as a team effort with your partner.
    3. Plan on doing homework every. single. day. One hour once per week in therapy will not undo the many hours of interactions between. You must take what you learn in counseling home and put it to practice, then come back and discuss what worked and what didn’t so your counselor can make adjustments to the plan. Remember that you’ll need to put some effort forth every day for the next several years as a start, then for the rest of time, thereafter. This is a commitment to the health and happiness of you, your partner, your relationship, and anyone else involved (like kids, furr babies, etc). It will be tough, but it can also be worth it.

 

Relationships require that you each take care of yourselves, one another, and the relationship itself. You can do this. Reach out for help when you need it (preferably, long before you contemplate divorce!).

D

Unlocking Your Heart

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You’ve made it! It’s our final week in our moving through depression series. So far we’ve discussed the importance of:

This last week is an important one. Perhaps one of the most debilitating parts of depression is the incessant “why?”

What’s the point? is one of the most painful questions we can ask ourselves, primarily because it insinuates that there isn’t one. What comes next is what I call the darkness. This is where suicidal thoughts run rampant and we tuck further and further into our despair. Don’t forget, there is help.

First, let’s talk about how to find your passion. It doesn’t have to be a hard process. In fact, it should be a fun, heart opening, exciting process. What is passion? Passion is defined as a “strong and barely controllable emotion.” Whoo. Yes. Passion is like fire, it ignites and takes over your senses. When you find passion you can lose your sense of time, entering into a flow state. Flow is that experience where your mind becomes hyper focused (especially on your senses), time disappears, and you feel an immense sense of calm and happiness.

Talk about a depression fighter!

Here are some ideas for finding your passion:

  • What is something that excites you? (duh – but a good place to start!)
  • What do you spend your time researching and reading about (books, magazines, online, social media, hashtags you follow, etc)? See any themes?
  • What do you find yourself inexplicably and repeatedly drawn to? Art? Music? Dance? Helping others? Outdoors? Competition? Animals? Parenting? Event Planning? Travel? Crafts? DIY?
  • Look at your local library or in your neighborhood for opportunities to take classes, join clubs, or meet up with others to try new activities (and maybe see if one of them sparks!).

There are a lot of people out there who will tell you how to cognitively find your passion by thinking through the steps and blah blah blah. I’m not one of those people.

Passion is not of the mind, but of the heart. There is little your mind can do in this process, and most often it actually stands in the way. “Yeah, I like ______, but there’s no way I could/have time/resources/money to do it.” Mind = not helpful. My hope is you go around, heart open, and see what breathes fresh air into it. Then, do more of that.

If you’re deep in the thick of it, you might have to do things you cognitively know you like, without the deep sense of peace and happiness. For most clients, I’ve seen this last anywhere from 2-8 months. Keep in mind, you have to keep doing these things (and all the steps of moving through depression). Over the course of those months, you’ll slowly begin to pull out of the mud (it isn’t that at six months you wake up and suddenly enjoy everything!).

Once you know your passion, you have to value it. Simply knowing your passion without valuing it is like walking up to the right door and not having the key to unlock it. We value our passions by carving out time for them, nurturing them, and enjoying them without judgement of how often or how well we do them. We engage in our passions for the simple pleasure of doing them, knowing that they are as important as any chore or job that is to be done.

Often in passion we end up finding purpose. Our purpose is in broader terms than our passion. Our purpose may be to bring the world beauty, joy, knowledge, or to reduce suffering. Purpose, like passion, is not something you can find by thinking about it. It can be felt in times when you’re quiet inside, sometimes because the world outside you is quiet, others because it is chaos. If you glimpse your passion or purpose for even a second, appreciate that. Try not to let yourself get frustrated it was only a moment. It’s a moment more than you had, and the more you work to open up to yourself and your heart, the more those moments will come. And the longer they’ll last.

 

The path through depression is a difficult one. It is one that takes time, repetition, and perseverance. I typically tell people to anticipate two years before they’re able to make a new behavior feel natural (that’s about how long it takes to prune one behavior pathway and build a new, solid one in your brain). If you’ve only been struggling with depression a few weeks or months, it most likely won’t take that long. But if you’ve been in the darkness for longer than you can clearly remember, it might. It’s normal, difficult, and absolutely possible.

