The Question

Question

There are times in a session when the answer to just one question turns on the light and the darkness flees from comprehended truth. Nothing changes but everything is different.

A beautiful young woman came in for therapy with concerns about tackling the challenges of her college assignments and trying to decide what direction to take after graduation. She was a former model from Europe, in her mid twenties, creative, and academically excellent. During the initial assessment, I heard her life story. She spoke about her childhood, high school years, and modeling career. In the process, some common themes became apparent ~ like her love for children, her passion for art and her struggles in relationships.   Through several sessions, we talked about ways to handle her tendency to procrastinate with assignments and about how to concentrate in class. She also disclosed that she had professional opportunities on both sides of the Atlantic. However she felt that either choice would cost her personally and affect other people’s perspective of her.

While she reflected on her choices, I suggested a simple exercise, to which she agreed. First, I asked her to imagine this was the only time in our lives that we would meet; we would never see each other again. I would have to form a memory of her from what she said and did in this brief moment.

She was intrigued by the idea and said she was ready to proceed.

I then asked, “What would be the one thing about yourself that you would want me to know about who you are?”

Her answer was instantaneous. “That I am not stupid!”

In the following silence I looked at her golden blonde hair and beautiful face and comprehended again the impact that stereotypes can have on a person’s life. This woman’s choices ~ the compelling drive ~ was the concern that how she looked dictated what others thought about her and so in every circumstance or relationship she tried to dispel the myth that she was stupid. It is not that she believed she was stupid; on the contrary, she knew herself to be an intelligent and accomplished human being. Her constant battle was against prejudice, ridicule, and dismissal based solely on her physical appearance.

As we continued to unpack this idea she was able to see that many of her past choices and actions with her family, intimate friends and career were a reaction against public opinion. She was screaming back at the world that she was not who ‘They’ said she was and her actions would prove them wrong. Paradoxically, this need to be seen as an individual and the corresponding need to deny the stereotype had been hindering her from making the choices she genuinely wanted to make. She needed a divorce from ‘public opinion’ and to develop the courage to make choices about her future based upon what she was passionate about.

Nothing of her circumstance actually changed in that moment  but her realization that she did not have to live according to these stereotypes took away the fears that haunted her every choice. That was over ten years ago. From that moment, she started following her own path, making decisions based on her own needs, desires, and inherent abilities.

Society still ogles the outside ‘package’ and makes a snap judgment about a lovely woman, but that woman no longer cares. Her choices are based on what she knows to be true about herself, and about what she decides she needs to be a whole and healthy Self. For a time, that included modeling and the financial gains that accompanied being an ‘animated robot modeling expensive clothes,’ because that opportunity created others. Today she is ‘Mom’ to two beautiful little souls and uses that intelligence she always knew she had to make the world a better place.

©sjs2013

What would be your answer to this question? What are your actions and choices saying? Questions like these can help us to learn about ourselves and about the reasons we do things. Sometimes we do the same things over and over even though they cause us pain. Then we need to ask ourselves; ‘Why do I keep doing this again and again?’ Sometimes, a better question is; ‘What am I trying to say by that choice?’

Therapy really works.   By reflective listening, empathy, and unconditional positive regard a therapist can help you see what is going on inside.

(Story used with permission)

 

An Inconvenient Truth

inconvenient truthThanks to Al Gore, we have a phrase embedded in the collective consciousness which embodies the act of acknowledging a reality that is painful, unfortunate, or unpleasant. Mr. Gore was, of course, referring to climate change, and how the impact that continuing to deny the science would have consequences far greater than anyone can imagine. The movie of the same name was back in 2006 ~ how right he was. Climate change has been global, devastating, and relentless. As people continue to argue about the science, the world burns.

So it is with the consequences of childhood trauma. Developmental Trauma is an inconvenient truth.

It is Child and Youth Mental Health Day.

This is important ~ there’s not enough recognition of the mental health issues our children face, there’s not enough resources when we DO acknowledge the need for mental health services, and we don’t do enough to prevent the single most significant factor in child and youth mental health.

