Can’t You See These Flaws

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There’s a shaky feeling. I should be taller. I should be thinner. Everyone else has the body I wish I had. I’ll never be quite as attractive as that. I mean, it’s fine I guess.

I just know if I were a little more __________ then I’d be more loveable, too. More deserving.

Can we talk about body dysmorphia?

It’s been coming up a lot lately. There is this thin veil of “it’s no big deal,” and beneath it a quivering, painful fear. Hate or disgust. It hurts down to the bone, and we make passing jokes about it. Yet we don’t share just how deep this hurt goes.

I’ve fallen prey to it, myself. It wasn’t long ago I realized a pattern I had. I’d look back at younger pictures of myself and think, “my goodness, I was so _____ back then.” Insert whichever wishful adjective you’d like. Over time, I realized that I felt poorly about my body at the time the picture was taken, just to be wistful at having lost the beauty a few years later. Pictures became mirrors I couldn’t ignore. Maybe, just maybe, I never looked as bad as I felt I did at the time, and only with some years of separation from that body could I see it for what it was: beautiful.

We learn a lot about how we feel about our bodies from our families growing up. We hear our parents, who we initially idolize, judging their own bodies, ours, or strangers on the street. We learn what beauty is supposed to look like, and then we measure ourselves against that standard as we grow into our adult bodies. If we don’t quite measure up, we hate ourselves. If we gain too much weight, we skip meals, restrict calories, or exercise too much. It begs a question: can you hate and/or punish yourself into being attractive?

As a kid, I remember my mom saying how old her hands looked. Now when I look down, the same age she was, I see my mom’s hands in place of my own. I hear the words she spoke and have to be intentional about not buying into that, myself. When I see my hands and notice their age, I try to feel gratitude for having made it this far. For having a daughter who will love these hands like I loved my mom’s.

Culture feeds into it, too, right? With all the airbrushing, photoshopping, and filters, we forget what real humans look like. There’s a reason I’m not often keen on following back those fitness moms who post endless “before and after” pictures of their bodies. Those folks who are always DMing me asking if I’d like to lose weight or get more fit. I’m so glad for them that they are working on themselves. And yet, it doesn’t suit everyone to see so many pictures day in and day out of bodies, with the intention to idealize, improve, or boost sex appeal. It can become obsessive, and it concerns me for the dozens of folx I know who still struggle with loving their bodies. The constant suggestion that there might be an ideal body can be vexatious to the spirit. Confused, the spirit starts to ask, “why can’t I look like that?” The answer is simple: because you’re not them. It can be painful when you feel like culture, family, or your own ideals don’t align with the body you were given.

Body dysmorphia wants you to think you’re flawed. That there is some piece of you that is wrong when in reality, there’s not. But saying that is like saying, “don’t be sad” to someone with depression. In fact, it’s closely tied to anxiety, depression, trauma, and OCD. They share a common struggle: believing that happiness, peace, or worth is something that comes from the outside. Each struggle forgets that worth is inherent and happiness comes from within.

Here’s my thought: Why not love yourself into being healthier?

How about instead of hating, obsessing in the mirror, and shaming ourselves for rolls, wrinkles, or too big/too small of something, why don’t we just love ourselves and show it by being gentle, kind, and tending to ourselves? Eat food that makes your body feel healthy. Get restful sleep. Engage in supportive relationships. Take walks. Enjoy the fresh air. Unplug. Drink water. Wear clothes that match your spirit. Laugh. And under no circumstances, stress yourself out doing any of the above.

Perhaps we’ve had it backward all along. Perhaps it isn’t “once I look this way, I’ll be able to love myself.” Maybe we get further by loving ourselves first, respecting and honoring our bodies, and allowing them to rest in their happy place. Then we think, “I love myself, so I love what my body is.”

There are so many ways to start down this road. Here are a few places to start:

  1. Meditation and Mindfulness.
  2. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
  3. Radical Acceptance.

There’s something to be said for an attitude of gratitude. Your body will never be “perfect” by any standard other than your own. And sure, walks and happy thoughts won’t make you taller, have different genitals, or re-grow hair. But that’s not the point.

This is the body you have. You won’t ever have another body in this life. This is it. Hating your body is like cooking angry. Your anger taints the food and robs it of its brilliance. Hating your body taints your life and robs it of its brilliance, too.

Think of it this way. Does your body generally work? Try to remember that it’s a miracle you exist. The fact that you can think, that you can breathe, that your heart beats. Maybe you’re missing some digits, or maybe you have a degenerative disease. That’s okay- you still have so many other blessings that many people don’t have. Do you have the disorder where your brain forgets to breathe while you sleep? Imagine being afraid to go to sleep at night because you could forget to breathe and not wake up. Sometimes we need to be grateful for what we have that we consider basic. What we take for granted. Accepting what we have and being grateful can help us see the bigger picture.

Note: Acceptance is not the same as being okay with or giving up. Acceptance simply acknowledges what is. I have a body. It’s not attachment (“I wish I could have a body like that”) or aversion (“I hate that my ____ is so ____”). Acceptance likes facts. This is my body. This is the only body I have. This body allows me to move, speak, breathe, love, and experience pleasure and pain. This is my body. 

Once you can acknowledge your body as it is, you can work toward loving it as it is.

You can do this. If you need help, reach out.

I see your beauty,

D

 

If you’re looking for some body positive insta’s, try: @thebirdspapaya or @lizzobeeating.

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

 

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

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