I believe in you.

And if you need a little help, reach out.

Until next time,

D

 

Create A Mind Of Giving

 

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The importance of giving to others cannot be readily overlooked. We learn the value of contributing from our families when we’re little. Even if your family didn’t place a large importance on it, you can commit yourself to it now.

So why do it?

When we give our time, money, or thought to another we are generating good things in our own minds, hearts, and lives, in addition to benefiting them. Think of it this way, if you look around the world and judge those you see, you end up having a mind of judging. In turn, then, you feel judged by others (because we all assume others think the way we do). If this is true for a mind of anger, judgement, or greed, then couldn’t it be true for giving and caring?

How nice would it be to look around and assume everyone around you wants to contribute, participate, and care for themselves and everyone they come in contact with?

It’s a whole new world.

Volunteering connects us to our community and fights off loneliness. It nourishes the spirit, relaxes the mind, and focuses our energy into productive efforts instead of the ruminating darkness of depression. I often hear from clients who have undertaken a volunteer job statements like:

I don’t know what it is. When I’m volunteering, I just feel so much better. I can focus on their problems and forget about mine for a while. It warms my heart to help a kid or elderly person in need. It’s for them, but it helps me too.

In times when money can feel like such a struggle for so many of us, it is even more important to give your time to something that you appreciate or believe in. The more we value our time, the more valuable it is when we give it to others.

How can you get started? Consider some of the following questions:

  1. How much time do I have to devote each week, month, or year?
  2. How long of a commitment am I willing to do? None? Six months? Two years?
  3. What are some things that I’m passionate about or interested in?

Once you have the answers to the above questions, it’s time to set out. But where to start? You can begin by thinking of what you’re interested in. Local government? Check out your city or town for a board you can sit on. Animals? Reach out to rescues or humane societies. Want to devote the next few years? Maybe it’s time to look into something like Doctors Without Borders or the Peace Corps. Not sure? Try one of the following websites for ideas and connections:

Whether you devote a few hours once or twice per year, or every day for the next several years, giving back to your community and world is a practice that depression can’t beat.

We’ve almost reached the end of our Moving Through Depression Journey. How have you been doing thus far?

See you next week,

D

 

p.s. thanks for the forgiveness on this post being late this week!

Done Defending Depression

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It’s week three! So far in our journey together, I’ve asked you to start getting more exercise to help you foster a better connection with your body. I’ve also asked you to start using meditation and mindfulness skills to support that connection with yourself. If you’ve been doing both of these, it’s time for step three.

(If you haven’t started the other two, go back and start there!)

Yep- it’s time to own your sh*t. What does this mean? Well, it means a lot. So let’s dive right in.

Depression is a thick, sticky, exhausting mud that can feel overwhelming to sludge through. When we’re low, nothing sounds good. We feel like we can’t seem to get anything done. The mere thought of getting off the couch can feel like three days worth of energy. With this, comes a lot of beliefs. Skewed beliefs can be one of the most debilitating symptoms of depression.

“I can’t…” I can’t seem to get on top of my to-do list… so I just won’t do anything at all.

“It won’t work.” I just know it.

“I’ve tried.” It might have been just that one time, but it didn’t work.

“What’s the point?” What’s the point of cleaning up? It’ll just get dirty again.

“I’ll get to it later.” Later sometimes comes, right?

“I can’t do anything right.” This current situation is just one of many examples I could probably come up with if I tried.

“I’ve always felt this way.” I was born depressed and I will die depressed.

These are just thoughts (as we talked about last week) – they needn’t be believed. Each of these thoughts can feel so justified inside in the darkness of the moment. Yet we might find that when we express them out loud, others don’t seem to understand. Heck, sometimes when we hear them out loud we don’t understand them.

Owning your sh*t is about letting go of defending depression. It’s time to remove “I’d do that, but I’m just so depressed,” from your internal repertoire. Depression is already skilled at coming up with excuses, it doesn’t need your help. What it needs is a parent (you) to come in and help it learn how to take accountability.