Episodic, persistent, chronic, or unremitting trauma in childhood (usually in the family of origin, but for many children, in the care of various versions of child welfare, social services, government ministries, or private agencies) has profoundly negative and lifelong consequences. As the work of Dr. Nadine Burke-Harris and Dr. Vincent Felitti have demonstrated, adverse events in childhood are not something children ‘get over.’ Experiencing the degree of chronic stress that trauma induces for an extended period of time fries the nervous system, inhibits brain development, and causes the formation of coping mechanisms or safety-making behaviours which carry on into adulthood.

Child and youth mental health is negatively impacted by these experiences, manifesting as anxiety, depression, suicidality, obsessive-compulsive tendencies, behavioural problems, academic failure, and ever earlier addictions to name only a few ways.

The key to making it different? One caring adult. 

Nearly all of the effects of childhood trauma are mitigated by one safe, secure attachment to an adult through those formative years. A ‘Cookie Person.’ That one adult who listens, takes the time to notice ~ really notice ~ where a child or adolescent is at mentally, emotionally, socially, and physically.  Literally (and metaphorically) having milk and cookies with a child or youth who needs to talk. To be heard. To be safe ~ to know where ‘safe’ can be found.

As this infographic from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation shows, 64% of American adults have 1 or more Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), and there is a 95% likelihood that additional types of trauma accompany even 1 ACE. This is soooooo disturbing.

Infographic: The Truth About ACEs

How many of our child & youth mental health issues could be prevented if the experience of trauma were routinely assessed of children seeing paediatricians, nurse-practitioners, emergency room personnel, school counsellors, or accessing mental health services?  As Dr. Burke-Harris and her staff proved over the course of twenty years, routinely assessing children, educating parents, creating community resources, and when necessary, intervening for the sake of safety in a timely fashion can have a HUGE impact on mental wellness and health outcomes across the lifespan.

Our children are the future of the humanity.  Educate yourself on childhood trauma. Get involved in your community – here in Kelowna, Canadian Mental Health Association, The Foundry, Boys & Girls Club, YMCA, Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, coaching amateur sports leagues, volunteering at the local school, getting to know your neighbours, and educating yourself are just a few of the ways you can make a difference.

Be that Cookie Person.

Additional resources:

https://www.rwjf.org/en/library/collections/aces.html

The Deepest Well (Nadine Burke Harris)

https://centerforyouthwellness.org/our-story/

https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/index.html

CMHA Kelowna

The Foundry Kelowna

 

Finding Social Balance

In 2016, “social life” means something entirely different than it did in 1976 when my social life was the most important thing going ~ or so I thought at that age. Being very connected was important to me, and I tended my friendships with some care. Back then, the individuals whom I considered as friends were a bit more changeable than now, but the number hasn’t really fluctuated much over all those years. I was (and am) friendly to everyone, but intimate with only a few.

referralSocial media has simply expanded that circle. Today, I have 450+ friends on Facebook (all of whom but one I know in person), multiple followers on other social media platforms, but still only 3 or 4 truly intimate friendships. The rest of my social circle consists of people in varying degrees of closeness and interaction. Different from my youth, a few of those really close, intimate friends now reside primarily in my Facebook feed.

Long distance relationships in the past were hampered by the conditions under which they existed; snail mail, telephone calls, and occasional visits. In 1976 when I was corresponding with a friend living in Alaska, the wait between letters was weeks (hard to fathom, I know) and the friendship developed its own rhythm, defined by the medium. Not so today. My close friendships formed while in Kuwait continue through the various forms of social media even though most of those friends are now scattered across the globe. Immediate (“Posted 0 minutes ago”) news, live interactions, video feeds, IM, Hangouts, shares, and other instant communication feed and maintain the connection. While I miss the enjoyment of being in their physical presence, the friendships continue to ebb & flow in real time, as they did while we were together in the same geographical location. These are friendships which began as three-dimensional; the migration to digital friendship was an easy one.

Not so much for those friendships that begin in digital media. There are significant differences between in-person and online friendships, and when an individual does not make this distinction, problems may arise. The various forms of socialising that are possible on the Internet have given rise to an often false sense of being connected; fostering an intimacy that is arguably of a different quality than is possible in three-dimensions. Social media and instant, long distance communication are here to stay and as a consequence, for the sake of our mental and emotional health, we need to learn to integrate this relational reality into our social lives in a healthy and beneficial way.