One of my favorite ways to look at how we treat ourselves is to imagine how we would respond if it were a child we were interacting with instead of ourselves. If a child came up to you, tearful, and said “I can’t do anything right,” or “I tried to make it better once, but it didn’t work,” what would be your response?

“You’re absolutely right, kiddo. Life is hard, and you should just give up right now. It won’t ever get better, and if you tried just once and it didn’t work, now is probably the time to quit. Especially since you can’t do anything right.”

Uh… no. I like to think that if a kid comes up feeling desolate and lost, we offer a little more than that. We (hopefully) would listen to the kid, empathize with their experience, and ultimately tell them they’re amazing and that though life can be hard, it’s worth fighting for. Then we’d help them come up with a way to both express those feelings and take tangible steps to improve things.

Right? So why don’t we do this with ourselves?

It’s time.

Look around your life. What looks like depression? Does your house, work station, car, refrigerator, social calendar, thought process, relationship, or outward appearance look messy, chaotic, or neglected? Does it look depressed?

At some point you have to decide that living the depressed way isn’t good enough- that you deserve better. It’s time to do something about it in the same way we would encourage a kid to. We acknowledge not wanting to do something, having our bodies feel like lead, and our fears that we won’t be good enough. Then we challenge them.

“I can’t.”  – Yes, I can. I am a survivor. I am capable and strong.

“It won’t work.”  – I’m worried it won’t work, but I don’t know what will happen until I try.

“I’ve tried.”  – It takes perseverance and commitment to change things. Trying once won’t be enough. I’ll need to keep at it and experiment to find what works for me.

“What’s the point?”  – The point is I, as much as everyone else in the world, deserve love and happiness. And that starts within me.

“I’ll get to it later.”  – Or I’ll do it now, because otherwise things will pile up and I’ll feel weighed down.

“I can’t do anything right.”  – Except for the following three examples of times I’ve done something correctly in my life. 

“I’ve always felt this way.”  – Nobody ever always felt anyway. Both the good and the bad come and go, it’s the fluidity of life. It’s what makes life precious and beautiful.

If you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right. – Henry Ford.

In order to let go of defensiveness, we have to do its opposite: take accountability. This can be a wildly painful process because it requires that we lean into our fears in order to prove them wrong. We must stand steadfast and brave against the tides of depression trying to take us down. Depression has a cryptonite – it’s called courage. And it has an achilles heel – it’s called self-love. Feel the waves of depression try to hold you back, then do those healthy and loving things instead.

What is a tell for depression in your life? How can you take steps to change that today?

You deserve a happy life. You can do this.

I’ll be over here holding hope for you until you can feel it for yourself.

Until next week, be kind and gentle with yourself.

D

p.s. This is hard work. If you need help, find a counselor near you. If you need immediate help, contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline1-800-273-8255.

Couch Slug No More

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Exercise. It’s the first step in our time together and it is an important one. I also acknowledge that it’s probably the last thing on your “sounds good” list if you’ve been struggling lately. I know, there are some days when your body feels like lead and simply presenting yourself to the world with a half brushed mouth, two day old hair, and sniff-tested clothes is almost more than you can take. I know the fury of frustration and fatigue that can come with a bouncy encouragement to get exercise from someone who clearly doesn’t get it. I also know that even if you don’t want to, even if you have to curse me, the world, or your depression. Even if you have to tie your shoes while you throw a two year old tantrum on the floor, or slither off the couch like a deflated slug- you have to get exercise. Remember? The only way out is through.

So let’s talk about why.

Certainly a piece of the puzzle to our moods are our neurotransmitters, or our “feel good” chemicals. When we’re low with dopamine, serotonin, endorphin, or oxytocin, our mood is lower. That’s the basics of it, right? And we all know that exercise is a way of releasing these natural chemicals, as well as increasing blood flow to the part of the brain responsible for our emotions.

Did you know, though, that positive mood changes occur more readily when you’re engaging in aerobic exercise? Anaerobic, or more intense activities, don’t show the same level of benefit. So what types of exercises are helpful?

  1. Yoga. I first recommend yoga because not only does it increase strength, endurance, burn calories, and is often done in a group setting, but yoga also adds a mindfulness component (which we’ll cover in more detail next week). When doing yoga, you get more connected to your body, feeling the consequences of each action. Yoga also helps release tense areas that hold stored emotion, like your shoulders and hips. If you’re new to yoga, there are classes for you. If you need to de-stress, try a yin or restorative yoga class. You’ll thank me later.
  2. Walking (or jogging). No need to sprint or try and be in a 5k next week if you’re not usually a runner. If you want to work up to that, try something like the Couch to 5k program. Otherwise, walking is perfect. Not only does walking get your heart pumping and your muscles moving, it also gets you outdoors with fresh air. Walking is helpful for the brain in a similar way to EMDR in that it uses bilateral brain stimulation. The movement helps with funneling your attention and reorganizing your brain.
  3. Swimming. Ideal for people who struggle with aches and pains (or are pregnant, this is great for pre/postnatal ladies!), swimming is easy on the joints. Swimming also incorporates water (duh!), which has a natural connection to our emotions and is often found to be relaxing.
  4. Dancing. Nobody has to see it, or you can be up there performing. Dancing is great not only for many of the reasons mentioned above, but it includes music. Be aware of what music you expose yourself to. Pump some happy, life-loving tunes with a beat that gets you moving and dance to your heart’s content. You don’t have to be a great dancer. Dancing is in our genes as humans, just ask any baby.

There are other reasons exercise is important as well, such as improved body image, endurance, and improved energy (the more you move, the more you want to move… to a point). Getting good exercise during the day helps you sleep more soundly at night, which we’ll talk about in weeks to come. If you’re feeling more energized, spending more time in the sunlight/fresh air, and sleeping better at night… doesn’t that already sound like not-depression? The more fatigued you are, the more depressed you feel simply because fatigue feels like depression, even when it isn’t. It’s like the opposite idea of smiling to trick your brain into feeling happier. Couch-slug feeling tricks your brain into feeling depressed.

Now is a good time to talk about the intention to our exercises. We often see exercise as a means to an end (i.e. look better/thinner/more ripped/etc). In my program, though, exercise is not about looking a certain way or fitting a certain size. Nor is it about what other people think. Stop that, right now. If you’re holding onto “skinny clothes” for once you look a certain way, get rid of them. We want to learn how to love exactly what we have as it is. Once we love what we have, we have more flexibility to improve it. What does that mean? It’s about feeling strong, energized, and connected to your body. If you’re connected with your body you treat it better, and in turn it treats you better. Trying to punish yourself for looking or weighing a certain way is a breeding ground for depression. It’s like wanting to get rid of the stray animals on your front porch, but secretly leaving them scraps from dinner each night.

Doesn’t work.

The same is true with too much exercise. If you are pushing yourself into oblivion with exercise, you’re exhausting your body and causing the problems noted above. We’re not talking about becoming triathlon athletes here or trying to squeeze some control out of our bodies in an uncontrollable world. We’re talking about improving your mental landscape by creating a healthy connection with your body. Remember, it’s the only body you get. And your body, just like every other body, is absolutely beautiful, just as it is.

Are you wondering how in the world you’re going to find time to exercise in your busy life? What about the kids, my social media presence, work, school, etc? It doesn’t have to be crazy (in fact, it shouldn’t be!). Think small to start. Take a walk around the building on your lunch break. Park in a space in the back of the parking lot to go grocery shopping. Go play outside with your kids or animals. Work your way up so that you’re exercising for 15 minutes 5 times a week. Or 30-45 minutes 3 or 4 times per week. Stretch for 10 minutes before you get into bed at night. Make it a goal to join one fitness class per week (plus, then, several walks around the neighborhood throughout the week). You DO have time to get more exercise. In fact, I’m going to go do 15 minutes of Yoga before my daughter wakes from her nap.

See you next week! Feel free to comment your plans for exercise below. It can be helpful to write them down, here or elsewhere!