This month’s bazaar Kuwait column is all about balance. (as a pdf: all-about-balance-october)

And for another perspective, Mary McGillivray & Mirel Gonzalez share the history of the development of their online friendship.

3 Things I do for Self-Care

Self-care. A hot button topic these days. Why? I think because the world is slowly realizing that in the quest for happiness one cannot ignore the need for self-love. And the reality is that taking care of yourself is absolutely necessary and the furthest thing from being selfish or rude. Now, I’m preaching to myself here because I have all but forgotten myself since having children and working for a living. But I am getting on the train and trying to figure out my self-care routine. I’m starting with three things and wanted to share them with you.

I think that the number one thing you can do to take care of yourself is to sleep well. Sleeping recharges your body and your brain. Sleep is a beautiful thing…when it’s easy and there’s lots of it happening! For a few years now I have been having a terrible time getting to sleep, and so have created a habit of staying up late watching Netflix because I don’t want to go to bed and lay there frustrated.

In response to my self-induced sleep deprivation, my fiance introduced me to white noise. I was skeptical at first because traditionally for me, I enjoy total silence when trying to sleep and have been known to rip the batteries out of a ticking clock at night. The white noise was exactly what I needed. Sleep came quickly and it was actually restful. So here’s my first self-care suggestion – download an app and try it. There are tons that are free, and even more that are paid. I like an app called White Noise Free – this is the icon: white-noise-free. It has lots of options for sounds, timers and best of all it’s free!

White Noise app

 

Another thing you can do is meditate. For me, meditation has never carried any weight because I didn’t understand it. And I still don’t fully but what I do know is that there is a lot of merit in taking the time to stop and think or clear your mind. Meditation comes in many forms and disciplines.

med·i·ta·tion
ˌmedəˈtāSH(ə)n/
noun. the action or practice of meditating.
  1. “a life of meditation”
    synonyms: contemplation, thought, thinking, musing, pondering, consideration, reflection, deliberation, rumination, brooding, reverie, brown study, concentration.

There’s yoga, deep breathing and colouring to name a few. Colouring has recently gained a lot of popularity with Zentagle® books and adult colouring books flying off the shelves at Chapters and Amazon. There is something incredibly relaxing about putting colour to paper and having something new when you’re done. For some it clears their mind, and for others it allows them to solve a problem. Either of those things can be considered self-care and for that reason, meditation through colouring is my second self-care suggestion. Pinterest is full of patterns with step by step instructions on how to create Zentagles®. Many other sites online have downloadable colouring pages, and book stores have beautiful adult colouring books. Check it out and see if it helps you!

The last suggestion for self-care that I have for you is journalling. There are numerous benefits to writing or recording your thoughts once a day which include problem solving, stress reduction and increased self-esteem. Another benefit is the ability to look back and see inside your past self. A journal can have many forms in today’s world and you might have to try a few before you find the one that works for you. Some people record their thoughts through video, some through pen to paper writing and now there are journalling apps. One that I’ve discovered is called Journey – this is the app icon: journey-icon. This app lets me make a picture diary which is great for my visually-driven self.

Journey app

 

I’ve only just found this app so there’s one entry so far, but I am excited about the process and being able to put my thoughts down instantly with a picture to remind myself how I was feeling at that moment.

In the end, self-care is a personal activity and what works for me might not work for you. The good thing is that a great self-care plan just needs to have 1 thing. Something that you enjoy. Take a minute and think about this: If you had an hour of free time, what would you do? When I ask myself this question the answer is to go to the library and read. Sometimes that isn’t possible and so I will be able to use colouring or journalling in place of library time.

What things do you do for self-care? If you are drawing a blank, check out our Pinterest board on Self-Care for ideas.

 

benice

The Fear Factor | bazaarKuwait

Dr Susannah-The Fear Factor  Love writing for bazaar Magazine, Kuwait, and I am always so pleased with how the bazaar peeps make my little scribbles look so wonderful. This is the end of the third year I’ve had the privilege of contributing to this magazine, and I look forward to the New Year, new opportunities and old friends in Kuwait.

Adly & the bazaarites… May 2016 be all that you hope for and so much more than you can imagine.