D

The Only Way Out is Through

dawn-nature-sunset-woman

I describe it as a monster. Something that you can try to visualize outside of yourself, removing the belief that it is actually something about you that’s flawed. I’ve seen it depicted as a dark cloud following someone around, heard it described as wading through thick mud, and felt what I call the darkness.

Let’s talk about how to get out of depression.

I often use the book We’re Going On A Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen. Over and over in this beautiful children’s book, they come across barriers to their adventures. In the midst of each, they repeat “We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. Oh no! We’ve got to go through it!” That, ladies, gentlemen, and the like, is my prescription for getting out of depression. But what exactly does that mean? Let me walk you through Danielle’s Directions through Depression.

Depression typically wants for you to sit on your bum, binge watch streaming tv, and eat loads of carbs or sweets. It wants you to pull away from your friends, responsibilities, and goals. We used to believe that depression was simply a chemical imbalance, but some have more recently suggested that depression is a spiritual and mental tactic of turning toward yourself to learn and grow. That perhaps depression has a purpose.

Yet, in our current day that purpose seems to get a little lost. Nowadays when we turn toward ourselves, we tend to bring a tiny computer with us so as not to have to face ourselves. But see, that’s our problem. How are we to learn from our depression if we’re unwilling to face what needs to be seen?

The things I’m going to recommend are not going to be terribly novel to you. I’m going to tell you the things that you’ll need to do, and you may hear in your mind, “no thanks,” or “I’ve tried that,” or “that sounds like a lot of work.” My answer to these are the same – I know. I know you’ve probably tried, maybe even for several weeks or months. Maybe you did a little of this, or a little of that. For many people, depression becomes a lifestyle. Changing habits of any kind, let alone an entire way of being, takes effort. It takes countless repetitions, time, and perseverance.

And you know what? You can do it.

Here are the 9 things you need to do to move your way through depression:

  1. Exercise
  2. Meditate
  3. Own Your Sh*t (yep- I said it!)
  4. Eat Right
  5. Unplug
  6. Sleep Well
  7. Participate
  8. Volunteer
  9. Find the Passion

Over the next nine weeks, I’ll walk you through step by step. As we build this plan together, the goal is to continually add to your repertoire. Week one, for instance, I’m going to tell you to get some exercise. But that doesn’t mean during week two, you stop exercising and start meditating. Each week you’ll need to focus your energy into that week, while also continuing each previous lesson. It builds upon itself until you’ve created a new lifestyle, got it?

One last thing. Each week I’m going to be telling you to do things you don’t, in fact, want to do. That’s the point. You’ll have to do them anyway. You’re welcome to curse my name as you do, that’s fine. So long as you’re still doing it.

If you’re stuck in depression, what’s in your comfort zone is no longer good for you. That might be isolation, binge watching tv, binge eating (or restricting), staying up all hours of the night, feeling victim to your own mind, and avoiding silence at all costs. I’m going to ask you to step outside your comfort zone. Yes, if you’re comfortable, you’re not changing. Let’s get to the magic zone, that place where we do good things for ourselves that are wildly uncomfortable and force us to grow.

It may be helpful to have an expert support you along your path. In order to create lasting change, you have to commit to changing every day for the next two years (and not just the commitment, but the action). If you find that your efforts have been short bursts up to now, reach out for help.

I’ll say it again. You can do this. Time to let the light in.

See you next week.

D

Falling In Love

I’ve been faced with the question of ‘who am I’ with my clients lately. Often the suffering that enters my office is in the form of feeling at odds with self, how self fits into others and community, and questioning the value of self. Sometimes this is in the form of constantly rescuing others, other times in the go-getter American attitude of non-stop distraction. Don’t be fooled, I see this in 7 year olds as much as I do in adults.

Self. It’s not a topic we talk genuinely about often, but simply one we refer to. “I’m hungry.” “I’m bored.” Yet rarely, “I’m feeling vulnerable.” We put so much energy into our outside worlds. We even kid ourselves into thinking that we’re taking care of ourselves by watching TV, shopping, or playing video games. Yet when we do this, is our attention, compassion, and energy focused inward? Or are we temporarily escaping reality by putting our energy into something else? Continue reading